Signpost for July 17, 2016: Amos 8:1-12; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:25-37.
Amos the prophet was brought up in a town in the kingdom of Judah: it was about fifteen kilometres south of Jerusalem. However, the messages he brought from God were directed to the northern kingdom, Israel, and were delivered during the concurrent reigns of Jeroboam II in the north and Uzziah in the south, say around 760 BCE.
Israel, at this time, was in a period of economic prosperity, when trade made the country wealthy. Last week we read one of his five short visions of judgement, in which a priest told him to stop prophesying against the kingdom of Israel, and go back to Judah and prophesy there. Amos turned it around: instead of prophesying judgement on the kingdom he made it personal, with a forceful judgement against the priest. This week the reading is another vision of destruction. It begins with a vision of a basket of summer fruit, which turns into a prediction of the end which was to come upon the people of Israel. Apparently the link between summer fruit and end is that the words sound very similar in Hebrew. (Take courage, those who play games with language, the Lord did it in visions!)
The message which follows is ethical in nature: he speaks of the judgement of God on the people for their unethical behaviour which creates a fragmented and unjust society. The things to which he draws attention have a depressingly modern sound: trade and profit take precedence over everything else, the rich take advantage of the poor, personal profit becomes the goal of the wealthy, again at the expense of the less affluent.
But Amos seems to think that there is something worse than the havoc that will follow from the self-destructive nature of the society: a famine, not of bread or water, but of hearing the word of the Lord. There will be a frantic search to find the word of the Lord but it will not be found. It is not clear to me whether the Lord does not send messengers or whether the people have lost the ability to recognise the word when they find it. I hope that it is the second of these possibilities, since God will not have forsaken the people.
The alarming thing about this prophecy is that it echoes so much that is going on in our own society, and consequently raises some interesting questions.
Can we apply the prophecies of Amos, in some way, to our own society?
Do they mean that, with the way our society operates, we are on a path to destruction?
Is destruction a necessary prelude to a new start?
Do they mean that word of the Lord given to the people of God cannot be heard, because there is no longer a way for people to understand it?
How can we work to make the word of the Lord available to those who can hear it, and to those who may learn to hear it?