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.
In chapters 6-7, Amos depicted God’s plumb line by which Israel was being measured. This week, chapter 6 points out the complacency and self-satisfaction that had hardened God’s people against conviction of their moral drift.
At the very end of his polemic in chapter 5, Amos spoke in the voice of Lord saying,
“You have lifted up
1. the shrine of your king,
2. the pedestal of your idols,
3. star of your god—
which you made for yourselves.
Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”God, in Amos (NIV)
says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.
Though Amos may not have ticked off those three categories in quite the way I did just now (those numbers are not in the NIV translation, and there is also some variety of ways to translate the above passage), I do see three main areas of concern God was addressing, through Amos.
- “The shrine of your king” to me represents Israel’s civic life, their judicial, political, and financial institutions.
- “The pedestal of your idols” to me represents Israel’s religious life.
- “The star of your god—which you made for yourselves” to me represents Israel’s social life and ways of relating to others, their society and culture.
“’Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,’ says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.”
What Amos was foretelling had never, in the history of Israel, ever happened before. When those kinds of predictions are made, people tend to scoff, it just sounds too unreal. Millennia later, the apostle Peter would point out the same phenomenon in one of his letters, saying, “You must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!’”
So, in Amos’ day, there were surely many who were certain the prophet was indulging in hyperbole and hysteria, that the catastrophe he was predicting on such a grand scale was outlandish fearmongering.
Yet, it did happen.
I wonder if Amos had already been observing his culture and society, and seeing warning signs, as God guided his thoughts. Were there conversations over dinners that went deep into the night, with others who were sensing God’s increasing displeasure? Who were themselves becoming ever more uncomfortable with the widening corruption?
Amos continued to lean into these three broad breaches with God’s holy covenant. The people had sworn to uphold God’s purposes of shalom with all creation. They had sworn to live out God’s core values of justice and righteousness, and to live into God’s character of compassion, mercy, and love. This would all be reflected in their court system, their financial institutions, their social programs, as well as in their care for the earth, for the earth’s creatures and living things, and for each other.
Shalom would be the lived experience of harmony and prosperity for all life, Where God is rightly glorified, people are amply blessed, and all creation thrives in an exuberant joy.
But when breached, character and core values would warp from justice to greed, from compassion to hard-heartedness, and people would come to see business and governance primarily as vehicles for personal gain.
Without the values of justice and righteousness, without character shaped by mercy and compassion, the courts and military would become avenues for crushing the disadvantaged and rewarding the ruthless.
And what of religion? Can religion also become warped?
According to the Book of Amos, the answer is yes.
There can be much good that comes from what is termed “organized religion.” For instance, much of what we would today consider societal good in the western hemisphere has come out of the centuries of passionate commitment of Christians to spread God’s compassion, justice, and righteousness, God’s shalom, into all the earth. A quick Google search offers up a number of books with solid research that points this out.
But what happens when God’s people lose touch with God’s values and God’s character?
They do not stop being God’s people.
They do experience a profound disconnection from God.
Instead of experiencing and living out the exuberant joy of shalom, they create and participate in systems that harm.
This chapter is the last before Amos began describing the visions God had given him of what lay in store in the years to come. In a sense, Amos was summarizing the points he had been covering so far, the reasons the people of God needed to completely overhaul everything about their culture, their society, and their religion, for if they did not, God certainly would.
Amos began his summary statement with a lament,
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, (Judah, the southern kingdom)
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria, (Israel, the northern kingdom)
the notables of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel resorts!
Cross over to Calneh, and see; (Calneh represented the ruins of an ancient Mesopotamian empire)
from there go to Hamath the great; (Hamath represented the ruins of one of the oldest cities in the world)
then go down to Gath of the Philistines. (Gath represented the ruins of the Philistine culture)
Are you better than these kingdoms? (that is exactly what they did think)
Or is your territory greater than their territory,
O you that put far away the evil day,Amos 6:1-3 (NRSV)
and bring near a reign of violence?
Though Amos had, in the previous chapters, listed in vivid detail the egregious evils the northern kingdom was openly engaged in, the elite’s felt experience of those evils was pleasant.
Callousness towards the earth? Why not! as we enjoy our luxuriant ivory beds, carved from the tusks of elephants and teeth of rhinoceros. As we sink our teeth into the lambs.
Greed? Paid off, as we can idle away with music and wine, and take spa days while others work to support our excesses. Why, we are just like David, the king after God’s own heart, (while being far from God’s heart ourselves).
Justice? Who needs it! Just so long as we benefit from the ruin of our own people. (Paraphrase of Amos 5:7)
Amos called it “the revelry of the loungers.”
God abhorred it.
And the cleansing wrath of God would be severe. To illustrate how deep the cleansing would have to go, Amos depicted a home so devastated that when a person would bring home their relative who had died, in order to prepare them for burial, they would find the entire house decimated. Out of ten, only one might survive, cowering in terror, hidden away in some small, dark corner, whispering hoarsely through their chattering teeth, “Shh, be quiet, don’t say God’s name!” Recognizing the justice of God might find them out, too.
To Amos, the complacency of the people was like a mental illness.
“Do horses run on rocks?” That should have brought barking laughter. Ha ha, what a stupid question.
“Does one plow the sea with oxen?” Ha ha, what a ridiculous waste of time.
But you have turned justice into poisonAmos 6:12
and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood—
They rejoiced in the lush beauty of the Gilead city named Lo-Debar, though the name itself meant “Nothing.” They prided themselves in their own strength and accomplishments.
It would not last.
 Today’s post will rely heavily on material presented by Dr. Steve Delamarter, since retired professor at Portland Seminary.
 “How Christianity Changed the World,” 2004, Alvin J Schmidt, and “How Christianity Made The Modern World – The Legacy of Christian Liberty: How the Bible Inspired Freedom, Shaped Western Civilization, Revolutionized Human Rights, Transformed Democracy and…Heritage,” 2009, Paul Backholer, are just a couple of examples.
[Reclining Figures | Gouwenaar at Dutch Wikipedia / Public domain]