Bible blog 2185

AMOS CHAPTER 5 Complete Jewish Bible altered by me

Upwelling water in the desert
Hear this word that I sing against you
in lament, house of Isra’el:

Virgin Israel has fallen down
never again to stand;
Left lying on her own ground
with none to lend a hand.”


For thus says Adonai God,
“The city from which a thousand marched
will be left with a hundred,
and the one from which a hundred marched
will be left with ten
To fight for the house of Isra’el.”
For here is what Adonai says
to the house of Isra’el:
“Seek me, and live:
but don’t seek Beith-El, or enter Gilgal
or pass on into Be’er-Sheva;
for Gilgal will fall into exile,
and Beit-El will become Death-El”
If you seek Adonai, you will live.
Otherwise, he will break out against
the house of Yosef like fire,
devouring Beith-El,
with no one to quench the flames.
You who turn justice to bitter wormwood
and throw righteousness to the ground!
He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
who brings deathlike shadows over the morning,
who darkens the day into night,
who calls for water from the sea
and with it floods the earth —
Adonai is his name —
he brings destruction on the strong,
so that ruin overcomes the fortress.
10 They hate anyone promoting justice
at the city gate,
they detest anyone who speaks the truth.
11 Therefore, because you place taxes on the poor
and extort from them levies of grain;
although you have built houses of cut stone,
you will not live in them;
and though you have planted pleasant vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
12 For I know how numerous are your crimes
and how outrageous your sins —
bullying the innocent, extorting ransoms
pushing the poor aside at the gate.
13 At times like these a prudent person stays silent,
for it is an evil time.
14 Seek good and not evil, so that you will survive.
Then Adonai God of armies will be with you,
as you say he is.
15 Hate evil, love good, and uphold justice at the gate.
Maybe Adonai God of armies
will take pity on the survivors of Yosef.
16 Therefore thus says Adonai God of armies:

 ”In all public squares there will be lamentation,
in all the streets they will cry, ‘Oh, no!’
They will summon farmers to mourn
and professional mourners to wail.
17 There will be wailing in every vineyard,
for I will pass through among you,” says Adonai.
18 Woe to you who want the Day of Adonai!
Why do you want it, this Day of Adonai?
It is darkness, not light;
19 as if someone were to run from a lion,
just to be met by a bear;
as if he entered a house, put his hand on the wall,
just to be bitten by a snake.
20 Won’t the Day of Adonai be darkness, not light,
completely dark, with no brightness at all?
21 “I hate, I utterly loathe your festivals;
I take no pleasure in your solemn assemblies.
22 If you offer me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
nor will I consider the peace offerings
of your stall-fed cattle.
23 Spare me the noise of your songs!
I don’t want to hear the strumming of your lutes!
24 Instead, let justice well up like water,
and rightness like an ever-flowing stream.
25 Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
in the desert forty years, house of Isra’el?
26 No, but now you will bear Sikkut as your king
and Kiyun, your images,
the star of your god, which you made for yourselves;

so I will exile you beyond Dammesek,”
says Adonai God of Armies;
that is his name.

The voice of God modulates into a savage lament – for what will happen to Israel in the future! The editor who lived centuries after the historical Amos knew the terrible story of Isra’el’s defeat by Assyrians and Babylonians and the deportation of the working population to Babylon. He also knew that in spite of the lament, Israel had risen again, but must be sure to avoid the errors that Amos pointed out, if she wanted to avoid a similar disaster. God continues unsparingly to chart the depletion of Israel’s forces, then cuts to the quick of his concern: seek me and live. The verb translated “seek” comes from a Hebrew root meaning “tread, beat a path to” indicating sustained attention to God, frequent application of God’s wisdom rather than occasional worship or sacrifice. God’s jealousy breaks out again, naming Isra’el’s other suitors, the shrines at Gilgal, Beithel and Beershevah. The angry jealousy is made evident in the play Amos creates on the names Gilgal and Beithel, linking the names of Israel’s favourites to exile and death. To live is not merely to survive, but to live well. The alternative will be to face the fury of a God whose love has been rejected. The modern reader needs to appreciate the extraordinary skill with which this voice of God is created by the prophet, or as Amos himself would have insisted, heard by the prophet.

The voice is so humanly bitter that the editor inserts a pious description of the God who is beyond humanity, before allowing God to continue with his charge of injustice against the rich and powerful of Isra’el: they hate anyone who dispenses justice ( the root of the verb means to “make clear) at the city gate (the public area for cases); and they execrate anyone who speaks the truth or sound sense. The words used here belong to the vocabulary of what is fundamentally good or bad. God is in favour of plain facts, truth, and the practice of open justice. The common translation “trampling on the poor” is considered imprecise by the latest scholarship which gives it a legal sense of levying taxes. The injustice to the poor of which God complains is not occasional but woven into the economic system of the country: the wheat which should feed poor families is legally taken away by the rich.

But God’s justice is at hand. The rich will not dwell in their dressed stone houses nor drink the produce of their vineyards. This will be the result of their corrupt, venal rule which refuses to listen to complaints. The prophet who publicly announces all this notes wryly that any sensible person would shut up rather than ask for trouble.

The remedy is simple: seek (as before,”beat a path to”) good, and not evil; hate evil and love good. Amos is not bringing a new morality. . Everybody knows good and evil; but beating a path to the good, loving the good, is not at all common. It would however be rewarded with God’s goodness and blessing. As it is, God will visit his people with disaster. People have spoken about the “day of Adonai” meaning the time of God’s favour to his people. God promises that he will still come to his people, but in anger rather than kindness. The day of Adonai will be a time of comprehensive and inescapable punishment for a people who have rejected their God.

God imagines that some protest this judgement, pointing to their solemn religious assemblies and the richness of their worship, so he savagely rejects their worship detail by detail, seeing them as an impertinent substitute for obedience to his law. God is not interested in all that but rather demands that justice should well up/roll down like waters and rightness like an ever-flowing stream. The verb usually translated “roll down” can also mean “well up.” Both are possible: either justice rolls down from God to rulers to people; or it wells up from the poor to the rich to the ruler and is offered to God. Crucially, God through Amos asks the people if in the springtime of their love for him, they had expressed it with sacrifices. This indicates a radical interpretation of the roots of Jewish faith: at its best, it’s not to do with ritual at all.

The passage ends with God promising to reward fheir devotion to foreign Gods by sending them in exile to a foreign land.

The theology of Amos which almost completely rejects worship and ritual is a challenge to the modern practice of Christianity which is often nothing more than worship and ritual. Amos would however make common cause with the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his plea for “religionless Christianity.”

2 comments

  1. “Religionless Christianity” is one of my own favorite dreams and one of many reasons why I admire Bonhoeffer ever since I first read his Letters and Papers from Prison in the old translation. By the way, I find it fascinating that Amos speaks of Pleiades and Orion, which of course are the names coined by the ancient Greeks for these celestial configurations. The Hebrew text actually say kimah and kesil, so I’m struck that the “Complete Jewish Bible” you are quoting resorts to the usual English use of the Greek names of these celestial bodies.

  2. I return to Bonhoeffer at the end of my blogs on Amos. My theology prof, Ronald Gregor Smith was an early exponent of religionless faith. I guess the Jewish translator thought he would use words for these groupsnof stars that most people would understand. He ought to have done the same with most place names also!

    Good to hear from you as always,
    M

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