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 7 concludes with false accusations leveled against Amos by an angry priest.
Amos must have begun preaching a new series of sermons, based upon the three visions God had given him. Through his own interceding prayer, Amos might have conveyed to the people, Israel had been spared the devastation of locusts and the unspeakable disaster of uncontainable forest fires. However, the prophet would have continued, the Lord has made clear God’s intentions.
The land and its people have been measured and found wanting. The Lord’s judgment has been rendered against the indicted, and a sentence has been meted out. There shall be a cleansing, in the form of a conquering empire which will leave the cities in ruins, the fields pillaged, the flocks and herds decimated, and the people exiled and scattered.
God’s reckoning has been set in motion.
Amaziah had had just about enough. The prophet, at first, had been speaking against the elites, and though that was not good for temple business, it was also familiar religious rhetoric which only the most devout would pay much attention to. Anyone with a grain of sense knew to ignore this rough-hewn, plain speaking fig picker.
But then, Amos had become more insistent. He had become strident, his sermons more pointed, his speaking points more specific, his insults more personal. Then, he had begun to show up hollow-eyed and unkempt, as though he had slept in his cloak under a tree, or by the road, and had eaten poorly. Just this morning he had launched into a long rant about “saving” the people from the teeth of locusts and the flames of holy inferno, only to have them overrun by invading armies, and hauled away to foreign lands, for God’s plumb line had found them wanting.
Amaziah, the false high priest of golden calf worship at Bethel, found this portent of God’s holy prophet Amos particularly offensive. He understood quite well the plumb line was an indictment against the religion he represented. It was also an indictment against what the prophet insisted was immorality and social injustice, incendiary accusations. What did that itinerant sheep herder know about the complexities of economics, the delicate balances required of politics, the intractable nature of poverty and class?
It was time to shut this fearmonger and rabble rouser down.
Amaziah tried to hurt Amos in three ways:
1. Misrepresentation: Amaziah’s first move was to get a message to the palace, marked “eyes only” for King Jeroboam. He accused Amos of treason, “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel,” he wrote to the king. He crafted an oracle that sounded prophetic, but they were not words Amos had ever uttered:
“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,Amaziah, in a false quote of the prophet, Amos 7:10-11
and Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”
They say the best kind of lie is the truth with a twist. Amos had never said Jeroboam would “die by the sword,” though he had indeed prophesied exile. There was no way to, in that moment, prove the lie of the false priest, but history would eventually expose Amaziah’s treacherous deception:
In the fifteenth year of King Amaziah son of Joash of Judah, King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel began to reign in Samaria; he reigned forty-one years.
He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin. . . [several notable accomplishments are listed]
Jeroboam slept with his ancestors, the kings of Israel; his son Zechariah succeeded him.2 Kings 14:23-29 (NRSV)
2. Smear Campaign: I imagine Amaziah, after scratching his message onto a clay cylinder, and firing it off to the king, then strode down the steps of his temple, in full priestly regalia, and swept his robes about him as he told Amos to beat it, go earn money as a prophet where he would be welcome, down in Judah.
In just one poisonous sentence, in front of all the crowd arrayed before them, Amaziah recast Amos from holy and anointed to speak forth God’s word, to yet another street corner orator on his soapbox, with a hat out in front of him inviting passersby to drop in a few coins.
3. Confrontation: Amaziah took upon himself the force of the king’s royal law: This temple here at Bethel “is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom,” he told Amos. You no longer have a street preacher’s permit, here.
In all humility and in the spirit of transparency, Amos readily agreed he not only did not have a prophet’s credentials, but he was not even descended from prophets. He had never gone to prophet school (yes, there really was such a thing as a school for prophets), and in fact really was a simple working man: he was a shepherd by trade and worked a side hustle tending sycamore fig groves.
But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’Amos 7:15 (NRSV)
His calling and anointing, from Almighty God, was far more binding and powerful than any diploma or human ordination.
I think of the times I have been criticized for what God has called me to do—why am I working so hard at a volunteer position, when I will not even get paid? Or, do I not realize teaching from some passages in the Bible rocks the boat and makes others feel uncomfortable? So many people seem to have an opinion about what women should be doing, especially women of a certain age.
Have you ever experienced that? People questioning your calling, your eligibility to do what you seem to be doing for the Lord?
Our defense, like Amos, is sure when we know God has called us to serve Him in a particular way.
When God has called us to something, we cannot do anything else, and we cannot do anything less.
And, as he now had Amaziah’s full attention, Amos delivered to him a personal message from the King of all kings:
Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,
“‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’
“Therefore this is what the Lord says:
“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,Amos 7:16-17 (NRSV
and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
and you yourself will die in a pagancountry.
And Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”
[The first mention of Israel worshiping a golden calf is found in the Book of Exodus, when the people were just beginning their long sojourn in the wilderness, before entering Canaan. Amaziah’s high priesthood at Bethel, overseeing golden-calf worship came from a long legacy of idolatry among the northern tribes | James Tissot / Public domain]