Following some interest in the use of the literary feature often seen in the Bible called the ‘chiasmus’, examined a couple of weeks ago, here’s another example. Firstly, you will recall that this technique identifies a structure in the text such as an A, B, C, D, C’, B’, A’ series of complementary lines, or sections, that focus toward the priority point in the middle. This pattern can be seen extensively in the often glossed-over and devalued Old Testament books of prophecy. The repeated warnings and the promises of calamity for disobedience are couched in a structure that highlights a point of instruction that is beneficial for us today, too.
Amos 3 appears to speak about God’s punishment of the Israelites but, aside from the fact that their own sin was deserving of this, there is a clear point here that people cannot do what is right by themselves and are therefore reliant on God’s mercy for their redemption (paralleled in Romans 3).
A: God will punish Israel for its sins (3:1-2)
B: Disaster comes through a ‘lion’ (3:3-8)
C: The foreign ‘palaces’ are summoned to witness judgment (3:9)
D: Israel does not know how to do right (3:10)
C’: The ‘palace’ of Israel is prophesied to receive judgment (3:11)
B’: Disaster comes through a ‘lion’ (3:12)
A’: God will punish Israel for its sins (3:13-15)
Consider, too, how the book of Zephaniah centres around a call to repentance in 2:1-3 and how the book of Hosea centres on the rejection of God’s call to repentance in 6:11-7:16; also how Isaiah 58:8-12 shows the blessings that come from obedience within chapters 58 and 59 and then how Isaiah 6:1-13 emphasises the call of the prophet with chapters 1-12. It is possible to over-analyse passages and to miss the plainly obvious teachings within a quest for neat patterns, however the instructive value of this technique is especially helpful if it finds application in the light of the New Testament revelation to today’s Christians.