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Monday, January 11, 2016

New Year Woes?

Coffee Break is restarting, and we're continuing a long-delayed study of the second half of Amos. It's kind of interesting to begin a new year with calls to woe, but perhaps it's relevant. See what you think.

(11) The Woes of Amos

Amos is a shepherd from Judea (South – faithful-ish), called to prophecy in Israel (North, unfaithful-ish). He comes from an area frequented by prophets, but not from a prophetic house (Read Amos 7:14). And he comes to fame at a time when both Judea and Israel are enjoying a period of ease after internal and external strife.
·         What might be considered modern prophetic houses?
·         Where might a modern prophet come from?
·         Is our present situation a period of ease?
·         What sort of message might we expect from God’s prophets?
·         Do we think we are hearing God’s message?

Amos’ message to Israel is more one of woe than of peace and joy.
·         Woe to those look forward to the God’s coming: Read Amos 5:18-20. The Jews of the time were not so different from the Jews of Jesus’ time, expecting worldly power from God. Do we expect God to bless our country? Do we look forward to the end-times? Why should/shouldn’t we?

·         Woe to those who think going to church will save them: Read Amos 5:21-24. The Jews had many laws, and tried hard to obey them. What law should we strive to obey? What laws does the world see Christians striving to obey? And how are justice and righteousness connected with worship?

·         Woe to those who worship foreign gods: Read Amos 5:25-27. The Jews carried their statues secretly in the desert, worshiping them more openly later. Do we still carry foreign gods with us? How openly do we worship them?

·         Woe to those who think they’re safe: Read Amos 6:1-2. The Assyrians had destroyed Calneh long ago. Hamath was conquered recently by Jeroboam of Israel. Gath was conquered by Uzziah of Judah. Does conquering enemies make us feel more or less secure? Do you suppose our enemies might have felt secure before?
·         Woe to those who put off problems till tomorrow: Read Amos 6:3-7. Can you think of present day examples where not dealing with problems leads to more trouble – nationally or personally?
·         Woe to those who are proud: Read Amos 6:8-10. Burning the bodies was normal. Nine out of ten people dying probably wasn’t. Why do you think the (probably sick) survivor is told not to mention the name of the Lord? Are we ever/should we ever be wary of speaking God’s name into man’s mess?

·         Woe to those who allow injustice: Read Amos 6:11-12, 5:24. Repeating a theme probably means it’s important. Are Christians renowned for the sweetness of their justice and the joy of their righteousness?

·         Woe to those who trust their own power: Read Amos 6:13-14. Lo Debar and Karnaim are East of the Jordan, in the land of Menasseh and Gad (2 Samuel 9:4-5). Lo Debar also means “no pasture.” Karnaim means “horns.” Both cities were probably lost earlier and reconquered by Jeroboam. Hamath was a Syrian city in the North, paying tribute to Jeroboam, but Assyria will conquer Hamath and invades Israel from there. How much trust do we place in having well-trained soldiers and advanced weaponry?

Amos goes on to reveal what he’s seen in visions.
·         Crop failure? Read Amos 7:1-3. What might ruin our crops here, today? Is seeing a vision the same as interpreting present events?

·         Natural disaster? Read Amos 7:4-6. How would Amos imagine fire devouring the land? How might we?

·         Civil disaster? Read Amos 7:7-9, 17. What is the significance of a plumb line? Read Amos 7:10-16. Do you think Amaziah thought he was doing God’s work as the king? When Amos replies, how is he passing judgement on the religious establishment? How can we know when the religious establishment is right? How did historical Christian leaders know?

·         Rot? Read Amos 8:1-3. What do you think of when you see a basket of summer fruit?

Then Amos declares the Lord’s judgment on:
·         Selfishness: Read Amos 8:4. Haven’t we heard this before? How important is care for the poor and needy in God’s eyes?

·         Greed: Read Amos 8:5-6. What sort of modern equivalents come to mind?

·         Evil deeds: Read Amos 8:7-8. What works do we wish God would forget?

Read Amos 8:9-10. What sort of natural phenomenon might Amos be describing? Is this passage more or less scary if we think it’s describing natural events rather than supernatural?

Read Amos 8:11-12. What would a thirst for God’s word look like?

Read Amos 8:13-14. What is the “sin of Samaria”? How might we “swear by the sin of Samaria”?

Amos proclaims the destruction of Israel, by outside forces and by God’s command. Read Amos 9:1-4. How willing are we to believe God will use unbelievers to punish believers?

Amos prefaces God’s words by God’s description of himself:
·         God who creates and sustains: Read Amos 9:5-6, 5:8. How do these descriptions fit the science of the time? How do you imagine God might describe himself to fit the science of today? Does trying to separate faith and science help or hinder us in conveying an image of God?

·         God who builds up nations: Read Amos 9:7. Ethiopia (Cush) is distant but once had ties to Israel. Philistia and Syria are close, frequent enemies of Israel. These people did not worship God, yet God cared for them. The Israelites were probably surprised to hear this. Might we be surprised to hear about nations guided by God?

·         God who tears down nations: Read Amos 9:8-10. Why will Israel be scattered? How will Israel be saved? Was Amos talking about Israel being scattered among the Assyrians, or something bigger?

·         God who restores: Read Amos 9:11-15. Has this already happened, or is it in the future? Is Israel’s return to the Middle East a fulfilment of prophesy or an example of human hubris, or something else entirely?

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