Take your time machine back to late 2003, track me down on the campus of St. John’s College, and ask me who my favorite Bible character is, and I’ll tell you it’s Jacob. Why, you ask? My sophomore self tells you that it’s because God uses him in spite of his faults. In a book of hot messes, Jacob’s debatably the hot-messiest. But God gives him the name “Israel,” makes him the literal namesake of an entire race, and changes him dramatically over the course of his life. Jacob grows both in humility and courage; he learns to leave behind his swindling and cheating and to face the world honestly instead. Jacob’s story is hope for schmucks.
I could swear my dad had marked up this chapter more. He’s certainly talked to me about it enough, speculating as to whether the three men whom Abraham encounters are in fact the Trinity, investigating the notion that this may be a pre-incarnate Christophany, pointing out some detail of the original Hebrew that I cannot at this moment recall. But my dad, whose Bible I use, has only written a single marginal note on this whole chapter. It’s three words, which you may be able to see in the photo above: “Hospitality – 1) Inconvenient 2) Costly.”
Remember Psalm 139, the “birthday psalm,” so called because it’s about God creating King David in his mother’s womb? I’m pretty sure Amos 9–the final chapter of the book of Amos–directly refers to it. As the chapter begins, Amos sees the Lord standing next to an altar. Perhaps Amos is still in Vision Mode, or perhaps this constitutes a full-blown theophany in the vein of Genesis 18. But more important than how the Lord appears to Amos is what he has to say to the prophet.