We’ve almost finished our tour through Amos. Which probably hasn’t been the most uplifting experience, talking about the repeated failure of God’s people, and coming judgement. And there’s more of that today. But we’ll finish on some more hopeful stuff tomorrow. Promise.
At the start of chapter 8, God continues in the children’s talk format with which he began chapter 7, this time bringing in a fruit basket as a prop:Amos 8:1 This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. “What do you see, Amos?” he asked. “A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered.
A sticker for young Amos down the front.
Amos 8:2 Then the Lord said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
It turns out God’s into dad jokes. (That’s how I justify mine, anyway.) Our English translations have done a good job in trying to reproduce the wordplay: it’s a basket of “ripe” fruit – and the time is “ripe” for Israel to be judged. However, the pun is a bit more complicated than that in the Hebrew – and a bit cleverer.
You see, the word for “fruit” and the word for “end” sound very similar in Hebrew. So God is showing Amos some “fruit” which signifies the “end” for the northern tribes of Israel. So far so simple. But the kicker is in the way the northern tribes would have pronounced the words.
Let me give a similar example from our own day. Comedian Tim Allen (of Home Improvement and The Santa Clause fame) once did a TV stand-up performance where he was given a list of offensive words he wasn’t allowed to use. He found it a bit over-the-top. So he decided (being a comedian who talked a lot about hardware and home renovation) to speak for three minutes on the subject of “caulk” in the bathroom, but phrased in a way that worked just as well for the similar word on the banned list. This is a wordplay that worked fine for an American, but wouldn’t work with the Australian or British accent.
Back to the “fruit” and “end” wordplay: Amos was a southerner, from Judah. And they pronounced the two words with a slightly different vowel sound (sort of like “cayeesh” vs “cache”). But the northerners pronounced both words identically. So God’s showing a southerner some “fruit” – but to the northerners, it’s their “end.” Clever.Amos 8:3 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”
Things quickly turn away from both children’s illustrations and dad jokes. A grisly scene of worship that turns to wailing, and then silence after the carnage that’s coming.Amos 8:4-6 Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying,
“When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
Not for the first time in the book of Amos, God gives the reasons for the coming judgement: economic exploitation. The rich and powerful are still observing the festivals (outwardly displaying piety towards God, possibly even being the ones who run the temple) all the while counting down the hours until they can get back to trading, and exploiting others. Their business practices are reprehensible, either giving less product (“skimping on the measure” and “cheating with dishonest scales”) or jacking up prices. And they’d only be able to get away with this for people who were too powerless to do anything about it, or less educated that they didn’t notice. Far from looking after the poor like they were supposed to – by not harvesting their land right to the edges, nor going back over the land a second time, so that the poor could glean the leftovers – they’re even selling the sweepings of the wheat.
Or to put it in modern terms: they’re shutting their shops for Christmas, waiting for the Boxing Day sales where they can trade again. They’re selling complicated utility contracts to the uneducated door-to-door; extravagant funeral plans to the elderly via daytime TV; dodgy investments to retirees using trusted radio personalities. And what’s more – they’re not even paying their fair share of tax.
Or to broaden it beyond our own, local society – and at the same time closer to home: they’re packing a shoebox for Samaritan’s Purse at Christmas while still buying clothing made in unsafe conditions in sweatshops. They’re demanding lower and lower prices from supermarkets, which in turn put impossible pricing pressures both on local farmers and on Third World suppliers. And they’re expecting politicians not to raise taxes or cut any local spending – making the foreign aid budget the only acceptable target.
This is systemic exploitation of the poor, and God’s become impatient:Amos 8:7-14 The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done. “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink
like the river of Egypt.
“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.
“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. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.
“In that day “the lovely young women and strong young men will faint because of thirst. Those who swear by the sin of Samaria—who say, ‘As surely as your god lives, Dan,’ or, ‘As surely as the god of Beersheba lives’—they will fall, never to rise again.
Notice the complete lack of a call to repent. (You might have expected verse 12 to talk about people searching for the word of the Lord, and then finding it – but no.) The time for repentance is over. God has run out of patience with the pervasive and unrelenting injustice that’s occurring among his people. (And remember from yesterday, how the king told Amos – God’s final agent of warning – to pack his bags and head home.)
But this is, on one level, good news. If you’re the ones being exploited“That there are limits to God’s patience is good news for those the rich and powerful scheme to exterminate, because they will be saved. It is good news for those devastated and despairing due to institutional sin and hypocrisy, because our institutions, even the institutional church, will either be reformed or eliminated. Things as they are will not stand. God will get fed up. God will call a halt. God will bring an end.” Craig A. Satterlee, “Amos 8:1-12”, Interpretation, 61 (2007): 204.
At some point, God gets fed up, and calls “enough.” He did it in 722BC, when he allowed Israel to be destroyed by the Assyrian army. He did it in around 30AD, when his son died for the sins of Israel – and the world – and was raised to life to give Israel – and us – a new heart that would follow after God. And one day, he’ll do it again. When the injustice in this world becomes too great, all of the warnings have been issued, and the time for repentance is over. He’ll again say, “enough.”