Soul Food

A book like Amos (for a year like 2020)

What if tomorrow, one person could rise up and speak peace into the chaos of our world, healing into the brokenness? What if one voice could drown out all others—the arrogant, the bitter, the violent, the naïve?

I’ve spent a couple of months looking long at the prophetic book of Amos, and I’ve been stunned to find a microcosm of our own current world affairs—as well as a God who speaks into the madness, whose voice is so powerful and authoritative that it leaves every other voice (even the ones screaming the loudest) sounding like whispers in a hurricane.

Amos begins his book by saying, “The Lord roars from Zion and makes his voice heard.” According to Amos, the Lord roars (and also speaks and sings) in order to:

…declare punishment on both his own people and their neighbors.

…recount all the ways he has tried to win back his people.

…proclaim his presence and his plan to redeem.

I love that God is an all-knowing, truth-telling God. He’s not passive-aggressive or unsure of himself, nor is he swayed by the masses. He calls a spade, a spade. And so, in chapter 1 of Amos, he brings grave accusations against three of Israel’s neighbors: Edom, for mistreating his brothers (as well as stifling his compassion and raging incessantly); Gaza, for exiling “a whole community”; and Tyre, for breaking “a treaty of brotherhood.”** To these nations who abused and enslaved people within their own communities, he promises to send consuming fire as punishment.

Then he accuses Judah of rejecting his instruction, of following ancestral lies that led them astray. For them, too, consuming fire is promised.

Then the Lord moves on to Israel, describing her as predatory, impure, violent, enslaved to sin, indulgent, proud, callous, complacent, and self-righteous. Because of her sins, the Lord says,

“Look, I am about to crush you in your place as a wagon crushes when full of grain. … I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

And then—perhaps just in case Israel dares to question God (“How could you be so cruel?!”)—God reminds her of all the ways he’s tried to stop her from self-destructing, all the ways he’s tried to get her attention and woo her back to himself.

I sent famine—yet you did not return to me.
I sent drought—yet you did not return to me.
I made you stagger—yet you did not return to me.
I struck you with plagues, disease, defeat, and death—yet you did not return to me.

Out of his great desire to be in relationship with his people, to save them from their sins, God sent crisis after crisis. Yet his people refused to return to him. (I don’t want to rush past these haunting verses. I want to sit here and feel the awfulness of them—and then be filled with gratitude that the Lord disciplines those he loves. Oh, how I’ve needed his discipline time and again when I’ve set out on a destructive path.)

My favorite moment in the book of Amos comes next. At the climax of exposing Israel’s sin and prophesying judgment, the Lord tells her that he is with her—and gives her yet another chance to repent of her sins and seek him.

“He is here: the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, the one who makes the dawn out of darkness and strides on the heights of the earth. The Lord, the God of Armies, is his name.” (4:13)

“Seek me and live!” (5:4)

“Seek the Lord and live or he will spread like fire… (5:6) 

The heart of God beats with holiness and hatred for sin, yet tender longing and patience too—“not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Judgment was coming. Israel would pay dearly for rejecting her perfect and patient Lover. Even so, the book of Amos ends with God promising a day when all things will be made right.

“I will restore the fallen shelter of David;
I will repair its gaps,
restore its ruins,
and rebuild it as in the days of old. …
I will restore the fortunes
of my people Israel. …
I will plant them on their land
and they will never again be uprooted
from the land I have given them.
The Lord your God has spoken.”

This year we collectively find ourselves in a chapter of chaos and crisis and conflict—but it is only just a chapter. The Story is a surpassingly great one, and it is always moving toward its glorious end (which is really not an end at all, but a breathtaking new beginning).

God is here. He is speaking, roaring. And his plans will prevail.

Speak, Lord, for we are listening.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Postscript: One of the most surprising and compelling themes of Amos (which I couldn’t capture in this scratch-the-surface post), is God’s heart for the nations. For this and so many other reasons, I highly recommend spending some time in this oft-overlooked prophetic book!

**Moab was a fourth neighbor God accuses and judges, and his crime was “burning the bones of the king of Edom to lime.” I found it fascinating that Edom was guilty of heinous sins, and God was going to judge him with fire, yet God would not tolerate another nation using fire to murder Edom’s king.