Amos, Prophet to the Abused

The Old Testament book of Amos is a collection of judgments, funeral laments, and exhortations directed at the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with particular emphasis on their mistreatment of the vulnerable, while maintaining strict compliance with other forms of religious devotion and practice. Amos first denounces the surrounding, Gentile nations before moving on to Judah and Israel, proclaiming their ultimate exile and destruction as a result of their failure to follow God in the fullness of his law, which calls for justice and righteousness in the treatment of all, especially the poor, disadvantaged, or suffering. Amos declares Israel's devotional sacrifices, songs of worship, and solemn assemblies worthless in the face of their abuse of the vulnerable within their society.

The Prophet Amos, by Juan de Borgoña, 1535

At the time of Amos' ministry, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had reached its height of territorial and economic expansion under the reign of Jeroboam II, not unlike the situation in Dwell Community Church today. However, the prosperity of the nation was only the purview of a few. The elites of Israel took advantage of or otherwise ignored the weak, poor, and disadvantaged among them. Though, the elites brought sacrifices in accordance with the law of God and raised their voices in worship, Amos proclaimed that their efforts were repulsive to God in view of their sins against the abused:

 
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt offering and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;

and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:21-24
 

These powerful words of Amos have been used throughout history to champion the cause of the downtrodden and the abused. Indeed, Martin Luther King Jr. quoted the book of Amos in his I Have a Dream speech, calling upon thousands of years of human and religious history in opposition to basic injustice and abuse:


There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, When will you be satisfied?... We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

The call which faces Dwell Community Church today, is a serious one, no less serious than that for which Amos called the Israelites to account thousands of years ago. Will the church hear the call of Amos and recognize the vulnerable and the abused whom they have rejected rather than cared for? Will the church heed the lessons of Amos, that prosperity and good works are nothing in light of the abuses of the vulnerable? The growth of the church and the loudness of its preaching are no indications of righteousness to Amos. Righteousness is found in the treatment of the abused.



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