Selling the righteous for silver…

I’m typing this as I wait to dose my son with more painkillers so that he will hopefully not be too sore for the rest of the night (tonsil removal recovery), so it may not be the most coherant of posts, but I’ve various Amos related themes in my head from reading Amos at the moment.

The title is the charge Amos makes against Israel.  In Amos 1-2 Amos denounces the lands around Israel and Judah, before zooming in on Israel.  Actually it’s more like a circling movement, and I think we’re supposed to hear the cheers from Amos’ hearers as he gets closer.  Those awful Syrians, those terrible Edomites, the dastardly Moabites and Philistines – and as for those stuck up Judeans who think they’re sorted because of the temple…  At all these points surely Amos’ hearers were with him 100%.  But then comes “for 3 sins of Israel, and for 4 I will not turn it back…”

And then the sin list gets more specific.  The gentile neighbours are condemned for what we would call “war crimes”.  Judah for breaking  Torah (cf Romans 1-2 for a similar concept…), but Israel are the nation addressed and their crimes are catalogued.  It is impossible to read Amos without seeing the passionate concern of Yahweh for “righteousness” and “justice” in society.  Equally it is clear that the idolatry and immorality of the people is all a part of this lack of concern for righteousness and justice.  Here in Amos 2:6-10 is the list.

6 “For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
7 those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
and turn aside the way of the afflicted;
a man and his father go in to the same girl,
so that my holy name is profaned;
8 they lay themselves down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge,
and in the house of their God they drink
the wine of those who have been fined.
9 “Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them,
whose height was like the height of the cedars
and who was as strong as the oaks;
I destroyed his fruit above
and his roots beneath.
10 Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt
and led you for forty years in the wilderness,
to possess the land of the Amorite.
11 And I raised up some of your sons for prophets,
and some of your young men for Nazirites.
Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?”
declares the Lord.
12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
and commanded the prophets,
saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’

There is more, but see how intertwined it is – from trampling on the poor, to idolatry that involved immorality, to the mixing of the two in v8.

My first thought on Amos is just this.  For Amos social injustice, immorality and idolatry are not 3 different things that we can pick and choose from: “you worry about sexual purity, I’ll focus on social justice” or “we can’t really do anything about poverty, but we can make sure we are pure”. No.

The three mingle together and are inextricably linked.  The righteousness Yahweh demands has implications that change everything.  The righteousness Yahweh demands treats people as made in his image.  Injustice devalues that image by denying the implications that all bear the image. Immorality devalues that image by denying the God-given context for expressing the one-flesh aspect of the image. Idolatry devalues that image because it implies that we are image bearers of something less than God.

All 3 distort and ruin what Yahweh plans for his children, and so all 3 merit his fierce condemnation.  More on that to come in this potential series of (slightly disjointed thoughts) from Amos – but notice how serious this is at the start of Amos 3

Amos 3:1  Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

“You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities.

Israel’s special relationship and role does not mean a “get out of jail free” card.  The therefore is chilling. It means that for all who persist in sin judgement awaits – perhaps especially those who claim some sort of special relationship with God.

The wonder is that the announcement of judgement is also a call to repentance – to turn back, and  to seek Yahweh – to seek a new start – a repentance which is always accepted in which a new life can be begin (no matter how many failures).

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