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Covenants and moving of nations

It’s said, “Amos was written 3000 years ago, and it speaks to issues as current as tomorrow’s newspaper.”

What disgusted the prophets back then are daily occurrences all over the world today. There is no society to which Amos’ words would not apply.

“Hear this, you who are swallowing up the needy, who intend to make the poor of the land fail, and who are saying, ‘When will the New Moon fade so we may sell grain, and the Sabbath conclude so we may market winnowed wheat?’—shortchanging the measure, raising the price, falsifying the scales by treachery, buying the poor for cash, and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling chaff mixed in with the wheat” (Amos 8:4-6 ASV).

The result being, God would remove Israel from the land. God says through Amos:

“Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith Jehovah. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?” (Amos 9:7).

A rhetorical question, asked in the context of God’s judgment on Israel’s sins. Does God not have the right to relocate the nation of Israel? It turns out, God’s done it before, not only with Israel, but with other nations as well.

The Ethiopians (aka, Cushites) were pretty far away from Israel’s perspective, yet God claims to have watched over them. God had led both “the Philistines” on their own exodus from Caphtor (consider Deuteronomy 2:23) and the “Arameans” (Syrians) on an exodus from Kir in Mesopotamia (also touched on in Amos 1:5), just as he had led Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land.

The Philistines and Syrians were Israel’s enemies, yet God had done for them what he had done for Israel. As God had relocated nations – including Israel – in the past he could justly do the same with Israel now. While the Israelites thought themselves above others – like many today who view themselves as elite and therefore above the rules – on account of their national election, they were no less accountable than any other nation. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and that applies to the chosen people, under both Old and New Covenants.

In the context of Amos, reference to the pagan nations brings Amos full circle. He had begun with oracles against pagan nations emphasizing God’s universal sovereignty in chapter one, now Amos closes with God’s sovereignty over the nations in chapter nine. Amos charges Israel with failure to keep covenant with both God and each other, and so judgment comes, God is going to move Israel out of the Promised Land.

In Israel, the effects of these changes hit both the social and religious aspects of the nation. The infidelity to the Covenant during the monarchy led to “Back to Moses” movements in the Prophets. The story of Israel was that of bondage in Egypt and being set free under Moses. The prophets and the psalmists point back to pre-conquest aspects of Israel’s life as covenantally significant. The covenant informed Israel as to how to view life in all its aspects as the people of God. Whenever the people began to forget their national story of bondage and exodus, the prophets would call them back to it.

And today? The conditions of the 1st Century may be different, but adherence to the New Covenant of Christ remains significant. What it means to be the people of God in the 1st Century informs us what it means to be the people of God in the 21st Century.

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Scott Wiley

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