Today, a break from my Theology of Peanuts to share with you my bible class lesson from Sunday.
We were working through the book of Amos and reached Amos 9.7, a remarkable passage.
First, some background. Amos is prophesying against Israel, who is very smug and spiritually prideful (among other things). Consequently, Amos works to rhetorically undermine Israel's view of her own "specialness" in the eyes of Yahweh. Amos is consistently trying to chasten and humble Israel. Amos tries to say, "You're not so special. So shape up."
We see this strategy in Amos 3.9, where Amos calls two enemies of Israel to come and sit in judgment of Israel's wickedness. This move is shocking and destabilizing. We tend to see our enemies as "evil." Yet here is Amos calling the "evil ones" to sit in judgment of Israel. This ploy suggests that Israel is so morally confused that her notions of good and evil no longer correspond to reality.
But in Amos 9.7 the prophet makes his most daring move. Here is the text. God is speaking to Israel:
"Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the LORD. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?"The passage is oriented around two rhetorical questions. The first question is: "Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel?" Israel clearly wants to answer "No!" to the question: We are not the same as the Ethiopians! We are better!
But we can see how Amos is pushing for a "Yes!" answer to the first question. Such an answer undermines Israel's sense of specialness and uniqueness in relation to the nations and in the eyes of God.
The second part of the passage is another question. It has two parts. Here is the first part: "Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt?" The answer here is clearly "Yes!" But Amos goes on, linking the first part of the question with this part: "And the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?"
Notice the "and" linking the two parts of the question. Israel cannot answer "Yes!" to the first part and "No!" to the second part. Amos's rhetoric prevents that distinction.
What is Amos doing in this question? Well, the "specialness" and "uniqueness" of Israel is deeply rooted in her view of the Exodus. The Exodus is the defining moment in Israel's history. It is central to her identity. But Amos suggests that the Exodus is not special. Apparently, God has performed other Exodus events, and these for two of Israel's sworn enemies.
This is a deeply destabilizing notion. It applies the most revered verb in Israel's religious history, the Exodus verb ("to bring up"), to Israel's "evil" enemies. This suggests that God has been engaged in salvific acts that fall outside the scope of our religious narratives. God's saving history cannot be reduced to our saving history.
The title for my class and this post comes from an essay on Amos 9.7 written by Walter Brueggemann ("Exodus" in the plural (Amos 9.7) in the book Many Voices, One God.). Brueggemann writes this in his essay,
"There is to Yahweh, in this imaginative reading, an identifiable core of coherence. Yahweh's self-presentation is everywhere as an exodus God. That is who Yahweh is, and that is what Yahweh does. 'History' is a series of exodus narratives of which Israel's is one, but on the only one.
Beyond that powerful mark of coherence as a subject, everything else about Yahweh, in this brief utterance, may take many forms, so that Yahweh may be a character in Philistine history or in Syrian history, surely a treasonable shock to those in the mono-ideology that Amos subverts. Moreover, this action of Yahweh, from what we have in this utterance, did not convert these people to Yahwehism, did not require them to speak Hebrew, and did not submerge their histories as subsets of Israel's history. The liberation wrought by Yahweh left each of these peoples, so much as we know, free to live out and develop their own sense of cultural identity and of freedom. Thus it is fair to imagine that Yahweh, as the exodus God who generated the Philistines, came to be known, if at all, in Philistine modes. And Yahweh, as the exodus God who evoked the Syrians to freedom, came to be known, if at all, in Syrian modes. Beyond the coherent, pervading mark of exodus intentionality, we may as a consequence imagine that Yahweh is enormously pliable and supple as a participant in the histories of many peoples, not all of which are exact replicas of Israel's narrative of subsets of Israel's self-discernment." pp. 25-26.
"Amos resituates Israel, Yahweh and the nations by asserting that what is true concerning Yahweh cannot be contained or domesticated into Israel's favorite slogans, categories, or claims." p. 26
"If such a quality in Yahweh's life be embraced it may be that our preferred theological formulations, liturgic inclinations, and cultural assumptions may be incongruous with the oddness of Yahweh, whose liberating intentions may be allied with and attached to many forms of human life other than our own. The mono-propensities that sound most orthodox may be desperate attempts to reduce Yahweh to a safer proportion." p. 28