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Amos 7:1-7

The prophet Amos reads somewhat like a long scolding one receives from an angry boss or guardian. It certainly is not a book you want to read if you are in need of easy encouragement. For this reason, many have avoided the passages from Amos because these texts often feel harsh or disconnected from the types of things we want to talk about in our regular preaching life. However, by looking closer at this text, I believe there are significant points of connection for our contemporary life together that can be good and transformative news.

One significant point occurs in the first section of this text. Here Amos receives a vision, that upon consideration, is difficult for Wesleyans to affirm. In the vision, God shows Amos a plumb line. God then says that the people of Israel will be divided and God will never again pass by them. The Common English Bible translates this last phrase, “I will never forgive them.” This harsh judgment should alert us that we should pay attention carefully to this text. One way to read the text would be as a prediction that God was done with Israel and indeed would not pass by or forgive Israel. With history on our side this is true because we know that Israel did not repent and they were ultimately overrun by the Assyrian empire in 722 BCE. However, another way of reading the text is that God shows this vision to Amos in order to awaken him to the seriousness of the situation. In such a reading, the phrase, “I will never again pass them by” should have struck Amos as counter to who God was and invited response from Amos.

The earlier context of Amos 7 invites this reading as prior to this vision, Amos is shown two other visions in verses 1-6. In each of the previous visions Amos is shown something that is catastrophic. Upon seeing each vision, Amos tells God that the people cannot bear such a fate. God relents because of Amos’ crying out. Thus, this vision invites the prophet, and we as readers, to respond similarly by saying, “Wait God! You are not one who gives up on people! We cannot bear that!” By overstating the situation, the images call the people back into covenant faithfulness by portraying a possible reality that is unbearable. This technique reminds us that scripture is not simply a set of propositions meant to be repeated, but rather a dialogue to be understood in particular contexts for particular purposes. Indeed, the primary purpose of the text of Amos is the desire of God for the people of Israel to return to covenant faithfulness, even if that means awakening them with a startling image.

Another significant point to consider in the passage is the dialogue between Amaziah, priest of Bethel, and Amos. In this interchange, Amaziah challenges Amos’ prophetic office. He tells Amos to go back home and prophesy there. Amos, instead of leaving, delivers his message again so that