March 18, 2011

Minor Prophets XLIII: Good Times Absurd Times

In the beginning of Amos 6 we see good times and I am not talking about Jimmie "Dyn-o-mite!" Walker and Ester Rolle either. Israel is doing well or at least to outward appearances to other messed up human beings. This is a people/nation that have gotten to “high on their horse”. They have built a way of life on a foundation of shifting sand. Verse 1 starts right into Israel’s complacency:

“Woe to you who are complacent in Zion…you who feel secure on Mount Samaria…”

Complacency by its very nature is contentment and a smugness of mind that is generally not justified. It is a state of mind built on an illusion of reality or at least a misperception. This very heart/mind attitude doesn’t bode well for Israel and yet the verses go on in their damning tone. (v.4) they “lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches”, “dine on choice lambs and fattened calves”, “strum away on your harps like David-improvise on musical instruments” and last but not least, “drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions”. Sadly, if we take this in the context of previous chapters, all of this is built on the backs of the poor and through deceit and injustice. This will never stand it God’s world.

This is followed in verse 12 by one seriously messed up question. At first appearances this question yields no clues but in context it can be picked apart to relate to Israel's fallen condition. [I’ve taken v.13 along with 12 to maintain continuity of thought].

Amos is rebuking Israel one last time for stubbornness and overtly stupid behavior. These rhetorical questions border on absurdity which clues us in that he is being bitingly sarcastic. Horses obviously do not run on rocky crag or they would break their legs. Also, oxen are not taken to the sea to plow waves (except in those occasional wacky dreams I have). This all builds into a literary or rhetorical trap created by Amos for the hearer/reader.

He then adds a scenario even more absurd than the previous two examples—the deliberate perversion of justice. The positive effects of justice for the poor have been turned into poison, righteousness has been turned into bitterness. To add insult to injury, they have taken total and complete credit for the conquest of Lo Debar and taking Karnaim “by our own strength”. Nowhere is God mentioned in this boast of arrogance. It is this boast and the heart condition behind it that spells the eventual demise of this nation. We continue to see the complacency alluded to in Amos 6:1-6. It is now compounding and gathering steam like a runaway train going downhill…or should a say a stampede of horses running off the edge of a rocky cliff? Even horses are smarter than that...

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