God calls upon witnesses
The evidence of what once was
God fights against His own
The Church loves playing war - it appears to be one of its favourite pastimes.
Whether it be the small band of faithful warriors who are boldly resisting the onslaught of the hosts of darkness (in similar fashion to Custer’s last stand at the battle of Little Big Horn) or the massed ranks of the saints who are pressing fearlessly into the darkness, recovering ground that has fallen into the dominion of the evil one (like the Allied’s invasion of Europe in the Second World War), the delight of the Church is often boundless in its pursuit of more battles and fresh conquests.
Whether defence or offence, we have our songs and we enjoy singing them exuberantly and we can occasionally be found marching round the buildings with banners and flags that lend weight to the image.
Besides, there’s nothing like a good fight to get the spirit soaring and the adrenaline racing - and nothing more pleasing than when we identify enemies that we know we can conquer and see their empires crumble before us into the dust of extermination.
Of course, military imagery is justified - for God’s Church in the OT, Israel, were sent in as His instrument of judgment against the land of Canaan to annihilate those who had so degenerated the image of God in their own midst that there was no possibility of healing.
In the NT, as well, Paul speaks of the believer as having on three pieces of armour, encouraging them to pick up the final three that they might be fully equipped (Eph 6:10-17 - a passage which is normally misinterpreted as the apostle urging the believers to put on all six pieces rather than the three they were missing) and, towards the end of his life, he can say to Timothy (I Tim 4:6-7)
‘…the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight…’
He also speaks of Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25 - my italics. See also Philemon 2, II Tim 2:3) as
‘…my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier…’
to demonstrate the way that Christian service can be compared to a battle that needs to be engaged in.
But, probably more than any other generation, we’re the ones who’ve understood our walk with Jesus Christ as being like a forcefully advancing army against the very tangible strongholds of satan, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12) and that to see the Kingdom of Christ expand it’s influence means that darkness must be taken on with the light of Christ (whatever that might actually mean - different denominations interpret its outworking in many and various ways).
But what happens when we don’t see victory?
Or, perhaps more pointedly, what has the Church done when it’s achieved less than it set out to, when the full and final victory that should have been theirs (or, perhaps better, the victory that’s proclaimed as being rightfully theirs) is never realised or, worse, when the battle turns out to be a resounding defeat for the forces of light?
In my own experience, defeat is spiritualised as being merely cosmetic, that there’s some sort of Divine purpose in it (but which we have no inkling at all as to what it is) or, even, that it really was a victory except that we’ve misunderstood it.
In the really spiritual fellowships, you’d probably find that the defeat is simply ignored and any reference to the matter is met largely with silence because, to build a person’s faith, you have to be seen to be going from victory to victory and not slipping and sliding from one catastrophe to another.
Very rarely do we ever fall on our knees before God and cry out (Ps 60:10 - David. See also Ps 44:9 - sons of Korah and 108:11 - David)
‘Hast Thou not rejected us, O God? Thou dost not go forth, O God, with our armies’
where all three psalms don’t equate the armies’ defeat with sin but only bring the problem before God for an answer.
Even more rarely - as if the thought of the following is simply an impossible position for the Church to ever find itself in - do we fall on our knees before God and ask Him what it is that we’ve done against Him that He’s allowed this to happen. The example of Joshua after Israel’s flight at Ai should be enough to make us realise that the Church can suffer defeat when it stands before God, having sinned (Joshua 7:1-15 esp v.11).
It is, perhaps, the lack of reality in the fellowships which surprises me the most. In one of the first places I attended, they’d begun to pray for a very elderly saint to be healed by God, for she was currently fairly seriously ill in hospital. When she eventually died, the defeat in prayer was spiritualised as
‘Well, death is the greater healing’
and it went on about its business as if nothing much had happened. Charles Finney, the believer who was used by God to bring revival to the northern and eastern states of the US in the eighteenth century (even though no one appears to remember him over there!), was once asked by a group of believers before he was saved whether he’d like them to pray for him. His reply was nothing short of astonishing for he said that he’d witnessed that their success rate was almost nil so that it was really a waste of time them making the effort.
Sometimes, it takes the unsaved to be more realistic than we ourselves choose to be.
As an introduction to these verses, we should acknowledge the warning recorded by Ammot when he observes of Amos 3:13-14, the threefold statement
‘I punish…I will punish…I will smite’
that shows us that God hasn’t just sat back and removed His protecting hand from off His people - He’s actually turned against them Himself and is now fighting alongside their enemies to defeat them. He writes that
‘We have forgotten that our God can turn and become our enemy…and with all our talk of taking care not to fall into the power of satan, we have become blind to the much more dangerous possibility of falling out of the power of God…Why ever is the individual believer powerless against his foes or why is the whole Church powerless? Is it because God has lost His power? No, but because we have lost His power’
and, further on, that
‘…in all this powerlessness, it is the Lord who is their enemy. They are powerless because they have lost Him’
This is well summarised in Isaiah’s description of the situation of the Israelites after the time of the Exodus (and, if I read it right, it speaks of the time probably recorded in Judges chapter 2) for the prophet writes (Is 63:10) of the nation that
‘…they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore He turned to be their enemy, and Himself fought against them’
When the OT Church rebelled against YHWH and when they grieved His Spirit, He turned round and, instead of being the unbeatable warrior on their side, He became the One within the camp of their enemies who couldn’t be overcome.
There’s no good purpose in the Church today spiritualising its defeats. No good either in pretending that it’s a different type of victory or that it’s simply a minor set back before the fullness of the victory is seen (but which never actually materialises no matter how much time is allowed).
If the Church cannot stand against its enemies and isn’t fulfilling the words of Ps 110:2 to
‘Rule in the midst of your foes!’
(which were prophetically spoken about the times in which we now live) then there’s the distinct possibility that God is fighting against it because
‘…they have rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit’
God calls upon witnesses
The first thing that needs to be clarified is whether the opening line refers to Ashdod (KJV, NAS, NIV, GNB, Amp) or Assyria (RSV, LB) where the latter translation is as the verse appears in the LXX, the former being the Masoretic text.
Amstu also opts for ‘Assyria’, giving the explanation that the nation
‘...is normally used in parallel to Egypt and Ashdod never is...’
a clear indication that the correct translation is being determined by recourse to the ‘normality’ of other Scriptures. That Egypt and Assyria are used in parallel is a correct observation in the prophets for Isaiah uses them side by side in 8 verses (Is 7:18, 11:11,16, 19:23,24,25, 20:4, 27:13), Jeremiah in 3 (Jer 2:18,36, Lam 5:6) Hosea in 6 (Hosea 7:11, 9:3,6, 11:5,11, 12:1), Micah once only (Micah 7:12) and Zechariah twice (Zech 10:10,11).
The problem is that such a decision tends to ‘normalise’ the text so that anything that seems remotely unusual can be allowed to be altered if there’s an ancient authority who may well have come across the strangeness of the phrase and chosen a totally different one when copying the manuscript by hand, having, perhaps, even presumed that the text was corrupted because he remembered the two nations that occurred side by side in other places - he could even have been brain dead and altered it on auto-pilot.
Amhub, on the other hand, prefers ‘Ashdod’ which, he sees as having been substituted
‘...in order to provide a balance to Egypt...’
in very similar ways as we proposed above. He also notes significantly that Assyria is never once mentioned throughout Amos and that the prophet
‘...seems to let its ominous presence...lurk behind the scene as an awesome yet unspoken reality’
Whichever location we prefer, the reason for the nation chosen is the same in both instances and there doesn’t appear to be any good reason for a heated debate on the matter. Personally, though, I favour the location of Ashdod over and above Assyria.
There’s an obvious insult in YHWH’s opening words - it seems unlikely that this was ever meant to be taken by the prophet as a specific message to either the city of Ashdod (representative of the Philistines) or the nation of Egypt and it doesn’t seem right to think of Amos saddling up his donkey and travelling south to declare this word in their midst.
Rather, it serves as an aside to his listeners to bring to their attention how nations and people who are known, or considered, to be ‘more sinful’ or ‘less righteous’ than they, are called upon to see the depths of debauchery that the ‘righteous’ and ‘privileged’ nation has sunk into.
The same will be true in the vision of Habakkuk still to be declared some years later where the prophet is perplexed that God’s instrument of judgment is none other than a nation that’s considered to be - and is, in effect - more wicked than anything that the chosen people have done.
I wrote about the conflict in the prophet’s mind (Hab 1:13 - see my commentary) that
‘...on the one hand, he sees the people of Judah as worthy of judgment and yet, on the other, a nation which is to come against them which seems to be more intrinsically wicked than Judah has become’
Here, though, the thought isn’t that either the Philistines or the Egyptians will be sent against the land as God’s instrument of judgment but that they’re being called upon to be witnesses of the extent of Israel’s sin. Or, to put it as offensively as possible, the people who didn’t so much as have one line of Divine Law given to them, who had never entered into a covenant agreement with YHWH, now become the judge of what’s right and wrong in the nation who has a written Law and an established relationship.
It may come as an affront to the Church as well that the State should find itself calling God’s people to give an account of themselves in their own Law courts for transgressions of earthly matters that it should have been careful not to violate - indeed, the Church should have realised what was the least that even sinful men and women would expect from society. Amhub is right here when He speaks of God’s intention as being
‘...to show that covenant law is not the only criterion for testing Israel’s behaviour but that by any standards of international decency, they have become culprits’
I’m not talking about the State’s interference in the freedom of the Church to proclaim the Gospel of Christ (as it seems to be increasingly wont to do) but, rather, in the cases that have been brought against it, for example, for embezzling and extorting money from its own followers (the label of ‘robbery’ that appears in Amos 3:10 is to be fully accepted as a fitting description. The idea of ‘violence’ committed against God’s own people is also not without parallel as the influential use all means at their disposal to keep down those who either aspire to their position or who rightly have authority from God placed upon their lives - the antidote for such behaviour is Phil 2:3-4. Amstu notes that the pair of Hebrew words being employed here are meant to ‘...cover the spectrum of abuse against people and their property’).
Here is the world bearing witness to the sin of the Church - and, even when there’s no direct Law against what the Body gets up to, there’s still public opinion that watches from the margins (that is, from the ‘mountains of Samaria’ rather than from within her walls) and condemns the continual bombardment of requests for financial support. And no wonder! For even the simplest of believers should be able to work through the logic that, if God is Jehovah Jireh (Gen 22:14) - the God who will provide - then the leaders should, rather, be petitioning Him.
It’s not always idle cynicism that has the world point its finger at those who call themselves the people of God - sometimes their presence on the periphery is none other than an invitation from God Himself to look upon the oppression and unrest that’s within His people so that they can be witnesses against them that, if they don’t know God and deserve to be judged, how much more a people who declare their undying love for the One who died for them but who fail to live out the reality of the New Covenant towards their own. Ammot is not backward with his words when he comments
‘Certainly they flock to church...but the very heathen can be their teachers when it comes to a proper regard for the welfare and dignity of their fellow men’
The people who don’t know how to do right because they don’t know God, will condemn those who also don’t know how to do right but who profess religion and have all the instruction necessary to distinguish right from wrong (Amos 3:10). It’s intriguing to read Amstu at this point in his comments on the Canaanite people who dwelt in the land before the Israelites and who had become the type of people God’s nation had now become. He comments that they
‘...had no covenantal demands on their personal or social morality and were religiously legitimate so long as they merely faithfully worshipped via the sacrificial system and financially supported the cult’
It’s interesting because it’s what many believers do even today, for they believe that ceremony has the power to save. For a great multitude of people who bear Jesus’ name, their participation of the bread and the wine, their attendance at the weekly meetings and the special services at ‘holy’ times of the year (parallels in Amos 5:21-23 and Is 1:12-15 abound) are only a substitute for a real relationship with God that calls upon them to treat their brother in Christ with justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24) and to stand beside the poor and defenceless, doing good in their midst rather than being indifferent (Is 1:16-17).
There remains only one answer. God announces through the prophet (Amos 3:11) that
‘An adversary shall surround the land, and bring down your defences from you, and your strongholds shall be plundered’
Even though the idea of an invading army has been the imagery conveyed by Amos 2:14-16, this is the first place where the judgment is spelt out ‘in words of one syllable’ - God will raise up an enemy who will both destroy their defences and plunder their treasures, both of which have been built upon the exploitation of their fellow Israelites.
The idea is also of no escape for the enemy won’t just advance upon the land, driving the Israelites before them but will ‘surround’ it, hemming in the people from fleeing away from the pouring out of the wrath of God.
The evidence of what once was
Although there’s doubt been placed on the correct translation of this verse, the RSV should be accepted for it seems to give the most logical interpretation of the second half that fits in perfectly with the opening observation. After noting that these are the words of YHWH, then, the translation runs
‘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 dwell in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed’
This observation comes directly out of the Mosaic Law where a person is entrusted with the livestock of a neighbour (Ex 22:10-13) and something is said to have befallen the animal. The neighbour is within his rights to insist on an oath being taken by the person who was tending it and, if ever the theft was discovered, full restitution would have to be made.
It was different if the animal was killed by wild animals, however, for no oath seems to have been needed, just relevant evidence of the outcome that would be accepted without question (Ex 22:13) and restitution wouldn’t need to be made because, to protect the life of the beast, he may well have had to have risked his own - and that was something that only the owner had the right to decide upon doing.
David, however, seems to have taken it as a personal affront whenever a sheep under his charge was taken from him by wild animals and he pursued the animal responsible to retrieve it (I Sam 17:34-35). On the other hand, Jacob declared to Laban (Gen 31:39) that the flocks that he’d kept for him had suffered losses but
‘…that which was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it myself; of my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night’
It seems that the principle of not being responsible for something that could not be prevented wasn’t applicable in that society and, for Jacob, to look after another’s livestock seemed to bear more responsibilities than it did advantages. Under the Mosaic Law, however, the ownership of the livestock always remained with the original owner and it was only through wrongdoing that the borrower had to restore the value of the animal.
So runs the first part of Amos 3:12 though, perhaps, the word ‘rescue’ is a little bit strong to be applied here for one could hardly imagine that a couple of legs and an ear was a significant ‘rescue’ of a sheep (it’s like saying that you rescued the majority of the passengers from an air crash because you found body parts) - it did, however, prove that a wild animal had been responsible for its death and it became the evidence for it.
It’s this that carries over into the second idea where YHWH parallels it with the situation of the city of Samaria after His judgment has fallen upon them for, in like manner
‘…the people of Israel who dwell in Samaria [shall] be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed’
Again, the idea of a ‘rescue’ is a bit too strong except that it serves as a note of irony - perhaps even sarcasm - in an otherwise serious verse. The Lion will so destroy the inhabitants of Samaria that all will be left is the fragmentary remains of the life they had, items that point towards their previous existence but which aren’t objects that indicate that there were any survivors. Amhub is correct when he observes that
‘...Israel’s devastation will be so complete that all that will be rescued is proof of death in the form of scraps of furniture...’
but his exposition doesn’t go far enough in explaining the relevance of both the couch and the bed. Ammot hits the question on the head that we need to ask, though, for he reasons that
‘...if two legs or a piece of an ear point to the former existence of a sheep, what sort of people are represented by the rescued evidence of parts of beds and couches?’
In other words, the bed and the couch must be indicative of Samaria’s life, of the type of lifestyle that it characterised and which God had come against in judgment. We’re not left to guess what significance these two items had for, in Amos 6:4-6, the prophet announces a woe against the Israelites who
‘…lie upon beds of ivory and stretch themselves upon their couches [where both words for ‘bed’ and ‘couch’ are the same ones employed in Amos 3:12 - Strongs Hebrew numbers 4296 and 6210] and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the midst of the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David invent for themselves instruments of music; who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils…’
The beds and couches are symbolic for the prosperous ease of the rich believers who, rather, should have been
‘…grieved over the ruin of Joseph’
That is, instead of rejoicing in their prosperity, they should have concerned themselves with the sin that was everywhere at hand and which had ruined the nation before God. This dichotomy of living is impossible to unite in Christ for the acquisition and pursuit of material wealth will pull a believer away from pure service to God.
Jesus certainly never said that the rich cannot be believers, but He did note that materialism has the habit of becoming a person’s master and that no one can serve two lords who call for different lifestyles. In Mtw 6:24, He observed that
‘No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [material riches]’
In Samaria, says YHWH, only the smallest hints of what once thrived there will be left (though His words shouldn’t be taken too literally), an indication that God’s judgment will be so complete that little or virtually nothing will remain. Far from the rich taking refuge in the strongholds of their wealth, they’ll simply be ripped apart and plundered before the army that God will send against His own people.
Amhub quotes Wolff in his translation of the latter part of Amos 3:12 and it’s worth reading for he has the conclusion as being that the only items left would be
‘…the tattered memory of lazy luxury on fancy beds’
The opulence of the bed and couch were being used as a symbol of the decadence of the city of Samaria and were the evidence that they’d been once alive but now, through God’s judgment, had been destroyed.
Again, the message is one against the Israelites - it isn’t a word that YHWH speaks against a people who had never entered into covenant with Him or who hadn’t, in their Law, an embodiment of God’s will for their own lives. This message was directed against the people of God, the OT Church, and, as such, we must heed its warning to us in the New.
As I’ve said previously, we’re presumptuous if we think that we stand as the beneficiaries of all the positive promises of God in the OT prophets if we fail to heed their warnings of judgment that have also been committed to writing for our benefit.
I find it strange that we think that such words from God have to be directed against the decadent within our society - that God is against the rich of this world and that we’re charged with bringing the poor up to the level of the better off.
Both socialism and communism aren’t God’s concerns because they’re promoted without Him at the centre - He remains more concerned with the people who profess to know God but who live as enemies of the cross, who have the name of God upon them but who fail to exemplify His character and will.
I quoted Ammot above to help us to focus on the symbolism of the bed and the couch and what these two aspects were indicative of in the life of Samaria. We could, perhaps, use the same sort of logical questioning and ask ourselves
‘...if two legs or a piece of an ear point to the former existence of a sheep, what sort of items would be indicative of the decadent or materialistic Church?’
How about the paintbrush, used to redecorate our houses on a bi-annual basis to keep up with the fashion? Or the headlight from our annually replaced car? Or the handle of the sand shovel from our numerous holidays? Perhaps more frightening, though, how about ‘the corner of a couch and part of a bed’ from the furniture that replaces our adequate, existing items?
The problem is not that we can afford to do it - the dilemma is that we think that God’s rich blessing upon our lives is for us, not realising that the provision we have calls us to account as stewards. The same was true in the church at Corinth and Paul had some extremely cutting words to say against the believers there (I Cor 11:17-34). He opens by noting that their coming together
‘…is not for the better but for the worse’
and then proceeds to speak at some length about their celebration of the Lord’s Supper, a passage that’s normally so twisted to remove the last vestiges of what he was speaking about that it leaves us ‘safe’ to practice those things which the Book of Amos condemns. For we take Paul’s exhortation that a man should examine himself (I Cor 11:28) as being a call to sit quietly and see if there’s any sin in our own lives, to confess it and to be willing to put it right before taking the bread and the wine.
It all sounds so spiritual that we go along with it, hook, line and sinker.
But that’s not what it was about.
When the Corinthians came together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it was a meal - not a few crumbs and blackcurrant cordial - and their sin lay in the fact (I Cor 11:21) that
‘…each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk’
so that Paul doesn’t mince his words when he tells them (I Cor 11:20) that
‘…it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat’
Paul won’t let them get away with such hypocrisy for, as Christ died for all so all should now live for one another, looking after their brother’s affairs and well-being and not just their own. He asks them concerning their action (I Cor 11:22)
‘…do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not’
The ‘unworthiness’ in which the Corinthians were eating the supper, then, was that they’d failed to reflect upon what the one body and one blood represented - that God had broken down the barriers that had existed and had created one new nation from all the people of the earth, a people who should be united in purpose and in love (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32,34-35).
But, instead of respecting the celebration, they were simply profaning it (I Cor 11:27) and were drinking and eating judgment upon themselves (I Cor 11:29). Therefore, they needed to examine themselves to make sure they weren’t living as enemies of their brethren by their over indulgence and self-interest when their brother, the one for whom Jesus Christ had also died, was in need.
The gluttony that was present in their gatherings was offensive to God and it was He who was moving in their midst. Paul doesn’t say that God would shortly judge them but that He already had been (I Cor 11:29-30 - it makes me wonder how anyone can believe that God has ceased judging His people under the New Covenant when passages like this are an obvious testimony to the fact that God hasn’t changed from the days of Amos).
So, the hungry should eat at home and not offend God (I Cor 11:33) for the Lord’s Supper was about being one and, therefore, about having all things in common both in Christ and in the world. Because all have One as their Master, all they have is for the benefit of His people and for His service.
In the West, the Church has become more materialistic in successive generations as society has become more generally prosperous. Wealth isn’t a sin, but a decadent and over indulgent lifestyle that uses personal resources for one’s own ends rather than to feed and clothe the brethren is an affront to God, one that He will step forward to judge as He did in the city of Samaria.
God fights against His own
In the introduction to this web page, I commented on the fact that God specifically states that He will fight against His own people and observed that, although it’s not a doctrine that we find particularly palatable, the witness of the Scriptures is irrefutable. Besides, in the previous section, we read how God was said to come against His own people in the New Covenant to judge their sin in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and there can’t be any more clear an example that His work in the Old hasn’t changed significantly in the New.
In this section, though, we want to take a look at the specific acts of judgment that God calls upon Amos to declare to His people, actions that will demonstrate God’s actions in the land.
Amos is told by God to testify against the people and to give them two clear signs for the day of their punishment (although Amhub notes that he feels the most logical object of God’s speech are both Ashdod and Egypt - just as they’re to witness Israel’s sin, so they are called upon to witness their judgment. Amstu, however, comments that ‘Of the various possibilities…none really fits the context’. Perhaps, then, the proclamation spoken by Amos is meant as a literary device in which the Israelites get to overhear God’s purposes).
These aren’t much good as forewarnings, of course, for by the time they come to a fulfilment, the nation will be no more - but they will serve the people to know that what has come against them is nothing less than God pouring out His punishment upon them, that what they laughed to scorn when Amos spoke are the very same things that are happening before their eyes.
There are two specific judgments mentioned here - punishment upon the sacrificial centre at Bethel and the destruction of specific types of houses.
Firstly, that the word against Bethel speaks of ‘altars’ - rather than the single ‘altar’ as would have been expected had there been just the one god worshipped there - is, perhaps, significant for the plurality of their religion is hinted at, if not forthrightly being announced.
It’s not that the Israelites weren’t religious people - they were.
Otherwise, why did they have a religious centre which gave the devout an opportunity to draw near to whichever particular god that their heart went after and to offer something by way of thanks or atonement? The problem was that YHWH was simply a god amongst many and, even though He may receive honour according to the Law’s commands (which seems to be necessary as a background to Amos 5:22), in other ways the Law was being flaunted (Ex 20:3).
However, although it seems right to understand this passage this way, we must note that an outright word against the worship of a plurality of gods at Bethel goes unrecorded (except, perhaps, by an attribution of Amos 5:26 to the sanctuary) and YHWH’s words against His people have been based upon their unrighteous living (Amos 2:6-8) rather than their hankering after false gods.
This is an important point to realise because their lifestyle is actually a good reflection of what they believe and the type of god they’re really serving - a person who creates a god in their own image and ideas will become like the object they serve and it’s this expression of life that God repeatedly judges them over.
Having hinted at the idolatrous practices of Bethel, YHWH seems to go on to speak specifically of His altar where sacrifice was being offered, for the word becomes singular and He announces that
‘...the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground’
Both the altar of incense (Ex 30:1-2, Lev 4:18) and the altar of burnt offering (Ex 27:1-2, Lev 4:25) had horns but it seems to be to the latter that God’s making reference here because of the cultural acceptance that whoever had hold of the horns wasn’t to be harmed (in much the same way as those who flee to a church building are meant to be afforded protection - it would be nice, however, if people of other religions who don’t believe in YHWH weren’t hypocrites and only used the principle for their own safety!).
Although not in the Law, we find the principle in I Kings 1:50-51 where Adonijah, having been crowned as king in the place of his father David at Enrogel (I Kings 1:9), went into the tent of meeting and grabbed hold of the horns of the altar, refusing to let go of his grip until Solomon swore to him first
‘...that he will not slay his servant with the sword’
Again, in I Kings 2:28-30, Joab who had supported Adonijah in his bid for the throne
‘...fled to the tent of YHWH and caught hold of the horns of the altar’
Solomon’s reaction was to send a soldier to strike him down, though Benaiah first called to him to come out of the tent. Joab’s confession that he wanted to die at the altar was fulfilled when word was brought back to Solomon that Joab refused to move.
But what about the horns that were to be cut off from God’s altar at Bethel? What exactly is it that He’s saying? Whether literally fulfilled or not, the idea is that, in the day that judgment comes upon the land of Israel, there will be no refuge in Him - there will be no possibility that an Israelite might ‘lay hold of God’ for protection.
God’s hand will not be turned back, therefore, and no one will find YHWH a refuge on that day.
Secondly, God announces that on the day of His wrath against the nation, He will
‘...smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end’
where four types of houses are spoken of as ceasing. Amhub is puzzled as to which location the judgment will fall upon and concludes that
‘The picture of devastation apparently returns to Samaria...’
but the declaration needn’t be limited to the city. Wherever there was oppression and houses built upon the extortion and robbery of God’s people, it would be there that devastation would come. God’s words, then, need to be given the widest possible application in the land and Amstu summarises both the previous verse and this one by reasoning that
‘If the house of worship must be destroyed, so too must the house of the worshipper...’
These houses aren’t simple dwellings but luxurious and expansive properties where the rich children of God dwelt in peace, away from having to look at the poverty of those who may well have been no more than a few yards from their door.
The comparison of ‘winter house’ with ‘summer house’ is probably meant to reflect the situation in the land where the rich would have one residency in the hills for the hot summer and one nearer the sea for the winter where the climate would be much more reasonable.
The phrase ‘great houses’ is also given the same meaning by Amhub who believes that it’s
‘...better rendered “many houses” in keeping with the context that attacks the excessive luxury of owning more than one house in a society where poor people were regularly dispossessed of their staple goods...’
Amstu, however, notes that the word can mean either ‘many houses’ or ‘mansions’ and that there doesn’t appear to be much to choose between either possibility that would push us into one translation or the other. Whichever we choose is fairly unimportant, however, because the meaning appears to be warranted by the first pair of houses noted above.
Simply, God is against the lavishness of the believers who are making much of their resources but failing to consider those who are less well off amongst them - worse, though, for their houses and mansions were built upon the robbery and oppression, upon the exploitation and murder of those too weak in society to be able to retaliate.
Therefore God would remove the pride of their eyes in one fell swoop when His armies would surround the land to destroy their strongholds. As I’ve already expounded this principle in the life of the Church on this web page, I don’t intend repeating it here (and everyone said ‘Amen!’). Ammot’s exposition of these three verses, however, is excellent (pages 85-88).
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