Summary: Year C. Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 23, 2001 Amos 8: 4-7 Title: “Be not deceived.”
Year C. Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 23, 2001
Amos 8: 4-7
Title: “Be not deceived.”
Amos was from a village just south of the border between Israel and Judah, Tekoa, but he prophesied at Bethel, the main religious center in the north, just north of the border. In 1:1 he is said to be a shepherd, but in 7: 14 he also says he was a “dresser of sycamores,” one who punctured the immature figs to make them turn sweet. He preached during a time of great material prosperity in Israel, also a time of social and religious corruption the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel- 786-742BC. This was a period of “calm before the storm.” The Assyrian conquest of the north was soon to take place in 722BC. Even though he was the first of the classical prophets, he was the least hopeful. He prophesied that Israel’s fate, her destruction, was a done deal. They- the kings, priests, prophets, wealthy classes- were just too corrupt to reform. Their exploitation of the poor and their pretense at religious piety had gone on too long and was too ingrained in the conduct of business to have any hope of changing in time to ward off the impending doom.
Chapter eight contains a series of four visions and chapter nine the fifth and final vision structured on the same pattern. God shows Amos something- locusts, fire, a plumb line, summer fruit. He asks him what, in fact, he sees, and then interprets for him its meaning for Israel’s future fate. Prophecy, like all revelation, is fact plus interpretation. It is not enough to get the facts right, hard and rare as that may be. The facts must be rightly interpreted and only God can do so. In the first two instances Amos intercedes for his people and God relents, but after that there is no relenting. It is too late. The present verses, four to seven, are attached to the fourth vision. It is really an oracle, a statement from God, typical of prophecy, condemning the merchants of Israel for their feigned piety and their poorly disguised greed. The consequences of greed and religious hypocrisy are described in physical terms as earthquake in verse eight, eclipse verses nine and ten, famine in verses eleven and twelve, and drought verses thirteen to fourteen. These are all different ways of describing the fundamental truth that behavior has consequences.
In verse four, you who trample upon the needy: The prophet has just compared the impending judgment and harvest to overly ripe fruit at the end of summer. God’s message is that the punishment for sin is long overdue. Now the prophet specifies who he means. The merchants are the first to be singled out. They exploit the poor.
The poor of the land: This will become a rather well used and somewhat specialized term that subsequent writing prophets will develop. The basic meaning is the obvious one: economically poor. However, it will develop into a broader reference, implied in its usage here. The humble, dispossessed, those without sufficient property and goods for living, those with diminished powers, strength and worth, those who do not really own the land, even if, legally, they do, but see themselves as sojourners, tenants- all these notions will be included in the meaning of “poor,” `ani. These references will be combined with another word, the word used here, `anawim, for “poor.” Together these words will be applied to those who suffer as victims, under any form of coercion, risking dependence on God alone. While they are practically synonymous, `ani tends to be used to stress the sense of separation and aloneness and `anowim is used in connection with people assembled in acts of worship, united in their oppression and in their confident dependence on God for everything. Vulnerable to human exploitation, they are especially dear to God. Those who victimize them are playing with fire.
In verse five, when will the new moon be over…and the Sabbath: The beginning of each month was a feast day, a day of rest from work, equal to a Sabbath. The merchants showed external piety and duly worshiped on such days. Inwardly, however, they could not wait until they were over and business could continue as usual, time is money, the business of exploiting those who could do nothing about their rapaciousness.
We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating: Of course, the merchants are not saying this aloud, but plotting within their hearts. The ephah was a dry measure roughly equivalent to a bushel. The shekel was originally a weight. The picture is clear. They sold less than what they claimed for more than it was worth. They cheated people, especially the poor who knew no better, or, if they did, could do nothing about it.