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A brief review of the book of amos about the oppression of the poor

Excerpted with some minor editing and a brief addition from my commentary on Joel, Amos, and Obadiah written for Moody Press in 1990, the series Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary. I now am the sole owner of the copyright; Moody relinquished their rights. For Amos, justice among people must begin with the Lord himself. The Lord expects justice first of all because he has created mankind on the earth.

He can expect certain standards of conduct to be upheld by all nations esp.

Social Justice in Amos

He has appointed each nation to its own sphere 9: Having formed the nations of the earth, he also has the absolute right to judge them 4: The figure of God as judge dominates the book of Amos, though the Lord is not viewed as a judge without mercy. At the very core of the message, the Lord holds out hope for any who will forsake evil and follow the good he desires 5: He sends his prophets and his punishments in an effort to stimulate repentance 3: In the end he will restore the former glory of the nation and even magnify it 9: The justice of God may demand judgment for wrongdoing, but his mercy searches for every conceivable way to bring about a stay of execution.

Then, too, the transgressions that require judgment are nearly entirely comprised of acts of oppression. It is hard to read the book of Amos and not conclude that the Lord is deeply moved when one nation deals cruelly with another, or when the weak and helpless in society are crushed by the powerful. Nowhere in Amos does the Lord ever make reference to poverty as the fault of the poor. Proverbs often teaches about the importance of industry and wisdom in making a man wealthy or poor e.

This is not a fundamental disagreement between the wisdom and prophetic perspectives on the causes of poverty; [2] it only illustrates two complementary ways of looking at the problem.

  • The God-is-dead theologians proclaim that man has come of age and may realize his highest potential only when he has been liberated from belief in a living God;
  • He does not understand that unregenerate man finds it very difficult, if not impossible, to act always in the best interest of the other person, or even of himself;
  • Any attempt to classify the sins with which Amos dealt would be highly artificial and inadequate, though several scholars have devised such classifications.

Amos desires only to uncover the evil that leads some to impoverish others for their own gain. Why is it evil? The Lord never deals with his creatures in that way; therefore such behavior is offensive to him. If the Lord shows compassion for the widow and the afflicted, he does not expect any less from his own people.

He presents his listeners with concrete images of those who tamper with scales 8: The individual merchants and wealthy landowners are dishonest and greedy for more money and power. If they would turn back to the Law of the Lord and meet his requirements, they would be righteous and merciful in imitation of him. However, one must also keep in mind the social setting in which Amos operated. Amos was particularly concerned because he could see the social system set up by the Lord disintegrating.

The land tenure system provided at least a means for each individual to participate in the social process 5: They were incapable of making enough for even a subsistence, and they were forced to sell themselves into debt slavery 2: In stark contrast were individuals of wealth and privileged position who were securing greater riches and power by taking advantage of this poor class.

The Lord had set up a system of judicial elders during the period of wandering in the wilderness Ex. The fatal disease that Israelite society had contracted becomes evident as Amos speaks of bribery 5: The religious institutions as Amos was familiar with them, should also be examined in relation to social justice.

Amos preaches that the Lord provided justice for all Israel when he brought them up from Egypt and gave them the land of the Amorites 2: He also raised up prophets and Nazirites to turn the people back 2: Amos notes an insincerity about the way the people carry on at the various sanctuaries 8: Life is not divided into secular and sacred for Amos: The way people behave in the marketplace or how they judge in the gate directly relates to their religious practices.

If the Lord demands fair and merciful actions, they must be as much a part of the worship as singing and sacrifice 5: When the Israelites defraud the poor, they just as surely defraud the Lord himself.

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Amos begins with the justice of God, then, and shows how that relates to justice in society. The entire book of Amos shines a powerful light on Israelite society, revealing its dishonesty, corruption, and violence.

That being the case, God is perfectly right to bring the overwhelming disaster of which Amos speaks. Elements of social justice found in Amos can also be viewed from a universal perspective.

What does God expect of a just society? Based on my understanding of Amos, I would say that he expects a system that makes it possible for people to thrive in a system free of corruption that would deprive them of what they need to survive and flourish.

  1. All such classifications fail, however, in that they do not reveal the multiplicity and complexity of the sins committed by Israel. The message of Amos is also relevant to the current God-is-dead controversy.
  2. Perhaps the most sobering message from Amos for today is the revelation which he received from God that there would be no more hope for a nation that continually ignored all his warnings and that a day of reckoning from which there would be no escape had become absolutely necessary 4.
  3. He overlooks that which will ultimately cause his system to fail, i. Westminster Press, 1956 , p.
  4. Although human slavery as an institution has nearly disappeared from the world, there are nations today plotting to enslave other nations politically.
  5. The Book of Amos ends with a glorious promise for the future. The challenge to assume responsibility for the less fortunate, to treat every person with dignity, has been well expressed by Leslie Hunter.

It should be a system where merchants are honest and judges are incorruptible. And it should be a system where those who have been treated unjustly have free access to relief in court. David Pleins, Biblical Ethics and the Poor: University Microfilms, 1986esp. Willy Schottroff and Wolfgang Stegemann, trans. Orbis, 1984pp. SCM, 1986p.