So far in the book of Amos, we’ve seen this prophet from the south (Judah) start out by proclaiming – in the north – that God lives in and speaks from the southern capital of Jerusalem. And what’s more, he implies that when God speaks, it enacts judgement against the northern kingdom (Israel) for her idolatry. Tactful start.
But then, yesterday, we saw him start to win them over by speaking God’s judgement against Israel’s neighbours: Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. Many of whom had oppressed Israel in the past. And all of whom were guilty of war crimes against humanity. Amos’s hearers are probably enjoying this bit: the arrows are landing on all the nations that surround them.
And then it gets even better.
JudahAmos 2:4-5 This is what the Lord says:
“For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not relent.
Because they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees,
because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed,
I will send fire on Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.
(As an aside: notice the difference between the sins the other nations were being judged for, yesterday. Here, God’s people are being held to a higher standard. They’re in trouble not just for failing to live up to the base moral standards of the rest of the world; they’re being judged for not keeping God’s law which he gave them.)
To the northern kingdom, this is the icing on the cake. Their bitter rivals – the ones from the south who’ve been telling them that they’ve got it all wrong – Amos is prophesying against them. Against his own people. For rejecting God’s law and being led astray by false gods. How good is this! Maybe this Amos isn’t such a bad guy after all. By this point he’s probably about to be carried in honour throughout the streets of Samaria.
I mean, what could go wrong from this point? We’ve already had judgement against six other nations, and then Judah is the seventh. God’s into all that number-seven stuff, right? We’ve hit the climax of the judgement, surely!
But n is very soon about to become n+1.
IsraelAmos 2:6 This is what the Lord says:
“For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent.
And Amos’s brief window of popularity is over quicker than Jarryd Hayne’s with the 49ers. That’s a big punt return fumble right there. The climactic oracle is not Judah – it’s Israel. And this time God’s going to mention all four sins, rather than just skip to the highlights reel:
Sin #1Amos 2:6-7a They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.
Justice is sold to the highest bidder, and the poor and powerless lose out. (By the way, this isn’t about footwear: sandals were often exchanged to symbolise the transfer of property. This is about the accumulation of property by the rich.)
Sin #2Amos 2:7b Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.
Sex is perverted. And women, as so often is the case, lose out. (It also probably has links with the kinds of sex acts performed as fertility rites at Canaanite altars.)
Sin #3Amos 2:8 They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.
This is a bit obscure in the detail, but it’s got something to do with abuse of the legal process by those in power. They take the cloaks of the poor as a pledge, in clear violation of the law (Exodus 22:26), and the court officials take much of the restitution (paid in food or wine) to the wronged party. (Like lawyers getting the bulk of compensation payouts.)
Now before we get to the fourth sin in the series, we have a brief interlude, in which God points out how Israel should have known better (than the other nations mentioned in the first 6 oracles). After all he’s done for them:Amos 2:9-10 Yet I destroyed the Amorites before them,
though they were tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks.
I destroyed their fruit above and their roots below.
I brought you up out of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness
to give you the land of the Amorites.
But that’s not all God did for Israel:Amos 2:11 “I also raised up prophets from among your children and Nazirites from among your youths.
Is this not true, people of Israel?” declares the Lord.
In other words: “I didn’t just give you the law and leave you to it. I raised up prophets and holy people to lead you; to call you back when you strayed.”
But what did they do to these prophets and Nazirites?
Sin #4Amos 2:12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.
Israel corrupted the holy men, making them foresake their vows. They silenced the prophets. They rejected every lifeline God sent them.
So what’s going to happen?Amos 2:13-16 “Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.
The swift will not escape, the strong will not muster their strength, and the warrior will not save his life.
The archer will not stand his ground, the fleet-footed soldier will not get away, and the horseman will not save his life.
Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,” declares the Lord.
The same kind of judgement that was pronounced over the other nations – that’s coming to Israel, too. They’ve become just like Edom and Ammon and the rest. Corrupt. Debauched. Idolatrous. And even more culpable, given their special status as God’s chosen people. (And that’s the theme we’ll return to tomorrow, in chapter 3.)
To think about
It’s easy to sit in church and listen to God’s word. And get smug when you think it’s directed at someone else. If you’re particularly uncharitable, you might even gloat over their discomfort. You might even be proud. (I would never be that bad.)
It’s easy to place blind faith in our status as being one of God’s people, presuming on grace, and not realise that God is far from being “with us” in our actions and in our lifestyle. Yet God’s word has a way of creeping closer, and then – without warning – cutting you apart. And all your smugness and pride disappears as you realise God is talking to you.
Have you ever experienced this?
Have you tried to avoid it: do you ever “silence the prophets” – those people or circumstances that call us back to God when we stray?