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.

Justice to Wormwood

Scripture Focus: Amos 5.7, 10, 25-26
7 There are those who turn justice into bitterness 
and cast righteousness to the ground.

10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court 
and detest the one who tells the truth.

25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings 
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel? 
26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king, 
the pedestal of your idols, 
the star of your god— 
which you made for yourselves.

Reflection: Justice to Wormwood
By John Tillman

As the people ignored Amos’s calls to repent, God called into question Israel’s entire history of worship, implying that in their hearts they always had worshiped a god of success, wealth, and comfort rather than him.

Rather than provide justice (mishpat) to the poor, they were frustrating justice and causing bitterness, more literally “wormwood.” Wormwood is translated as “bitterness” multiple times. It is symbolic of a curse or poison and may refer to hemlock. For example, wormwood is used to describe the poison of an adulteress whose lips “drip honey” but in the end, she leads victims to a bitter death. (Proverbs 5.4)

Justice is very much the business of people of faith and when people ignore it or frustrate it…God notices. God points out that the wealthy enjoy great benefits of stone mansions and lush vineyards, (Amos 5.11) but because of their treatment of the poor, the vineyards will be filled with wailing instead of joy and they will be exiled from their comfortable homes. (Amos 5.16-17)

Amos is sympathetic to the plight of living in a corrupt land where justice is denied. “The times are evil” Amos acknowledges and points out that “the prudent keep quiet.” (Amos 5.13) But this acknowledgment of the evil state of the world is not an endorsement of doing nothing or a command to be quiet. Prudence should mean “approaching a problem wisely,” but too often it means “avoiding a problem selfishly.” Rather than avoid trouble, God charges the people to “hate evil, love good” and to “maintain justice in the courts” despite the days being evil.

We are under the same charge. Is there bitterness and poison? We must counter it with justice and righteousness. Justice, or mishpat, is the law being upheld. Righteousness, or sedeq, implies the actions that uphold it. We must not sit quietly but speak out. We must not avoid the unjust but confront them and comfort their victims.

It will not do for us to sing about justice without bringing it to pass. We must bring justice to counter bitterness. We must bring a flood of mishpat to wash away wormwood.

23 Away with the noise of your songs! 
I will not listen to the music of your harps. 
24 But let justice roll on like a river, 
righteousness like a never-failing stream! — Amos 5.23-24

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice. — Psalm 55.18

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

Today’s Readings
Amos 5 (Listen – 3:44)
Luke 1:1-38 (Listen – 9:26)

Read more about Under His Covering
God…like a master craftsman…has given us everything we need. His gifts are beautiful, well-built, and practical.

Read more about Three Strikes
Israel, the prosperous nation, is held collectively responsible for the abuse and oppression of the poor.

Three Strikes

Scripture Focus: Amos 2.6-7; 11-12
6 This is what the LORD says: 
“For three sins of Israel, 
even for four, I will not relent. 
They sell the innocent for silver, 
and the needy for a pair of sandals. 
7 They trample on the heads of the poor 
as on the dust of the ground 
and deny justice to the oppressed. 

11 “I also raised up prophets from among your children
and Nazirites from among your youths.
Is this not true, people of Israel?”
declares the Lord.
12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine
and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.

Reflection: Three Strikes
By John Tillman

Amos, after laying out prophecies against the enemies of Israel, turns around and lays into Israel for her own sins. Amos shines a spotlight on the treatment of the poor.  

It is one thing for there to be poor people among us. Jesus told us this would always be so. It is another to collectively refuse to do the God-commanded work of helping them. It is another to sell them for one’s own profit. It is another to live a life of ease that is funded by oppressing the poor and ensuring they remain so. The prosperous nation is held collectively responsible for the abuse and oppression of the poor.

Amos also condemns Israel for not listening to the young Nazarites and prophets he sent. 

Nazarites made special vows of devotion to God, including abstaining from wine and from cutting the hair. This could be a lifelong commitment or only a few days. Paul seems to have completed a Nazarite vow in Acts (Acts 18.18) and it may have been a Nazarite vow he was participating in when he was arrested. (Acts 21.20-30

Nazarites were not always prophets but were those who were dedicating themselves to God for a special purpose. Amos condemns Israel for working to tempt the Nazarites to break their vows. 

The prophets, the Israelites did not tempt, they simply told them to be quiet. These reactions may have been the result of the prophets and Nazarites being “children” and “youths.” God specifically moved among the young people of the land and the older generation did not take them seriously. They dismissed their words and corrupted their devotion to God.

At the height of her power, Israel strikes out with God by ignoring three groups God cares greatly about: the poor, the pure, and the young.

Oppressing the poor, corrupting the pure, and ignoring or silencing the young are three strikes that God won’t ignore.

Let us pray that these will not be strikes against us.
May we rise up from couches of comfort built on the backs of the poor and help them.
May we not corrupt the principles of the pure with our jaded cynicism.
May we listen to the passionate voices of the youth that God moves to speak out. May we listen rather than silence them. 
Give us ears to hear and feet and hands to obey.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people. — Psalm 66.4

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

Today’s Readings
Amos 2(Listen – 2:12)
Psalm 145 (Listen – 2:19)

This Weekend’s Readings
Amos 3(Listen – 2:11), Psalm 146-147 (Listen – 3:09)
Amos 4(Listen – 2:21), Psalm 148-150 (Listen – 3:04)

Read more about The Church, Politics, and the Future
If our political goals are to ease our own suffering, they have nothing to do with living out the gospel.

Read more about Spiritual Vigilance Needed :: Worldwide Prayer
The dangers of spiritual life are more subtle than a home invasion—and more dangerous.

Burden Bearers

Scripture Focus: Amos 1.1-2
1 The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel. 
2 He said: 
“The LORD roars from Zion 
and thunders from Jerusalem; 

Reflection: Burden Bearers
By John Tillman

Amos, the fig picker and shepherd prophet, was an outlier. He was not trained as a prophet, was not a part of the priestly lineage or profession, and was not a part of the higher class of educated people from whom most prophets came. And even if all of that were not the case, he was an out-of-towner. He came from the southern kingdom of Judah to the northern kingdom of Israel to confront one of Israel’s most powerful and successful kings.

Financially and militarily, Israel was at a peak of power when Amos arrived. 

Because of God’s compassion for the people, God had used Jeroboam II to save them militarily, despite him being an evil king. (2 Kings 14.23-27) But God would also remove him. Bad news was coming. The good times were about to be over. The country was proud, powerful, and profitable but the stench of spiritual rot was real and the wealth of the few was squeezed from the poor. (Amos 4.1-2)

Amos would have been comfortable among the fishermen-followers of Jesus. When these men confronted the religious elite of their day, the Sanhedrin were astonished that “they were unschooled, ordinary men…” (Acts 4.13

Amos shared the background of the shepherds in the fields who heard of Jesus’ birth. He would have been more familiar with the smell of the sheep and the fields than temple courts and palaces. But instead of carrying “good news of great joy,” Amos carried news of great suffering, judgment, and disaster.

Amos’s name means “burden” or “burden bearer” and he certainly bore a burden. He was burdened with bad news. Yet, the Lord was still willing to relent. (God turned back two judgments due to Amos’s prayers. Amos 7.1-6) Amos was burdened with a love for Judah and Israel. Yet, he would be accused of being an unpatriotic outsider and a conspirator against the king. (Amos 7.10-17)

Often, part of the “good news” of the gospel is the “bad news” of our sins. This is a part of the burden we bear toward others to speak this truth to them in love.

May we, like Amos, be burdened to intercede and intervene. 

May we bring to others the news that Jesus Christ will, if we ask him to, bear our burdens of sin and spare us as a remnant from the judgment to come.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me. 
Let none who look to you be put to shame. — Psalm 25.1-2

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

Today’s Readings

Amos 1
(Listen – 2:38)
Psalm 144 (Listen – 1:56)

Read more about Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit
The trees in the kingdom of God will bear fruit that heals the nation, redeeming the “strange fruit” of oppression and hate.

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
Even under a “good” king Micah spoke of the leaders of Judah when he said, “Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field…

Confessing Christ, Full Grown

Luke 4.41
Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.

Reflection: Confessing Christ, Full Grown
By John Tillman

Very few individuals, before the resurrection, stated out loud their belief in who Jesus truly was. And most of them were women.

Simeon, and Anna are the first. But it is somewhat easier to proclaim a baby the Messiah. Baby Jesus as Messiah isn’t making any demands. This is why Baby Jesus is widely culturally acceptable. It is only once he opens his mouth to speak that people reject him.

It is more difficult to stand before a man who, by inaction, allowed your brother to die and call that man the Messiah, as Martha did.

It is more difficult to admit that the man who confronted you with your sexual sin is the Messiah, as the Samaritan woman did.

It is more difficult to speak what has been revealed to you by God when you don’t fully understand it yet, as Peter did when he confessed, “You are the Messiah.” Peter showed that he didn’t fully understand, only a verse or two later when he rebuked Jesus for talking about his upcoming crucifixion.

Like Peter, we have a tendency to want to tell Jesus what to do instead of doing what he tells us. Jesus corrected Peter for not being concerned about what God, what Jesus, was concerned about, and he would say the same to us today.

Peter, and the rest of the disciples, despite being exposed to so much otherworldly power, were concerned about earthly kingdoms and power. Even after the resurrection, moments before his ascension, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

We must stand and confess, not just the Christ Child and the childish, temporal hopes we may have for this world, but confess Christ the Crucified King. We must stand before the man who says, “In this world you will have trouble,” and accept it as he did, “for the joy set before him.” We must stand before the man who said, “take up your cross,” we must, like him set our face, “like a flint,” toward our sacrifice.

When we pray “your kingdom come”, the kingdom must come in our hearts before it can be realized into the world.
The kingdom among us, is realized in our work together.
The kingdom among us is realized as we sharpen each other.
The kingdom among us is realized when each part of Christs’ body does its work.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all your who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.  — Psalm 31.23-24

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Amos 9 (Listen – 3:08)
Luke 4 (Listen – 5:27)

Additional Reading
Read More about Beyond Admiration
The difference between an admirer and a follower still remains. The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe…he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires.

Read More about Doing All Things Well :: Readers’ Choice
As we follow Christ, we are meant to take on this mantle of confidence and comfort. This is not a confidence in our ability or a comfort in our own power, but an indwelling, filling, and freeing expression of the Holy Spirit with us.

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