Who sees anything different in you?
My people shall die
1. The kingdom of Israel and the house of Jacob
2. The exile
3. We’re safe!
The Tabernacle of David
Amos 9:7 marks a change in the subject of the judgments being pronounced - although 9:5-6 could equally well be thought of as both a fitting conclusion to 9:1-4 and an introductory message to 9:7-12.
In the first handful of verses, the pronouncements of judgment have been directed solely against the religious of the northern kingdom who offer sacrifice at the sanctuaries scattered throughout the land (see the previous web page) and of whom God has committed Himself to make a full end.
Here, though, the words open as being directed at the ‘people of Israel’ (Amos 9:7) and YHWH goes on to state (Amos 9:8) that
‘...I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob’
so that the contrast is immediately apparent.
The reason for these verses aren’t immediately obvious even though Amhub observes that
‘The argumentative tone with which [Amos 9:7-10] begins suggests that Amos is either answering a protest or anticipating one’
but this needn’t be so. As I’ve said, this passage directs judgment towards the nation of Israel rather than simply the religious who go to the sanctuaries and, therefore, it can’t be thought of to be defending the message of Amos 9:1-6.
It may well have served YHWH to pronounce these observations to undermine the belief amongst His people that they were so special to God that He wouldn’t come against them as Amos had been declaring but they don’t presuppose a concerted opposition against the prophet that needed dealing with.
Unlike most commentators, I have chosen not to take Amos 9:11-12 and apply it to a time that was to be distant from the judgment of the land because the prefix ‘in that day’ with which it begins has already been used in the Book on four occasions and, each time, it’s referred to something that has immediately preceded it.
It seems, therefore, unwarranted to feel compelled to correct Amos’ clear affixing of the verses to the judgment being described in Amos 9:9-10 for no better reason by some, I presume, than that it’s quoted in support of what God was doing in the Gentiles through the Gospel in the NT (Acts 15:16-17) or that it ‘begins’ a passage which speaks of a future restoration of the people that cannot be conceived of having been begun at the time of Israel’s judgment.
The clue to understanding the truth of Scripture is to interpret it in its original context and there’s no good reason to take the statement that the restoration of the Tabernacle or Booth of David was not to begin to be fulfilled at the time of the judgment.
As we’ll see when we get to an interpretation of those verses, it fits well into the time in which it’s originally declared to be fulfilled - that is, the outpouring of the judgment decreed against the nation of Israel.
Who sees anything different in you?
This verse should be thought of as being in two distinct and separate parts - the word concerning the Ethiopians and that concerning the migrations of three ancient people - but both are spoken by YHWH to emphasise a similar point.
Present day Ethiopia covers a region that differs from the area normally called by that name in Biblical times. Amhub defines their kingdom as that which
‘...ranged along the Nile from Aswan...south to the junction of the two branches of the Nile near Khartoum, a territory considerably north of modern Ethiopia’
the area of present day north-eastern Sudan being roughly the region. Both the kingdom of Ethiopia and the individual Ethiopians are fairly well represented in the Bible, being mentioned as such over forty times (sometimes referred to as ‘Cush’ in the AV).
Although they may be identified as part of an army that came against the land (II Chron 12:1-3), there were also Ethiopians resident in the land both in David’s day which lay in the past (II Sam 18:21) and Jeremiah’s day in the future (Jer 38:7).
Even though Amhub calls the Ethiopians an ‘insignificant people’, the fact that YHWH would consider giving their land as a ransom for His people (Is 43:3) and that the ‘merchandise’ of the place could be considered significantly rich to be spoken of as coming to the people of God in recognition that God is with them (Is 45:14), should make us realise that, although it may have been a land far distant, it wasn’t a land that was regarded as being either weak or poor.
Ethiopia is used as an extremity of the inhabited regions of the earth over which the Medes and Persians reigned (Esther 1:1, 8:9) and is also one of the places from where God’s people would come back to the land having been exiled away (Is 11:11).
It’s this idea of being far distant from the Israelites and from God’s presence that seems to be at the heart of their mention here. As Amstu writes, they’re used as a symbol of
‘...a distant, relatively obscure people’
ones who, although Israel would have been aware of their existence and even able to recognise them in their midst (Is 18:1-2 - they appear to have had specific bodily characteristics that marked them apart as being from that region of the world), they weren’t a people that they had very much to do with, thought much about or even regarded as being too important to the overall scheme of things on earth.
Thus, says YHWH, is how I regard the nation of Israel to Me - obscure and insignificant, a people who were now thought of as being just another group of people rather than having a special place in God’s heart.
It must be pointed out that God isn’t saying that Israel had lost it’s call to be God’s special possession amongst the peoples of the earth but that, because of their unrighteousness and injustice, they couldn’t be considered by YHWH to be anything special, for those things that were to mark them out from their neighbours were lacking. Instead of reflecting the character and nature of God, they were identical to those places that didn’t know Him.
There remains the possibility that the Ethiopians were a despised race by the Israelites, like a byword for a people who were regarded as the refuse of the earth. This would certainly give the words much more significance but there’s no Scriptural or extra-Biblical evidence that I can find that would even remotely suggest that this was the case.
Rather, it’s best to see the reason offered first as being the better interpretation of the rhetorical question that’s being asked.
It’s a bit like the Icelandic people are to the British. Most of us know where Iceland is and we could probably recite the names of some of the nation’s celebrities that appear on our television screens. We know a bit about their nation, that it’s cold and has a half-decent soccer team. We even had a minor skirmish with them in the North Sea decades ago over fish.
But that we’re like them?
But, there’s more. YHWH goes on to speak of three specific migrations of people from their homeland to the places where they currently inhabit and notes that it was only because of His own personal action that
‘...Israel [came] from the land of Egypt...the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir’
all of which would have been immediately accepted as ‘fact’ by the people to whom the message through Amos had come. But the real thrust of the observation isn’t that God’s trying to get Israel to admit to His hand in all three but that their great exodus from the land of Egypt which was accompanied with numerous signs and wonders is equated alongside that of the Syrians from Kir and the Philistines from Caphtor.
Although Israel would have celebrated the Exodus annually in the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:4-8) as being the sign of God’s favour upon the people, when He gathered them to Himself and caused them to be a nation in the wilderness that came in to Canaan to take possession, it becomes equal to God’s work in some of the other nations that lay round about their land.
So, the Philistines had been brought by God into the land from Caphtor (the arguments still rage amongst archaeological scholars as to where the ‘Sea Peoples’ migrated from. Here we have a clear and unambiguous statement as to what ancient tradition held as to their origin. There should be no doubt that this was a testimony given to Israel from the Philistines themselves and which God affirms as correct - the only problem is that ‘Caphtor’ is still a place that eludes a definitive identification although Crete or Cilicia seem to be the two most likely candidates and the commentators referred to opt for Crete as a fait accompli) and the Syrians from Kir to the north-eastern border of Israel (see my notes here where I’ve previously stated that a positive identification of Kir is presently impossible. In Amos 1:5, the judgment upon Damascus is that the Syrians would be returned back to the place from which they came).
Was it any much different to God’s controlling hand that had established Israel in the land after their migration from Egypt? Of course, the manner in which God delivered them from slavery, gave them the Law and pushed out the inhabitants of Canaan was supernatural but the comparison of the three migrations being mentioned here is designed to undermine the self-importance of the nation in its consideration that it was in a special relationship before God that would prevent judgment from falling upon it.
If God had moved other people around, did that make them unique? As Amhub rightly points out
‘...their exodus contained no uniqueness to protect them from judgment once they had ruptured the covenant...’
for they thought that their calling prevented God from moving against them. When God called both the Philistines and the Syrians from far off places to take possession of their lands, it stood them in no better a position than the chosen people of Israel if they were to rely upon that work.
Such spiritual pride is something that often dogs the people of God, and their unique privilege often masks the sensibility that would remind them that increased privilege demands an increased responsibility. Ammot is worth reading at this point for he observes that
‘The Lord does not look on people in the light of their historical past but in the light of their moral present’
The same was true here as it was in the times of John the Baptist in the New Covenant. When he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming towards him for baptism (Mtw 3:8-9), he proclaimed
‘Bear fruit that befits repentance and do not presume to say to yourselves “We have Abraham as our father”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham’
Their unique position had blinded them to the need to live lives that were acceptable to God, thinking that they were eternally secure in YHWH because of their calling. But, says John the Baptist, the people of God mustn’t rely upon those things that are purely earthly and natural qualifications - rather, they should respond to their privileged position by displaying the added responsibility through lives that are both just and right.
Spiritual pride raises believers up into self-made positions from where they perceive that they’re untouchable and totally secure in what they have, not realising that, if what one has isn’t outworked and demonstrated in an individual’s life, the position becomes insecure and ready to collapse when God comes against it in judgment.
So, Israel weren’t all that special, says YHWH - at least, not special enough to consider that they wouldn’t be judged by Him. He considered them to be like the people who dwelt in a far away land that they knew very little about (but who certainly hadn’t entered into covenant with God) and their uniqueness of being a nation that God had called into the land was undermined by the observation that He’d done similar for two of their enemies.
If YHWH didn’t consider them to be as special in His own eyes as they themselves did, what could they expect but that the judgment about to be pronounced upon them once more would inevitably fall?
The NT Church of Christ can stand in a similar position to that of the OT children of YHWH for we think that our privilege will shield us from the need to be judged when we live lives of sin before the One who redeemed us. Habakkuk was appalled that the ‘not that bad’ people of God would be judged by God using the ‘really awful people’ of a foreign nation, the Chaldeans (Habakkuk chapter 1).
Surely, compared to them, Judah weren’t that bad at all. Why did God insist on using a wicked people to come against a nation who at least had some semblance of righteousness?
God’s will is indeed difficult for us to grasp at times for we can stand aghast at the channels by which God’s will is done in the earth but one thing that should never surprise us is that YHWH expects His people to live out the reality of their calling and be His light and salt throughout the earth.
When that doesn’t happen - when God’s word goes unheeded in their midst - judgment is inevitable. Even though it may point to its calling and the promises that have fallen upon itself through the cross and resurrection, unless they’re lived out, they become meaningless.
A Church who rests only on what God’s done and refuses to realise that it needs to employ an adequate response both initially and continually, is one that stands in grave danger of finding that the One it proclaims as being for them has now turned around and will soon come into their midst to fight against them.
My people shall die
Provocative though the title of this section may be, it is what YHWH says with some clarification in Amos 9:10. These three verses are God’s final word of judgment against Israel - unless one accepts that the promise of the restoration of the Tabernacle of David (Amos 9:11-12) is actually another curse that would come upon the kingdom where what one man considers good and beneficial, another assesses as an undermining of their own prosperity and welfare (see my notes below on these verses).
The undermining of their own self-importance in the previous verse (Amos 9:7) has made the way for the words of judgment that follow - God has answered any doubts that might have been present in their own mind as to the relevance of Him coming against the land because of their position and privilege.
They can no longer rest upon their spiritual status when God sees nothing special or unique in them. All that remains is for Him to outline the judgment that will shortly fall upon both the individuals and the nation itself.
1. The kingdom of Israel and the house of Jacob
God has already spoken about His eyes being upon the religious of His people in Amos 9:4 where He proclaims that He was watching them
‘...for evil and not for good’
Here, similar attention is given but, this time, it’s directed against the ‘sinful kingdom’, a reference to the northern Kingdom of Israel as a whole. Amos has previously prophesied that the house of Jeroboam (that is, both he and those associated with and descended from him) was to be wiped out (Amos 7:9) - here we get the fulness of such a judgment for the kingdom over which he ruled was to be destroyed
‘...from the surface of the ground’
where the implication is that the evidence left of the Israelites’ occupation of the land would be meagre or minimal (Amos 3:12).
We should take careful note of the description of His own people as ‘the sinful kingdom’ and not ‘the righteous people’ or, as I discussed above, ‘the people who have sinned but who aren’t as unrighteous as the nations who lie round about’.
God’s people - just as Habakkuk had realised when the message came to him of impending judgment against the southern kingdom of Judah - were about to be judged by a nation who weren’t as righteous as God’s own people who were about to be judged.
But this doesn’t matter to YHWH. The point isn’t that there are others who are more guilty but that His Church isn’t innocent and not only stand condemned before Him but refuse to make amends for their wrong and turn round their lives to be obedient to the clearly perceivable will of God.
Even though Amos 9:7 has been spoken to undermine the Israelites’ spiritual pride, we could run together two paraphrases of the statements to give us the most illogical but wholly accurate reasoning
‘I brought you up from the land of Egypt (9:7)...therefore I will destroy you from the surface of the ground (9:8)’
It was because of their special calling that they deserved special judgment, not mercy that would negate their responsibility. When Jesus spoke to His disciples (Luke 12:41) about the necessary attitude of those who would wait for His second coming, He noted (Luke 12:48) that
‘Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more’
Although this was to apply to individuals and their necessary resolve to be faithful in those things that God commits into their hands, it also gives us an insight into why the Church is more responsible than privileged for the reward of the believers was to take place after the return and not before.
That is to say, the Church should never think of reward in this life but only of the responsibility that such a position before God brings with it. If we’re to judge angels (I Cor 6:3), how careful must we be that nothing in our own lives undermines the decisions that we have to make - after all, if we don’t live righteously and justly, it will always be levelled at us that we, the judges, do the very same things as we condemn (Rom 2:1).
Therefore, as John wrote in his first letter (I John 4:17)
‘In this is love perfected with us that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so are we in this world’
To have confidence on the future day of judgment is a result of us being in this world as He is and not as we think we want to be. God has the right to judge His people ahead of those who don’t know Him and who are, relatively speaking, more wicked than the people being labelled here as ‘the sinful kingdom’.
This word against ‘the kingdom’, however, is noted by Amhub as referring to the
‘...political existence represented by the house of Jeroboam...’
‘...Israel’s social existence as persons and families...’
that’s representative of the content of the ‘house of Jacob’ (‘Jacob’ is the label that’s been previously used in Amos to denote the people of the northern kingdom or the land itself - 3:13, 6:8, 7:2,5, 8:7). But, as the latter is an integral part of the former, the judgment being specified must be seen to be directed against the ‘persons and families’ as well or else there’s no need to make the point that some from Jacob would survive the destruction about to come.
So, God introduces a limitation on the judgment when He continues by noting that He won’t
‘...utterly destroy the house of Jacob’
a comment that surely demonstrates that YHWH still has a plan and purpose for His covenanted people that their sin would be unable to utterly end. It must be pointed out, though, that God doesn’t continue to regard His people as they were at that time as able to be used by Him to demonstrate His character to the nations round about and throughout the world.
Rather, judgment must fall upon them because of their sin but even in the place where God has turned against them to be their enemy, He’ll still select survivors who’ll be the fathers of the children who’ll inherit the promises of restoration that He goes on to declare in 9:13-15.
Amos declares, then, the concept of a ‘remnant’ being saved for a future purpose of God (Amos 9:13-15), something that’s spoken of in several passages in the OT when God announces that He’ll judge His people - both prophetically in the Law (Lev 26:44-45, Deut 4:30-31, 30:1-3 - Israel’s disobedience and rebellion against Him, then, didn’t take Him by surprise but He’d already provided for it) and from the mouth of the prophets to both northern and southern kingdoms (Is 10:20-22, 11:11, 28:5, 37:31-32, Jer 23:3, 31:7-9, 50:20, Micah 2:12-13, 5:7-8, 7:18, Haggai 1:12,14, 2:2, Zech 8:6,11-12).
I’ve been in a fair few churches that have been so few in number (and let me say that I have no problem with the existence of small fellowships) that they’ve regarded themselves as a ‘remnant’ left by God to follow after Him. I must admit that, although I’ve felt it a rather elitist statement, until now it’s never hit me that a remnant implies that judgment has fallen in times past.
Instead of a small group of people speaking of themselves as a ‘remnant’, therefore, perhaps it would be better if they sought God as to why judgment had fallen upon them in the first place because, without their repentance, it’s unlikely that YHWH will be able to use them both in the present and future.
2. The exile
Before we can make an attempt at an interpretation, a translation is necessary - especially concerning the word that appears in the RSV as ‘pebble’ (Strongs Hebrew number 6872, M1975c). The RSV (with the GNB given as an interpretation of the meaning) and LB give us a simple contrast of the two possibilities (even though the LB is more a paraphrase than a direct translations). The LB translates the latter part of the verse as
‘...not one true kernel will be lost’
so that the word becomes a grain of wheat or barley that’s deemed useful to God. The RSV prefers
‘...no pebble shall fall upon the earth’
where the GNB gives the interpretation without directly translating the word and speaks of God shaking His people
‘...among the nations to remove all who are worthless’
so that the ‘pebble’ becomes something that isn’t useful to God! Depending on both the translation of the word and then the subsequent interpretation, we could envisage that which is left as being either good or evil.
In II Sam 17:13, however, the word is used again in the speech of Hushai as he was giving counsel to Absalom to frustrate him. He advised the king (the word’s translation is italicised)
‘If [David] withdraws into a city then all Israel will bring ropes to that city and we shall drag it into the valley, until not even a pebble is to be found there’
Even though ‘grain of wheat’ could be employed here, the word ‘pebble’ makes much more sense in the context of the army destroying a man-made construction. Therefore, the best translation of Amos 9:9 is the RSV’s that runs fully
‘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 upon the earth’
but, even so, a correct interpretation of what the ‘pebble’ represents is required to interpret it accurately. We read here, firstly, that God’s people are to be shaken in a sieve (a word that only occurs here in the OT and which has, as it’s root, the idea of being something that’s ‘netted’ - Strongs Hebrew number 3531) where an agricultural procedure seems to be in mind and which is best understood to be a method whereby grain was able to be separated from the larger debris that could have been gathered along with it.
It’s unlikely that this was a large scale procedure for the amount of grain able to be sifted would be fairly small - it may have been more usual for gleaners to use this method (although, from my understanding of what they did, they were literally plucking individual ears of grain from the ground and contamination with large rocks would have been unlikely). It may also be a comment on what the purchasers of grain had to do when they were sold mixed wheat in the market place (Amos 8:6 - see my notes here under the heading ‘Their false dealing’).
Isaiah speaks of a ‘sieve of destruction’ with which YHWH was to shake the nations (Is 30:27-28) and it’s this concept that seems to be employed here, the sieve being the judgment that was to fall upon the nation.
What fell through the sieve was to be dispersed ‘among all the nations’ while those who were the ‘pebbles’ would find themselves unplaced and rejected by God from having a place anywhere (they don’t ‘fall upon the earth’). So Amstu writes that
‘The pebbles are the impurities, trapped for disposal’
This seems the best way to understand it and it causes us to interpret the ‘pebbles’ sieved out as being those of Israel who were to be slain with the sword.
It doesn’t mean, however, that we should understand the ‘grain’ as being the righteous who would be kept by God. The idea is simply that which follows on from the previous verse (9:8) that, although the ‘sinful kingdom’ was to be totally destroyed, there would be those who would escape so that a total annihilation of the children of Jacob would be prevented.
Amhub goes too far, I believe, by interpreting the pebble/pebbles as
‘...the sinful leaders of the house of Israel’
for he’s looking back at verse 8 and ignoring the opening words of verse 10 that state that
‘All the sinners of My people shall die by the sword...’
(though there’s a condition attached to what these sinners ‘believed’ that would be their downfall - we’ll consider this below). It seems to me that it’s better to understand Amos 9:9 as repeating the limited judging of His people by the sword (one of the pronouncements of 9:8) and that a fuller description of who they are is being developed in the subsequent verse.
3. We’re safe!
The pebbles of Amos 9:9 are here defined, although this isn’t the only way that this verse could be interpreted - it’s only because I’ve taken this verse to be a continuation of the judgment previously spoken that it appears to be warranted that YHWH is going on to explain the characteristics of the people who’ll find no future place of settlement on earth.
God also doesn’t say that all the sinners amongst His people shall die. Rather, the people He’s pronouncing judgment upon are those who have and proclaim an attitude that ignores the need for moral responsibility as a fitting response to spiritual privilege.
Those ‘sinners of My people’, then, who declare
‘Evil shall not overtake or meet us’
are the ones who’ve been earmarked to die by the sword. If we were to take this at face value, we might read into the statement varying different attitudes - from people who’ve seriously assessed their own generation and sincerely come to the conclusion, to people who’ve simply dismissed all talk of judgment ever coming upon the land because of its pre-eminence among the nations of the area.
But it needs to be tied in to characteristics of Amos 9:7 that have been undermined by YHWH’s observations that He considers them as nothing uniquely special that would warrant Him from passing them by (Amos 7:8, 8:2). Both Amhub and Amstu define their attitude as ‘complacency’ but it’s Ammot who develops the theme the best for he defines the people as
‘...complacent, careless sinners living in a world of pretence and make-believe’
where their privilege before God is elevated above that of their responsibility so that they become men and women who stand tall and proud in their unique position, forgetting that, unless they give careful attention to their foundations, the pedestal upon which they proudly pose will soon crumble to the ground.
But perhaps this is going too far - the people simply ignore the prophetic word when it speaks against them because they can’t perceive why the religion that they practice shouldn’t endear them to God and grant them favour and blessing. They ignore those sins that they commit (and why they do this seems to go unmentioned in the Book) thinking that it’s on the basis of their sacrifices, their obedience to the observance of the festivals and their confession of praise to YHWH (Amos 5:21-23) that they stand before Him.
They fail to realise that none of these are important if they continue living unjust and unrighteous lives (Amos 5:24), that ceremonial observance is only acceptable when it springs up from the correct foundation.
Such a mindset was the same as it was in the kingdom of Judah years later when Jeremiah was sent to the nation with a similar message of judgment. He noted the characteristics of the people (Jer 6:13-14) saying that all of them
‘...from the least to the greatest of them...is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, every one deals falsely’
and that the evidence of their sin was being smoothed over by the religious who were proclaiming ‘Peace!’ to the people when they should have been crying ‘Judgment!’ at every possible opportunity. A chapter earlier (Jer 5:11-13) the prophet expanded upon the type of attitude that had been so prevalent in Amos’ day by summarising both the north and south’s response to Him as being ‘utterly faithless to Me’ before going on to note that
‘They have spoken falsely of YHWH and have said “He will do nothing; no evil will come upon us, nor shall we see sword or famine. The prophets will become wind; the word is not in them. Thus shall it be done to them!”’
Instead of facing up to the reality of their own situation, they refused to accept the prophetic word brought to them by God’s own prophets and, instead, had been pronouncing ‘Peace’ throughout the nation to settle the people down and to bring calm (see also my notes on Amos 6:3 under the header ‘Putting away and bringing near’).
Indeed, whenever a word came that upset the people, they seem to have been close at hand to reassure them that such words weren’t from God and that, as they were God’s authority in the land, these lay people (although Jeremiah was a priest - Jer 1:1) really didn’t know about the things of God at all.
As I’ve said before on other web pages, the established religious authorities of the OT are very often described in terms that make it plain that they wouldn’t have known a word from God if it had jumped up and bit their bum.
Amos has already been used by YHWH to announce (Amos 2:12) that the nation had been silencing it’s voice from God, commanding them to be silent and exemplified by the response of Amaziah, the high priest of Bethel (Amos 7:12-13), who seems to have used a slightly different approach by not commanding silence but a relocation for the message.
The people relied upon their privilege in the past (the Exodus - Amos 9:7) and presumed upon that as evidence of God’s continued favour in both the present and future. This appears to have been the foundation of their argument not just for God’s inactivity with regard to judgment but for His pro-activity in pouring out favour and blessing upon them.
And, whether it’s justified or not, it’s exactly the same attitude that prevails in much of the present day Church of Christ. Proclaim a kind word or one that promises blessing and favour, and you’ll get the respect of those who not only attend the meeting but those who sit in leadership.
If God starts moving, however, and a message comes that there’s sin that needs dealing with, you can normally be assured that it won’t be accepted. After all, when Jesus died on the cross, it’s generally accepted that the issue of sin is over and done with and that now believers can forget about the moral responsibilities that our privilege demands.
Sure, this isn’t actually denied or forgotten (except if you believe the extreme ‘Once saved, always saved’ viewpoint where eternal security negates individual responsibility) but it’s certainly rarely applied. For, although there may be ‘sin’ (and I don’t mean ‘sin’ that’s understood as over-laying one Sunday and getting to the meeting late), it’s normally overlooked for the sake of the stability of the rest of the church.
In one place that my wife and I were in, there came a word from God in a house fellowship that declared that there was ‘sin in the camp’ and that it needed to be brought to the congregation’s attention that it might be put right. We had no idea just what that sin was, we had no inkling as to who the person or persons might be who were committing the sin (although we felt it was a single person) - all we felt was that there was a problem that God wanted to address in the fellowship and that it was necessary to bring the people’s attention to it.
I should point out that this came about not because someone started shouting out ‘Thus says the Lord’ but through the internal witness of about five of us who confirmed that what the other was saying was hitting the right note in our own spirit.
Simple, wasn’t it? No confrontation, just an announcement of what God had said and then let Him do what He wanted because we’d discharged our responsibility. I volunteered to share it immediately the following Sunday morning but it never came about.
The leadership met, I was asked to meet with them.
They vetoed it.
It took about six weeks of discussions before the word was allowed to be shared but, by then, it had been watered down and changed so that, when it was eventually brought before the fellowship it was more like God had said that there were things wrong that may not necessarily be sin and that we should ask God to know what they were.
I sat appalled throughout the meeting - it was the wrong time for the delivery of the message anyway so it might as well be the wrong message, too!
My wife and I very shortly left the place for we decided that, if the word of God was going to be so radically attacked and undermined, there was very little that God could ever do with the people.
A couple of months later, we learnt that one of the leadership (one who had not opposed the message, surprisingly enough) had been found out in adultery. It had been taking place when God had spoken the word in the home group and had been continuing throughout.
God had known about the sin and had wanted to give that individual the opportunity to turn his life around before uncovering the sin Himself.
Why the church decided that it wasn’t going to entertain a word from God is anyone’s guess but there was certainly one amongst the leadership who seems to have refused to accept that God could still speak and be active in the midst of His people and it was he who spoiled it for all.
This isn’t an isolated incident, though - I just wish it was.
I know of many places where God’s message has come only to be ignored or attacked, the events of subsequent weeks proving the truth of the declaration. And, even when the word comes to a fulfilment, the people who’ve opposed it don’t wise up and confess their sin in opposing God, still singing praise, attending the meetings and taking leading roles as if nothing had happened.
Blindness amongst the people of God is as bad today as it was in the days of Amos. Both leaders and congregations live on the premise that
‘Evil shall not overtake or meet us’
thinking that because the curse of the Law has been removed in Christ, all that they have is the blessing to fall upon them, not realising that neither the blessing nor the curse of the Law is relevant for today but only the promise given to Abraham (Gal 3:13-14).
Following Jesus Christ isn’t a matter of receiving one blessing after another - although neither is it only a case of facing up to one responsibility after another. It’s about being real to the demands of YHWH upon the individuals who profess the name of Christ, who have been born again by His Spirit and who must now respond to the work of the cross that’s bought them to be slaves of God from out of slavery to the world, sin, self and satan.
Just as it was in the OT, when ‘sinners of God’s people’ pronounce that ‘evil shall not overtake or meet us’, they’re in no better a position as those in Amos’ day whose judgment by death was pronounced by YHWH.
The Tabernacle of David
Some of these notes have been adapted from my notes here under the heading ‘Drought’
No matter what I write here, it’s going to be controversial - as if the articles that have preceded this haven’t been to a great majority of the present day Church! The problem lies in the position of this two verse passage at the end of one about judgment and at the head of another about restoration.
Commentators are more likely to attach these verses to what comes after it and re-interpret the opening phrase ‘in that day’ than to accept the clearly obvious phrase as being a continuation of what’s preceded. Amhub is totally correct when he observes that
‘The transition from verse 10 to verse 11 is the most abrupt and surprising in the entire book’
for, though we would have expected the theme of judgment to have continued until his dying breath, the change of tack into restoration takes the reader - as well as the listener - by surprise. But when he continues that
‘The eschatological formulas “in that day” (v.11) and “behold the days are coming” (v.13) must mean “in that day when judgment has run its course” and “the days are coming after the divine judgment has done its righteous work”’
we have to clarify the point. For Amhub (as well as a great many other commentators), that 9:11-12 could be thought of as occurring at the time of Israel’s judgment is unthinkable (Amstu calls the time of Amos 9:11-12 ‘the distant future’).
While there’s no doubt that the opening phrase of 9:13 does mean what he interprets it as (even in English, the phrase clearly holds this meaning), the one that opens 9:11 has already been used four times (2:16, 8:3,9,13) , the first three of which are used to signify ‘the day in which these previous events have taken place’ and there’s nothing that would indicate to the reader that a change of time period is being introduced in either of the final two occurrences - let alone a change of theme.
Therefore, even though it might be preferable to take the phrase ‘in that day’ both here and in the fourth place (Amos 8:13) as being indicative of a totally different time than the one that’s previously been mentioned, the evidence appears to be to the contrary.
Therefore, although Amhub’s contrast that
‘The sword of judgment gives way to the trowel of reconstruction’
is correct, we must understand why what’s spoken of as a restoration of the ‘Tabernacle of David’ (and we must also define that term) is seen to be a valid action of God that would take place at the time of Israel’s final judgment.
Although most of the interpretations I’ve seen have given the reader truth that can’t be thought of as being unScriptural, they mostly suffer from the projection of the passage into the future beyond the time of Israel’s judgment and are therefore founded upon a wrong assumption.
The commentator is faced, first, with the obvious and clear intention of YHWH to associate the raising up of David’s Tabernacle with Israel’s judgment and, second, to be true to that statement in their interpretation of the passage even though one might naturally balk at the idea.
Firstly, what should we understand by the phrase ‘Tabernacle of David’ here employed? Admittedly, it doesn’t hold an obvious interpretation to the present day reader even though it’s undeniable that it would have made sense to the original listeners.
Amstu doesn’t find that the translation is even sufficient, insisting, rather, that the word for ‘Tabernacle’ was pointed in an incorrect way very early on in the transmission of the text and that, instead of it referring to a temporary structure, the booth, it was a reference to the city of Succoth which
‘...lay in ruins, presumably having been destroyed by the armies of Hazael of Syria...’
From here, he goes on to note that the significance of its mention is that it was from here that David
‘...successfully dominated (united) Israel’s neighbours to the east and south’
an area that would naturally have included the region occupied by Edom that’s mentioned shortly afterwards. In short, it becomes a declaration that the military prowess of David would be restored to it and, rather than seeing a literal fulfilment of the city’s rebuilding, it would simply be a shorthand way of declaring a return to
‘...the kind of supremacy of God’s reign through His people once enjoyed in Israel’s past golden era’
Even so, such a restoration can’t be envisaged by Amstu as occurring at the time of Israel’s judgment for it presupposes that the northern kingdom of Israel was to receive military strength, something that was to be taken from it.
However, when the passage was quoted in the NT by James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:16-18 - there are numerous re-translations of the text that make it somewhat different than the one that’s been received as the original by Amos. It appears that it was the LXX version that was used as the basis of the NT quote), he understood the reference to the ‘Tabernacle of David’ to be speaking of the original kingdom which was once more being raised up with Jesus as the Davidic King and the Church from all the nations of the world being its subjects.
As I wrote on the web page where I dealt with the Feast of Tabernacles (under the header ‘4c The Kingdom now’)
‘[James is] saying that as men and women (but here specifically referring to the Gentiles) are converted (that is, those who acknowledge God’s sovereignty and live as subjects of the King), then the fallen tabernacle (kingdom) of David is being restored as a process. The King is getting subjects throughout the world who are seeking to bring in His rule’
It would be wrong of us to take the entire interpretation offered by James and to insist that this was the original meaning of the text but that the Jews understood the verses to be referring to a restoration of the Kingdom seems well founded. Edersheim also points this out in his Appendix that deals with Messianically applied Rabbinic writings, for the Talmud took it as such.
We need to start, therefore, with the understanding that Amos was more than likely prophesying that the Davidic kingdom was to begin to be restored at the time of Israel’s judgment and try to realise what this must have meant for those who originally heard the message.
The form and manner in which David’s kingdom had existed (that is, when David was king) was unknown in the days of Amos and had been since the division of the land under Rehoboam into northern and southern nations (II Kings chapter 12 esp v.16-20) at the instigation of YHWH (I Kings 11:26-40) because of Solomon’s sin (I Kings 11:33).
But, even so, the division of the people of God was only to be a temporary measure as the prophet Ahijah plainly inferred by declaring God’s message (I Kings 11:40 - my italics), saying
‘I will for this afflict the descendants of David but not for ever’
The ‘affliction’ of David by the removal of ten of the tribes of Israel into a separate and distinct kingdom was to be limited in scope and there was the clear intention that such a set up wouldn’t continue to be sustained.
But, at the time of Israel’s final judgment, God declares through Amos that the time of the reversal of that previous prophetic word would now come about - that there would be the one kingdom of God’s people over which the descendants of David would rule and that it would be restored to resemble the same kingdom over which David had originally ruled.
Although the fulfilment of a restored kingdom was dependent upon a correct moral response of the people of the southern kingdom of Judah (which, in all honesty, was never sufficient and a fulfilment of the word had to wait until the ultimate Son of David, Jesus, would come and cause His subjects to be obedient to His rule by His death, burial and resurrection), when Israel ceased to exist as a nation, the beginning of God’s work of the
‘one people united under God’
took place with Israelites of the northern kingdom fleeing southwards to escape the advance of the Assyrian armies. Although Judah had been predominantly a nation of two of the twelve tribes (I Kings 11:30-32), it was restored into one that contained increasing numbers of representatives from all the tribes.
From here, what should have happened was for the kingdom to develop towards the fulfilment of everything that it had been under David (and more) although subsequent history shows us that such a plan failed to take place in spite of kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah who tried to bring the people back to a true service and worship of YHWH.
In summary, God’s judgment of the united monarchy was only ever meant to be a temporary arrangement and there was going to come a era, undisclosed by God at the time of the original division, when a restoration of the Davidic kingdom - a people under one head - was to take place. This restoration was to begin with the termination of the nation of Israel under Assyrian invasion but was to continue through a resettling of the land (Amos 9:13-15) not as an independent state but as part of the unified people of God.
As a spiritual principle, this is exactly what James understood the passage to mean in Acts 15:16-18 for He saw one nation under one King being restored into all that it was the Father’s original intention to give mankind.
Many have asserted that God ‘loves’ denominations, not realising that it’s equivalent to the OT break up of the children of God into two kingdoms through the necessary judgment of sin. When judgment finally fell upon the northern kingdom, God declared that His will was for the one kingdom under which all those who were called by His name would come.
Just as Amos envisaged, the restoration of what God had originally intended can only realistically come about after the day of the judgment of His own people when those who are living opposed to His will are removed, sieved out from being replanted on the earth (Amos 9:9).
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