God’s People in Crisis: Amos and Lamentations

Written by Robert Martin-Achard and S. Paul Re’emi Reviewed By Joyce Baldwin

The international character of this series is to the fore in the authorship of this volume: a French-speaking scholar from Switzerland writes on Amos, and a Hebrew-Christian from Israel expounds Lamentations. Familiarity with commentaries and articles in French, German and Hebrew makes for breadth of outlook and freshness of presentation, and both authors keep very much in mind the worldwide church as they expound the text. In keeping with the purpose of the series to move beyond the critical-historical approach to the Bible and offer a theological interpretation of the Hebrew text, there are no footnotes. This could be a serious disadvantage to a student who needed to verify information, though for the overview of these books in relation to the rest of Scripture it makes for readability.

A brief introduction of eight pages (out of a total of seventy on Amos), having set the scene, ends with a comment on the ‘atheistic’ reading of Amos by people like Ernst Bloch, who miss the fundamental purpose of the prophet. Amos sought to confront his contemporaries with the true God: he ‘saw’ what had to date escaped his contemporaries; he was enabled ‘to read off the reality in the way God understands it’. Martin-Achard refuses to ride on a socio-political bandwagon, and insists on the timeless divine Word that meets us in our own situations and suddenly becomes relevant. Though he mentions editorial additions belonging possibly to later times, he seems to regard Amos himself as the author of most of the book, and with regard to the oracles against the nations (chs. 1 and 2), he considers Amos responsible also for their arrangement. In general he takes a conservative view of ‘corrections’ to the text, and prefers the Hebrew readings.

Professor Martin-Achard draws attention to literary forms used by Amos, pointing out their significance for his message. In particular he finds helpful the suggestion of J. de Waard that there is chiastic structure in 5:1–17. But his central theme is Israel’s standing before God in the light of God’s judgment. Is Israel’s rejection by God final? Though Amos is extraordinarily severe on the northern kingdom, the book that bears his name ends on a note of hope. By using the interpretation given by James in Acts 15:15ff. Martin-Achard is able to end his commentary on a missionary note: ‘The prophet, announcer of the end of Israel, thus becomes witness to the unity of believers of every lineage in the worship of the only God and of his Christ.’

Paul Re’emi brings to his appreciation of Lamentations acute awareness of the recent anguish of the Jewish people of Europe, as well as their long history of suffering, but above all he sees that the destruction of Jerusalem was a crisis of faith. ‘It shattered a whole system of religious belief’ (p. 93); ‘Israel is now on the verge of the ultimate horror’ (p. 98); ‘… that ultimate horror, known absolutely to Jesus on the cross … of being abandoned by God himself.’ The reason, of course, was Israel’s sin, ‘the sign that she does not agree with God [!] whose whole being and purpose is to pour himself out in love and compassion for the ordinary people of this world’ (p. 111). This author grapples with the internal dynamic of the book, enters into its deep gloom, but shows how, by the grace of God, sterile complaint leads ultimately to new hope.

For someone who is looking for help in appreciating the message of Amos and Lamentations without going into too much detail, this volume would be ideal, except, perhaps, its price, which is a little high considering its size.

Joyce Baldwin