Amos in Lebanon

by Kim on July 31, 2006

In the context of the crisis in the Lebanon, Amos 1-2 makes instructive reading.

Amos, remember, comes from Judah, but he goes to the northern kingdom of Israel to preach. He is a child of the covenant - and yet an outsider. A bit like an ex-pat. But that is by-the-way.

The shepherd from Tekoa confronts Amaziah, priest of the royal court of Bethel and spokesman for the vested interests of a nation that has been prospering economically and stabilising territorily in the ever-volatile Middle East. Amos begins with the classic rhetorical gambit captatio benevolentiae: he charms his audience and sucks them in with just the message they want to hear: God’s judgement on the surrounding nations. He casts a spell - Auden called it oratorical “black magic” - with words designed to encourage his listeners’ complacency and suspend their capacity for self-critique - sin, punishment, foreigner (cf. Bush’s use of words like “freedom”, “democracy” and “terrorist”). Indeed Amos indicts Israel’s neighbours on the charge of war crimes. The people lap it up.

Then - WHAM! Having secured his audience’s agreement and applause, Amos rounds on them by proclaiming God’s judgement on Israel itself - not for war crimes, but for domestic social injustices - corruption, poverty, debt. OT scholar Mark G. Brett observes: “the audience would have thought that Israel had a specially privileged position which indemnified her against divine judgment, and moreover, they would not have regarded internal social sins as at all comparable with the gravity of war crimes”. So they would have reacted with double astonishment and horror at such a treasonable and unbalanced rant.

The point that Amos drives home is that the God of Israel is pre-eminently the God of the nations. His relation to Israel is only one aspect of that total global sovereignty. The prophet is at his most caustic at Amos 9:7:

Are you not like Ethiopians to me,
O people of Israel?, says the Lord.
Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt,
and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?

Listen to another OT scholar James L. Mays:
“In Amos’ sayings the salvation-history [of Israel] turns into a judgement history. . . Yahweh’s deeds in past and future were a Yahweh-history, and any understanding that made the nation an indispensible part of that history was a misunderstanding.
Israel, then was Yahweh’s people, but Yahweh was not Israel’s God - not at least in any of the current interpretations put on the possessive by the popular theology in Israel.”

The modern state of Israel maintains a theological status of privilege and a poltical status of victim. According to Amos these are big mistakes. And if ancient Israel can be indicted for “sell[ing] the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 2:6), what about contemporary Israel with its blatant injustices against its Arab denizens? And if Edom incurred the divine anger because “he pursed his brother with the sword and cast off all pity” (Amos 1:11), how does it stand with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who not only does not apologise, but indeed justifies the slaughter of dozens of Lebanese civilians in an apartment block in Qana - yes, the same town that was once the scene of a joyous wedding (John 2) - because, after all, they had time to get away?

“In the meantime,” says the leader in today’s Independent, “the rest of the world is becoming increasingly exasperated with American and British obstructionism and with the use of weasel words expressing nothing stronger than ’sorrow’ or shock’ over Lebanon’s war dead -already 750 and climbing.”

One thing about Amos - “weasel words” were not in his vocabulary. Will today’s Amaziahs like Olmert - and Rice and Beckett - listen?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1

DH 07.31.06 at 7:49 pm

The situation is different. Israel was rebuked for worshipping other gods besides the One True God. However, the judgement also came with the opportunity for blessing if they repented of worshipping false gods. It always seems for some to “fall into the cracks” the fact that the judgement was for worship of false gods to go along with the other things mentioned. We mustn’t focus on onething forthe judgement when it was multiple things the most important being flase god worship.

2

DH 07.31.06 at 7:52 pm

The only apology should be from Hammas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran for continuing to not follow its Arab counterparts who happen to support a stance strongly against terrorism.

3

Bene Diction 07.31.06 at 10:34 pm

Following your reasoning DH, the modern nation states of Israel, Lebanon, the UK, US, etc. etc., don’t worship false gods???

4

tortoise 07.31.06 at 11:06 pm

DH, may I urge you to re-read Amos. In that particular book, idolatry is at most a very marginal note (Amos 5.26 only). Even the fact that worship (of the LORD) was being offered at sanctuaries other than the Jerusalem Temple (which one would expect a Judean like Amos to criticise the Northerners for) is condemned not for its poor choice of location, but instead for the hypocrisy of the worshippers who continue to “trample on the heads of the righteous poor”.

5

DH 08.01.06 at 2:39 pm

Just becauseit is mentioned smaller in number doesn’t mean that it is not the main reason. When you see the different regions mentioned and the reason for their destruction in comparison to the prophesy then you know it is more than just “oppressing the poor” for the prophesy. When you understand the history of Jeroboam and read in the Bible what he did you understand that it is more than just just “oppresion of the poor” for the reason for the prophesy. I’m not saying it wasn’t a major reason but it clearly wasn’t the only reason as you described in your post. Hear are the passages that reference false god worship as a reason:

Amos 2:4,8,12,14,15
Amos 5:21 and Amos 8:14

6

DH 08.01.06 at 2:44 pm

Bene, the Bible says even though they don’t worship Jesus andthus are rejected that there is a blessing for supporting Israel. We also know when reading Revelation that God will protect Israel and that they will be given an opportunity to repent as the 144,000 Christian Jew’s hear the Gospel from Jesus and repent and in turn share the Gospel during the time of the Day of the Lord.

On a side note: thank God for Jews for Jesus

7

Richard 08.01.06 at 3:04 pm

>>“We also know when reading Revelation that God will protect Israel and that they will be given an opportunity to repent as the 144,000 Christian Jew’s hear the Gospel from Jesus and repent and in turn share the Gospel during the time of the Day of the Lord.”

*We* know no such thing, DH. This is an *interpretation* of what Revelation says — and a strange one at that

8

DH 08.01.06 at 4:01 pm

It is strange that you say that in light of what literally is said in Revelations and other parts of the Bible besides Revelation. It isstrange that you think it is strange.

9

Richard 08.01.06 at 5:40 pm

Not strange at all. You’re just failing to take account of what kind of literature the Revelation to John is, and reading it as though it were the instructions for a washing machine.

Let me put it this way. When you read Rabbie Burns poem “My love is like a red, red rose”, you know he doesn’t mean that she’s covered in thorns and is prone to aphids. He’s writing poetry, and we read it as poetry.
Similarly, when you read apocalyptic, you have to read it *as* apocalyptic. There’s no other way to understand it properly.

10

DH 08.02.06 at 2:47 pm

I do read as apocolypic. Apocolyptic for future events that God has ordained for the future. I read it as prophesy as it was intended. I see no “poetry” in Revelation. John’s response of “fire from heaven” forexampleandthe other things was a 1st century expplaination for things that happened way into the future (within God’s time short).

For example: If I was in 1700 England and I saw a plane I would refer to it as a bird for that is the closest exaplaination for the plane. To say thereference to the plane being a bird as “poetic” is incorrect because I actually saw a plane and it appeared like a bird. No 1700 person has ever saw a plane but the verbal explaination is the closest explaination forthe actual event I could find. So it is for Revelation. I hope you can at least see Richard some of the logic in this. While you may not agree I hope you can come to appreciate it a little more after this post. :)

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