An Unstable Nation – Amos 7:7-17
The verses that come before this set the scene. The opening verses of this chapter remind us that Amos was a man of prayer. He was an intercessor. He was not a politician. He was not even what we might call a “social critic.” Nor did he come with some sort of political solution to the problems of Israel. He spoke the word God had given him. His saw the inequities and sins of the northern kingdom (called Israel or Ephraim). But, when he saw the prospect of destruction, he prayed for the people: “Sovereign Lord, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
A prophet is a person of prayer. A prophet is a person who desires mercy. A prophet is a person who speaks the truth.
Twice Amos has seen a vision of destruction for the northern kingdom of Israel. Twice he has called out to God for mercy. This sets the scene for the image that is introduced now: (more…)
A Prophet at Prayer – Amos 7:1-6
Here we see the prophet Amos at prayer. Most often, in the book of Amos, we hear the prophet’s voice denouncing the nations and predicting their coming doom. Here we see him at prayer for the nation of Israel — pleading for them to be spared.
We often find mixed emotions among the prophets — I think of it particularly with Jeremiah, sometimes called the weeping prophet. In Jeremiah’s prophecies we find prophetic denunciations mixed with genuine expressions of sorrow for the fate of the nation.
Here we see Amos the intercessor praying that the nation of Israel will not be completely destroyed.
These verses introduce us to the record of four visions of the prophet Amos. They are: (more…)
When God’s People Fail – Amos 3:9-15
Notice how the ideas in Amos chapter 3 are organized:
- The opening verses of chapter 3 identify the people against whom Amos is prophesying: “against the whole family that [God] brought up out of the land of Egypt.” (Discussed here.)
- Verses 3-8 speak of Amos’s own role as a prophet. (Discussed here.)
- Verses 9-15 speak of the destruction that will fall upon the nation.
The prophet calls the surrounding nations to witness against YHWH’s Chosen People.
הַשְׁמִיעוּ עַל־אַרְמְנוֹת בְּאַשְׁדּוֹד וְעַל־אַרְמְנוֹת בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם וְאִמְרוּ הֵאָסְפוּ עַל־הָרֵי שֹׁמְרוֹן וּרְאוּ מְהוּמֹת רַבּוֹת בְּתוֹכָהּ וַעֲשׁוּקִים בְּקִרְבָּהּ
“Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod, and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, ‘Assemble yourselves on Mount Samaria, and see what great tumults are within it, and what oppressions are in its midst.’”
The people of God are on display. Their behavior is being judged by the nations around them. The tumults (מְהוּמֹת) and oppressions (וַעֲשׁוּקִים) in its midst shock even the nations. The witnesses are to assemble on Mount Samaria — indicating, as usual, that the Northern Kingdom is the main focus of this prophecy (though, compare verse 13). Amos chooses two nations as his witnesses — he mentions Ashdod, a major city of the Philistines, and then Egypt. It is, of course, significant that the invited witnesses are also traditional enemies of the nation. Before them, Israel is put to shame — before these nations who are not the chosen of YHWH. Yet, the prophet implies, they have a better sense of right and wrong. They become the judges. (more…)
We Need Prophets – Amos 3:3-8
The opening verses of chapter 3 identify the people against whom Amos is prophesying: “the whole family that [God] brought up out of the land of Egypt.” They are the people that God has especially known. But, their special relationship with God implied a responsibility to live a life that reflected the character of the God who redeemed them.
Now, in verses 3-8, Amos talks about his own role as a prophet.
It begins with a series of cause and effect questions: when you see a certain effect, you can infer its cause? Or, as we might say: “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” They go like this:
- Two people are walking together —> they must have made an appointment
- A lion roars in the forest —> the lion must have caught something
- A bird falls into a snare —> there must have been a trap
- A snare springs up —> it must have taken something
- A trumpet is blown in the city —> the people must be afraid
This is another one of Amos’ rhetorical devices, he is leading up to something — the last cause and effect is a little different: (more…)
God Speaks Out Against the Nation – Amos 3:1, 2
It is amazing how self-critical the Hebrew Scriptures are. They do not glorify the nation or it’s heroes. The nation’s critics were remembered — they were remembered as prophets who told them, in advance, of the danger that lay ahead for them. The Scriptures really aren’t an exercise in glorifying the nation and it’s people and it’s leaders. It isn’t really an exercise in bragging about their greatness. One would naturally expect that it would be. It is their national literature, after all — in which they found their identity. They copied and re-copied it. They kept it safe. They recited it and memorized it.
They remembered the words of the prophets. They remembered: even though the prophets had preached a message of judgment against them, criticized the way they practiced their own religion, exposed their evil and selfish motives. (more…)
The Anointed Preacher – Isaiah 61:1–4
We are told in the Gospel of Luke 4:16-19 that when Jesus had opportunity to speak to the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from the scroll the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 and announced: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). These verses in Isaiah described Jesus’ mission in life.
These ancient words speak to us today of the vocation of the preacher — then and now. When we first come to these verses in the prophecy of Isaiah (or Third Isaiah or whatever his name was) we immediately wonder: who is the prophet talking about? Is this the writer’s mission or is he speaking of someone else? Questions like this might not arise if it weren’t for the fact that the prophecies of the book of Isaiah can be quite mysterious that way. Who is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53? Who is the “servant” of Isaiah 42:1? Who is the figure spoken of in Isaiah 11:2? Who is speaking in Isaiah 48:16? You see what I’m saying.
If Only God Would Tear Open the Heavens – Isaiah 64:1,2
The writings of the prophets are especially appropriate during the season of Advent. They frame the story of Jesus, they provide us insight into the expectations of the people of Israel at the time Christ was born.
Chapter 64 of Isaiah is only 12 verses long. If I were using it as the basis of a sermon, I’d read the whole thing rather than just verses 1-9 as the lectionary suggests.
The book of Isaiah is now generally considered to have been sort of a group project. Yes, there was a prophet named Isaiah who lived from 740 to 680 B.C. Yes, much of the material in the book of Isaiah was written by him (especially in chapters 1-39). But, it is generally supposed today that large portions of the book were actually written by other people who lived much later. These people sometimes get called Second Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah, if you want to sound educated) and Third Isaiah. (more…)
The Danger of Forgetting the Poor – Amos 2:6-16
The real heart of Amos’ prophecies was his message to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel (sometimes also called Ephraim, after its dominant tribe).
So, when we get to verse 6 of chapter 2, we come to the heart of Amos’ message. Everything has been a preparation for this. (You can find my comments on the earlier portions of this prophecy here: Amos 1:2, Amos 1:3-15, & Amos 2:1-5.) The other nations have been condemned only to underline the message of judgement against Israel.
The dramatic, repeated formula appears again:
כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה עַל־שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ
“Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn back….”
What had they done? (more…)
The Prophecy Comes Home – Amos 2:1-5
Amos continues his prophecies against the nations (which I discussed last week) in this chapter.
Review: You don’t see what the prophet is doing here until you see that Amos 1-2 is a unit. And, it is carefully structured. Verse 2 pictures the LORD (YHWH) roaring like a lion. Then a series or oracles of judgement follow. Each is for a different nation. They are introduced with this repeated formula:
“For three transgressions of _____________,
וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ
and for four, I will not turn back….”
There is a certain rhetorical power in this repeated formula. But, this whole poetic prophecy is going somewhere. It’s building. It is going to end in an extended prophecy of judgement at the end (in our chapter 2). And, the weight of this prophecy of judgement is going to fall on Israel. (more…)
The Moral Governor of the Nations – Amos 1:3-15
The time in which the prophet Amos lived was a time of peace and prosperity. But, the prophet could hear God roaring like a lion — in anger.
Amos the prophet was certain that there was a God to whom the nations must give account. There was a moral judge of the world.
No doubt this was a growing realization among the people of Israel. The God they worshiped was not a localized god — not simply their God, but the God of all the nations. YHWH was the God to whom all the nations were accountable.
So, in these verses, the prophet begins with this notion: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will call the nations to accountability. (more…)
To Whom Does God Speak? – Amos 1:2
There is a lion roaring, but only the prophet can hear.
I said that the opening editorial note in the book of Amos (1:1) already raises an issue for me. The issue is: Who speaks for God? It may not be the person we thought was authorized to do so.
Which also brings to mind another question: ‘To Whom (if anyone) does God speak?'”
The prophet is the one who sees what others do not. There is an interesting detail in the way Amos 1:1 tells us about this prophecy: Amos spoke what he saw. “The words of Amos… which he saw….” Amos conveyed the sense of what he saw.
But, in Amos 1:2 it is more a matter of what he heard: (more…)
Who Speaks for God? – Amos 1:1
The very opening words of the book of the prophet Amos raise a question for us. The question is this: Who Speaks for God?
The scholars often remind us that the prophets were people who spoke for God. Thus, they were primarily forth-tellers, not primarily fore-tellers. It is a point that needs to be repeated often. The word prophet does not mean “someone who predicts things.” It really means “someone who speaks the Word of God.” The prophets enabled the people to hear what God was saying to them at their own particular place and time in history.
For some reason, in the popular mind, prophesy has become connected with prediction. When popular preachers speak of what they call “Bible Prophesy” they are most often referring to Bible Apocalyptic: like the highly symbolic material in the book of Daniel or the book of Revelation. But, this is not the heart of prophesy.
The heart of prophesy is: “Thus says the LORD.” (more…)
Brueggemann: To the Forsaken – Isaiah 42:15,16
“I will lay waste mountains and hills,
and dry up all their herbage;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
and dry up the pools.
“I will lead the blind
by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do,
and I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42: 15, 16 NRSV)
This is a powerful, irresistible, transformative resolve, to be undertaken with a high level of emotional intensity. It is a burst of generativity that is going to change everything and create a newness. This is a God who will not forsake: “I will not forsake them” (42:16); “You shall no more be termed Forsaken” (62:4). In this resolve to new creation, YHWH promises to overcome all forsakenness and abandonment known in Israel and in the world. When creation is abandoned by YHWH, it readily reverts to chaos. Here it is in YHWH’s resolve, and in YHWH’s very character, not to abandon, but to embrace. The very future of the world, so Israel attests, depends on this resolve of YHWH. It is a resolve that is powerful. More than that, it is a resolve that wells up precisely in tohu wabohu and permits the reality of the world to begin again, in blessedness.
— Walter Brueggemann, An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible.
Note: The phrase “tohu wabohu” is a reference to the Hebrew phase used in Genesis 1:2, where before God’s creative action, the world is spoken of as being “formless and empty” (NIV). I have highlighted the phase in bold in the text below:
וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם