Amos is one of my favorite books in the entire Bible. If you have never read it I would highly encourage you to check it out. Like most of the other minor prophets it is not a long read, and you will see that it is extremely relevant even for us today. The book of Amos exemplifies why I love the Bible so much. Over 2,500 years have passed and it still speaks to us here and now.
Like most of the other authors in the Bible, we know very little about Amos himself. People often see this as some kind of weakness in the Bible. They make the mistake of thinking that because we don’t know much about the author he must be made up. However, these people are completely missing the point. The biblical story is not about the writer himself, but rather about God and his attempt at redeeming humanity. Little information is given about the author because the details of his life are not important. He is simply another messenger in a long line of messengers.
But I digress. Amos starts his book in a very interesting and genius way. As a prophet his job was to deliver the word of God to Israel and Judah. However, that’s not where his message begins. He begins by targeting the nations around the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He goes on and on about how these nations will be judged. To an Israelite listening to this message it had to sound really good so far. Amos probably would have gotten more than a few amens.
He then proceeds to lower the boom on Israel and Judah. As a matter of fact, the rest of the book is spent hammering his message home to the people who are his real target. It seems that Amos carefully crafted his message for full impact, and I can imagine those amens slowly started to fade away. What is even more interesting is that if you look at his message geographically, the other nations provide the outline of the target and Israel and Judah are the bullseye.
However, the central message and theme of Amos is something that is fully applicable today. Most of the nations that he was preaching to have slowly faded from memory and history, and yet his message remains relevant. Why? Because he preached on a timeless and very important subject. Most of the book of Amos is directly related to the subject of social justice.
We should all be familiar with this subject at this point. It has been a subject of hot debate for a long time now, but has recently come to the forefront of news and politics over the last year or so. I am not writing this blog post to debate political opinions or even emotional ones. I am simply here to talk about what Amos has to say on the topic, and to show that his views are truthful and shed a lot of light on the real meaning of social justice.
First we must recognize that social justice is not about race or culture, or at least that’s not how the Bible defines it. At its core, social justice is about everyone being treated equally and fairly, and that’s the way it has always been. Can there be racial and cultural ties to social injustice? Absolutely, but that is not the root cause. Amos pinpoints the main cause as the rich taking advantage of the poor, and that changes how we view everything.
From the time of Adam’s fall, the strong have always taken advantage of the weak. The strong often use politics and money to keep their hold on their power, and they also use it to keep the poor under their control. It was no different in Amos’ day. He blasts the rich for abusing the poor, in direct violation of God’s law. The law of God stated that the rich were supposed to do whatever they could to help the poor, and in God’s ideal society there wouldn’t be anyone who was poor. If God had his way humanity would care for and love one another. We are the ones who have abused the system for our own personal gain.
Amos sarcastically and relentlessly attacks the rich with ferocity. He doesn’t do it to be mean or hateful, but rather to warn them. If they don’t change their ways then judgment is surely coming. Like the other prophets, Amos is trying to get the people of God back into covenant obedience before it’s too late. However, he approaches that subject with a bit of a different viewpoint than some of the other prophets. For Amos, how we treat each other is part of our covenantal responsibility to God himself. You can say that you love God all you want, but if you use power to abuse your neighbor then you don’t really love God.
Jesus said something very similar when he said that the whole law rested on these two things: loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. Think about it. If you add that to the Golden Rule of treating others how you want to be treated, you would have a perfect society. The core problem is not racism or social injustice as we portray it today. The core problem is sin, which convinces the strong to take advantage of the weak. All of humanity’s problems basically stem from two things: power and money.
The book of Amos is so important because it is still extremely relevant today. It is true that Amos speaks mostly to Israel and Judah, but it is also true that he preaches a message that could apply to any generation. His message is timeless and extremely impactful, especially for those of us who are wrestling with the subject of social justice in our own generation. He teaches us that the real problem with human society is our desire for power, and even more than that our desire to exercise power over others. We need to respond to his message, and respond to it quickly.