Amos 1 – Moral Thermodynamics

Amos 1 Bible with Vosges Black Salt Caramel Exotic Chocolate
WARNING: Chocolate indentation detected! What a catastrophic turn of events! Surely my carelessness has doomed us all!

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Today’s Chocolate: Vosges Black Salt Caramel Exotic Chocolate

Today’s PassageAmos 1

It’s time for some new prophecy. Today we start the Book of Amos. Amos was a shepherd by trade when God called him to be a prophet. At the time, Israel and Judah had divided into two separate kingdoms; during Amos’s ministry in the mid-eighth century BC, Uzziah ruled Judah to the south, and Jeroboam ruled Israel to the north. Amos was an older contemporary of two prophets whose messages we’ve already seen: Isaiah and Hosea. When you consider that multiple prophets were on the scene at the same time, you have to conclude their audience was in dire need of their message. That audience, of course, is primarily Israel.

But Israel isn’t the primary subject of Amos’ opening chapter. Speaking for God, he hits the foreign nations with a series of Judgment Mad Libs, at once indicting them and forecasting the consequences of their wrongdoing. Each charge follows a clear pattern. It opens: “Thus says the Lord, ‘For three transgressions of Nation X and for four I will not revoke its punishment, because they did Terrible Thing Y'” (3, 6, 9, 11, 13). The formula continues: “So I will send fire upon the wall of Nation X (or, alternately, one of its key cities or regions, an instance of synecdoche), and it will consume her citadels” (4, 7, 10, 12, 14). To conclude, each of God’s censures may end with the fire; or it may further elaborate the punishment as a unique coda, as in the cases of Damascus, Gaza, and the sons of Ammon (5, 8, 14-15), which conclude with the phrase “says the Lord” or “says the Lord God.” Amos wants it known in no uncertain terms whose message this is–and it’s not the message of some shepherd from Tekoa.

Israel may not be the subject of the first chapter, but they have a crucial presence in it: as objects of abuse for the foreign nations. Damascus “threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron” (3). Gilead lies east of the Jordan River and historically belonged to the tribes of Gad and Manasseh. Under the Syrian king Hazael, the region got beat like wheat: threshed. Then Gaza and Tyre “deported an entire population to deliver it up to Edom” (6, cf. 9), and Edom in turn “pursued his brother with the sword” (11). The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, sharing a common ancestor with Israel in the patriarch Isaac. Amos takes them to task for forgetting their common heritage and joining the foreign nations in tormenting and abusing God’s people. And Ammon–actually, let’s not get into Ammon’s crimes.

Because apart from Ammon, what hits me is the accusation against Edom. Amos tells us, “He pursued his brother with the sword, while he stifled his compassion; his anger also tore continually, and he maintained his fury forever” (11). The NASB notes that the word translated as “stifled” literally means “corrupted,” which–yes, you guessed it–means it’s Strong’s Concordance time. We’re looking at שָׁחַתshachath, meaning “to decay.” We’re looking at compassion with a half-life here. The thing holding back Edom’s rage corroded over time; the gates rusted, the crossbar got termites and dry rot, and when anger came out to play, mercy couldn’t put up a fight.

It’s the Second Law of Moral Thermodynamics: without input of effort and energy, our decision-making systems tend toward increasing entropy and decreasing integrity. Look after your compassion, people. Don’t let it go to waste.

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