A Hint of Broken Curses

Scripture Focus: Amos 9.8-15
8 “Surely the eyes of the Sovereign Lord 
are on the sinful kingdom. 
I will destroy it 
from the face of the earth. 
Yet I will not totally destroy 
the descendants of Jacob,” 
declares the Lord. 
9 “For I will give the command, 
and I will shake the people of Israel 
among all the nations 
as grain is shaken in a sieve, 
and not a pebble will reach the ground. 
10 All the sinners among my people 
will die by the sword, 
all those who say, 
‘Disaster will not overtake or meet us.’ 
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, 
14 and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.
“They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. 
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; 
they will make gardens and eat their fruit. 
15 I will plant Israel in their own land, 
never again to be uprooted 
from the land I have given them,” 
says the Lord your God.

Reflection: A Hint of Broken Curses
By John Tillman

We get beautiful pictures of God’s restoration in the same books that give us terrifying pictures of God’s judgment.

Amos’s first image was God roaring in anger. His final one is God kneeling in the dirt. The God who destroys wickedness replants and nurtures the righteous with his own hands.

God promises justice that distinguishes between the wicked and the righteous. He says, “None will escape” (Amos 9.1), but he also says, “I will not totally destroy.” (Amos 9.8) God used the picture of a sieve shaking grain at harvest. The grain, the good seed, will be preserved. The husks, chaff, and stones will be removed. This shaken yet saved grain will be lovingly replanted. The righteous will suffer along with the wicked yet be saved from total destruction and preserved for the future.

Amos says that God will replant Israel, but he also says that “all the nations” will be included under David’s restored “tent.” In Acts, James interprets this restored “tent” as the church itself. (Acts 15.13-19) This restoration was already happening in James’ day, yet is not yet complete in ours.

By this point, reading through the prophets, we have seen over and over the pattern of God’s people forsaking him, suffering judgment, returning to him, and being restored. It resembles a “Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer” pattern. Fall harvesters strip the fields. Winter’s plowmen turn under or sometimes burn the stubble. Spring planters sow new crops, and Summer yields an explosion of life.

Amos promises that there will be an end to this pattern. The plowman will come and find the harvest still occurring. The planter will come and find the fields overflowing with wine from good fruit still growing. The curse of the land (Genesis 3.17-19) will be removed. The land will no longer require the toil and sweat of laborers and will no longer produce thorns and thistles. The cultivation of faith and the enjoyment of the fruits of righteousness will continue, never again to be interrupted.

Our lived-out faith should be beautiful to behold—a peek at a better world. A hint at the breaking of a curse.

Let our lives show the evidence of the kingdom to come. May our hearts be transformed into repentant fields that never need plowing. May we produce everlasting harvests of bounty, ever-flowing springs of living water, and bottomless vats of wine of the new and joyous covenant.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the Lord. — Psalm 118.26

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Amos 9 (Listen 3:08)
Psalm 73 (Listen 2:56)

Read more about The Curse Reversed
Even as he speaks the curse of Eden, God purposes and promises to break it. Scripture describes a God constantly working to reverse the curse

Read more about When God Shakes Our Foundation
When sin is revealed and an organization crumbles, it was God who struck the blow, not an enemy.

The End for Summer Fruit

Scripture Focus: Amos 8.2, 11
 2 “What do you see, Amos?” he asked.
“A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered.
Then the Lord said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
11 “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.

Reflection: The End for Summer Fruit
By Erin Newton

Summer approaches. The fruit has started to ripen. Nothing sounds more delightful than a basket of ripe fruit—ready to eat, refreshing and nourishing for the body. But the image in Amos is drastically upturned. As pleasing as the idea of fresh fruit sounds, God compares it to Israel—ready for judgment.

When God answers, he doesn’t say exactly, “the time is ripe.” The translators have done a good job here to try and reveal the play on words in the verse.  The Hebrew word for “summer fruit” is pronounced qayits. And the “ripe time” that God says is the word for “the end”—pronounced qets. It would be similar to us saying, “I see the berries over there!” To which God responds, “I see the buried over there.”

There is no more time left on the vine for the fruit and no more time left for the people in the land. It is a dire situation and the turning of an image that should bring joy (fruit gathered for eating) to a scene of hopelessness (people gathered for judgment).

The image of food is recalled with the proclamation that a famine is coming. The basket of fruit will be taken away—but in this message, it’s not really food he’s talking about. It will be a famine of divine communication. A lack of prophecy. A silence over the people.

Starvation is one of the harshest sufferings. It is slow and debilitating. The body attempts to scream out in every way possible, “Feed me!” When wars break out, starvation becomes a key humanitarian crisis. Efforts to prevent it often reach across political or ethnic borders. Throughout history, it has been a threat.

A famine of God’s words is meant to strike equal fear into the hearts of his people. They have lived through droughts and short-term famines. They have felt their bellies ache for food and have seen their neighbors recklessly desperate to get something, anything, to eat.

Without food, we die. Without the word from God, we also die. Spiritual starvation is equally slow and painful.

We are not accustomed to valuing divine communication like we value nourishment. But here in Amos the two are set side-by-side. Jesus preached the same message, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Are we serving ourselves a healthy portion of Scripture?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. — Psalm 145.19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Amos 8 (Listen 2:16)
Matthew 28 (Listen 2:39)

Read more about Better Things to be Doing
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.

Read more about God of the Weak and Doubtful
He accepts and encourages you today. You who doubt his presence with you. You who doubt that you are loveable

Tortured Prophets Department

Scripture Focus: Amos 7.10-11
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.’

Reflection: Tortured Prophets Department
By John Tillman

Over the weekend, many who speak out against abuses in the church, both abuses of power and sexual abuse, found the track “Cassandra,” from Taylor Swift’s new album, devastatingly relatable.

The mythological Cassandra received the gift of prophecy from Apollo but refused him sexual favors in return. As punishment, Apollo cursed her so that no one would believe her warnings. When she prophesied impending tragedies, she was imprisoned and treated as insane and an enemy.

Swift is almost certainly writing about fictional characters or her own personal experiences, not abuses of power or the sexual abuse crisis in churches. But “Cassandra” is skillfully written to be relatable to anyone who has suffered harm for speaking the truth.

Lyrics such as, “So they killed Cassandra first, cause she feared the worst and tried to warn the town…” and “They knew, they knew, they knew, they knew the whole time…” and “a mourning warning no one heard,” speak to the experiences of those who try to bring correction to the powerful and warn the church of abuses. Even the harsh language Swift uses was used word-for-word against women who testified to their abuse.

Taylor Swift is not a prophet, but neither was Amos. Amos was a fig picker, and Taylor picks a guitar. Amos was a rude, aggressive, and outspoken outsider, yet he cared deeply for Israel. This chapter begins with him begging God for mercy.

Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, confronts and threatens Amos. (Are there any poets more tortured than biblical prophets?)

Amaziah accuses Amos of disloyalty and conspiracy. Amaziah defends the institution, “the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom,” not the truth or the people. He doesn’t care about the injustice reported, he just wants to preserve the status quo. Amaziah assumes a financial motivation. He accuses Amos of being out to make a buck.

Conspiracy, disloyalty, and financial gain are common accusations used today to discredit whistleblowers and victims. Amaziah is alive and well.

Why do we torture the poets, prophets, preachers, and protestors? Why do we allow position and power to blind us from the truth? We don’t have to be Taylor fans, but can we please avoid becoming Amaziah?

Complaints and accusations are true or false based on facts, not on who makes them. Amos proves truth can come from unexpected places. When it does, we should listen. Let’s test prophets, not torture them.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said: “In all truth I tell you, whoever welcomes the one I send, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.” — John 13.20

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Amos 7 (Listen 2:45)
Matthew 27 (Listen 8:45)

Read more about Temptation Has No Gender
Seduction and temptation are not feminine (or masculine), nor are they limited to sexual pleasures.

Read more about In Amaziah’s Shoes
Messages from God may come from outside our theological circle or from a political enemy.

Victims and Victimizers

Scripture Focus: Amos 6.8-12
8 The Sovereign Lord has sworn by himself—the Lord God Almighty declares: 
“I abhor the pride of Jacob 
and detest his fortresses; 
I will deliver up the city 
and everything in it.” 
9 If ten people are left in one house, they too will die. 10 And if the relative who comes to carry the bodies out of the house to burn them asks anyone who might be hiding there, “Is anyone else with you?” and he says, “No,” then he will go on to say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord.” 
11 For the Lord has given the command, 
and he will smash the great house into pieces 
and the small house into bits. 
12 Do horses run on the rocky crags?
    Does one plow the sea with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
    and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness

Photo Information: A memorial to the victims of communism in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania.

Reflection: Victims and Victimizers
By John Tillman

Amos paints a frightening future scene. Warfare has collapsed a compound of houses. A survivor comes to gather bodies for cremation. Jews only resorted to cremation during plagues or when casualties were too many for traditional burials. The survivor encourages anyone hiding to be quiet, not even daring to say the name of the Lord. To these traumatized people, God became terrifying rather than comforting. Why?

We are often shocked by the harshness of biblical judgments. Why should God be terrifying? Where is the God of comfort, peace, and justice?

One answer is to appeal to God’s ultimate sovereignty and moral authority. 

If God is God, he is the only righteous one and the ultimate, sole authority in the universe. In whatever he does, he has the authority, the sovereignty, to do as he pleases. Even if an action seems unjust to us, who are we to judge? Who can say to him, “What are you doing?” (Job 9.12)

Secondly, we must recognize that God enacts harsh judgments because he looks at nations and individuals from the perspective of their victims. Victims of violence see retributive violence differently. When soldiers breach a room filled with hostages and kill all the hostage-takers, they aren’t committing an atrocity. The hostages see them as heroes, as justice embodied. If we forget about the hostages, we might see the carnage and think evil mass murderers stormed the room.

God takes the victims’ perspective, not the victimizers’, and looks at the heart, not the outward appearance. God judges humanity simultaneously as a collective and as individuals. He punishes nations yet has mercy on individuals. He punishes individuals yet has mercy on nations.

When we read these kinds of passages, We trust in God’s righteousness and sovereign authority and that he sees and acts from the victims’ perspective. However, there is another perspective.

God longs for people under judgment to turn to him for mercy. When we read these passages and wish mercy for those under God’s judgment, those are God-like thoughts. God wanted to have mercy. But they refused.

If you’ve been a victim, may God vindicate you. For the rest of us, take warning. Through pride and complacency, Israel turned justice to poison and righteousness to bitterness. (Amos 6.12) Let us be humble and repentant. Otherwise, God may become terrifying to us and bring comfort, peace, and justice to our victims.

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

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Amos 6 (Listen 2:13)
Matthew 26 (Listen 10:01)

Read more about Woe to Abusers and Victimizers
Let us pray that all victims, nations, groups, and individuals will see justice fall on their abusers and victimizers.

Read more about Degrading Each Other
God’s wrath is seated not in selfish vengeance against his enemies but in justice for those he loves.

Judgment, The Great Equalizer

Scripture Focus: Amos 1:3
3 This is what the Lord says:
“For three sins … even for four, I will not relent.

Reflection: Judgment, The Great Equalizer
By Erin Newton

Is there escape from God’s judgment? The prophets seem to declare escape impossible. Amos uses formulaic language—for three sins, even for four. It is not a mathematical theology of sin as if to say, “God spares two sins but three is too far.” No, this is a poetic (and memorable) way to speak about the surety of judgment against sinful people.

The “three-four” punch is also an equalizer. The numerical description does not increase or decrease between the places. (In fact, Judah is included in the same language and foreboding promise of judgment in the next chapter.)  

The cities listed in chapter 1 create a perimeter. Damascus was northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Gaza was on the southern coast of the Mediterranean. Tyre was a northern coastal town. The region of Ammon was centrally located east of the Jordan River. This perimeter was a way to show that universal judgment was coming.

I need to pause here for a moment. Considering the ongoing and escalating war between Israel and Gaza—we must remain steadfast to read the Bible in its context. Nowadays, we will watch people take a word or two that has meaning today and infer that meaning back onto books like Amos. Let us pause to read more carefully.

Yes, there is an ancient town of Gaza and a present-day Gaza. But thousands of years have passed; worldviews and populations have changed. If Amos condemns an ancient town, it is a message about the civilians’ hearts, not the dirt under their feet. And that is how God deals with us today. It is the stance of our hearts, not the land we stand on, that determines God’s judgment or mercy.

This is why the repeated introductory phrase is necessary. It levels the playing field. The message is not “God will save me because I am a citizen of _____,” but “God will judge sin unbiasedly.”

Judgment is universal. According to Amos, not even Judah escapes. But with Jesus, the formula changes from “for three sins, even for four” to “leave the ninety-nine for the one.”

I hope we can read the Old Testament, including stories about similarly named places, and imagine a New Testament perspective. For one repentant sinner, even for ninety-nine, in his mercy, God will relent. 

God judges the heart within us, not the dirt we live on. Judgment equalizes us all, but so does his mercy. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; I call upon you all the day long. — Psalm 86.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Amos 1 (Listen 2:38)
Matthew 21 (Listen 7:10)

Read more about Nineveh’s Regression
God’s still in the business of forgiving those we would condemn and having mercy on those we would castigate.

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