AMOS 5:6-7, 10-15
One of the commentaries that I read summarizes the background better than I can. It reads like this:
” Amos preached in the Northern Kingdom (Israel) about 750 BC. Israel, also called “house of Joseph,” was enjoying a period of great prosperity, which diverted their attention from the growing menace of Assyrian power. Amos believed that unless Israel ceased her unrighteous, immoral ways, God would abandon them to Assyria. The people, however, relied on their special relationship with God and viewed their prosperity as a sign of God’s blessings. ‘Gate’ means the entrance to a city or village, where elders met to hold court and dispense justice.”
- Verses 6 and 14 are at the heart of Amos’ plea to the people. “Seek the Lord and live.” The admonition in verse 6 is that if they don’t change their ways,
- The Lord will destroy the northern kingdom of Israel.
- Bethel was where their main temple of worship was located; this will be “devoured”.
- Nobody will be able to stop this process, once it is under way.
- Wormwood creates a bitter oil. Justice in the land has a bitter taste—it is not justice at all. Right-actions are driven into the ground. (v. 7)
- The “they” in verse 10 are those who are acting unjustly. They hate it when the elders dispense real justice at the gate, and they hate hearing the truth.
- Verse 11a gives a glimpse at two of the injustices that the rich and powerful have done to the poor.
- Next come the consequences of their bad behavior. (vv. 11b-12)
- Verse 13 is a little confusing. Let’s paraphrase it this way—“If you are a smart and just person, this is a good time to keep your mouth shut!”
- The remainder is a final plea from Amos for the people to love good actions and hate evil ones. He suggests that for those who heed his warning, will be a spared, and be a “remnant of Joseph (Israel)”. (vv. 14-15)
This was written nearly 3,000 years ago. Yet, it could be applied to our time and our country. We cut the taxes for the rich, and attempt to eliminate programs that feed and heal the poor. Things haven’t changed much, have they? Shall we expect God to get angry again, devour, and break out like fire? What shall we do? Shall we keep our mouths shut, for it is an evil time? Or shall we speak up against greed and injustice. Perhaps if we do so, we will become God’s “remnant” in this time and place.
This book was written to Jewish Christians, to explain the life of Jesus within the context of the Jewish faith. Today, Jesus is called “our high priest”. It is helpful to know what this is. There was only one high priest at a time. Once a year, he would offer a sacrifice to God for the sins of the people.
It is also good to know that one of a king’s duties was to sit on his throne and hear court cases. Kings acted sort of like a one-man supreme court.
- But first, we are reminded that God’s word is as sharp as a two-edged sword. There’s no escaping it; somebody’s gonna get cut! This sword divides soul from spirit. Talk about a fire and brimstone sermon—this one is intense! Not only is there no place to hide, we are naked; totally exposed, sin and all. (vv. 12-13)
- But here’s the good news—we have Jesus, our great high priest. Since he’s already ascended to the Father, he’s better than your average high priest. Because of this, let’s “hold fast to our confession [of our sins]”. (v. 14)
- This is the part I like. We are reminded that Jesus lived among us, and knew temptation. He understands. He can sympathize with our temptation and weakness, even though he himself was sinless. (v. 15)
- Not that Jesus is seated on a throne at his Father’s right hand, he will judge us. But we may approach boldly because of what we just heard in the previous verses. We will receive mercy and grace, because of what Jesus first did for us, dying on the cross for our sins. (v. 16)
It is good to remind ourselves that Judgement Day will come, and we will all need to give an accounting of our lives. But we can take comfort in God’s loving grace, who gave His only son as a sacrifice for our sins.
In Jesus’ day, if someone was prosperous, it was an indication that they were blessed by God. Prosperity allowed the rich person more leisure time, so they could devote more time to spiritual studies and charitable giving. (At least in theory.) This fact will become important later on in today’s passage.
- Jesus is on the road again. As he walks along, a man runs up and kneels before him. It sounds like he is not only eager to talk to Jesus, but has great respect for him as well. He calls Jesus “Good Teacher”, and asks what he needs to do go have eternal life. (v. 17)
- Jesus starts by challenging the “Good Teacher” label. He says that only God is good. Now, we know that Jesus was/is God, but right now in the story that’s a secret. The common thought of the day was that God was the only perfectly good being; everybody else fell short. (v. 18)
- Then, Jesus listed some of the Ten Commandments. “You know these, right?” (v. 19)
- The man says “Yeah, yeah, I’ve kept all of those since I was a kid. (v. 20)
- Then, Jesus lowers the boom. “One more thing—sell everything, give the money to the poor, and follow me.” (v. 21)
- You know the rest. The man was rich. This was too much to take. He left shocked and broken-hearted. (v. 22)
- Jesus then turns to the disciples, and drives the point home. It’s really hard for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God. He gives the example of a camel and the eye of a needle*, to make his point. (vv. 23-26)
- The disciples are astounded at this teaching. They are of the thinking that this rich man was blessed by God, which was why he was rich in the first place. If this rich man can’t make it, what chance do they stand? (v. 26)
- Here is the glimmer of hope—the Good News. Jesus says for “mortals” (us humans) it is impossible, but not for God. In other words, our salvation must come from God, not from our own actions. (v. 27)
Remember that the rich man asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer was true. There is nothing that one can do to earn their way to heaven. Jesus’ second point in this discussion is that he recognized the man’s wealth. Jesus must have known that the man’s wealth had become more important to him than his faith. This, I believe, is why he challenged him to sell everything, and follow him. He was telling the man to reorder his priorities.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
It is all too easy for our possessions to overtake our faith life. If the chips were down, and we had to give it all up to follow Jesus, would we? If our answer is yes, maybe it’s a good time to reevaluate our giving, our service, and our commitment to the Lord? It’s a matter of priority. Whatever our answer, we must still put our trust in God’s grace and our sins at the foot of the cross of Jesus. We can find comfort in Hebrews 4:15-16.
* The Eye of a Needle
There are two separate understandings of what Jesus meant by this phrase.
- Some bible scholars point to the fact that the city gate had two gates or doors. One was large, so that wagons, camels, and mounted horsemen could travel through them. That was the main gate. There was also a smaller gate for pedestrians. It was easier to open for foot traffic. This was called the “eye of the needle”. It was, some scholars say, what Jesus was referring to in this story. It is difficult for a camel to fit through such a small doorway.
- Other theologians believe that Jesus was referring to a sewing needle. It is infinitely more difficult for a camel to pass through a sewing needle. It is impossible. (v. 27) They believe that Jesus was using hyperbole (an exaggerated statement) to show how difficult it would be.
Jesus’ intent does not change, no matter which of these you choose. It’s just a stronger statement with the second. But if you prefer to read the bible literally, you might want to stick with #1.