Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
Hear this word, Israel, this lament I take up concerning you:
‘Fallen is Virgin Israel,
never to rise again,
deserted in her own land,
with no one to lift her up.’
This is what the Sovereign LORD says to Israel:
‘Your city that marches out a thousand strong
will have only a hundred left;
your town that marches out a hundred strong
will have only ten left.’
This is what the LORD says to Israel:
‘Seek me and live;
do not seek Bethel,
do not go to Gilgal,
do not journey to Beersheba.
For Gilgal will surely go into exile,
and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.’
Seek the LORD and live,
or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire;
it will devour them,
and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
‘You’re going to be hit by a bus!’
Do you read that statement as a warning, or a threat? It probably depends on the context: spoken by a mother to a child who refuses to look both ways before crossing the road, it’s a warning. But spoken by an angry public transport official with a vendetta against your life, it’s probably a threat. Warnings encourage and hopefully elicit a change in behaviour, whereas threats are statements of another’s intent outside of our control.
When we read prophetic words like those in Amos 5, it’s easy to read them as threats. But throughout the Bible, prophecy is more often than not used as a warning designed to avert what is being said from ever happening: if the hearers of the prophet’s words heed the warning and do something about it (such as turning from their evil and seeking God), the crisis can be averted.
Amos 5 is seeking a response from Israel. What looks like a statement is in fact designed to get the people’s attention and elicit a response so that the thing which is spoken of won’t actually happen: ‘Seek the LORD and live or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire.’
This passage is a warning to the people of Israel, an invitation for them to change their behaviour. And God is clear with what they need to do: seek him.
Passages like this one are often hard to apply to our everyday, ordinary lives in today’s world. But a passage like this does tell us something important about God: he is responsive to our actions. This is a God who is sovereign, who can do absolutely anything, and is well within his rights to do so in response to our sin… and yet who is responsive to our actions. As scholar Walter Moberly writes in his book Prophecy and Discernment: ‘God’s sovereignty is not exercised arbitrarily, but responsibly and responsively, taking into account the moral, or immoral, actions of human beings.’
Seek him and live. This remains as true today as it was for the Israelites then, and it is in Jesus himself that we find life rather than death. As a warning, this passage is an act of love rather than an expression of arbitrary vengeance. It reflects our God – a covenant God, a God of love.
Alianore is an Associate Speaker for LICC and Church Partnerships Manager at International Justice Mission
How will you seek God on your frontline this week? Join the conversation in the comments below.