Hear this word which I take up against you, a lamentation, O house of Israel:
The virgin of Israel has fallen; she will rise no more. She lies forsaken on her land; there is no one to raise her up.
For thus says the Lord GOD:
“The city that goes out by a thousand shall have a hundred left, and that which goes out by a hundred shall have ten left to the house of Israel.”
For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel:
“Seek Me and live; but do not seek Bethel, nor enter Gilgal, nor pass over to Beersheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nothing.
Seek the LORD and live, lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it,
With no one to quench it in Bethel — You who turn justice to wormwood, and lay righteousness to rest in the earth!”
Imagine you wake up one morning, pour yourself a cup of coffee and pick up the newspaper. You feel fine, in fact you feel better than you have in a long time, yet as you turn the pages of your newspaper you come to the obituary section and find your own death reported. Substance for an episode of the Twilight Zone perhaps, but this is what is happening in the prophecy of Amos in chapter 5, as the prophet chants a funeral dirge proclaiming the death of the prosperous nation of Israel.
The poetic meter in the Hebrew of verse 2 is typical of the ancient Jewish funeral marches. Its structure demonstrates the prophets own grief over the funeral of virgin Israel which he must preach. …Fallen, she shall no more to rise, articulates death where there should have been life. … Forsaken upon her land, speaks of abandonment where there should have been communion. … None to raise her up, tells of hopelessness and dispossession where there should have been inheritance. Though painting a very dismal picture of Israel’s future, Amos’ words proved true indeed, as the final 20 years of Israel’s history found its domestic policies in ruins, a rapid turnover in leadership, as one political coup followed another, and finally in 722 BC Sargon II or Assyria put an end to the kingdom of Israel forever.
But reading the first three verses of Amos chapter 5, one may ask, is there any hope? The answer to this question was certainly not going to be found in their houses of worship. Amos specifically warns Israel against trusting in the human establishment of religion typified in Bethel, Gilgal, and Beer-sheba. In verse 5 he warns, but seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beer-sheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to naught. Contrast the hopelessness of this lamentation to the only place where true hope may be found in verse 6, seek the LORD, and ye shall live.
Bethel, Gilgal and Beer-sheba were three cities which became enshrined because of encounters which the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had with God. Read about the encounter of God with Jacob at Bethel in Genesis 28:10-22 and later in Genesis 35:1-15. What does the text of Scripture reveal to be the meaning of Bethel? Read about the promises of God given at Beer-sheba to Abraham in Genesis 21:22-33, Isaac in Genesis 26:23-24, and the elderly Jacob in Genesis 46:1-4. What is common to the experience of the three? What is the meaning of Beer-sheba? Gilgal was the shrine which declared Israel’s inheritance and right to possess the land. It was the site of their first encampment (Josh 4:19-20) and confirmation of the covenant (Josh 5:2-12); it was the headquarters of their expansion, and the place where their first king was crowned (1 Sam 11:14-15). Gilgal became synonymous with Israel’s freedom and sovereignty as a nation. Imagine their shock to hear Amos assert, Gilgal shall surely go into captivity!
If Bethel, Gilgal, and Beer-sheba reveal anything to us, it is that the people of God can end up trusting in the things of God while neglecting God Himself. Meditate upon what you are trusting in where it concerns your eternal salvation. Ask God to reveal to you what Bethels, Gilgals, or Beer-shebas you may be relying upon. Then repent, seek the Lord alone, and you shall live.
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