Amos, Bite-Sized Exegesis, Old Testament, Sermons and Lessons

Ignoring the Evil Day – Amos 6:3-6

Amos 6:3-6

(3) Ignoring the evil day, you bring near the rod of violence.

(4) Lying down on beds of ivory, and lounging [overhanging] on their couches,
And eating lamb from the flocks and calves from the midst of the stall.

(5) Plucking on the mouth of the lute, like David they invent vessels of song [musical instruments].

(6) Drinking wine from bowls, with the best oil they anoint themselves.
They are not sickened over the destruction of Joseph.

Willful Ignorance

“Ignoring the evil day” – literally, casting away or brushing aside the evil day. There was a willfulness to the ignorance of the wealthy Israelite elite. It is not simply that they were unaware of the problems of their people and of their time. The evidence was all around them, as Amos had been pointing out, yet they were refusing to acknowledge that evidence, choosing instead to live in a constructed reality that was favorable to them. They only saw their own wealth and apparent safety, because that was all they wanted to see. But living in a willfully ignorant way, pretending that all is well, does not make everything well. Rather, it brings destruction, the “rod of violence” nearer.

What does this willful ignorance look like? It looks like the lap of luxury, like one continuous feast.

(4) Lying down on beds of ivory, and lounging [overhanging] on their couches, and eating lamb from the flocks and calves from the midst of the stall.

Everything about this scene is luxurious: Israelites luxuriating on luxurious furniture eating luxurious food. “Beds of ivory” are not what an average or even moderately well to do Israelite would be resting or sleeping. And they certainly would not have been lounging on them, lazily hanging over the edge and whiling away the time eating expensive foods. The food is noticeably all meat. “Calves from the midst of the stall” is a similar combination of words as that found in Malachi 3:20, 1 Samuel 28:24, and Jeremiah 46:21. This is a stall-fed calf, a fatted calf – it is luxurious meat.

(5) Plucking on the mouth of the lute, like David they invent vessels of song [musical instruments].

They spend their time not in work nor in anything productive at all. Instead of using their wealth to make the lives of their fellow Israelites better in some way during what Amos has described as a really difficult time in Israel (I have in mind investments, improvements to land, hiring people, interest free loans), they are using their resources to build or even invent musical instruments. Now, I am for music and musical instruments, but unless we are talking about a musical instrument building industry, music does not solve homelessness, economic depression, or famine. But when the elites of Israel were not eating, they were singing. The picture here is of a group of people who have insulated themselves from reality through their wealth. They have used their wealth to create a kind of mini-universe where all is music and feasting and where they do not come into contact with real life and its hardships. From earlier in Amos, we see that they maintain this insulation by using their wealth to fix the system in their favor, bribing judges and accepting bribes, levying crippling taxes on the peasants, trampling the poor into the dirt and thrusting them and their petitions aside.

(6) Drinking wine from bowls, with the best oil they anoint themselves. They are not sickened over the destruction of Joseph.

Just as their food and furniture is marked by luxury, their drink and personal care are marked by excess. They do not just drink wine, they drink it from bowls. They drink lots of wine. And they use the finest – probably perfumed – oil to keep their skin clean and soft and smelling nice. The issue is not really that this wine or oil could have been used better or should have been given to the poor. It is the life of excessive and incessant luxury in stark contrast with the poverty, calamity, and spiritual ruin of most of Israel that is the problem. The elites, who considered themselves the distinguished men and women of the first among nations are really just as impoverished spiritually as their countrymen and are living a life of willful delusion. The destruction of Joseph (which refers to the Northern Kingdom) ought to sicken them, but they refuse to acknowledge it.

What is this “destruction of Joseph”? Is it the coming destruction, or is it the destruction the Israelites are already experiencing? I would suggest that the text is kind of ambiguous here for a reason, and that it is both future and present. The evil day of verse three is both the calamity of the present and the coming Day of the LORD, because the two things are really one and the same. The present distress that the elites were ignoring was, according to Amos, simply a harbinger of a more complete destruction to come. So the elites were saying both “everything is groovy” and “everything is going to be groovy.”

When the Spirit of the World Hijacks the People of God

What this is all describing is not simply 8th century BC Israel. It is a manifestation of the spirit of worldliness: sensuality, greed, orgies, hard-heartedness, and a kind of self preserving tendency to deceive oneself about God and the world around us, to construct reality in a favorable light. I am sure we have all encountered people who make us wonder: “What planet are they living on?” They live their lives in such an obviously foolish and self-destructive way, and yet they do not see it, or they choose not to see it. What the book of Proverbs teaches us, and what experience verifies, is that while we all begin life as fools, at some point that foolishness becomes willful. At some point, not growing in wisdom becomes just as much a choice as growing in wisdom. Foolishness is, in one sense, living life with a world view that is drastically out of sync with reality, and this is what we see in Amos 6:1-7. This is worldliness, or one manifestation of worldliness.

The thing that is so deeply disturbing about the picture Amos is describing is that this is not the Aramaeans or the Philistines or the Moabites who are living in this foolish and worldly way – it is the very covenant people of God, the Israelites. Moreover, that covenant history and status have actually become part of the delusion. It seems clear that part of the rationale for the elite’s claim that they were safe and blessed was their history as the covenant people of Yahweh. In other words, the spirit of the world had hijacked the people of God and their theology.

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Ignoring the Evil Day – Amos 6:3-6
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Ignoring the Evil Day – Amos 6:3-6
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There was a willfulness to the ignorance of the wealthy Israelite elite. It is not simply that they were unaware of the problems of their people and of their time. The evidence was all around them, as Amos had been pointing out, yet they were refusing to acknowledge that evidence, choosing instead to live in a constructed reality that was favorable to them. They only saw their own wealth and apparent safety, because that was all they wanted to see.
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Bite-Sized Exegesis
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