The Prophet Amos=Justice? Or Judgement?
Bible Background: The book of Amos fits in with the 12 ‘minor’ prophets (‘minor’ meaning, their writings are brief! Not that their message is minimal!) He’s also one of three 8th century B.C.E. prophets (with Micah and Hosea), who emphasized social justice, as in: your worship of God must lead to just treatment of the poor. Amos is from the Southern Kingdom (Judah), and speaks to the Northern Kingdom (Israel), in a prosperous time, when the king and people have also been involved in worshipping false gods. The pronouncement of God’s judgement in this book in withering, yet this short book ends on a hopeful word of restoration!
Digging Deeper: 1. The introduction dates Amos’ message to around 760 B.C. E. (the Northern Kingdom will be conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E.) The oracles he speaks bring up the tension between God’s judgement and God’s mercy. God has the right to judge unfaithfulness. Other prophets will remind us of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness…but not so much, Amos!
2. Chapter 5 (which we only read portions of) details the charges against Israel: a) You trample the poor. b) You afflict the righteous. c) You take bribes and push aside the needy at the gate (the city gate, where the elders would hear and decide legal disputes). And in chapter 8-selling into slavery those who can’t pay their debts-for the price of sandals; using dishonest scales to measure out wheat; lying on beds of ivory and drinking bowls of wine while neglecting the poor. All of this leads God to say “I hate your religious assemblies and acts. I will not accept your ‘offerings’.” The problem is not with worship, but rather the worshippers!
3. The key verse of Amos is 5:24 “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!” The Hebrew words are mishpat (pointing to integrity/faithfulness/ethical conduct in all relationships), and tzedekah (pointing to fairness/justice). Consider the images here of water: Rushing water can sweep all sorts of things away! Can we picture justice sweeping away every sort of injustice? And an ‘ever flowing stream’ of water would truly be a source of life and sustenance. Can we picture righteousness as the thing which sustains church, relationships, society, nations?
4. What part of Amos’ message hits home in these times we live in? Where do we-who are wealthier and more fortunate than many of our world neighbors-fail to see injustice? How is our belonging to Christ and worshipping God actually leading to true love of neighbor? How ought we be alert for God’s judgement? How do we, individually or together, need to change?