The Prophet Amos as a Model for Addressing Issues of Economic Injustice

07/16/2012 02:02 pm ET | Updated Sep 15, 2012

The prophet speaks, first of all, about the behavior of their judges: They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals (2:6). Those who were rich behaved as they wanted to, without being questioned: silver passed hands and the corrupt judges convicted those who were innocent, "the righteous'. It was totally different for the poor. The judges were willing to sell a poor man into slavery-eventhough his debt might have been as small as the cost of a cheap pair of sandals-because the creditor paid him part of the money he received for the sale.
We can almost hear the sadness in God's voice as, through Amos, the Lord speaks out about the lack of compassion shown by the rich people of Israel for the plight of their poor fellow countrymen. The rich and clever in Israel treated the poor like dirt and denied them justice because they were not wealthy enough to bribe the judges (v.7).

In verse 4 as part of the oracle against Judah: "For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath "Because they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees." Amos did not say this about Damascus; they did not have God's law. He did not say this about Gaza. He did not say it about Tyre or Edom or Ammon or Moab. These were pagan nations. So they were condemned, not on the basis of their violation of the law of God given to Israel, but on the basis of their violation of the law of God written on each human mind and conscience. God says this to those to whom the law had been given. They were much more culpable, for "from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48).

Do we reject the laws of our God? We say, "No, we wouldn't do that. We love the laws of our God. Don't we sing, 'O how love I Thy law; it is my meditation all the day'?" Well, we may sing it, but it probably is not true that God's law is our meditation all the day. Our minds are too filled with other things. What is more, we probably also often reject it, just as Judah had done. We reject it by equivocation. Whenever we come across something that requires a change in our behavior or lifestyle, we say, "I wonder what it says in the Hebrew." Or we argue, "That must have been written for another age." Failing that, we just refuse to read it. One preacher said of God's Word, "This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book." Many have rejected the law of God because they do not want to relinquish sin.

I believe that the challenges that Amos gave to Judah speaks of God's displeasure to America that ignores the dimensions of poverty. We must be aware and speak against the evils of the poor who reside in cramped and dangerous housing paying exorbitant rent, because they cannot accumulate enough for a down payment on a home. These issues look and sound like the society of Amos so strongly condemned in the eighth century B.C.E. Those of us who are faithful advocates of the biblical message must reexamine ourselves in knowing that God will judge us like Judah on these same issues in the twenty-first century.