John T. Willis

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Those Ease in Zion--Amos 6

Amos 6 is the second "Woe Oracle," beginning with the word "Woe" or "Alas" in verse
1. This oracle falls into three parts. This blog attempts to offer a brief study of Amos 6:1-14.

I. Yahweh rebukes the wicked rich and powerful leaders in Israel. Amos 6:1-7.
a. Here Yahweh is concerned about BOTH Zion [=Jerusalem, thus south Judah] and Samaria [=North Israel]. The so-called leaders of these two nations are rich and powerful and in control. Thus they are "at ease" and "feel secure." All the people come to these leaders to "cow down" before them so they can do whatever they wish. [Many leaders of the USA and American universities and churches adopt precisely this same role. We all need to hear the message of Amos here]. Verse 1.
b. Yahweh through Amos summons these hearers and readers to go to the nations around Israel and Judah and see how these nations compare. In the days of Jeroboam II and Uzziah, Israel and Judah are superior to all these nations. But, they take advantage of their situation and make this "an evil day," a time of "violence." Those in control oppress and mistreat the rest of the people. Verses 2-3.
c. The rich powerful in control hold extravagant parties or festivals. Here they lies on beds of ivory and lounge on their couches, since people in the ancient Near East did not have chairs and tables for their meals, but stretched out their beds and couches and lay on their left arm as they ate. [Evelyn and I have experienced such practices in Thailand]. They eat mutton and steaks. As the eaters enjoy their meals, professional musicians sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David improvise on instruments of music. [The picture is like a band with singers entertaining the banqueters]. They drink wine by the bowl and anoint themselves with perfumes to present themselves pleasant. Verses 4-6a.
None of these practices is sinful in any way. [As an aside, some isolated individuals and uninformed local churches in Churches of Christ and others have used Amos 6:5 to "prove" that the Bible opposes the use of instrumental music in worship. A slight study of this verse in contact indicates that Amos 6:1-7 does not refer to a worship assembly setting, but a normal banquet, as at the civic center. God does not reprove people to lie on bed or eat mutton or steaks of use perfume. Note the context!!!].
d. Verse 6b shows the problem: "They are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph [=North Israel]." Rich, powerful, controlling leaders are oppressing the helpless poor and needy. But their conscience does not prick them. They happily run over good people to get their way. Therefore, Yahweh says, they will go into exile and their revelers will pass away. Verses 6b-7. Again, Yahweh through Amos proclaims that the sinful people of Israel will go into exile--see 5:27; 7:11, 17.

II. Yahweh declares that He will decimate the people of Israel. Amos 6:8-10.
a. Yahweh proclaims that he "hates," "abhors" "the pride of Jacob." The pride of Jacob is the fortresses and cities in which the Israelites take pride, that is, their military strength. See Amos 2:13-16; 8:7. Yahweh does indeed condemn people who are arrogant, but the meaning here is the military fortresses in which the Israelites take pride. Verse 8.
b. The Israelites will attempt to defend themselves from the invading Assyrians, but to no avail. Yahweh will empower the Assyrians to destroy the Israelites so that only a tenth of the people will remain. Verses 9-10.

III. Yahweh announces that an invading "nation" is about to overthrow Israel. Amos 6:11-14.
a. The Israelites pride themselves in their wealth and power and possessions. They have "great houses" and "little houses." They arrogantly brag: "Have we not by OUR OWN STRENGTH defeated our enemies? Verses 11, 13. Unfortunately, we ourselves often assume that we can defeat any people on earth BY OUR OWN STRENGTH. Human beings do not have strength. Power comes from Yahweh alone.
b. In contrast, Yahweh desires "justice" and "righteousness," while these wicked rich, powerful, domineering leaders of the people turn justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness to wormwood. Yahweh through Amos presents two questions to emphasize that Yahweh's sinful people are foolish or living out of character. Horses do not run on rocks, and oxen do not plow under the sea. Hence, godly people must not practice injustice and unrighteousness. YET, these "religious" people do this very thing. Verse 12.
The comments of Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Amos, Anchor Bible 24A, page 529 are "on target," and need our thoughts here.
"The pronouncements of the Book of Amos should not be absolutized into stand in indictments of the cult as such, no matter how conducted, no matter what the accompanying state of the nation. The bible generally has a very negative estimate of religions, because most of them are false and even the true one is continually liable to corruptio. The shrines and ceremonies, sacrifices and songs here denounced and renounced were, after all, instituted by Yahweh and expected by him. It is precisely for this reason that it was so easy for the people to deceive themselves into believing that their conscientious and doubtless sincere obedience to this part of Yahweh's Torah assured his presence and their safety. It also explains why it was so difficult, unexpected, and unacceptable for the prophet to carry his point. It was becuase they were so religious that they did not repent. It could even be tha, in the face of the plagues of 4:6-11, they intensified their shrine attendance and increased their offerings as activity likely to secure God's favor. . . .But substance of true repentance is defined otherwise by Amos. It is when they establish justice in the gate that the Lord will be gracious; when righteousness rolls down Yahweh will listen, look, smell, and accept their worship."
c. Because of the sins of Israel, Yahweh announces that he will raise up "a nation" to overthrow them throughout the land: "from Lebohamath [in the north] to the Wadi of Arabah [in the south]." Verse 14. The Book of Amos never mentions the name of the nation about to attack Israel. But historically, it is clear that this nation is the Assyrians.

What are YOUR thoughts and insights on Amos 6? Great messages of God appear in this marvelous chapter. Share YOUR understanding with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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