Sunday, May 11, 2008

not a good Mother's Day Bible verse

My lesson this morning covered Amos 4:1 - 5:17.

Ironically, it was Mother's Day when I got to open by leading a discussion of 4:1...

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, "Bring us some drinks!"

Here, Amos is comparing the upper-class women of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) to Canaan's best breed of cattle-- a combination of ironic flattery and thick insult!

A small thing: the Hebrew term for "husbands" used here is typically translated "master" or lord"-- indicating, again with tremendous irony, who's really in charge!

The big picture-- with applications to today: the pairing of opulence with stark poverty, and in particular, the oppression of the poor by the wealthy. We see all sorts of economic injustice today-- the sort of stuff that drives me nuts, but rarely gets much air-time.

Let me give you one contemporary example: our ethanol policy subsidizes wealthy farmers, increasing taxes and driving up food prices. The latter is especially harmful to the poor (who devote a higher proportion of their budgets to food)-- and beyond that, as we've seen with recent events, especially the poor across the world.

Amos continues in verses 4-5 with ripe sarcasm:

Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings— boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do," declares the Sovereign LORD.

Here, Amos is empowered by the Lord to rip the Israelites for their religious practices-- their motives for engaging in them and the incongruence with the rest of their lives. God wanted relationship over ritual and obedience over peer pressure to engage in religion.

Skipping to chapter 5, Amos uses a common literary device from the Hebrew language: a "chiastic" structure that uses "bookends" to emphasize what's in the middle. For example, 5:1-3 books-ends with 5:16-17 in talking about Israel's lament and God's judgment; 5:4-6 book-ends with 5:14-15 in calling individuals to repentance; the middle section in 5:7-13 is a list of specific sins and injustices. The middle of the middle-- and thus, the key point? 5:8-9's parenthetical reference to the sovereignty of God-- the motive for that repentance and the reason for the Judgment.

Such literary devices are inherently interesting and useful for better understanding the Bible. Beyond that, they put the lie to claims (and accusations) that Christians read the Bible "literally". I also find such things inspiring-- in that they underline the beauty of the Bible. Like Creation and the people God has made, the Word of God is an intricate and lovely creation on its own terms.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home