Summary: Amos sends Israel a clear message from God: you are not meeting my standards, and I am about to cut you off.
Good morning. I am special correspondent Shinon Byorus for the Mesopotamian News Network, coming to you live from Bethel in Israel, where controversy has been stirring for months around the inflammatory rhetoric from the prophet Amos, who appeared some time ago from Judea with a very harsh message of divine condemnation. King Jeroboam of Israel has commanded that the prophet Amos be labeled persona non grata and deported back to Judah. Azariah, the priest of the temple in Bethel, has been handed the unenviable task of informing Amos of the king’s decree and of managing the uproar that is sure to ensue.
Let me give you some background.
When he first showed up Amos was the best street theater in town. From Samaria to Jezreel, from Shechem to Bethel, people flocked to hear him harangue the crowds. First he took on Aram. They had been Israel’s worst enemy for generations. So when they heard that the king of Aram would be killed and their capital Damascus destroyed, the Israelites were simply delighted.
And then Amos took on the Philistines, whom as you know had been fighting the Hebrews since Saul’s time and before, and even after David killed Goliath they continued raiding across the borders. So of course the Israelites loved hearing about the death and destruction God was going to rain upon them. The Sidonians came next. Why they were third rather than 2nd I don’t know, since they were a bigger threat than the Philistines, but it was still good news. And so was his prophecy against the Ammonites, who were Israelites’ nearest neighbor to the east. If all their neighbors were going to be destroyed, then Israel was going to be top dog in the whole region! Amos got onto Edom and Moab next, but they were a bigger threat to the southern kingdom of Judah than to Israel, and besides, it was kind of convenient having them keep the Judeans to busy to bother Israel.
But Amos didn’t stop there. it turned out that God was mad at Judah, too. The things God was mad about, according to Amos, were military atrocities. Israel’s neighbors and enemies - actually, they were pretty much the same thing - had destroyed towns and villages, sold people into slavery, and slaughtered women and children. Judah hadn’t done that, but they had neglected their religious duties.
So Israel felt pretty virtuous and secure. Of course they hadn’t committed
atrocities! Except of course once in a while in self-defense. And religion had never been more popular! The fact that God was pleased with them was confirmed by the fact that King Jeroboam had reconquered all the territories Israel had lost under previous kings, the merchants were prospering as never before in their history, the tax revenues flowed into the kings coffers like water and the temples in Dan and Bethel were simply overflowing with the peoples’ offerings.
Well, that’s how it all began. Even the king and his courtiers would come out to listen and applaud and generally enjoy the show.
Why did things change? What happened to make the Israelites turn against this once popular and influential man?
The answer turns out to be quite simple - even obvious. After Amos had pretty much guaranteed a huge audience every time he appeared, by bashing Israel’s rivals, he suddenly changed his message. From condemning Aram and Amon and so on he turned his attention - and his tongue - to Israel itself. He accused them of oppressing the poor and cheating in their business dealings. He accused them of various kinds of immorality, from sexual misconduct to getting drunk on the communion wine. “Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,” he cried, “and bring righteousness to the ground! . . . You hate the one who reproves in the gate, and abhor the one who speaks the truth. Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins-- you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. [Amos 5:7-12]
He didn’t stop with the men, either. The Israelite women were apparently as guilty as their menfolk, underpaying their servants and nagging their husbands to buy them ever more expensive luxuries. “Woe be to you,” said Amos to the pampered wives of the city’s elite: “Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria, the notables of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel resorts! . . . Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! [Amos 6:1-6]