A prophet for profit? Thursday, 13th Week in ordinary time – Amos 7:10-17
Amaziah is the priest of Bethel and Bethel was one of the three royal sanctuaries in the northern kingdom under King Jeroboam II. For the Lord God, these ‘sanctuaries’ in Dan, Gilgal and Bethel were no more than centres of Israel’s idolatrous worship. Amaziah the priest, has become aware that Amos has been preaching to the people, and interprets Amos’ words, not as prophecy, but as sedition against King Jeroboam.
Amos has been warning the people of Yahweh’s judgment to come. Unlike Amaziah who was almost certainly appointed to his priestly position by King Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:31; 13:33) Amos has no personal interest. He was commanded by God, “go, prophesy to my people Israel” (7:15). His purpose would have been to secure the people’s repentance and, perhaps, to stave off the judgment which Yahweh was about to impose.
It is to King Jeroboam, king of Israel, that Amaziah the priest sends an SOS. He implicates Amos in a conspiracy to undermine King Jeroboam and the people of Israel. He slants his report to portray Amos, not as a prophet, but as a traitor. The fact that Amos came from Judah rather than Israel made this a believable charge. Amaziah’s report reflects his loyalty to Jeroboam, his desire to curry the king’s favour, and a desire to hang onto his comfortable sinecure in Bethel. But above all, Amaziah’s report makes it clear that his first loyalty is to the king rather than to Yahweh.
Ironically, there is no evidence that Jeroboam reacts or responds to the words of Amos. But it is Amaziah who is hell bent on driving away any ‘competition,’ especially one that would expose him as a paid agent of the King rather than a faithful priest. Interestingly, while addressing Amos, Amaziah does address Amos for who he is, a “seer”; a word roughly synonymous with “prophet,” although it might have carried a negative connotation.
There is a turf war going on here. Bethel and its sanctuary belong to King Jeroboam and by extension, to Amaziah, the king’s priest. If there is religious work to be done here, Amaziah considers it his privilege to do it and since Amos is from Judah Amaziah tells him to go home to Judah and earn his keep there.
Amaziah’s assumption that Amos is profiting financially from his prophesy is surely influenced by the fact that Amaziah is profiting from his priesthood. However, Amos is not a prophet for profit nor is he a member of any guild of prophets and nor is he a man who expects to gain financially from his prophecy. He makes his living by serving as “a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees” (v. 14). Amos was hardly the type to launch a conspiracy as suggested by Amaziah.
So Amos simply tells Amaziah off; he was called by God and his authority comes from no King but from the LORD himself. Like many others in the Bible, God called Amos as he faithfully performed his present calling. It was because Amos was an honourable sheep breeder and a tender of sycamore fruit that God made him an honourable prophet.
Amos then communicates Gods judgment to Amaziah. God has decreed that five punishments would follow. The calamity Amaziah wanted to silence Amos with would now come upon him. Amaziah’s wife will become a prostitute. While it is possible that she would suddenly take on a degenerate character, it is more likely that she would become a prostitute once her husband and children were taken from her. Left on her own, she would have few options to support herself. For the wife of a priest to become a prostitute would be a great humiliation for both wife and priest.