Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Friday, 26 April 2013

God, the Judge of Nations (Amos 1)

Who was Amos? No doubt, we will reply that he was a prophet whom the Lord used as his spokesman long ago to speak to his backsliding people. But what kind of background did this prophet have? Amos 1:1 tells us that he was one of the shepherds of Tekoa and in 7:14-15 he says that he was also a dresser of sycamore figs. So we can see that the Lord chose as his servant a man of humble background.

What task did the Lord have in mind for this servant with a lowly background? In the main, his ministry was to be among the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, although we can also see from the first two chapters that he was given messages from God about the surrounding nations. Amos himself was from the kingdom of Judah (Tekoa is located there), and since two centuries had passed since the kingdoms had divided from one another it means that he was called to serve in what would be, in many ways, a foreign country.

When did he deliver his prophetic messages? He did so during the reigns of Uzziah, the king of Judah, and Jeroboam II, the king of Israel. This could cover a period of over fifty years and it was marked by national prosperity and growth for the northern kingdom. An earthquake is mentioned in 1:1 and the verse says that Amos gave his first message two years before it happened. But no one knows when that earthquake occurred (although some archaeological evidence points to one having taken place about 760 BC).

What did he have to say about God? Throughout his book, he says a great deal about the Lord. But he begins in verse 2 by likening the Lord to a roaring lion about to seize its prey. Then the prey is detailed and we see that it is made up of the surrounding nations, each of which is promised divine punishment because of its sins. Syria (Damascus) will be punished with exile because of its cruelty in war (vv. 3-5). The Philistines (Gaza) will become extinct because they treated people cruelly (vv. 6-8) and Tyre would be destroyed for similar behaviour (vv. 9-10). Edom would be conquered because of their centuries-long hostility towards the people of Israel, a hostility made worse because they were related to one another (vv. 11-12). Ammon would go into exile because of their cruelty in war, particularly what they did to the pregnant women of Gilead (vv. 13-15). All of these nations had their prey, but their behaviour was preparing them to be the Lord’s prey.

These divine actions remind us that God is never indifferent to national sins of any country. He may seem for a while to be doing nothing, but eventually he will. In particular, he will judge those guilty of acts of cruelty against their fellowmen. Obviously we can see how such sins can occur in warfare, but there are also many other ways in which such cruelty can be practiced (slavery, racism, economic exploitation, denial of basic human rights are only some).

In Matthew 25, Jesus describes the future Day of Judgement in the parable of the sheep and the goats. On that august occasion, we will all hear the roar of the Lion. The behavior that he will be concerned with, as detailed in that passage, is how we related to other humans, particularly his people in need. Clearly, the message for his disciples from Amos 1 is that they should be compassionate and merciful and should never condone acts of cruelty on helpless people performed by nations for whatever reason.

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