Showing posts with label Amos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amos. Show all posts

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (40)

Analyzing the structure of any book of the Bible requires basic pattern recognition, a skill quickly developed by most students of the Word who go on to write anything useful about it. Mind you, that doesn’t mean they all see exactly the same patterns. Often there is more in there than any single intellect is equipped by God to dig out.

In the case of the book of Amos, efforts to analyze its structure have been frustrated at times by its apparent randomness. Everyone who comes to it sees something slightly (or in some cases, wildly) different. “There is not a clear ‘story’ or ‘narrative’ to this text,” writes Rebecca Holland.

In short, finding a definitive structural analysis of Amos is no easy task.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (39)

The territory occupied by the nation of Israel today is not the territory occupied by the Israel of the divided kingdom period. It is not the territory occupied by the nations of Israel and Judah when they were briefly united under the house of David. According to the prophets, it is also not the territory which will be occupied by the Israel of the future.

There is some land in common, of course. Territory has been gained (the Negev and the Gaza Strip, for example). But when Israel lost the Transjordan to Assyria, it never got it back. Moreover, few modern Israelis are descended from the people who occupied the northern kingdom when Amos prophesied against it.

We understand the prophets more accurately when we correctly identify their intended audience. Let me take a stab at that.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (38)

Spiritual fulfillment is not literal fulfillment.

That doesn’t make it less important, of course. We might reasonably make the case that spiritual fulfillment of the prophetic word can be more life changing and longer lasting than its literal counterpart. Examples will follow. The point to keep before us is that the prophecies of scripture often have multiple fulfillments — or perhaps we might say that there are multiple aspects to their fulfillment.

Every prophetic fulfillment of either kind has some connection, however distant, to the work of Christ. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. But one cannot fully comprehend the scope of his wonderful work without acknowledging both the literal and allegorical ways it illuminates and resolves the sometimes-obscure utterances of the ancient Hebrew seers.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (37)

There is a short, somewhat mysterious passage in the final speech Moses made to Israel before his death in which he declares that when God divided mankind — presumably referring to the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, which ends with the words “the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth” — that God also “fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God”.

Now, we know what the phrase “sons of God” means to believers from the teaching of the New Testament. However, in the Old Testament, the same expression is consistently connected with angelic beings.

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.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (35)

We have come to the final chapter of Amos, and to the seer’s final vision, this time of the Lord and the altar.

As in previous passages in Amos, the altar in question is not the altar in Jerusalem, in the true temple of the Lord, but rather the altar of the facsimile-temple in Bethel, home of one of King Jeroboam I’s two golden calves, variously referred to as “the guilt of Samaria” and, more often, “the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.”

That last bit is important. Jeroboam “made Israel to sin”.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (34)

It was 1966 when Pete Townshend wrote yet another generational anthem for The Who, this one intended as a tribute to the trendy, rebellious Mod movement in Britain. But its lyrics could just as easily have been applied to the hippies the band played to at Woodstock three years later, or indeed to any generation in history whose lifestyle choices made their parents shake their heads in dismay and speculate that society was just about to come down around their ears.

Townshend’s point was that while they might look a little rough around the edges, ultimately these young ruffians would do just fine for themselves. “The kids are alright” became part of the British vernacular, a euphemism for impending success.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (33)

Prophetic language in scripture is always more difficult to interpret from a distance.

This uncertainty is especially common when figurative language — a regular feature of the prophetic word — is in play. When a prophecy is fulfilled in a generation or less, its original audience has little difficulty unpacking a nicely turned figure of speech and applying it to their own situation. On the other hand, a 2,700 year distance from the events about which the prophet has spoken or written severely limits the modern reader’s ability to dogmatize about specifics.

The historical record just isn’t that comprehensive, and the culture and language barriers to understanding the text as its original readers understood it increase with every passing generation.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (32)

Religious people do some very strange and inconsistent things. Some observe holidays to which they have no attachment in the name of a God in whom they don’t believe. Others appear to have an on/off switch that gets toggled to “off” every time they leave the church building Sunday around noon and head back to the rest of their weekly routine.

Apparently things were no different 2,700 years ago. Religious people were engaged in strange and inconsistent practices, and God sent the prophet Amos to Israel to point this out.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (31)

In the New Testament, fruit is used to symbolize the inevitable consequences of human choice. The outcome of any set of actions reflects favorably or unfavorably on the person who engages in them. As the Lord put it, “Each tree is known by its own fruit.” You do not find figs growing on thorn bushes or grapes among brambles.

The production of fruit is usually a positive thing, but fruit may be either good or bad. In Matthew’s gospel, the Lord tells his disciples false prophets may be recognized by the fruit they produce, which is diseased rather than healthy.

In Amos too, the image of fruit has to do with outcomes.

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.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (29)

How does man end up negotiating with God?

Human reasoning cannot account for it. God, who knows everything, has already determined the most effective, just and reasonable course of action in every conceivable instance. He needs no advice or input from humanity. There is absolutely nothing created beings can contribute to the process by which a sovereign God works out his sovereign will. The idea is preposterous.

And yet it happens all the time in scripture. God deliberately seeks out man’s opinion, or else man expresses it and God allows him to have his say, even indulging his choices.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (28)

Friends recently commented on the length of our current series (hence my choice of visuals for this post). Let me assure you we are coming down the home stretch. Amos is about to relate a series of five visions from the Lord (groups of three and two), punctuated with a historical interval.

But before we get to that, he has three final verses of invective for the rich, self-indulgent, out-of-touch idolators in Israel.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (27)

Proximity to God comes at a price. God is holy, and those who speak his name and identify themselves with him invariably put themselves in the gravest danger. C.S. Lewis had it right: Aslan is not a tame lion. Judgment begins with the house of God.

That said, where God is concerned, there is no better place to be than as near as possible. “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Just bear in mind that when you take God’s name on your lips and broadcast your association with him to the world, you make yourself accountable for everything you do and say afterward. God is holy, and cannot allow his name to be associated with sin unrepented.

Israel forgot that. The prophet Amos was sent to remind them that the name of God is holy, and the consequences of defaming it are both inescapable and dire.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (26)

In Genesis 3, when God cursed the ground on account of Adam, he assured Adam — and all those to be born of Adam — that under this new order of affairs which man had brought upon the world, his efforts to feed himself and his family would for the foreseeable future be accompanied by pain and sweat.

Naturally, being what he is, fallen man has spent the better part of the next six millennia trying to find ways to do an end-around God’s edict.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (25)

One attitude that seems to characterize nations on the brink of being judged, conquered and dispersed in scripture is an all-but-universal denial of the inevitable.

Jesus himself prophesied judgment on Israel. And yet the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 was the direct result of the First Jewish Revolt against Roman rule, which had begun four years earlier. Large numbers of Jews simply couldn’t imagine losing to Rome despite the long odds. They were in absolute denial of reality. So the rebels gambled with the lives of their friends and families and lost, setting the stage for centuries of Jewish diaspora.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (24)

The Israelite legal requirement for multiple witnesses to any criminal charge goes back to the Law of Moses and the book of Numbers, but is itself restated many times in scripture. By the time we encounter it in the New Testament from the apostle Paul, there is a new twist on the “two or three” rule. “This is the third time I am coming to you,” he writes. “Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

Did you catch that? In this case the three witnesses are all the same person. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that’s not precisely what God intended.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (23)

Who would eagerly anticipate and call for God to act in judgment? You might be surprised.

When injustice is rampant in society, those who are hurting tend to identify the beneficiaries of their perceived oppression and blame everyone in that targeted group regardless of personal involvement. In Germany it was the Jews. In Mao’s China it was the wealthy landowners. In Western society it is the “patriarchy”. In the Israel of Amos’s day, it was the rich.

So then, up goes the cry for judgment: If only God would deal with this fellow over here, or that group over there, everything would be fine.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (22)

Towards the end of Deuteronomy, when God is renewing the nation’s covenant in Moab with a new generation of Israelites, Moses sets a choice before the people. The choice is life and good, death and evil. One road leads one way, the other in the opposite.

Obey God’s commandments as your fathers did not, Moses says, and you will live and multiply. These commandments are synonymous with “good”. Goodness is not a matter of personal opinion. God has declared what it is. No discussion is necessary. “Choose life,” Moses strongly recommends.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (21)

We hear a lot in the current environment about how the powers that exist have been instituted by God, and that whoever resists them resists God’s ordinance. And that is certainly true, but only to a point. Scripture is full of men and women who didn’t simply go along with unlawful orders from tyrants, and who, far from incurring judgment, were blessed by God for resisting the expressed will of those very “powers that be”.

It falls to each one of us to decide before God at what point Romans 13 no longer applies to our circumstances. Invariably, some of us will make mistakes, either acting too hastily in defiance of authority, or else waiting too long to put up resistance. But if I’m going to be one of those acting in error, I think I’d prefer to be too quick off the mark than to drag my feet and regret it later.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (20)

“Teachers told us
the Romans built this place.
They built a wall and a temple on
an edge-of-the-empire garrison town.
They lived and they died.
They prayed to their gods
but the stone gods did not make a sound.
And their empire crumbled
’til all that was left were
stones the workmen found.”

— Sting, All This Time

One of my favorite songs ever recorded by the ex-singer of The Police makes the point that empires rise and fall while the natural world goes about its business. “All this time, the river flowed endlessly to the sea,” goes the chorus. Being English, Sting singles out the Roman Empire, but he could as easily have written about those of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medo-Persians or Greeks.

Or, frankly, the Americans.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (19)

There is no such thing as a truly secular state. Man was made to worship, and if he will not worship the one true God, then he will worship false gods. If he does not worship false gods, then he ends up worshiping himself. But worship he will, one way or another.

The problem with alternatives to the worship of the one true God is that they are all futile.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (18)

In the Bible, the word lamentation refers to a dirge, song or hymn of mourning.

It is certainly possible to grieve privately and in silence. Often we do. But there are losses we share, and injuries of such scope and magnitude that they call for men and women to join their voices together in unified expression of misery. In 1997, songwriter Bernie Taupin repurposed his 25‑year old elegy for Marilyn Monroe into a tacky, maudlin and singularly appropriate pop culture farewell to Princess Diana that reinvigorated Elton John’s flagging musical career, sold 33 million copies worldwide and remained in Canada’s Top 20 for a full three years.

Some hearts were obviously touched around the world, and they sang along. That’s a lamentation.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (17)

In his book The Riches of Divine Wisdom, David Gooding notes that the writers of the New Testament had a distinct advantage over the Old Testament prophets in that they now looked back on the prophecies and histories of the Old Testament from the vantage point of having witnessed their fulfillment in Christ. Gooding writes:

“In that light it was inevitable that they should perceive that the intended meaning and scope of God’s Old Testament prophecies were often far greater than many people realized at that time.”

Makes sense. The more light you have, the more you can see.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (16)

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy …”

Peter, quoting scripture at Pentecost to explain why Parthian, Median and Egyptian Jews were hearing Galileans speaking their native languages, preceded these prophetic words with the statement “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel.”

Hey, if Peter says so, I believe him.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (15)

Like most fathers, I disciplined my children when they were young and disobedient.

We can think about discipline in either of two ways: firstly, as punishment for sinning, which it most certainly is. When an evil act is committed, it deserves a penalty. Justice cries out for it, and if justice doesn’t make its voice heard, a child’s siblings generally will. But secondly, most acts of discipline are also designed to encourage repentance. A good father desires that the offender learn his lesson and stop offending, both for his own sake and for the sake of those he offends against.

Both these aspects of the disciplinary process are in play in God’s dealings with Israel in Amos 4.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (14)

Why would God extend an invitation to sinners to keep right on sinning? Isn’t that the exact opposite of what he really wants?

It’s not a bad question. Yet the scripture frequently shows us God standing back and allowing the sinner to act out the evil in his heart, from his warning to Cain in Genesis 4 that “sin is crouching at the door” (which went sadly unheeded) to the accumulated sins of Babylon in the book of Revelation, which are “heaped high as heaven”.

This divinely permitted real-world actualizing of the evil desires of the heart often comes at great cost to others. Yet here in Amos, God once again invites the people of Israel to “multiply transgression”.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (13)

I am understandably reluctant to compare other men’s wives to cows. Let’s just say the criticism may not be well received.

Amos says some hard things, but they were given to him to say, and he dared not water them down or modify them. These are God’s words, not his. And if God wants to call your wife a cow, you had best listen. More importantly, your wife would be wise to pay attention.

Then again, if she were wise, the Lord wouldn’t be calling her a cow.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (12)

When I was in my early twenties I had a job at a local gas station. One of the first things I learned was how to tally up cash, cheques and credit card chits (remember those?) at the end of my shift. If it turned out the number of gallons of gas pumped during those eight hours was different than the number of gallons paid for, any shortage came out of my pocket.

Seemed a little rough to me, but it was a lesson in accountability. I’ve found myself up against equivalent practices in every job I’ve held that placed me in a position of trust.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (11)

One of the subtler themes of the book of Amos is this: that God hates strongholds.

That probably requires a little explanation. Chapters 1 and 2 are full of references to these fortified places. There are the strongholds of Ben-hadad in Syria, the stronghold of Gaza in Philistia, the stronghold of Tyre, and so on. Each of seven strongholds mentioned is slated to be devoured by fire, the judgment of God poured out upon them. Then in chapter 3 the word “strongholds” is used four times, and it is Israel’s strongholds, particularly Samaria, which are in view.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (10)

God doesn’t enjoy punishing people, even when they are unusually wicked. He takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, preferring that they change their ways and prosper rather than get what is coming to them. This is a well-established principle of scripture; both prophets and apostles testify to the fact that our God lets us off the hook every single time he can possibly justify it.

As the psalmist put it, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (9)

Actions have consequences. Some things follow inevitably from others. In his third chapter, Amos takes a series of illustrations from the natural world and uses them to demonstrate that when presented with the evidence of one’s eyes and ears, certain conclusions ought to be drawn. He does this by asking seven questions to which every answer is an obvious “No” or “Of course not.”

It may be that the content of the questions is less important than the rhetorical flourish they achieve cumulatively; that each statement is intended to build upon the previous one and together reinforce the certainty of the prophet’s concluding statement. However, when we look at the content of each line more closely in the light of other Old Testament scriptures, it does not seem unreasonable to view them as different ways of illustrating the inevitability of Israel’s coming judgment.

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.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (7)

In making his case against the nation of Israel through his prophet Amos, God has first laid out the reasons for which Israel is about to come under God’s judgment: their ongoing oppression of the poor, systemic injustice, culturally-pervasive sexual immorality and rampant religious hypocrisy.

Most importantly, God’s people have rejected all his previous efforts at course correction. They refused to hear his prophets and corrupted his Nazirites. The way they have treated one another is bad enough, but when God’s voice can no longer be heard, then the time for judgment has come.

Now the prophet moves on to the form this coming judgment would take.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (6)

Ten of twelve spies sent into Canaan by Moses came back complaining about the presence of giants. The Philistine Goliath, slain by David, may have descended from the same race that produced the oversized Amorites to which Amos refers in his denunciation of Israel. But Goliath maxed out at about 10' 6", and could easily have been a foot shorter, depending on whether you use the 18" or 20" cubit as your standard of measurement.

This is not an unrealistic height. Robert Wadlow [pictured right], the tallest man measured in the twentieth century, was 8' 11", which is not so far from the low-end biblical estimates of Goliath’s height. The Amorite giants described by the spies may even have been slightly taller, having lived several generations earlier.

Whatever their actual size, these Amorites scared the ten spies silly. They towered over the Israelites.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (5)

Evil takes various forms, as does God’s judgment.

For example, Paul tells Timothy, “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.” There are obvious sins and there are secret sins. Many of these await judgment in a future “day of wrath”, as Paul tells the Romans. The self-seeking and disobedient will indeed receive their due, not always during their lifetimes but upon being resurrected to judgment at the end of the age.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (4)

As discussed briefly in our introductory post, as divine judgments go, the judgment of nations prophesied in the first few chapters of the book of Amos is a little unusual.

In the mid-eighth century BC, the eight nations targeted by the prophet occupied approximately 50,000 square kilometers of contiguous geographic territory east of the Mediterranean Sea, extending from the middle of modern-day Syria down through Lebanon and Israel to a few dozen kilometres north of the current Egyptian border and, on the far side of the Dead Sea, well into Jordan.

National judgments are fairly common in the Old Testament; simultaneous mass-judgments of multiple nations less so.

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.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (2)

Any map of the Middle East from the time of the prophet Amos, including this one (if you want something larger than the map to the right), shows an interesting feature of the judgment of nations we read about in chapters 1 and 2.

The six Gentile nations — and all eight nations against which Amos prophesied, including God’s own people in Israel and Judah — are not chosen willy-nilly from here, there and everywhere in the Middle East; rather, they comprise a contiguous geographic region of over 50,000 square kilometers. Israel sits dead center in this region, while Judah abuts it on the south, Ammon on the east, Moab on the southeast, Philistia on the southwest, Phoenicia (Tyre) on the northwest, and Damascus (southern Syria) on the north. Only Edom does not have a common border with Israel, and it has common borders with both Judah and Moab.

This suggests that rather than a series of separate judgments, we are considering a single massive, transformative event that affected every one of these nations to differing degrees.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (1)

G.J. Wenham suggests the nomadic lifestyle of the shepherd tended to foster mistrust in ancient societies, as plausible an explanation as any other for the low estimation of the profession in the eyes of the elite. But though the Egyptians disparaged herdsmen, God uses the term as a compliment, and he called some of the greatest men in Israel’s history from among the flock.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cognitive Dissonance

In my neighbourhood it has become trendy to post a blue sign on your front lawn, one that reads, “Leave fossil fuels IN THE GROUND”. I walk by several of these each morning.

These messages adorn the snow-covered lawns of $800,000+ homes with their natural gas furnaces blasting away in the face of our Canadian winter, their driveways filled with SUVs and other premium fossil fuel-consuming vehicles.

Such cries for change are eminently dismissable, their transparent virtue-signaling drowning in cognitive dissonance and unintended irony.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Mission Accomplished

How does the Infinite behave in close proximity with the Very Finite Indeed? (That would be you and me, by the way.)

I struggle with this as I read about the Lord Jesus and his dealings with men. He asked them questions to which, being God incarnate, he already knew the answers. He confronted them with impossible conundrums to bring out what was in their hearts. The common language in which two very different parties may converse and the language of theology are in such (apparent) conflict that we may wonder whether man can ever hope to begin to comprehend the Divine.

And yet that very comprehension seems to be God’s purpose.