Amos was summoned by God to warn the Northern Kingdom of Israel of its impending doom due to the collapse of justice and the moral and spiritual decline of the nation. It should be understood that Amos did not travel to Israel in the footprints of Elijah and Elisha; working miracles and wonders. He went by divine commission with a prophet message. He had no soothing or cushiony words to comfort the poor and those in adversity. Indeed, he had only threatening words of vengeance and punishment for those who defied God's will. Justice, not mercy, was what Amos insisted upon.
In Amos' mind, social justice was a vital part of the covenant responsibility. He declared it so ferociously and defined it so sharply that the community of Israel must have thought he was crazy. Of course, people tend to think you are "crazy" when you speak candidly and truthfully. We are not too far removed from the response of the children of Israel. We live in a time when you are expected to sugar coat, sweeten, soften it down a bit. But pardon me, I digress.
Amos was a realist who dealt with things as they were. Justice was what his God demanded, and it was the smug substitution of form and ritual for justice that aroused his righteous indignation. Amos spoke for God and God alone and the Word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword.
Let's be clear; justice to Amos is not just conformity to a civil code, though it is involved to some degree. But for him, it was having the right dealings with and relationship toward others in the covenant tradition. It grieved Amos to the core of his being to see that justice and righteousness were so perverted that the very covenant with God was dishonored and defiled. Much of the practices of Israel were in direct violation to the covenant laws. So much so that it seemed as if Israel was in a conspiracy against its own poor.
Amos insisted that true religion begins and ends in recognition of the holiness of God: a holiness which must find its expression in the personal and corporate life of Israel. He perceived with astonishing clearness that the physical and intellectual strength of a nation can be destroyed by immorality and overindulgence.
However we may want to look at it, the prophecy of Amos went directly to the heart of matters. It stripped pretence from the judicial system, where nepotism and preferential treatment rather than justice prevailed; from industry and commerce, where the love of man had been replaced by the love of gain; from altars of religion, where officials were busy with their services and indifference to reality.
Amos bluntly told Israel that they were a bunch of greedy, unjust, dirty and profane people who defended and excused themselves on the ground that they were God's elect and therefore, no real harm could befall them. Amos adamantly rejected this notion and vociferously declared that God had no favorites and that in actuality the opposite was true. The fact that Israel had been chosen above all the nations of the earth had placed greater moral obligations upon them. To the extent that they failed to meet these obligations would their punishment be greater than that of their enemies.
Neither did Amos "bite his tongue" when admonishing the women of his day whom he called "cows of Bashan" because they only cared for luxury and worldly pleasures (4:11). He describes them as a group of heartless, ignorant women who used folks to gratify their own lustful appetites.
It's troubling to the spirit when one thinks about what the people of Israel thought the "Day of the Lord" was going to be like. In their imagination, it would be a grand and glorious event when God would defeat all their opponents; give them the privilege of rule, and shower them with all the material advantages her patriots desired. Oh how much they were looking forward to the 'Great Day of the Lord.'
Then enters the joy killer, Amos, with words of dread, judgment and doom.
I wonder if there is any similarity between ancient Israel and modern America. Just wondering!
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow, Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances, Homilies that Teach.