6 June 2014

Amos 9:1-12

“I will fix my eyes on them for harm and not for good” (v. 4)


This passage represents Amos's vision of the destruction of the people of Israel as a result of their refusal to listen to God's word. And it is total destruction - exile is not good enough, instead "not one of them shall flee away, not one of them shall escape" (v. 1).

Not only is there physical destruction, but Amos tells the people of Israel that they will no longer be special in the eyes of the Lord, saying in verse 7 that they will be no more to God than the Ethiopians (an example probably used to recall a people who were seen as both strange and remote). How far Israel has fallen from being the chosen people.

 One of the most chilling sections in this passage is verses 2-4. This recalls Psalm 139:7-8, one of the most comforting of the psalms, which asks:

"Where can I go from your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there."

The answer here is that no matter where you go, you cannot escape the love and knowledge of God, who knew you before you were born, and is familiar with all our ways.

Amos however uses a similar image, but this time to warn people of a vengeful god who cannot be outrun. Wherever the people of Israel try to hide, God will search them out and kill them. Instead of the blessing in Numbers 6:24-26, in which the Lord's face shines upon those God loves, here the Lord's eyes are fixed on them - for harm and not for good.

What a devastating and frightening prophesy. Amos truly believed that he was preaching a message of judgement upon Israel for breaking with the covenant, and the punishment to follow was inescapable. When the Israelites ended up in captivity in Babylon a couple of centuries later, other editors added to the prophesies of Amos foretelling of the raising up of Israel once again.

To Ponder

  • Do you find the thought of not being able to escape from God comforting, threatening, or something else?
  • Do you think people listened to Amos? Would you have done?
  • Later readers of Amos living in exile clearly needed a happy ending. Is this part of human nature?

Bible notes author

JPIT (Joint Public Issues Team)

The Joint Public Issues Team is a venture of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland. The team helps the three Churches work together on issues of justice and inequality.