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Amos 6

February 8, 2016

This chapter begins with another pronouncement of doom, beginning with a Hebrew word often translated as “Woe!” or “Alas!”  I am reminded of the “woe” sayings of Jesus in which he announces judgment on various cities and religious leaders.  Here the “woe” is pronounced on Jerusalem (Zion) and Mount Samaria–the capitals and religious centers of Judah and Israel.  Since Amos’s prophetic ministry was primarily directed at Israel, it’s somewhat surprising that Jerusalem is also being addressed here.  Why are the people in these two religious centers being placed under a pronouncement of coming doom? Because they are “complacent” (NIV) or “at ease” (NRSV), under the delusion of security.

Amos points out two cities far north in Syria, and another city to the south in Philistia. Presumably these three cities now lie in ruins, because Amos asks whether Samaria (Israel) and Jerusalem think they are stronger than what these three cities.  If these three powerful cities are now subjugated or destroyed, Samaria and Jerusalem cannot expect a different outcome.

But the political elites do indeed ignore what is going on around them in the surrounding territories.  Instead, they enjoy their luxuries:  lounging on couches made of ivory, having banquets of exquisite meat and drinking wine by the bowlful. This is one of the most striking images of “conspicuous consumption” in the book of Amos. It represents a lifestyle and complacency that the masses of people could never dream of enjoying. “Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.”

I can’t read this passage without thinking of the habits of many (most?) middle-class and rich Americans. While millions flee war in Syria, seeking a place of refuge; while thousands flee murderous drug cartels in Central America, seeking a safe land; while animal species are dying off at a record pace because of de-forestation and climate change; while inner-city schools fail because of middle-class and white flight; while programs to aid the poor are slashed; while infrastructure crumbles; while deficits balloon; while oil and natural gas are burned at record rates while the globe warms up–while all of this is happening, much of the middle-class and rich continue to focus their lives on fantasy entertainment, ever-more elaborate toys, an insatiable appetite for drugs and pain-killers, ever-bigger business and stock profits, gated communities and personal security, buying assault rifles and carrying guns, avoidance or rejection of all taxes, closing the door on asylum-seekers and immigration, and using every privilege to give their own children an advantage over all others. Rather than compassionately and reasonably addressing the wounds in our society and the world, we keep ourselves amused and think all problems can be solved by bombing and torturing anyone who threatens us. Just feed the military and all will be well.

Will not such a course of action (or inaction) bring about most surely a great “woe” on our nation and the world? Will we listen to Amos before it’s too late?

Verses 9-10 are puzzling and difficult to translate. I think the most likely explanation is that a plague is envisioned which kills everyone in the house–even up to ten people. Two people come to bring out the bodies for burning. One goes inside to see if anyone is still alive. The one outside asks, “Is anyone with you (alive)?”  The answer from within is, “No.” The one outside, overwhelmed by this tragedy and God’s judgment against Israel, warns the other not to say aloud God’s name (Yahweh/LORD) lest this bring about an even greater curse from God. It is a dark scene indeed.

For Amos, committing injustices against the poor and vulnerable is not only sinful, it is stupid.  It is like running horses on rocks or plowing the sea with oxen (or, an alternative translation, plowing rocks with oxen).  The military successes of King Jeroboam II are meaningless (Amos uses two puns to make fun of the capture of “Nothing Town” and thinking the nation is strong because they took over “Strength Town”). A foreign nation is coming that will destroy all.

I find it quite amazing that the book of Amos is in the Bible. It says something profound about the faith of Israel that they chose to include a book that is so critical of Israel and its religiosity. True faith–healthy faith–is self-critical and not afraid to admit when it has been wrong. True faith practices humility. We need a lot more of this kind of faith today.

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From → Amos

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