Today I am prophesying to myself, with words I wrote some time ago, but never published. I have been meditating on this again, re-absorbing the truths that grabbed my heart when I wrote it, adding some thoughts as I read.
Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind. The moment a person, or government or religion or organisation is convinced God is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion-fuelled hate, killing and oppression is staggering. (From: Introduction to the book of Amos, The Message bible)
Many habits and practices remain in the church today, because we believe it is ordered or sanctioned by God. We have to question ourselves, and measure our practices, the very way we “do church”, or “are church”, to the Word of God, which reveal the expectation of our Father. We need to go on a journey of examining ourselves, walking by the light of the Word.
I love reading the prophets and the Lord speaks to me powerfully through their voices. I want to introduce Amos…
Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa is sent to Bethel to pronounce powerful judgments on the people of God and he calls for righteousness and justice – right worship that leads to right social ethics. As God’s people we still need the voice of the prophet to call us back to this kind of worship – the kind that propels us out of our complacency, into a lifestyle of serving and loving. Although Amos is introduced as a shepherd, he owned in fact not only sheep, but also cattle and sycamore fig trees, so a man of means, not a poor shepherd.
During the time Amos appears on the scene, the kingdom of Israel is split into two lesser kingdoms, Israel in the North and Juda in the South. The king in the north, Jeroboam did not want his subjects to go to Jerusalem, in the south, to worship, so he established shrines in Dan and Bethel, with images of bulls to represent God. Because of their rejection of God’s revelation and their embracing of the pagan religions, they became just as power hungry as the pagan nations. The object of their worship became the same as the pagan religions – to receive some desired benefit. Just like Elijah on Mount Carmel, Amos challenges them to choose between Baal and God, to choose and serve only one Master.
When Amos arrived in Israel the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. During that time Egypt was declining and the Assyrians had to withdraw from Damascus due to problems elsewhere, leaving a power vacuum in which both Judah and Israel flourished. With the increase of prosperity the ones who had power grew more powerful and began to oppress those without power even more. Into this atmosphere Amos is sent from Bethel, to confront the Israelites on their apostasy and inhumanity.
Leaving out the dates and place names, we could be talking about a number of modern day countries, nations or races even. Amos begins by bringing seven charges against surrounding nations, with the eighth against Israel itself. While he’s charging these nations, the people of God agrees with him. We can almost hear them cheering him on…that is, until he says “the people of Israel have sinned against God too”.
What does this have to do with us? The story of Amos is not merely an interesting part of Bible history, it is also a commentary on our modern society. We still serve the same God, the One who cares deeply about the plight of the oppressed and the powerless. Proper worship of the true God leads us to deal ethically with others, but corrupt worship and theology will corrupt human relationships. Right worship will lead to good works, like we read in the book of James.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2:14 – 18 NIV)
So let’s have a look at what it was that Israel and its neighbors did that offended God so.
“The people of Damascus have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They beat down my people in Gilead as grain is threshed with iron sledges. (Amos 1 v 3). This speak of brutal oppression and God promise not to let this go unpunished.
“The people of Gaza have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They sent whole villages into exile, selling them as slaves to Edom. (Amos 1:6) Gaza’s sin was trading in slaves, even selling whole villages into slavery. We’re not doing great on this front, either. There are more slaves now than at any other time in history.
“The people of Edom have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They chased down their relatives, the Israelites, with swords, showing them no mercy. In their rage, they slashed them continually and were unrelenting in their anger. (Amos 1:11) Edom showed no mercy, not even to their own brothers. No pity, no remorse, no brotherly love!
“The people of Ammon have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! When they attacked Gilead to extend their borders, they ripped open pregnant women with their swords. (Amos 1:13) Conquering armies, as a rule would kill women and children, even to the extent of ripping unborn children from the womb. We’ve given the ripping of the unborn from wombs a politically correct name…choice.
“The people of Moab have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They desecrated the bones of Edom’s king, burning them to ashes. (Amos 2:1) They desecrated the king by cremation, and to compound the insult, use the ashes of the king in plaster.
“The people of Judah have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They have rejected the instruction of the Lord, refusing to obey his decrees. They have been led astray by the same lies that deceived their ancestors. (Amos 2:4) Judah heard the Word of God, yet rejected it, choosing to disobey. God holds people responsible to the degree of revelation they have – they more you know about His Word, the more obedience He expects.
people of Israel have sinned again
and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They sell honorable people
for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals. They trample helpless people
in the dust and shove the oppressed out of the way. Both father and son sleep
with the same woman,
corrupting My Holy Name. At their religious festivals, they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security. In the house of their God, they drink wine bought with unjust fines. (Amos 2:6 – 8) Israel was guilty of many things, putting people in bondage, oppressing their brothers, sexual immorality and corrupting and dishonoring God’s Holy Name.
In chapter 3 v 10 God says “My people have forgotten how to do right,” and in chapter 5: 21 – 24 He says:
“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want. (The Message)
God is still the same. He is still calling on us to be holy, as He is holy. Right now, He is raising up voices who call out to the people of God, as Amos is calling out to us from across the span of time and distance. The question is still the same…will we hear, or will we listen?