Amos 5

“The Twelve”

Reading The Minor Prophets

‘Trinity on Church’ UC Kitchener

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November 02, 2018


Did Amos lament in anticipation of the prophecy realized, or did the school of Amos develop the laments later. Who really wants to say ‘I told you so’ when they tried to avert disaster? If chapter 4 reminded us of minor reversible set-backs, chapter 5 begins with devastation beyond repair or resuscitation. Only resurrection will do for this land and people.

Specifically, the image is of 90% decimation, a city of 1000 routed out of their leveled walls, leaving only 100 survivors, the town of 100 reduced to 10. There is no safe sanctuary: Bethel, Gilbal, Beersheba, the shrines of Israel competing with the centralized one in Jerusalem offer no solace on that day.

The vision goes to the cosmic: the stars in the skies, Pleiades and Orion, and the waters of the depths from the priestly creation story. The vision returns to the mundane, and the petty indignities of administrative injustice at the gates. God knows how we squeeze a nickel from the poor on every purchase, to build the mansions of the rich. God remembers the insults we inflict on the poor, and promises that we will receive them in our turn.

There’s a middle editorial voice here, conceding the loss of Israel, while pleading for salvage of Judah. Is that a Josiah voice after Assyria and before Babylon, or a restoration voice in the second temple? Is it ever too late to repent and do justice? Is it ever too soon to hope?

The text lingers on the call to lament. Don’t rush off to fix anything, without absorbing the scale of the problem. God hates the premature feasts, which are not commensurate with the evils done, or the work ahead of us.

Don’t get self-righteous in opposition. Too few of us read this whole passage. In the face of great evil, it maybe prudent to stay silent, and choose your time. What is complicity? What is escape?

Can’t you see how bad it is? I keep quoting this image of a guy escaping from a lion, to run into a bear, and even if he eludes the bear, and finds sanctuary at home, there a snake kills him. Cut through the denial.

The big finish, that most of us can still remember from the United Church of Canada and perhaps the heyday of liberation theology, with one tune or another Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The last bit is a funny change - reminding us of our utter dependence in the exodus on manna, and referring to a specific idolatry. The danger with losing your belief in God is not that you will believe in nothing, but that you will believe in anything.

Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel:

2 Fallen, no more to rise, is maiden Israel; forsaken on her land, with no one to raise her up.

3 For thus says the Lord GOD: The city that marched out a thousand shall have a hundred left, and that which marched out a hundred shall have ten left.*

4 For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: Seek me and live;

5 but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beer-sheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to nothing.

6 Seek the LORD and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.

7 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!

8 The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name,

9 who makes destruction flash out against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress.

10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.

11 Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.

12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.

13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.

15 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

16 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord: In all the squares there shall be wailing; and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! alas!’ They shall call the farmers to mourning, and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing;

17 in all the vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through the midst of you, says the LORD.

18 Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD! Why do you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light;

19 as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.

20 Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

22 Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.

23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

25 Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?

26 You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images* that you made for yourselves;

27 therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus, says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.