Hear this word that the Lord has spoken concerning you, O children of Israel, concerning the entire clan which I brought up from Egypt, saying: “You alone have I chosen from all the families of the earth, therefore I will visit upon you the fruit of all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:1–2)
Upside down. That was my position as I went over a cliff on a mountain bike one summer in Devil’s Den State Park in northwest Arkansas.
It reminded me of the time I was upside down on a zip line at Camp Lutherhoma in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. And these experiences remind me of the day I was grammatically, linguistically, and morphologically upside down when I first heard the phrase, “Niphal participle.” (Here substitute your own upside down moments; e.g., on a trampoline, while water or snow skiing, body-boarding, surfing, trying to learn Greek, on an amusement park ride, and the like).
Upside down. You know the feeling—on a roller coaster, connected to a bungee cord, or trying to raise teenagers!
Amos certainly knew the feeling, because God’s program in his book is to capsize, invert, overturn, and upend everything.
An example of the prophet’s inversion is in Amos 1:3–2:16, which consists of a series of oracles against nations. Whether in a warfare, public lamentation, court, or worship setting, oracles against nations always boded well for Israel—before Amos. For example, in 1 Samuel 15:2–3 and 1 Kings 20:26–30, the prophetic proclamation against the enemy is matched with a specific promise of victory for Israel. Amos inverts this genre and adapts it for his own purpose to make a stinging accusation against Israel’s elite.
From Amos 1:3 through 2:5, the prophet’s audience, in all likelihood, cheered and applauded after each neighboring nation was condemned. “Great preacher, this Amos,” was the mantra of the moment. The sermon builds to a climax as three, four, five nations are placed under divine fire. With the judgment pointing to Judah (Amos 2:4–5), the number reaches seven. The people could then safely assume that the sermon had ended and go home saying, “All is well that ends well!” It was probably time for the Aaronic benediction (Numbers 6:22–27), a general dismissal, and then the normal post-service discussion about the weather and events of the week. But Amos was not done preaching. The Lion was still roaring (cf. Amos 1:2; 3:8; 5:19). God’s wrath was about to fall upon Israel.
The oracle against Israel (Amos 2:6–16) came as a shocking surprise. There are seven oracles, beginning with Damascus (1:3–5) and ending with Judah (2:4–5). Seven is a number commonly used in the Bible to denote completeness, making an eighth oracle unexpected. Little did the Israelite audience (presumably at Bethel) know that the prophet’s analysis of the crimes of the nations was in reality a noose that was getting ready to tighten around its neck!
The first seven oracles were small sparks of fire when compared to the mighty blaze that fell upon the leadership of the Northern Kingdom. Amos upsets the equilibrium of those in his audience who were embracing the belief, “Come weal, come woe; our status is quo.”
The prophet lived and preached in such a way that the monarchy, the temple, the covenants, the land, and the state were all turned inside out and upside down.
One of Amos’s most unsettling statements comes in 3:1–2. He begins this section with the words, “Hear this word that the Lord has spoken concerning you, O children of Israel, concerning the entire clan which I brought up from Egypt, saying. . . . ” The prophet’s audience might have concluded that the exodus was a sign of God’s ongoing and eternal favor (e.g., Numbers 24:8; Judges 6:13; 1 Kings 8:51–51); it forever guaranteed Israel’s “favored nation status” before the Lord.
In the next verse, however, Amos flatly contradicts these expectations. He quotes God as saying, “You alone have I known from all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you the fruit of all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). Just as Amos shocked his unwary audience with the Israel oracle (2:6–16), so again he overturns expectations by using Gospel events to announce Law.
A few years ago a scientist did an experiment where he made cocaine available to monkeys. They would pull a lever, and a feeding tray would give them a hit of cocaine. Soon the monkeys got addicted to the cocaine. These were happy monkeys! But then the scientist began to hold the next fix. How many consecutive times do you think the average monkey would pull that lever to get the next fix? 12,800 times. Over and over and over and over again, “Gotta have it, gotta have it, gotta have it!”
In like manner, we are addicted to sin. Gossip, anger, worry, laziness, excuses selfishness. You name it; it has us. Over and over and over and over again we scream, “Gotta have it, gotta have it, gotta have it!”
God, therefore, also says this to us. “You alone have I known from all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you the fruit of all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2).
Thank God that he does not leave us with Amos. There is another prophet in Israel who was more than a prophet, and because of Him, we have hope despite our willful rebellion. Paul says this about Jesus, “Being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing” (Philippians 2:6–7). Luther waxes eloquent: “His royal pow’r disguised He bore; A servant’s form, like mine, He wore” (LSB 556:6). Paul continues, “He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Even the best Manhattan advertising agencies would be hard pressed for a catchy jingle. “Lose it all. Imagine the possibilities!”
Talk about upside down!
Omnipotent. The owner of all things, He says, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). The King of kings, He becomes a slave. The Creator, He is spit on by His creatures. The source of truth, He is found guilty of a lie. The source of light, for three hours He hangs in the darkness. The source of life, He is crucified, dead, and buried. Jesus went from the pinnacle of praise in the universe to the ultimate absolute nothing. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him; nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2).
As the Lord of Inversion, He chose fishermen instead of Pharisees, sinners instead of Sadducees, and whores instead of Herodians. Jesus chose thorns for His crown instead of silver and gold, and spit and blood instead of sweetness and light. His choices led to torment and torture and darkness and death. Jesus experienced all the judgment of the Father, for all the sins of the world, including yours and mine.
Baptized into this kingdom our lives are now inside out and completely upside down. Once we were lost, but now we are found. Once we were blind, but now we see. And once we were dead, but now we are alive!
Amos knows all about this upside down life. He writes in Amos 3:8, “The lion roars; who will not be terrified? The Lord God issues a decree; who cannot but prophesy?” Amos dared to speak up about the wretched state of affairs in his country, and he did this regardless of the consequences for himself or for anyone else.
As God’s chosen and elect, loved and forgiven sinners, we are also empowered to live in such a way that what the Thessalonians said about Paul and Silas will be said of us. “These men who have turned the world upside down have also come here” (Acts 17:6). Amen.