Questions: How do prophets get their start? Why does God speak to us? What does He want to say? What ticks Him off? Whom is He angry with? For what? What’s He gonna do about it?
“Read More” to pursue answers from the Prophet Amos.
Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence
And fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I would know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.
The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
A fascinating start for a prophet. Tekoa appears to have been what Jerusalemites considered the “boonies”; not very far away, but on the edge of wilderness. Intriguingly, it is only six miles from Bethlehem, making me wonder what other historic role shepherds from Tekoa might have played.
The implication is that this vision came to him while he still a shepherd. I wonder if he had been crying out to God, or if God just plucked him out of obscurity against his will. Either way, it must’ve been a heavy burden to bear.
And he said, The LORD will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither.
I wonder if this was actually his very first vision, while he was sitting with the sheep in Tekoa. A loud sound from a dozen miles away, devastation among his peers, and a mountain-splitting earthquake. Then suddenly, back to reality; it was only a vision. “Only?” Why would God give a man like me a vision like that?
If he hadn’t set his heart to seek God before then, this would surely have motivated him! For whatever reason, God chose a shepherd from the fringes of civilization to communicate his message of impending judgement:
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron:
I presume “3+1 transgressions” is a significant number, since it is repeated often — though here God only lists one specific violation (thrashing Gilead with iron). Clearly, whatever they’ve done has tried God’s patience to the limit, leading to a very detailed punishment.
But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, which shall devour the palaces of Benhadad. I will break also the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from the plain of Aven, and him that holdeth the sceptre from the house of Eden: and the people of Syria shall go into captivity unto Kir, saith the LORD.
I wish I could hear Syria’s side of the story, but Amos (and God) have other things on their agenda:
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because they carried away captive the whole captivity, to deliver [them] up to Edom:
Again, only one of the four transgressions is named (unless it is a four-fold sin?), but the consequences are similar:
But I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, which shall devour the palaces thereof: And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and him that holdeth the sceptre from Ashkelon, and I will turn mine hand against Ekron: and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord GOD.
This seems a bit harsher than the punishment of Syria, in that they are said to perish rather than merely be made captive (though as a society, it perhaps comes to the same thing).
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Tyrus, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant:
The Phoenicians at least rate two explicit indictments, though I have no idea what treaty they forget. Though, they only seem to get a single, relatively superficial bit of flamage for their sins:
But I will send a fire on the wall of Tyrus, which shall devour the palaces thereof.
That is, their leadership is bereft, but they aren’t obliterated as a people.
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because he did pursue his brother with the sword, and did cast off all pity, and his anger did tear perpetually, and he kept his wrath for ever:
Now, Edom apparently gets all four transgressions explicitly spelled out: pursuit, pitilessness, perpetual anger, preserved wrath. But again, only his palaces suffer:
But I will send a fire upon Teman, which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.
Why? I don’t know. And no time to ask, as our tour of destruction pushes on to Ammon.
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of the children of Ammon, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because they have ripped up the women with child of Gilead, that they might enlarge their border:
Okay, that’s pretty nasty: violence and greed. And yet, though much more detailed, the curse is still upon the leaders:
But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, and it shall devour the palaces thereof, with shouting in the day of battle, with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind: And their king shall go into captivity, he and his princes together, saith the LORD.
And while we’re at it, we may as well pick up Ammon’s sister Moab from the next chapter:
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime:
Huh. Slight shift of direction, because Moab is condemned for her acts against Edom — one of the kingdoms judged earlier. In fact, Edom plays the heavy (as a source of captivity) for both Gaza and Tyre. Yet her judgement is similar to (though more graphic than) that levied against the enemies of Israel:
But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth: and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, [and] with the sound of the trumpet:
Though the city is devastated, the punishment again appears primarily directed towards the rulers:
And I will cut off the judge from the midst thereof, and will slay all the princes thereof with him, saith the LORD.
I have this nagging feeling that there’s a very profound pattern to this apparently random list of judgments — I just have no idea what it is! Clearly, God has a bone to pick with the surrounding kingdoms for their treatment of Israel (and at least on one occasion, each other). Therefore, he’s sending a fire against all their palaces, presumably to destroy their seat of power and self-glory. But on some occasions, he goes further, predicting national-wide devastation, even annihilation.
Why? Were those kingdoms somehow worse, or at least nastier to Israel? Not that we can see here. Was it some structural rationale, where the cities and/or nobles weren’t really connected to the wider population, and thus the latter didn’t share in the former’s evil, and thus escaped their judgment? Was the rationale for differential treatment obvious to Amos and other who lived in his time, or did they puzzle over it as well? Were we meant to puzzle over it, or it is an irrelevant detail we should ignore?
Many questions, few answers. And really, it is way too early in Amos to get bogged down on minutiae like this. The bottom line is that God is settling scores, and He’s giving Amos the scorecard. First on the list are the enemies of Israel, which probably plays well to his Jewish audience. But things are soon to take a surprising turn, as we’ll see next time.
God, I’ll probably never understand why you chose me. All I know is that I need to be faithful to the world you’ve planted in me. Forgive me, Father, for my many transgressions. Open my ears to hear your message of justice, even of condemnation. Fill me with an overwhelming sense of your power and authority, that I may humble myself before you and be your servant. No matter where it takes me. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.
About the Title:
Today’s title is in honor of a brilliant yet dysfunctional hero/anti-hero.