The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Thus hath the Lord GOD shewed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit."a Basket of Summer Fruit."
Amos 8 "Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit" (
"Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit" (Amos 8:2).
Amos continued his visions notwithstanding the rude and mendacious interruption of the false priest Amaziah who sent a lie to Jeroboam. Amos confronted the false priest, as we have just seen, boldly and destructively. You cannot reply to a thunderstorm. Anything that a man may say after a whirlwind is very feeble. We have heard the great speech of Amos, as it rolled round and round the withering Amaziah like tempest on tempest Now Amos stands up as if nothing had happened, and in one of his quiet moods he tells us that he had a vision. A sweet familiarity distinguishes the style of the prophet as he approaches this department of his revelation. The Lord is represented as calling him by name, "Amos,—what seest thou?" In the Bible there is a wonderful familiarity of this kind; often there is a species of conversation, friendly interview, domestic talk, as if the Lord had concentrated himself upon the individual in question; as, for example, "When Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said, Zacchæus." "The Lord said unto Moses, I know thee by name." There is always something tender when our knowledge comes to a knowledge of name, especially when that name stands up as a signal of truth, honour, love, music. When we mention some names our eyes fill with tears, because they are names that have histories in them; they recall times of darkness, desolation, long nights of loneliness, or days of harvest and festival and mutual joy. The Lord spake thus to his servant; and the familiarity never interfered with the revelation. It is the familiarity of love; it is not the familiarity of contempt or disregard or indifference. There is a way of naming a person which means that you are going to whisper some heart-secret into his ear. There is an offhand naming of men which amounts to nothing; but there is another naming which amounts to baptism, and still fuller sacrament; a masonic sign which means that heart is going to talk to heart. This was in the tone of the Lord as he said, "Amos, what seest thou?" The Lord knows what we see, but he wants us to tell him. We need not pray in the sense of endeavouring to give God information, but he likes to hear our lisping, our broken speech, our poor grammar; he takes an interest in our stumbling and blundering; he will not answer all we say because he knows we would not say it if we really knew what it meant, but he will answer that part of it which is for the soul's health and enrichment and invigoration. "What seest thou?" What wouldst thou? What is thy desire and what is thy petition? and it shall be granted unto thee. He knows it before we begin to make any statement; yet he likes us to talk. We are educated by speech; we startle ourselves by the sound of our own voices. There are men who could not pray aloud and retain their reverence. There are other men who have the gift of praying audibly, and the gift of understanding what a thousand hearts all want at once, and they exercise that prophetic and intercessory function to the infinite advantage of the world.
Every man has his own vision of God. The vision changes. Amos saw the incoming of the grasshoppers and the wonderful work which they did amid the grass of the land; then he saw the Lord with a plumbline in his hand; and now he sees a basket of summer fruit: and in all this he is a fool to the worldly man. We have just seen that the insincere man never can understand sincerity; the little-minded man never can comprehend magnanimity; the worldly soul can never enter into the mystery of prayer, except by such pedantic criticism as affects to despise, or at least question its rationalism and its utility. Let every man talk in his own way. There is an insanity of wisdom; there is a transcendentalism of feeling which will make its own speech, and thus affright those who live within the speech which has been made for them. It will do us good to hear all kinds of speech, and see all manner of visions; we shall be startled out of our insularity, and be made to feel that there is nothing lonely in God's universe; that the least of the worlds is a nexus, connecting us with the infinite, the boundless, the divine.
"A basket of summer fruit" (Amos 8:2).
Fruit was the last sign of harvest in Palestine. When the fruit was gathered the harvest was over. What, then, is the meaning of this vision of a basket of summer fruit? The meaning is that Amos saw the end. This is the crop. A basket of summer fruit was no poetry in the estimation of Amos. It was not an ornamental selection of fruits, looking upon which men would say, How lovely, how luscious, how delightful, how appetising! Summer fruit had a mournful suggestion about it in Palestinian lands and times. "What seest thou?"—The end, the gathered harvest, the upmaking of all things, the year in its results: good or bad, there it is. Can this fruit be changed now? No. Will not the sun work some miracle of ripening upon it? Never more. There is an end of ministry, of service, of stewardship, of life. We are reminded of such end by the end of the day, the end of the month, the close of the year: the harvest is past, the summer ended, and the year waits to tell all its little story of thought and action, purpose and prayer, suffering and triumph. Oh that men were wise, that they understood these things, that they would consider their latter end—the basket of summer fruit, the ingathering of the fields and the vintages. How stands it with us this audit day? How runs the story? Have we been malevolent or benevolent? Shall the year be remembered for its nobleness of purpose and its industry of execution? Or shall it be a year that we would gladly forget? Remember there is a gathering of fruits, a crop time, a day on which men say, The year has been good, or, The year has been bad; the fields have disappointed us, and the trees have blighted our hope; we thought in the springtime that their blossoms would have ended in fruitfulness, and they have ended in nothing but disappointment and loss and aggravation. Or shall it be otherwise? The answer lies in part within the compass and action of our own will. Shall we be a little better? Shall we distinctly indicate an upward tendency, in thought, in aspiration, in desire? It lies within our will to be fools or to be wise men.
"Then said the Lord unto me, The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more" (Amos 8:2).
And yet that is a word which the Lord cannot keep—blessed be his name, infinite eternal praise be to the Cross. The Lord in denouncing these judgments means what ought to be the case, what burning hell should hold those who have trampled under foot every sign of his love and judgment and mercy. Hear him; make a way for his wrath; let us hear the sounding of his judgment: "And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord God." What was begun in songs shall end, literally, in shriekings. That is the meaning of the passage. No one can tell how his song will end. Many men are jovial at a certain period of excitement, but exhilaration ends in stupefaction and everlasting loss. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." My son, join not the singing party, simply because it is a party of singing people; listen to the words, hear the moral tone, understand the purpose of the songs; write this upon thy heart, That every song that is not sent to heaven ends in a chorus of woe That is the writing. Nothing else is written in the covenant am in the decree but that declaration. The song shall end in shriek ing; they who began the festival with a merry heart shall poison themselves in the course of their very festivity, and their dead bodies shall be taken out, the men who carry them saying, Hush! For this is the literal meaning of the expression "There shall be many dead bodies in every place; they shall cast them forth with silence"—with utterances of Hush! let us get this over as soon as we can. Priest, say no good words over these bodies. O thou man, whose shoulders are clothed with white, get thee away—hush!—silent burials: let these bodies which are mere carcases be thrust into the soil shrouded with quicklime; and, ye priests of the living God, take your prayers home—they are for the bodies of the saints, not for the carcases of the suicide and the polluted and the lost. For a time there seems to be joy in sin. He is not a true reader of the philosophy and practice of life who denies a certain measure of so-called happiness to the libertine. Let us be just to the devil. He has for his followers an early laugh; let us put that down to his credit. There is a chuckle at the first which looks like merriment; set it down, but do not add up the account until all the lines are filled. The question is not what are some individual items, but what is the sum-total of the account; and every song that is not sanctified ends in howling, and every man that drank himself into a bloated condition shall be buried in silence, as with the burial of an ass.
The detail which follows is a chapter illustrative of the political economy and the social condition of the prophet's day:—
"Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy [Literally: that pant after the needy. You have seen a hound panting after his prey; so in the day of the prophet the rich men panted for those who were poor], even to make the poor of the land to fail, saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?" (Amos 8:4-6.)
That was the condition of affairs. There was a religion of the body, but not of the soul. The men acknowledged the limitations of the time; they said, It is new moon; we must wait. It is the Sabbath; we must restrain ourselves;—but, oh, when will that moon go? When will the Sabbath vanish that we may again pant after the needy, and swallow up those that have no ephod. These were religious men. Nothing is so corrupt as irreligious religion. Nothing so offends the spirit of the universe by its pestilential odour as an impious piety. Where are the dealers we saw yesterday? It is new moon. Where are the men who were buying a few days ago? Hush! this is the Sabbath, and they are not doing any business to-day. Are they not? They cannot help it. The bad man has no Sabbath. He has closed his windows, but his heart is still a busy mart and exchange and place of barter. The selfish man cannot have a sanctuary; the bad man can have no Bible, no Sabbath day, no altar, no minister; yea, when he is looking his minister in the face he is measuring some poor soul for sale, he is reducing the wages of the hireling, he is regretting that he overpaid some man who toiled in his fields. We cannot keep the Sabbath except in the soul. This is the great and true doctrine of the case. When all the places of commerce are closed, and every principal and clerk has gone home, the place is still open, unless the soul shut it up. Let us give these people credit; they kept the new moon, and they kept the Sabbath day, but they were calculating that they would make the ephah small. How can we make this measure less? We must take off something by the rim; that would save so much on such a number in the course of the year: we must increase the shekel, add a farthing to the price. Ten thousand farthings will amount to something; fifty times ten thousand farthings will make all the difference in our balance-sheet at the end of the year. When will the new moon be gone? How goes that waning light? Has the Sabbath closed yet? Is it not quite six in the evening? Can we not now begin? I pant to devour the poor. And what shall become of "the refuse of the wheat"—the portion that used to go through the sieve, the chaff, the little pieces of worthless wheat that the wind has blown away? Stop: we can sell that; it used to be blown away, and anybody that could catch it caught it, but now we can make a profit of that,—I pant for profit. When will the new moon be gone? Surely we might begin almost directly: the poor are outside—the destruction of the poor man is his poverty; a pair of shoes will buy him, and he may be sold for silver. To this pass have things come.
What wonder that Amos lived just then? The times make the men. The times made Amos—as they made Elijah, as they made Cromwell, as they made Luther. The action of the times develops the quality of men. Amos roared throughout the land. It was indeed but a roaring to those who heard only the sound; it was music in heaven, because it carried with it the breath and the tone and the justice of truest judgment. The Lord has always raised up friends for the poor, and for downtrodden righteousness and virtue. How have such men been treated? As conspirators—"Amaziah the priest of Beth-el sent to Jeroboam the king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel." How have such men been treated? As fanatics: they have been beside themselves; they have been imprisoned; they have been befouled by every means; they have been called vulgar, sensational, democratic, unreasonable, and undesirable: yea, stronger names have been applied to them, and epithets which cannot be pronounced in public service. Let such men know the testimony of history, and abide by the fate and the fortune which have marked the evolution of character and the development of destiny. If you will not accept ill names and opprobrious epithets, you are not of the true quality of the sons of God; if you say, Let us be quiet, let us make no excitement, let us whisper our way into a nameless grave, then the Spirit of Christ is not in you; your piety is a lie, your prayers are offences to the heaven which they never reach.
How will the Lord speak about this political economy and this oppression and suffering of the poor?
"The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob [which is by himself, for he has already declared himself to be the excellency of Jacob], Surely I will never forget any of their works. Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? and it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and it shall be cast out and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day: And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day" (Amos 8:7-10).
Amend that judgment if you can. Say what wants it in dignity. The very utterance of such a voice is a sign of hope for the land. Judge not by the momentary festival and triumph of the wicked:—the triumphing of the wicked is short, the candle of the hypocrite shall be blown out. Nothing lasts but truth and love and beneficence. This is the divine view of evildoing. The whole land shall tremble, the light of the festival shall be put out, and men shall be choked by the luxury that is in their mouths, and they who have tuned their voices for song shall find they have prepared their voices for lamentation. Blessed be God for his judgments; thanks be to God for his thunder and his lightning! We need the tempest of his wrath to disinfect the social air, and make men think that they themselves are not divine. Nor does the judgment end here:—
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" (Amos 8:11-12).
They shall have nothing to eat but what their mouths can devour; they shall be made to feel what it is to be severed from the supernatural, the spiritual, the divine; they shall be taught what it is to have nothing but flesh; they shall be overweighted with their own bodies; they shall have plenty to eat, and their plentifulness shall be an aggravation of their distress; the spiritual cut off, the vision departed, the holy man no longer in his place teaching the people the way of the Lord; men wholly thrown back upon the material, and made to feel what it is to live upon dust. Thus the Lord teaches mankind. They cannot wholly be taught by spiritual monition and moral exhortation; they must be shut up to eat the dust for a long time till it breaks out all over them, and they feel that plentifulness for the body is the outward and visible sign of famine for the soul. We have too many churches now, we have too many privileges and enjoyments; we have now so many of them that we can find fault with them and criticise them and pronounce opinions upon them. The hungry man pronounces no opinion upon the bread, but that it is good. It is the epicure that finds fault with his supplies; if he could be hungry for a time he would be a thankful man. The time will come when there will be no Church, no altar, no open vision, no spread volume out of which men may read shortly or at length as they please; there shall be only a retired God, a withdrawn vision, a day all cloud, a night all storm.
O God of mercy, take the wings from every little bird that seeks the sun, but do not take from our souls the desires that would fly towards thee! O do thou blight every little flower, and let it no more see the light of day; but do not withdraw thy sunshine from our souls, or they will twice die—they will die the second death. Reverse all the laws of nature, plague the universe, vex and tease the procession of the worlds and the outflowings of all the floods that make the life and spring of creation; but spare them that call on thee—Take not thy Holy Spirit from us. We have despised our pastors, we have mocked them; we have written bitter things about them; we have made profit by our shame; we have laughed at the altar, and called the sanctuary an abandoned vacancy; but now that there is no word from heaven, no message from the skies, no music in the air, O Lord God Almighty, in the pitifulness of thy great mercy help us and save us, we humbly beseech thee!
Where is the Lord God of Elijah? O ye sermon-bibbers and gospel epicures, fed to a pitch of bloated awfulness of character, critics of the sanctuary, men whose heads are so cool because so empty that they can pronounce opinion upon prayer and song and sermon, and like it and not like it—the days come when you shall be taught by famine what you never could be taught by wisdom! My soul, live not until that day, but pray God to release thee, and take thee into the land of heavenly plentifulness before this poor little earth be given over to spiritual famine. Amen, Amen.