For those who want a change from the Gospel
Trinity 6 – Amos 7:7-15
As I write, we have just witnessed the resignation of a cabinet minister after his extramarital affair became public knowledge (although it is a fascinating sign of the times that his crime wasn’t adultery but breaking social distancing rules!). This event led to the usual spate of social media comment, with opinion divided between ‘His private life is his own business’ and ‘If he can lie to his wife, how can the electorate trust him?’ Our readings today give us the Bible’s take on this question, as two prophets confront rulers over their behaviour and morality.
Amos’ victims are Amaziah, the high priest who presided over the corrupt sanctuary, and King Jeroboam. The vision of the plumb-line, so beautifully captured in the Coventry Cathedral sculpture, communicated the fact that both the shrine worship and the dynasty would be destroyed. The priests have presided over two false sanctuaries in the Northern Kingdom, and have offered illegal sacrifices while the nation, ruled over by Jeroboam, has descended into injustice, corruption and complacency. You can get the flavour of the nation by reading the rest of Amos’ book. His vision of the plumb-line forms a fitting summary: the nation has become bent.
Like Herod 600-odd years later, the recipients of this prophetic lashing were not happy, so Amaziah attempts to gang up on Amos with the King’s authority. The accusation is that ‘the land cannot bear all his words’. The fact is, lands never can bear the words of righteous prophets once they themselves have abandoned righteousness. The truth hurts, and so we try various methods to silence it.
The reaction of Amaziah is a textbook example of what people do when their evil is confronted. First of all, he tries to twist Amos’ words and his intentions, and reports this false information to others. He can only think in terms of politics: Amos is seeking to raise a revolutionary army to overthrow the King. It doesn’t occur to him to listen for the voice of God through the prophet’s words. Those who dare to criticise us, or the status quo, can only possibly be doing so for their own sinister ends.
He then seeks to discredit Amos. You can almost hear the sneer in the words ‘you seer’. In a land which had known its share of false prophets, eccentrics and oddballs, it is easy to mock away any threat. The same, of course, happens today when Christians attempt to stand up against all kinds of behaviour which is contrary to Scripture. They’re just religious nuts or puritans who are totally out of touch with the real world, which, according to one recent statement by an Anglican bishop, ought to be allowed to set the agenda.
Amaziah’s final resort is simply to get rid of him – go somewhere else and do your prophesying. Just leave us alone to live our lives in peace. Go and get lost in some backwater somewhere. Amos responds by both denying and affirming his prophetic vocation. He hasn’t come from any prophetic background, and had never sought this career. He didn’t enjoy moaning about people, another reputation which prophets seem to have had in Israel. I’m not some kind of professional prophet who does this kind of thing for fun. But then he tells of his calling: God called him and took him. As he has said earlier (3:8) ‘The lion has roared – who will not fear? The Sovereign Lord has spoken – who can but prophesy?’ When God puts his finger on you, you don’t exactly have a choice: you have to say what he tells you to say, and what he has told me to say is that this corrupt nation is going to go off into exile and punishment.
So what do we do with this text? The easiest application is to think of times when we have been persecuted by others because we have done what we believed God was telling us to do. I can think of many examples from my own ministry down the years, and it is a great comfort to occupy the moral high ground by claiming solidarity with Amos and the other prophets whom Jesus said Israel delighted to persecute.
But a more difficult application might be to ask questions about whose voices we might be resisting, and what tactics we are using in order to drown them out. No-one likes to be told off, and it’s particularly painful when we know at some deep level that our critics might just be right. Hebrews 12 talks about this very thing, our reluctance to bear godly discipline, and we all know what it is saying. But the fact is that Amaziah, Jeroboam and the whole nation could have been saved had they listen to the voice of God through his prophets. What is stopping you simply from giving in, saying sorry, and mending your ways?
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