EFAC Australia

Bible exposition

We do not know a lot about him. His oracles portray him as nothing out of the ordinary. He was a shepherd or breeder of livestock, a cultivator of sycamore fig trees, an inhabitant of the town of Tekoa in Judah, and one who probably travelled to the northern kingdom of Israel to ply his produce. He lived in the days of King Uzziah in the South and King Jeroboam II in the North. But God took this ordinary man Amos. He drew him out from his ordinary trade, thrust him into a land not his own, and placed him under obligation to perform the task of a prophet with a nation that would have no inclination to listen.

The prophecy of Amos is rich for its courage, depth of insight, and contemporary relevance. One example of this is one encounter within its pages that has some sobering words for those of us who have been appointed by God and his church to engage in ministry. The encounter is between the prophet Amos and Amaziah, a priest of Bethel in the eighth Century BC. My intention here is to explore the text of Amos 7:10–18 in the light of the obligations these two men had before God and to observe what we can learn from their encounter for our own ministries.

The larger context of the encounter is set by a series of five visions that are given to Amos. These visions begin in Amos 7:1 and conclude in Amos 9. All the visions involve God judging his people. The first vision (7:1–3) is of a locust plague which God uses to judge the wickedness of his people. The response of Amos is to mimic the prophet Moses by interceding on behalf of the people. God responds to such intercession just as he had with Moses in Exodus 32 and relents from sending disaster. The second vision is of God judging by fire (7:4–6). Again, Amos intercedes on behalf of the people and God again relents. The third vision is the famous but somewhat enigmatic one of a plumbline (7:7–9). This time Amos does not intercede and there is no relenting on God’s part. Instead, God promises a fierce judgment that will reach not only the religious establishment but also the secular, striking even the house of Jeroboam. The mention of Jeroboam is significant because until this point Amos has largely focussed on the social and religious sins of the people and has not specifically mentioned the king and it appears as though it is this mention that lies behind the events that unfold next.

There is no doubt that technological development and increasingly rapid rates of change in so many areas have made making ethical decisions more difficult than it used to be. Now that is not to say that getting agreement about the rights and wrongs has ever been easy. Moralists have disagreed through all of history. And Jesus had a hard time getting some of his core values across, even to those who were most devoted to him.

But these days self-doubt has set in among Christians, and it has set in on a large scale. Loss of clarity about a distinctly Christian ethic has become widespread. There are various reasons for this, but let me offer you just a limited list. First, there is so much that Christians have done in the past that embarrasses and shames us. Second, there are the clever things that scholars have done to give parts of the Bible a totally different sense from how they have traditionally been understood. And third, Christians have largely lost sight of the importance of the Old Testament for their faith and life.

For us who are Christians radical values for a confused society must come from our Lord. And what I have in mind to appeal to here is Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

One of the important issues of recent times is the 'new perspective' on Paul (the name Professor Dunn gave it in 1983).

I want to look at Paul's own perspective on something, the righteousness of God, focusing on Galatians.

Let me make four preliminary observations.

First, the word 'righteousness' and its brother word, 'justified' are law court words. For example, in 1 Cor 4:4 Paul speaks about the Corinthians' 'judgement' about his ministry where he says,'I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted (Greek: justified').

Paul uses this language to describe the relationship with God of those who are (in Paul's words) 'in Christ', Christian believers. He says that they are 'justified' (= 'acquitted').

The passive voice means that if I am 'justified' it means that someone else has 'justified' me, and that someone else is God. So: to be 'justified' means to be 'acquitted', acquitted by God.

In the previous edition of Essentials, Simon Flinders invited us to reconsider in what ways we should — and should not — interpret the messianic content of Genesis 3:15. We can avoid a simplistic approach, where the answer to every question is Jesus, and use responsible biblical theology to plot an equally-exciting trajectory concerning God's plans for his world and for his victory over Satan.

Similar caution should be applied to the third chapter of the last book of the Old Testament. And similarly-exciting results can be found…

The Problem

Malachi 3:1 has long been considered a messianic proof text. To his people who had resettled in Judah after returning from exile, Yahweh Sabaoth announces:

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.
Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple;
the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come. (NIV)

What do you understand these words to promise?

Open any catalogue from a Christian book retailer and you will find pages and pages of different Bibles for sale. Study bibles, devotional bibles, Bibles for men, women, teenagers, seniors and children. There are Bibles to suit every possible occasion in life – baptisms, confirmations, weddings - with only funerals thus far escaping the ploy of the marketing experts!

Yet although we have plenty of Bibles on hand to own and look at, very few of us really spend much time seeking to read and understand its message. The most recent Australian Church Life Survey showed that only 19% of church attendees read the Bible daily or on most days, with another 46% reading it only occasionally and 37% hardly ever or never at all.
The Bible may be perhaps the most owned (US Statistics point to an average of 6.8 Bibles per household) but least read of any book ever printed.
And not only least read, but also least understood of any book. Those Sunday school bloopers - "the epistles were the wives of the apostles", "Solomon had 300 wives and 700 porcupines" - are humorous, but also are sadly true of many people in our churches for whom the Bible is largely a mystery. The old saying, "Wonderful things in the Bible I see, most of them put there by you and by me", is often an all too common experience.
It was with this in mind that the leadership team of our church devised a 10 week series called the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Bible to help our church members and visitors understand something of the big picture of the Bible and thus make it more accessible and able to be read and enjoyed.