Lessons from the Book of Amos

Excerpt from a message I shared at Union Church on Feb 14, 2021. We recapped the book of Amos and looked at three takeaways.

In receiving and wrestling with Amos and engaging in conversations as a community, we have seen how prescient it is to the national moment we’ve been walking through.

We’ve been confronted by a text that hasn’t been afraid to call out the ‘ruling-class’ and pervasive status quo of royal ideology. We’ve seen a righteous indignation and warning to God’s chosen people, who are losing their covenant connection with Yahweh.

We’ve witnessed a prophet who is proclaiming doom, gloom, and destruction, at a time when there seems to be relative national prosperity.And yet something is amiss, and Amos warns the people of what is coming. And what is coming, is not what they’re expecting.

And the story goes that in a decade or two, a neighboring super-power (the Assyrian empire) will completely destroy this nation. This northern kingdom, these 10 tribes of Israel, will be forced into captivity and will never be known as Israel again.

The story of Israel, that follows Amos, is an incredibly difficult story. A humanitarian catastrophe is many senses, and the trauma of story will be seen all the way through to the New Testament. The Samaritans who live in Judea, are direct descendants of Assyrian invasion and forced intermarriage.

God in his all-knowing wisdom, directs Amos to end his message with a word that is full of hope and grace.

11 On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; 12 in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this. 13 The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. 14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. 15 I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God.

AMOS 9:11-15 (NRSV)

God is ever in the business of redeeming, restoring, and remaking.

This is a nation about to experience utter destruction at the hands of Assyrians. It seems counter-intuitive for the prophet to talk about God redeeming, restoring, and remaking. Does God have a dark sense of humor?

The God we see in scripture is one who redeems, restores and remakes. Though this iteration of national Israel, these 10 tribes, never come back as an ethnic group again, what is Amos really saying here?

We have the luxury of fast-forwarding the story, and recognizing that Amos is looking forward to the person and work of Jesus. Jesus is king in the house of David, inaugurating a kingdom that repairs, raises up, and rebuilds both the descendants of these 10 tribes and the whole of humanity.

Amos is revealing God as protective parent, as one who corrects and disciplines, and yet truly loves and seeks restoration. As a community we can embrace a God who corrects us, cares for us, and calls us forward into growth and maturity.

This last year may have been one of incredible isolation, anxiety, or depression. I’m here to encourage you up and out towards God. He continues to redeem, restore, and remake. May we let him do that in us and through us.

God invites us out toward a more expansive story.

The nation of Israel has this bad habit of leaning into their own exceptionalism. They believe themselves to be protected, and have been lulled into a stupor believing that God would continue to bless, protect, and provide.

When looking at what Amos reveals in these last few verses of this book, it can read as if God cares most about restoring what the people have lost. And while there is truth in that sort of a reading, there’s something much deeper going here.

God reminds them that what’s in store, is always better than what is, but is never exactly what they expect. Yes they will experience destruction and loss, but what’s to come, the future God has for them, a future that goes beyond just their lifetime, can still be better than anything they expect.

As Jesus-followers, our souls are tethered to an eternal hope. That eternal hope radically changes the way we live our lives in our present reality.

We bring the reality of Jesus’ kingdom, this new Israel reality, this big family Jesus invites the whole of humanity into.. we bring that future into the present.

This last year, some of us may have very well retreated into our own stories. We may have become vindictive, selfish, and self-focused. We may have just been trying to survive in light of everything 2020 and 2021 have been so far.

And yet Jesus invites us out. He invites us to reconnect and reimagine; to hope again.

God asks us to steward, cultivate, and garden.

For so many of the ruling class in the northern kingdom, there was a level of abstraction from the realities of the poor and working class. This abstraction propped up their privilege, access, and blessing.

What you see in these closing verses of Amos, is a future reality where God’s people, are both producers and consumers, living in the city and tending to gardens. They live in perfect harmony with one another and their environment. You see a people who appreciate one another, and steward the soil.

Furthermore, the geography of Canaan was not as conducive to agriculture like Egypt, Assyria or Babylon. Canaan’s topography lacked major river valleys and irrigation, with marginal rainfall and cycles of wet and dry years that often oscillated. Essentially, every aspect of life as a resident of the land, is a gift and blessing from God. Both the land and its produce and even its animal inhabitants do not actually belong to Israel but to God.

Moses had commanded Israel to allow this God-defined-reality to shape their life in the land. Obedience, loyalty, and faithfulness were rewarded with rain from heaven, fruitfulness and plenty, and provision for livestock. Israel was asked to identify God as the rainmaker, and to practice radical dependence on God.

As Jesus-followers, we must continue reorienting our lives to Christ and his message. Working out our salvation, connecting as sisters and brothers, stewarding creation… is all one and same, all part of the work God calls us to.

It may be that in this last year, we may have not radically depended on God, but put more hope in ourselves, our ways, and our approach to life. And as mentioned earlier, we may have done this for our own survival. But in so doing, we may have lost touch with our communities, the soil and sea, and possibly even our very souls. And yet that story isn’t final. God isn’t done with you yet. Your story is still being written, and God is encouraging you to steward, cultivate, and garden again.