I approach today’s reading with fear and trepidation. I love the passage itself, especially after the nigh-unrelenting negativity of the entire book up till now. After spending eight and three-quarter chapters slapping Israel up one side and down the other, he ends the book on a completely positive note. The prophet, probably with tears of joy in his eyes, predicts a time of final restoration of Israel. The Lord’s wrath will be finally and completely appeased, the people will no longer rebel against his standards and expectations, and they'll no longer have to live in fear. “Never again” will Israel be punished.
But before we go forward, we have to deal with the elephant in the room, which is the cause of my hesitancy. How do we interpret this passage? Specifically, when is/was this fulfilled? David’s tent is obviously referring to David’s greater Son coming into his Kingdom. When is/was David’s “tent” restored?
Most conservative scholarship falls into two camps, answering the question in one of two ways. Let me hastily add that a lot of very very smart people whom I respect differ with me on this, but I should add that a lot of very very smart people also agree with me (or more precisely I agree with them). I’d be fine with avoiding this controversy altogether (particularly on this blog), but we really can’t discuss this passage without also discussing how to interpret it.
One side says that all (or most) of this was fulfilled at the 1st coming of Christ, especially as the Church expanded past the Jews into all the world. And there’s very good reason to do this: The apostles seem to have interpreted it as such. At the very first official church council recorded in Scripture, the main issue at hand was how much to demand of Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus. Some teachers proposed that they need to basically become Jews first, that they need to get circumcised and keep the Mosaic Law. The apostles officially repudiated this notion; Gentiles do not have to keep the Mosaic Law. And to prove their point, they quoted today’s passage. So when someone claims that today’s passage was completely fulfilled in the early days of the Church, they have evidence for it. These people therefore claim that Israel as a nation—and the Jews as a people--no longer have any unique place in God’s plan nor are under any special care.
Others look at Amos’s passage and take it (and passages like it) as literally as possible. They believe that this passage is referring to the return of Christ: When he comes back in power and glory, David’s “tent” will be restored once and for all, all God’s enemies will be subdued, and there will be universal peace and prosperity for 1000 years, exactly as described in today’s passage.
Me? I think it’s partially fulfilled back in the time of the apostles (far be it from me to question their inspired interpretation of Scripture), and will be completely and (mostly) literally fulfilled when Christ returns. No, I don’t think that the Lord’s rejection of Israel (which happened when they rejected the Messiah) is either total or final. See here for more on this touchy subject.
Why don’t I buy into the first group’s interpretation? There are quite a few reasons, but most of them can be summed up in this: Quite frankly, taking passages like this as being figuratively or spiritually fulfilled at the 1st coming or in the Church Age make no sense to me. Trying to squeeze round pegs like “I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them” into the round hole of the Church Age doesn’t seem. . . natural to me. The most natural reading to me is the more literal one.
But no matter which side of the fence you fall on, this passage is uplifting. Wrong will be made right. All of God’s enemies will be punished. But thank the Lord, his preferred method of destroying his enemies is to turn them into beloved co-heirs. And his redeemed people will live in safety, forever. Right now in this world, to be associated with the name of Jesus Christ is to invite suffering which ranges from mockery to torture and death. But that won’t always be the case. The Day is swiftly coming in which to be associated with Christ will be the best thing that happened to anyone.
Do you join with me in longing for that Day? (Sigh)
Lord Jesus, I have lots to look forward to when you return, but first and foremost I’m longing to see you get what belongs to you, what’s rightfully yours. Let’s see a foretaste of the Day, in my life, right here and now.