Exploring the Scripture
Last week we focused on Amos, a prophet from Judah in the south, called to deliver difficult messages to the prosperous kingdom of Israel in the north, during the 8th century BCE. The wealthy and merchant classes enjoyed security and wealth at the expense of the poor. Last week we examined Amos’ third vision of God’s judgment on the people of Israel for their complacent hypocrisy and empty piety. Today we will focus on the fourth vision.
Those who heard this prophecy in the ancient Hebrew language would have immediately recognized the wordplay and irony in the first two verses. God showed Amos a fruit basket. Then God said, “‘The end has come…’” (v. 2). In ancient Hebrew, the words for “fruit basket” and “the end” were almost identical.
The basket was a cheery visual image for the far more ominous subject: “the end.” The long- awaited fruit of summer became a symbol of death and spiritual famine. God warned that he would never again “pass by” Israel when handing out judgments. The shallow songs of praise to God would become wails of grief and despair when the end comes.
Notice God’s command at the end of verse 3: “‘Be silent!’” The time for excuses, pleas for forgiveness, and repentance had passed. God commanded them to hear plainly how they had oppressed one another. Injustice brought calamity and the fall of Israel.
Amos elaborated on the injustice that brought about God’s judgment. Merchants went through the motions of closing down shop on holy days, but secretly resented the momentary pause in their deceitful marketing practices. To “‘…make the ephah small and the shekel great…’” (v. 5) was to cheat the customers by overcharging for reduced weight in produce.
The merchants became richer at the expense of those who were poor and needy. Besides, Hebrew laws allowed them to enslave those who could no longer pay their bills. They even sold a mixture of chaff, dirt, and wheat that had fallen to the floor during transactions.
Amos pronounced God’s judgment in graphic detail:
- The sun will set at noon, and the days will be dark. This could refer to a solar eclipse, a bad It suggests that nature itself was out of alignment in response to Israel’s injustice.
- Feasts turn to funerals and songs to laments, as people begin to understand the results of their unjust behavior.
- All people will mourn, as if for an only
- People will hunger for God’s word, but God will not answer. They will wander in vain, looking for spiritual guidance, for God will abandon
Amos used exaggerated images of doom to tell how injustice and systemic greed were causing spiritual corruption and death. One by one, he destroyed all the images of comfort and stability people took for granted: a stable world, plenty of food (at least for the wealthy), religious life, and the covenant relationship with God. God blessed the people with the expectation they would take care of one another and live justly. When they do not, God no longer feels obligated to bless.
Amos’ prophetic vision came to pass within a generation. Israel was conquered, and the leaders killed or exiled. Grief and lamentations filled the land.
- God loved Israel enough to confront the injustice in society, with results that were difficult to endure.
- Unjust systems and corrupt economic practices oppress the poor, create instability, and lead to the social order’s disintegration.
- Injustice also causes spiritual decay, which may not be noticed until it becomes severe and widespread.
Questions to Consider
- What would Amos preach to us?
- Where do you see unjust systems, oppression of those who are poor or marginalized, and economic corruption? How can you be a voice for justice and equality?
- When have you experienced a spiritual famine? What did you do? What was the result?
- How would this scripture passage sound if it were written by one of the poor people sold into slavery because he or she couldn’t pay the debts incurred by unjust business practices?