Lord of all Nations (Amos)
Leading Question: What happens when God’s people hear that they are no better in God’s eyes than the more obvious “sinners” in the world?
1. Startling Comparisons: Israel and her neighbors. The book of Amos opens with a string of judgments against Israel’s neighbors, a subtle introduction to the prophet’s primary message: warnings and judgments against the northern kingdom of Israel. The prophet Amos was actually a farmer from the southern kingdom of Judah who responded to God’s call to minister up north. But before dropping his bombshell on the prosperous regime of Jeroboam II, he tantalized his primary audience with his sharp criticisms of seven of Israel’s neighbors. The first three were traditional enemies: Syria to the northeast, Philistia to the southwest, and Tyre to the northeast. Then he inches closer with pronouncements against three of Israel closer relatives: Edom, the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother; then Ammon and Moab, the descendants of Lot through his two daughters. Finally, he strikes out against Judah, Israel’s immediate neighbor to the south, the other kingdom whose national deity was the same as Israel’s: Yahweh.
Of all the recipients of Amos’s wrath, however, Judah is the only one whose judgment was strictly religious: Judah has “rejected the law of Yahweh” (Amos 2:4, NRSV). In other words, Judah had broken her covenant with her God. The same charge could have been laid against Israel, but for all the other enemies and also for Israel herself the judgment focused, not on religious sins, but on sins against humanity. Two questions emerge from this sequence of judgments:
2. The Remnant: An Unhappy Label. In the history of God’s people, the idea of being called a “remnant” is a loaded concept. There are at least three potential applications, all of them with unhappy overtones:
Discussion question: Adventists believe that God has called them to be a remnant. How does the book of Amos inform our understanding of our calling to be a remnant today?
3. The Lion King. In his “Bible Amplifier” volume on the minor prophets (Hosea-Micah, Pacific Press, 1996), Jon Dybdahl notes that Amos’s picture of God is a strong one, typified by the image of a lion. Dybdahl notes that one British commentator (Motyer) actually entitled his book on Amos, The Day of the Lion, echoing Amos 1:2: “The LORD roars from Zion” (NRSV). In 3:7 Amos declares, “The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?” (NRSV). In short, the lion spurred Amos into action who then used that powerful image with the people of Israel. Dybdahl’s comment is one worth noting:
4. Once Cursed Always Cursed? Included in this lesson is a quick glimpse at the book of Obadiah the shortest book in the Old Testament – only 21 verses. The judgment against Edom was particularly harsh because of the Edomite scorn against Judah when it had fallen on hard times. “You should not have gloated over your brother on the day of his misfortune,” declares the prophet Obadiah (vs. 12, NRSV). Amos includes a similar indictment: Edom will be judged “because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity” (Amos 1:11, NRSV). The harsh words of Psalm 137 are part of the same story. Obadiah declares that because of this hatred against his brother, Edom would be “cut off forever” (vs. 10, NRSV).
And yet for all this strong language, the Old Testament frequently portrays God as “changing his mind,” “relenting,” or “repenting” (depending on the translation) with reference to threatened judgments. This is true in Amos (cf. Amos 7:3, 6); Jonah illustrates the same point, for when the people of Ninevah repented, God also repented (Jonah 3:10)! Perhaps the most powerful illustration of all is provided by Ruth the Moabite. Even though Deuteronomy 23:3 explicitly closes the door to the Ammonites and Moabites as participants in the “assembly of Yahweh,” the book of Ruth shows that this mandate was not universal. Ruth became part of the royal geneaology, one of the progenitors of King David. And through that line she stands in Jesus’ genealogy as well, a point emphasized in Matthew’s list of Jesus’ ancestors in his opening chapter (Matt. 1:5).
Discussion question: Is it possible for us to hear the gracious possibilities lurking in the shadows of even the most vivid judgments in Scripture?