Summary: The first in a summer series on the Minor Prophets.
SERMON June 16, 2002
Donkin-Morien-Birch Grove Pastoral Charge
Amos 4: 1-13
“Minor Prophets I: Amos, justice and judgement”
This morning I begin my summer preaching project which will consist of twelve sermons on the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament. These 12 prophets form the closing part of the Old Testament in our Christian Scriptures, but in the Hebrew Bible they form one scroll, one book. The order in which I am going to preach on them is chronological, and is not the same as the order in Scripture.
The first prophet is Amos. Amos was from a small village about 12 miles south of Jerusalem, a village resting in the hills, a place called Tekoa. He lived in this place as a herdsman, and as a grower of sycamore trees. He was an unlikely prophetic voice. Most of the prophets and religious leaders in this era, around the mid 8th century BCE, were schooled in prophecy in places like Jerusalem. But Amos had no formal religious training, and was a stark contrast to the religious voices of his day.
Called from his herds in the hills around Tekoa, Amos was sent by God into a foreign land, into the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This was a good time in Israel, at least in external and physical ways. The economy was doing well and trade was booming. There was a sense of peace in the land, as the king, Jeroboam II, fortified the borders and made peace with his neighbours. And the religious life of the nation also appeared to be in good shape, at least superficially. The temples thronged with worshippers and their sacrifices.
Amos saw that the superficial veneer of success and wealth was not all that it seemed to be. The bountiful trade had led to an oppressive social pyramid, with few at the top. The religion of the people was a religion in name and form alone, without any sense of moral obligation. Amos was called by God to prophesy to the people in a way that had not been done for many years. He preached to the people in terms of their unique and special relationship with God, and what that relationship entailed. God had brought this people through so much, and had brought them to the land which they now ruled in peace. And now what did they owe to God.
They had violated the original covenant relationship of Sinai, a covenant which knew no classes, a covenant which offered all the Promised Land. But now Israel had become a promised land to few and a debtor’s prison to the many. Amos is strident in his condemnation of the luxury of the wealthy, in contrast to the oppressive poverty in the rest of society. And his clarion call was a call that God’s judgement rested on the people of Israel. God would not and could not allow this evil to continue. God did not look down on the rich sacrifices and empty words of his people with joy. Amos had lived a simple life in the hillside, and as he called on the people of Israel to recognize their sin, he knew there was another way to live. He knew that God had called his people to more.
Chapter four is the most important chapter of the whole book of Amos. It is a micro version of the whole book. It shows all the elements of Amos’ preaching to the people of Israel. It begins with a rousing description of the evils that Amos witnessed in Israelite high society, with the judgment that will come to those who do not heed the call. “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, "Bring us some drinks!" The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness: "The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks. You will each go straight out through breaks in the wall, and you will be cast out toward Harmon,”
Amos’ words are directed to those who live in great luxury while the poor struggle, and to the society that allows this to happen. One can almost picture Amos, casting his eyes to the hills of a famous place, like Hollywood or the French Riviera, looking at our television and magazines with their focus on celebrity and fame and luxury, and we can hear Amos say the same words to our world, to our society, with its warped sense of value and loss of perspective. And to this world will come judgment.
Verses four and five show that even the worship of that society was destroyed. "Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings- boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do," declares the Sovereign Lord. The world had turned the houses of worship in places of sin. They go to worship God and yet their lives do not match their worship. They appear to be a very spiritual society, yet it is all a horrible, twisted lie. God is not fooled by their boasts of true spirituality.