I consider politics to be a necessary evil.
Maybe that’s too strong a statement. Someone might reply to me that the Christian message itself has political implications — and they would surely be right. Obviously, the Old Testament prophets — just to cite one obvious example — had a political message about justice and fairness (in addition to a moral message about right and wrong). Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God finds its roots in the message of the prophets. I’m all in favor of spelling out the political and social aspects of the Christian message. Really. I am.
And, politics is unavoidable. Where two or three are gathered together, there — pretty soon — will be politics in their midst. People have differing ideas and goals and agendas. If people gather together to accomplish something, then, soon these differences will arise. Sides will emerge. Issues will emerge. The question will be: who will prevail.
So, while there is national politics, there is also community politics, church politics, and family politics. I know that. And, there is no avoiding it.
But, here’s my problem with it: (more…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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.
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 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…)