John T. Willis

Monday, December 14, 2009

Seek God and Live--Amos 5:1-17

For the third time in Amos 3-6, the paragraph begins with the introductory summons: "Hear this word"--see 3:1; 4:1; 5:1. As we work through the Book of Amos, this paragraph is related in Amos 5:1-17. Several reasons support this view. Three major reasons are: (1) A new paragraph begins in 5:18 with the word "Woe" or "Alas;" (2) 5:1-17 concludes with the expression "says the Lord," which calls to mind the oracles concerning the nations recorded in Amos 1:3-2:16; (3) the structure of Amos 5:1-17 is chiastic, as the comments below emphasize.

The theme of Amos 5:1-17 is: "Seek the Lord and live." In this brief paragraph or oracle, this term occurs four times in sequence:
"Seek me and live"--verse 4
"Seek the Lord and live"--verse 5
"Seek good and not evil, that you may live"--verse 14
"Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate"--verse 15

"Chiasmus" is a rhetorical device meaning "inversion." The structure is ABA or ABBA or ABCBA, etc. Amos 5:1-17 roughly speaking falls into this "chiastic structure."
A--Yahweh through Amos declares a lament over Israel--5:1-3
B--Yahweh through Amos summons the Israelites to seek Yahweh and live--5:4-7
C--Doxology praising Yahweh as creator of all the universe--5:8-9
B--Yahweh through Amos summons the Israelites to seek Yahweh and live--5:10-15
A--Yahweh through Amos declares a lament over Israel--5:16-17
[Of course, one may divide this into smaller units, but this division emphasizes the major thrust of this oracle]. Let us now work briefly through this paragraph or oracle.

I. Yahweh through Amos declares a lament over Israel--Amos 5:1-3.
a. Throughout prophetic literature of the Old Testament, this or that prophet proclaims a lament against Israel or Judah or some other nation. The "Sitz im Leben," the "setting in life" of a lament is, of course, a funeral. Jeremiah 22:18-19contains a lament over Jehoiakim king of Judah. This is a symbolic rhetorical usage of a funeral. Yahweh declares that Israel is "dead" spiritually. Therefore, Yahweh will utter a lament, announcing that Israel will fall to the Assyrians in 721 B. C.
Verse 1.
b. The dead person is a "virgin." In the ancient Near East, including Israel, it was a shame for a woman not have a child. Israel is dead, without children. This is a terrible situation. Verse 2.
c. The Israelites will fight against the Assyrian invaders, but this is all in vain. Yahweh through the Assyrians will decimate Israel, killing many and carrying the rest into captivity. Verse 3.

II. Yahweh through Amos summons the Israelites to seek Yahweh and live--Amos 5:4-7.
a. The Israelites are "seeking" Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba, the sanctuaries or "churches" where the Israelites go to "worship" Yahweh regularly. But all the places are bogus, because the worshippers treat their fellow-Israelites with injustive and unrighteousness. The term "seek" means something like "be concerned with" or "go after." The Israelites "are concerned with" [they prioritize; they stress] external acts of religion at worship services. Yahweh is not pleased with this mere external religion. Yahweh yearns for a change of heart and life. Verses 4-5
b. Yahweh STILL longs for his sinful people to repent and turn back to HIM. But this requires that they treat others with "justice" and "righteousness," THE THEME of the Book of Amos. Verses 6-7.

III. Doxology praising Yahweh as creator of the whole universe--Amos 5:8-9.
a. The first doxology in the Book of Amos was in Amos 4:13, which we have already read and studied. Here is the second doxology in Amos 5:8-9.
b. Amos 5:8-9 enumerates FOUR mighty acts of Yahweh in the universe.
1. Yahweh made the Pleiades and Orion, two constellations in the distant sky visible on earth.
2. Yahweh darkens the day like night.
3. Yahweh lifts up the waters over the sea and dumps them on rain on the land.
4. Yahweh makes destruction on powerful cities and fortresses.

IV. Yahweh through Amos summons the Israelites to seek Yahweh and live--Amos 5:10-15
a. Yahweh through Amos sternly reproves the sinful Israelites, especially by treating the poor and the helpless with injustice and unrighteousness. These rich powerful wicked leaders of Israel hate or abhor people like Amos who proclaim the truth, trample on the poor, and take levies [heavy taxes] of grain from the poor to increase their wealth. Verses 10-11a.
b. Accordingly, Yahweh will not allow these sinful people to live in their rich houses or drink the wine of their vineyars. Verse 11b.
c. Again, Yahweh exposes the sins of these wealthy people: they afflict the righteous, they take a bribe, and they push aside the needy in the gate. Verse 12.
d. Yahweh through Amos observes that a prudent person will keep silent in the midst of these sinful activities and perverted situation. Verse 13.
[Note: The term "in the gate" in verses 10, 12, 15 refers to the court cases held each date at the gate of the city--of Bethel, Gilgal, Beersheba, Samaria--all in North Israel. The wicked rich and powerful WIN all these cases because they "pay off" their sins with bribes to the witnesses and judges in this legal situation].
e. Verse 14 shows that "Seek God" is equivalent to "Seek good." God is intimately related to the way people treat others. If the wicked rich and powerful repent, Yahweh "will be with you." There is still hope IF they repent. Verse 14.
f. "Hate evil" is the "flip side" of "Seek good." "Love good" is equivalent to "love God," which is essentially the same as "seek God." Yahweh desires "justice" "in the gate." Again, there is still hope IF these wicked rich powerful political leaders will only repent and turn back to Yahweh. THEN, Yahweh will "be gracious" to the remnant of Joseph=Israel. Verse 15. Yahweh is a God of "grace," not a God of "justice." He has always been this way--throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments. He has not changed.

V. Yahweh through Amos declares a lament over Israel--Amos 5:16-17.
a. Since the wicked rich powerful leaders of Israel are hard-hearted and obstinate, they are spiritually "dead," and thus Yahweh proclaims a "lament" over his people. The funeral has begun. The Assyrians will soon come and overthrow the Israelites and carry them into captivity. Verses 16-17a.
b. In the time of Moses, Yahweh passed through the land of Egypt and destroyed every male Egyptian child. Only the Israelites who had blood sprinkled on the lintel and the doorposts survived. See Exodus 11-13. Now, in Amos 5:17b, Yahweh declares: "I will pass through the midst of you [Israel]"--Yahweh will destroy the Israelites just as he destroyed the Egyptian male babies in the days of Moses.

There is a powerful, relevant, contemporary message revealed in Amos 5:1-17. What are YOUR responses to this oracle? Share YOUR insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis