Reading Through Amos

What does the message and context of Amos (book), reveal to us as 21st century American Christians here in Seattle? Here is framing to help with a deeper reading of the text.

As we begin working through the book of Amos as a community, we must acknowledge that it is not merely a static representation of Old Testament prophetic history. The text is meant to come alive and engage in dialog with us here in the 21st century. 

As Seattle residents in the Pacific Northwest, we are called to have a conversation and reckon with the text’s implications for us as a community. As we open ourselves to its questions and conclusions, we discover how much Amos’ message is prescient, relevant, and necessary. 

The Story Surrounding The Text

The historical context of Amos, includes two divided nations: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Ethnically and culturally, Israel and Judah are siblings, but are now on different historical trajectories. Amos is a shepherd from the southern kingdom, who God sends to the northern kingdom. 

Israel’s geographical context

The northern kingdom of Israel is adjacent to six other nations who God condemns for specific actions. At various points in recent history these nations have harshly occupied certain territories, have been involved with slave trafficking, or have irresponsibly attacked a neighboring people. God is a divine witness to what these nations have done and judges them. 

Israel’s covenant violation

Amos reveals God’s judgment upon the Israel for their covenant violation. They have ignored their unique and intimate relationship with Yahweh, and had aligned themselves with foreign deities. God’s covenant people had lost their way, and looked nothing like Yahweh. Their national identities and interests were more akin to the injustice and irresponsibilities of their neighbors. 

Israel’s systemic injustice

Furthermore, Israel is guilty of systemic injustice toward the innocent, the poor, and the young. They have hindered individuals from more closely following Yahweh, and have attempted to silence the prophetic tradition that speaks truth to power. 

Amos makes it clear that Yahweh-worship includes loving neighbor, caring for the powerless, and stewarding what they are blessed with. God cares deeply about the consumption of the elite in the capital cities, where the wealth was acquired at the expense of the poor. 

A royal ideology that has displaced Yahweh

Amos goes on to attack Israel’s royal ideology, that props up the ruling class and tramples everyone else underfoot. In Israel (and Judah) there is this belief that Yahweh’s land grant and national protection, would shield them from judgment or potential exile. Amos reveals this royal ideology to be a mirage at best as he deconstructs it, revealing it a house-of-cards that will one day cave in on itself. 

Amos seeks to remind the people of their covenant with Yahweh. They are a people a promise, rescued and redeemed by Yahweh. They are now reneging on that promise, and God cannot stand idly by. Throughout the book, Amos reveals a jealous God who longs for his covenant people to be in right relationship with him. 

Why Amos Matters For Us Today

As we engage in conversation with Amos, as a community, here are a handful of ways we can frame our exploration:

We must continue cultivating faith 

Amos reveals that as Christians, we must careful to continue cultivating our connection to God. It’s easy to get to a place in our faith, where we take God’s blessing, approval, and provision for granted. We can forget that our relationship with Jesus, is two-way. It requires us to continue deepening and widening our communion with Christ.

Our faith is deeply relational

Amos reveals that we must understand the communal nature of faith. It is not privatized or personal and affects how we relate to the people in our lives. Whether it’s a neighbor, a family member, a stranger, or even an enemy, God holds us to account over our words, actions, and choices.

Justice (or right-living) is an expression of faith 

Amos makes clear that our faith towards God is intricately woven into God’s heart for justice (or right-living). There are systems of oppression, violence, consumption, that God continually asks us to help deconstruct. Whether we benefit from those systems or are exploited by it, God invites us to join him in redeeming and remaking the world.

This post was originally posted as part of a series of devotional reflections on the Union Church blog. We recently began a preaching series through the book of Amos.