Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod, and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, “Assemble yourselves on Mount Samaria, and see what great tumults are within it, and what oppressions are in its midst.” They do not know how to do right, says the Lord, those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds. Therefore thus says the Lord God: An adversary shall surround the land, and strip you of your defense; and your strongholds shall be plundered. Thus says the Lord: As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who live in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed.
Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob, says the Lord God, the God of hosts: On the day I punish Israel for its transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground. I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end, says the Lord.
On what many now refer to as Blue Monday, it is hard to find comfort, hope or good cheer in this passage. On a day when we could do with a reminder of how much God loves us, Amos reminds us of a side of God we’d rather not think about: judgement. A God who seems to be on the side of the enemies.
For it is Israel’s hated, ancestral enemies, Ashdod (or Assyria, as some think) and Egypt who are called to witness Israel’s wrongdoing and to see its punishment. God’s judgement is terrifying: total destruction. Not a remnant will be left – even if the mention of rescue seems to suggest some may survive. The rescuing of a part of the bed or the corner of the couch is just proof that the people of Samaria will be gone, just as the shepherd had to prove that an animal had truly been killed by retrieving some of it from the mouth of the predator. Otherwise he would have to pay for it (Ex. 22:12).
So, what is Israel’s sin? Disorder and unjust social practices, robbery and storing up violence. The Lord’s requirement to live in the land with genuine justice seems to have been forgotten. Ironically, Israel had evolved into the kind of oppressive nation from which God had delivered them.
And where the people do not know how to do right, says Amos, God’s judgement will be fierce. There will be no protection in great houses, ivory towers nor religious centres. If you do not heed God’s command to look after the widow, the orphan or the stranger in your midst (Lev. 19), no house will stand.
We would do well to heed these words, as we walk the way. Doing justice is core to our obedience to God – who wills not judgement, but wholeness and fulness of life for all. If you want to reach for heaven, no less than reaching for earth’s vulnerable children will do.
God of heaven and earth, Teach us to know how to do right – to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with you. Amen
Francis Brienen is the Deputy General Secretary (Mission) and a member of Muswell Hill URC.