Friday

18 May 2018

Amos 8:1-14

“This is what the Lord GOD showed me—a basket of summer fruit.” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 65


Background

In today’s passage, the Old Testament prophet Amos is continuing a series of damning prophecies against Israel, criticising the leaders and the people and foretelling destruction for becoming a complacent nation with no compassion for the poor.

It’s somewhat surprising, then, to be presented with this image of Amos’ next vision – a basket of summer fruit. We might associate this image with a gift, or the ingredients of a particularly delicious pudding, but for Amos it means something very different.

Summer fruit is generally ripe, and can ‘go over’ very quickly. There is also some suggestion that there is some clever wordplay taking place – because the Hebrew word for ‘summer fruit’ is very similar to another word meaning ‘end.’

Amos implies that the merchants of Israel are corrupt, they cannot wait for festivals and special religious days to be over so that they can get back to trading. But not good trading – the phrase “make the ephah small and the shekel great” (v. 5) implies that the unit of measure used for wheat was smaller than it should be and the balance by which silver was measured was heavier, meaning customers were overcharged.

Israel is heading for disaster and through this vision, Amos presents a picture of a God preparing to send darkness and famine to the land (verse 9). However it is not just a famine caused by a shortage of bread and water (verse 11), but by a shortage of God – God threatens a withdrawal of help, support and guidance. This will cause the people to panic and wander, seeking the word of the Lord but not finding it (verse 12). The people thought they could live without God, and now they will find out they cannot.

Even the strongest, youngest and most beautiful people will be affected by this withdrawal of God, and particular judgement is reserved for the worshippers of Ashimah (a goddess figure in Samarian culture) (verse 14). In verse 14, the references to Dan and Beersheba may simply mean ‘from the farthest north to the farthest south’, demonstrating the extent of God’s judgement on the whole nation, for moving so far away from the love and guidance of God.

A basket of fruit may then look attractive, but in this case the basket is rotten.


To Ponder

  • What might be a modern-day equivalent to the merchants whose ‘ephah is small and shekel great’?
  • As Christian Aid Week comes to an end, how can you encourage fair practices and support for those who are often oppressed by unfair systems?

Bible notes author

The Revd Mandy Briggs

Mandy Briggs is a Methodist minister who can usually be found at the New Room (www.newroombristol.org.uk) in Bristol, where she is the Education Officer, working with schools and groups to tell the story of the Wesleys and Methodism in Bristol and beyond.