And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Amos 7:12-13
The dedicated Christian may be able to relate to Amos. We might paraphrase: “O religious nut, go preach to someone who wants to listen. Stay where you were, preach to your own kind and do not ram your teaching down our throats.” “Preaching” was not welcome there in Amos’ day, for according to Amaziah that is the king’s land, and not here today, for this is Canada where we talk about the weather, hockey, and politics, usually in that order. But not religion. That is a private matter so don’t talk about it. Maybe we have never encountered this sentiment, but maybe that is because we have been too quiet to ever be shushed?
Last week we looked at engaging the minds of those who have already made up their minds. This week we ask what are we to do when we face not just apathy for, but hostility to, our message. Not just “we will never agree with what you are saying, but, we don’t even want to hear it.” What are we to do as Christians when our message has become unpopular? Let us turn to a prophet with an unpopular message for help.
Amos was sent from his homeland in Judah with a message for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His message tended to be simple: “stop exploiting the poor and bring back justice.” But it was also unpopular, especially with the priest in Bethel:
Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'” 12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Amos 7:10-13
Amos was told to go back to Judah and keep his message there. The Christian today may be told to go back to church and keep their message there. So what do we learn from Amos?
Amos was not in Bethel for personal gain. In fact he is not even a “professional” prophet belonging to a guild or school of prophets:
14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Amos 7:14-15
We know Amos was not speaking up for self-gain, so why was he there? Chapter 7 begins with three visions, the first two ending with God relenting from judgement thanks to the intercession of Amos:
This is what the Lord GOD showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings). 2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, “O Lord GOD, forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 3 The LORD relented concerning this; “It shall not be,” said the LORD. 4 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: the Lord GOD was calling for a shower of fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5 Then I said, “O Lord GOD, cease, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 6 The LORD relented concerning this; “This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD. Amos 7:1-6 (emphasis mine)
This is a man who is passionate about interceding on behalf of the people. He loves the people! From Amos we learn this important truth for when we face opposition: The motive for speaking up is not self-gain, but love. In the third vision God points out that His justice must finally overrule the compassion of Amos:
This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Amos 7:7-9
But justice will not overrule compassion until opportunities are given to repent, thus Amos is sent to warn the people. God who loves the people! And a strong message is given precisely because of love. In fact any effort to silence a prophet of God is an effort to snuff out the loving activity of God. And to silence a Christian from sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is to deny an opportunity to love.
Even the most dire prophecies of the prophet are spoken out of love. We might consider the last words of Amos to Amaziah:
“Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’ 17 Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'” Amos 7:16-17
We ought not to take this as a personal attack out of spite: “I don’t like how you have opposed me, so God is going to get you.” Rather this is a final plea, a pointing out of the natural consequences if Amaziah continues down the path he is on: “If you deny the nation the opportunity to repent God will not protect you when the enemy comes. Just think of the dire circumstance that will create for your family, for you, and for your nation!” Amos was not pointing to a “supernatural zapping” but a natural and sad outworking of events. Amos knew about exile and so could warn Amaziah about it. We know about hell. How often do we warn people that the natural consequence of a life lived with one’s back turned to God will be an eternity without God? Hell is not a “supernatural zapping” but a natural and sad outworking of events.
Amos has not been the only spokesperson from God that people have tried to silence. Nor has he been the only one to speak up. John the Baptist loved people too much to be silent about their need for repentance. Jesus loved people too much to be silent about the coming Kingdom. The apostles loved people too much to be silent about the good news that Jesus is risen, that He is Lord and Saviour, that in Jesus God has stepped into history to rescue humanity. This was an unpopular message back in the day: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). It still is unpopular.
How much do we really love Canada? How much do we really love the people all around us? Does fear silence us? Or does love loosen our lips?
All scriptures are quoted from the NRSV