Questions: Why should we lament? Are we forsaken? What should we seek? Where? Why? Does God want our offerings? What does He want most? What should we be desiring?
“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.
If the previous chapters foreshadowed judgement, this chapter makes it sound like judgement has already occurred:
The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise: she is forsaken upon her land; [there is] none to raise her up.
And what does it mean to be forsaken?
For thus saith the Lord GOD; The city that went out [by] a thousand shall leave an hundred, and that which went forth [by] an hundred shall leave ten, to the house of Israel.
The primary sense appears to be that of military defeat, or at least some sort of catastrophic slaughter. What’s the solution?
For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live:
But not the way they have previously been seeking Him:
Hmm. This is a sobering though: that just because we think we’re seeking God — in ways that used to work — that doesn’t mean we’ll actually find him. Sometimes those very places of worship and refuge have become part of the problem, and fallen into the same judgment we’ve gotten ourselves into.
And yet, that doesn’t excuse us from the obligation to seek God:
Seek the LORD, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour [it], and [there be] none to quench [it] in Bethel.
Hmm. Okay, at least this gives us some concrete sense of what God’s unhappy about. I read this as condemning those who redefine justice and goodness in terms of their own character and desires, rather than interpreting them as objective realities contingent only on God. In this case, the cure is to recognize (and submit to) God’s overwhelming power:
[Seek him] that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD [is] his name:
That strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress.
I can almost hear God saying, “If you don’t love me for the goodness of my character, at least fear me for the greatness of my power.” Alas, they don’t seem disposed to do either:
They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.
And what is the rebuke they dislike so much?
Forasmuch therefore as your treading [is] upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them.
In other words, they’ve built their economy upon exploitation (ouch), and sacrificed compassion for comfort. Thus, God’s judgement is to take away their ill-gotten comforts; not because those are intrinsically evil, but we have made them idols by using them to justify our laziness and injustice:
For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate [from their right].
Moreover, when those in power punish those who speak the truth, it is wise to say nothing:
Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it [is] an evil time.
Yet, paradoxically, only those who reject the culture of evil and deception can survive:
Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.
And the prophet’s not asking for some sort of personal meditation, but rather a structural revolution:
Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.
Yow. Let’s be clear: we have sinned so badly, we deserve to die. But why not at least attempt to be righteous, on the chance that God might take pity and spare us?
Therefore the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; Wailing [shall be] in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, Alas! alas! and they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing. And in all vineyards [shall be] wailing: for I will pass through thee, saith the LORD.
Or is it already too late? Worse, are those of us who think God will save us from tribulation gravely mistaken in our anticipation?
Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end [is] it for you? the day of the LORD [is] darkness, and not light.
Whoops. What if running away from our problems (even in the name of God) only makes them worse?
As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. [Shall] not the day of the LORD [be] darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?
What if our pious attempts to placate God only enrage him further?
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept [them]: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.
Now, hang on God. That hardly seems fair. Those are all things you commanded us in your word. What do you want from us, anyway?
Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?
Um, yeah, sure…
Ouch. Rather than exalting God in both our deeds and our hearts, we have gloried in our shame and our filth. And our punishment is richly deserved:
Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the LORD, whose name [is] The God of hosts.
And frankly, I can’t think of anything to say to that.
God, we cry out to you for mercy. I cry out to you for healing. Lord, we your people have too often sought escape in our religious rituals, rather than seeking you and your justice. The scorn we have earned from our enemies is well-deserved; by us, though not by You. Have mercy on us, O Father. Teach us to seek righteousness and judgement, and to fear the Day of the Lord. Open our eyes, that we might remember what you look like, and what you demand of us. Save us from ourselves, through the power of your Son. In whose name we pray, Amen.