Amos was an ancient prophet writing in the 8th century to an Israel that had become corrupt, self-satisfied, and indifferent. During his reign, Israel’s wicked king, Jereboam II, seized political opportunity to gain control of trade routes and create commercial prosperity. His action created a wealthy class living in great luxury. Exploitation of the poor and other excesses were the byproduct of his corrupt rule.
It sounds like Amos ripped a page from USA Today. The political conditions of his time were so similar to our own–wars, land grabs, a quickly inflating financial bubble, and a host of other issues created a thoroughly dysfunctional and inhumane political and social system. A marginalized person could never hope to rise out of poverty or have any advantages.
Amos raises questions for me, most notably, how does a person or a society get to the point of not caring for fellow human beings? To paraphrase Amos’ words, how does one “lie on a luxurious bed while not caring for the ruin of people all around”?
I think that caring is a learned behavior. Human beings are inclined to selfishness. From the first human beings that said, “If we eat this fruit we can be like God,” to the people of Babel who said, “Let’s make a name for ourselves,” we have self-interest in our DNA.
Which is why God set about to train His people to think about others, especially the others that have less than we do. God told farmers to not over-pick a crop so that the poor would have something to pick for themselves. God said to give back a person’s outer garment taken as a pledge of payment by nightfall so that he would have something to cover up with in the chill of evening.
“Woe to those who lie on Sealy Posturepedic, eat the best cuts of meat, and take long afternoon naps,” God warned Amos. God knew that our tendency is to become consumers instead of being generous. A church in Phoenix knows the truth of this because when their pastor told the church that they would no longer be offering a cornucopia of consumer offerings, they immediately lost a third of their members.
Amos’ warning to the people of Israel is still relevant and contemporary. God blesses a generous and compassionate society. Self-centered people go to ruin.