The wordplay vision and 3 do’s

The lectionary readings for this Sunday include a wordplay vision. It’s found in the first three verses of Amos 8:1-12. It’s in the similarity in sound in the Hebrew words translated “summer fruits” and “silence” in the English Standard Version (ESV).

Any student of the Bible, the Word of God, knows that there’s always mystery in communication between God and man – see for example Daniel 2:27, 45, 47.

Even the 12 men Jesus chose to be his “special friends and witnesses,” the Apostles, struggled to understand the parables he used as teaching tools (see Matthew 13:10-18).

To the audience to whom God directed his words through Amos, summer fruits were good, just like they are to us. Summer fruits, for example, figs, pomegranates, grapes, and melons are sweet and refreshing.

We give baskets of such fruits as gifts on happy occasions. Fruits signify satisfaction, completion, and enjoyment. They signified the same things for Amos and the people to whom God sent him.

But there’s dark humour in the choice of a basket of summer fruit as the vision. There was a sting in the telling of the tale of the vision. Why?

Because “summer fruit” is qayis in Hebrew, and qayis sounds like the word qes, which YHWH uses to announce that “the end” of Israel is near.

Silence, “hush!” is the only appropriate response. Why?

Because of the graphic description of the way in which the end was to come to Israel. How so?

By destruction as happens when a river floods (verse 8). It washes away everything precious, and leaves nothing but a broken, tangled mess.

The river of judgment will result in the sounds in the people’s assemblies – our churches – changing from songs of joy to songs of sorrow (verses 3, 10), for there will be dead bodies everywhere (verse 3).

Silence, “hush!” is the only appropriate response. Why?

Because the judgment is deserved. Because the merchants used false weights to cheat people (verses 5-6). Because the poor were cheated. Because the job of God is to judge (verse 7).

On Wednesday I listened to a man seeking help with an issue he’s facing. For many years since he retired as a labourer, he’s raised crops on “Temporary Occupation” land. Suddenly, he received an eviction notice.

Days later, some people came and destroyed his crops and some structures. He made a  police report. And he made inquiries.

He learned that the authority had leased the land to someone else. He suspects it’s someone well-connected, someone who used bribes to accomplish the “legal” eviction and to do the dirty deed.

That’s the story of a “small person,” a victim.

There are also stories of “large persons,” of victimizers. These are people who collect illegal “fees” from businessmen to whom they award large contracts. Many such stories have emerged in open court during the trial of Zahid Hamidi, the former Deputy Prime Minister.

The former Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak is a convicted felon. He was convicted by a High Court. His conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal. His convictions involve very large sums of money. Yet, during elections, he’s the campaign director of Umno, Malaysia’s premier political party. And he’s honoured by both royalty and commoners.

Another news story announced that 14 men arrested and charged for involvement in the serious crime of gang activities have been acquitted after they reached an agreement with the Attorney General.

And then there’s Tan Sri Apandi, the former Attorney General who declined to press charges against Najib and others in cases related to 1MDB, the world’s largest sovereign fund scandal.

It’s emerged that recently Apandi represented Malaysia in negotiations with Jho Low’s lawyers to “reach an agreement” to allow the fugitive to travel to the USA.

We sent that former Attorney General to negotiate with that fugitive! This isn’t a vision. This is a nightmare come true.

Would God be justified in punishing Malaysia, as he proposed to punish Israel? Would Amos, who – in God’s voice – railed against cases of dishonest merchants, rail about the cases of corruption and abuse of power?

Or are we already experiencing “a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (verse 11)?

Do hear the lion’s roar  (Amos 3:4,8).

Do weep before God.

Do ask Him to give boldness to the stewards of His word.

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