Here in western Kentucky it’s 70 degrees, the birds are singing, and the flowers are blooming. I’ve been wearing short-sleeved shirts all week. The fact that it’s February makes all of this quite puzzling. I’d say something about climate change or global warming but I understand we’re not supposed to talk about that anymore so I won’t (at least not today). Instead I’d like to call your attention to something I’ve found interesting in the ancient Book of Amos. Amos was an 8th c. B.C. prophet from Judah who headed north to deliver a series of messages to the people of Israel. Amos makes it quite clear that Israel has let God down by failing to let justice roll down like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (5:24) The people were doing everything they were supposed to do on the Sabbath but they were cheating, robbing and taking advantage of the poor the rest of the week. For this reason Amos said God was about to destroy Israel and send its people into exile.
As a whole, the message of Amos is one of gloom and doom. There’s not much uplifting in what he has to say to the people. But three times in the book of nine chapters there is a pause in the gloom and doom messages and Amos exalts God for being the Creator. At the end of chapter four, right after Amos had told the people “prepare to meet your God,” he inserts this word: “He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth–the Lord God Almighty is his name.” (4:13) This passage doesn’t seem to fit what goes before it but it may have been that Amos felt the Israelites needed a corrective in their understanding of God. The God of Israel was not some weak deity that could be pushed around. No, their God formed the mountains and created the winds. Their God turns dawn to darkness and treads the high places of the earth. This was the God they were about to meet.
In the fifth chapter Amos chides the people for equating God with their sanctuaries and for turning justice into bitterness and casting righteousness to the ground. Right after this stern word he adds: “He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land–the Lord is his name.” (5:8) Once again, the words don’t seem to follow naturally what precede them but still one more time Amos seems intent on making sure that Israel knew who they had offended. Their God was not some powerless god. No, Israel’s God put the stars in their place and was the One who controlled day and night. Their God created the waters of the sea and spread water across the rest of the land.
In the ninth chapter we find yet another strange insertion. After one more strong word of judgment Amos says “The Lord, the Lord Almighty–he touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn; the whole land rises like the Nile, then sinks like the river of Egypt; he builds his lofty palaces in the heavens and sets its foundations on the earth; he calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land–the Lord is his name.” (9:5-6) Still yet one more time Amos called the people of Israel to understand exactly who it was they were dealing with. It was no less than the Lord God Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth. How foolish they were to have turned their backs on the Almighty God! How just was their forthcoming punishment!
Today we may live far removed from eighth century B.C. Israel but I suspect we could still use the same corrective Amos issued his listeners. We need to remember that God expects us to practice justice and righteousness. Furthermore, we need to remember just who this God is who places this demand on us. God is the One who created the mountains and streams, the stars in the sky, and all that exists. It is the Almighty God, the Creator of everything who gives us this mandate. Israel soon learned that they could not ignore God’s demand and get away with it. Will we learn the same lesson?
(The pictures used above are some I’ve taken on various trips to California.)