Amos – Chapter 5 Imperatives
Maybe I’ve said this before, but I when I write about the Bible it seems like I have two goals constantly before me. One goal is to share with my reader what I have learned as I’ve studied a particular passage. A second goal is to share with my reader particular methodologies for how to study the Bible. I don’t know that my propensity to share how to study the Bible is intentional, it just seems to never depart my thinking. I believe this is because when I was introduced to a consistent methodology for studying the scriptures my entire world turned upside down, or should I say was suddenly turned right side up??
I will forever be grateful to Dr. Jon Hanson for his Northern Plains Biblical Seminary Bible school class (actually more than one class) in Biblical interpretation. Previous to Dr. Hanson’s class I was always told to read the scriptures prayerfully (good advice), and rely on the Holy Spirit (bad advice) to reveal the meaning. The Holy Spirit does not “reveal meaning”, He illuminates truth. I was taught to ask “what does this passage mean to you”?
Attempting to follow this advice I lived in a state of constant confusion. How could I be reading and praying about a passage and come to a completely different conclusion than others reading and praying about the same passage? I wondered “can the same scripture legitimately mean two different things to two different people”? What if the two conclusions contradict one another? How would we determine who is right about the passage and who is wrong?
Let me summarize Dr. Hanson’s class in a few short sentences. I remember the letters OIA. Observation – bombard the text with questions, notice all there is to see in the passage. Interpretation – only after you’ve exhausted observations and answered the questions can you hope to correctly interpret the author’s original message. Application – the truth you discovered in the interpretation step can be applied variously so how can I best apply it to my life? Of course overshadowing the whole process is the concept of context, context, context. If you pull scripture out of context you will almost surely misinterpret it.
OIA is the skeletal structure that you can use as starting point to flesh out the consistent methodology. Things like Historical context, cultural context, literary context, word studies, and more, should be considered every time with every passage. Use the five “W” questions, What, When, Where, Why, Who.
The Observational task I’d like to call to the forefront today is ask the question, “are there any imperatives [commands] in the text”?
When we study a given passage of scripture we are constantly zooming in to notice detail, then back out again to keep it in context and see the bigger picture. You might say noticing the imperatives in a passage is akin to zooming in and taking a microscopic peer into the intricacies of the passage.
It would be interesting to make note of all of the imperatives in the entire book of Amos. However, because of the brevity of this venue, we will only extract the imperatives in chapter five for our consideration.
|Hear this word which I take up against you
|Seek Me and live
|But do not seek Bethel
Nor enter Gilgal
Nor pass over to Beersheba
|Seek the LORD and live
|Seek good and not evil
|Hate evil, love good
Establish justice in the gate
|Take away from Me the noise of your songs
|But let justice run down like water
In the 8 verses I’ve identified in the chart above, you can clearly see the imperatives are designed to call the Nation to repentance which is intermixed with their pronouncement of punishment in this fifth chapter of Amos.
Number 1. Interestingly, we find the first imperative in the introduction to the chapter (Amos 5:1). You can think of the commandment “hear this word” as stop what you are doing and pay attention to this judgement I am about to proclaim against you!
Number 2. “Seek Me”, seek who? Seek God. Don’t miss the second imperative in verse four, which is live. Here live is a commandment only made possible if you do step one, “Seek Me [God]”.
Number 3. There are three imperatives, all negative, in other words “do not do”. The Nation is being told not to seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, and do not go to Beersheba. Your salvation is not in found in a place, but rather in a person.
Number 4. Seek who? This imperative is a little more specific than the previous commandment to seek. Not just God, but the LORD, the covenant God Yahweh is whom you must seek.
Number 5. You’ve been looking for evil, don’t seek evil, “Seek good”.
Number 6. “Hate evil, love good”. That’s exactly the opposite of what they were currently doing. They actively avoided good and chased hard after evil. If they obey this commandment they will be demonstrating the very definition of the word repentance. Make a 180 degree turn and go in the opposite direction. Establish justice in the gate, or for the whole community. The gate is where legal matters were heard and decided. The system had been corrupted. Judges ruled in favor of those who could line their pockets, but now it was time to “drain the swamp” as it were and “establish justice”.
Number 7. Stop feigning worship through song. It’s not ok to live like the devil Monday through Saturday and think God will be pleased with your worship on Sunday.
Number 8. “But let justice run down like water…”, this is simply a commandment to allow justice. They have been active enemies of justice, but now they are being commanded to allow it, not passively but actively. You might say it this way, “you see to it that justice flows just as naturally as water runs down”.
We have taken a microscopic approach to chapter five. I will trust you to zoom back out and put what we’ve examined back into context, but I want to at very least point out that imperatives seven and eight are interconnected with the conjunction “but”.
23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs,
For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.
24 But let justice run down like water,
And righteousness like a mighty stream.
Considering these two verses together it would seem God is more pleased with their (and our) efforts to cultivate an environment of justice and righteousness than He is with empty ritualistic forms of worship.
The imperatives in Amos chapter five seem to me to be timeless in nature and applicable in our lives today. Are there areas in my life and yours where God would demand repentance?
All Scripture quotations from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.