Readings for December 8, 2009:
Amos 7:10-17 “Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. For this is what Amos is saying: “‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.'” Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.” Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now then, hear the word of the LORD. You say, “‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac.’ “Therefore this is what the LORD says: “‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword. Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country. And Israel will certainly go into exile, away from their native land.'””
Revelation 1:9-20 “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
I love that in today’s readings we have the vision of the risen and glorified Jesus in Revelation alongside the passage from Amos. One of the things I’ve learned here at Trinity is that the book of Revelation is not so much about predicting the future as it is about giving encouragement to believers in difficult times. And Amos was living in difficult times.
Yesterday our brother Matt gave us some background. He talked about how Amos and Jesus were alike in that both prayed for God’s mercy on the people. In today’s reading, there is another parallel between Amos and Jesus. This time Amos’ experience with the priest Amaziah parallels Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees and Sadducees.
As we’ve been reading over the past few weeks, Amos was called to preach a message of repentance and impending judgements to the people of Israel. But the people didn’t think things were all that bad. In fact many of them were quite happy – it was a time of economic growth, people were getting wealthy, and even their worship experiences were moving and meaningful. But that’s not how God saw things. Here’s God’s point of view:
Amos 2:6-8 …they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals – 7 those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted; a man and his father go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; 8 they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge…
All this great wealth had corrupted them. The rich were taking advantage of the poor, making money on other peoples’ misery, particularly debt, and profaning God’s holy name. Not all that different from today.
And so Amos spoke God’s word and ended up in confrontation with Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, which was THE central worship location for the nation. How often in scripture do we see a person speaking God’s word and then being opposed by the religious powers-that-be? Jesus was opposed by them. So was Peter, and Paul, and John. And in our day… every one of us here could tell stories. Just last week I heard about a man in a different denomination, a recent seminary graduate, who was denied ordination for saying scripture teaches that marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman.
In Amos’ case here’s what happened. Amaziah leads off by sending a false report to the king: he says, “Amos has conspired against you…” There isn’t any conspiracy. Amaziah is just using a politically-loaded word in hopes of provoking the King into action.
Next he misrepresents Amos’ message, saying, “Amos has said ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword and Israel must go into exile.” Here’s what Amos had actually said:
Amos 5:4-5 “thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live; but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beersheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to nothing.”
Amos 5:14-15 “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, […] Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate…”
Amos 7:9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.
God sent a warning to Jeroboam’s house; but the prophecy does not say Jeroboam will die (in fact as it turns out, trouble doesn’t come to the house of Jeroboam until the next generation). God also does not say “Israel must go away into exile.” Just the opposite – God is giving Israel a chance to repent! “Seek me and live” he says. Above all God is telling the people to stay away from the shrines at Bethel and Gilgal and Beersheba. God says the ‘high places’ will fall. Because the problem with the peoples’ worship, as exciting as it was, was they were worshipping golden calves. False gods.
No wonder Amaziah wanted to shut Amos up.
Those who oppose God’s message will always mis-quote and mis-represent it as Amaziah did. And they’ll always fail to mention that the key message is: God is calling His people to repentance.
Next Amaziah says to Amos, “go to Judah and eat bread there”. In other words Amaziah is saying, “you’ve only come to our city because prophets get good pay here. Go home and let your own people pay you.”
But Amos answers “I’m not a prophet or a prophet’s son” – in other words, “I don’t get paid for this — I work for a living.” And then Amos says to Amaziah, “the Lord said to me, ‘go prophesy to Israel’ but you’re telling me not to prophesy.” I almost expect Amos to add “and who am I going to listen to?” but Amos doesn’t go there. Instead he says, “therefore thus says the Lord…”
And I imagine Amos must have been awed by the message God gave him. I imagine he spoke it not harshly, but with sadness, knowing that God would rather have people repent than suffer judgements. But he speaks the word God gave him, and pronounces God’s judgements on Amaziah and his family.
Every generation has its Amaziahs to deal with, and ours is no exception. Jesus warned “Beware […] of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And when God’s word is being challenged by the religious authorities, we need to be ready to answer as Amos did – not with human wisdom but with the Word of God. Amos’ words were not his own. He was called by God to remind his generation of the covenant of Moses, of old truths. And we also are called to remind our generation of old truths: the truths of Bethlehem and Calvary and Patmos. God grant us the grace to follow in the footsteps of Amos. AMEN.