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Monday, December 7, 2015

What would the shepherd say to us today

We've finally reached those prophets who wrote books in our Old Testament study. So this week is an introduction to the first half of Amos. I'm not sure if we'll get to the second half before Christmas, but watch this space--we'll get there eventually!

(10) Amos

The prophet Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa near Bethlehem, hears God’s call in the reign of Uzziah, “two years before the earthquake.” Read Amos 1:1, Zechariah 14:5.  Jewish tradition says the earthquake happened when Uzziah entered the Temple, but Jeroboam was long dead by then, and archeological research suggests it was earlier, around 760BC.
Read Amos 1:2. Amos is a shepherd from Carmel. What’s special about Carmel? (Read 1 Samuel 15:10-12, 25:40, 1 Kings 18:19, 2 Kings 2:25, 4:23-25, Song of Solomon 7:5, Jeremiah 50:19) Is this where you’d expect to find a prophet?

Read Amos 7:10-15. Clearly it’s not where the established prophetic house expected to find a prophet. What is happening to the established prophets? Why might God have chosen someone else to carry his message?
Who might God choose today to carry his message – in North America, among refugees, in war-torn nations...? Can you think of any examples?

1.       Amos starts with prophecies against various nations:
a.       Read Amos 1:3-4. Who are Ben-Hadad and Hazael? Can you remember why three transgressions might be significant, historically and symbolically?
b.      Read Amos 1:5-8. Beth Eden might mean “house of pleasure,” probably somewhere North in Syria. No one is sure where Kir is, but Gaza was an important city in Philistine territory (West). The Syrians and the Philistines would soon be conquered by Assyria. The Israelites imagined they were safe and disregarded the rise of Syria’s enemy. What dangers do we disregard?
c.       Amos also prophesies against Tyre (North West), Edom (South), Ammon (North East), Moab (South East), but then come Judah and Israel – surely God’s own people. How would we feel if God promised to punish terrorist nations then said he’d punish the US as well?
2.       Read Amos 2:4-5 What is Judah’s sin? Why is Amos going to spend more time looking at Israel’s sin? Do we spend more time looking at other people’s sins, or at our own?
3.       Read Amos 2:6-16.
a.      How might we sell the righteous for silver? (2:6)
b.      How might we pervert the way of the humble? (2:7a)
c.       How are leaders tempted to defile God’s name today? (2:7b) Is this about sex or about faith?
d.      How are the poor mistreated today? (2:8a, Exodus 22:26-27)
e.       How are things sacred to God misused today? (8b)
f.        God reminds the Israelites that he conquered the land. How do we place human victories and politics above divine providence? (9)
g.      God reminds them that he brought them out of Egypt. Are we tempted to praise human ingenuity instead of God’s providence? (10)
h.      When might we be guilty of telling prophets not to prophesy? (12)
i.         Who do we view as strong, mighty, swift or courageous? (13-16)
4.       Read Amos 3:7-8. How might God tell us his plan today?
5.       Read Amos 3:10,15. What is wrong with Samaria (capital city of Israel)?
6.       Read Amos 4:1-3. Cows of Bashan probably means well-fed, beautiful, big-eyed women. The hooks might be meat-hooks rather than fish-hooks. What is these women’s sin?
7.       Read Amos 4:4-5. Bethel was a place of worship. How might people “Come to the cathedral and rebel” today?
8.       Amos reminds the Israelites of trials which God has saved them from, but which haven’t brought them back to God. Do any of these trials strike a particular chord today? (4:6-11)
Now God calls Amos to lament over Israel. Can you imagine God lamenting over our country? Why or why not?
1.       Read Amos 5:1-2. How might our faith become impure?
2.       Read Amos 5:3-6. What might be modern equivalents of seeking Bethel, Gilgal or Beer-sheba? (Gilgal was where Abraham erected an altar, the Israelites crossed the Jordan to the Promised Land, Samuel offered sacrifice, and a school of prophets lived 2 Kings 2:1-2
3.       Read Amos 4:10, 5:8-9. How might we describe God’s power today? How might “seeking Bethel” make us miss opportunities to describe him in the language of our day?
4.       Do we make our faith more or less pure by combining it with human knowledge, or by keeping it separate from human knowledge?
Read Amos 5:7-14. Who are the ones God criticizes through Amos? And who might God call to repentance now?
1.       Verse 7 – those who disrespect righteousness and justice?
2.       Verse 9 – the strong?
3.       Verse 10 – those more interested in convictions than integrity?
4.       Verse 11 – those who overtax the poor, disregard the needy, and enjoy the fruits of other people’s labor?
5.       Verse 12 – those who profit from oppression or bribery?
6.       Verse 13 – those who create (or allow) a culture that silences the honest?

What should they do about it? What should we do about it? Verse 18 - Does decrying the present day’s wickedness as a sign of the end-times help or hinder the cause? Read verse 21-24. Why does this read like a psalm? Do we really believe God feels this strongly about our sin?

Read Amos 5:25-27. What do you make of these verses? Does it help to know the translation’s confusing and they might refer to the Israelites sacrificing to God while still hiding statues of Sukkoth in the desert, whereas now they’re openly worshipping foreign gods? What are our foreign gods?

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