Good morning! Today and tomorrow we commune with the prophet Amos, who was one of the earliest prophets, born in Judah around the eighth century BCE but active in Israel. Amos preaches during a time of relative stability in both kingdoms (about fifty years before Israel’s demise), and this book is largely a record of his speeches. Amos’ greatest concern is that the prosperity of Israel does not flow equally to all parties. Elite landowners benefit from many years of peace, but social injustice keeps prosperity from reaching folks on the bottom of the social ladder. Furthermore, Amos denounces the religious presumption by which wealthy people follow the letter of temple law, yet betray its spirit in how they treat the poor. Today in Amos 1-5, the prophet warns of divine judgment on neighboring cities, then on Israel itself, as the punishing “day of the Lord” draws near.
The passage opens with oracles in Amos 1 and 2 against the nearby city-states of Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab. After each account of wrongdoing, Amos declares in God’s voice what the fitting punishment will be. All include some form of fire against the city’s protections. The judgment of Judah is just as brief as that of other cities, and some writers think it is a historical insertion here, because Amos was preaching in the north and that’s where he directs the fullness of his energy.
In the middle and final chapters of today’s passage, we see more of Amos’ deep concern for social justice and the treatment of the poor. In 3:15, Amos describes the “winter house”, “summer house”, “houses of ivory”, and the “great houses”—examples of the excess which Amos stands against. (We don’t have examples in this book of the wealthy who use their privilege for good—Amos equates money with self-centered neglect of the poor.) God’s earlier rebukes took the form of drought, famine, migration, pests and battles, yet all failed to encourage Israel to proper obedience.
Religious observance gets particular mention in the final chapter today. Amos calls for a return to righteous, heartfelt devotion, yet cautions against returning to the corrupt shrines of Bethel, Gilgal or Beersheba. Amos 5 also cautions against the “festivals” and “solemn assemblies” with special offerings that someone wealthy could afford to lift up (even though their heart’s not in it). What truly matters to Amos resonates from his era to our own, echoing through the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King and so many others: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Happy reading!
Read Amos 1-5. (Note that the link here is only for chapters 1-4—for copyright reasons, you will need to click the button at the bottom of the linked page to read Amos 5.)
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Amos 6-9. Thanks for reading!