The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday, October 14, 2018, is from the Book of the Twelve, the Prophet Amos. The text is Amos 5:6-7, 10-15, but we are going to look at verses 4-15 of this chapter in order to more accurately capture the sense of Amos’s words of direction and warning. The first thing to make note of is the three usages of the imperatives, “Seek me and live!” (vs. 4); “Seek Yahweh and live…” (vs. 6); “Seek good and not evil that you may live…” (vs. 14). In the midst of the prophetic warnings of Amos there is a continual urging for repentance, a turning away from evil to do good… and who is good but God?
The second thing to notice is the insertion of the second of three “creation hymns” in the Book of Amos in verses 8-9. The other two are found in 4:13 and 9:5-6. While they are traditionally referred to as “creation hymns” they contain strong language of judgement and salvation as well. These two verses are not contained in the regular pericopal reading for this Sunday, but I would argue that they should be!
Finally, it is important to examine the context of this prophetic warning. Remember, Amos is prophesying chiefly to the Northern Kingdom of Israel at the time of 762 BCE. Assyria will conquer the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE. The warnings not to seek Bethel or enter Gilgal point to the worship of evil gods that had been established in those places in the Northern region. However, Amos also includes the warning that the Northerners not cross over/travel to the Southern Kingdom to worship and inquire at Beersheba as well. It is also interesting that Amos refers to the Northern Kingdom as “Joseph” twice (vss. 6 and 15).
I would like to recognize the fine work of Reed Lessing in his Amos Commentary from the Concordia Commentary Series. It is very helpful and provides the interesting insight that verses 14-15 are at the center of the Book of Amos and summarize the entire message: Seek Yahweh and forsake corrupt worship shrines, for in Him alone you will live.
(5:4) דִּרְשׁוּנִי, וִחְיוּ These two imperatives are also found in 5:6 and 5:14. The root vrd “to seek”, occurs 4 times in this chapter (vss. 4, 5, 6, 14), yet nowhere else in the Book of Amos. “Seek me and live!” In the seeking of the LORD (Yahweh) there is life, and as becomes clear in this chapter, ONLY in the seeking of Yahweh is there life.
(5:5) תַעֲבֹרוּ root: עבר “to cross over; travel to”
לְאָוֶן from: אָוֶן “deception; nothingness; trouble”
Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba are centers of syncretistic worship at this time in history. Amos points to these places as places of death in comparison to the way of life—seeking the LORD. Beersheba is included even though it is in the Southern Kingdom. Thus, the idea of crossing over or traveling.
5:6 The actual pericope begins with a repeat of the two imperatives from verse 4: “Seek (the LORD) and live!” The understanding is that life is only found in the LORD. Apart from the LORD there is disaster and death, as will be illustrated in the next verses.
יִצְלַח root: צלח “to break out; rush out; set ablaze”
מְכַבֶּה root: כבה piel participle, “to quench; extinguish”
5:7 הַהֹפְכִים root: הפף qal participle with the definite article which conveys a vocative sense: “O you who turn…” לְלַעֲנָה “to wormwood”
הִנִּיחוּ root: נוח hiphil “to throw; cast away; cast down”
מִשְׁפָּט “justice” וּצְדָקָה “and righteousness” Lessing refers to these two words as synonyms and points out that they form a major theme in chapters 5 and 6.
(5:8-9) This is the second creation hymn, as noted earlier. It not only identifies the Creator, it also points to His power.
5:10 Now, we have the resumption of the list of the sins of Israel.
מוֹכִיחַ root: יכח Hiphil participle: “to reprove; arbitrate” The idea is one who sits in judgement at the gate of the city as is the custom. Note the reversal in vs. 15: Instead of hating the truth and those who speak it, hate evil and love good/truth. Then justice will be established in the gate.
תָּמִים “innocent; what is complete, truthful”. This term is used in later Judaism as a way to describe what a good and proper sacrifice should be—without blemish or spot—whole, compete. Earlier, in Genesis for example, it is used to speak of him who walks blamelessly (Noah). In this context it is best to translate as “One who speaks THE WHOLE/COMPLETE TRUTH.”
יְתָעֵבוּ root: תעב Piel: “to treat as an abomination; to abhor”
5:11 בּוֹשַׁסְכֶם root: בּשׁס Poel infinitive construct: “to trample; to tax”. This is a hapax legomenon, but the context seems clear. It is an offense to treat the poor and needy poorly—whether it is a “trampling” of them or a “taxing” of them. This is a theme throughout the Old and New Testaments. The people of God are not to overlook or oppress the needy, the poor, the weak, the downcast or the outcast. Thus, Christ came to those on the margins of society such as lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, sick and handicapped, etc. It also provides context for Matthew 25.
וּמַשְׂאַת-בַּר Probably a “tax of grain”
גָזִית “hewing; cutting of stone; hewn stone”. The idea conveyed is that a home built of hewn stone is more significant than one made from stones gathered from the field. We see this emphasis also concerning the vineyard which is “beautiful/pleasant/lovely”. However, those who oppress the poor, etc. will not live in these wonderful homes or drink wine from these beautiful vineyards.
5:12 פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם “crimes; transgressions”
צֹרְרֵי צַדִּיק A Qal plural participle in a construct chain: “who afflict the righteous; enemies of a righteous one; who show hostility toward the righteous”
לֹקְחֵי כֹפֶר Another participle in a construct chain: “who take a bribe; who are takers of bribes”
5:13 הַמַּשְׂכִּיל root: שׂכל Hiphil participle: “he who is prudent” Lessing sees this word to be a synonym of “righteous” in verse 12.
5:14-15 It is interesting to note the chiasm in these two verses: good/evil—evil/good.
5:15 וְהַצִּיגוּ root: יצג Hiphil: “place; set up; establish”. The idea is to bring back justice and truth in the judging at the gates.
אוּלַי An adverb meaning “perhaps; may be”. Lessing comments that this expresses a hope, rather than a certain promise. This is one of the few times I disagree with him! Hope in the OT context is always based upon a promise. Without the promise of grace and mercy there is no hope. There is a nuance of difference from our modern use of the word. It was this promise of God to be gracious and merciful that provided hope even amid terrible circumstances. God has promised to be gracious to those who turn to Him, therefore, there is always a strong and certain hope for the people even when they are involved in evil and wicked things. Repentance takes place because there is the promise of forgiveness—a certain hope. As Lessing states later, “Here the term (remnant) implies judgement, since only a remnant of Israel is left, but also the hope of salvation when Yahweh is gracious toward those who are spared.”
In preaching this text with its strong tone of admonition and judgement, it is important to focus upon the “hope” that God will turn is face toward those who return and repent. God will establish justice and righteousness even in the midst of the most uncertain and evil times. This we know because of the hope based upon the promise. Others have been clear—no one is righteous, no not one… except THE ONE, and no one is good except God! So, our righteousness and goodness must come from outside ourselves—imputed—to us/upon us by the Righteous One, the only Good One, Christ Jesus.
For Further Help:
Concordia Theology -Sermon Notes from Dr. Reed Lessing