Amos 3-4 Crime and Punishment

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Questions: Is it a good or bad thing to be God’s chosen? What secrets does He want to reveal? What evil is He behind? What evil lies before us? Do we deserve it? Can we escape it?

“Read More” to pursue answers from the Prophet Amos.

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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.

Amos 3:1-4:13

Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.

Ouch. To whom much has been given, much will be required. Chosenness has long been an awkward concept (for both Jews and non-Jews), with its sense of God “playing favorites.” But clearly, it is as much curse as blessing, and the responsibilities weigh at least as heavily as the rewards:

Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Um, not sure what that verse means. It could be a rebuke at their disagreeing with him, or a warning that God is in tune with the prophets (or even a commentary on the sad state of my diablogue :-P).

Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing?
Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no gin [is] for him? shall [one] take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all?
Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done [it]?

The overall theme seems to be (to coin yet another phrase): where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The overall theme of Amos, as manifested here, is that problems are always a sign that we need to turn to God, and listen to His voice — that is, the prophets:

Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.
The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but
prophesy?

I wonder if this is how Amos himself felt; the voice of God was reverberating so loudly through current events he he couldn’t help but:

Publish in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold the great tumults in the midst thereof, and the oppressed in the midst thereof.

Why?

For they know not to do right, saith the LORD, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.

It always saddens me that Christians — at least we in America — are so quick to judge the world, yet so slow to teach by example. We look at the tumults and oppression washing over the world, and rarely ask ourselves why they don’t know right from wrong. Is it because they have looked to us for moral cues, and found us wanting?

Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; An adversary [there shall be] even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled. Thus saith the LORD; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus [in] a couch.

Ouch. Israel’s looking a bit like dead dog rover.

Hear ye, and testify in the house of Jacob, saith the Lord GOD, the God of hosts,
That in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon him I will also visit the altars of Bethel: and the horns of the altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground.
And I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the LORD.

Brutal. Two things leap out at me. One is the totality of destruction (Israel to Bethel, winter to summer), but the other is its focus upon great houses/palaces, like we saw before. I wonder if the judgement (both ecological and political) arose due to Israel’s transformation from an egalitarian/agrarian economy — where each was rewarded according to his own labor — to a system of landowners and nobles, who ended up exploiting the poor.

Sobering thoughts, for those of us who live in capitalist America. But since that was so short, let’s keep on going to Chapter 4:

Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that [are] in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.

Well, this certainly supports the idea that it is the lazy/oppressive rich who are the target of God’s anger!

The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. And ye shall go out at the breaches, every [cow at that which is] before her; and ye shall cast [them] into the palace, saith the LORD.

What’s worse is that their sins still carry the veneer of religious respectability:

Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, [and] your tithes after three years: And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim [and] publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.

God tried to shake them out of their complacency with famine, but to no avail:

And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.

He tried more selective punishment, but they failed to learn the right lesson:

And also I have withholden the rain from you, when [there were] yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.
So two [or] three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.

In fact, nothing He tried has worked:

I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured [them]: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
I have overthrown [some] of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.

It is easy to look at this and tut-tut at the Israelites (or perhaps God, if you’re so inclined). But — as I’ve been reminded this past Lent — what about all the areas where I am encountering difficulties and frustration? Am I a placid cow, wandering heedlessly to my own destruction, while God is screaming at me to listen up and repent? Might these incidental trials be God’s early warning system, telling me of greater dangers ahead? Should I too not seek the Lord with all my heart, and return to Him, that I may be saved?

For if we fail to return to our Maker while we have the chance, we’ll have to meet Him on His terms:

Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: [and] because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.
For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what [is] his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, [is] his name.

Ouch. I don’t know what all that means, but Lord it doesn’t sound good…

Prayer
God, I thank you for all the lessons of Lent, and the chance to grow in confession and repentance. Father, don’t let me become a mindless, self-indulgent cow, ruminating to my own destruction. Help me to do justly, walk humbly, and love mercy, that I may escape the day of wrath. Let me see your face now, while I can still learn from and by it. I ask all this in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:
Today’s title is in honor of Dostoyevsky’s classic about the consequences of sin.

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