When the Lion roars – Monday 13th Week in ordinary time – Amos 2:6-10, 13-16
For the next eight weeks we shall be reading from Old Testament prophets. The first of these is the prophet Amos and the liturgy of the Eucharist will cover the book this week in five texts zipping through some significant texts. I will endeavour to give you as far as possible a comprehensive understanding into the Prophets life and ministry. Today’s introductory teaching will give us an insight into who Amos was and cover the first two chapters of a nine chapter book.
Who is Amos ? From Chapter 1:1 we are told that he is a simple man, a shepherd, who had been uniquely called to ministry. (Amos 7:14-15). The opening of the book tells us that he came from Tekoa a city about ten miles from Jerusalem and places his ministry in terms of the reigns of Jeroboam II (786-746 B.C.E.) from the Northern Kingdom of Israel and King Uzziah (783-742 B.C.E.) from the southern kingdom of Judah. Most researchers date the ministry of Amos somewhere between 760 B.C. and 750 B.C.
When Amos served as a prophet, the people of God had been divided into two nations for more than 150 years. Even though Amos was from the southern kingdom of Judah he delivered his prophetic message at Bethel (Amos 7:13), one of the southernmost cities of Israel, in the northern kingdom. Bethel is not very far from Tekoa, his home town. The only other prophetic book with a Northern Kingdom location is Hosea.
The name Amos as prophet is mentioned only in this book of the Old Testament. The books of 1 and 2 Kings or 1 and 2 Chronicles do not mention this prophet. Amos preached in a period after Elijah and brought a prophecy of judgment on the nations surrounding Israel and also judgment on Israel itself.
Amos was a man with a burden, in fact his very name means burden or burden bearer. He is sent to the people of Israel who were in direct disobedience to God. After the death of Solomon the kingdom split up into two. King Jeroboam in the north recognized that the temple of Jerusalem in the south would continue to draw people to worship and so he established rival centres of worship in Dan, Bethel, and Gilgal.
But more than cult, The prophet communicates the seriousness with which the Lord takes the sin and injustice of society in Israel. There is a general consensus that the combined splendour of these two kings, Jeroboam II from the Northern Kingdom of Israel and King Uzziah from the southern kingdom of Judah rivalled the glory of the Davidic-Solomonic empire. Amos prophesied during prosperous times for the elite of Israel and Judah. He was a prophet of social justice. He is strongest of all in his condemnation of those who make ostentatious displays of religious piety while acting abominably with their less fortunate brothers and sisters.
The first two chapters of Amos described the judgment of the LORD, first against Gentile nations then against Judah and Israel. Each time a nation is judged, its judgement begins with a curious phrase, “For three transgressions and for four.” This phrase does not mean that the nation only committed three sins, and then God thought of a fourth sin; it simply has the idea the nations committed sin upon sin upon sin. Through a series of eight such statements (1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6) commonly called the “oracles against the nations” the first two chapters of Amos bring charges against Israel and its neighbours.
Chapter one and two lists nation after nation, detailing their sin. One by one, the sins of Israel and Judah’s traditional enemies are listed; Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab but finally God also names his own chosen people, Judah(1:4) and Israel (1:6) and that brings us to the text of today.
It is remarkable to see the same judgment formula applied against Judah and Israel as was applied against the previous six Gentile nations; these are God’s own chosen ones but it reveals to us that Judah and Israel piled sin upon sin upon sin in the same manner as the other nations. We often find it easy and perhaps even comfortable to expose and rebuke the sins of those who aren’t the followers of God. That is what Amos did with the first six pronouncements of judgment; but Amos did not stop there and just as Amos went on to look at sin among God’s people, we should do the same.
Judah’s sin was that they despised and disobeyed the law of God but Israel was no less. Amos looked past the pomp of Israel’s public worship (cult) and exposed their social abuses. Amos saw the injustice of the rich against the poor, and how the rich took cruel advantage of the poor. “They sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way.”(2:6&7). But their sin did not stop there for they are charged with sexual immorality; father and son have sexual relationships with the same woman, perhaps a temple prostitute and do this on garments taken from the poor who have pledged it for a sum of money while toasting their success with wine bought with money dishonestly gained.
All this was done by an ungrateful people whom God had rescued from their powerful enemies like the Ammorites and the Egyptians. Yet they disregarded their God and gave into lustful desires while oppressing the poor. Hence judgement is now to fall on Israel. A series of devastating predictions are now pronounced. They will be crushed as one is crushed under a loaded cart. They will run but will be overtaken, the strong will not retain their strength nor shall the mighty save their lives. God no longer regarded the people of Israel as a joy; they had become a weary burden.
Every time justice is perverted, any time the rich receive preferential treatment, or the poor are oppressed, it burdens God. Every time people cheat and manipulate and make money off others in questionable ways, even if it is legal, it burdens God. Every time people unfairly profit at the expense of the unfortunate, it burdens God.
This is a very powerful passage and is as meaningful today as when it was first written. Allowing for some changes of time and place, there is a distressing familiarity with the prophet’s accusations for things have not changed very much in nearly 3,000 years