A special treat this week; two commentaries for the price of one.
Social Justice-Our Gift to the World
It was the best of times – the days of Jeroboam I, king of Israel. After decades of national insecurity, Jeroboam ascended the throne. He reigned for 41 years during the 8th century BCE, bringing his kingdom to the heights of prosperity. Everyone was happy. Almost.
Through the door of this satisfied nation stepped Amos, a cattle herder from Judah. He had a message from God. For the first time a visionary was standing on a soapbox in the town’s square, his message impressive enough to be preserved for posterity. The period of classical prophets had arrived.
(6) Thus says the Lord:
“For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment,
Because they sell the righteous for silver, And the needy for a pair of sandals.”
o thundered Amos at the surprised people of the affluent northern kingdom. History is rarely recorded by the downtrodden, by the transparent people whose labor and suffering make a great kingdom possible. How often is an organization or a state measured by the condition of its weakest link? Amos did just that, listing seven transgressions that he identifies in the kingdom. Most are social evils, a few are cultically related. All offend God.
(8) They recline by every altar on clothes taken in pledge,
And drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their God.
Amos makes an argument that will be echoed by those who follow in his prophetic footsteps: Being a good person before God and a nasty person to your fellow person, makes you a nasty person in the eyes of God. Placating God while taking advantage of others does not work. A person’s religious values are inextricably tied to his or her social morals.
How long did Amos last in the kingdom of Israel? Opinions vary, some guess a week, others doubt he lasted there for more than a weekend. It is clear to all that he quickly became a persona non grata, holding a mirror to the affluent society that buried its social corruption under ivory decorated palaces. The reaction of the weak portions of society, whose plight he highlighted, is not heard. Some in positions of power, such as the Kohen of the Beth El shrine, tried to accuse him of sedition.
Even if Amos did not manage to change his own generation, he changed the world. Societies continued to build wealth at the expense of those who did not have the means to fight for a fair place, but now tenement dwellers had a voice. In his short book of 9 chapters he established the prophets of the Tanakh as a moral compass for Western society, even if many who tout his message are unaware of Amos.