Saturday, August 28, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (30)

From time to time, unbelievers (and occasionally believers) accuse certain groups of Christians of plotting to bring about the end of our present world order — of trying to “immanentize the eschaton”, as they put it.

Now, it is certainly true that disciples of Christ look forward with hope to a future in which our Lord is Lord of all; in which the principalities and powers of the spiritual realm will have their nefarious activities curtailed; in which their human servants who survive Armageddon will be stripped of earthly authority and judged for their crimes; in which the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and the meek will inherit the earth.

Yes, it is certainly fair to accuse us of believing in such a future, of waiting eagerly for it and of praying, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s actually our job.

What is not reasonable is to accuse Christians across the board of actively trying to bring on that future in a specific time and place. Most of us recognize that is something only our God can do, and that he will do it in his time, not ours. Would you shorten the day of grace if it were up to you? I don’t trust my own judgment that much.

But in these final verses of chapter 7, the prophet Amos finds himself accused of something similar — of conspiring to bring about the end of the nation of Israel and the rule of its king.

Amos 7:10-13 — The Prophet as Conspirator

“Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,

“Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.” ’

And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’ ”

The Priest of Bethel

Amaziah’s ire with Amos was likely a product of the prophet’s non-stop invective against the city of Bethel and its temple. Singling out Bethel was not Amos’s idea; he was simply repeating what God had told him to say. Bethel was home to one of the golden calves commissioned by the original King Jeroboam, which made it uniquely the object of God’s wrath, a story you can read about here if it’s not a familiar one. (The second calf was in Dan, in the far north, where its temple would surely have seen much less foot traffic simply because of Israel’s geography and population distribution.) Thus in chapter 3, Amos promises the Lord will punish the altars of Bethel, and that the horns of its altar will be cut off and fall to the ground. In chapter 4, he refers to Bethel as a place of transgression, and in chapter 5, he refers to it as a place of futility, announces that it will “come to trouble” and that, absent a spirit of repentance in Israel, the Lord will “break forth like fire” against it.

Since Amaziah was the priest of Bethel, he likely took this rather personally, as was surely divinely intended.

Communicating vs. Conspiring

Nevertheless, there is a vast difference between telling someone “If you don’t repent, very bad things are going to happen” and actively participating in making those things happen, a distinction of which Amaziah cannot have been unaware. Reporting the news is not the same as making the news, a reality I wish modern Western media would learn to respect. Amaziah surely knew Amos was no conspirator when he went to Jeroboam II and essentially accused the prophet of treason. It was a classic case of shooting the messenger because you don’t like the message, or of conflating bad news with the agent by which that news is delivered.

You can’t stop the inevitable consequences of sin from being rolled out into the world, but you can certainly control the frequency with which you hear about them. Amaziah imagined that shutting Amos up would solve his problems. After all, he was a priest of foreign gods operating falsely in the name of Jehovah in the greatest of a number of Israelite replicas of God’s temple in Jerusalem.

Pride and Fear

There may have been more than injured pride in Amaziah’s accusation. The message Amos was taking to Israel called out the priest as a fraud and warned that his spurious center of worship would shortly be utterly destroyed. Supposing the nation were to respond to Amos’s ministry and repent? What then would become of Amaziah’s position, affluence and religious authority? So then, there is a certain air of self-preservation to the accusation. National repentance might be as bad for Amaziah as if Amos’s dire prophecies of Assyrian conquest were to come true. Amaziah cannot have been unaware that Israel had a history of putting false priests to death in times of revival, as Jehu did out of “zeal for the Lord”.

A false accusation of conspiracy whispered in the ear of the king might solve all that. How a mere shepherd from Judah was supposed to bring down an entire nation or effect the murder of Israel’s king is something Amaziah didn’t bother to explain. Perhaps he figured it wasn’t necessary; Amos was already persona non grata.

Flawed Accusations

One of the many names of Satan is the accuser of our brothers. Accusations are what he does. So when we hear lies about men who faithfully preach the truth, we know very well who is behind them. Amaziah’s accusation was flawed in multiple ways: (1) it failed to accurately represent what Amos had prophesied about Jeroboam (“I [God] will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword”); (2) it failed to acknowledge the divine authority behind the prophet’s words (“Then the Lord said”); (3) it implied Amos was acting from a profit motive (“eat bread there, and prophesy there”); (4) it presumed that putting the servant of God in personal peril would nullify his message (“flee away … and never again prophesy”); and (5) it assumed the lofty status of Bethel in the eyes of Israel’s elite rendered it immune from the judgment of heaven (“It is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom”).

Those who despise God’s warnings are despising God’s grace toward them. That never ends well.

Amos 7:14-17 — The Prophet’s Authority

“Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, ‘I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.

You say, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.”

Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’ ”

Amos’s reply to Amaziah is essentially this: “I am nothing special, but I am acting under the authority of Almighty God. It was the Lord who took me from the flock, and it is the Lord whose word you are rejecting. And to prove this is true, I’m going to tell you what is going to happen to you personally.” He has come from his home in Judah to preach against the sins of another nation not because there is money to be made in prophecy, but because God commanded him to do so.

In times of national judgment, there is a limited upside to righteousness. When Judah went into Babylonian exile, the Lord providentially allowed Baruch to preserve his own life as a “prize of war” because of his faithful service to Jeremiah. Nevertheless, there are always ways a wicked man can make things worse for himself in time of judgment, and Amaziah had done just that. He was confronted with the certain promise of personal exile, a wife reduced to prostitution in his absence, lost property and slain children.

Notice that Amos is not cursing Amaziah. He is simply relating what God has said about him. Amos would continue to prophesy. Unlike Jeremiah, who ended up thrown into a cistern, we do not read of anything happening to Amos as a result of Amaziah’s false accusations. Perhaps the king regarded the charges of conspiracy as improbable, or perhaps he had more urgent concerns.

In any case, it does not appear Jeroboam followed up on the false accusations against God’s prophet. A good thing, then, that Amos didn’t panic and follow Amaziah’s unhelpful and self-interested suggestion.

No comments :

Post a Comment