Minor Prophets: God upon the Altar


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 9 concludes the Book of Amos, beginning with the austere Judgment of God and finishing with the prophecy of halcyon days to come.


Amos’ fifth and final vision was not introduced as the first four were. There was no symbolism here, no Sensurround experience. This was reality.

And in this vision alone, Amos saw Almighty God.

As Amos faced the people, taking on the pose of an oracle, opening his mouth to become the voice of YHWH Elohim, he spoke the only sentence in which he was at all involved,


I saw the Lord standing beside [or on] the altar, and he said . . .

Amos 1:9 (NRSV)

God was by the altar, or perhaps more accurately—if more astonishingly—upon the altar.

The altar was where the sacrifices for expiation were made, where mercy and forgiveness would be found. But on this Day of Judgement, the offer of grace was ended, the temple destroyed, the foundation shattered, and every idolater, whether hiding in the mountains or the sea, whether scattered in other nations, whether even already in the grave would be judged by God.  


The Lord, God of hosts,
he who touches the earth and it melts,
    and all who live in it mourn,
and all of it rises like the Nile,
    and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt;
who builds his upper chambers in the heavens,
    and founds his vault upon the earth;
who calls for the waters of the sea,
    and pours them out upon the surface of the earth—
the Lord is his name.

Amos 9:5-6 (NRSV)

God created the whole earth and everything in it, the universe is God’s, as are all the people. It is the Lord’s right to sustain God’s creation by God’s word, and to judge it for unrighteousness. As surely as the Lord had “called for the waters of the sea” and “poured them out on the surface of the earth” in the great Judgment of the Flood, so this very God would now judge Israel, whose sins had reached their fullness.

What did Amos think, when he saw God upon the altar?

Did he understand what he was seeing?

Did he know he was seeing Christ?

That the sins of the world would be both judged and forgiven inside the body of the crucified Savior?

Whether he discerned the profound nature of this one sentence—what he actually saw—it was Amos’ calling and anointing to deliver the vision, whole-cloth, to the people. And this vision was largely auditory. The sonorous voice of God, in long heavy waves, rolled from Amos’ mouth as he spoke the words of the Lord.

These were the final, inexorable, castigation of the people. Now would these tribes be scattered, these peoples dispersed, and never again would Israel be the same.


Imagine the full sweep of emotion as Amos stood on the steps of Bethel’s magnificent temple, the priests in their fine raiment sweeping up and down the grand stairway, their robes fluttering and catching the sun with the glitter of jewels and fine gold. The marble of Bethel’s broad buttresses gleaming white, sparkling with tiny pieces of mica.

The people bone weary of Amos’ invectives and angry judgement, yet held in the grip of the powerful voice that seemed to emanate from his entire body. The description of Almighty YHWH Elohim, so powerful that by God’s word the earth bucked and heaved up great rivers and seas of water to flood the land, with a rule so vast and all-encompassing the heavens and the earth, even the grave, must release their inhabitants by God’s command. A judgement so awful, so final, that not one would escape it.

Then, completely unexpectedly, out of the prophet’s mouth came a small note of hope, perhaps not for them, but at least for a remnant.


“—except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,”

says the Lord.

God, as spoken through Amos 9:8 (NRSV

Though the Lord would shake the nations through the sieve of God’s wrath, there would be pebbles left in the sieve. In fact, not one of those pebbles would slip through the Lord’s grasp. Who were those pebbles?

Amos prophesied of a day when the throne of David would be re-established—and it was, but in a way no one expected. You and I know this to be the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, begun the day he was baptized in the river Jordan, and anointed by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

Israel would be planted once more in the promised land, never again to be uprooted. The land would be filled with fruit and new wine, a metaphor not only of plenty, but of God’s provision, and of the richness of God’s Spirit, flowing out to and from within all of God’s people. 


“The time is surely coming,” says the Lord,
    

“when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
    and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;

the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and all the hills shall flow with it.

“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;

they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

“I will plant them upon their land,
    and they shall never again be plucked up
    out of the land that I have given them,”

says the Lord your God.

God, as spoken through Amos 9:13-15 (NRSV)

All people, from all nations, who bear God’s name will be restored.

God both judges sin and restores God’s people

God’s justice was going to roll down because of unrepentant sin, but the Lord’s last word to God’s people was about a hope for the future.

Some day you and I are going to know what it is like to live in a place where there is only justice, only righteousness, where the benevolence of God will be received and enjoyed by all. 

As we look forward to that day, God calls us to bring justice and righteousness into the society we live in right now,

like salt to preserve the good, and to disinfect the bad,

like light to illuminate the truth and expose what is wrong. 

To seek good and live.


[God Upon the Altar | Pikrepo.com]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s