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18 June. Amos chapters 1-5
Amos dates his prophetic ministry to the days of King Uzziah, which makes him roughly a contemporary of Isaiah. Interestingly it says he “saw” the words rather than hearing them (1:1).
The first two chapters consist of short but devastating prophecies of God’s judgement on all the nations of the near east, including Judah and Israel. But note this: the sins for which the Syrians, Philistines, Edomites, Ammonites and Moabites are to be punished are military ones: reneging on treaties, taking entire communities captive, even “ripping open pregnant women”. The ordinary individual can do very little to change such situations, where military and political leaders give the orders.
On the other hand, Judah’s sin is that of not keeping God’s law, and Israel’s sins, expanded at length in chapters 3-5, are those of injustice within its own society – discrimination, overtaxing the poor, trade injustice, promiscuity, and suppressing the voice of the prophets whose message challenged them. These are charges laid more against ordinary people.
It seems that God’s own people, who have been given the privilege of hearing God’s commandments for right living, are to be judged by a higher standard than the ‘heathen’. This is quite explicit: “You only [Israel] have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (3:2).
Ordinary people may not be able to do much about corrupt politicians and military dictatorships, although those of us living in democratic countries do have more of a say than others. But each of us is responsible for being honest, fair and sensitive in our dealings with others, and for that God will hold us to account. And lest we think that the Bible only addresses men, the women are in the firing line too, addressed as “cows” (presumably as much an insult then as now): “[you] who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’” (4:1)
All the people of Judah and Israel had to do was to “Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate” (5:15) – to return to practising the law they had been given – and God would have spared them. But they would not, and it was too late.