Amos 3-4, pt.2

Please remember that tonight we are gathering to read through the three judgment speeches against Israel in Amos 3:1-5:17.  For me, these speeches raise several issues.

1. Tone:

Is Amos’s language and tone appropriate for a representative of God? Amos calls his audience “cows,” insults their religious observances as mere formalities, and proclaims that God will turn your morning black.  He seeks out and invites confrontation.  If Amos was a nice good Southern Episcopalian, his mother probably would not allow him to speak that way or at least make him feel bad if he did. As you read through this passage, think about when, if ever, is it appropriate to use Amos’ tone of voice, or rather should such tone of voice only be reserved for the prophets themselves? This was one of the issues, for example, during the civil rights era. The good Episcopalians and (some) other Christians agreed with the goals of the civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King, but disagreed with the rhetoric and demonstrations which, although peaceful by themselves, nonetheless sought to provoke others to violence.  This difference caused this exchange of public letters between the mainline denominational leaders in A Call for Unity and King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Think about when it’s okay to speak like a prophet and when Amos may not provide the best example. Also look at how Jesus sometimes addressed his opponents, for example, in the cleansing of the temple (John 2:13-25), or in haranguing of the Pharisees and lawyers (Matt. 23).  Does this give us permission to dismiss our polite discourse for something more aggressive?

2. Our formal religion:

Amos criticizes the Israelites as practicing a formal religion without any substances.  Jesus says the same thing about the Pharisees in Matthew 23 equating their religion to white-washed tombs.  The question is how can we know if our religion can be likewise criticized?  In response to Amos, the Israelites could point to the Torah, and rightly say that they were doing the exact things that God commanded – burnt offerings, sin offerings, thank offerings, free-will offerings, etc. cf. Lev. 1-7.  Likewise, there were none as pious, religious, and well-versed in the Scriptures as the Pharisees during the time of Christ.  As Paul says, when he was a Pharisee he was blameless under the Scriptures. Phil. 3:6. The Pharisees believed themselves to be living out God’s direct black-letter commands. How do we know that what we believe and practice is God’s will?  Going back to the civil rights era, some conservative evangelicals preached that segregation was God’s will and supported by Scripture. (Bob Jones’ Easter Day sermon is HERE.  Other Biblical defenses of racial segregation are HERE and HERE.)  Without a contemporary prophet, how are we to know if our religious rituals and our obedience to Scripture are as empty and hollow as that of the Israelites and Pharisees?

3. God’s punishment by nature:

In Chapter 4, Amos lists a series of natural disasters that have befallen Israel including localized drought, locusts, pestilence, and blight. Amos’ statements raise the question of whether metrological events or biological plagues are controlled by God in order to discipline his people or are simply naturally occurring phenomena to which men will imbue divine meaning.  Was Charleston in need of discipline in 1989 or was Hugo simply a natural event? How are we to understand an attribution of natural disasters to God? In the past six years, the weather in the United States has generally been mild. We have not experienced a major hurricane since 2005, tornadic activity is at historic lows, and agricultural production is at the greatest it has ever been. Does this mean that God agrees with the actions taken by the United States over the past six years?  

Dinner is a 6. The menu is chicken mole with cilantro-lime rice. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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