Saturday, March 27, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (8)

Relationship is the foundation of all appropriate correction.

Where there is no set of mutual obligations established, and no agreed-upon standard to be abided by, we are generally fairly careful about playing judge — or at least we ought to be. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” asks the apostle Paul. Of course; it is before his own master that each servant stands or falls. It is quite appropriate for a father to punish his own children when they misbehave, a little less so for an uncle to do it, even less so for the neighbors, and wholly inappropriate for strangers to interfere with someone else’s children.

I try to apply this principle in my interactions with other people’s kids, no matter how irritating they may be. After all, nobody likes busybodies and meddlers.

When we come to the third chapter of Amos’s prophecy, we find even the Lord himself operates on the same basis. The closeness of relationship determines the type of discipline.

Amos 3:1-2 — Relationship and Discipline
“Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.’ ”
You Only

“You only have I known,” declares the Lord. That relationship is exceedingly well established. The covenant at Sinai is not mentioned, though it is certainly there in the subtext and was well understood by both God and Israel.

But the reference to Egypt reminds us of the scene at the beginning of Exodus where Moses questions how God intends to make himself known to Israel. “If they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” he inquires. God replies, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” So Israel knew the Lord personally, experientially and covenantally. And he knew them. He made himself known to them by name, he delivered them, he led them, provided for them, and entered into a binding agreement with them. In this respect Israel was unique among the nations.

So then, the word “known” here has nothing to do with the accumulation of data — after all, God’s knowledge about the other nations of the world was and remains no different from his knowledge about Israel, in that it is absolute and comprehensive — but rather with the establishment of this singular relationship that began with Abraham, was confirmed at Sinai, and continued to exist despite all Israel’s provocations down through the centuries.

All Your Iniquities

It should also be evident that God is in a unique situation where doling out punishment is concerned. Earthly fathers have children who are theirs and children who are not. But as the apostle Paul declared to the Areopagus, “We are all his offspring.” As creator of all things, God already has some sort of relationship, however distant or extended, with every nation on the planet. His bond with Israel was unique and very close, but that did not stop God from punishing other nations when they deserved it, as chapters 1 and 2 of Amos confirm. God had not “known” Ammon, Moab, Syria, Philistia, Tyre or Edom in same sense as he knew Israel and Judah, but the coming fire on their citadels would testify that God’s punishment extends well beyond those with whom he has established a covenant relationship.

The difference is that God punishes some of the iniquities of the nations when they have become too blatant and provocative to ignore, but he allows them latitude that could not exist in a family relationship. “The times of ignorance God overlooked,” says Paul in that same address in the city of Athens, referring to the nations to whom God had not revealed himself in the same way as he had with Israel. This is wholly appropriate. Judgment begins at the household of God, just as a father is concerned with the development of character in his own family and is less concerned about the development of character in the children of families down the street or across the world.

When God speaks of punishing all Israel’s iniquities, it helps us to understand why Amos’s prophecies against the nations in chapters 1 and 2 are comparatively short, while Israel’s diagnosis and prescribed remedy runs a full seven chapters. In Israel’s case, there was simply that much more to be dealt with, and a level of scrutiny and attention to their correction that didn’t exist in six of the other seven cases. (Judah would be dealt with, and dealt with severely, at the appropriate time, but the rightful punishment of all their iniquities was still incubating.)

Love and Discipline

So then, relationship is not only the basis for all appropriate correction, but we might say that the comprehensiveness of the discipline we receive from God in this life is evidence of the closeness of our relationship to him. Those whom he loves he reproves and disciplines. In Israel’s case, it was “all your iniquities” that God would punish, not because he was being excessively fastidious or picky about sin, but because when you love someone, you are concerned about their moral development and progress in ways you are not concerned about the development of others. Or, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” As much as we may hate discipline, nobody really wants to be on the outside of God’s greatest blessings looking in.

In making this distinction between Israel and the nations, God was not being unloving to the rest of the world. When someone bears your name, as Israel did God’s, they serve as a public testimony to both your character and competence. To fail to discipline a child is to declare that relationship trivial to you. Moreover, a failure to discipline Israel would have told the world God was unconcerned about sin, and encouraged the nations to greater depths of depravity.

And nothing could be further from the truth.

No comments :

Post a comment