By Campus Missionary Mary Rowley based on Amos 5:18-24
During our staff meeting last week, Pastor Jay, Matt and I made many a joke about this Amos passage. We were looking for the Gospel and didn’t find much. Our repeated refrain was, “Don’t read Amos!” And it’s true, this passage is rather depressing. It includes the words woe, darkness, lion, bear, serpent, gloom, hate, and despise. God is telling his people here that he’s not interested in their sacrifices and he doesn’t want to hear their worship or music. It seems that there’s nothing his people could do that would bring them favor in his eyes. All in all, this passage is disheartening and dismal.
However, when you look at the bigger picture, things start to make more sense. Amos was writing to Israel at a time when the nation was prosperous. There’s nothing wrong with prosperity, but there is something wrong with the way the nation was responding. The people of Israel were taking the credit for their prosperity, and as such, were ignoring the mandates of God. They were taking advantage of the poor and needy, dishonoring women, and worshiping idols. They might have been outwardly worshiping God also, but in their hearts, they were worshiping only themselves.
This explains why God wasn’t interested in their ritual sacrifices and didn’t want to hear their worship. It also explains why Amos told the people to dread the day of the Lord. “Why would you have the day of the Lord?” he asked. “It is darkness, and not light.” For Israel, the day of the Lord would not have been a blessing; it would have been a disaster. They were disobeying God, and Amos prophesied that their prosperity would be taken away and only a remnant of Israel would remain.
Amos was speaking to the Israelites, but he could also be speaking to us. We are not always faithful. We don’t always give to the poor; we dishonor one another; we worship idols of money or prosperity. All of these things corrupt our relationship with God. When our hearts are not in the right place, our worship is meaningless and repugnant to God.
And yet, when we think we’re lost and hopeless, Amos offers a beacon of hope at the end of this passage: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” He tells Israel that if they turn away from their transgressions, they will be right in the eyes of God. And he tells us the same. We know that by ourselves we are not able to do that, but with the help of Jesus, we can be right in the eyes of God again, and he will love our worship once more. He will turn our darkness to light. When we are hopeless, like Israel was, God will reach in and turn us back to him. So instead of avoiding Amos because of his dreary outlook, let’s read Amos and find the hope within his words.