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Authors: Francine Rivers

Tags: #FICTION / Christian / Historical, #FICTION / Religious

The Prophet: Amos (5 page)

BOOK: The Prophet: Amos
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But what did it all mean?

He had heard the stories from the time he was a boy, but now he found himself wondering if God really existed. Maybe the priests taught their lessons merely to exert control over the people.

“God is righteous!”

“God is just!”

“God is holy!”

Amos wanted to shout,
Then why don’t I see it in Your Temple? Why is there so little evidence of righteousness, justice, holiness among the priests who serve in Your name?

“Look around you, Amos!” his brothers would say. “See how God blesses Judah. See how He blesses us.”

Amos sneered as he strode through the city streets, heading for the Sheep Gate. What about the nations around Judah? What about Israel? They bowed down to idols and prospered even more, no longer bothering to come to Jerusalem to worship. Jeroboam’s golden calf still stood in Bethel and another in Dan, and what had God done about that? Nothing! The apostates grew richer and more powerful each year.

Amos could make no sense of it.

Lying beneath a canopy of stars, it was not difficult to believe God existed. But here, in Jerusalem—God’s holy city—the animal pens, the courts, the Temple were all putrid with the stench of sin. The priests levied fines for infractions written the day before. They laid down law after law until not even a camel could carry all their scrolls!

If You are sovereign, why doesn’t justice reign? Why are the humble crushed by the proud, the poor impoverished by the rich? Why are those who hold the power never held accountable for anything? Why don’t You keep Your word?

Tears almost blinding him, Amos pressed his way through the crowd. “Let me through! Let me out!” All he wanted was to escape, to get away from this place that filled him with such confusion and anguish. Only seven miles to walk and he would be in Tekoa.

Dusk gave way to night, but the moon lighted his way. When he reached town, he didn’t go to his house, but to the walled pasture.

Eliakim stood guard. He turned to Amos in surprise. “I didn’t expect you back for a few days.”

“I finished my business there.” He wished he never had to go back, but the Law required . . .

Amos heard a familiar bleat. He put his hand on Eliakim’s shoulder. “The Lord bless you, Eliakim.”

“And you, my lord.”

Opening the gate, Amos entered the fold. The lamb he had wounded came to him. Hunkering down, he smiled and rubbed its face. “Rest now. I’m here.”

Weary, he stretched out on the ground outside the latched gate. He put his hands behind his head and looked up at the stars. He would leave in the morning and head back out to go over his route. He needed to dig another water hole and stack more rocks for the fold on the mountain. After that, he would work in the sycamore groves to expand his grazing rights near Jericho.

The next morning, he refilled his leather scrip with grain, raisins, and almonds and set out.

And then God spoke to him, shattering all the plans Amos had made.

TWO

Amos had never heard the Voice before, but the marrow of his bones and the blood that ran in his veins recognized it. His body shook as God whispered:

I am.

The air he inhaled tingled in his lungs, as though he had been dead and now suddenly came to life. Throwing himself on his face, Amos covered his head with his hands.

Elohim. El Elyon. El Roi.

Power and majesty. Above
all gods. King of all creation.

A quickening lit Amos’s soul. He was in God’s presence, surrounded by Him, immersed in His Spirit, imbued by Him. Even as Amos tried to flatten himself on the earth, he was fully exposed. God knew everything about him, from first thought to final terror.

Adoni. Qedosh Yisrael. El Olam.

Head over all.
Holy One of Israel. Everlasting God.

Amos cried out in fear and pleaded for his life, his voice muffled against the grass-covered earth. He had fled Jerusalem in anger and despair, doubting God even existed, let alone saw or cared what happened in His Holy City. He had even cast blame upon the Lord for the sins men committed against one another. And now this! Surely God would kill him.

Yahweh Tsidkenu. Yahweh Shammah. Attiq Yomin.

Righteous God. Present always. Ancient of Days, Ruler of all, Judge of the nations.

“No more. I am a dead man.”

You live.

Amos wept, the dry heart within him fluttering and drowning in the flood of revelation.

See. Hear.

Amos felt lifted by unseen hands. He saw the Temple on Mount Zion. There was a sound like a lion’s roar, but it wasn’t like any lion Amos had ever heard as he guarded his sheep in the wilderness. This roar was filled with wrath. The sound grew louder, making the hair rise on the back of his neck and his blood go cold. Even the land felt the sound, for the ground rippled and rose and fell like a blanket shaken clean. Though people screamed and ran, they could not escape judgment.

Thunder crashed from Jerusalem, and came down like a wave filling the fields, valleys, plains. The sky turned bronze. The lush pastures of Mount Carmel withered and died. Streams dried. Water holes evaporated, their basins cracking, leaving nothing but dust. Sheep, cattle, goats lay dead, carrion birds picking at their drying carcasses. Confused, trembling with fear, Amos found himself in the midst of it; the unrelenting sun beat down on his head. Wilting to the ground, he panted like a deer thirsting for water.

And the Word came to him, blessings and curses written down generations ago, long forgotten. His mind drank in living water.

Opening his eyes, Amos found himself on his knees. Raising his head, he looked around. Everything was as it had been; the rich pasture, the water hole, his pack just where he had dropped it. Bowing his head to the ground, he sobbed in relief.

Had it been a dream? A thought turned sour in his mind? The Voice! He had not imagined the Voice. Or had he?

Weak-kneed, Amos rose and went to the stream. Hunkering down, he cupped his hands and splashed water over his face. Maybe he had a fever.

I have given you a vision of what is to come.

“But why? Why me? What good would showing a poor shepherd do? Is it in my power to change anything? No!”

Amos rubbed his eyes, wishing he could rub away the images that still flickered in his mind. He heard the echo of the lion’s roar and the screams in his head. Sinking back on his heels, he waited until his heart slowed its wild beat and his breathing calmed. On shaking legs, he went back to the water hole. Work would make him feel better. Work would fill his mind. He spent the last hours of daylight cutting and pulling reeds that might spread and choke the water hole. His sheep must have good water to drink. Cool, still waters were best, for the ripples of a stream frightened them.

The more determined he was not to think about the vision, the more his mind turned back to it. Again and again, over and over, it held his mind captive.

When the sun cast spears of color in the west, he set up his camp and sat in the doorway of his small tent. He had not eaten since early morning. Though he had little appetite, he forced himself to eat a small barley cake, a few dates, and sycamore figs.

A wolf howled.

Brush rustled close by.

Wind whispered softly. Night fell away in a blaze of light. And Amos knew. . . . “No, Lord, please . . .” He groaned as he felt hands lifting him again. Weariness fell away and his entire being awakened, absorbing everything around him.

Remember Gilead.

Horror filled him. “No, Lord. Please. I know what happened there. . . .”

He stood in the midst of people running. They screamed and scattered as the Aramean army advanced. Warriors swung their swords, making no distinction between men, women, and children. They came like sledges, scraping over the wounded, crushing them beneath their feet. The ground drank Israel’s blood.

Amos covered his face. “Stop them! Lord, stop them!” He could hear screams of terror, cries of pain, and moans of the dying. Sobbing, Amos covered his ears. A man raised his hand in a plea for mercy just as a soldier lopped his arm off, then hacked him down with glee. Amos longed to grab a sword and fight back, but he could not move. He could only see, hear, smell. . . .

Carnage, everywhere, carnage.

Ben-hadad of Damascus, King of Aram, shouted commands. “Kill the vermin! Kill them all!”

Warriors beat down the people of Gilead like stalks of wheat—cut, threshed, and blown to the wind.

When the attack ended, brutal laughter echoed across the devastated land. Ben-hadad rode over the body of a child, his fist raised in triumph, as though defying the God of heaven and earth.

Bodies bloated in the sun. Flies buzzed. Maggots squirmed. The smell of death filled Amos’s nostrils. “My people. My people . . .”

Sobbing, he dropped to his knees and wretched violently. When the wave of sickness passed, he raised his head slowly, exhausted.

All was peaceful. Above him stars shone brightly against the canopy of night.

Anger swelled. “Why didn’t You save them? They were Your people!” He raised his arms and cried out. “Why do You show me these things?”

The people of Damascus have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!

Relief flooded him, and then exultation. The Lord would avenge those who had been butchered in Gilead. Amos jumped up and spread his arms wide. “Yes, Lord, yes! Let them feel the edge of the sword.” He cried out as he saw a consuming fire come down from heaven, blackening the walls of a huge fortress, devouring the mighty gates of a great city. “Yes! Lay waste to them as they did in Gilead.” He cheered, ecstatic. “Terrify
them
! Shatter
them
like earthenware.”

Men battled in a great valley. Blades crashed, horns sounded, chariot wheels broke, spilling warriors into the fray. Horses reared and screamed, trampling their masters as the king who had threshed Gilead fell by the sword. The Aramean king lay dying, eyes staring up at heaven as he uttered a last curse against God.

Screams of pain rent the air as conquerors drove hooks through the noses of the survivors, looped ropes through the rings, tying the captives together. Amos watched the Arameans be led away like cattle, a long line of them being dragged away to Kir. “Yes, Lord! So be it. Let them reap what they have sown.”

Did you enjoy this vision, My child?

“Yes, Lord, yes!” How long had he and others longed to do unto them as they had done unto the people of Gilead?

His mind and heart drank in the vision of vengeance without thought of where it might lead, or if it was pleasing to God. Nor did he think at all about the stillness that surrounded him after he made his confession. He thought about the last vision. And thought about it. Savoring it.

Let it be soon, Lord. Let it be soon
.

Amos awakened to rain pattering softly. He lay faceup like the dead king, staring into the darkness. The cool drops soothed his burning face. The rain stopped. Amos spread his fingers against the ground and found it dry. Groaning, he sat up and felt his face. It was dry and hot.

A fever. Nothing more.

Pushing himself up, he held his head. His stomach ached with emptiness. How long had he been unconscious? How long since he had eaten? He saw his scrip where he had dropped it. Taking it up, he pinched off a piece of barley bread. After a mouthful, he retied the scrip to his sash. Parched, he went down on his hands and knees and drank like a sheep from the stream.

He wanted to get away from this place of dreams.

Grabbing his pack, his staff, and his club, he took the route toward Jericho. He would look over the pastures between here and the sycamore groves, and make certain there were no poisonous plants or . . .

His mind wandered.

He had heard stories of Jonah, who had not been able to run from God. There were stories of how the prophet had boarded a ship to Tarshish only to be tossed overboard during a storm, then swallowed by a huge fish, and finally vomited onto the beach. “Go to Nineveh,” God had told Jonah. It didn’t matter how far Jonah ran or how deep in the hull of a ship he might hide, God knew where he was and what He wanted him to do. Relentless. God is relentless. Bani said Jonah still lived outside the walled city, waiting for destruction to come.

Amos shook his head. Why did he think about that now? Rumors, probably. A story his brother had heard from traveling merchants. Nothing more.

Please let it be nothing more.

Reaching the next pasture, Amos surveyed the grasses. Walking the field, he pulled up poisonous weeds and bundled them. Stacking the bundles on rocky soil, he set them on fire. As he watched the smoke rise, he heard a whisper:

I will remove the evil from the land.

Amos pressed his hands over his ears. “It’s just the wind. The wind in the grass.” After a long moment, he drew his hands away tentatively and heard nothing but the crackling fire.

When the flames died down and only embers remained, Amos scooped dirt over them so that no sparks could float into the good grass that remained. He moved on the next morning.

Even as he tried to concentrate on work, the weeds, and water holes, his thoughts kept circling back to the Voice that came from without and within. Part of him waited for the Lord to speak again. Dreading it. Longing for it. He prayed he would hear it again and yet feared he would. When God spoke to a man, it was to send the poor fool on a mission or a long journey or to his death! His heart warred within him. Amos worked harder, faster. He forgot to eat until his stomach was gripped with pain.

He moved on again. When he reached the next pasture, he sat beneath a terebinth tree and did nothing. The sky grew dark before he got up and entered the sheepfold he had built two years before. A snake slithered hissing from the wall, startling him. Angry, he used his staff to break into its hiding place, loop it with the crook, and drop it to the ground where he killed it with his club. Even with its head crushed, the body writhed.

Moments later came the words:

I am the Lord your God.

Clutching his head, he wailed. “Why do You speak to me, Lord? I am a sinful man! I give You offerings to avoid trouble, not to praise Your Name. I despise Your priests. I can’t wait to get out of Your Holy City. I can’t stand being around Your people. I . . . I . . .”

Words of confession spilled from his lips. Doubt had consumed him since he was a boy, doubts that had grown into contempt for God’s servants. Hadn’t he thirsted for revenge after seeing his father weep over debts owed and the only manner in which he could repay them? The priests served God, didn’t they? If they represented God, then God must be to blame.

“All my life, I’ve been made part of schemes and thievery. When I wanted to do right, I caused trouble for my brothers and their families.” He saw a bigger truth now. It came to him like a lamp in a dark cave, showing the secret sins he failed to see in himself. “The trouble I caused had nothing to do with me striving for righteousness. It came from hate! I wanted to cut the bonds that held my family captive to the priests, not because they were wrong but because my pride rebelled. I have hated them. And I have hated You because of what they do in Your Name.”

Sobbing, he confessed every sin he remembered and knew there were a thousand more he wouldn’t even know.

“I am a sinful man, Lord. A sinful man deserving of death.” Eyes tightly closed, he bowed his head to the ground.

Do not fear. I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. You are Mine.

Amos waited. His muscles slowly relaxed. His stomach stopped churning. He waited a long time before he raised his head enough to see around him, and even longer yet before he dared stand. He closed his eyes in gratitude. “Holy is the Lord, and abounding in mercy.”

When he lay down again, he slept the rest of the night without dreams.

BOOK: The Prophet: Amos
3.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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