Profile Of The Prophets - Amos

by Ray Hawkins

"The rich get richer and the poor get poorer" is an unfortunate cliché with a great deal of truth in it. Even in what some refer to as 'our welfare State' this is a relevant observation. How much more apparent it is in some of the undeveloped and under-privileged areas of the world.

If there is one particular prophet who could stride out from the pages of Scripture and speak to our twentieth century, it would be Amos. This man of the hills, from the town of Tekoa, about twelve kilometres from Bethlehem, would cry loud and long to our society, for he lived in a prosperous, nationalistic and politically uncertain period. He was the prophet of the poor, the abused, the exploited, the forlorn.

The book that bears his name is linked with the northern kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam, who had succeeded in restoring to the ten-tribed confederacy some of the military and economic glory reminiscent of David's time in the united kingdom. What he had achieved was like a miracle in the eyes of his subjects who had seen the slow sure decline of the kingdom, until it was a non-entity.

The prophet Jonah had appeared on the scene (II Kings 14:25), and declared that Jeroboam would be God's man for that time. What a golden opportunity for this nation to find its foundation for faith and service again! Here was to be its last breath of life and beauty, which if grasped, would expand and glow with the grace of God.

When we read the book of the prophet Jonah and see him crying over Nineveh it becomes apparent that he knew that Israel would not rise to the call of God. Jonah instinctively realized that Nineveh's repentance and Israel's intransigence would put them all on a collision course culminating in Israel's disappearing into the bowels of Assyria. Is it any wonder Jonah sobbed after being witness to Israel's climb out of obscurity? He foresaw its crash into oblivion.

For the nation of Israel liked the delicacies of power and the privileges of dominion, for it meant trade, commerce, luxuries, affluence and the heady carelessness of peace. With tribute and trade pouring into Samaria, the austerity of the past was swamped by the affluence of the present and had wide-ranging repercussions. For it is a strange fact of human nature that affluence tends to bring out the worst in people. Instead of making them more generous, it squeezes them into rigidity and hardness of greed.

So it was that God took a man from the sheep and sycamore trees of Tekoa and made him walk the streets of Samaria with a disturbing message. He would be like a strong mountain breeze blowing through the slums of the city and countryside with the resultant fall-out and shock waves. It would not have been easy for this Southerner to receive an initial welcome, let alone hearing, for such is the power of prejudice.

However, using the wisdom of the wilds, he first stands up with passionate words which pronounce judgement upon the NEIGHBOURS of this northern kingdom of Israel. It is easy enough to imagine the Amen's and Hallelujah's that would come from hearing such denunciations. Then with the swiftness of a karate kick, Amos brings his seventh judgement down upon the kingdom of Jeroboam.

"This is what the Lord says:

'For three sins of Israel, even for four,

I will not turn back my wrath.

They sell the righteous for silver,

And the needy for a pair of sandals.

They trample on the heads of the poor

As upon the dust of the ground,

And deny justice to the oppressed.

Father and son use the same girl

And so profane my holy name.

They lie down beside every altar

On garments taken in pledge.

In the house of their god

They drink wine taken as fines.'" (2:6-8)

No society likes a reformer because he reveals the mess 'hidden under the carpet' or makes people hear what they try to ignore. So he is resisted instead of assisted, cursed not lauded, threatened not encouraged, misrepresented nor respected. No one likes to be reminded of personal mortality and immorality. When the sordidness of the soul is revealed and contrasted with the holiness of the Eternal One, we cringe as did Isaiah (chapter 6). To be unmasked does not lead many to be as Isaiah and seek repentance and forgiveness. Rather there arises a lust for revenge so that the revealer might be removed or destroyed.

This is what happened to Amos. One who should have been his supporter, the priest Amaziah, told him to go and not come back (7:12). How the heart of the Almighty must pulsate with anger when those who claim to be for Him are actually fifth columnists against Him. God's dealings with men have always been opposed by such as Amaziah. Is it any wonder that God's true men find it hard to gain a hearing? And how great a condemnation falls upon priest and people who have no heart for God to discern the true prophet of God.

But how would one discern who is a priest or prophet of God? God has not left this to fickle favour of feelings, or fallible institutions. He has given His Word, His Law through Moses. Here is His standard. Here is the discerner of hearts. Here is the touchstone of truth and the favour of Heaven.

Both Amaziah and Amos claimed to be God's men. But they stood diametrically opposite from each other. Amos took his stand on the Law of the Lord and lifted the society of Samaria into its light and it was found rotten, but Amaziah could point only to the trappings of success and infer God's blessing, whereas it was the Devil's delusion.

The man from the mountains put one after another of the laws and statutes of God on to one side of the scales of Righteousness, and the ways of society on the other side-- and there was never a balance. There was too much abuse of the poor, selling into slavery, false balances, corrupt sacrifices, immorality, lack of justice, bribery. Was it any wonder the people didn't want to hear what Amos had to say?

But lest we sit too heavily in judgement on them, we need to look at our own society in this day and age. And whilst it is easy to condemn, we need to remember that there is a remedy -- it is a Heavenly balm provided by a God Who cares for sin-sick people as individuals and as society. In Amos we may discover some of the ingredients that bring life and cleansing.

"This is what the Lord says to the House of Israel,

'Seek me and live'.

Hate evil, love good, maintain justice in the courts.

Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have

mercy upon the remnant of Joseph." (5:4,15)

This is the call for those who are weary of the wanton ways of the world. It is God's overture to us, that whilst He sees all the failure and froth of faithlessness, He still desires to bring us into harmony with the Law and thus with Himself.

Many are fearful that if they cry they will be refused a hearing because of the filth of their soul or the sham under which they have lived. This fear would be justified if God expected each individual to cleanse himself prior to crying out. However it is the Lord who has provided the Fountain that washes "whiter than snow" . When the cry is uttered and the conditions met, the Fountain is applied and the Law is satisfied.

The prophet Zechariah is the one we turn to to read about this Fountain, the Fountain that would be opened in the future through faith. "On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity." (13:1) What an act of grace and mercy on behalf of God for His people!

The Bible reveals that God Himself is likened to a Fountain, for Jeremiah calls Him the Fountain of life or the Fountain of living waters (2:13; 17:13). This means that as the Law has been broken and the people defiled, and that only by the fulfilling of the Law is there any hope of cleansing, that lawbreakers can come to the Lawkeeper, the Fountain, and hide in Him. In Him they may find forgiveness for their failures and covering that makes them Law fulfillers also.

The Fountain points to the one who said he had come not to destroy the Law but to fulfil it, bringing hope for those who have failed.

This Fountain points to the one who took the judgement of the Lawbreakers upon himself so that the cleansing flow would have penetrating power to satisfy the soul's sense of justice. For sin must be judged.

This Fountain points to life, for it points to God's involvement with His people. It is an ongoing reality, not a stagnant pool, not a once-only geyser that has limited local or fading power. It means cleansing from the past, in the present and for the future. For when God does something it is eternal.

This Fountain points to the one who was the Servant of God; who took the stripes, the waywardness, the folly of us all upon himself. Isaiah shows how this one became the Fountain that forever flows with the forgiveness of God to those who cry out to Him by faith. (chapter 53).

The century in which we live is revealing more and more the degenerate heart of mankind and the seeming delight it has in breaking God's Law. Amos foretold that such actions bring judgement in this life and in the life to come. He sought to reveal man's heart in order to cause him to cry out for mercy and cleansing. This is ever God's way.

Amos living in our day would have surely added to his plea "Seek the Lord" the further revelation of the Fountain, the source of life, of forgiveness, of newness. The Fountain of God provides by faith, not condemnation but acceptance.