Amos has been connected to the sheep: he was a shepherd by trade, who had a tremendous concern for the downtrodden, and was called by God to become a prophet.
Chapters 1-3, Amos prophesied about God’s plans to judge Israel and the surrounding nations, eight in all. Today, we will take a deep dive into the rest of chapter 2.
Not since the days of Solomon had God’s people enjoyed such material prosperity, political stability, and military success. And for the first time since Solomon, Israel had reached the original borders of God’s promised land. In both countries, the kings were enjoying long and stable reigns. Jeroboam II, in particular, was a hero to his people.
But spiritually, people in both countries were corrupt. There was idolatry, extravagant indulgence, immorality, corruption of the judicial process, and oppression of the poor.
Yet, in spite of the moral depravity and degeneracy, religion was really popular. People thronged to the festivals and religious centers.
Religion was almost like entertainment and made people feel better about themselves. The people thought that grand sweeping ceremonies, performing special rites, making sacrifices, doing rituals was all that was needed; it was a form of religion but it had no substance, no intimacy with God, and it was also mixed together with elements from the pagan religions that surrounded them, the calves of Ba’al and the rituals brought in by false priests.
Jonah had been prophesying restoration and glory, so had Elisha, and here it had all been coming true, so both Judah and Israel made the mistake of thinking that God’s blessing of them was also His endorsement and approval of them.
Forgotten were God’s past punishments for unfaithfulness.
The people were not committed to God’s law, so they had abandoned all standards of conduct. It is not as though we can say Israel began following the political practices of the countries around them. Far from it. Hammurabi’s Code, circa 1,800 B.C. had been widely adopted for a good thousand years. According to Hammurabi, the purpose of government was “to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; to rule over the [citizens] like [the sun], and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”
But Israel’s religion was telling them God was happy with the way they were living their lives, and that is why they were getting rich, and being victorious in war.
They were ignoring the fact that the rich were getting richer at the expense of the poor, and that their religion was a sham.
Amos condemned all those who made themselves powerful or rich at the expense of others, by cheating, by perverting justice, and by taking advantage of those with no money and no power.
It’s a timely message, isn’t it?
I imagine Amos, standing on the steps of the magnificent temple in Bethel, his voice supernaturally carrying across the courtyard, as worshippers draw near. He is preaching a sermon they are all enjoying, “This is what the LORD says: For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not relent!” Like a refrain in a popular song, the people begin to chant it themselves, “For three sins, even for four!” “Praise be the word of the LORD!”
Slowly, at first, a crowd forms and then swiftly becomes a pulsing throng, arms thrust up in righteous indignation, “The Syrians, the Philistines, the Phoenicians, the Edomites . . .” but then the shouts become less vehement, more scattered, as Amos moves relentlessly closer and closer to home. Suddenly, with the same zeal and supernatural power, Amos condemns his own country, Judah.
A heavy silence settles on the gathered citizens of Israel. The noose has been slowly coiling, but they had not seen it coming. Now, they hold their breaths as Amos stabs his arm forward, his large hand balled into a fist with one, long, accusing finger pointed at the congregation all about him. He fixes them with a terrible stare, penetrating their souls one by one.
“This is what the LORD says,” he pronounces, enunciating each word with his low, guttural accent. The syllables land like blows as he shouts, “For three sins of ISRAEL, even for four, I. WILL. NOT. RELENT.”
What was Israel actually doing, as a nation?
I hope you have your Bible somewhere handy and read what Amos wrote. I’ll paraphrase, but don’t take my word for it, go back and see for yourself.
Amos 2:6 Slave trade at rock bottom prices. Here’s what happened: Even though plenty of people were enjoying a great deal of wealth and luxury, there was an ever-growing divide between people who had money (and then more money) and people who, however hard they worked, had not very much money, and then went into debt. If they could not pay back their loans, their last recourse was to sell themselves into indentured servitude.
Amos 2:7a Oppression of the poor— Here’s what happened: There was no welfare or social program in place—despite God’s many commands designed to protect the destitute. All those chapters in the Pentateuch about the judicial system were ignored. The judicial system was totally corrupt.
Amos 2:7b Ramped up sex trade. Here’s what happened: Prostitution was an integral part of pagan worship practices, so father and son would go into the same sex worker.
Amos 2:8a Fraudulent banking practices. Here’s what happened: Holding onto the cloak of a poor person as collateral was specifically forbidden by God, it was all the impoverished person had to keep them warm at night. Now, those offering loans kept the collateral for their personal benefit, even to bankrolling their visits to pagan worship centers, a double slap to God and His people.
Amos 2:8b Political and economic exploitation. Here’s what happened: Those with the power to levy the law found ways to extort ordinary people with stiff levies and fines. The wine actually belonged to the people who had pawned it, as cash. So debts would be ruthlessly foreclosed on. These same leaders would then drink that wine in the temple as though they were right with God and with everyone.
11‑12 Religious intolerance and persecution. Here’s what happened: The prophets God raised up were prevented from obeying God by speaking His word. Making Nazirites drink wine was to make them break their sacred vows to God.
I thought about all the issues we read about today in the United States that speak to economic and political injustices—this is my own short list. Do you have other topics that should get added?
Our own safety nets for those in need:
- Access to health care
- Livable wages
- Disability care
- Care for the mentally ill
- Elder care
- Help for the unemployed
Our own treatment of noncitizens:
- Immigration laws
- Documented, and undocumented workers
- Border control
Our own system of justice:
- Equal rights for those who have less power and privilege
- Protection for the vulnerable
Our own economic system:
- The enormous divide between wealth and poverty (this site is mind-boggling, but it only works with a touch screen)
- Our stance on taxes and social programs
- The condition of our national debt
This week is God’s indictment, next week is God’s judgement. God made it clear, through Amos, that who we are and what we do matters.
[Corruption | Gillam, Bernhard, 1856-1896, artist / Public domain]
[Many thanks to Dr. Steve Delamarter for his presentation on Amos at George Fox University]