Amos: The Crimes of Nations, 1.1-2.5Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Amos, Bible, Contemporary Ethics, Hebrew Bible, Kingdom, Ministry, Preaching
Amos continues to “redefine” righteousness for religious people. Justice/Righteousness is not simply a matter of personal goodness or morality. There is clearly a personal element in justice/righteousness but it goes far beyond that according to Amos. Amos believes that the personal dimension is taken up into the corporate structural behavior of the group. Thus in Amos there is a structure of righteousness that individuals are a part.
The first two chapters of Amos reflect a world that is full of “international terrorism.” One can see shades of al-Qaida or other groups dedicated to terror. But the culprits in Amos are not rogue groups but nations. Here is a summary of the message of the first chapter and a half:
Amos’ Yahweh watches over the established orders of international law
not only in Israel but also among the other nations, and whenever they
are broken he imposes a historical punishment upon the culprits.
(Gerhard von Rad, The Message of the Prophets, p. 106)
As Amos chastises the traditional enemies of Israel (the named nations all border the Northern Kingdom) he uses a common hook: for three … even for four sins. But then he names only one! These nations do not have the Torah and their righteousness/justice is not measured in specific terms of the Torah. However Yahweh does hold the corporate entities of nations accountable for gross violations (i.e. attacks upon divine Image Bearers!) of human dignity.
Damascus: “because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth” (1.3b; cf. 2 Kgs. 8.12f)
Philistia: “she took captives whole communities and sold them to Edom” (1.6b)
Tyre: “she sold whole communities . . . to Edom” (1.9b)
Edom: “pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion” (1.11b)
Ammon: “ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders” (1.13b)
Moab: “he burned, as if to lime, the bones of the Edom’s king” (2.1b)
Judah: “rejected the law of the LORD” (2.4b)
These opening chapters of Amos sound like a catalog of violations of the Geneva Convention. It is almost as if Yahweh is saying: “Yes war is evil and it flourishes in my fallen creation, BUT I STILL WILL NOT TOLERATE SOME FORMS OF EVIL … even in war.” God hedges the evil of war and says there are standards of righteousness that corporate structures like nations will be held to. Rhetorically, on the canonical level, Amos 1.1-2.5 lulls the church going and devout Israelite into a sense of smug self righteousness. “What can you expect from the PHILISTINES! What can you expect from a EDOMITE! What can you expect from …” That is when Amos lowers the hydrogen bomb on the church people in 2.6ff! But that is for a future post. It is just important to note how the text functions.
What are the “crimes” in Amos’ day? Slavery, trafficking in slavery, lust for war, attacking civilians as a way to further political ends, desecration/hatred of a person, and finally departure from Yahweh’s covenant of love.
I want this blog to be “interactive” so I am going to leave it open ended. I have tried to take these opening oracles seriously. If Amos were to come to our church today, and he redefined or reconfigured our concept of justice/righteousness, what would he say? I have thought about the world and sought “analogies” to the kinds of things that Amos says rather pointedly matter to God. Because the issues are “bigger” than any one of us (as they were in his day too) does not let us off the structural hook so to speak. What crimes would Amos call us to repentance for? I have listed four. I have numbered down to the perfect number seven. What should be listed there. Some of the things I have listed may bother some people but I am sure that some were bothered by Amos too … especially when he nails Israel to its tree.
What might be some contemporary violations of the principles outlined by Amos?
1) American slavery. Sounding much like Amos of old, American hero, Frederick Douglass, said:
What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour. (“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” in Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred Years of African-American Writing, ed, Deirdre Mullane, p. 160)
2) Flying planes in skyscrapers
3) Targeting non-combatants. Many countries have done this through history: Ammon, Assyria (with their stakes); Romans; Crusaders; British; Japanese; Germans; Americans; Russians.
4) The Holocaust/ Japanese internment camps?