Amaziah, the [false] priest at Bethel had just told Amos to go back to Judah. They were tired of his scare tactics, what they viewed as rebellion against their king, Jeroboam II. That is how we learn of Amos’s occupation. While some view him as the owner of the sheep rather than the shepherd who actually slept outdoors watching his flock, you cannot get away from the humble position of fig picker.
Sycamore figs (also spelled sycomore figs) were not the figs of the upper classes, but a smaller fruit, slightly sweet, watery, and a little woody. This is what the poor people ate. The only way a sycamore fig would ripen was for someone to pinch it, causing it to bruise. About four days later it was fit to pick and eat. Can you imagine anything much more tedious than pinching every single fruit on every single tree in an orchard? Then going to the next orchard and doing it all again? And again?
As I was pondering this in our Tuesday morning class, I suddenly thought, “And isn’t that what happens to us?” The only way for us to ripen as a disciple of our Lord is to be bruised. In my ever increasing number of years, I have seen only those who reach their lowest point realize their need for God. If I am proud, smug, self-reliant, self-righteous, all too sure of my own knowledge, I will never be able to prostrate myself before an Almighty Creator and commit my life, my belongings, MYSELF to Him. I will never be able to take up the cross of self-denial and self-sacrifice and serve my Savior and my neighbor.
Some people have a stronger spiritual sense and can recognize their need for salvation quickly. Their bruising is a bruising of the spirit that occurs when they recognize their sin and remorse hits them like that proverbial ton of bricks. Others need a physical bruising. You see it often when tragedy strikes—a serious illness, a devastating accident, the loss of a loved one. A bruising in this physical life may be necessary for them to see the need in their spiritual lives. I have often heard it said by preachers that the best time to reach your neighbor is in a time of tragedy, and the scriptures bear that out as well.
Isaiah preached imminent destruction. In the latter chapters of his book he tells those impenitent people that God will be waiting to take them back—not before the calamity, but afterward—after they have been bruised by a physical destruction the like of which they had never seen before. That, after all, would be the time when they would finally listen.
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made. Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry, but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD, “and I will heal him. Isa 57:15-19.
Ezekiel says much the same: I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice, Ezek 34:15-16.
And who does Jesus offer His invitation to: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matt 11:28-29.
And so each of us must face our bruising. The more quickly we yield, the easier that bruising will be, not because trials will cease, but because our humble hearts will accept both them and the help we will have to face them. We won’t be alone any longer, a state of affairs that only comes to the stubborn, who refuse to surrender to Divine love and protection. Sometimes it takes a “fig-pincher” to help with the process, someone who, like the prophet Nathan, can stand before us and proclaim, “Thou art the man.” And like the sycamore fig, we will ripen into the fruitful child of God each of us has the potential to become.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint, Isa 40:29-31.