The prophet Amos was also a man of conviction. While we do not know much about him personally, we are given a time-frame of Amos' ministry with the identity of those who were on the throne at the time. Jeroboam II is king of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Uzziah is king of the Southern Kingdom (Judah). Although Amos was a resident of Judah, God sent him to prophesy in the courts of Jeroboam II. At the time Israel is experiencing a renaissance. Jeroboam has taken advantage of the power vacuum created by the death of Benhadad III of Syria and has taken control of Damascus (2 Ki. 14:28) thereby controlling the trade routes. Many took comfort in thinking that since life was secure and prosperous that these physical blessings were God's stamp of approval.
The gap between the wealthy and the poor also widened at this time due to changes in Israel's demographics. As less wealthy families lost their land they became victims of oppression. Even if a family was able to stay on their land, they most likely had to supply a "landlord" with a portion of whatever the land produced, usually to the detriment of their family's needs. We must keep in mind that "the poor" of Biblical times were nothing like what we call "poor" in the United States. Our "poor" can seek help from benevolent organizations and the government if they want to, but the "poor" of the Bible had none of that. If they had lost everything, they were utterly destitute. Women and children were particularly vulnerable if found in this situation. And the survival options for them were bad (begging) or worse (prostitution).
The structure of Amos' book makes a bee-line to the heart of the matter behind all these components. After the introduction 8 nations are judged (including Israel and Judah) with the repeated phrase, "For three sins...and for four" meaning the sins against God were too numerous to list individually (Am. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6). Three sermons which explain the judgments coming upon Israel follow, all beginning with the phrase, "Hear this word" (Am. 3:1; 4:1; 5:1). The prophet then shares 5 visions of judgment (7:1-9:10) which emphasize the difference between God's grace, which is allowing the current affluent conditions (7:1-6) and His blessing (which is NOT the cause of the current situation). Israel is forewarned: God's judgment is certainly coming (Am. 7:7-9; 8:1-14) and it will be devastating (9:1-10). However, Amos finishes his message on a positive note with a declaration of hope (9:11-15). Judgment for failure to uphold the Mosaic Covenant is severe, but God's promise to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:1-3) will be remembered and upheld (Am. 9:15).
We can easily look across the pages of the Bible and history and take note of Israel's failure. It is not hard to see (and archaeology has even proved it) how the insensitive attitude of some led to the demise and deportment of the nation. Sadly we fail to realize that we have done the same. We go to church, sing songs and raise our hands in worship and ask God to bless us and then we ignore the needs of our neighbors when we know they're struggling and hurt. It's too messy to speak truth into someone's addiction, divorce, or the actions of a rebellious child. It's inconvenient to open our mouths and share the Gospel with a co-worker who is struggling with depression so instead we drop and extra $5 in the mission fund at church thinking that will cover our obligation. Do we ignore the commands of Jesus to "preach the gospel" because someone might argue with us or make us feel uncomfortable? How is this behavior any different from oppressing the poor in Amos' day? We like to logically explain how it is different, but are we ignoring what God wants us to do when we act this way? Is Amos speaking to us? I believe in the timeless fashion of Scripture that he is. So what are you and I going to do about it?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 6/14/2015