OT: Amos 1:1-3:15
Wow, reading in the morning is the way to go. I am much more likely to read background info and really concentrate on my reading than I am if I put it off until night. It's sad that I have been so out of the habit of reading it at the start of my day.
Anyway, today I read Harris' background to Amos, and it was really interesting. For one thing, Amos is the earliest of the prophets we have been reading. He's the first to have his words recorded in book form. He "was an older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah of Jerusalem." As such, many of the things he says that sound like typical prophecy stuff are actually really novel, b/c he was the first to say them. For one thing, he was the first to emphasize the importance of ethical behavior, specifically treatment of the poor, in a way that placed it on par with following the rituals of the law. He was also the first to say that the day of Yahweh would be scary and full of Judgment. Previously, it had been believed that it would be a happy celebration.
Harris points out that today's reading "consists of denunciations against Israel's various neighbors--Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, and Moab," whom "the prophet excoriates for their inhumane treatment of conquered peoples." And sure enough, Damascus is condemned because "she threshed Gilead/ with sledges having iron teeth" (1:3); Gaza is condemned because "she took captive whole communities/ and sold them to Edom" (1:6); Tyre is also condemned because she "sold whole communities of captives to Edom,/disregarding a treaty of brotherhood" (1:9); the slave buying Edom is condemned b/c "he pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion/because his anger raged continually and his fury flamed unchecked" (1:11); Ammon is condemned b/c "he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead/in order to extend his borders (1:13); and Moab is condemned b/c "he burned, as if to lime,/the bones of Edom's king" (2:1). I thought it was noteworthy that these cities were condemned not just b/c of what they did to Israel or Judah, but b/c of what they did to each other. Even though Edom is bad and full of rage, you still shouldn't burn its king's bones as if to lime!
I'm sure that Amos' listeners were very sympathetic to his message up to that point, but then he abruptly turns his focus on Judah and Israel. According to Harris, "Amos suddenly attacks his Israelite audience, castigating its leaders for behaving no better than greedy foreign princes. His point is that Yahweh not only refuses to tolerate cruelty among the people whom he had rescued from Egypt but also requires higher standards of ethical conduct from Israel than from those who do not enjoy Yahweh's special guidance."
Clearly, Judah and Israel are not meeting those standards. Judah is condemned for reasons having to do with the Law: "they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees." Israel, on the other hand, is condemned for their treatment of the poor and for sexual immorality:
"They sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as upon the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
and so profane my holy name" (2:6-7).
Then, Amos tells them that God is giving them a fair warning to repent, b/c after all,
"Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing
without revealing his plan
to his servants the prophets" (3:7).
Of course, we know that ultimately, Judah and Israel will not heed these warnings.
NT: Revelation 2:1-17
The structure of this reading kind of reminded me of the structure of Amos, in that it consisted of specific messages given to different audiences. The messages were a little more cheerful than Amos' messages, but they still contained a few harsh words.
First of all, I have to say that I love the images of the churches being the lampstands and their angels being stars. And how Christ "holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the lampstands" (2:1). That's beautiful to me.
The message that John gives the church in Ephesus is that Christ is proud of their refusal to tolerate wickedness, proud of their perseverance, and proud that they "hate the practices of the Nicolaitans," but that He also holds against them the fact that they "have forsaken [their] first love" (2:4).
The message he gives to Smyrna prepares the church for inevitable suffering and urges them to be faithful (10-11). He tells Pergamum that they live in an evil place and yet that they are able to hold onto their faith. On the other hand, they have embraced the way of Balaam. I'm still not sure what that means, but clearly, there have been some developments in the Jewish interpretation of Balaam somewhere along the way. I definitely did not get what the NT writers got out of that story. Also, Pergamum is cool with the Nicolaitans, which is bad.
A psalm celebrating perseverance in the face of long term persecution and calling on God to repay the persecutors.
The first says that words alone are not enough to correct a servant, and the second condemns those who speak in haste. As one who tends to speak in haste, that second one stung a bit.