Background and Literary Considerations
- We have already in Amos encountered seriously judgmental speeches from the prophet. This week’s passage is no exception – at least Amos is consistent! As part of the second “Judgment Speech” of the book (chap 4), the verses which concern us tick off a series of divine-human activities which are at one and the same time explanatory and explosive. Mockingly decrying both social (4:1-3) and religious (4:4-5) crimes, Amos moves on to explain several disasters (mostly agricultural) as God’s doing. Issues surrounding divine sovereignty and the reasons behind destructive divine interventions will occupy us in this lesson. Is the prophet being a bit too frisky in these matters? Any need to tone him down a bit?
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Amos 4:4-5 – Although Amos is primarily concerned with social justice, the second of the two major issues with which the prophets in general dealt, he also speaks to problems in the arena of worship (compare Amos 5:21-27). Verses 4-5 provide a call to worship, which is, as we have come to expect with Amos, couched in irony and satire. “Come to worship,” he proclaims, but do so in order to commit, in fact, multiply transgression. Even thanksgiving and freewill offerings appear, but are clearly set in the context of Israel’s self-service. And all this was to be done at worship sites banned by the prophets as idolatrous.
- Amos 4:6-11 – In verses 6-11, how do we deal with the pervasive notion of divine involvement in destructive actions, even if intended to bring about repentance? What does it mean that God sponsors famine, drought, blight and mildew, insect pestilences, even overthrow? What is God’s role in these mostly natural disasters? Would the ancients have seen things differently than we, especially since we now know what causes famine and pests, and can even prevent blight and mildew? In what ways is God seen to be sovereign in the Old Testament which might be different from our perspectives? Why does God bring “evil” on a city (Amos 3:6); an “evil spirit” on Saul (1 Sam 18); hardness on Pharaoh’s heart? Is there something from the world of the first hearers which might inform us here? How would the God of Israel compare with other gods of surrounding nations if he could not stand on his own? And, even with what seems the downside of divine sovereignty, how are people saved except because of God’s own decision to rescue them, to deliver them? Thus salvation itself is dependent on divine sovereignty.
- Amos 4:12 – Verse 12 reads like a tag on the tip of a ballistic missile about to strike its target–you! “Prepare to meet your God!” Seems to be Amos’ way of saying God has tried everything else to catch our attention because of worship and social offenses, but without avail. Nothing else has worked. There is an end to divine patience, especially when it comes to our treatment of the oppressed and marginalized. The good news is that for the oppressed, there will come a fair turn-about.
- Amos 4:13 (Hymn #1) – Another speech form occurring in Amos is the “hymn” or hymn fragment (compare Amos 5:8-9 and 9:5-6). As is typical for Amos, he begins with something celebrative and praise-worthy, but stops everyone dead in their tracks by changing the words of the hymn. Whereas doxologies normally declare God’s power who turns night into day, Amos sings to the God who “makes the morning darkness ….”
Contributions to Study of Amos and the Bible
- Chapter 4 adds the dimension to Amos’ preaching of therapy as a reason behind judgment. There is a purpose, something far more than punitive and retributive action about judgment, something helpful in the long run. Does this idea help us with the strong language of Amos?
Lessons for Life
- Would it make it easier to accept some hard times in life as therapeutic, as leading in some way, however inscrutable, to a better person?