Bible Study on Amos - 1/4
Amos 1:1 – 3:8
Whenever I come to look at these early chapters of Amos I am reminded of two great preachers. One, a giant in the 20th century, said that preachers ought to read a good newspaper every day so that they really engage with the real world. Another is still with us and encourages us to “Listen to the world and the Word” if we are to be effective contemporary Christians. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John R.W. Stott had some disagreements, but both agreed on this essential point. Amos did not have a good daily newspaper, but it is evident that he was very much tuned in to world events, or at least the world around Israel. In addition, prompted by the Spirit this prophet got really worked up about things. It could be compared to a lion roaring (1:2 and 3:8).
Amos is also a book where it is good to know a little geography; maps at the back of Bibles are useful and should be looked at. Amos is ‘preaching’ to the Northern Kingdom that split from the Southern Kingdom after the reign of King Solomon. Due south was Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom. All around were various others nations we shall meet. In Amos, we meet a passionate man from the Southern Kingdom proclaiming in the streets of the Northern Kingdom to leaders and all who will listen.
We could say he was a driven man (3:8 'The Lion has roared… the Sovereign Lord has spoken - who can but prophesy?'). Compare Paul's words in I Corinthians 9:16 ('I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!'). However, what exactly is God saying? What moves him deeply enough to roar like a lion?
Amos gives us quite a list! There was cruelty to civilians in war (1:3, 13) - they had 'threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth' and 'ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead' (what about today in Israel/Palestine and the Sudan?). They had sold whole communities of prisoners into slavery (1:6, 9). Disregarding brotherhood treaties they had pursued brothers with a sword (1:9,11) and burned the king's bones to lime (2:1).
In a day of power then and now we see this as an abuse of power. God calls the nations to account in proportion to their knowledge discoverable from basic understanding. "The nations are accused by the God of Israel on the basis of moral criteria of universal human validity" (Living as the People of God, p.124, Chris Wright). As the Apostle Paul put it, all are 'without excuse' (Romans 1:20; 2:1). All these nations "are without special revelation but not without moral responsibility" (Alec Motyer, The Bible Speaks Today, p.37).
This is God speaking, and he says that our attitude to the poor, oppressed and needy reflects our attitude to God who has created all humanity in his own image. The question 'Am I my brother's (and sister’s) keeper?' becomes very pointed! The implied answer is yes - and my brother and sister are the entire human race. God expects individuals and nations to respect others as persons of value. 'He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker: but whoever is kind to the needy honours God' (Proverbs 14:31. See also 17:5; 21:13; 29:7).
The Lion has made it clear that he is very unhappy with what is going on in the world, and perhaps Amos's hearers agreed that he was right. After all, these were words for the surrounding nations who were not followers of Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel. But the Lion has not finished roaring
What else makes the Lion roar? The people of Judah 'have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees' (Amos 2:4-5). Now Amos is turning to their near neighbours - close relatives! The roar of the Lion is getting a bit close for comfort. Check the maps in your Bible. Judah is due south of Israel and they have rebelled against the special revelation of God to his people: a Word of covenant love. They have broken a much more important treaty than other nations! They have been led astray by idols that deceive! The Roaring Lion is in the midst.
God's own peopleL~
What else makes the Lion roar? Now it is very close and very loud. The Israelites themselves are guilty, and the indictment is very clear: economic and religious oppression.
~**They sold poor into slavery - when they probably couldn't pay trifling debts (2:6b).*~~*They trampled on the heads of the poor and denied justice to the oppressed - probably poor without influence who couldn't pay for rigged trials (2:7a). As today poor countries can’t pay for lawyers to argue their case in the World Trade Organisation or the World Bank.*~~*Father and son used the same girl and profaned God's holy name (2:7b) - sex with religious pretensions!*~~*They made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy' (2:11-12).**~In the Law (Deut 24:5ff; 6:10-13) they had been warned: if you abuse power you are against God. Abuse of power is sadly still part of church life today. There are bullying pastors, Church Councils and church members. The sad thing is that the people of Israel should have known better. Amos 2:11 tells us that they had special people, Nazarites and prophets, to help them remember their special relationship with the Lord. Just like us today, they had week-by-week reminders of the covenant, but did not listen. Did not Jesus say 'Those who have ears, let them hear' (Mt 11:15)? In effect they rejected the leaders God gave.
Amos's hearers are greatly privileged: 'I brought you up out of Egypt: you only have I chosen' (3:1-2). As both Hosea and the Apostle Peter remind us: 'Once you were no people and now you are God’s people'! And because of the abuse of privilege the condemnation is great. God will punish his own people. It is really quite a simple message to the people of God: privilege brings responsibility. It seems that 2:1 refers to Judah as well as Israel; in the Lord’s eyes they are really one nation, privileged and responsible! So this special relationship with the Lord exposes them to judgement rather than exempting them from it. We have similar challenges in the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) and the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Moreover, Paul tells us in I Cor 11:30 that some Christians are sick and some have died through failure to discern the truth of the Lord’s Supper.
The Christian Church In the UK is greatly privileged. Look at our history, the saints who have blessed us, the experiences of revival, the social reforms springing out of the gospel. The question comes: what are we doing with it? We must note well: Amos 3:8 'The lion has roared - who will not fear? The Sovereign Lord has spoken - who can but prophesy?' Are we listening and acting? Are we speaking into the church and into the world with the message from God’s own heart?
Amos knew world history and current affairs; the Word of God spoke into the real world and will have ‘rung bells’ with his hearers. Our Lord is deeply concerned about how the human race behaves, whether it acknowledges him or not. Jesus died because 'God loved the world so much…' May the Lord grant us a greater awareness of him, his world and the agonies of his heart. Let us agonise with 'cries too deep for words' (Romans 8:26), agonise for the world and for those Christians, local and national, who are speaking God’s prophetic word into the affairs of the world. Much wisdom is needed at all times - not just now!
“If we want to be involved in changing the world, perhaps we need to plead with God to change us first. If we want to be involved in rescuing this generation from the judgment to come, we will need to become the kind of people God can trust with his plans. And pray that our leaders are such people too" (Mark Greene, London Institute for Christianity: Thought for the Day, BBC Radio 4,1st October 2001).
Questions for group discussion after agonising with
Amos 1:1–3:8L~~nnIn what ways do we recognise God as a 'roaring lion'? Compare I Peter 5:8. One commentator writes: "The wrath of a sin-hating God ought to be part of the permanent consciousness of the Christian, for God never hates sin more than when he sees it defiling the life of his people" (Alec Motyer, page 32). How do we respond to this truth, and why?n~~nIn the light of God's hatred of basic human injustices on the international scene, how should Christians today speak out against systems, policies and companies that engage in basic human injustices? "The nations are accused by the God of Israel on the basis of moral criteria of universal human validity" (Living as the People of God, page 124). Is the use of violence and force ever right? If yes, when? If no, why not?n~~nAre there any features in contemporary church life that compare with those sins mentioned in Amos 2:4-8? If so, how could we deal with them?n~~nWhat are the present day equivalents of the sins Amos condemned among the nations? How should we respond to them?
Rev Andrew J. M. Barker is a Methodist Minister serving Christian Aid in Nottingham
Headline Winter 2004/5 pp 9-11.