Reader beware: to interact with Amos is to be confronted with the reality of injustice in the land of Israel and God’s crystal-clear desire for justice-specifically, for those who find themselves oppressed and marginalized by the idolatrous and money-hungry leadership of Jeroboam II of the Northern territory which has trickled down into the day-to-day patterns and behaviors of the wealthy religious. To interact with Amos is to understand that God has something critical to say to Israel (think: the people of God), in this case, through a shepherd and farmer turned prophet.
Preacher beware: a faithful proclamation of an Amos text must go beyond its historical account and locate itself in one’s present-day local context. To preach Amos is to ask questions like, ‘Who / what is ruling like Jeroboam II?’ ‘Who / what is being oppressed and marginalized as a result of this rule?’ ‘Who are the Amos-figures among us, and what are they saying?’ ‘What would God have to say about these realities?’
(For a quick and helpful understanding of the content, characters, and context of the book of Amos, I recommend viewing the Bible Project’s overview video on Amos.)
This particular vision Amos receives, as accounted for in chapter eight of the book, details God’s awareness of and displeasure towards those who “trample the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land” (v. 4). The ways in which they do this are outlined in verses five and six (my paraphrase): they chomp at the bit to sell their products and make their profits; they intentionally and maliciously inflate the cost of their goods just because they can, and lie to customers in the process; they have created a market in which poor people can be bought and sold; they add in to their parcels useless material in order to bulk up weights without selling too much of what people actually want to buy. These practices and those like them trample the needy and bring ruin to the poor. God sees it, and God does not like it.
It would not be inappropriate for preachers and teachers of this text to identify actual local, national, and global practices and patterns that embody these unjust practices. Some critical thinking may be required to identify local examples, however, to put it plainly, these behaviors are a carbon copy of what can be found in modern day practices of many forms of corporate capitalist greed. The local church must do the work of identifying the embodiment of these practices and sit in their tension and grief if it is going to have any chance at offering a tangible Gospel-centered alternative way of life to the world.
To get the juices flowing, I can offer an example from my local context: I can speak about the landlords (in my city, we rightly call them slumlords) who raise rent prices without putting a single dollar into maintaining the home, rent it out to those who have nowhere else to go until the property literally becomes unlivable, then walk away from the property altogether by defaulting on property taxes. The homes deteriorate, become hazardous eye-sores for the most vulnerable neighborhoods, and eventually get demolished. This common practice of squeezing every possible dollar out of a property and then abdicating all responsibility at an advantageous time is-by every stretch of the imagination-evil. It is not savvy. It is not good stewardship. It is a form of profiteering, greed, and capitalist-anxiety that has ripple effects throughout neighborhoods, cities, and generations of families.
Now, let us take another step and move beyond God’s critique of Israel in an effort to find some good news, or at least a vision of what good news can be. The theological task of reversing the logic of what God rebukes can uncover what God desires. I feel this is important work for the Church to engage in-and pastors lead this charge-because I would contend this practice is not away of ignoring the prophetic critique, but rather a way of practicing repentance in its light. Additionally, it keeps the perspectives and lives of the marginalized (victims) at the center of the conversation, rather than staying focused (only) on the actions of the oppressors (victimizers).
In the present case the Church learns God’s Kingdom requires practicing patience and truly relying on God-not one’s own ambitions or schemes-for provision. The Church learns life within God’s Kingdom must be morally upright, cooperative, and harmonious (and of course, justice-filled). The Church learns the posture of God’s Kingdom refuses to view people as property or means to a profitable end. Here, we can discern what God wants by being willing to be confronted with what God does not.
A way in which we can crosscheck if our actions align with God’s Kingdom ethic is to ask questions like, ‘How do we do business?’ and ‘What do we do with our stuff?’ Professor and author D. Stephen Long gives this vision: “A faithful response to God’s good news results in believers holding their property koina (in common) rather than as idion (one’s own). The latter ends in death. The very presence of the church in the world requires one of these two realities: hold our property in common and find life and goodness or hold our property as our own and embrace death.”
Amos shows us that people embody one of two postures, as do churches: closed-handed hoarding (which lends to death), or open-handed sharing (which leads to life).In closing, let us not forget what is at stake if a people allow injustice to reign, or participate in the injustice themselves. Beyond the continued suffering of the poor-which is serious enough-Amos’ vision also tells of a famine of “hearing the words of the Lord” (v. 11). To this end I offer two possible ways of looking at this. First, we could choose to believe God withholds God’s voice from encountering perpetually disobedient people. Secondly, we could understand that over time, perpetually disobedient people lose any sense of being able to have a framework that can embrace any part of anyone else’s words and logics other than their own-God’s included. Either way, to avoid such a famine the people of God must repent of any unchecked perpetual disobedience they find themselves advancing, speak up against the unchecked perpetual disobedience of the systems and structures of their land, and find ways to tangibly embody a true Kingdom ethic.
 D. Stephen Long,The Goodness of God: Theology, the Church, and Social Order(Grand Rapids: BrazosPress, 2001), 237.