I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said:
Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, and shatter them on the heads of all the people; and those who are left I will kill with the sword; not one of them shall flee away, not one of them shall escape.
Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down.
Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search out and take them; and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the sea-serpent, and it shall bite them.
And though they go into captivity in front of their enemies, there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them; and I will fix my eyes on them for harm and not for good.
The Lord, God of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt; who builds his upper chambers in the heavens, and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the surface of the earth— the Lord is his name.
Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?
The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth —except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, says the Lord.
For lo, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the ground. All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, ‘Evil shall not overtake or meet us.’
As I write this in October, part of the Christian world is marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In these devotions, we are now reaching the end of our series on Amos, and for many of us, we may have found the book far from ‘easy’: Amos’ message is unrelenting.
In today’s reading, we reach the climax: even though Amos’ words speak of God’s complete and utter destruction – “not one of them shall escape” (v1) – it is balanced with some hope: “I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob” (v8).
Amos’ spoke out against the wrong-doing of the nations of the then-known world and against the religious practices in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, where the poor were ruined and the needy were trampled (8:4). Not dissimilarly, some 2,200 years later, Martin Luther challenged the religious practices that exploited the poor through indulgences and kept God’s simple grace hidden.
As uncomfortable as it may feel to ask: in what ways do we who call ourselves part of God’s church fail to recognise the barriers others perceive in us, our services and our buildings which keep folk from welcoming God’s love?
Today, 27 January, is also Holocaust Memorial Day, when we pause to remember the millions murdered by brutal regimes. The theme for HMD 2018 is ‘The Power of Words’. On one level, having Amos 9 as a set text today may seem an outrageous, even perverse juxtaposition.
Primo Levi, a Jewish Italian author, chemist and survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, writing about the Holocaust, wrote: “It happened, therefore, it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.” Post 1945, he devoted his life to speaking out.
Amos, an unlearned Jewish shepherd, left his homeland (Judah) to follow God’s call to speak out against the corrupt regime of Jeroboam II and the abandonment of God’s ways.
Following in the footsteps of Amos, Luther and Levi, how is God calling us to speak out today?
O God, Who is full of compassion, Who dwells on high, grant perfect rest in Your Divine Presence to all the souls of our holy and pure sisters and brothers whose blood was spilt. For whose souls we now pray. May the Master of Mercy shelter them in the shadow of His wings for eternity; and may they repose in peace in their resting places. Amen.
[Adapted from a Jewish Prayer: El Male Rachamim (God full of compassion)]
Walt Johnson, Elder, Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC (Chorlton, Manchester)