READ: Amos 5-6
BACKGROUND: Barring the occasional thematically inspired deviation (i.e. Good Friday & Easter) I’m generally trying to start with the beginning of books and work through them systematically to give more context to each of the readings. But it’s my birthday so I’ll do what I want to today, and this is one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible.
Amos was a shepherd (not a typical job for a prophet) from Tekoa in the Southern Kingdom of Judah whom God called and sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel with a message of judgment for it’s wickedness in turning away from him. One of their great sins – which Amos addresses in this section specifically – is just going through the motions of faith. They check off all the boxes and do the religious rituals, but it doesn’t mean anything to them and they aren’t really living for God and being transformed by him. And, frankly, it makes God mad!
5:1 – When Amos calls it a “lament” it indicates that he’s writing as though Israel is already dead.
4 – He gives hope to Israel, imploring them that if they would just seek God they could yet be saved.
5 – Bethel (which ironically means “House of God”) had become a place of paganism and idolatry. Gilgal and Beersheba had too.
7 – They had corrupted the procedures & institutions of justice (like the courts) which essentially turned them into instruments of injustice.
11 – The rich stored up treasures for themselves and ignored the needy. God promises to smash their wealth and take away their treasure.
16 – Farmers being summoned to weep signifies an incredible destruction and calamity because they were usually too busy to be caught up in such things.
21-23 – It’s not that the practices were wrong. It’s that the attitude behind them was wrong. They were empty practices. People were just going through the motions of religion.
27 – This is a preview of the exile.
6:10-11 – This is a frightening scene where a survivor in a house is afraid even to speak God’s name because of the incredible wrath that he has poured out.
12 – This is intentionally ridiculous imagery to show how ridiculous Israel’s behavior was.
THINK: On August 28th, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and delivered one of the great speeches in American history, “I Have A Dream.” And in that speech, just prior to declaring publicly his dream, he quoted Amos 5:24. He noted that he was continually asked, along with other leaders of the civil rights movement when they would be satisfied. How many concessions would the white power structure have to make for them to be satisfied and pipe down? How much was enough? When would they be satisfied and settle?
This was his response: “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
He had a holy discontent that the world was not the way it should be. I think that God was not satisfied until those things happened, that God will not be satisfied until justice rolls like a river and righteousness like a mighty stream. And I want to challenge all of us to be less satisfied with out world. I think it’s so easy for us, like the nation of Israel, to just go through the motions of faith and check off the right boxes and then return to the incredible materialism of our culture and wallow in self-centeredness. God is not content with that. Not remotely. And we must find his heart. We must line ourselves up with him and develop a holy discontent with a broken world that is not the way it should be. Can we simply sit back and contentedly enjoy our affluence when thousands of people around the world starve to death every day, and millions of orphans have no place to call home, and hundreds of thousands of children don’t even have shoes to protect their feet, and evil regimes oppress, imprison, coerce, and kill innocent people, and kids are beaten and abused, and there are people in our schools who get made fun of and have no friends, and people in our schools struggle with destructive addictions to drugs & alcohol, and racism exists whereby people are judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character, and hurting needy people are lost because they don’t know God? God is not satisfied and so we must not be. We are his hands and feet. We are his instruments and his plan to heal the brokenness around us and we must not stop allowing this mission to define our lives until justice flows like a river and righteousness like a mighty stream!
ASK: Do I sometimes just go through the motions of religion without letting it affect my heart? What are some things in my world that I can no longer tolerate, and how is God calling me to make a difference?