Here in Amos 8, we find that God is enraged at the growing disparity between rich and poor. We find a people who spend the entirety of their day of rest contemplating how they are going to increase their profits upon return to the work week. Furthermore, we read of a nation which practices deception to benefit the wealthy and powerful in their economy.
The prophetic voice this week could not be more relevant!
Resulting from such accusations, the Lord utters words of doom that should frighten and startle us: for such negligence and evil, the people will not have access to the word of the Lord. For those unfamiliar with the prophets, this may seem like a shallow threat or hollow warning. For the nation of Israel, however, the understanding here is that God has come to the end of patience. There is only one thing left to do. By taking away the Word of the Lord, the presence of God would no longer remain in Israel.
From Jeremiah to Joel to Jonah, many of the books of the prophets open with a similar line: “The word of the Lord came to…” Since the fall of the monarchy in Israel, God’s presence was known through revelation to prophets. These prophets in turn would proclaim and demonstrate to the people the desires of God in accordance with his covenant. Time and time again, however, we find that the people of God refused the terms of the relationship, further alienating God from their society. Think about the progression of Israel: intimate communion in the desert in which God spoke directly, giving a cloud and fire, manna and quail. The people turned away, and the monarchy was established, a temple built in which God’s presence was to dwell. Yet the priests profaned God’s name and the people followed suit, intermarrying and worshiping other gods. Here in Amos we find the people in exile, estranged from God and their homeland, and the last whisper of God’s voice is but as strong as the fire of a smoldering wick.
This passage causes me to pause and reflect on my own pastoral and prophetic role. Is God’s closeness to his people still contingent on our actions in society? Does our lack of concern for economic disparity affect the clarity with which we hear the voice of God? Furthermore, can we hear the voice of God where there is economic disparity? I am aware that in our politically charged environment, this commentary may be received as a political treatise. If that is the case, I would challenge the reader to come to grips with what we have done to the Word of the Lord. Are we more concerned as the people of God that we are hearing and doing the word of the Lord, or do we spend the Sabbath contemplating how we will progress economically and politically? May God have mercy on us, and not take from us the whisper of his Holy Spirit.