Sometimes when I study the Minor Prophets, particularly Amos, it’s easy to become confused. If I didn’t know I was reading the Hebrew Bible, I’d swear the vitriolic, anti-Israelite rhetoric I’m encountering is an official press release from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yes, some of things God says about Israel in Amos are that bad. I want to know, “Why is God so angry?” Doesn’t God have better ways to deal with anger than by imposing divinely willed death on everyone? Why the hate? Why is God so invested in anger, rage, and name calling? In the middle of the eight century BC, God has a hair trigger, ready to unleash death on anyone and everyone for just about anything. If these prophets were all you read, you’d think the biggest threat to Israel was Israel’s God.
Israel went through a series of rough spells. Things were better now. The threat from Assyria was at its lowest point in 100 years. When it seemed like spiritual rehab had worked, treatment was going well, they’d found a new apartment, and were about to start a new job; Israel was back in God’s dog house.
Amos asks readers to “hear” his words and we do hear harsh words. My question is this: are they over the top, unnecessary, bullying, and downright mean? Yes. It’s “so strong” according to some scholars; they think the last few chapters of the book were later additions to lighten the mood. Admittedly, that’s hard to do, when the God called to protect you has killed everyone who might hope in that same God for a better tomorrow.
Israel is God’s favorite (and only) child. Despite this status, God is angry with Israel for being, well, human. They don’t live to the letter of the law. They worship idols, are hypocritical, and are kind of like any group of self-satisfied people. They’ve been unjust, unfair, and treated people poorly. It’s an old story, the rich got richer and poor became poorer. Now remember, this kind of back and forth between piety and no piety, worship and no worship, justice and injustice, is the hallmark of Israelite society for centuries. This is nothing new. It doesn’t make it right; however God, various prophets, and numerous kings have dealt with this for ages.
So what’s the plan? How best to make Israel a functioning society; both healthy and whole again? The answer seems to be genocide, mass deportations, and killing on a scale unseen since the last time God unleashed Holy Hell on his chosen people.
History, what do we do with history? There is a sense in reading Amos, we’re reading about the end of Israel. Once this is over, Israel will be little more than a memory in the dust. This is the end of history. Amos wants to says, “There will be nothing beyond this”. It’s hard to come back if that’s your underlying message. Your sins are too great to merit forgiveness. The best you can hope for is to wait upon death. While you’re waiting on death, your wives will become prostitutes, your children fall by the sword, your property will be taken, and you’ll die in an unclean land. Thanks God!
In Amos 7:8 God says, “See I am setting a plum line in the middle of my people Israel. I will never again forgive them.” I will never again forgive them. That is God saying he will never again forgive his people. Wow! God’s people, all of them; the good, the bad, innocent, and the ugly will never be forgiven. God is not unable to forgive. God does not want to forgive. That verse makes my skin crawl. It’s scary what’s in the Bible. I can’t delete this verse. Nor am I able to attribute it to eight century BCE social mores. Talk about taking the wind out of your sails. It says what it says. God is out of the forgiveness business.
I want to be forgiven. There is much for which I need to seek forgiveness. “It won’t happen ever again,” says God. But I’m forgiven, right? It’s what I’ve been told, taught, and preach. So who’s lying: God, Amos, Jesus, my Sunday School teachers (who included my mother), or countless others? Despite the presence of Amos’s words in the Bible, I don’t want to tell anyone about them. It’s got contradiction written over it and not just two ark stories contradiction, I mean, “who’s telling the truth about forgiveness, God, God, or God?”
To call God wrong would be to call God a flip-flopper. Isn’t referring to a leader as a “flip-flopper” the worst thing you can say about a politician? Maybe I should be a bit more judicious when letting my knee-jerk reactions respond to campaign advertisements. God became a flip-flopper. God is a flip-flopper. Salvation is a flip-flop. Isn’t God the ultimate flip-flopper? Can God be trusted not to flip flop on our forgiveness again? It looks like God voted for death and destruction before he voted against it. My word, if we used the same standards that we apply to politicians to the Holy Bible, God comes up as short as some of our political leaders and candidates. I’m sure glad Americans have double standards when it come to politics and religion. We’d be in a mess if we didn’t.
Could it be that no one, not even our image of God, is perfect?