Thoughts On Amos Chapter 5:14-15, Part 1


Amos 5:14-15 
If you really want to live, you must stop doing wrong and start doing right.
I, the Lord God All-Powerful, will then be on your side, just as you claim I am.
Choose good instead of evil! See that justice is done.
Maybe I, the Lord All-Powerful, will be kind to what’s left of your people.
Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Skip this first paragraph

I am no bible scholar… but I do think hard about the biblical text that I read. I try to see it in it’s original context. That means that I try to understand what it meant to the people it was written to in the time period it was written. This is complicated exponentially by the fact that I know very little about the people or time period in question. So rather than claiming to know the exact original context, I will simply claim one thing: I realize that this text wasn’t written to me originally. I once thought that every scripture was written expressly for me and had a direct application to my life. And while I do believe that all of it is useful (in varying degrees of importance) some of it is written for me to read and glean truth from rather than to apply directly, literally and liberally (being swallowed by fish or killing giants for instance). This passage in Amos, a book I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a sermon from, was written to a people other than mine but when I see similarities between my own culture and the culture being written to, it is easy to apply at least some, if not all, of the warnings, promises, requests and demands that were given to my world. All that to say, this text in Amos which is part of a greater chapter, though he is speaking to his people, the message applies to our nation as it did his. Though he could never know that his words would reach our eyes thousands of years later, I believe, were they said again to us today, that they would differ very little from the original.

“If you really want to live, you must stop doing wrong and start doing right.”

I am no scholar but when you read the entire chapter there is no doubt that God is telling these folks that they’re going to die if they don’t stop what they are doing (The Lord will attack with fire. Bethel will burn to the ground). These are the very verses that proper Christians like to gloss over and that critics of the faith love to throw in our faces. We claim that God is 100% love, and he is, but he is also 100% judgmental, 100% good (though not as we understand) and 100% holy. This judgement, this impending doom doesn’t seem to apply to everyone. It is reserved for those who hate judges and honest witnesses. People who abuse the poor and oppress them with taxes. Those who are wealthy but cheat people and take bribes. Those who rob the poor (Amos 5:10-12). These are the people God is addressing through his servant Amos.

Many times “Old Testament God” is characterized as being hateful and demanding. He hands out destruction to anyone who doesn’t do what He wants. Sometimes we Christians struggle when faced with these actions of His. We feel as if we must defend Him, make excuses for and even semi-apologize for his acts. Both the critic and the Christian miss a crucial point when generalizing the judgement of God. Yes, it is fierce. Yes, it is angry and all consuming… but what is God so angry about? What is He judging? He is taking issue with the same actions that your average Liberal would agree need to be punished. They may not approve of the death penalty whether given by God or man, but we can all agree that God’s anger is more than warranted. This is how God reacts when seeing the mistreatment of those less fortunate. Especially when you consider that the poor in those days were likely widows, orphans, lepers, the elderly and the handicapped.

God says to these people, “If you want to stay alive, stop doing these horrible things and start doing right.” I always love how the Bible covers both sides of this issue. “Stop doing wrong” and “Start doing right”. God not only commands what not to do, he commands what to do as well. Being neutral doesn’t seem to be an option. The hearer is given the task of not being inactive. He is shown that the opposite of hurting the poor is helping them. Not doing wrong isn’t enough. They must put the same energy into doing right as they did doing the wrong.

“I, the Lord God All-Powerful, will then be on your side, just as you claim I am.”

God says that after the oppressors become charitable and kind then He will be on their side. I love the last bit, “…just as you claim I am.” I think of those in the faith who judge the poor, I have done it myself, assuming that their state in life was the product of immorality, bad choices, or the lack of work ethic. All the while setting ourselves up on a higher plane. We are those Jesus approves of and is with. But are we better than they are? No! Haven’t we all made bad choices? Haven’t we all been immoral? Some people’s crap just shows more than others. I see this bit of text telling me that if I am not helping the less fortunate or am in any way putting (or keeping) them down, then I cannot claim that Christ is with me. America has taught us that being poor is a low thing and American Christianity has in large part happily added that tidbit to our theology. The rich are blessed and the poor are being judged. Or at very minimum they are doing wrong what we have done right.

Time to be gut-level honest. America’s poor aren’t just the homeless, they’re the residents of the “poor” or so called “bad” parts of town. If Amos was speaking to us today he would reprimand us as a nation, religious and non-religious alike, about how we have treated those who are not our race. He might also point out that these days, even more than race, we judge others by their economic status: how much money they have. We equate success and riches to a person’s worth and personal value. I know racism is still an huge problem in America, but even so most folks don’t blink an eye at embracing someone of another race when make the same money, wear the same clothing and drive the same car as they do.

We may believe that Christ is with us, and I believe that He is, but is he for us? Can He support us in our treatment of the less fortunate?

Continue to Part 2

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