Wednesday

04 June 2014

“I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (vv. 14-15)


Background

The role of the prophet was not only to prophesy, to 'speak truth to power', but also to intercede with God on behalf of the people. But intercession can only go so far and if people have failed to live up to the covenant with their Lord then Amos believes destruction awaits. At first Amos begs for forgiveness in the face of a plague of locust and fire or famine. Yet he cannot point to repentance amongst the people; instead he can only appeal to God's pity, saying Israel is insignificant and frail.

At the third threat of destruction, Amos can no longer intercede. The people of Israel do not match up to God's plumb line, used by builders to check whether a building is true. This is the test that shows Israel has been found wanting, and that the Lord "will never again pass them by" (v. 8).

For a people who believed they were chosen, such a message of abandonment and destruction by their God must have been shocking. The priest Amaziah, sent by the king, accuses Amos of sedition, telling him to flee and prophesy elsewhere. Amos is accused of being a foreigner (in that he should return to Judah) and meddling in political and religious affairs of Israel.

Prophets were not revolutionaries in the sense that they offered new and radical visions. Rather they believed they were the bearers of tradition, challenging Israel to put into practice beliefs people already thought they held. For a king, such a challenge threatened the established order.

Amaziah's confrontation reflects the challenge put to Jesus when he was teaching in the temple, and the priests and elders asked: "By what authority are you doing these things?" (Matthew 21:23). Amos denies this was a personal choice - he didn't make his money from being a prophet, but from being a herdsman. Instead God has told him "Go, prophesy to my people Israel". By rejecting Amos's words, the priest (and king) are contradicting the wishes of God. Criticism of prophets isn't personal, but an act against God, hence the punishment which Amos threatens will reign down on those who condemn him for preaching.


To Ponder

  • Amos stands up to the might of the king. Are there situations where you have stood up against people with power and authority? If so, what happened?
  • Prophets were uncomfortable people. What uncomfortable messages do you struggle to hear today?
  • Amos believed he had been chosen by God to prophesy. What is God calling you to do?


Bible notes author: JPIT (Joint Public Issues Team)

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