Amos 5: Insufferable Social Injustices
The Times of Amos
We remember that just before the revolt of the ten tribes, in the days of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was at its zenith. King David had subdued all Israel's enemies, and had extended the borders of the land from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates (Gen. 15:18; I Kings 4:21), and there was peace in the land. But after the disruption, the nation rapidly declined. We recall the stern words of Elijah and Elisha. Now we come to the days of Amos. About forty years (798-760 B.C.) elapsed between the time of Elisha and that of Amos. But in this short period, important changes took place in Israel.
During the lifetime of Elisha, the nation suffered great losses. The Syrians under Hazael and Benhadad seized all territory beyond Jordan and some cities on the western side of it. Israel was greatly reduced in strength and consequently suffered also by the Moabite raids. (2 Kings 10:32-33; 13:3, 7, 20, 22) The nation appeared to be on the brink of destruction. But the end was not yet. A great revival was about to take place before the final decline. Jehoash recovered the cities taken from the hand of his father Jehoahaz by the Syrians. (2 Kings 13:25) Then followed Jeroboam II with greater victories. (2 Kings 14:25-28) He restored the border of Israel from Hamath between the Lebanons to the Dead Sea and eastward to Damascus. At the same time, Uzziah (Azariah) extended the bounds of Judah. So that during the reigns of these two long-lived kings, Jeroboam II and Uzziah, Israel enjoyed greater security, prosperity, and peace than they had known since the days of Solomon.
The Book of Kings does not refer to this great change. But when we turn to the contemporary documents of Amos and Hosea, we see how greatly the nation has advanced in civilization. The Books of Kings are little more than a record of the succession of rulers in the land. They view the history of the nation from the standpoint of the kings. But the books of the prophets treat the times from the people's standpoint. They furnish a real history of the nation. Amos and Hosea tell us faithfully how the people were affected by their increased prosperity. The primitive simplicity and equality had now disappeared to give place "to restlessness, greed and the indifference to the poor of a community making haste to be rich."
Note now some of the leading characteristics of the age as depicted by Amos. "The luxury of the rich was conspicuous. They had their winter and summer residences (Amos 3:13) which were built of hewn stone, paneled with ivory, and furnished with couches (Amos 5:11; 3:15; 6:4) where they feasted and drank to excess amid delicate perfumes, and soft strains of varied music (Amos 6:4-6). But these luxuries were obtained by means which Amos bluntly calls violence and robbery (Amos 3:10); by oppression of the poor and needy, who were even sold as slaves by their remorseless creditors (Amos 2:6-8); by dishonest trading, by false weights and worthless goods (Amos 8:4-6); by exacting presents and taking bribes (Amos 5:11-12). Engrossed with their own pleasures, the rich showed a callous indifference to the moral ruin of their country (Amos 6:6)." (Kirkpatrick) These are some of the serious charges made by the prophet against the people of his time, and forcibly describe how degenerate they had become.
It is a lamentation or dirge over the fallen state of the house of Israel, and an appeal to seek the Lord, and live. Sad indeed is the state of Israel. She is fallen, and none left to raise her up. "The city that goeth forth a thousand shall have an hundred left; and she that goeth forth an hundred shall have left ten for the house of Israel." (Amos 5:3) She shall be depleted by war. Still sadder is her condition when she turns so heartlessly away from judgment and justice (verses 7, 10). What a weighty burden of sinfulness she has to bear (verses 11, 12), so that the prudent are rendered dumb (verse 13). Steeped in such sinfulness, her worship cannot be acceptable to the Lord (verses 21-23). She has been faithful in her worship in the wilderness, but now gone over to idol worship, which is the outward expression of her evils (verses 25, 26). Therefore, judgment is certain (verse 27). Still, an earnest appeal is made to seek good and not evil; to hate the evil and love the good; to establish justice, moral and civil, in her midst; to let judgment run down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream (verses 4, 6, 14, 15, 24).
We do not need to go very deeply beneath the surface for a lesson. The words are as applicable to the church - to Christians - today as they were to the Jews 2600 years ago. Everywhere we observe a gross abuse of the invaluable privileges and opportunities which modern civilization and wealth offer to all. We have here a powerful condemnation of oppression of the poor, bribery, luxury. We are all responsible for being absolutely just in dispensing that which is committed to our care. We cannot place all the guilt of oppression of the poor on the wealthy. We can surely find out ways in which we indulge our lustful appetites in little things, quite unconscious of the far-reaching consequences. The prophet appeals to us for a keener sense of justice and duty, for more kindness and consideration for the poor, for a stronger hatred of evil in every form. But especially does he remind us to look to the Lord as the source of life; otherwise, we must perish. "Seek ye Me, and ye shall live" (Amos 5:4).