Minor Prophets: Basket of Summer Fruit


Amos has been connected to the sheep: he was a shepherd by trade, who had a tremendous concern for the downtrodden, and was called by God to become a prophet.

In Chapters 8-9, Amos testified that God’s destruction of Israel would not be total or permanent, allowing a small note of hope. Chapter 8 depicts the fourth vision God gave to Amos.


Though it was early in the morning, the sun had fully risen, with long rays reaching across the sleeping town. Amos woke naturally, the light streaming into his room soft and golden. He lay there a while, watching the dust dance in the beam, listening to the birdsong, and the soft scratching in the courtyard as women started to pull out bread, olive oil, and raisins for the household’s breakfast. Soon, they would lift their water jars and head for the well.

As he lifted himself to his elbow, Amos became aware of the straw mat’s musty smell. That would want changing soon. He felt for his sandals and lifted himself to put them on. Something about this day felt good, he thought. For no particular reason, his spirits had lifted, and he breathed a prayer to Almighty God, thank You Lord, Creator of the heavens and of the earth, for giving us breath, and a new day to breathe in.

At this, Amos drew in a long sweet draught of early summer air, filling his lungs to capacity, then exhaled slowly through pursed lips. I breath out yesterday’s sorrows, he thought. I breathe in the Lord’s good gift of life today.

As he let his breath out, he began to feel light-headed, and put a hand out to steady himself. The room swirled, his head swam, he could not tell where the floor was, or where “up” was, for that matter. He hung his head down, shaking it as though to shake off the vertigo. By the time he lifted his head up, the room had filled with mist and the fragrance of fruit trees. He saw, as through a shimmering veil, a hive hanging from the branches of a pomegranate tree in full bloom, and heard the bees’ gentle hum. He could feel his taste buds spurt at the thought of honey dripping over his morning barley loaf.

As he watched, it was as though clouds scudded across the sky, day after day flew past in quick succession, flower petals fell, fruit formed and ripened, a basket appeared, and began to fill with great plump bunches of burgundy and glistening green grapes, dates and figs, and crimson pomegranates. He could feel his hunger knotting and grinding in his stomach as his mouth watered.

But the clouds continued to cast fleeting shadows, the sun rose and fell, rose and fell, and before he could reach for the basket, the fruit began to darken, their sweet scent become cloying.

YHWH’s voice rose up as though from within, so deep it loosened his joints, vibrating with power. Amos, what do you see?

Amos trembled as he answered, a basket of summer fruit.

Though he had spoken, the air had swallowed all sound, and his ears were deafened by the pressure of God’s gravity.

YHWH spoke once more. The end has come upon my people Israel.

Amos passed a shuddering hand over his face, wiping sweat away, and raked his fingers through his hair, tugging hard to relieve some of the pressure inside his skull. Hot tears sprung up and stung his eyes. Bile rose up inside his throat, he could taste its sourness, his stomach heaved, the fulsome air grew heavier.

I will never again pass them by. God’s voice was ponderous with mourning. The songs in the temple shall become wailings in that day.

Amos’ inner ears could hear their thunderous shrieks of grief and horror, he closed his eyes against the wall of anguish. Bereaved ululations filled with heartache swelled within his chest, stretching his ribcage, it seemed, beyond capacity. His own heart broke, though still there was no sound.

Like waves of leaden despondency, the Lord’s voice rose above the wailings. The dead bodies shall be many, said God. Cast out in every place.

Amos thought he might retch, even in the presence of Almighty YHWH Elohim. The fetor of rotting flesh had become so thick he could barely breathe. Choking, gagging, his eyes and nose running, Amos reached for his blanket, and pressed it to his mouth. When Amos felt sure the wave of nausea had truly passed, he parted his lips as though to intercede for God’s people, as he had done before.

BE SILENT.

The full force of God’s utterance thrust Amos back against the wall behind his bed. Then the vision was gone. Just like that. Amos collapsed onto his mat, no longer listening to the morning, nor drawing in the summer air.[1]


It was Amos’ fourth vision, introduced by the phrase “This is what the Lord God showed me,” as had been written in Amos 7:1, 4, and 7. In the vision, Amos saw a basket of summer fruit, fully ripe. But the word for “summer fruit” in Hebrew, “kaitz,” is very like the Hebrew word “ketz” which sounds like the word for “end.” 

Layered with meaning, God was showing Amos Israel was ripe in her sins and the end was come.

The first layer of meaning is straightforward. Ripe fruit, when it is plucked from the tree, is cut off. For the harvester, the ripened fruit is a lovely blessing, but for the fruit itself, to be harvested means its time on the tree will come to an end.


This motif also shows up in both Joel’s and Jeremiah’s work,

Put in the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
    for the wine press is full.
The vats overflow,
    for their wickedness is great.

Joel 3:13 (NRSV)

One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten.

And the Lord said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.

But thus says the Lord: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who live in the land of Egypt.

I will make them a horror, an evil thing, to all the kingdoms of the earth—a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them.

And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they are utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their ancestors.

Jeremiah 24:2-3, 8-10 (NRSV)

The deeper layer is found in Israel’s distant past, when God revealed to Abraham all that would come to pass over the next four hundred years. Abraham’s offspring would end up in Egypt for a long sojourn. They would experience enslavement, despair, great suffering, yet finally redemption. God would bring them back to Canaan, to the land God had first shown to Abraham.

But why? Why this long and torturous circuit?

Because, God explained, “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

The time had not yet ripened, for the fullness of the Amorites’ sin would need to come to pass. Until then, God would not take the land from them.

It was a principle God would return to, from time to time. The Lord’s mercy was sure, and the Lord’s compassion guaranteed. However, there would be an endpoint to God’s patience, a truth God made clear from the beginning, saying,


The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty.

Exodus 34:6-7 (NRSV)

In 735 B.C., a few years after Amos delivered these prophecies, the events he had foretold began to take place. First Damascus was attacked and totally destroyed by Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria. In 721 B.C. Sargon, King of Assyria overran and deported Samaria. 

But the most eerie of Amos’ prophecies would not come to pass for another four hundred years.


The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
    when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
    

but of hearing the words of the Lord.

They shall wander from sea to sea,
    and from north to east;

they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
    but they shall not find it.

In that day the beautiful young women and the young men

    shall faint for thirst.

Amos 8:11-13 (NRSV)

For though some of Jewish descent would eventually return to the land, Samaria would not hear again from the Lord until a woman drawing water from Jacob’s well would be offered Living Water from the Messiah himself. The Lord had returned to God’s thirsting people, in fulfillment of Amos’ ancient prophecy.


[1] The words of God are quoted from Amos 8:1-3 (NRSV)


[Basket of Fruit | Pixabay.com]

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