Amos 4 – Repetition and Repetition, Revisited

Amos 4 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s PassageAmos 4

Amos certainly likes his patterns. We started off with the “For three transgressions and for four I will not revoke” of the first two chapters, then we had the torrent of God’s rhetorical questions welcoming us to chapter three, and now in chapter four, we’ve got the mantra “Yet you have not returned to me.” The latter half of the chapter comprises a litany of disciplinary judgments intended to bring Israel back to their Creator, each punctuated by God’s observation that it didn’t work.

The structure in Amos’ prophecy, I believe, reflects the order of the divine mind. I know I’m yanking it out of its context of the practice of spiritual gifts, but I’m reminded of Paul’s observation, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). On the morning that I wrote this, I was chatting online with a friend about some molecular biology stuff: DNA transcription, replication, protein synthesis, and suchlike. Some people get bored with regularity and repetition, but I appreciate the structure it provides, whether in tiny molecular mechanisms or words in the Bible. So, credit to the designer.

But before we get into that section, there’s these two other bits: Amos compares the women of Bashan, a region in the northern kingdom, to the cows for which it was known (cf. Ezekiel 39:18Psalm 22:12). Again, there’s that social justice theme, as the women “oppress the poor…[and] crush the needy” (1). Exile and punishment await them for their exploitation of the impoverished. Then, we’ve got a sarcastic quip from God disdaining Israel’s religious rituals. “Enter Bethel and transgress; in Gilgal multiply transgression!” God exclaims. “Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days” (4). It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see God’s disgust with the hollowness of his people’s rituals and their neglect of justice for the poor.

And then we’ve got the big litany, the repetitions of “Yet you have not returned to me” punctuating each judgment. Particularly striking is how Amos describes famine: “I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities and lack of bread in all your places” (6). I’ve got a routine dental appointment coming up, and I associate clean teeth with civilization and progress, a desirable benefit to living in the modern world, while I picture the ancient world as plagued with tooth and gum diseases of all sorts. I’m glad to have the resources to keep my teeth clean and healthy. But famine has a peculiar, perhaps unexpected dental effect: your teeth stay clean when there’s nothing for you to eat, at least until they start deteriorating from the lack of calcium and anything else whatsoever in your diet.

I’ve got to admit, there’s a gut-level part of me that reacts to the litany of famines, selective droughts, plagues, and infestations with little sympathy for God. Yet they have not returned to you, Big Guy? You’ve taken away their food and water and hit them with invading armies, what did you expect? You’ll catch more flies with honey! But Israel has brought this upon themselves, and frankly, like all of us, they deserve far worse. They deserve to be cut off completely from the Creator and Giver of life, whom they’ve spurned, neglected, and rejected.

God stays in contact with them, though. He concludes his lamenting litany: “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel” (12). He hasn’t turned his back on them and thrown them to the wolves. He’s still involved, bringing about justice and working to discipline his people. It’s a complicated balance to strike, but here he is, rolling up his sleeves and doing the work.

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