Amos 9

Death and destruction meted out by God is unavoidable. He touches the earth and it melts.

The process is a sifting. It’s sifting out the very people who said it could never happen. They are there ones whose time is up.

Ends with a ray of hope, the promise of a permanent blessing, rebuilt cities. Abundance that will not fail, for Jews and gentiles.

So tired this morning, keep closing eyes and falling back asleep. Fifty minutes since alarm, waking up a bit now.

Simple message, ask God for mercy, death comes to us all inescapably. God is eternal, trust in him.

Praise you for your salvation, lord.

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Amos 8

Monday, what a way to start a new week, with Amos’ bleakest vision. It is a vision of summer fruit. It seems to be shown to emphasise the ephemeral nature of the good times they are having now.

Hard times will come very soon, and the people will respond by becoming worse cheats and oppressors.

Hardship will bring the whole nation to the sort of mourning of people who have lost an only son.

Even prophesy will cease, a famine of the word of God.

In an early chapter job compared the nation to a young girl, beaten and unable to get up, now he says the weak and the strong will both be equally laid low, fall and never rise again.

It unremittingly bleak.

The prophets remind us that we can’t be practically universalist. God has said he is love, but there is more here. It is urgent and vital that people respond to the understanding of God that they have.

Amos was not preaching belief in Jesus as saviour, obviously Jesus want born yet. These people did however have a word from God to acknowledge him as the one true God, and to live fairly, particularly with regard to the poor.

That was their gospel and their failure to respond to it would cause god to punish them. As a people they would survive, just. But the lifestyle of wealth and ease was going and not coming back for this generation.  The living has been delicious and abundant like summer fruit, but it has passed.

Our christian lives and message can’t just sooth people and reinforce their existing beliefs, there will be an element of confronting and challenging them. Like Jesus said, if salt loses its saltiness, what use is it?

At the start of this week, give me a heart for the lost. I find it so hard.

Amos 7

A couple of chapters ago I was wondering how these words from the lord went down with the listeners. This chapter has the predictable answer.

First there are some striking examples of prayer in response to visions.

First utter destruction of the crop by locusts. Amos prays for the people, calling them Jacob, who was a patriarch identified by his weakness relative to his brother Esau. His argument to God is that they are too fail for such an extreme punishment. And he relents, if you are ever wondering whether it is worth praying.

Then same scenario, fire. Again Amos’ prayer is the agency by which god’s salvation is known.

The third vision is of a plumb bob, the builders tool for showing what is straight and what is crooked. I think it’s also a line of clarity, giving a sharp definition to what is in and out of the line God has defined. His people have become blurry, vagued out the difference between them and their neighbours.

Then we get to see how Amos’ message has been received. A false priest and advisor to the king sees the threat, and reacts in the time honoured template we see around us still, every day.

The truth or otherwise of the message is not considered, not an issue. It’s simply too hard to listen to, “too much for the people to bear”. Playing on the king’s fear of losing popularity – keep telling them what they want to hear. And shoot the messenger.

Amos is discredited as a power hungry conspirator trying to bring down the king… after all didn’t he say something about Jeroboam being bought to the sword?

Amos’ response is humble and gutsy. I didn’t want this, I’m just a nobody that God compelled to say these things. And by the way, your wife will be a prostitute, your children will die and you’ll all be killed or taken captive when god’s plumb line finds you crooked and the city is destroyed.

I really struggle with bravery over speaking out about God, even to my own kids. I must not let the predictable response stop me. 

Give me courage lord

Amos 6

I watched bits of the movie “this is 40” a thinly veiled semi autobiographical Judd Apatow story about the horrors of middle age, and was struck by some lines from Albert Brooks about being Jewish. Describing his son to his (gentile) daughter in law: “now he doesn’t seem very Jewish, but believe me one day you will wake up with a rabbi”. An inescapable cultural identity.

The perennial Jewish stereotype, which Brooks and, say, Woody Allen are adept at expressing, is uncomfortable, an outsider, the other, feisty, endlessly questioning how you fit in, which then becomes an often humourous commentary on society’s paradigms. All of that familiar schtick.

To an extent it’s still the role God created for the Jewish race by choosing them, and by extension for all believers.

In Amos they have grown way too comfortable. Here the prophet/God takes them astral travelling to look at the neighbouring lands and sees no distinction, no difference. Lolling about, plenty of wine, plenty of food, singing idle songs, living a life of ease. They are insiders, there’s no questioning, the mainstream owns them.

To me the phrase it all seemed to hang off, and about the only direct criticism (there is plenty implied) is that they are “not grieved for the affliction of Joseph”.

Joseph, chosen by God, who was left to die in a hole by his brothers out of resentment. Became a prince in a foreign land but never lost his identity, reviled by his own, by whom grace was poured out and the whole race was saved. A prototype of the Messiah, who would also be despised.

This is the identity God has for us.

Another memory, John White, the great christian psychologist and teacher was asked to give a talk on dealing with stress as a Christian, and he said that if you are doing it right you should expect more stress, not less.

So let me astral travel in prayer to the world around me and let me look for opportunities for difference.

Amos 5

That feeling when you running away from a lion and meet a bear

The Bible has a lot of prophesy. There is a bit of future telling in it, which is quite chilling. A lot is doom and gloom.

After just a few chapters of it I’m already starting to worry about prophesy fatigue. Many chapters to go. I launched on this project in faith that God would bless the reading of all his word…

I had an epiphany about the tone of prophesy today though. I’m a father, God is our father, it’s father talk, simple as that.

Condemnation: “Get out of bed! Get a job! You’ll never be anything if you don’t get moving! You’re going nowhere, son!”

Tenderness: “I love you, I raised you, you mean the world to me…”

Cruel to be kind: “…that’s why I have to lock the computer in a cupboard / you can’t go out till you pack the dishwasher”

Hyperbolic poetry of frustration: “I’m going crazy! You never lift a finger! If I’ve said it once I’ve said it 1000 times! Are you deaf!”

That’s pretty much Amos 5 in a nutshell. Some moments of vividness and beauty my rants rarely aspire to. The turn to tender includes describing Israel (ironically?) as a fallen virgin, lying on the ground, beaten with none to help her up.

He just wants them to be fair, to treat the poor without exploitation, to not be greedy. He can’t stand their noisy singing with stringed instruments when they hate justice (so culturally impenetrable, can’t possibly unpack that one for the modern world!)

Bad stuff is coming and then the day of the lord is coming, which will be like running from a lion into a bear, or getting to the safety of home and finding a snake there. I think this day of the lord will be the exile and the destruction of Jerusalem, in their near history. And in the longer view of history it’s our death, like the bumper sticker: shit happens, then you die.

God just wants me to be a decent human being. I’m the one who made up reading a random slab of the word at a random time of day, and here am I all “I’ve done my god ritual, where’s my neat package of blessing, I’m getting tired of prophesy so you better deliver!” as if it’s his fault!

He just wants me to be decent.

Amos 4

No more Mr. Nice guy

God is tired of mucking about. This chapter is the old testament prophet cliche, full of condemnation.  The first section is directed at the prosperous Israelites in Samaria.

They are selfish fat cows. But the good times will end and they’ll be looking for holes in the fence to escape. Fishers (raiders) will pull them and their future away like fish on a hook.

They’ll turn to their corrupt religion with their own made up rules in which the true God is just one deity along with Baal, but the more they work at it the more it will show how far they are from God.

Then a section listing all that God has done to Israel to shock them out if their complacency and have them turn to him: weather disasters, attacks, lean times etc.

No more indirect measures. Now it’s their time to face God in his full awesome power:

The one who made mountains and wind … (concrete and invisible strength); who is in our minds, who can break time, who is beyond all. The lord of hosts.

Eeeek!

I return to Jesus’ parable of the rich fool who counted all his money, went to bed and died in his sleep. We all have our brief time before we face God, think about how you use it!

Amos 3

The Israelites are deeply complacent.

The first section of this chapter is essentially saying “you better believe the prophets”. It uses a series of analogies that are similar to “where there is smoke there’s fire”, ie the prophets don’t wander about saying “repent”‘ just for the heck of it.

Because the they are close to God, because Israel is gods chosen, they are gods way of giving Israel a chance and a warning that their complacency needs to end.

It seems this is written at a time when Israel was relatively powerful and prosperous, and had expanded into neighbouring countries. But they have assimilated too much, and the oppression and luxury of the neighbours was sapping their spiritual strength. So judgement is coming on their neighbours and on them.

It’s not hard to draw a comparison to gods people today, is we over assimilate into the world. This is an elaboration of the point made in the first two chapters, that God doesn’t speak loudly though anaemic believers. 

It’s all very well to gather in our churches and talk about the urgency for the unsaved. But when we are out amount them, how distinctive are we? How saved do we behave?

Amos 2

One more judgement, Moab, who are judged for their treatment of Edom (they are always mentioned together in the Bible!) Then the ring of judgement around the Jews is complete.

Judah is judged as a write off, completely given to false gods. That’s the southern kingdom, including Jerusalem… I always thought they were the more faithful one, but no.

Israel is the one that hurts. They are supposedly still following God but loaded with sin.

He mentions particularly sexual immortality and inequality, gross treatment of the poor, selling countrymen to slavery.

It’s a message to a society like ours apparently. Prosperous, complacent. Lazily, greedily sinful.

God is saying all the sin is like a heavy load that slows down a cart. He can’t move. He refers to all the mighty things he did for them, bringing them out of slavery, giving them the land. But now, their lack of faith, the weight of their sin, makes them vulnerable.

It’s a useful metaphor. We are the eyes, ears hands and legs of God on earth. Distracted by an easy life, obsessed with our own betterment, disregarding of the weak, God cannot function effectively through us.

Like a cart that is overloaded, they can’t spiritually (and probably literally) escape or fight. It’s similar to that verse where saint Paul talks about shedding the things that would weigh you down so you can run the race before you.

So true, we get tangled up in life and society gets tangled up in its own progress, and without time for God the drift is so often towards corruption and heartlessness.

Keep me spiritually lean, show me what to shed father.

Amos 1

Amos is a shepherd who has a message from God that starts with condemnation of Israel’s neighbours.

It is interesting how god paints his relationship with sin and his involvement in the world here.

The repeated refrain is that not for a few sins does he condemn a society, but then lists a very corrupt and brutal act, and then a judgement in the form of a political defeat or natural disaster that will break up their power.

It reminds me of the bit where St Paul talks about civic order being a gift from God. Obviously your average government is not a holy empire. It’s a mix of good and bad. God here is saying he engages with it. If it gets too bad, too brutal, does more harm than good, it gets a knock.

In the background is human nature, in which there is good but which is corruptible, and trends towards greed. And God’s nature, in the refrain that comes back over and over though the old testament, slow to anger.

One difference between the old and new testaments is how god is more concrete in the old, and in the new many of the concrete concepts are revealed as spiritual truths. I see this as a kind of progressive revelation.

When Jesus came, the disciples still struggled to understand that he wasn’t planning to be an earthly revolutionary who would restore Israel’s political and material fortunes. It takes a lot for us to understand the nature of our personal need to know the love of God.

And ditto here. I’m getting the message that God is patient but also just, and that his patience is not forever, through simple concrete examples.