Saturday, October 09, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (36)

How many titles are given to God in the Old Testament? Much depends on whether you count slight variations as completely different names or group them together as essentially teaching the same truths about the Almighty. Three attempts to put a hard number on the total got me 14, 17 and 21, which was enough to discourage me from the effort for the time being.

Let’s just say there are many: some that encourage (The Lord My Banner), some that comfort (The Lord My Shepherd), some that reassure (The Lord Will Provide) and some that awe (Jealous, The Most High God).

One of the more intimidating titles is found in the next two verses in Amos.

Amos 9:5-6 — Him to Whom We Must Give Account

“The Lord God of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who dwell in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt; who builds his upper chambers in the heavens and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth — the Lord is his name.”

The Lord God of Hosts

The Hebrew expression 'ăḏōnāy yᵊhōvâ ṣāḇā' (the Lord God of hosts, or armies) occurs 16 times in the Old Testament, used once by David in the heavily-messianic Psalm 69 and the other 15 times by various prophets, most frequently Isaiah. A comprehensive analysis of the expression can be found here. The writer concludes that the title “suggests the military majesty of the self-defining God as it relates to the individual”, which is as good an explanation as I’ve come across.

Of these 16 instances, Psalm 69 is arguably most significant. It stands out as an appeal by the servant of God to the “Lord God of hosts” in all his power and greatness to ensure that those who trust in God not be put to shame when the servant suffers, is hated without cause, is attacked with lies and becomes a stranger to his brothers. Viewed messianically, we know that ultimately the Perfect Servant’s request was granted, his cause thoroughly vindicated, and Jesus Christ has been exalted to the right hand of the majesty on high.

That said, these two verses in the final chapter of Amos appear to provide us with the clearest definition of the expression. God, who rules both earthly and celestial armies, is sovereign over land, sea and heaven itself. Each of the passages in which the term occurs speaks of destruction and desolation, sometimes of Gentile nations but most often of Israel, feats which one who is Lord not just of an army but of armies, plural, is obviously better equipped to accomplish than any other power in the universe.

Figurative and Literal

As in the previous chapter, the language in these two verses may be read literally or metaphorically. If, as has been conjectured, the earthquake Amos references in chapter 1 as two years in the future was indeed a product of tectonic plates shifting along the fault line of the Dead Sea Transform, then this description of the power of the Lord God of hosts may be based on something quite literal: the melting earth would be flowing lava, the rising and sinking of the land as accurate a description of an earthquake as any, and the disruption and upheaval of the coastlines something that fleeing Israelites would have observed with their own eyes. Alternatively, the upheaval of the land of Israel may speak of the coming Assyrian invasion, and the “waters of the sea”, as they often do in scripture, may speak of the men from various nations who history tells us were conscripted into the Assyrian army.

However we may choose to read it, midway through this description of the Lord God of host’s awesome power is the rather difficult Hebrew phrase rendered in the ESV as “who builds his upper chambers in the heavens and founds his vault upon the earth”. Of the various translation options, this is one of the more elegant and poetic solutions, but I am not totally convinced it represents the underlying Hebrew accurately. The word translated as “upper chambers” is far more frequently translated “stairs” or “ascents” elsewhere in the OT. The word translated “vaults” is even more obscure; it means a “troop”, “bunch” or “burden”, depending on where you look. Regardless, the overall impression conveyed is that the Lord God of hosts is sovereign over everything in earth and heaven. It is all his handiwork, his domain, and utterly under his control.

The Message

These two verses provide the evidence for the claims made by the Lord verses 2-4. The ruling classes of the nation of Israel are under God’s judgment, and there can be no escape for any of “the sinners of my people” (v10). “No pebble shall fall to the earth” and no sinner will escape, regardless of where they try to flee. If they were to dig to Sheol, or the grave, the Lord God of hosts would find them there. If they were to ascend to heaven, he would pull them down. If they climbed the highest mountains, swam to the bottom of the sea, or surrendered themselves into captivity, the Lord God of hosts would still find and judge them wherever they might flee. He is sovereign over heaven and earth, and there is nowhere one can hide from his wrath.

As Hebrews puts it, “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

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