This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”
Like other passages found in Amos we once again see an example of the prophet’s oratory with clever use of wordplay and imagery. Amos has been presented with a basket of summer fruit – representing desire, celebration and enjoyment, which at a time of peace and prosperity for Israel in 8th Century BC, would be familiar and welcome. However, what is key to the image is that it contains summer fruit.The use of the word summer indicates the fruit is ripe – ready to be eaten. Action is required now before the fruit is wasted. It is on this point that the comforting vision takes a twist and turn as it is replaced with an image of destruction and upset. In a few lines Amos has caused shock and fear by use of contrast going from a pleasant basket of summer fruit to many dead bodies.
A similar technique is used by the television and film industries. As I write there is a short trailer being regularly shown for a popular Scottish drama on BBC 1. A bride and groom stand at a church doorway, smiling and looking into each other’s eyes as they kiss. All appears happy and well. However, as the bride withdraws her hand from the groom her expression changes. The camera pans down to show the bride’s hand and the groom’s shirt covered in blood. Not what the viewer was expecting; but an attempt to capture attention and generate interest in the story.
Amos uses a pleasant image against a violent threat to emphasise that, as far as his audience was concerned, God saw that action was required now. For the chosen people of Israel the time was up so why should God delay exercising judgment?
Amos is giving a warning. All may appear well but is it actually as well as we make it out to be? How often do we only see what we want to and fail to act with urgency in the present?
God of action, Make me alert to the realities of my life. Show me what I need to do, equip me with all I need to act, grant me the courage I lack, and hold me in your love. Amen
David Scott is an ordinand at the Scottish United Reformed Church and Congregational College.