Slideshow image

The prophet Amos is an angry guy. The book named for him is full of his angry diatribes as he pounds away at those who practice injustice. And he’s an equal opportunity diatriber (that’s not really a word, I know, but you get the idea). In chapter 1 and the first few verses of chapter 2 he brings the hammer down on Israel’s neighbors; Aram, Philistia, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, and Moab all get the treatment. Speaking for God and using the formula, “For three transgressions of [fill in the blank], and for four, I will not revoke the punishment” (Amos 1:3 et al.), the prophet whales away at these nations, bringing a detailed indictment of each of them. This must be very enjoyable for Amos’s Israelite audience to hear—he is taking their enemies to task in no uncertain terms. “You go, Amos!” they shout. “Give it to ‘em again!” It’s always nice to hear that your enemy is going to be punished.

But as soon as Amos trains his blazing eye on Israel itself, opinions change in a hurry. Amos is incensed at the unjust practices of the Israelite leaders, those who “sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals … who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:6–7), and he pulls no punches in expressing his indignation. His punches land, and they leave a bruise.

None of this sits well with the leaders in question, and one of them, Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, lets Amos know in no uncertain terms that he has worn out his welcome. He warns him to stop preaching his firebrand sermons and get out of Dodge. He says, “O seer, go flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom” (Amos 7:12–13). It is surely not lost on the prophet that Amaziah has just committed blasphemy. The sanctuary at Bethel is not the king’s sanctuary; it is God’s sanctuary, and for the king to claim it as his own is a high-handed violation of God’s sovereignty.

In a week when we have celebrated all things American, it would behoove us to remember that as disciples of Jesus we, like Amos, have a responsibility to call out injustices wherever we see them. When we do, we may find that we too have become unpopular. It’s fine when we say, “For three transgressions of Russia, or Iran, or China, God will not revoke the punishment,” but when we put our own country in the crosshairs of judgment, the love-it-or-leave it crowd will be quick to shout us down. And very often the voices doing the shouting will come from the church. Not the true church, the body of Christ that exists to facilitate the advance of the commonwealth of God, but a church captive to Empire, a church that perceives any criticism of our nation as an attack on “the king’s sanctuary.”

When the Amaziahs of the world come to us with their ultimatums—“Stop your agitating and calling out injustice or else”—will we meekly bow our heads and knuckle under the pressure, or will we go on proclaiming God’s justice and working to see God’s vision for the world become a reality?

I think I know what Amos would do.

Grace and peace,