Amos 5 and 6 – Part One

This week we’re continuing our series in the Old Testament book of Amos. So far, we’ve seen a complacent Israel (the northern kingdom) confronted by a prophet from Judah (the southern kingdom) telling them that God’s not happy with them. In fact, he’s warned them time and time again, through prophets, through drought, through military invasion – to the point where the next thing that happens is destruction.

Here in chapters 5 and 6, Amos outlines the case against Israel, and further describes the coming destruction. We’ll look at these two chapters over two days, but thematically rather than line-by-line, as Amos tends to repeat himself a bit. Today, we focus on the charges against Israel.

The key accusation made against Israel is about economic exploitation: oppressing the poor in Israel, and denying justice to the powerless. God lays out the charges, and the appropriate punishment that each sin will receive.

Amos 5:7, 9 There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground…
With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin.
Amos 5:10-11 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth.
You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.
Amos 5:12-13 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.

Justice in Israel is so corrupt that the smart thing to do is keep your head down and not make waves. (That’s not suggesting this is a good thing to do, but things are so bad, it seems like there’s no point in standing against the tide.)

Meanwhile, the rich keep getting richer:

Amos 6:4-7 You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.
You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.
You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.

But not only are they doing this: all the while they continue attending their religious festivals, singing and performing ritual acts of worship, acting like everything’s OK. Like God’s still with them. After all, they’re God’s special people, right?

But God says, no.

Amos 5:21-24 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

God’s into justice, not impressive worship services. He’s into acting rightly, not acting out rites. While they’re not living the way he intended, he’s not interested in having them enter into his presence. Silence your pipe organs. Unplug your electric guitars. Turn off the smoke machine and light show. Unless we live in line with who God is, he’s not interested in being worshipped for who he is.

And their worship wasn’t exactly kosher, anyway. With idolatry mixed in, they can’t even get that stuff right. Amos points out that they haven’t learned anything since the wandering in the wilderness, where they set up a golden calf as an idol. Now, they adopt the star-gods of Assyria and Babylon:

Amos 5:25-27 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.
Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.

To think about

In sum, Israel is accused of:

  • injustice and exploitation
  • superficial worship that doesn’t involve a change in behaviour
  • worshipping the gods and idols of the world

Before we get to their promised destruction (and a hint of a call to repentance), take some time to think: in what ways are we in danger of being like Israel in this way?

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