“Anyone who speaks a word against this son of Adam will be forgiven; but for he who slanders the Holy Spirit there will be no forgiveness.”
Thus 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 shall never again pass by them.
The songs of the Temple shall become wailings
in that day, says the Lord God.
The dead bodies shall be many;
in every place they shall be
cast out in silence.
Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
and bring the poor of the land to an end–
saying “When will the new moon be over
that we may sell grain;
and the Sabbath,
that we may offer wheat for sale?
“That we may make the ephah small
and the shekel great
and deal deceitfully with false balances?
“That we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and sell the refuse of the wheat?”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
“Surely I will never forget any of their deeds!”
Shall not the land tremble on that account,
and everyone mourn who dwells in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about, and sink again
like the Nile of Egypt?
Many people set out to “read the [Christian] Bible,” to “start at the beginning, go on to the end, then stop.” I’ve almost made it, a few times, though Paul usually defeats me!
Anyway, there’s this rough chronological order through most of these books… getting confusing when one reaches the prophets (whose material was, if I have this right, arranged in “longest first” order– not chronological– as a way of conserving space on long, expensive, scrolls.)
But most of the time there seems to be a clear story line… There are non sequiturs, loose ends, a multitude of unfamiliar names– But one’s mind works through this material, assuming that one big series of things has happened, and that what we’re reading is a somewhat bewildering account of it.
It isn’t there!
What is there… is something more like William Burroughs’ old literary cut-ups. Several texts (including oral works) that went through a blender. Some places, you think you’ve got one story with discrepancies… and it turns out to be a mixture of two or more.
It’s a lot like what Christians have done with the nativity and resurrection stories from the Gospels: One takes a little from Matthew and a little from Luke… and one gets one story with angels, shepherds, visiting Persian astrologers and an urgent flight to Egypt followed by a massacre of all the children of Bethlehem– plus a leisurely trip directly to Jerusalem & on to Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph either eventually settled down, or had been residents all along. Given two stories, both considered sacred, both differing greatly on details like where the parents lived, why they were in Bethlehem, what happened there and what they did afterwards, we mentally construct a history containing an impossible mixture of both. People have written & performed such composites many many times, never seeing any contradiction until they find some reason to carefully compare details.
Even then, if they tend to believe that both stories are “The Word of God,” must necessarily be error-free, etc… they are likely to construct a really elaborate story that “explains” the contradictions–something only a Believer could find plausible.
Every week, I and a few friends have been reading our way through some pretty cogent analysis of Biblical stories, and everywhere we find: 1) The same things keep happening to the same people in different places, or to different people (as you’ve no doubt noticed) in a manner that strongly suggests that the tellers have recycled traditional stories more than once, filling in the blanks as needed. 2) The customs taken for granted in these stories are space-alien weird much of the time, when they aren’t just savage and ugly. 3) What looks like simple redundancy is often the alternation of two or more accounts of one incident, each account reflecting the tribal patriotism or institutional politics of a different group. 4) Comparison with archeological finds, mythologies & records from neighboring peoples (written on more durable materials) shows up much of what was supposed to be Biblical history as legendary at best. The Exodus goes through places that didn’t exist at the time, as if we told stories of General Washington fighting the British at Hollywood. Signs (that ought to be there) of an immense multitude traveling from Egypt to Israel… aren’t there. We have one tribe (the Levites) with Egyptian names; the other tribes seem to have adopted and improved that tribe’s history when they formed a loose alliance against Egyptian domination of Palestine. No doubt those Levites had some miraculous good fortune in the course of their escape… and to that extent, what we read in Exodus is faithful to the meaning they saw in those events. But it’s all stories-about, not factual accounts.
So. Why have people throughout subsequent history– read this highly inaccurate book to find out what God is like, what God is doing with the world, what God wants of us?
Should we, can we still, read it for those purposes?
I believe we can, but it isn’t the blithe and simple enterprise we’ve been told.
“I tell you this: everyone who acknowledges me before men, this son of Adam will acknowledge before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.”
Then Amaziah, the Priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam King of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, ”Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’ “
And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go! Flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophecy there. But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the King’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom!”
Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees. And the Lord took me from following the flock; and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel!’
“Now therefore hear the word of the Lord:
You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel
and do not preach against the house of Isaac,’
Therefore thus says the Lord:
‘Your wife shall be a harlot in the city
and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword
and your land shall be parceled out by line.
You yourself shall die in an unclean land
and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’ “
“Are not sparrows five for twopence? And yet not one of them is overlooked by God. More than that: Even the hairs of your head have all been counted!
“Have no fear; you are worth more than any number of sparrows.”
Thus the Lord God showed me:
Behold, He was forming locusts in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth;
and lo, it was the latter growth after the King’s mowings.
When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said:
“Oh Lord God! Forgive, I beseech Thee!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
The Lord repented, concerning this.
“It shall not be,” said the Lord.
Thus the Lord God showed me:
Behold, the Lord God was calling for a judgment by fire;
and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land.
Then I said:
“Oh Lord God! Cease, I beseech Thee!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!
The Lord repented concerning this.
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord God.
He showed me:
Behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line,
with a plumb line in his hand.
And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”
And I said, “A plumb line.”
Then the Lord said:
Behold, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass by them.
The high places of Isaac shall be made desolate
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste
and I will rise against the house of Jereboam with the sword.
“To you who are my friends, I say, “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing they can do. I will warn you whom to fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into Hell. Believe me, He is the one to respect!”
Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory,
and stretch themselves upon their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the midst of the stall;
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
and like David, invent for themselves instruments of music–
who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.
Therefore they shall now be the first of those to go into exile;
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away.
The Lord God has sworn by Himself
(says the Lord, the God of Hosts):
I abhor the pride of Jacob,
and hate his strongholds;
I will deliver up the city
and all that is in it.
And if ten men remain in the city, they shall die. And when a man’s kinsman, who makes a pyre for him, shall take him up to bring his bones out of the house, and says to someone in the innermost parts of the house, “Is there anyone still with you?”– He shall be answered, “No!” and told: “Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord!”
For behold, the Lord commands:
and the great House shall be smitten into fragments,
the little house into bits.
Do horses run upon rocks?
Does one plow the sea with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood–
You who rejoice in worthless things,
who say, “Have we not by our own strength
taken Karnaim for ourselves?”
For “Behold, I shall raise up against you a nation,
oh house of Israel,” says the Lord, the God of Hosts,
“And they shall oppress you from the entrance of Hamath
to the Brook of the Arabah.”
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, packed so close that they were treading on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees– I mean their hypocrisy.
“There is nothing covered up that will not be uncovered, nothing hidden that will not be made known. You may take it, then, that everything you have said in the dark will be heard in broad daylight; and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the house-tops.”