Tuesday, April 08, 2008

On This Mountain or in Jerusalem (Amos 1-9)

Having finished the book of Kings, I now turn to Amos, the earliest of the prophetic books. He writes during the reign of Jeroboam II, the king of Israel, who was one of the milder evil kings.

I’m struck almost immediately of the difference in focus between the author of Kings and the prophet Amos. The book of Kings is almost entirely concerned with two things – idolatry and worship at the high places. All kings and eras are judged against this standard, and the exile and judgment is said to be due to these sins.

What a contrast to the message of Amos!

Oh, it’s not like Amos commends idolatry or worship on the high places. Nor am I suggesting that there isn’t a connection implied in the scriptures. But listen to the reasons Amos gives for the roaring fury of the Lord:
because they have threshed Gilead
with threshing sledges of iron.

because they delivered up a whole people to Edom,
and did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.

because he pursued his brother with the sword
and cast off all pity,
and his anger tore perpetually,
and he kept his wrath forever.

because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead,
that they might enlarge their border.

because he burned to lime
the bones of the king of Edom.

because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
and turn aside the way of the afflicted;
The Lord is angry because he wants to see justice done by man, and instead sees the earth filled with violence and the intentions of man’s heart evil continually. The nations stand condemned for their cruelty. The people of God stand condemned for their oppression of the poor.

It is here that we see the effects of each man doing what is right in his own eyes. Here we see the true fruit of the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat. The high places and the altar at Bethel are more than just an arbitrary breach of protocol. It is the difference between worshipping what they do not know, and knowing the Lord. As in Genesis, estrangement from God leads to enmity among brothers. Upon cutting himself off from Jerusalem and the temple of the Lord, Israel quickly falls into injustice and makes his worship an abomination:
I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The oracles of Amos are a whirlwind of anger, threats, grief, pleading, and hope. The Lord is absolutely livid at the wickedness and unfaithfulness of Israel. He promises to grind them into the dust with relentless fury. And yet he longs for it to be otherwise. If only they would turn to him, all would be well. Finally, he points forward to the restoration of David, in whom all Israel will be saved.