And he said: The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds wither, and the top of Carmel dries up. Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing-sledges of iron. So I will send a fire on the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. I will break the gate-bars of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven, and the one who holds the sceptre from Beth-eden; and the people of Aram shall go into exile to Kir, says the Lord. Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they carried into exile entire communities, to hand them over to Edom. So I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, fire that shall devour its strongholds. I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod, and the one who holds the sceptre from Ashkelon; I will turn my hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, says the Lord God. Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they delivered entire communities over to Edom, and did not remember the covenant of kinship. So I will send a fire on the wall of Tyre, fire that shall devour its strongholds. Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity; he maintained his anger perpetually, and kept his wrath for ever. So I will send a fire on Teman, and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah. Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead in order to enlarge their territory. So I will kindle a fire against the wall of Rabbah, fire that shall devour its strongholds, with shouting on the day of battle, with a storm on the day of the whirlwind; then their king shall go into exile, he and his officials together, says the Lord. Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because he burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom. So I will send a fire on Moab, and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth, and Moab shall die amid uproar, amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet; I will cut off the ruler from its midst, and will kill all its officials with him, says the Lord.
Well this is the wrath of God, in all its plain and terrible fury. The opening of the book is an uncomfortable read and it’s going to be like this for some while before we get to the more popular parts.
It’s hard to read these passages without picturing the places that carry these names as they are now. We’ve all seen Damascus broken by violence and Gaza ‘punished’ with fire. We know that with broken gates and walls of fire come death for human beings; for soldiers and civilians, adults and children. And it’s hard to hear such anger, whether it comes from God or from another human.
I could tell you that Amos plays a little trick on Judah and Israel in chapter two. He gets his readers cheering at the thought of God punishing the other nations, but then tells them that God has their own injustice in sight too. I could tell you that by the end of the book the tone is different and God is not just condemning, but also relenting and even promising restoration. But perhaps it is better if, for today, we try to stay in a place where we listen to God’s anger, really listen and allow it is to rock us and challenge us. Maybe there are days when we need a kind of righteous anger to be stirred in us; anger at the kind of exploitation, slavery and truly appalling violence that God names here, according to Amos, in these places and peoples. When we stop being so angry at these kinds of things we can sink into complacency. We may know that retributive violence is not the answer, but neither is any kind of meek tolerance and forgetting. On some days, and so let it be this day, we need to be reminded just how terrible injustice can be. But then, we need to wait, and see, what God will do, even in us, once anger can be tempered by reason.
O God, stir in me a truly righteous anger at the sorrow and suffering of the world, and so shape my anger with your wisdom that I may know what to pray for and what to do in response to what I see. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Susan Durber is the minister of Taunton URC.