Amos 7: being measured by God



Amos is a very interesting book of the Bible. It’s only 9 chapters long and, along with Hosea, Joel and Jonah condemns Israel’s society for being very materialistic. It’s therefore often seen as a prophetic work that speaks to our age quite clearly. It was written around the same time as those 3: Hosea, Joel and Jonah and also 2 Kings and 1 Chronicles. We can therefore learn quite a bit about the king that Amos prophesies against, especially from Kings and Chronicles.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that this king is actually Jeroboam the second, all other references in the Bible being to Jeroboam the first, who was pretty much responsible for splitting Israel into Israel and Judah after the death of Solomon when 10 of the 12 tribes appointed him as king and the other 2 stayed with Rehoboam, Solomon’s successor.

So neither of them are painted in a particularly good light in the Bible. But it’s Jeroboam the second we’re looking at here. Amos issues a prophecy against him: that he will die by the sword and Israel will go into exile. The second bit we know is true – 2 Chronicles ends with the Babylonian exile and Amos was prophesying during 1 Chronicles. I was unable to discover how Jeroboam the second died, but I do know that he was succeeded by his son, who was murdered in public (2 Kings 15:10). So even if Jeroboam didn’t die by the sword, his line certainly did.

The second prophecy is not against Jeroboam, but against Amaziah. All we seem to know about Amaziah is here in this passage, so we have no idea whether or not the prophecy came true.

The big question, though, is why did God issue these words through His prophets in the first place? For an answer to that, we need to go back to the beginning of the passage: God is measuring His people. He is seeing whether or not they are true. He is looking at the things that bear His name and are supposed to be carrying out His will and seeing whether or not they’ve actually done so. The interesting thing about the flow of this passage is that it starts with God measuring institutions, Judaism and the kingly rule, and moves to the personal: Amaziah himself. Israel’s society had lost sight of God, had become materialistic and less spiritual: and God was measuring it and the individuals within it.

We move then to the Gospel reading, the well-known story of the Good Samaritan. There are many things we could draw from this parable, from lessons as to how someone who came to test Jesus ended up being tested himself (which may be what happened to Amaziah, of course) through to the simplest “go thou and do likewise” of the good Samaritan himself.

But I want to look at this question: in his choice of three passers-by, did Jesus say they were all like that? Did all priests pass by on the other side, did all Levites pass by on the other side, did all Samaritans stop and help? No, of course not. Tarring everyone with the same brush is never a good idea. We know that we have scandals in our churches today. Just because one vicar runs off with the choirmistress does it meant they all do? No, of course not. There was a story recently – only last week, I think – about a vicar who was too drunk to conduct a wedding. So they went looking for a sober one to take the service. Could they do it? Of course, because there were lots of sober vicars to choose from. Just because one vicar was drunk on a Saturday morning does it mean they all are? Of course not. Therefore not all priests and Levites would have passed by on the other side. Likewise, not all Samaritans would have stopped and helped. But in these specific cases, and for the sake of the point Jesus was making, this is what happened.

In Amos, God measures His people. He starts with the institutions and ends with the individuals. If the institution is corrupt, he won’t necessarily destroy it. Remember the story of Soddom and Gomorrah, where Abraham negotiates with God, asking if God will strike down the city if only ten righteous people could be found there. God agrees. But destroys it when ten can’t be found.

In short: being part of an institution that is righteous does not make you righteous. Your salvation is your own, it is not communal. Likewise, being part of an institution that is unrighteous does not make you unrighteous. Wonga may be an unrighteous business, but it doesn’t mean that everyone that works there is. The Samaritans may be a righteous organisation, but it doesn’t mean that everyone who works for them is. You don’t inherit salvation: it is your own. You can be a good Levite or a bad Levite, a good Samaritan or a bad Samaritan. You’re still a Levite and you’re still a Samaritan.

The lawyer came to test Jesus and went away tested. He was still a lawyer, but I like to think that his encounter with Jesus changed him, just as our encounters with Jesus change us. It’s not what we are part of that enables us to stand before almighty God – it is what we have become in Jesus. It is not what we do for a living, what church we attend, what newspaper we read, which songs we like to sing, what television we watch, what exams we have passed, which sermons we read on the Internet (and this one is there if you want to read it). It is not what we were – but what we have become after meeting Jesus. That is what God tests and that is what enables us to come before Him with confidence. Not what we were, but what we have become.

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