I’m reading through Amos right now in The Bible Podcast – I don’t think I’ve ever used “Mr. Angry Voice” so much in one sitting than reading through those 9 little chapters. You know that thing that God does where he gives himself different names depending on which aspect of his nature he wants to express? Yeah, in Amos, he calls himself “The God Who Commands Armies”, and he has his rage on, for sure.
Amos almost seems hesitant to be the messenger of such doom. He keeps interjecting the phrase “The Lord God is Speaking”, like you would if you were telling someone about the David Duke’s political platform, and as you got the section on racial purity, you kept saying, “Now, this is HIM speaking, not me! I want no part in this!”
Except that Amos has a brilliant moment of courage, when King Jereboam of Israel and Amaziah the priest accuse him of undermining the social fabric of Israel. They assume that he is a prophet for hire (a courtly profession, like a royal adviser, in the Ancient Near East), and they try tell him to move his business south, to Judah, where they go in for that sort of fundamentalism crap. Amos replies, “You think this was part of my career plan? I was not a prophet by profession – I was a shepherd, and a farmer. God ripped me away from my flocks and fields, and sent me here as his mouthpiece. (7:10-17) God does not bring down his hand of justice without warning. When a lion roars, everyone quakes in fear. God has spoken … who can possibly refuse to prophecy? (3:7-8)” (I pulled that second part out of an earlier section, but I think it’s certainly part of Amos’ same line of thought about his vocation as a prophet).
So, why is God raging? What great sin has Israel committed, for which God is bringing the Assyrians and Babylonians to lead them away with fishhooks in their mouth? The Old Testament gives plenty of reasons, and every prophet that God sent brought them fresh reminders of new ways that they had violated the terms of their lease agreement on the land. In Amos, though, the voice is singular in it’s implication.
Israel has abandoned her poor.
“They sold the innocent for a few pieces of silver, and they traded the needy for a new pair of sandals. They trample on the dirt-covered heads of the poor, they push the destitute away.” (2:7-8)
“Listen, you painted pigs, in Prada and Hermès, living on the coast of Malibu! You oppress the poor; you crush the needy. You whine to your husbands to up the credit limit on your cards, you lunch at Spago and spa at Amadeus, but the time is coming when you will be carried away in a rusted out shopping cart, through the rubble of your gated homes” (4:1-3)
“You hate anyone who speaks the truth to you, anyone who rules justly in your public courts. You levied taxes on the poor, to take away their food and their livelihood, and you used it to build houses of ornate stonework, and vineyards of fine grapes. You will enjoy neither.” (5:10-11)
“Woe to those who live in ease in Zion, to those who feel secure on Mount Samaria … They lie on beds decorated with ivory, the sprawl out on their couches. They eat choice lamb, and the best calves, they sing songs all day, they drink the best wine, and they soothe themselves in fine oils. Israel is in ruins, and they don’t care.” (6:3-6)
It turns out that undermining the social fabric of Israel was exactly what Amos was up to.