Monday

28 June 2010

"Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals." (v.6)

Background

Although it might at first sight not be very obvious, the book of Amos has close links with yesterday's passage about the Samaritan village. The origins of the book lie in the ancient tensions between the northern tribes of Israel and the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, which were largely to do with competing claims about sacred places and shrines. These things can matter a lot to religious people, of course.

The opening two verses of Amos set the scene. The shepherd/prophet Amos is a 'southerner' living in Judea, who firmly believes that God is to be found in Jerusalem, from where God "roars" (Amos 1:2) like an angry lion. Amos' condemnations are largely addressed to the northern kingdom of Israel as the first chapter makes clear. God, says Amos, is angry with them for their transgressions, and he anticipates that their king will soon be defeated in battle with his Assyrian enemies. And in this passage the focus is entirely on Israel and its failure to live in accordance with God's will.

There are hints here of the old religious rivalries... Verse 8 refers to "every altar" and "their God", as opposed to 'our altar' and 'our God' in Jerusalem. But the real condemnation is moral, not religious. The righteous and the needy are being exploited for financial gain. The poor and the afflicted are ignored and downtrodden. Young women are sexually degraded and religious taxes and offerings made at the shrines are misused.

And yet, the northern tribes shared the same spiritual DNA as Judah. God had delivered them from Egypt in the 40 years of the exodus and had given them the promised land of Canaan (tough on the indigenous Amorites, but that's another story). They had no excuse for their behaviour because God had even given them their own prophets and holy men (the ascetic teetotal "nazirites"). But even they had been corrupted.

So God's wrath would soon be unleashed, and Israel would be humbled by its enemies - says the Lord.

To Ponder

Which is more important - right belief or right behaviour? Why?

Whose spiritual DNA do you share?

How do we know if these words are genuinely "says the Lord" rather than "says Amos"? Does it matter?

Bible notes author: Revd David Rhymer

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