“mes·si·ah…”

Definition of messiah:  “the expected king or deliverer of the Jews.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Dear Hope and Daniel,

I am writing today to  share with you some information that I hope will be of use to you as you begin your personal faith journeys for yourselves.  Even though you are still in elementary school, I believe you can understand these ideas I want to share with you.  And why would I share this with you?  I believe that a full and complete understanding of the Bible is the cornerstone of being able to defend your faith against those that would seek to undermine it.  So let’s talk about the messiah.

No doubt, you hear the word, “messiah,” and you think of Jesus.  That is what you have always been taught.  As Christians, we look at the entire Word of God through the lens of Christ’s revelation to us. However, in the Old Testament, several “messiahs” were spoken of, and we need to understand who they were and what function they served in the history of the Jewish people.

First of all, what does it mean to be “anointed” by God?  It means to be chosen, or set apart, for God’s purposes.  It means to be a servant that God empowers to fulfill a certain role.  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “messiah” refers to the expected king or deliverer of the Jews.

Unfortunately, the Jews found themselves in need of “deliverance,” many times in their history.  For example, let’s look at the Babylonian exile.  God’s people in Jerusalem had been defeated in battle, captured, and deported to Babylon in 586 B.C.E.  It was there they found themselves wondering how it was they came to be there, and how would they ever return to Jerusalem and the promised future God had given them through his covenant with king David.  They couldn’t see much hope of ever getting their old lives back.  At this point, a prophet known as “Second Isaiah,” spoke to the people of the Persian King Cyrus, God’s “messiah” that would create a way for them to return home (Stanley, pg. 462.). So even though, he was a foreign king, he was considered a deliverer of the Jews because he released them from their captivity.  In her article, “Cyrus the Messiah,” Lisbeth S. Fried also points out something of great importance to the Jewish people.  Cyrus not only released the captives, but he also sent them back home with the express direction to re-build their temple.  He also provided funds, materials, and protection for those being sent to accomplish this.  No wonder he was seen as somewhat of a savior for the people.  He was restoring their national identity as “God’s people,” along with their homeland.  So, not only were they getting to go home, they were going to reclaim the promises God had made to their ancestors.

Another leader from Jewish history is also referred to as “anointed one.”  His name was Zerubbabel.  He was the governor of Jerusalem when the exiles returned from Babylon.  You are probably wondering why the people needed a messiah if they had finally managed to make it home.  Well, things didn’t go as they had expected once they got home.  It was hard.  They were experiencing droughts and famines.  Their city was in ruins.  There were hostile people living there that really didn’t want them to return.  The prophet Haggai, in chapter 2 points to Zerubbabel at God’s “anointed one;”  the person that would lead the people out of this terrible situation and into the life God had promised them (Lecture.). Even though he wasn’t officially a king, he did succeed in doing what God wanted for the people, he re-built the temple that the Babylonians had destroyed in 586, and in doing so, he led his people back into a covenant relationship with God.

“Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak” (Zechariah 6:11).  Zechariah was also a prophet in Jerusalem as the exiles were trying to rebuild their city.  This man Joshua was the high priest of the new temple.  And God spoke to Zechariah and to symbolically place a crown on Joshua’s head signifying that he was considered a “king.”  Why would Jerusalem need a “king,” when they already had a governor (Zerubbabel)?  Well, in that time, people normally listened to what a king had to say.  And mostly they followed the king’s orders.  So by, showing the people that Joshua was a king in God’s eyes, the hope was that the people would listen to him and follow his teachings (Lectures.)

See, the whole reason, according to some earlier prophets like Isaiah of Jerusalem, that the Jewish folks had be captive and sent to Babylon in the first place was because they turned away from God and started worshiping others.  And these folks coming back to Jerusalem had most likely grown up hearing about God, but also living in Babylon, a place with multiple gods and religions.  The people coming back to Jerusalem needed someone to lead them into lives that were faithful to Yahweh.  They needed someone to teach them how to worship Him and live by His rules so that they would never fall away from Him again.  That was the job given to Joshua because God had picked him and empowered him to be the spiritual leader of the community.  It is easy to see how he could be seen as a messiah isn’t it, as he is responsible for saving his people from their own unfaithful actions and future retribution from Yahweh as their ancestors had experienced?

So you see, the people of the Old Testament had many people that held the title, “messiah.”  And each one because he was believed to be chosen by God to save or deliver his people.  Why do you need to know this?  Because as we read the Bible, we always need to understand the setting and context for what we are reading.  By having an understanding of the times in which these words were written, we are empowered to do two things:  1.  To see more clearly the history of our ancestors in the faith, and thereby, learning from their experiences; 2.  By understanding our history and context, we are better equipped to not only defend our faith and beliefs, but also to share our ideas with those that have questions.

Children, you may wonder where I found this information regarding the messiahs of the Old Testament.  I had several resources: 1.  My textbook:  The Hebrew Bible, by Christopher Stanley; 2.  Lectures from my professor, Brooke Lester; and the article, “Cyrus the Messiah,” by Lisbeth Fried.  As always, don’t take my word for it.  Read it for yourselves.

“I Thirst…”

So, it’s springtime in Alabama.  Flowers are blooming everywhere, birds are singing…  I am existing on a healthy diet of Zyrtec, Mucinex, and Robitussin…  I love spring but hate allergy season.  How can I feel as if I am drowning at the same I am so thirsty and can’t speak?  Antihistamines are ok I guess, but I have been walking around feeling severely dehydrated for about a week.  So I am constantly looking for something to drink.

I was meditating this morning over Jesus hanging on that cross.  He said so few words, however, one thing He said stays with me:  “I thirst.”

Of course he was thirsty, between the blood loss from flogging, the physical exertion of carrying the cross, and the ever-present dust in that desert, I can imagine his thirst was like nothing I have ever experienced.  It had to be torturous.

So I stayed with that image for a while, thinking about his reason for willingly being there. – So I wouldn’t have to.  Plain and simple.  My Savior decided to go through that torture so that I would not experience the price for my sins.  How do I make peace with that?

Just for kicks, I walked around my house looking for liquid.  Orange juice?  bottled water?? Hmm.  3 kinds of gatorade…  sweet tea? YUM!  There it is… Dr. Pepper! YES! Ahhhh, I am a new person.

I had over 17 different beverage choices in my house to quench that thirst this morning.  17!  And had never thought twice about what a luxury I had.  Some people might find themselves feeling guilty for it.  “There was Jesus hanging on a cross for me, with no water to drink.  Here I am a sinner, with more than I can consume…  How awful is that?”

But I don’t think those words were given to us in the Bible to make us feel guilty.  I believe they had another purpose.  Jesus tells us in John chapter 10 that He came, “So we could have life and have it abundantly.”  He didn’t say, that we were going to have to scrape the dismal ground to get by.  (Although, I feel like I have been there too at times…)

No friends, much like a parent, Jesus chose to sacrifice Himself, and He wants better for us.  I don’t think He begrudges us some of the little pleasures in life.  However, that is not the message I get from this scripture either.

What I take away from that passage is that Jesus was human.  He understood our most basic physical needs, more so than some of us.  And in His grace and mercy, He wants to provide them for us.  We may never be wealthy, but I do believe He wants to shower us with necessities and extravagances (every now and then…) because He loves us that much.  He wants us to trust Him to provide.  He wants us to run to Him with our worries and needs.  What is stopping us friends?

Do we fear rejection?  Do we fear showing weakness?  Do we fear that He is unable to provide for us?

Do yourself a favor.  Walk around your home.  Pay attention to the small things that make your life good, easier, more comfortable… Then consider the source of all your gifts and ask yourself, “What should I be asking for?”  “Is there something else He wants to give me?”  Joy, Peace, Contentment… He is the giver of all good gifts.  He is faithful to supply our every need if we leave it in His hands.

Shalom,

 

Heavenly Father,

Forgive us when we don’t notice the multitude of good things you send our way.  Help us to be aware of your presence in our lives and homes.  Speak to us in ways that we can understand, and lead us into a more trusting relationship with You.  Thank You, Lord, for all the things we don’t even see.

In Christ’s name we pray,

Amen

“The Rise of Monotheism…”

In our study of pre-exilic prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah, we are taking a deep look at the cultural and political structures  that led to both the destruction of Samaria and Judah.  This post is written in response to an article by Christopher A. Rollston:  “The Rise of Monotheism In Ancient Israel: Biblical and Epigraphic Evidence.”

What is Rollston trying to get across, using what evidence, and reasoning from it how?

The main point of Rollston’s article is that the nation of Israel, early in its history, believed in several gods, One of which was Yahweh.  As time progressed, this belief system morphed into a belief that Yahweh was head of a pantheon of gods; and then finally that He was the One, true God.

Rollston’s reasoning and evidence flow from the following points:

  1.  Israel, in its beginning, was a small nation surrounded by several large polytheistic nations.  Israel was influenced greatly through ongoing contact with these nations and its culture matured along with those around it. (page 98.)
  2. These primary nations, Ammon, Moab, and Edom held similar belief systems of a “divine council,” or assembly of gods.  Both epigraphic and biblical evidence supports the idea that all three nations had a chief, or national god, during the time period in discussion.  These national gods were part of the greater assembly of gods.
  3. “When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods; the LORD’s own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share.”  – Deuteronomy 32:8
    1. It is believed the above scripture was an earlier form of this text.  In it, the head of the Pantheon and is assigning different nations to the care of other, lesser gods.  Yahweh was “assigned” the nation of Israel.
    2. It is also believed, that as the belief in monotheism grew, this verse was changed from “the number of the gods;” to “the tribes of Israel,” in many later translations.  The later translations presented the more Deuteronomistic historical view of the “One true God belief.”
    3. Yahweh, it appears was Israel’s “national” god for some time, while operating within the construct of a divine assembly.
  4. Multiple excavation sites in Israel have unearthed religious inscriptions referring to “Yahweh and Asherah.”  Asherah was a believed female goddess and venerated in the surrounding areas. Along with the discovery of abundant numbers of female idols from archaeological projects in Israel (pg. 109,) we also have scriptural evidence of Israelite Asherah worship in 1st Kings chapters 14 and 16 for example.

 

What differences emerge between the “world in the text” (the biblical narratives) and the “world behind the text” (the actual history that produces the biblical narratives)?

The biblical narratives have been found by scholars to contain many “pseudo-corrections.”  These are alterations made to the original texts by the scribes as they were copying them.  These “corrections” were motivated by religious objections held by those responsible for the preservation of the stories. Most changes to the stories and oral traditions were made as the nation moved from a polytheistic belief system to a monotheistic one. One correction, noted above, was the change of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 (page 105).

As the cult belief system moved from polytheist to monotheist, the language and sometimes whole stories regarding the prophets were changed to reflect a more Deuteronomistic view.  As well, narratives regarding the reforming kings, namely Josiah and Hezekiah, were changed to later take on the theme of monotheism as a core value.  Many times, actions taken as military or political strategies were presented as theological reforms by the revisionists (Lectures.). In many ways, these “good” kings were portrayed as being first and foremost concerned with the worship of the One true God, when in reality, one could argue they were more interested in protecting themselves from the encroaching hostile nations surrounding them.

How might a religious community of your own experience respond to Rollston’s piece…or to the discovery that the piece’s claims are not even slightly controversial in the field of biblical studies?

On first read, I believe most in my faith community would be shocked, if not horrified to read this article.  The idea that the chosen ones of Israel would have, at any time, worshiped anyone except Yahweh would be unthinkable.  We are very much ingrained with the idea, “You shall have no other gods before me,” leads us to assume that the Israelites were monotheistic from the very beginning.

But if we truly think about it, of course they were polytheistic.  That was the main theme for the prophets for hundreds of years!!  “Turn back to Yahweh, stop worshiping foreign gods.  Don’t marry foreign women, they will pollute you with their idol worship!”

Of course they worshiped other gods.  The Bible tells us so, repeatedly.  However, we are so conditioned in the way that we think, we can be very closed-minded when it comes to “heresy.” I don’t know exactly how my congregation would react to this article, but my first thought is “OH NO!”  and then after a while of thinking about it, “probably so…”

“Thankful for My Grandmother…”

I thank my God every time I remember you,…” – Philippians 1:3

I was returning home this morning from taking my kids to school, and I was flooded by memories of my grandmother.  That was kind of surprising, but I stopped my car in the driveway and just let the memories flow.  I have to admit, I don’t think of her that often.  She passed away 15 years ago, a lifetime considering how far I have traveled down life’s path in that period.

But, as I sat there, the biggest smile came to my face and heart as I remembered specific encounters with her.  She was not a television caricature of a grandmotherly figure.  She wasn’t a sweet, little old lady making cookies every afternoon.  However, she did make a chocolate cake to die for.

Instead, my grandmother had a hard edge to her.  No doubt, she was a result of her upbringing during the Depression and such.  I knew she loved me fiercely, but not in a warm and fuzzy kind of way.  She took bluntness to an almost offensive level.  She never sugar-coated anything.  She always spoke the truth (as she saw it,) and never seemed to take your feelings in account when doing so.  (Memories of “He’s just not that into you…” are flooding through my mind.). She wasn’t malicious, just honest.

She was the hardest worker I have ever met in my life.  She was always working.  If not at her job, then in her garden, her kitchen, anywhere she was, needed something done.  She rose at 5:30 each morning, cooked breakfast and set off to work.  And she didn’t stop until late that evening.

She occupied herself with caring for my brother and me.  I just realized this morning what a stabilizing presence she was for us in what, many times, was and unstable childhood.  I spent every weekend with her from the age of ??? until I was 15.  Weekends filled with favorite foods, favorite tv shows, and anything else I wanted.  I remember distinctly going to the dime store for banana icees and lollipops bigger than your head.  She took me to see my first movie, Snow White, when I was around 6.  She read me the same book before bed for years, because it was the one I wanted.

Living in a small town, all our high school ball games were broadcast on the radio.  So even when she couldn’t make it to a basketball game, I knew she had sat by her radio listening, because later, she would discuss what the announcers had to say about my performance.  She probably didn’t understand everything she heard, but her heart was there.

She sure didn’t mind sharing her opinions about the people I dated.  And she was wide open on stressing the dangers of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, wild parties and the backseats of cars!  Nothing was off limits for her.

But here was the greatest things about her:  she loved me, no matter what.  She had this unconditional love that was steadfast, never-wavering, and always looking out for my best interest.  I am convinced that she would have loved me the same whether in her living room or visiting me in prison.  I won’t say she always believed the best about me, her honesty made sure of that.  She never thought I was perfect, however, regardless of where I was in life, she loved me anyway.

What a perfect model for understanding my Savior.  I can understand His love for me, because I have experienced it with her.  I believe in His unchanging love and ever-flowing grace because I have experienced it with her.  And, like my grandmother, Jesus is self-sacrificing, always looking out for my best interest.  He is my safe harbor in the midst of the storm and the place that I run to when in need someone to love me unconditionally.  Just like her.

I hope that you have someone in your life that represents that kind of love.  If you do, maybe spend some time remembering today.  Or even better, if they are still with us, call them up and say thank you.  God places those “channels of grace” in our lives to bless us.  May we be forever thankful for them.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for my grandmother.  Thank you for reminding me of her today, and showing me how very much I was loved as a child.  What some wonderful memories.  Help me to love with the same steadfastness as she did.  And lead me to be a grace dispenser to those most important in my world.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

 

“Just a Little Resistance…”

“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”  He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” – Luke 23:25-28

So, according to Jesus, this is the key to life.  The greatest commandment.  But what does it mean?  How can I love God with everything I have?  As a good friend reiterated to me a couple of days ago, “You can’t give an “A” effort to everything.”  And she is right.

So how does my devotion to God work with family, work, school, and all the other things that are important in life?  I don’t have all the answers, but I do think I took a step closer to understanding this week.

First of all, I work for a church.  I have the great privilege of working with a whole group of holy people, of which I am the very, very least.  But their influence is good on me.  So you would think I would be on top of things spiritually, but to tell the truth, I am not.

For Lent, our church offered a do-at-home, Bible study for families.  I admit, my family has never done an actual Bible study together (CHURCH WORKER ALERT!). My only consolation is that possibly some of my dentist friends have children with cavities.  But my spiritual failings as a parent are not at issue here (maybe??.)

So we decided we would be faithful and do the study together.  It is on the Gospel of John.  Things started off wonderfully.  We sat down after dinner Sunday night, opened our Bibles, and one by one, began to read chapter 1.

It was amazing!  I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to sit there, for over an hour, with my children and listening to their thoughts about these sacred words.  I was inspired by their depth of knowledge (Thank you Sunday School Teachers!) and their eagerness to be there.  I was so thankful that we were doing this together.  Surely this was something that would be easy to continue for the remainder of Lent, for we all enjoyed it so.  This would be great!

Then Monday happened.  We got up, rushed to work and school, ran home, started laundry, started dinner, started homework….   And as we were cleaning up for dinner, the thought occurred to me, “We all feel terrible, it’s late, we will just skip tonight and catch up tomorrow.”  The truth was, allergies and some other issues had hit us hard that day, and we did all feel pretty much like doing nothing.  Plainly put, I was just weary and in a bad mood.  It wouldn’t hurt to miss a night.  We will catch up.

However, my ailing children had other ideas.  We were going to do that Bible study, sniffles, sneezes, coughs and everything else!  I am ashamed to say that I tried to talk them out of it; reasoning that we all needed our rest.  They would have none of it.

So out the Bibles came.  We read, prayed and discussed.  And it was wonderful.  It renewed my soul.  I had fun with my kids, again listening to what their thoughts were.  We held hands and prayed.  We not only prayed for our own needs, but some of those we knew of in the community.  It was the best thing I had done in a long time.  And I don’t know if the kids enjoyed it so much because we were doing something together, or if they were just that excited to read the Bible.  But either way, their enthusiasm was contagious.  I was thankful they had insisted.  Because, with just a little resistance, I was more than willing to let that opportunity pass us by.

So, what does the scripture above mean for me?  By not allowing ourselves to focus on the negative, (We can’t because….,) we were blessed.  By staying with the positive (We will, regardless…) my soul was refreshed with new life. It wasn’t easy, it took what seemed to be the last of my strength that day. But Jesus was there and He was faithful.  I think I am beginning to see…

Peace my friends.

Most gracious Lord,

Thank you for continuing to strengthen and encourage my family.  Our hearts are willing, but our minds are weak.  Forgive me, for putting all other things first.  Have mercy on me, and continue to lead me into faithfulness, especially when it isn’t easy.  Thank you, for your work in my children’s lives.  Help me to live as a better example and teacher for them.

In your precious name I pray,

Amen

“All My Friends Tell Me So…”

“Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing…” – Luke 23:35

One of my most favorite activities is a Monday morning contemplative prayer group that meets at our church.  It is a time of deep reflection and conversation with God.  I was there this morning and had such an experience that I just had to share it with my brothers and sisters.

Our meditation this morning was on Luke 23:35.  Those unforgettable words of grace that Jesus spoke from the cross, “forgive them…”  Our meditation to begin this Lenten season was the question,

“Lord Jesus, make me aware of anything I have done unknowingly to create a barrier between us.”

A great beginning of conviction, confession and repentance for the season.

I left our prayer chapel and begin walking into the back yard of our church.  I had a special place in mind to go and contemplate the vastness of Christ’s grace.  Almost skipping along, I was praising my Jesus because, as the good Christian I am, I always try to do the right thing.  I would NEVER intentionally sin (right???) But my Savior, Jesus, he has my back.  Even when I, UNKNOWINGLY, make a mistake He is right there to forgive and forget. So all is good and I can go merrily on my way. I serve a great God.

So I prayed my prayer, asking Him to forgive me of my unknown faults and looked forward to sitting out on a bench with Him telling me what great job I was doing.  But something else happened.  As I walked across the back yard, I was strongly re-routed to our prayer trail.  I physically somewhat felt a force saying, “go here.”  So I turned up the hill and encountered something that stopped me in my tracks.  Our trail is lined with scripture signs, all chosen by our church family when the church building was erected nearly 10 years ago.  Each one coming from the heart of God.  This is the sign to which he led me:

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Well that is a bucket of cold water on my good mood!  At first I wanted to protest.  I don’t judge people.  I am a grace-filled Christian that loves everybody.  All my friends tell me so!

But, in my heart, I know that is not true.  In my heart, as I stood there, listening to what my Lord had to say to me, I knew that He was speaking truth.  I am doing my best, yes, but I still have so far to go if I am to be the person He wants me to be.  He calls me to be a grace dispenser in the world; to show every person the love He has for them.  I fear I may never get there.  But I trust in that vast grace to catch me when I fail.

These types conversations with Jesus are not easy, and they are rarely pleasant.  But friends, they are so necessary.  I want to walk with Jesus.  I want to have a real relationship with Him.  But that means getting past the superficial conversations that help me to pretend I’m OK.  That means listening when He tries to point me in the right direction, and not protesting that I am already there.  It means letting go of my pride, and clinging to grace offered me by His divine perfection.  By protesting my innocence, I live a lie.  But I am only lying to myself, because He already knows my heart and my attitudes.  The road to true humility is a hard one friends.

Let’s do ourselves a favor for the next few weeks, beloveds.  Let’s take off the masks.  Let’s approach Jesus in all honesty and humility and just listen to what He has to say.  I believe in doing so, we can be transformed as never before.   Let this be our new beginning…

Lord Jesus,

Your grace is incomprehensible.  I like to think of it as a warm, fuzzy blanket.  But today, in your righteousness, it is more a cold shower of reality.  Speak to my heart, Lord.  And keep speaking until it is changed.  Cloak me in humility, so that I might listen instead of reject you.  I praise You.  For You are the God of second chances.  Thank you for never giving up on me.

In Your holy name I pray,

Amen

 

“The Prophets, So What Are We Doing Wrong?…”

“…the prophets are relevant not because they are realistic but because they taught that the test of justice in a nation is how the weakest are treated.”

This statement by Walter Houston has really challenged my way of thinking about the Old Testament prophets.  My opinion of the prophets has always been based upon my limited engagement with reading them.  I can’t say they have ever been my favorite writers in the Bible.  However, after reading the books of Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah and the rest, I have always thought their main objective was to convince the Israelites to stop worshiping foreign idols.

Of course, if you have read one prophet, you have read them all, right??  “Stop worshiping Baal, turn back to Yahweh, or you will be destroyed by and invading army.”  I guess that is why my current study of the Book of Amos has been so enlightening.  I have learned a number of things, not only about Amos, but about the other prophetic books as well.

Before we get started, make no mistake friends, these are not my own ideas.  As I share some of the things I have learned, I will share where these ideas came from.  I think that is important lest some of you think that I have become a Bible scholar !  Actually, I am taking a class on the Old Testament, and the majority of what I share comes from either my lectures, or my text book, The Hebrew Bible, by Christopher Stanley.

First of all, when we speak of prophets, we normally think of people that predict the future, right?  Wrong! (most of the time.). Prophets in the ancient world could more correctly be described as intermediaries (Stanley.).  These folks were people who had a special connection to God, and were believed to be messengers for Him.

From time to time, acting in this messenger capacity, the prophets would speak about things to come, but only in the sense that “these things will be the eventual outcome of your behavior.”(lecture.)  Much like when your mom says, “Stop touching the stove.  You are going to get burned!”  We get a good sense of this whenever we see the words, “Thus says the Lord!”  Whenever we see these words, the prophet is acting as a messenger for God and is reminding us of what God wants us to hear.  So listen up.

Prophets were very many times associated with the kings in ancient Israel.  We see many prophets such as Nathan, Elijah, or even John the Baptist that were willing to speak truth to power.  These, and many more, had more fear of God than of man.  So they were willing to speak God’s truth to those in leadership and powerful positions (lectures.)

Along with speaking truth to authorities, many times the prophets were called to a form of internal criticism, meaning they would speak or confront their peers or societal contemporaries (lectures.)We see this function appear in the Book of Amos.

The Book of Amos contends with an 8th century BC prophet from Judah – although his messages were aimed at the northern kingdom of Israel.  He was not a “professional” as he did not belong to any of the prophetic guilds (lectures.) By trade, it appears Amos was somewhat wealthy, and indicated to own livestock and possibly vineyards or gardens.  The occasion for his prophetic statements was undergirded by a rising disparity in the economic classes of Israel.

A very rich, creditor class arose in Israel in this time and Amos felt compelled by God to go and admonish his contemporaries for their unfair and unjust treatment of their poor countrymen.  As he addresses them, Amos continues to assert his station as one speaking for the Lord.  By his repeated use of the term, “Thus says the Lord,” Amos reminds people that his words and warnings are given by Yahweh (lectures.)

What exactly does Amos believe is wrong with Israel?

Amos accuses the wealthy of cheating and taking advantage of the poor.  In verse 2:7 we see him speak of the elite “trampling on the heads of the poor,” and in chapter 5 we see the exploitation of the poor being addressed in two-part sayings common to prophets of this time (lectures):

“…because you have trampled on the poor, you have built houses of hewn stone but you will not live in them.” 

“you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.”  (v. 11)

The message for the Israelites is clear.  If they do not turn from their greedy and dishonest treatment of others, they will lose the very things they value.  Is there any hope for these people?  Is there anything they can do to remedy their past actions?

Amos does give them some hope.  In 5:14-15, we see the prophet show them a way out.  “Seek good and not evil…establish justice in the gate…it may be that God will be gracious to you…”  It doesn’t sound much like he believes that will happen, however, as a prophet, I suppose he sees his job as an instrument to herald God’s redemption as well as conviction.

From a literary standpoint, Amos uses many traditional conventions of the ancient prophets to make his point.  Along with acting as a messenger, we also see the elements of lamentation and the sharing of visions from God (lectures.)  Amos pulls out all the stops to get his point across.   However, in the end, he makes clear that God will follow through on his promises of destruction for the disobedient people, he speaks in chapter nine of the coming exile for his people.  However, fortunately our God is a faithful God, remembers his covenant with David, and promises to make good on it in the time to come.