Razing and Raising

Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground,
except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,
declares the Lord.

For behold, I will command,
and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
but no pebble shall fall to the earth.
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’

In that day I will raise up
the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins
and rebuild it as in the days of old,
that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations who are called by my name,
declares the Lord who does this.

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper
and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. -Amos 9:8-15

Amos’s vision largely concerns God’s judgement on the nation of Israel for its non-adherence to the covenant described in the Bible’s first five books. Its transgressions included (but were not limited to) idolatry, social injustice, and the hoarding of wealth: needless to say his fierce words got him into a bit of bother with those who’d much rather he shut up, or at least get out of the way (7:10-17).

The final visions including a basket of ripe fruit (8:1-5; the Hebrew word for “ripe fruit” sounds a bit like the word for “end”, which explains what seems to be a non-sequitur in English. Also, it would seem there’s never an inappropriate time for a good pun.) and the destruction of the altar at Bethel (Bethel was the place where the northern kingdom would offer up its sacrifices with God; it was known for its hostility to prophets who would much rather they did otherwise), both of which describe the complete and utter desolation of the kingdom in graphic detail.

But the end of Amos is astonishing in its grace, for in it God remembers the promise he makes in Leviticus 26:40-45, that he will restore the fortunes of a remnant Israel and make them prosperous again, even despite the severe chastisement earlier on!

I imagine a deserted cityscape devastated by war, with a solitary collapsed tent where mighty buildings used to be, riddled with holes, billowing in scorching desert wind, lying miles from civilisation all that is left of the conquered people. The people return and see the tent now standing at the spot where they used to meet their God. The people weep at what used to be there, but then they remember that what they’d left behind was not a building, but God’s presence. Then they rejoice for God has provided for them again, and his promise becomes no less true than when he gave it to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.

Ultimately, the “tent” would become more than this, attracting even those who did not have the sign of circumcision (all those who call on my name; see Acts 15).

Amos didn’t just include this for a happy ending; it is an essential part of the character of God. Ultimately, God is merciful and gracious, even in the midst of discipline, and ultimately, there is hope, even despite all our failings.

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