By Bill Mefford
Each week (hopefully), I will look at a chapter in a book of the Minor Prophets, moving through them chronologically. As it should be with the Prophets, I will reflect on what they are saying in their context and relate it to ours.
"The Lord roars from Zion" (Amos 1:2a)
Amos is one of my favorite prophets. He says some pretty memorable stuff and has been one of the more quotable prophets down through history. But he is also one of the prophets who comes to his calling from a life of relative wealth. The opening verse says he was among the shepherds of Tekoa, a city in Judah, south of Jerusalem. Later in the book Amos is also described as a sycamore tree farmer. It does not describe his level of wealth, but many have deduced he was not wanting for anything.
Amos also proudly claims later in chapter 7 that he is not a prophet, nor a son of a prophet, which, to Amos, means his words are true and also means he saw corruption among the religious leaders of the day, which we shall see clearly in his writings.
Though Amos comes from Judah, the southern Kingdom, his message is focused clearly on Israel, the northern Kingdom. Yet, it is vital in understanding Amos' message to see that Amos saw God's sovereignty as universal; all nations are answerable to God for their conduct.
This is seen clearly in Amos 1. Using repetitive language, Amos goes through surrounding countries and uses the same refrain, "For three transgressions of [name of place]...and for four," while then naming specifically the egregious sins for which God is holding them accountable. By using the same language for all of the countries named in this first chapter, the nations of the world are placed on equal footing - even though their actions are distinct. All nations are to be held accountable to God.
God is not just God of Israel. God is God of the universe. The nationalism that Israelites (including Jesus' followers) fall into is misplaced. God has created all countries and all cultures. As such, all nations must uphold the dignity and integrity of all people. God's sovereignty comes from God's role as Creator of the universe and allows God the right to be the ultimate judge of all nations, regardless of who they are, who they worship, or what their belief systems are.
There is something that disturbs us about a God who holds all people accountable. God is not just focused on our well-being or righteousness, but to all nations as well. I am always amazed at how much injustice we hold a blind eye to with other nations because we as the Church do not want to seem intolerant or judgmental. At the same time, I also agree that the Church preaches way too much and expects the world to hold to a standard it usually has little interest in fulfilling itself.
There is a fine line in between those extremes. It is caring enough to speak the truth to nations about how they are negatively impacting the most vulnerable, while also respecting the rights of those nations to change in the way that is most contextual to them and especially not demanding they adopt Western actions or attitudes. Righteousness and justice can indeed look different in different contexts, while at the same time and without contradiction, defending the vulnerable, upholding the dignity of all, and protection creation are transcultural.
More than anything, our message to the nations of the world, especially when delivered in times of rebuke, must innately be an invitation to engage compassionately and with more care for the vulnerable. But speak to those who abuse and neglect others we must. Otherwise, we are guilty of complicity in their sin.
Speak Amos, we are listening.