[Originally posted by peterwclark on 24 November 2015]
We commence our readings in Amos today. This prophet spoke out against the corruption that festered in ancient Israel during an age of unparalleled prosperity. He reminds us that justice, and not wealth, is the measure of national health.
Amos is set in the era of Jeroboam ll, a time of amazing prosperity. Together the two kingdoms recovered most of the territory held in the time of David and Solomon’s united kingdom. Jeroboam not only extended his nations territories, but also took control of the ancient trade routes to the East, making Israel very rich.
It is against this background – a prosperous and complacent society, riddled with injustice and indifference to God, that Amos is to be understood. Is this ringing any bells for you?
Prosperity tends to drain the vitality of any people. It happened to ancient Israel. It happened to Rome. It happened to the British Empire. I believe it is in the process of happening in Australia.
Why? Because with prosperity comes a subtle change in the values held by the people of the nation. This was the message of Amos – “your values are turned upside down – those distorted values doom you to judgment”.
Amos identified the critical values which doom a people in his first charge against Israel. Materialism replaces . Selfishness places morality aside, and secular religion replaces the revealed truth.
See how these are described….
The people of Israel “sell the righteous for silver”(v.6). Old Testament Law called on Israelites with money to spend it to redeem fellow countrymen who had become slaves (Lev 25:39-52). In Amos’ Israel cash counted with the rich, while poor people did not. This is the nature of materialism. A love for things replaces a love for people as the motivating drive in a person’s life.
“Father and son use the same girl”(v.7). Men selfishly “use” women rather than value them as persons. The drive to experience selfish pleasures stretches beyond the bounds of morality. Tradition moral standards become objects of ridicule and are arrogantly put aside.
They “lie down beside every alter”(v.8). They are religious, but practice a religion of ritual without reality. Old Testament Law commanded that garments taken as a pledge to guarantee repayment of a loan be returned at night, because that might be their only warmth. Yet the people of Israel was no conflict in being religious, and at the same time being disobedient to God and indifferent to the poor. Secular religion is a tool to oppress, or to ease a conscience, while on the other hand Biblical faith is a call to commitment.
The point of Amos’ first sermon, and of this devotional is simple. We need to check our relationship with God, by checking our values. Is profit more important to us than people? Are the standards that we live by, those of our society, or of our God? Is our faith just a matter of Sunday attendance, or that, plus week long commitment to doing God’s will?
Our answer to those questions is crucially important. The difference between God’s people and the world’s people isn’t just in what we believe, it is in what we value and in what we do.
William Temple wrote, “If we have to choose between making men Christian and making the social order more Christian, we must choose the former. But there is no such antithesis…..There is no hope of establishing a more Christian social order except through the labour and sacrifice of those in whom the Spirit of Christ is active, and the first necessity for progress is more and better Christians taking full responsibility as citizens for the political, social and economic system under which they and their fellows live”
Have a great day,