Don’t let the sun go down on me – Friday, 13th week in ordinary time – Amos 8:4-6, 9-12

Don’t let the sun go down on me – Friday, 13th week in ordinary time – Amos 8:4-6, 9-12

The text of today takes on the fourth in a series of five visions that Amos is shown by God himself. (7:1-3, 7:4-6, 7:7-9, 8:1-3 and 9:1-4) In today’s vision, Amos returns to his familiar theme of justice, decrying those in Israel who made their money from the unjust treatment of the poor and vulnerable. This theme of justice falls in line with the eighth century prophets; besides Amos, Isaiah and Micah were also in one accord about the Lord’s demand for justice.

This desire for justice will meet with indifference on Israel’s part and finally God’s wrath. Only a few years after Amos’ prophecies, the Assyrians will win a decisive battle against Israel and will force the ten tribes of Israel into exile in Assyria. Amos chapter 8 makes clear (along with many other passages) that Amos saw God’s judgment against Israel as a fait accompli, a course of action that was already underway; one that was impossible to reverse.

So what got Amos so riled up on this occasion? Amos, in verses 4-6 confronts the hypocrisy of a ‘prayerful people’ who desire to hit the fast forward button on the Sabbath day so that it would come to an end quickly and then get down to the business of cheating their neighbours. It is important to remember that the Sabbath day was not first-and-foremost a day created exclusively for worship but a day of rest. As a day of rest, the sabbath was meant to bring about a sense of justice to all of society and not just to the property owner; but also “your ox and your donkey, and your livestock, and the resident alien in your towns” (Deuteronomy 5:14). Yet, people longed for the justice-establishing Sabbath to be over, so that they could return to exploitation.

By Amos’ time the Sabbath was seen as a day of worship and while the heart should have been resting with God the mind was restless to make money, that too dishonestly. Deuteronomy 25:15 stipulated “You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure.” In Amos’ day, untrustworthy market places were contributing to a sense of injustice.

Such was their desire to make money that we are told they ‘buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals’. In short they were enslaving people in debt and spared no one; even those who owed only a pair of sandals. Cheating the poor who were already living on the edge financially had the potential to push them over the edge.

But their evil knew no bounds for Amos accuses them of “selling the sweepings of the wheat.” This was wheat that fell out of the bags in the marketplace and the collection of this was prohibited because these were to be left for the poor. Yet they spared no one and collected and sold even this. To add to their dishonesty the merchants fiddle with their measuring instruments of buying and selling, cheating the poor and the lowly and shamelessly exploiting them.

In response to this, sentence is passed with the words, “on that day”. God in his anger will darken the earth and make the sun go down on the people of Israel. The ninth plague of darkness once imposed on the enemies of Israel will now be their punishment.

But God does not stop there for the most devastating blow is yet to come in verse 11; there is to be a famine; not of food and water but silence on the part of God. Most people think the worst kind of famine is a famine of bread, but Amos reminded Israel that the worst kind of famine is a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. While that might not sound as catastrophic to our ears as a famine of bread or water, it has the potential to be so. God is so disgusted that he chooses to be silent to his people. The wrath of God is not so much that he punishes, the wrath of God is that he is silent to us.

Since it is true that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4), then it is true that a famine of hearing God’s Word is ultimately worse than a famine of bread.

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