We cover two prophets in today's readings. First Joel, and then Amos. Joel seems to take place while in exile. Chapter 1, verse six says, "A nation has invaded my land," past tense. (Emphasis mine) So, Joel is all about how God has not given up on the people, and if they return to him, he will have their back.
Amos, contains many versus like 2:7 explaining that God has not turned back God's wrath because Israel has "trample[d] on the heads of the poor." But it also has plenty of condemnation for worshiping false gods. Chapter 5:21-24 jumps out at me, but that is because my daughter read in during the last children's Sunday. I worked with her on intonation and gesturing and she did a marvelous job. The tip that really worked for her was this. I said, the thing is, Israel has been unfaithful to God. So imagine a Taylor Swift song about a boy he cheats on her, but then tries to make it better by bringer her gifts. With that inspiration, Kate nailed it. Imagine God as a 13 year old girl, speaking with head bobs and dismissive hand gestures.
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
I'm realizing this post is getting long, but I want to really look at the boring beginning to Revelation. It begins by characterizing the different churches. Ephesus is a fundamentally good church, but not as good as it once was. Get back to your former glory says John the Revelator. Smyrna is a good church that John recognizes is made up of poor folks. Keep the faith, he says. Pergamum, on the other hand, is not really doing so great. Although, note that John is so upset about eat food given to idols given Paul's decision that such behavior is okay as long as it doesn't become a stumbling block for others. Thyatira, well, not so good. Evidently men are committing adultery with this so-called prophetess. [fn1] The folks at Sardis are a bunch of fakers, and John the Revelator knows it. Wake up! If Sardis is lazy, Philadelphia appears to be overly timid. Finally, reminiscent of King's letter from a Birmingham jail, the worst of all it appears are those who are lukewarm. In Laodicea, they evidently stand for nothing, perhaps because they are too comfortable.
I go through this in part to demonstrate that Revelation had a specific audience, just like Paul's letters. When coupled when Rev. 1:1 noting that this is the revelation of would soon take place, it seems to really challenge the idea that this is a book about the end of the world in a literal fashion. It seems much more likely that it is just like the book it mimics--Ezekiel--in predicting political doom and gloom, but at the same time encouraging folks to keep the faith.
[fn1] Interesting that this use of adultery is not the property crime of adultery that some have speculated was used in Biblical time. That is, that adultery is the crime of having sex with another man's wife because that woman belongs to the other man. If a man has sex with a single women, therefore, it can't be adultery. Here it seems to match the modern understanding of the word.