Saturday, January 26, 2008

The book of Amos is speaking to me

Among the books in the Bible, I think the books of the prophets are largely foreign to me. In my School of Theology, I took a class in the Hebrew Bible. The impact upon us by Dr. Katheryn Pfisterer Darr from the book of Amos is profound. I will write briefly about what I have learnt from the book and how it is applicable to my life.

The year was about 750 B.C.E. The Northern Israelite kingdom with the capital in Samaria was at her height of economic prosperity and political stability. The superpower nation Assyria had destroyed Northern Kingdom's most threatening enemy, Syria. King Jeroboam II extended his frontiers and built up a lucrative trade which created a powerful merchant class in Samaria. However, the wealth was not evenly distributed among the people. The peasant class who formed the backbone of the Northern Kingdom's economy was neglected completely. Corruption was becoming rampant and justice was not upheld in the society. The irony is that the people of the Northern Kingdom were deeply religious. They gave more than the required offerings, observed the required festivals and looked forward to the coming of the LORD. But how could this be?

Amos, a fig farmer ten miles from Jerusalem, was called by God to the Northern Kingdom. In those days, there were two kinds of prophets: the central prophet, who exercised influence from the centre of the society and religious system; the peripheral prophet, who exercised influence from the fringe of the system. Amos is a peripheral prophet, called to challenge the structural injustice prevalent in the Northern Kingdom. Amos' oracle starts with a great Lion's roar which heralds the judgment to follow. God severely condemned those in positions of power and influence and yet were ill-treating the poor and defenseless:
… because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; (2:6b-7, NASB)
For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. (5:12)

Our God is not just concerned with our relationship with Him, He is also concerned about how we govern the world He created and how we relate to people who are made in His image. Our relationship with God is not just about us. It is also about how we are relating with others, who are also His creation, which truly reflects God as our LORD, shepherd, best friend and savior.
The Israelites then had their elaborate sacrificial system and stipulated festivals, yet their religious life was wholly unacceptable to God:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (5:21-25, NASB)

The Israelites believed God was blessing them through economic prosperity and political stability and will bless them further by their offerings and worship. But their hearts were far from seeking and accomplishing the will of God. They failed to live out their relationship with Him and to embody His presence in the world by exercising social justice and righteousness. They were complicit in the practice of structural evil and ignored God's desire for them as a holy nation and people.
We may have elaborate worship, numerous Bible study, generous in our offerings and appear to be very religious. But when we are not seeking to live the will of God in our lives, our religious outlook is a total sham. When we confess Jesus Christ as our LORD, we are acknowledging Him as the LORD of all aspects of our life. If Jesus Christ is not the LORD of all, then he is certainly the LORD of none at all.

As we look forward to the coming of Jesus Christ again, we bear similarity with the Israelites who looked forward to the coming of the LORD in 750 B.C.E. They believed that the day when the LORD comes, it will be the day when their enemies are vanquished, their peace and security secured for eternity. Imagine their shock when they heard this from Amos:
Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord?It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? (5:18-20, NASB)

The day of the LORD is not the day of the Israelites' salvation, but their judgment! Isn't this strikingly similar to Jesus' judgment in Matt 5:21-23? The book of Amos is not meant for the Israelites nation in the past, but is a book that continues to speak to us today. The warning Amos is issuing to us is relevant to how we may continue to walk upright in the eyes of our LORD.

1 comment:

hhlow said...

Everytime I see the name Amos, I remember my economic lecturer, Amos Witstum, who is a Jew. I remember his teaching style. Wonder where he is now?