I don’t know about you, but I’m a little jaundiced about earthquakes. I grew up in Northern California. Earthquakes were…normal isn’t the word…to be expected. So much so, that the first earthquake my wife experiences was in the middle of the night. She woke me up in a panic, “Was that an earthquake!?” “Yes,” I responded sleepily and went back to sleep. The biggest earthquake I experienced was the Loma Prieta one. It was big. Things fell off shelves, but it was just an earthquake. Finally, my mom convinced me to turn on the radio. Then I figured it out. It was big.
The coming earthquake in Amos was big. Unlike us who have a larger grasp of earthquakes and their reasons, ancient peoples had no such framework. Earthquakes were generational memories (and they didn’t live on the Rim of Fire, either). An earthquake was a momentous, God-sized event. According to scholars, the earthquake predicted in Amos happened around 2 years later and is mentioned in literature elsewhere in the region. The earthquake leveled a temple dedicated to gods other than God.
The Israelites by this point were the 10 tribes of Israel that had separated from Judah and Benjamin. They had developed their own worship. While maintaining some concept of their original identity, during this particular era, they were a power of their own. The lowly southern tribes were nothing to them.
Many years before near Bethel, a man had a dream. He dreamed of a “ladder of angels.” He had received a vision from God and a promise of descendants. He called the place Bethel. God called the man Israel (granted, that happened later). Where Jacob had the vision and received a promise to become a father of nations, now his descendants turned away from God. The dream was broken.
The vision (that came true) of the destruction of the temple at Bethel sounds pretty severe. It was. That Amos’ call was to this nation showed that God was not truly done with Israel. God still wanted these descendants of Israel and Abraham. Abandoning of the dream, the covenant, and the hope.
Paul was no Amos. For the Jews, he was something far worse. He destined change within the confines of their faith. Paul had no plan to be part of some new religion, but to be part of the ultimate fulfillment of the faith in which he was raised and trained. Planning an assassination is the move of people who do not wish to be seen, or fear the strength of someone stronger (the Roman empire). The sad truth is that, yet again, the religious leaders were knowingly allowing, abetting, and therefore approving the murder of another. They could claim that they did not murder (and be truthful), but they could have stopped it. They chose not to.
Whether Amos or Paul, speaking the words of God to people who don’t want to hear them (especially those that say they believe in the word of God) can be dangerous. Our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world deal with that very issue on a daily basis. While we dispute the (un)righteousness of a political party, president, or even nation, there are people that truly suffer for Jesus. This is not to say that our woes are minor, it is just a matter of perspective.
- What “earthquakes” (life shattering events) have you experienced? These can be both good and bad.
- Why do “bad things” happen to believing people? What makes Amos’ Israelites similar to the church (Christians)? What makes them different (besides Jesus)?
- What actions (or inactions) have you committed (or omitted) that resembles the religious leaders who countenanced Paul’s assassination?
God, you move mountains. Often it is easier to move mountains than the hearts of humanity. Forgive our hearts of stone. Give us, day by day, new hearts that beat only for you. Amen.