The visions of Amos

Faith Impulse

Taking responsibility       Amos 7, 1-9 und 8, 1-3 

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to show today how the visions of Amos address the theme of injustice and the responsibility that comes with it. What can this mean for us today? And for the world and for those living in these present times?

Amos, to briefly introduce the main character, comes from Tekoa. He says of himself: "I am not a prophet or a disciple of a prophet, but I am a shepherd of cattle and I grow mulberry figs. But the LORD has taken me from my flock and said to me, 'Go and prophesy to my people in Israel'" (Amos 7:14-15)

This is a very important information. We are being told: Amos is independent. He is not a subject of the land of Israel where he prophesies, but is from Judah. Jeroboam is not his king, but Uzziah the king of Judah. And he is not a prophet's disciple or court prophet paid by the king, but he is a farmer with his own property. Not a day laborer, but it is "his" flock from which he is taken. Amos is self-sufficient, he is financially secure. 

Let's listen to why he comes:

"Hear this word, you Bashan cows on the mountain of Samaria, who exploit the weak and crush the poor, and say to your men, 'Bring ye, for we want to be drunk'" (Amos 4:1)

A similar theme but in a different place, in chapter 5, it says: 

"You cause distress to the innocent, you take bribes, you turn away the poor in the gate." (Amos 5:12b) Or, "Because you take rent from the helpless and tax his grain, as you build houses of hewn stone...and lay out splendid vineyards for yourselves." (Amos 5:11)

Amos comes to a land, the land of Israel in the time of King Jeroboam, where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Not because they- the rich or the upper class- are so much more productive, no. But because they exploit the weak and degrade unprotected, vulnerable people, reducing them to mere objects of their desire for gain, power and pleasure. Does this sound familiar? Anyway, this is the background with which we must listen to the visions of Amos.

Visions one and two are clearly different from visions three and four. Anyone who has listened carefully will have noticed that the respective pairs are very similar in their structure and choice of words. Of course, this was done deliberately in order to make them easily connected to each other. 

Let's look now at vision one: "This is what the sovereign Lord showed me:  He was preparing swarms of 'locusts after the king's share had been harvested and just as the second crop was coming up.  When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, 'Sovereign Lord, forgive!  How can Jacob survive? He is so small!'  So the Lord relented. 'This will not happen,' the Lord said.”

Someone - meaning God - formed a swarm of locusts. Today, we are perhaps no longer so mindful of this when we discover a pretty, green grasshopper in the garden. In fact, even today, a swarm of locusts will eat down everything in its path in a very short time. That alone would be terrible. But this vision is about the late sowing. About the latter sowing, which follows on the cut for the king. First the king gets his share - the taxes you could say. Or the rent for the land, as it were. It is from the late sowing that the family of the farmer lives. It is their livelihood and the farmer Amos knows that. That is why he cries out and asks God for mercy. Please God, forgive! The little man, Jacob, who is so small, cannot bear this. It's too much, he can't take it! And God has compassion and says: It will not happen.

What we can already see here is that even the little man, the man from the people of Israel, called Jacob, is not without guilt. Even among the poor people there is lying, envy, striving for their own advantage, that is, injustice. The poor are not morally better than the rich. They also deserve punishment, if you will.  But they are small. Such harsh punishment as the locust swarm would kill them. They can't take it. And God sees that and forgives.

God sees that. This wording, of course, is due to the course of the narrative. God, of course, knows what he is going to do at all times. But the story and the outcry of Amos should make clear that God is not a philosophical principle, but a living God. A God who lets himself be changed. A God who reserves compassion when people show repentance or conversion. The best example of this would be Jonah and the city of Nineveh. The whole city of Nineveh repented and God repented and did not destroy the city. The book of Amos is also interspersed with these promises that God can be gracious when things change.

I come now to the second vision which is structured quite similarly, in places verbatim:

"This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me:  The sovereign Lord was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land. Then I cried out, 'Sovereign Lord, I beg you, stop!  How can Jacob survive? He is so small!'  And the Lord relented.  'This will not happen either, the Sovereign Lord said.”

Fire here means a prairie fire. Even today a deadly threat, because it spreads rapidly and sets everything on fire, because everything is basically dry. The eating of the great deep means the lowering of the groundwater level this fire causes. Thus not only the food, the late sowing, but the basis of every life is in danger. Without water, there is no life. And also here God lets himself be changed. Because Jacob is so small.

First and second vision concern the ordinary people. The lower class, who live around the city of Samaria, built on a hill, and who live from hand to mouth. The king got his share before the late sowing and a prairie fire does not affect the townspeople.

They are the subject of visions three and four. We hear vision three, which is now already structured quite differently:   "This he made me see: behold, the LORD stood on a wall of tin, and in his hand was tin. And the LORD said unto me, What seest thou, Amos? And I answered, tin. Then the LORD said, Behold, I am putting tin in the midst of my people in Israel. I will not pass by again. Isaac's high places are laid waste, and Israel's sanctuaries are destroyed; with the sword I rise against the house of Jeroboam." 

Unlike visions one and two, the action here is already accomplished. God will not climb the wall, but He is already standing on it. What is meant here is not just any garden wall but a 5-8 meters high, several meters thick city wall. Such a wall as it surrounded the capital Samaria. And who stands atop this wall is the victor. The one who has taken the city. Taken with tin, that is an image for military, weapons and war, because from one third part of tin and two third parts of copper, bronze can be made. Bronze the material of war.

To emphasize something important in the Bible, duplications are often used as a stylistic device. We know this from many events, whether it is the two creation reports in the book of Genesis or the 10 commandments that we find in the 2nd and 5th book of Moses. 

Adding to these many examples, we hear now also this fourth vision, which is structured, as mentioned earlier, after the same pattern as vision three:

"This GOD, the Lord, let me see: Behold, a basket for the harvest. He asked: What do you see, Amos? I answered, A basket for the harvest. Then the LORD said to me, "The end has come to my people Israel. I will not pass by them again. Then the singers of the palace will howl. In that day, saith the LORD GOD, There shall be many dead bodies. Everywhere they shall be cast down. Quiet!" 

For the first time here the picture of the harvest is equated with the coming of the judgment. Also here it is for Amos only more about taking note of what has already happened. In any case, what we can perceive in this entire cycle of vision is that God threatens punishment each time because of the injustice that prevails in Israel. There must be an end to the injustice. It cannot go on like this. God will change it.

I cannot go into the choice of remedies in this sermon, but what I hope is clear from looking at vision pairs one- two and three- four is the observation that God distinguishes. God distinguishes between the people, the lower class, the "little ones," and the chic, the upper class, the so-called "big ones."

As I said before: The "little ones" are not without guilt. There is injustice among the little ones, too. But they are treated differently by God than the big ones. Because they are small. It looks different with the big ones, that is, with those who have the power to change their circumstances.

And this is exactly the point that makes me thoughtful today. Do you and I belong to the "little ones"? Or to the "big ones"? Or do I belong to the big ones? But you to the little ones? 

Considering my possibilities to influence the war in Ukraine, I may be a little one. 
But does that also apply to climate change? Am I not a big one, because my life and my vacation leave a disproportionately larger ecological footprint than that of millions of other people? If I can afford to rethink and am not dependent on late sowing, why don't I do it?

In any case, these are the questions that move me and that I would like to share with you today.


Frank Moritz-Jauk

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