John T. Willis

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Prepare to Meet your God--Amos 4

The introductory summons in Amos 4:1: "Hear this word," begins the next section of the Book of Amos. Amos 4 is a coherent chapter, which naturally falls into three parts. The theme of this chapter is that Yahweh warns his people that he is about to punish them for their heinous sins. We will work through this chapter briefly.

I. Yahweh through Amos the prophet reproves the wealthy, powerful, prestigious women of Israel because they oppress the poor and defenseless. Amos 4:1-3.
a. "Cows of Bashan" is a figurative term referring to highly valued cattle of Bashan feeding on the fields east of the Jordan in the northern region. See Deuteronomy 32:14; Psalm 22:12; Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 39:18. The women described here live in "Samaria," the capital of North Israel, and are closely connected with the royal court and powerful, wealthy men in the community. With their power, these women summon their "husbands" to brings large quantities of wine which they seize from the poor people nearby. Verse 1.
b. Yahweh's response is that he will take these sinful wealthy, powerful people in Samaria into exile like a sports person catches fish and strings them on stringers. This common practice was very appropriate to describe this announcement of the impending fall of Samaria to happen in 721 B. C. Verses 2-3.

II. Now, naturally, Amos moves into sarcasm. Sarcasm is a rhetorical strategy to say precisely the opposite of what the speaker intends. Amos 4:4-5.
a. Amos cries out to the people of Israel to go to church: to Bethel, to Gilgal, common worship places in Amos' day. When they arrive at church, Amos urges them to "transgress," to "multiply transgression." Obviously, this is the opposite of what Amos and God desire--but this is what the people of Israel desire: Note the last line of verse 5: "for so you love to do, O people of Israel." Behind this call is the recurring idea that "religion" is based on "quantity." The more religious acts one does, the closer one is to God. Amos 4:4-5 exposes such an idea. Verse 4a.
b. According to the law of Moses, worshippers were to bring their sacrifices every sabbath day, and their tithes every three sabbaths [every third week]. But, sarcastically, Amos charges the people to "multiply" their religion: bring your sacrifices every morning [not just once a week] and your tithes every three days [not every third week]. Then bring a thank offering of leavened bread and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them. Make sure that everybody knows that you are worshipping God in public so everyone can see the worshippers. This "show of religion" calls to mind Jesus' repudiation of the Pharisees recorded in Matthew 23. Verses 4b-5.

III. Yahweh tried again and again to bring his chosen people to repentance, but they refused. Therefore, Yahweh will certainly punish them by destruction and exile. Amos 4:6-13.
a. FIVE TIMES Yahweh tried to bring the people of Israel to repent and turn back to God, but he cries out sadly: "Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord." As mentioned in a previous blog, note the rhetorical use of "repetition" in this text. Here are the five efforts Yahweh attempted:
1. Yahweh deprived the people of Israel of food. Verse 6.
2. Yahweh withheld rain from the people of Israel and a drought resulted. Verses 7-8.
3. Yahweh struck the land of the people of Israel with blight and mildew. Verse 0.
4. Yahweh sent a pestilence among his chosen people. Verse 10.
5. Yahweh overthrow some of the cities and towns of Israel at the hand of enemies. Verse 11.
But in every case, the people of Israel hardened their hearts and refused to return to Yahweh.
b. "Therefore," Yahweh declares that Yahweh will punish his people so severely that one cannot imagine or describe. Verse 12 simply and graphically calls this calamity "thus" and "this." It is all the afflictions described in verses 6-11 and more. So, Yahweh calls out: "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel." Verse 12.
There are signs along the roads in Arkansas with this message. Preachers use this text to encourage people in the pew to repent and turn to God before their lives are over. This call may be biblical, but not in Amos 4:12. The context of Amos 4:12 shows that the idea is: Ready or not, Yahweh is coming to punish the sinful people of Israel--Prepare for this impending punishment.
c. Amos 4 concludes with a doxology. This was probably part of a well-known song sung in churches in North Israel. The thoughts of this song are true, but the Israelites are misapplying the meaning. Yahweh is the creator and sustainer of the whole universe. Yahweh:
forms the mountain;
creates the wind;
reveals his thoughts to mortals;
makes the morning darkness;
treads on the heights of the earth.
And this powerful God is about to punish his sinful people for their heinous sins.

Share YOUR insights with Amos 4. Give me YOUR ideas. I need all the understanding I can receive. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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