Book of Amos:
At a time in our national story when White Evangelical drama is in the forefront of the news, it’s nice to be reminded that there are Baptists who remember biblical truths because they have actually read the Holy Bible in its entirety and with significant depth of understanding. The following article is written by Walt Shelton, a law professor at Baylor who also leads discussion groups at church:
“Social justice is all about actively loving others who are vulnerable and in need. More particularly, social justice includes fair treatment and provision of opportunities for everyone in a society, with special emphasis and concern for the poor and other disadvantaged people. This crucial emphasis on caring for others is always in order, but some cultural circumstances cry out for prioritizing equity.
Social justice is embedded in the fabric of Jewish-Christian tradition, reaching a highpoint of expression in certain prophets such as Amos. Although often misunderstood as predicting the future, Biblical prophets primarily spoke to their own generations and historical circumstances. Another word for prophet is “seer,” as in clarity of vision and speech from God for their own times. When similar contexts arise in later times, however, a prophet’s insightful words have renewed relevance and heightened importance.
What about Amos? His was the era of a divided kingdom with two separate countries — Israel, the northern kingdom and Judah, the southern kingdom. He spoke to Israel in the first half of the eighth century B.C. during a time of military strength and national security, a strong economy and extravagant wealth (for some), and thriving worship centers and related rituals. Many perceived these as signs of God’s national favor, but Amos saw things differently.
Amos denounced the rich “who oppress the poor, who crush the needy” (Amos 4:1). He pronounced judgment because they “trample on the poor … afflict the righteous … and push aside the needy in the gate” (Amos 5:11-12). Speaking for God at the summit of his message, Amos strongly declared to that self-assured generation: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. … I will not accept [your religious offerings]. … Take away from me the noise of your songs. … But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24). This passage has sometimes been called the “MLK passage” because Martin Luther King Jr. applied it to violent racial discrimination in his time, the 1960s.
It is noteworthy that Amos was an apparent victim of social injustice. He was a foreigner from a small village, traveling north from his native Judah to Israel to proclaim God’s word (Amos 1:1). Further, Amos was a shepherd and dresser of trees (Amos 1:1, 7:14), with a socio-economic gulf between him and the powerful political and religious leaders of Israel. In a moving autobiographical passage, Amaziah, the priest of the religious center in Bethel, accused Amos of conspiring against the King of Israel with his prophecy. Amaziah told Amos to go home and “never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom” (Amos 7:10-13).
The appearance of holiness at a busy religious institution and assembly like Bethel did not make it or its people so. Amos’s perspective was profound but not novel. Social justice runs deep in Jewish tradition. For example, God’s words to Moses many generations earlier included a prominent Holiness Code that spoke of authentic holiness (Leviticus 19). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is part of this code (Lev. 19:18). Jesus emphasized such love as one of the greatest commandments (Mark 12:31). But it is not just neighbors: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you: you shall love the alien as yourself…” (Lev. 19:33-34). Amos was oppressed as an alien. He was from a different country and culture and had a different point of view from prominent leaders. As God’s special messenger, Amos also championed the poor, needy, and others who were being oppressed in the land that he visited.
So how do our times line up with early eighth century Israel? God always cares about living expressions of social justice — rivers of true justice and righteousness in the form of loving, caring, and inclusive actions and initiatives. In the context of extreme wealth, military prowess, secure borders, and the illusion of religious prominence, Amos reminds us what God cares about and what is really important.”