When God Shakes Our Foundation

Scripture Focus: Amos 9.1a, 11-13
1 I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said: 
“Strike the tops of the pillars 
so that the thresholds shake. 
Bring them down on the heads of all the people; 

11 “In that day 
“I will restore David’s fallen shelter— 
I will repair its broken walls 
and restore its ruins— 
and will rebuild it as it used to be, 
12 so that they may possess the remnant of Edom 
and all the nations that bear my name,” 
declares the Lord, who will do these things. 
13 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, 
“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman 
and the planter by the one treading grapes. 
New wine will drip from the mountains 
and flow from all the hills, 

Reflection: When God Shakes Our Foundation
By John Tillman

Amos describes God standing by the altar and striking the pillars to bring the structure down on the people. This image is reminiscent of Samson’s destruction of the temple of Dagon. (Judges 16.23-30) Why would God treat his own Temple like Samson treated the temple of Dagon?

The people worshiped other idols alongside God, even placing images of these idols in God’s Temple. In doing so, they made him equal to those idols. To God, the elaborate temples, in Samaria and Jerusalem, had become little more than tents of wickedness.

The people reduced God to an idol so, in Amos’s vision, God reduces the Temple to rubble which falls and crushes the people. In fulfillment of this vision the Assyrians and Babylonians would crush both nations and both temples would be burned, torn down, and reduced to rubble.

God brings judgment beyond his people as well. Amos describes God going to the ends of the earth (and below it and above it and to the depths of the sea) to bring vengeance to the wicked. (Amos 9.2-4)

God is determined to renovate this world, starting with his church and his people. And renovation always starts with demolition. When leaders, churches, and organizations fall after revelations of misconduct and sin some have a tendency to blame “enemies of the church.” This is unbiblical. It is God, not Satan, who works to destroy corruption in the church. When sin is revealed and an organization crumbles, it was God who struck the blow, not an enemy.

It should not surprise us to see the foundations of our churches shaken when wickedness has been covered up. It should not dismay us to see God scatter and humiliate abusive shepherds and corrupt kings. God is doing this, not an enemy. God is striking our pillars. God’s church is renewed by the removal of corrupt leaders.

What idols have we set beside God in the temples of our hearts and in our houses of worship? 

There is no hiding from God’s judgment. (Revelation 6.16) There is also no hiding from God’s mercy. Amos ends with a picture of restoration. God repairs “David’s tent” which refers to the destroyed Temple. He can and will repair us.

God seeks us as individuals and as his church, longing to heal us if we will let him. The razed can be rebuilt. The ruined can be restored. The uprooted can be replanted.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said to us: “…Everything now covered up will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. What I say in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.” — Matthew 10.26-27

Today’s Readings
Amos 9 (Listen – 3:08)
John 11 (Listen – 6:37)

Read more about One Worth Rejoicing In
We have seen many leaders in the mold of Asa…They win early, joyful victories…but eventually are exposed as corrupt, cynical, immoral, or power-obsessed.

Read more about Misleading the Least
Jesus has a stark warning for leaders and influencers who cause “little ones” to stumble…one of the most graphic pictures of punishment to cross the lips of Jesus.

Prepared to Meet God

Scripture Focus: Amos 4.12
“Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel,
    and because I will do this to you, Israel,
    prepare to meet your God.”

Luke 24.32, 36
They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.”

Reflection: Prepared to Meet God
By Erin Newton

We have entered into another prophetic book, Amos. Considered one of the first writing prophets, his prophetic period overlaps the ministries of Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. Amos opens with a list of Israel’s, and various nations’ sins: social injustice, inequality, idolatry, and every form of corruption possible. 

God let the people suffer through hardships with hopes of their repentance. Instead the people trusted in their own success. Their hearts lusted after other gods. They saw the poor and abused their weakness. 

Their hard hearts refused to be swayed by pain and discomfort to call out to God. In return, God declares the coming force of his presence. The ominous phrase, “Prepare to meet your God,” is meant to strike fear. The omnipotent God of creation is ready to meet humanity face to face. But humanity isn’t ready.  The proximity of humanity to the presence of God could result in death.  Soldiers died with a mere touch of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6.6). Priests were in immediate danger by their access to the Holy of Holies (Ex 28.35). Now God warns the people to prepare themselves for this fateful encounter. 

Only God could protect the lives of those who asked to see him face to face. 

Yet, this changed with the incarnation of Jesus. Just as it was in the beginning, God and humanity could walk together, talk together, and break bread together without the imminent threat of death. Death was conquered through the crucifixion. Peace came through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the days following the resurrection, God the Son continued to meet with the disciples. 

Instead of the threat of God coming in full force to judge the sins of the people, the people marvel at their experience with Jesus. Their hearts burn within them feeling the vibrancy of life and excitement of connection with Spirit. Jesus comes not riding upon the clouds as a warrior of wrath. He speaks words to calm their hearts. They see the face of God and he tells them, Peace. 

Amos records the warning from God for the people to prepare to meet him. It is still a message to us today. Through the mediation of Jesus, we can prepare to meet God with confidence. Our sins have been atoned and the wrath of God has been paid.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds. — Psalm 36.5

Today’s Readings
Amos 4 (Listen – 2:21)
John 6 (Listen – 8:27)

Read more about Prayer, Our Tent of Meeting
When we pray as Jesus taught, we enter into God’s presence through the torn curtain of the Tent of Meeting, and hear his voice because of his atoning sacrifice.

Read more about The Last Shall be First—Resurrection Appearances
Paul describes himself as the “last” to see the risen Jesus and the least of the apostles but he became much more than that.

Better Things to be Doing

Scripture Focus: Amos 8.5-6, 11
When will..the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?
…buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals…
“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.

From John: In this year of many kinds of hardships for service and retail workers, this post from 2018 has a heightened meaning. May we carry the kindness and grace of Jesus when we encounter retail and seasonal workers. If not, we may find ourselves facing a famine, not of profit, or water, or food but of the Word of God.

Reflection: Better Things to be Doing 
By John Tillman

At this time of year a basket of ripe fruit brings connotations of joy and celebration, but as God explained to Amos, the ripeness of the fruit was not the ripeness of joy, but of inward sin.

The people of Israel only seemed religiously observant. Inwardly, they wished that the bothersome business of worshiping God could be over with so they could get back to making money.

In a day when only openly religious businesses dare to be closed on Sunday, we may not comprehend a time when no business in the nation-state of Israel would dare to be open on a religious holiday.

In our culture, extended holiday hours are expected. They are a fact of life and many work additional jobs during the holidays to get by.

Although I’ve never rushed out of church to open a grain market, at times I have needed to get to the mall and open a Santa set. In my own life and the lives of many others, additional holiday employment doesn’t supply luxuries or money for presents, it is needed to get by. The additional work I get around the holidays has at times provided nearly a third of our yearly income. The gig economy is not always pretty.

Amos is right. The poor are indeed bought with silver.

Economic sins are prioritized by the Lord’s prophets. Amos is just one echo of their repeated theme. The wealthy market owner’s uncaring attitude started with a greedy lie that he had better things to do than worship God—namely, to wring out profit from every minute, every worker, and every square foot of land.

As we move into a cultural season in which we will all interact with many seasonal workers—often undertrained and often sleep-deprived—may we at a minimum interact with them with mercy and grace. And, for those who are supervisors and managers, may we work to humanize our treatment of our employees and better their lives encouraging as much rest as is possible in this season of economic frenzy.

And in moments of worship, whether private or corporate, may we remember there is nothing more profitable that we could be doing than worshiping God.

Amos is clear that if we don’t value worshiping God, the punishment is a famine—not a famine of profit, or water, or food, but a famine of the Word of God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand… — Psalm 95.6-7

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertimeby Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Amos 8 (Listen – 2:16)
Luke 3 (Listen – 5:24)

Read more about Facing a Biblical Disaster
Their spiritual diet depends more on news programs than Bible passages.This is the true biblical disaster of 2020.

Read more about Confessing Idolatry—Guided Prayer
God, your prophet tells us Israel built many places for worship, had many “sacred stones,” but their hearts were far from God.

In Amaziah’s Shoes

Scripture Focus: Amos 7.10-17
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
    and Israel will surely go into exile,
    away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.” 

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the LORD. You say, 

 “‘Do not prophesy against Israel, 
and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’ 

17 “Therefore this is what the LORD says: 

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, 
and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword. 
Your land will be measured and divided up, 
and you yourself will die in a pagan country. 
And Israel will surely go into exile, 
away from their native land.’ ” 

Reflection: In Amaziah’s Shoes
By John Tillman

When a prophet’s name is in bold print as the title of the book, it is easy to take their side. However, angry prophets in our face, saying things we’d rather not hear, are hard to accept. 

There were many reasons for Amaziah to reject Amos. One reason was religious animosity. Amos was from Judah and Amaziah was the high priest at Bethel in Israel. Israel’s religious leaders lacked the spiritual authority of the Levitical priesthood and did not have the benefits of the grand temple of Jerusalem. They must have always felt a twinge of inferiority.

A second reason was political animosity. Like the United States, Israel and Judah had a bitter civil war. But, in their case, the union failed and 10 of the 12 tribes seceded, becoming Israel. Only the tribe of Benjamin stayed loyal to Judah. Occasionally, the two kingdoms were at peace and even went to war on the same side, but there was often political tension, especially over religious matters.

There was also class animosity. To Amaziah, and probably to us had we been standing there, Amos didn’t look like he belonged. His hands would have been workman’s hands, not those of a scholar. His fingers may even have been stained from the juice of the fruit he picked and sold. He probably smelled of sheep and manure. He was uneducated and uncultured. His tone showed no deference to Amaziah’s position. 

Let’s put ourselves in Amaziah’s shoes. We are a powerful, well educated, and well respected religious leader, with an inside track to the king. Then a smelly, loud, rude, immigrant prophet shows up. He is “uppity,” showing no deference or respect. He’s badmouthing the king who supports us. He won’t shut up. He’s pointing his fig-stained fingers at us as sinful. To us, he seems to obviously be here on some errand from our political enemies. He’s a fraud and maybe part of a political conspiracy!

The purpose of this exercise is not to absolve Amaziah, but to consider ourselves with sober judgment. We must remove any excuses we may have for dismissing a message from God because of the messenger God chose.

Messages from God may come from outside our theological circle or from a political enemy. They may be respectful and well-spoken or angry and rude. Woe to us, if we dismiss a prophet because of his “tone.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
And yet my people did not hear my voice, and Israel would not obey me. — Psalm 84.11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Amos 7 (Listen – 2:45)
Luke 2 (Listen – 6:11)

Read more about Decorating the Tombs of the Prophets
“Your fathers,” Jesus says, “would not have minded the prophets either, if the prophets were dead. #RussellMoore

Read more about The Naked Emotion of God
Many prophets engaged in actions that today would be considered questionable stunts…including publicly insulting kings and officials.

Woken by Woe

Scripture Focus: Amos 6.6
6 Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, 
and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, 
you notable men of the foremost nation, 
to whom the people of Israel come! 

Reflection: Woken by Woe
By John Tillman

We have lost the meaning of “woe.”

The Hebrew cry “hoy” or “ho” has been translated “woe,” “ah,” or “alas.” All of these are archaic to a modern audience. Most only know “woe” in preexisting clichés: “woe is me” or “tale of woe.” Familiarity with these phrases comes, mostly, from humorous contexts, not from true moments of distress or mourning.

“Woe,” is a wordless cry from ancient Hebrew, first appearing in Job. (Job 10.15) Ancient Hebrew mourning was normalized and formalized, with specific customs letting the community know there was one among them who mourned. The rending of clothing, the shaving of one’s head, and the cutting off of the beard spoke to the shame of loss. The singing of sad songs and wailing were orchestrated communal acts that joined the people together. 

Cries of “woe” were part of this formalized mourning. The repeated, ringing cries, like a bell or a siren, rang through communities, letting the living know that one who had walked among them was dead. 

Mourning in this context is both a protest against death and an acknowledgment of mortality.

We mourn death because deep down we know we are intended for eternity. Eternity is set in our hearts. This reminds us that our return to dust is the result of a tragic mistake and a rebellion that we remain complicit in. It also reminds us to seek truth, to repent and ask for forgiveness, and to enter into a new rebellion against the forces of death that now hold us captive.

The tone of “woe” is more ominous than mere sadness. It announces death and its inevitability, not just suffering or “having a bad day.” Amos, Jesus, and other prophets employ the ominous tone of, “woe” to get the attention of their audiences.

When Amos says, “woe,” to the complacent, he is announcing a funeral for their normal life. He is demanding their attention to a community tragedy. He is putting under their noses the foul stench of death to wake them from their complacent complicity in oppression and evil.

Woe can wake us. Woe can be a first humble step to repentance. Woe can mean that our past sins have died and we can now be cut free to walk in mercy. Woe can be the mourning of sin that leads to a resurrection of righteousness. 

If only we will listen…

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Amos 6 (Listen – 2:13)
Luke 1:39-80 (Listen – 9:26)

Read more about Weighed and Found Wanting
We, like Belshazzar, “know all this,” but do we learn from the sins of our fathers before us? Do we continue in them or deny them?

Read more about Humbling Nebuchadnezzar
We pray unrepentant emperors of our day would avoid the humbling discipline of God by humbling themselves before him.