Amos 9

We’ve made it to the end of Amos! (We start 2 Timothy next week.) And as promised, it ends on a note of hope. But not before a bit more judgement…

Amos 9:1-4 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; those who are left I will kill with the sword. Not one will get away, none will escape. Though they dig down to the depths below, from there my hand will take them. Though they climb up to the heavens above, from there I will bring them down. Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. Though they hide from my eyes at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent to bite them. Though they are driven into exile by their enemies, there I will command the sword to slay them. I will keep my eye on them for harm and not for good.”

Basically, there’s no running from this destruction. The temple will be the first to go, but if you manage to escape that, God will track you down – no matter how low or how high, even if you flee to the furthest point in Israel (Mt Carmel) or into the sea itself. Even in exile in a foreign land, they won’t be safe. And in a parallel to chapter 5 – where God said to repent, “then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is” – God says “I will keep my eye on them for harm and not for good.” In other words: The time for repentance has passed. I’ll be with you like you say I am, but not in a good way. 

God then reminds Israel of his power; of his total control over all of his creation:

Amos 9:5-6 The Lord, the Lord Almighty—he touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn; the whole land rises like the Nile, then sinks like the river of Egypt; he builds his lofty palace in the heavens and sets its foundation on the earth; he calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land—the Lord is his name.

In other words: when the Creator of the world is against you, you’ve got nowhere to hide. In fact, since he is the Creator of the whole world, Israel shouldn’t think that God somehow needs them as his special people. There are plenty of peoples whom he is currently blessing, like the Cushites (the Ethiopians, whose civilisation was thriving at that time):

Amos 9:7a “Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?” declares the Lord.

You’re not the only nation I can bless! Nor are you the only nation I’ve brought into their own land; there are other migrant peoples on my radar, too:

Amos 9:7b “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?”

This should give Israel pause for thought, if they believe God is irreversibly on their side, no matter how they act:

Amos 9:8a “Surely the eyes of the Sovereign Lord are on the sinful kingdom. I will destroy it from the face of the earth.

Although we do get a little glimmer of hope:

Amos 9:8b-10 “Yet I will not totally destroy the descendants of Jacob,” declares the Lord. “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. All the sinners among my people will die by the sword, all those who say, ‘Disaster will not overtake or meet us.’”

This is our first hint that this might not be completely the end. They’ll be exiled into the nations, and – in a sifting process – all of the big chunks will be removed. The proud, confident ones – who have blind faith that God will always be with them, while living in a way inconsistent with being God’s people – they will be destroyed. Which seems like it was very much the majority. But what about the grain that makes it through the sieve?

Amos 9:11-12 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, 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.

Here we have a promise of restoration. But what is being restored? “David’s fallen shelter” is probably better translated “David’s fallen tent.” Some take it to be the house of David, referring to the restoration of Judah – the southern kingdom. In other words, the northerners will be restored by being part of the rebuilt kingdom of David.

But David also had a tent – called a tabernacle – for the ark. So maybe it’s referring to the rebuilding of the temple, which, after all, was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations (Isa 56:7, quoted by Jesus in Mark 11:17). Because the next bit goes on to say that this rebuilt tent will be “so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name.” Edom represents the non-Israelite nations around. (In fact, the Greek Old Testament translates this as the remnant of Adam.) In other words, this promise restoration is about a rebuilt temple (or kingdom, or in some ways, both) that includes people from all nations. After all, God made the Kushites, the Philistines, the Edomites – all of the other nations.

In Acts 15 (vv15-20), James uses this very prophecy (and the Greek version of it!). He uses it as an argument for the inclusion of the Gentiles – all the nations that bear God’s name – in God’s plan of salvation, and therefore in the fledgling church. (And this goes well with the idea that David’s fallen tent is the temple – and not the physical temple in Jerusalem, but the new temple, the new place where God lives: in his church.)

And this ingathering of the nations, as is the case so often in the prophets of this time, is associated with Israel’s return from exile. Which is also a time of abundance in the land, and lasting peace and security:

Amos 9:13-15 “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, 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. 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.

So when did this happen? Well, Israel got resettled (mostly by returning exiles from the southern kingdom) from late in the 6th century BC. They were back in the land – even rebuilt the physical temple (David’s fallen tent). But still: no influx of Gentiles turning to God. No security (Persian, then Greek, then Roman overlords). And no wine flowing down the hills. What’s going on?

Well that’s really a story for the New Testament to tell. When Jesus turns up, announcing the true return from exile for his people. And gathers the faithful, sifted grain from Israel, mixed with the remnant of Edom/Adam from all nations, into the New Covenant people of God. The church. We are the fulfilment, at least for the moment, of the promise of restoration in Amos 9. And we await our full inheritance in the age to come.

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