Yikes - this Scripture is a bit ominous. If it were a movie scene, I picture dark clouds rolling in, booming voices of doom, worried looks on some people’s faces….but not Amos’.
It’s a bit different than the bear-attack Scripture we read last week, which sounded a bit ridiculous and possibly unrealistic. It was a bit easier to read it light-heartedly, yet still gather a lesson from it.
This story sounds like something that could actually happen. People “falling by the sword,” land being “parceled out,” leaders dying, people being forced away from their home. Those things legitimately happen.
Add to it a warning from God that it will happen, and it becomes downright scary.
It becomes a story that feeds into the imagery of the “Old Testament God” being one full of wrath and anger and violence.
I certainly won’t deny that the Hebrew Scriptures (OT) have many more stories of warring nations and people being sent out of their land. The culture of that time was built around tribes - and these tribes and peoples and nations had no problem invading one another’s lands and peoples.
So, that is where God met them. God met them in what was their present reality - helping to move them toward a better reality - giving them hope of a Messiah, Christ, who would come and further teach them merciful and loving ways of living. God meets us where we are as well, and we are still moving toward a better reality, following the ways of Jesus.
But, I digress...back to Amos, a farmer turned God’s prophet. To be fair, Amos says “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son” in order to deny that he is a “for-profit, professional prophet.” (tongue twister) He says “I am a herdsman,” but then goes on to explain how God called him to deliver a divine message. Amos was defending his sincerity of purpose because Amaziah had subtly accused him of doing it for money.
In this story, Amos shares an image he had in his mind showing how God is concerned with the people’s moral compass. A “plumb line” essentially measures upright straightness in building and, in this case, Israel was found to be off track.
As Amos is sharing his vision, Amaziah (priest of Bethel) is annoyed with the message, which is ironic because Amaziah should be open to hearing a message from Go. Instead he runs to the country’s leader, King Jeroboam, to say Amos has gotta go. Amaziah goes so far as to say that Bethel, a temple, is Jeroboam’s sanctuary.
Amos is unfazed and sticks to the message God wants delivered: a warning that Israel will fall to desolation and destruction because it is not following God’s ways.
So, it won’t come as a shock to anyone here that even though this story took place centuries ago in a different country, we can learn from this ominous scene. I think we can learn something from even the strangest parts of the Bible.
First, we learn that God sticks with us. Even with the measuring of how “in line” we are, God still calls us “My people.” There is no disowning. It’s a major theme of the Hebrew Scriptures - God creates humans in the Divine image and sticks with them - through all the mishaps - through all the tribal wars - through all the questioning of God’s authority - through all the exiles - through all the ups and the downs.
As Romans 8:39 says, “nothing can separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s a good lesson for us to really let sink in, as we sometimes convince ourselves that we aren’t worthy of that love or there’s no way we could be a part of God’s love “because we’re such terrible people.” It’s just not true.
A second lesson more specific to this scene in Amos, though, is a reminder to check our loyalties and priorities. This lesson bites a bit more than the first.
You see, Amaziah, in his comments about the temple in Bethel being King Jeroboam’s sanctuary, essentially “makes it clear that he [Amaziah, a priest] derives his authority not from the living God, but from his king. Amaziah is more interested in Jeroboam’s security than the truth of God’s Word.” (Sermon Starters, Calvin Seminary, Doug Bratt)
Amaziah’s loyalty and priorities were not in line with God’s will.
I’ll say that it’s easy to villainize Amaziah here. It’s easy to point a finger at him and shame him for putting his allegiance to a human King over his allegiance to the Divine King. It’s easy and more comfortable to put ourselves in the place of Amos and put ourselves in a position of judgment toward Amaziah - obviously, we know to align our priorities with God first.
We have to admit, though, that we may be Amaziah at times. Maybe we don’t put allegiance to a nation over God, but maybe we put another priority before listening to God’s nudgings and teachings. Maybe we put allegiance to a specific leader or author over God. Maybe we lose sight of the focus from time to time and get out of alignment.
Blake Couey, on the workingpreacher blog, points out that Amaziah maybe had the thought that he was doing God’s will by supporting the ruling king. After all, there are lessons in the Bible of showing respect to leaders and that some kings were very specifically there because of God’s will….but it never states to put those leaders before God. Couey states, “This story invites us to self-reflection and criticism, lest we too sacrifice our witness [in order] to secure our survival.” “Whose interests do we promote?” (Blake Couey, workingpreacher.org) This question encourages us to reflect on where we place our allegiance and loyalty.
When we place our allegiance anywhere other than on the Divine Will, those values we learn from the life of Jesus, then we risk the consequences of loss. Loss of peace, loss of joy, loss of justice, loss of equality and care for all people.
I’ve had numerous conversations with many of you here about the “Old Testament God” and “do we need to pay attention to these Scriptures anymore?” I have a book currently loaned out to one of you (hint, hint) titled “Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?” There wouldn’t be a book titled that if it weren’t a question so many believers ask!
Yes - I believe we do need to pay attention to these Scriptures, even when they bring up questions about God’s wrath or anger….BECAUSE they bring up questions and those questions help us to grow in our faith.
We could read these stories and use them to feed fears in ourselves or instill fear in others (remember last week’s “don’t call me bald or I’ll send bears to eat you!”). OR we could read these Scriptures and think “God’s Spirit truly does stick it out with us and calls us ‘MY people.’ Out of gratitude and love for the Divine, I’m going to do my part in heeding instructions and guidelines on living a Spirit-filled life so that love and mercy and grace are spread. If I mess up, there may be consequences, but there is also mercy and forgiveness.”
Friends, as with most things in life, so much truth lies in our perspective. Reading and studying stories like this in the Bible help to fill out our understanding. If we don’t, the potential consequence is not having compassion for stories, and the people who live them, other than our own. The potential result is not fully understanding the Spirit of our God.
Scripture: Amos 7:7-17