Amos. One may ask, why in the world read in the obscure book of Amos??? But I love to read the old words, see the way God has worked from times past. No one can pin Him down as to what He will do next, or presume that because once He acted in such a way, He always must. For He is God, infinitely greater in imagination, wisdom, and knowledge. But sometimes I like to see the things He does over and over, the themes that always seem to return. Through those age old texts, He still guides and instructs.
Amos was just a normal shepherd. He had no social standing, or religious authority. He was just a simple guy, doing a simple job, living a simple life. Until God gave him words to say, elevating normal flesh to the mouth of God. His prophecies were hard for the nations surrounding Israel, they had been evil, and judgment was coming. And come it eventually would. But more interesting, and pertinent to the church today, seem to be his words toward Israel.
Specifically he addressed neglect of the poor, direct abuse of the poor, and the pursuit of injustice. The Israel that he addressed was then a wealthy, place, full of people reclining at ease. Satisfied in their religious practice, they sought God only partially, and with an impure heart. He was not their everything, but had become small to them. Amos reminded them of His greatness “He who made the Pleiades and Orion and changes deep darkness into morning, who also darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is His name…” The simpleness and greatness of morning and evening, the steady stars, the seasonal rains – all made and changed by Him. But they had forgotten. Their lips spoke of Him, but life showed that their hearts were far from Him. “You impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them…For I know that your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate…”
Their perceived themselves as dressed in robes, but really they were dressed in rags. They self-righteously envisioned how good they would look when they would one day stand before the Lord, as if He should be so glad to have the honor of meeting them. But harsh words awaited them. “Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord, for what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?” He goes on to say that he has come to despise and reject their sacrifices and offerings, for their hearts are wicked when they offer such things to Him. Instead, He desires that “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”. Real faith wasn’t going to live turning a blind eye. He didn’t want vain words, or monotonous service, He wanted hearts devoted, lives changed.
The people were like mahogany veneer, overlying pressed board. External service looked good, but beneath was cheap, self-centered religion. I wonder how much of religion today fits that same analogy. Filling the visible roles necessary to find acceptance within the church, and yet really being all about our own wants, desires, and pleasures. We cast away thoughts of the poor, walk a shady line of righteousness that appears acceptable, and turn a blind eye to injustice. Faith is spoken of, but lives never show the change that real faith inevitably brings. We say that we care about what God cares about, but our lives are quite revealing otherwise. What a sad delusion to say to ourselves, “Oh, we long for the day of the Lord…” only to realize that justice on that day will surprisingly be unfavorable to many.
The book of Amos goes on to tell that even though justice would come and would be painful, God was eventually going to purify and draw people closer to Him. Restoration and redemption would be accomplished, and would be amazing. It is a common theme through the scriptures. The world is messed up, it will feel the repercussions of the paths chosen, but there is yet a plan for something better to come. God will not stop pursuing His children, even through the brokenness they have created.
Another theme found here, and recurring through so many other parts of scripture, is how God over and over again directly correlates the honest and transparency of our relationship with Him to the way that we care for those in need among us. If our eyes are blind to the orphans, widows, poor, suffering, etc, it could be that we are really blind to the desires of God. Just as later when asked, what are the greatest commandments, Christ would answer “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” This even includes the prophet Amos, speaking so long before Christ about the truths of loving those around us. For Gods people, to be made right with God would mean also to be made right with others. To just turn away from the needs of people around us is an indicator that our hearts have probably not been truly inclined toward God.
It is incredible to me to know more of the story. How often the themes repeat, the same story and lessons at different times in history. Things veiled and seen only dimly by the prophets of old, now made much clearer by Christ. Redemption has been completed. And yet the gracious character of God is still made known again and again, even as His people fail time after time. As the church, may we have eyes to look on the accounts of old and have a clearer view of the God we serve. I hope that we can learn the hard lessons through the lives of others, have our eyes opened through their stories. Too sad it is to waste the years, only to look back and realize that our affections were wrongly placed, our energies thrown into foolish pursuits, our lives poured out for things that don’t matter. May our hearts be always inclined toward Him. And as we serve Him, may others see the greatness of His love and compassion, even in the midst of a broken world.