“Judgement as Consequence”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Amos 7: 7-17
July 14, 2019
‘the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’
– Amos 7:9 i
These words from Amos are not easy to hear. In a time when our nation is openly divided, when corruption in high places is ubiquitous, when people who are seeking an escape from the violence in Central America are now dealing with a nation that wants them gone, we hear from Amos of God’s preferential bias towards the poor and an unrelenting call to justice. In such times as these, Amos’s words are not easy to hear.
Let us, then, explore the import of his vision for our own time. First some background. Second, an examination of how our view of God’s way with humanity may be different than Amos’s. Finally, a look at where Amos speaks truth to today.
First, some background. There was much to be lamented in the time of Amos. He’s writing in the 8th century and if you know your history, you know that the unified kingdom under David and Solomon was falling apart. Here is some historical background that may help us understand the historical tensions of the time:
- Israel had been one united kingdom. King David fought against the tribes of Israel that wanted independence and you can see in the bible an ongoing tension between those who thought Israel should have but one king and that king was Yahweh and those who took a more practical view and saw the need for a strong centralized government with a human king who could amass an army and defend the people from their surrounding adversaries.
- The united Israel would always be fractious. When David’s son, Absalom, rebelled against his father and pronounced himself to be king, he did so in Hebron, the site of the former capital. His son’s rebellion was a portent of conflict to come.
- David’s son, Solomon, was able to maintain control of this fractious nation but upon his death, the nation split apart. From this point forward, there were two kingdoms – the northern kingdom was called Israel and southern kingdom was Judah.
- In Amos 1:1 we learn that Jeroboam was king in the north. He is accused by those living in Judah of having initiated the worship of a god or gods other than Yahweh. While he did altar the worship of Yahweh and changed the cultic symbolism, this was born more out the necessity to set the Northern kingdom’s religious traditions apart from the cultic centralism of Jerusalem. Thus he makes a bull the symbol of Yahweh worship and for this the folks in the South condemned him.
- Amos lived in a time of economic prosperity, but this led to a vast disparity between the rich and the poor. This was heightened by the practice of forced labor in lieu of taxes.
- Takoa, the birthplace of Amos, is in the Southern kingdom and his indictment of the Northern Kingdom of Israel may have been in part because he was preaching to those with whom he had a grudge.
With that as background, let’s turn and look at how we, as followers of Christ, are to understand these words that come to us today from the book of Amos. Simply put, I don’t think Amos’s understanding of God’s wrath and action within history squares with either our understanding of Christ or the way modernity looks at world events. Am I just speaking for myself? Don’t we think in geo-political terms, that the current tension with Iran is a result of their continued aggression and our own nation’s bumbling foreign policy, that North Korea’s intransience is the result of that nation’s regime feeling threatened, that the trade war with China is the result of the unfair trade practices of the Chinese? Maybe I am speaking for myself, but that’s how I think. Yes, God has a role in what unfolds. The long ark of history is bent towards justice. Over time, evil is laid low and truth prevails, but God also allows for the folly of men and women and while God has a bias towards to poor, the rich are not immediately vanquished and the poor immediately vindicated.
This brings us to our final point – namely, given that Amos’s historical background is not our own and that our modern view of God’s interaction with human history differs from that of Amos, what has Amos to say to us today?
While modernity’s view of God may be different than Amos’s view, there is truth in what Amos is saying. Is there anyone who would argue that God has no concern for truth? Would any like to postulate that God is indifferent to the plight of the poor? Would any argue that corruption in high places is not an affront to God? No. In all of this, Amos is right. And do not neglect the fact that Amos, like prophets for justice and truth today, faced opposition from those aligned with power. Amos’s confrontation with Amaziah, a priest in Bethel, reminds us that within the religious community of today there is disparity about the will of God. The voices of liberal and conservative religion echo in the winds of our experience. Given the reality of differing views within the Christian community, how is one to choose?
There is no easy answer to that question. We within the “free church” tradition have no centralized authority. We are left with a radical freedom that calls on each of us to come to an understanding of God’s will for our time and place in life. And this process of discernment is filled with the baggage of our own personal histories. Our views are shaped by our mothers and fathers, by those they admired and those they dismissed. I know this is true for myself and I suspect it is true for you. So our relative position regarding God’s will for the world is less than perfect. We may be swayed more by the voices of our fathers and mothers than by the voice of God. Still, the task of discernment remains. Look, then, to the Spirit of God reveled in Christ and ask if you are aligned with Christ. Does the spirit of compassion, forgiveness and mercy course through your veins? Does your view of the world reflect that Spirit and can you dare to follow where it leads?
In Amos’s day, no one wanted his dire prophecy to be true. I suspect that Amaziah spoke for many when he embraced the kingdom rather than Amos’s vision. But God will not be mocked and while Israel did not fall to the Babylonians during Amos’s life, fall it did. What we see at work in Amos’s day is God’s judgment as a result of ignoring the weightier matters of truth and justice. In this Amos was right and as we move through our time of history we are unwittingly writing tomorrow’s headlines. Follow in the way of political corruption, be indifferent to the truth, and treat the foreigner as less than fully human, and the weight of history will reach a breaking point.
Amos was vindicated by how history unfolded as was the prophet Jeremiah who was challenged by Hananiah. In the end there are no books in the Bible entiled Hananiah or Amaziah. We are left with Jeremiah and Amos because history proved them right. This may not help in the immediate present, but history will show us the way we should have gone. In the interim, our conscious calls us to follow in the way of Christ. Seek, then, the insight of fellow believers, the witness of the Biblical record and the mandate of your conscience. Let us pray…
iAmos 7:7-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
7 This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
“See, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by;
9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said,
‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.’”
12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am[a] no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am[b] a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
16 “Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.
You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’
17 Therefore thus says the Lord:
‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
and your land shall be parceled out by line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’”