Saturday 18 May 2024

Bible Book:

“The time is surely coming," says the Lord (v.13)

Amos 9:1-15 Saturday 18 May 2024

Psalm 138


Today we come to the end of the Old Testament book of Amos, which we have been looking at over the last fortnight. This final chapter contains some of the most distressing and hopeful imagery in the text, which originated in the 8th century BC.

The shepherd turned prophet Amos, who came from the southern kingdom of Judah (1:1), was sent to bring an uncompromising message of impending disaster to the northern kingdom, Israel. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he was not well received and the authorities in Israel told him to stop prophesying.

In the first half of our passage today, Amos is given a vision of the destruction that is about to befall Israel. He receives another vision (the fifth in the book) that seems to involve an earthquake. The text of Amos is often hard to understand, as it uses poetic language and wordplays in the original Hebrew. Even so, many commentators suggest that 9:1 is the hardest verse in the book to translate and there is much about its meaning that we struggle to understand.

The prophet goes on to speak about the power and authority of God. Psalm 139, and other biblical texts, speak about what a positive thing God’s overwhelming presence (usually called ‘omnipresence’) is:

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.
(Psalm 139:7-8)

Here, though, it is a frightening prospect, with no one able to escape the disaster that is about to unfold (Amos 9:2-4, 10). Sheol was the underworld realm of the dead while Mount Carmel, near modern day Haifa, is a mountain range by the sea in northern Israel.

Ultimately, though, the writer concludes with a message of hope in the final verses of the book. It speaks of the restoration of the land and peace, at last, for the people. It uses fantastic imagery to describe the super-abundant harvest that the people will reap in this new age (9:13-14). It is in sharp contrast to what has gone before and speaks of Judah (“the booth of David”) rather than Israel (9:11). This has led many commentators to question whether these verses were added later to provide some sort of ‘happy ending’ to such a challenging text.

To Ponder:

  • How do you respond to the sense of inescapable disaster in much of this passage, and in all of Amos?
  • Is the omnipresence of God a frightening concept for you, as seemingly here in Amos, or a more positive one, as in Psalm 139?
  • Do we need the ‘happy ending’ of Amos (9:11-15)? Does it change the book’s overall message or enhance it?

Bible notes author: The Revd Geoffrey Farrar

Geoffrey Farrar is the Superintendent Minister of the Richmond & Hounslow Circuit in south-west London. He has pastoral charge of Barnes, Putney and Roehampton churches. He is currently studying for a (very) part-time PhD at the nearby University of Roehampton, looking at the impact of the Maccabean Revolt on responses to Jesus. He lives in Putney with his partner and their adopted son.

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