Amos 1-2, pt.2

This evening we are gathering to read through and discuss Amos 1-2 wherein Amos denounces the seven neighboring Semitic nations for their violence against humanity during war and denounces Israel’s treatment of the less fortunate.  Each of these denunciations begins with the same literary pattern: Thus says the Lord:/ For three transgressions of _______,/ and for four, I will not revoke the punishment . . .”

The initial introduction of “Thus says the Lord” is the same type of introduction used by any messenger from a sovereign. For example, in Numbers 20:14-21, Moses requests safe passage through the territory of Edom: “Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: ‘Thus says your brother Israel . . .'”  When Ben-hadad the king of Syria demands Ahab’s acquiesce to his demands, scripture says that King Ben-hadad “sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, ‘Thus says Ben-hadad: . . .’” 1 Kings 20. The same literary pattern is repeated when the messengers from Sennacherib confront King Hezekiah of Judah “Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria . . .” 2 Kings 18:19-25.  Even as late as Shakespeare, this literary device is used by the messenger before delivering his message remains. In Henry V, act 3, scene 6, Monjoy, the French herald, announces the call to repentance from Charles VI of France as follows: “Thus says my king: Say thou to Harry of England: . . . .” Therefore, within Amos’ message, we see Amos acting as simply a messenger from a superior sovereign (the LORD) to an inferior sovereign or vassal with a plea to capitulate to his will.  Amos fulfills this role as the royal messenger for the King of the Universe.

The other literary device is the “for three . . .  and for four.”  This is common throughout biblical wisdom literature. See, cf. Prov. 30:18-33, Sirach 26:5. “Three” expresses the completeness or sufficiency, in this case of the offending nation’s disobedience, and “four” expresses the excess or saturation point.  In other words, Amos is saying that each of these nations has exceeded the patience of God.

Finally, as we read through Amos over the next several weeks, read Amos from the point of view of his audience.  If Amos doesn’t make us uncomfortable, we aren’t reading him correctly. To be intentionally provocative, think about if Amos was from a Canadian border town and sent to prophesy in America. (Amos was from Judah and sent to Israel). We, like the Israelites, believe ourselves to be God’s chosen people and tend to see that designation as giving God’s blessing to whatever we do without realizing that the designation holds us to a higher standard. How would this Canadian Amos critique American conduct during our recent wars? What would he say about waterboarding and drone strikes?  Our realpolitik of deposing unfriendly regimes and supporting military governments and military insurgencies who rely on unsavory means to keep or to take power? Or our use of napalm during Vietnam or incendiary raids during WWII in places like Dresden or Tokyo? Think of what it means when we too are called out by God.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is Domino’s pizza and salad. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here.

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Matthew 25:41-46

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