Friday, 22 June 2012

Amos 2:1

All Saints - Skeyton

© Godric Godricson
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Moab,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because he burned to lime
the bones of the king of Edom.

The text is one of those that cause us to doubt the providential nature of God. How do we believe in a providential God when we hear that God has such a close and personal wish to punish the Moabites. Weren't Moabites after all the children of God and part of the created environment? The Old Testament is a little confused about the relationship of God and humanity in this text contained in Amos. More particularly we have to consider what God had against the burning of the bones of an Edomite King. What exactly was going on here and is it possible now to make anything coherent of this text?

Yes, Israel had a rather confused long term relationship with the Moabites although this seems a little weak as an excuse for treating them so badly and the main reason for the action against the Moabites does seem to be the burning of the bones of a King. Cremation can be seen as a problem for Amos and perhaps even in the degree of burning. The bones, after all, are not simply burnt they are burned to lime. That is they are totally destroyed beyond any hope of being reconstituted. The bones of the Edomite king are turned into an almost industrial product by reducng human remains to lime. The implication being that once the bones were turned into lime then they could be used for any profane purpose. In burning the bones into lime the Moabites are turning the world order upside down and that leads where exactly?

This text seems to be a clear injunction against cremation and a clear reference to the natural social order of things.  Common people do not burn the bones of a King. Hierarchy and the natural order are there to be maintained and the bones of Kings are not to be destroyed and potentially used as a building material any more than God is to be ignored. Strange texts for a strange time.

I'm not sure where this text leaves us in relation to burials and funerals in the ancient world although it clearly says something about the nature and temperament of God and he appears less than providential.

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