bible blog 1215

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

BEDOUIN OF ISRAEL FIGHT FOR THEIR ANCESTRAL LANDS

Bedouin whose house was destroyed by the Israeli government

Bedouin whose house was destroyed by the Israeli government

Amos 7:1-9

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

Locusts, Fire, and a Plumb-Line

7 This is what the Lord God showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings). When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,

‘O Lord God, forgive, I beg you!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!’
The Lord relented concerning this;
‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord.

This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord God was calling for a shower of fire,[a] and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. Then I said,

‘O Lord God, cease, I beg you!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!’
The Lord relented concerning this;
‘This also shall not be,’ said the Lord God.

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb-line.’ Then the Lord said,

‘See, I am setting a plumb-line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’

Revelation 1:1-8

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

Introduction and Salutation

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants[a] what must soon take place; he made[b] it known by sending his angel to his servant[c] John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed[d] us from our sins by his blood, and made[e] us to be a kingdom, priests serving[f] his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.

So it is to be. Amen.

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

These two passages give us two prophetic visions, one dating from the 8th century BCE and one from the 1st century CE. The first thing to notice is that they come from the same stable; there is a similar purpose: the prophet/seer is giving people an understanding of the present and the future which is said to come from One called Lord and God. Let’s not assume we know this One, but rather listen to what these prophets say about him/her.

plumbFor Amos the Lord is first of all a vast and threatening presence who is about to bring disaster by locust or by fire on his wayward people. Amos does not argue as to whether the people deserve this destruction; rather he pleads for the Lord to recognise the disproportion between the comprehensive punishment and the weakness of his people Jacob/Israel. The Lord listens to his prophet and cancels the threatened disaster, recognising that what the prophet pleads is just. But then the Lord offers true justice to his prophet. He will place a plumb line amongst his people, which will show what is straight and what is crooked. If Israel transgresses again, it will be responsible for its own destruction. Perhaps, given the Lord’s grim sense of irony, that plumb line will be Amos himself, who cannot help denouncing the injustices of his people.

Is Amos inventing this God? Well, not exactly although clearly his imagination contributes to the picture. He has inherited this God from his forbears; from those who have told the tales of Jahweh the great God who brought the people from slavery in Egypt and gave them, out of all nations, his just laws. There is a passionate engagement between this God and his people. “You only I have known (this is a sexual word) out of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins!” Of course Amos feels an individual summons from his God but it is rooted in God’s summons to the whole nation. If as an experiment we substitute the word “justice” for the words “Lord” and “God”, we can get some conception of the utterly rigorous and dangerously passionate presence which he invokes against the affluent injustice of his society.

It is a picture of God which would have been familiar to John the author of The Revelation. He had doubtless read the prophecies of Amos and the other Hebrew prophets as well as more apocalyptic material from times nearer his own. Clearly the book of Daniel influenced him, with its visions of the “ancient of days” and the “son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.” He like Amos inherits a tradition and adds to it through his own faith and imagination.

We learn later that he has been exiled on the island of Patmos by the Roman administration because of his witness to Jesus, and that his book is written for the sake of the “seven churches of Asia”  for which he has some responsibility. Like Amos he shows a disturbing familiarity with an all-powerful God, who fills all time. Like Amos he mediates this knowledge to his people, stressing that his words should be read aloud in the churches. But his naming of the almighty presence is different from that of Amos. He mentions the timeless one, but also the “seven spirits” (seven is just a term of perfection) and Jesus Christ, the faithful witness (Greek: martyr) who is the first born of the dead. He has by his blood (his death on the cross), freed his people from sin and made them a royal kingdom of priests offering true worship to God. All this is not so much a doctrine of the trinity as a powerful cartoon of the characters of the Godhead as known by his people.

is and was and is to come

is and was and is to come

The great difference between Amos and John is that for the latter God is allied with his faithful people who are undergoing persecution. The One who is coming on the clouds of heaven, includes their suffering in his own; they also have been pierced; they also will be revealed as God’s chosen. The prophet emphasises that the Creator God, who is the Alpha of the universe is also its Omega, its conclusion. Nothing is outside the rainbow of his will.

John shows that the prophetic tradition which is mainly concerned with bringing down the mighty can also be used to lift up the humble. In both cases the power of the message comes from the capacity of the messenger to envisage the unearthly Author. The mistake made by affluent Israelites and arrogant Romans alike is to imagine the world as the limit of possibilities; nothing can hold affluence or empire to account. The prophets remind people that the world and its powers remain open to the limitless possibilities of God’s anger and compassion.

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