Summary: This is a sermon that focuses primarily on Amos 8, looking at how a deficiency of the Word of God plays out in our lives individually and as a culture.
Amos has always seemed to me like a man I could enjoy being around. He was plain spoken, and to the point. He was the kind of guy who appreciated hard work.
Amos was a shepherd. He didn’t shepherd those pretty, fluffy white sheep. Based on the word used, he worked with a really ugly, skinny type of sheep with very fine wool.
When he wasn’t shepherding, Amos also worked as a gatherer of fruit from sycamore fig trees. This particular type of fruit had to be pierced in order to fully ripen, and it took a lot of work. Because the region where he lived was fairly dry and desolate, he would have likely traveled back and forth to the coastal region, depending on the season. But the place he called home was Tekoa, and it was located about 12 miles south of Jerusalem. About the same distance that we are now from downtown Nashville.
Amos was a Southerner, and though he was chosen by God to go and preach, Amos would be quick to tell you, as he did in chapter 7, that he was not a prophet, or the son of a prophet. It wasn’t in his family background, or previous work experience.
But I appreciate Amos in that when God said, I need someone to go for me, Amos was willing to do the job.
Amos had a particularly tough job, because God didn’t ask him just to preach to other Southerners. God wanted to send him to preach against the Northerners. And before he got to them, God had a lot for him to say against many of the foreigners around them.
For the first couple of chapters, Amos follows a fairly set pattern in his preaching.
Chapter 1:3: “Thus says the LORD: For the three transgressions of Damascus and for four I will not revoke the punishment, because...” And the punishment will be that God intends to send a fiery judgment against Damascus.
As you read on, he says the same thing for Gaza. “For three transgressions and for four, I will not revoke the punishment. I will send a fire upon them...”
Next comes Tyre, and then comes Edom, then Ammon, then Moab.
Now you can imagine as a Jew listening to this, it would all sound just fine up until this point. “God drove out all those people to give us our promised land. If he wants to burn their possessions to the ground, that just means more land for us.”
But then God has Amos point the gun at his own people.
In 2:4, it isn’t the foreigners that God will contend with, but Judah; the Southern Kingdom. And next comes Israel; the Northern Kingdom.
Now as passive observers, we haven’t lived in any of these places, and hearing judgment against one place means as much to us as judgment against another.
But I believe a Jew who lived as Amos’ contemporary would have strong objections to this judgment that Amos has proclaimed.
Amos prophesied during the 8th century BC. If your main concern is the economy, then this represents a golden age of Israel. King Jeroboam II was the ruler in the North in Israel, and he had good relations with King Uzziah in the South in Judah. He reigned for about 40 years, mostly without incident. It was a divided Kingdom, but it wasn’t a hostile kingdom. The borders were secure. There was as much wealth as there ever was. There was an extremely active trading culture that meant that people were well plugged in to events happening local and abroad.
If you could go for a walk down the street in Jerusalem during much of the 8th century, you would see traders with plenty of good products. You would see many people who were wealthy and well fed. Amos 4 indicates that a number of them were obese.
A Jew might say in response to Amos, “If we are such bad people, then how come our nation is doing so well?”
In fact, were you to visit on the Sabbath or a holiday, you would see the Jews celebrating it enthusiastically. There was vibrant sounding worship, there were offerings being made.
In Amos 5:21ff, God says, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.”
What would make God say something like that?
The key is in 5:24. “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
You see, God’s goal for Amos’ community, as well as for our community is wholeness. Justice and righteousness.