READ: Amos 1-2
BACKGROUND: Amos – the guy the book of Amos is named after – was a prophet in ancient Israel about 800 years before Christ. But he wasn’t a typical prophet. He wasn’t a priest or a religious leader or anything like that. He was a shepherd – just a regular guy – whom God called to deliver a message, so he went to deliver it. And at this time the nation of Israel was split into 2 separate kingdoms – the north (Israel) and the south (Judah). And Amos was from Judah, but his message was for Israel. At this time the Judah was very poor and Israel was very wealthy.
THINK: This is such a cool section of prophecy. Amos begins by saying:
“The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel. He said: “The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Carmel withers…”
And immediately after this, Amos goes on to talk about how God is going to judge a number of different cities who were enemies of God and of Israel – Damascus (Syria), Gaza (Philistia), Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. And as the people are listening to this prophecy they are getting pretty pumped up. They fancy themselves as good faithful people who are following God and they are getting excited that God is gonna judge their enemies. You can just picture them there; with each passing city that Amos mentioned they are getting more and more excited. You can hear them saying, “Yes! God is gonna take out the Philistines at Gaza for their wickedness. That is awesome. And the Edomites! And the Ammonites! And the Moabites!”
The crowd is almost at fever pitch here when Amos puts the cherry on top of the whole thing and names a 7th place that God is going to judge – Judah – the Southern Kingdom. And the people of Israel, at this point, are going ballistic. They are so excited and so proud and they’re feeling so superior and judgmental and accusatory. They see themselves on a pedestal high above all their enemies…even the Southern Kingdom.
And then…boom goes the dynamite…Amos drops the BOMB in chapter 2 verses 6-8. Now, the crowd is silent. The crowd is shocked. One minute ago they were excited. Now they’re stunned and angry. The message cuts deep.
There are 7 accusations that Amos levels:
1. They sell the righteous for silver
2. They sell the needy for a pair of sandals
3. They trample the heads of the poor
4. They deny justice to the oppressed
5. Father and son use the same girl
6. Lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge
7. Drink wine taken as fines
These are serious accusations – major violations of the OT law – and the common theme is neglect of the poor and the needy and the marginalized. When Amos talks about selling the needy for a pair of sandals or lying down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge he is referring to the OT practice of giving someone your clothing as collateral for a loan or for some kind of service. But the catch was – God required that the coat be given back before sunset so that the person could be warm as he or she slept. Exodus 22:26-27 says, “If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” But if they’re lying down in the garments taken as pledge it means, very clearly, that they aren’t giving them back. They’re letting the poor people freeze at night and not caring. The major issue that God has with Israel is clear: Those in power – those who have resources – are mistreating the poor and the powerless.
Over and over and over again in the Bible, God repeats that his people are to take care 3 groups of people: The aliens, the fatherless, and the widows. Over and over and over again. Foreigners and outsiders, orphans, and widows. The lost and the lonely. And when God speaks of these groups the warning is: Do not deprive. Do not ignore. Do not oppress. It’s almost as if he is saying, “Don’t not do this! Don’t not care. Don’t not provide for the marginalized. Don’t forget to do this! Don’t get so terribly comfortable in your daily lives that you forget to actively care about the poor and the needy.”
And God sends Amos to tell Israel that they aren’t doing it. And as Amos is talking about Israel in the prophecy it is almost as if they are an enemy of God…just like the cities that Amos talked about before Israel. And that is exactly what God wants to convey. That their self-centered, affluent, materialistic, comfort-addicted way of life has blinded them to the plight of the needy around them and made them enemies of God!
And that’s pretty huge! Cause they don’t see themselves that way at all! They call themselves God’s people. They worship God on the Sabbath (they go to church) and they make sacrifices to him (they sing the worship songs). And they go through the motions of the faith and check off the boxes and think they’re good to go and think since life is easy and okay it means they’re doing the right thing. But as soon as they walk away from the religious rituals they take off their God-hat and ignore the needy. They compartmentalize their faith, they are addicted to their own comfort, and they’re blinded to the difference that God wants them to make in the world and the message He wants them to bring.
There’s a pretty big challenge in these words for those of us living in 21st century America. As we step away from the season that, unfortunately, most wildly showcases the affluent materialism of our nation, I think we all need to ask ourselves what we are doing to actively care for the poor and the powerless and the lost and the lonely. God’s heart beats after these ones. Does yours?
PRAY: Confess your comfort. Your materialism. Your blindness to the need around you in the world. Ask God to open your eyes and your heart today and give you a vision of who he wants you to be to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow in your world.