Saturday, February 4, 2012

Thoughts on Amos

Piecing together the histories of lost cultures must be grueling work for archeologists and historians of antiquity. The downside to this is that, when it comes to interpreting brief Bible passages, there might not be enough external evidence to make sense of what’s being said. Recently, I returned to the prophet Amos because one passage had puzzled me during my reading last year.

Chapter 9 is a warning to the people of Israel about their destruction and subsequent restoration. When God compares the people of Israel to the other nations (9:7), the commonality appears not to be sin (as in multiple other passages) but deliverance. The reference to the Cushites might be vague, but there’s an obvious parallel among the others: God brought out Israelites from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians (or Arameans) from Kir.

If the wording was forward-looking, then the verse might be read as a prediction of what would come: all unbelieving nations turning to the Israelites’ true God. However, instead, it’s historical, reminding the Israelites not only of their own captivity and exodus but also those of known adversaries. I’m unsure what to make of this. Is Amos saying that God led other people in the same way He did the Israelites? Maybe Christians often make a poor assumption that, if Israelites are God’s “Chosen People” from whom the Messiah would come, God couldn’t have led other groups in a similar way. However, other passages in Scripture, such as those in Genesis and Judges, make it clear that there were other nations with knowledge of the true God and non-Israelites who communicated with Him. Maybe the Philistines and Arameans didn’t receive the Law or witness the Advent, but I do wonder what their missing histories would’ve told us.