Amos was a clever preacher. No one would have slept on him. Amos’ secret to homiletical excellence is that he pricked the ears of his listeners after devastating them with this argument of cause and result. He told them to prepare for a state visit.
Remember, he is speaking to the capitol city of the northern kingdom, Samaria, the home of the bureaucracy, the pride, the capitol, the seat of power. He told them to prepare for a state visit in verse 9a: Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria . . .” This would have caught the attention of Amos’ self-congratulatory listeners. A state visit! Their very enemies were coming to visit. They had to have been excited in their anticipation.
The city of Samaria is in an amphitheater.[i] They were surrounded by mountains on which people could look down and into the city. The enemies of Israel—the Phoenicians, the Egyptians—were invited to come and stand around the circumference of this amphitheater and to look down on the capital city of Samaria.[ii]
Do you remember the old western movies? This was just like the Indians that were hiding behind the sand dunes and looking down at the cowboys beneath. Oh, what a consequence comes from this anticipated state visit. In the mouths of the Pagan neighbors come these indictments as they look down upon Samaria and the covenant people of God.
Verse 9b says, “and see the great tumults within her, and the oppressed in her midst.” When the Egyptians and the Phoenicians—not exactly bywords for civility—looked down upon the city of Samaria, they say, “What confusion of might over right.” They say, “What oppression! How justice has been turned to injustice. How morality has been turned to immorality.” They mouthed the very indictments that Amos gives throughout his prophecy.
Women had become a disgrace for their society in the fourth chapter. Courts had become so corrupt that justice could not be found in the fifth chapter. A capitol city had become so proud of itself that it almost stumbled the sixth chapter. And trade and commerce had become so dishonest, no one could be sure that he was buying what he paid for in the eighth chapter.
Oh, what a word from Amos. When God’s covenant people become irresponsible, even their enemies look down and blush at what they see.
The most devastating word is saved for the mouth of the Lord Himself in verse 10: “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord. This literally means that they have forgotten how to do what is right.[iii] The Hebrew word translated as right means “straightforward, upright, a straight line,” meaning they have become incapacitated from doing that which is straightforward.[iv] A generation of injustice and oppression led to people who mouthed in the face of their heritage, “We do not want to know the will of a covenant God.” Their judgment is that they got their wish. They forgot how to do right. They became incapable of the distinction between justice and injustice. They had no clue what was moral or immoral. Could it still be the case that the enemies of God’s people could gather around and indict those?
Is it possible that the enemies of God’s covenant people could yet, even still, look down upon them and bring an indictment?
The communist Chinese have gone on record with their puritanical society.[v] They’re straight-laced and straight-forward as they indict us (Americans) for our movies and television programs, and our magazines with their constant suggestive, voyeuristic, and inappropriate interests.
Let us hear from Amos! When God’s covenant people lose their responsibility, even their enemies may stand up to indict them.
[i] Peter C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and Jonah (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1984), 149.
[ii] The divide between Israelites and Egyptians may be further explored in Alexandra Nocke, The Place of the Mediterranean in Modern Israeli Identity (The Netherlands: Brill, 2009), 208ff.
[iii] M. Bentley, Opening up Amos (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006), 43.
[iv] Smith and Page, 71.
[v] Nora Tai-Xiu Groves, “Our Trip to China,” LA Times (Dec 15, 2004); accessed online at http://www.latimes.com/news/la-chinatrip-nora-story,0,4673945.story.