Saturday, February 20, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (3)

There’s a lot of talk today — and maybe this is the case in every generation — about the evils of generations past and how they affect the present, conferring “privilege” on some and disadvantaging others.

Much of this talk is nonsense, nothing but hunger for political power masquerading as a quest for justice. Moreover, the outrage directed at the alleged beneficiaries of multi-generational injustices is very selective. For example, we are not allowed to excoriate the practitioners of modern-day Islam for 9/11, but it is perfectly fine to blame the economic and social disadvantages of today’s American black community on the current generation of whites, including many whose ancestors did not even cross the Atlantic until years after the abolition of slavery. Equal weights and measures, and all that.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the abuses of the concept in the present day, there remains some biblical validity to the idea of cumulative multi-generational sin that brings the judgment of God to bear on a single, unfortunate generation.

Multi-Generational Accountability

We might consider the example of the Amorites living in Canaan. The descendants of Abraham were to be sent to Egypt for several hundred years because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete”. So then, the judgment that fell on Canaan in the form of the Israelite invasion under Joshua was the consequence of centuries of accumulated guilt. A single generation of unhappy Amorites got saddled with paying a tab run up mostly by their ancestors, or at least so it might appear.

Or we might think of the words of the Lord Jesus, who charged the generation of Jews who heard and rejected his teaching with “all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” That’s a lot of blood and a lot of judgment for one generation to bear ... or, again, so it might appear.

And yet this is God in the flesh speaking. If he charges Jews living in the early first century with a murder committed 550 years prior (not to mention the murder of Abel, who was neither prophet nor Jew, committed thousands of years previously), who are we to argue with him? Like it or not, and understand it or not, multi-generational accountability in scripture seems to be a thing.

God, the Righteous Judge

Nevertheless, unlike the social justice warriors of today, who persecute the bewildered children of “privilege” for the benefits handed down to them by their fathers and indict them for the sins of their grandparents and great-grandparents, God is an absolutely righteous judge. While he may charge a single generation with the sins of the past, he does not punish the innocent. The Jews of the first century who put to death the Son of God were actually worse than their fathers, and the Lord Jesus made this evident in verbally prosecuting God’s case against them:
“… you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town.”
Isaiah, whose period of ministry overlapped with that of Amos, speaks concerning the “offspring of evildoers”. The seeming unfairness of “preparing slaughter” for the sons because of the guilt of their fathers is offset by this statement: “... lest they rise and possess the earth and fill the face of the world with cities.” This new generation are no innocent babes in the woods. Thoroughly marinated in the evils of their culture and personally invested in the crimes of their fathers, they would do worse things than their parents if given a chance. The fathers were guilty, but the children would institutionalize their wickedness and fill the world with it.

So then, there is nothing unfair about the way God punishes multi-generational sin. He visits his judgment on the worst generation of the bunch, giving them ample opportunity to display their solidarity with the evils committed by previous generations or, alternatively, to disclaim them and escape punishment. What else may be meant by Peter’s Pentecostal plea to Jews from all over the known world to “Save yourselves from this crooked generation”?

But back to our study in the book of Amos, where we will see how this principle applies.

Amos 2:4-5 — Sins of the Fathers

Judah, the Seventh Nation Under Judgment
Judah (ch2 v4-5)
1 Thus says the Lord:
2 ‘For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
3 because they have rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked.
4 So I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.’
We have been examining the prophecies of Amos against the Gentile nations by dividing them into the six categories enumerated in the first column above. His prophecy against the nation of Judah follows the same pattern:

1 and 6: Declaration of authorship. The final declaration that these are the very words of the Lord God is absent in Judah’s case, as it is with two of the six Gentile nations under judgment. There is probably not much to be made of this third exception to an observable pattern; even one declaration that God has spoken is surely adequate for the Holy Spirit of God to bring conviction.

2: Declaration of intent. God’s insistence that he will not revoke Judah’s punishment follows the same pattern as the previous six.

3: The reason for judgment. Judah has “rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked”. In fact, it is only multi-generational guilt that accounts for Judah being judged at all in the days of Amos, for reasons spelled out in the “Additional punishments” section below. If we are to restrict our interpretation of the prophet’s accusation to the historical record found in Kings and Chronicles, the sole crime with which Amos’s generation of Judeans could really be charged was one they did not initiate and which had been part of their culture for generations: “Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places.” Perhaps this is the meaning of Amos’s “lies … after which their fathers walked”. It is likely much of the worship conducted in the high places was non-idolatrous during Uzziah’s reign, as it was when Solomon offered sacrifices to the God of Israel at Gibeon. However, God had placed his name in Jerusalem, and had forbidden the children of Israel to make any use of the high places, where sacrifices may occasionally have been offered in his name, but where religious rituals inevitably degenerated into the service of the same heathen deities previously worshiped by the Canaanites in those very locations. The offense of Judah, then, even if singular, was not a trivial one.

I have previously mentioned that the sins for which these nations were being judged by God are corporate rather than individual. While it may reasonably be pointed out that the choice to visit a high place to worship (much like the choice to have an abortion) is very much an individual one, and that not all Judeans engaged in it, it is the acceptance of that sin on a cultural level that makes it a matter requiring national judgment. When your personal peccadillo is overlooked, tolerated or celebrated with a parade by your neighbors, you are all in it together. It has become a national problem.

4: The fire. The “fire” upon the Judean strongholds follows the same pattern as the previous six prophecies. More remains to be said about that.

5: Additional punishments. Beyond the common judgment of fire on the citadels of Jerusalem, there are no additional punishments spelled out against Judah. Both the list of accusations and the list of punishments are mercifully short. Judah’s condition would worsen, and her time of national judgment would come, but when Amos spoke the prophetic word against Judah, her spiritual state was not yet at its nadir. The reign of King Uzziah was a long and relatively righteous one, especially in his early years, and it was during these halcyon days that Amos spoke against Judah, which was surely at the time the best place to live out of all eight nations against whom the prophet was tasked with declaiming. In fact, Uzziah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” As long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper, and his entire nation with him, as described in 2 Chronicles 26.

Across-the-Board Culpability

Most of the accusations leveled by Amos against the eight nations in question have multi-generational aspects to them. The sins of the Syrians against Gilead had been going on for decades; the Philistine crime lay almost a century in the past, as (quite probably) did those of both Tyre and Ammon; and the guilt of the Edomites goes all the way back to Numbers 20. Israel would go on to be charged with a whole host of sins, crimes and injustices going back centuries. Only the timing of the evil perpetrated by Moab is biblically indeterminate.

But like the Jews of the first century, the generation of Judeans to whom Amos directed this prophecy was as culpable of disobedience as their forefathers. They persisted in an evil against which God had repeatedly spoken, and which no king of Israel or Judah was able to completely eradicate.

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