We live in a time with an emphasis on personal rights – so many protesting violation, so much anger, hatred and blame about actual and perceived unfairness. Exploiting societal unrest is big business for news organizations, internet voices, and politicians. Solutions are elusive as dialogue is discarded. God had to deal with such transgressions among His own people and we would do well to take His thoughts to heart. We learn from Amos (an ordinary man turned prophet) that there is a precedent to our predicament, minus the protests in the streets. God, sovereign of all created beings, demanded complete heart-turn, threatening shattering judgment upon His people. Superficial legal fixes would not do. A changed mindset was required – renouncing “my rights” to embracing “my responsibilities”.
Amos was minding his own business breeding sheep and tending sycamore trees when he was summoned by the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, to speak to a nation which had become so utterly materialistic that God would have to severely punish them to get their attention. Amos was to expose their immoral economic practices that ravaged the poor. He was to call for repentance, a turning away from entrenched self-interest and greed that hardened their hearts against God and humans.
He lists the reasons for judgment:
*made war to acquire slaves,
*ignored the covenant of brotherhood and facilitated their conquest,
*used excess brutality in war to acquire territory,
*killed unborn babies to control and weaken the conquered,
*burned the bones of the king, desecrating his personal remains and dishonoring his memory,
*used dishonest business practices to increase profits,
*distorted the practice of temporary indenture as a dignified method to repay debt and turned it into permanent slavery
*showcase religious observance without heart (outwardly scrupulous but inwardly weary)
But wait – there is more!
They despised the law of the Lord and disregarded His commandments, enabling them to believe their own lies. They disdained God and subsequently disregarded humans. They sold the righteous for silver, the poor in repayment for a pair of sandals, they took absolutely everything possible from those they oppressed for financial gain, they committed incestuous immorality, worshipped at the altars of popular false gods of their pagan neighbors, dishonored and degraded God’s messengers.
And just to dispel a churchy perception of a distant disinterested deity, listen to how He speaks to the women of the day: “… you cows of Bashan (fat well-fed cattle) … who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands “Bring me wine, let us drink!’…” He goes on to pronounce their utter humiliation and ruin. Women are generally more nurturing and sensitive to the plight of others, but these hags condoned and even encouraged their husbands to procure wealth to pamper their own lives – even at the expense of others who suffered for their excess. This probably happened almost imperceptibly over time as the idea of personal enrichment became a value that overrode mercy and compassion – even to the point of justifying the mistreatment of others. They could easily overlook such callous indifference to the less fortunate because everyone else did. It is a slippery slope from demanding personal autonomy to diminishing and ultimately disregarding the rights of others. The Lord responded with harsh judgment for ignoring the empathetic female nature that softens and tempers male assertiveness. They incited crimes of oppressive greed – the financial and social abuse of others – by using their natural sexual power to appropriate things and status for themselves.
Amos spotlights the fatal flaws: 1) replacing God’s will with self-will, refusing His involvement 2) dominating and disregarding others for personal advancement. Self-focused living is the dust of death that imperceptibly accumulates and dulls our senses. Before we know it we condone greed, rebellion against God, and resulting injustice to man. God sums it up when Amos says “‘…see the great tumults (disorder) within her midst, and the oppressed within her, for they do not know to do right,’ says the Lord, ‘ who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.’”
All the egoistic self-serving financial, spiritual and sexual behavior robbed them of discernment. Their individual and collective conscience was seared like a steak on a hot grill, cauterized to protect their hearts from the inconvenience of having to consider the treachery of their selfishness. Sin perpetuates convenient and comfortable societal lies, blinding the conscience and hardening the heart. They (like us) had been convinced that their lives were their own, and no one should interfere with their bottom line or their sexual preferences. Oh, they gave lip service to religion, but what wretched hypocrisy. That makes it even more detestable! And God is not indifferent.
“As surely as God is God, injustice and avarice will ruin a nation. We talk now about necessary consequences and natural laws rendering penalties inevitable. The Bible suggests a deeper foundation for their certain incidence (the judgments) -even the very nature of God Himself. As long as He is what He is, covetousness and its child, harshness to the needy, will be sin against Him, and be avenged sooner or later. God has a long and a wide memory, and the sins which He ‘remembers’ are those which He has not forgiven, and will punish….Obstinate sinners invite destruction.” (Maclaren commenting on Amos 8)
Our solution is the same as Israel’s. Legislating morality has proven futile, although spotlighting immorality may rouse a few from waking death. Before we point fingers from a self-justified smugness, let’s do a thorough self-evaluation and be willing to give God access to our hearts, minds, and resources. Have courage to honestly assess our own motives before we begin castigating others. Listen for your call from God. There are many heads to this snake, and God is looking for His people who are alert and accessible to His solutions.
That’s what it means to be salt – to give up our rights to ourselves and our comfortable cultural mindset. Let’s turn our “rights” into our righteousnesses. As we reverse the decay of sin in our own hearts we can then influence our neighbors and perhaps spare them God’s judgment.
Out of the saltshaker into the fray!
Bonus for thinkers and students – Ravi Zacharias masterfully expands the picture
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