Read Amos 8:1-3
The Amos reading tonight reminds me of the advent verses in the first chapter of John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:1, 14).
Jesus is the Word. Christians, like the Jews, have always been people of the book. We believe that a primary way that God has communicated to people is through words, through language.
The modern understanding of “objective truth” has driven many people, both believers and non, to a different type of relationship with words. We analyze everything. We treat our sentences and word choices like the matter in a physical science experiment. When we approach the Bible this way, we end up parsing, mincing and mining the texts – their history, grammar, authorship – in a pursuit of “the facts”. (So immersed our we in this brand of Bible reading that we cannot even see how unusual it is in the grand thousands-of-years history of the faith.)
When it comes to our Advent eschatology, we do the same. We rip into Daniel, Revelation, and all the other prophecies, trying to extract some sort of pre-history of upcoming events that is “valid”. Then we argue over our findings…
…As though this was the purpose of the prophets, and of the written words their revelations produced.
But … what does this have to do with Amos 8?
God has another word for Amos. As the book moves to its final chapters, the prophecies are getting all the more grim. God has more tragic news to share through His prophet … but His approach is very curious.
“This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. And he said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A basket of summer fruit.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,’ declares the Lord God. ‘So many dead bodies!’ ‘They are thrown everywhere!’ ‘Silence!’” (Amos 3:1-3).
We don’t get this in English … but in Hebrew, God is doing a play-on-words. The word for “fruit” in Hebrew is pronounced kay-EETS. The word for “end” is KEETS. Get it? It’s a basket of kay-EETS, Amos, but what it really is is a healthy serving of KEETS … “the end” … the destruction of Israel.
Seriously? This is God almighty, informing Amos of a catastrophe that will leave bodies strewn everywhere … and He’s presenting it with a clever double entendre? One might consider this, well, kind of inappropriate. At the very least, it’s interesting.
I find it wonderful, for a few reasons. First, God is good, all the time. He doesn’t have to shift from being at once creative, artistic and engaging, and then become somber, sterile and matter-of-fact. The same God who playfully carved out the Grand Canyon is, with complete joy and goodness, bringing about His judgment on His own faithless people. No apologies. No change in character.
Second, it affirms again how important the creative use of language is to God. The way God speaks to His prophets reinforces to me both the truth and the beauty of God, and His Word. And we, made in His image and likeness, are the only creatures on the planet who are also users of language. What we say, and how we say it, are of enormous importance! We don’t just deal in “truth”. We deal in divine-image communication, which should be handled with great care, and for the most noble purposes.
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in[d] blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God” (Rev. 19:11-13). He is coming!