Amos 3 – McMansions and Mutilated Sheep

Amos 3 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s PassageAmos 3

If you’ve made an appointment, you walk together. It’s what you do. If you’re a young lion who’s captured something, you growl from your den. It’s what you do. And if the Lord God has spoken, you prophesy. It’s what you do.

So Amos prophesies. And the first eight verses of chapter three could be the setup for a very strange Geico commercial aimed at the children of Israel, but nobody’s saving 15% or more on car insurance here, and not just because neither cars nor insurance have been invented yet. Amos tells the populace, “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it? Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets” (6-7). God has shown Amos his intention to judge Israel, and now Amos is bringing the message to the people. He’s saying, “If you want to know what lies ahead for you as a nation, listen up.”

One of the Book of Amos’s better-known themes is social justice, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring it up explicitly. God’s got it in for the McMansions of Israel: “I will also smite the winter house together with the summer house; the houses of ivory will also perish and the great houses will come to an end” (15). He doesn’t explicitly state why he’s planning to wreck house here, but it’s not hard to infer based on other passages we’ve read. The opulent houses of Israel’s upper class are monuments to their sin of greed, but four ivory-inlaid walls can’t protect the wealthy from God’s fury.

Less clear to me, though, is the meaning of Amos’s agricultural analogy from the chapter. He prophesies: “Just as the shepherd snatches from the lion’s mouth a couple of legs or a piece of an ear, so will the sons of Israel dwelling in Samaria be snatched away—with the corner of a bed and the cover of a couch!” (12). Unlike Amos, I have no shepherding experience to draw on, and I didn’t know what to make of the graphic image of a sheep rent to pieces. What does it mean?

So I consulted a few commentaries. John Gill explains that the shepherd takes back the parts of the sheep from the lion “to show to his master that it had been seized and torn by a beast of prey.” It appears to be another case of a remnant being preserved through the course of the judgment. Gill interprets the passage to mean that God will save “only a few of them, and those the poorest; and their escape will be next to a miracle;” he takes the “corner of a bed” to be a sickbed. Charles Ellicott differs with Gill on the precise reading of the “cover of a couch” line, though. Ellicott takes the cover to be the high-quality fabric for which Damascus, Syria’s capitol, was known at the time. He concludes: “The relations between Syria and Israel at this moment were intimate. The meaning is that even the noblest and wealthiest will be regarded, if saved, as worthless salvage.”

Putting it all together, it seems to me that the calamity will act as an equalizer among the survivors, reducing rich and poor alike to sheep scraps. I’m also inclined to conclude that though God, the shepherd, will rescue some from the lion of his judgment, the nation as such will not survive. The Israel left in the aftermath will not be able to be called a country any more than an ear or leg could be called a sheep.

To be honest, it was hard for me to latch onto any one theme or point that held this chapter together. Despite the early section of rhetorical questions, the rest of the chapter largely seemed like a series of isolated verse-by-verse notes on Israel’s sin and their impending punishment. But one verse drove it home for me: “‘But they do not know how to do what is right,’ declares the Lord, ‘these who hoard up violence and devastation in their citadels’” (10). The chapter opens by putting the punishment in the context of God and Israel’s family history, and verse ten reminds us readers that Israel is a family of forgetters. I’m reminded of what Hosea had to say on Israel’s history with God and the recurring pronouncement that “Israel has forgotten his Maker” (Hosea 8:14). When you forget your Maker, you forget what he made you for. You forget how to do what is right.

And honestly, I spend much of my time in precisely that boat. If love is the fulfillment of the law, then I don’t know how to love, and I need to learn how to love.

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