Two Notes on the Book of Amos

Amos is a short book of the Torah that can be easily read in an hour. It’s easy to overlook. I was pleased to read it again recently and come away struck with two small but important insights:

  1. In Amos 8, God declares a punishment to Israel. Part of this punishment is that, at a future time, God will give people a hunger for his word and he will cause people to “stagger…searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.”
    1. Christians are routinely asked about how scripture can be trusted. We routinely answer on the basis of archeology, the study of history, textual analysis, consistency of many fragments, chain of custody a la J Warner Wallace, and so on.
    2. In light of Amos we have another powerful, completely orthogonal, additional answer: Scripture’s dispersion and recovery itself is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy! The Old Testament would be less believable, not more believable, if scripture had never become scarce, hidden, or obfuscated!
    3. This finding in Amos also helps us answer important questions about the hiddenness of God and the way the Holy Spirit works in connection with the equity of salvation. It is sometimes claimed that God has unfair expectations from humans if he expects us to seek him out and find him in order to obtain salvation or other goods. On the other hand, if God instills in us a desire to seek him out at some point in our lives, we can see this hiddenness might be counterbalanced by such instilled desire. There are many other ways to deal with the so-called problem of hiddenness, but this reason adds cumulatively to the explanation.
  2. Amos 2 is yet another incredibly clear crystallization of God’s righteous wrath in my view. God is very clearly taking personal, causal, direction ownership of the destruction of Moab in this case, and it is very clearly justified as due to their offensive and dire sins in the sight of God, not some random outburst of unjustified anger or tyranny.
    1. Christians sometimes try to portray God in a pacifistic light, which the New Testament makes rather easy, but the Old Testament makes rather difficult. Other times Christians and Jews are attacked for having an arbitrary, tyrannical, needlessly destructive and malevolent God. I think the Book of Amos is yet another reference, conveniently small in size, to rebut this critique. God is reasonably angry here, takes direct steps to destroy an offending institution, he strategically preserves a portion of Israel, then afterwards he restores Israel in both headcount and in mission through the recovery of scripture that he had made scarce for a while.
    2. “You don’t know what you got until it’s gone” seems to be true for the ancient Israelites as much as it is true for any modern people. It’s hardly clear that God inflicted pain out of pure retribution in contrast to a constructive reminder or even some hybrid like constructive retribution. Improving the course of an entire nation is hardly trivial. It may well be the case that the degree of pain God inflicted is the exact minimum level required to restore the course of Israel.
    3. It’s interesting to note here that God’s punishment is not merely in terms of the death of humans. He breaks institutions and even removes the spiritual mission as part of this punishment. I think it’s fair to say that we have a spiritual offense met with a spiritual punishment here, and it’s extremely consistent with the Judeo-Christian story that a spiritual punishment is inextricably linked to a physical punishment.
    4. Dennis Prager, a well-known conservative American jew, recently discussed the Exodus with Jordan Peterson. Prager isn’t a theologian nor representative of all Jews, but some of his remarks are consistent with my notes on Amos 2 and may highlight the difference between a Jewish and a Christian mindset. I’m arguing that this is another vector of Christian improvement or progress over Judaism here, not some sort of contradiction or problem wherein Christianity claims to be a false heir of Judaism. The conversation included a bit like the below (p.s. as for a citation, the conversation is behind a paywall. Here’s a link to a free section of the conversation which does not include the quotes but it will indicate which conversation I’m referring to and summarizing, not quoting verbatim):
      1. Prager: “Yes, I want the bad guys to be defeated!”
      2. Jordan: “Wouldn’t you want them to change their ways and their mind first? Wouldn’t that be better?”
      3. Prager: “That’s such a Christian question.”


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