John T. Willis

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Vision of the Basket of Summer Fruit--Amos 8

A previous blog has dealt with the first three visions of amos related in Amos 7-9. This blog is an attempt to discuss the fourth vision and an oracle of doom--related in Amos 8. [The order is strikingly similar to Amos 7, which contains three visions followed by a conflict between Amos and Amaziah the priest of Bethel]. Amos 8, then, falls into two parts.

I. The Vision of the Basket of Summer Fruit. Amos 8:1-3.
a. The fourth vision contains the same message as the third vision recorded in Amos 7:7-9. These two visions communicate the same idea. Yahweh message is: "I WILL NEVER AGAIN PASS BY THEM"--7:8; 8:2.
b. In Amos 8:1-3, there is a word play in Hebrew. "Summer fruit" in Hebrew is "qayits." "End" in Hebrew is "qets." This is a word play. We do this all the time in English. For example, Mary says: "Bill, I see you are wearing a BLUE shirt." Bill replies: "Yes, Mary, and I am very BLUE, because I just BLEW my final exam in math." People in other cultures probably would not understand this "word play." And we do not understand the word play in Amos 8:1-2 in English. Some people struggle with making something out of the text, conjecturing that the basket of summer fruit symbolizes that Israel is "ripe" for punishment because of her sins. This is interesting, but misses the point in Hebrew. A study of Hebrew or a consultation of several good commentaries will point out to a non-Hebrew individual the word play between "qatits" [summer fruit] and "qets' [end]. The point of this text is: God will soon punish North Israel for her sins. In the first two visions, Yahweh gave the Israelites others opportunities to repent, butt hey refused. Therefore, Yahweh will soon punish his people for their sins. [This same principle appears in Amos 4:6-13]. Verses 1-2.
c. When the Assyrians sweep through the land of North Israel, wailing and mourning will be everywhere; the deal will lie all around. There will be nothing but silence. Verse 3.

II. Yahweh condemns the wicked rich, powerful, prestigious "religious" "leaders" of Israel for their injustice and unrighteousness against the poor and needy. Amos 8:4-14.
a. Yahweh through Amos begins by denouncing the wealthy who are cheating their customers. This section states four ways the wealthy cheat their customers. Verses 4-6.
1. They make the ephah small. An ephah is a measure for grain. The wealthy pretend that the measure is a certain size when in reality it is a different size. For example, the label on a bag is printed 100 pounds, but actually it contains 98 pounds.
2. They make the shekel great. The wealthy post a certain price for a certain product. The correct price in the market should be $5.00, but their charge is $5.15.
3. They use false balances. If a customer weighs the product he or she is purchasing, the merchant's scales are "rigged," that is, fixed at a different measure. The customer reads 100 pounds but in reality the weight is 98 pounds. Leviticus 19:35-36 specifically condemns such practices. Proverbs 11:1; 20:23; Micah 6:11 denounce the same thing.
4. They sell the "sweeping" of the wheat--either chaff or an inferior grade of wheat.
Times have not changed. People today still devise schemes of "making a buck" to increase wealth in the process of hurting honest innocent persons.
b. Because of these dishonest, ungodly practices, Yahweh will punish his people who sin against him. Verses 7-14.
1. Yahweh will not forget any of their wicked deeds. Hence, wailing and mourning will prevail throughout the land. We human beings often THINK we can deceive others and God and go scot free. Not so.
"The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and on the good." (Proverbs 15:3). Verses
7-10. "Sackcloth" and "baldness" were cultural practices symbolizing mourning in the ancient Near East. See Micah 1:16; 2 Samuel 3:31; Psalm 35:13; Isaiah 50:3; Lamentations 2:10; and often.
2. Yahweh declares that he is sending a "famine" on the land of Israel, not a famine of bread or water, but of hearing the word of the Lord. Right now, Yahweh yearns for his people to hear his message and repent, but they reject this message again and again. So, the time will come when Yahweh's message will not be present. Punishment will come, and then the people will scurry throughout the land to find Yahweh's message. But it will be too late. Verses 11-12.
3. The sinful people and their gods will "fall, and never rise again." The precise meaning of verse 14 is unclear. To cite one conjectural interpretation, John H. Hayes reads the first line: "the ones swearing because of the guilt or iniquity of Samaria." In this case, this verse denounces the wrongdoing and oppressive policies of Jeroboam II and the Israelites leaders in Samaria. Then, the next two lines may refer to swearing by the god of Dan in support of Damascus and Syria or Aram, and the life of the way of Beersheba may refer to the pilgrimage route to Beersheba. But this verse is very difficult, and the meaning is unclear. See John H. Hayes, Amos, The Eighth Century Prophet, pages 213-215.

There are many very important relevant contemporary messages in Amos 8. I hope YOU ponder over this chapter, and share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU. I need all the help I can get.

John Willis


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