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Amos And A Heart Of Faith

The book of the prophet Amos was written in approximately the 8th century B.C. and is the oldest of what has come to be known as the minor prophets. There is not much that is known about the prophet from a personal standpoint, but we do know that he was a sheepherder from the town of Tekoa, and that he wrote “two years before the earthquake” (Amos 1:1). In Amos 7:14 Amos also describes himself as a grower of figs.

Who Was Amos?

The mixture of the two seemingly opposite occupations in interesting. On one hand, being a shepherd is a humble occupation and implies that one is of simple means from a monetary perspective. However, to be a grower of figs gives the opposite impression.

In the ancient world figs were a delicacy, and to be a grower of them means that one had land on which to do it. This implies that Amos may have been wealthy, or at the very least had little issue with a steady income. Perhaps he had land to raise sheep, cattle, and grow figs.

This background is interesting considering some of the moral and social injustices that the book tells us. At this point the kingdom is divided, and though Amos was from the southern kingdom, he did his prophesying in the Northern Kingdom near Jerusalem.

The kingdom was experiencing unprecedented economic growth and expansion because they controlled the most popular trade routes, and Assyria and Egypt were experiencing their own issues that led to their decline as powers of the day.

Prophecies Of The Prophet

Amos communicates a series of eight prophecies. The first seven are about the nations that surround Israel, but the eighth is directed toward Israel. Each prophecy is about the transgressions of the said nation, but when it comes to Israel the first seven transgressions listed correspond the eighth nation which is Israel itself.

In Amos Israel is named as breaking the seven covenants that God had given them. Amos is interesting in that the people appear to be very involved in religion. They are observing the rituals that are outlined in other parts of the Old Testament, but they are ignoring the social aspects of it.

While they experienced unprecedented peace and prosperity, the people have become complacent, prideful, and only looking out for themselves. Amos warns the people that though they have the outward appearance of holy living their hearts are from God.

They have become fascinated with a lifestyle of luxury, disenfranchised the downtrodden, and because of that the Lord will no longer accept their sacrifices (Amos 5:21-24). Their profession of faith was empty and void, and because they failed over and over to have a living faith, the emptiness will eventually bring destruction.

The people felt that they were fulfilling their obligation to God, but this was hardly the case. Their hearts of stone reflected lives that were not filled with faith, and thus not changed. As a result the sacrifices set forth from the law were an impediment because they were empty ritual.

Though the Israelites appeared to be pious, the conduct of their lives was anything but. Those with the riches abused their power and this would eventually bring the wrath of YAHWEH. Since they are the chosen people of God they are held to a higher standard, and as a result they are held to a higher standard of morality than the nations around them.

There Is Hope

The news is grim as the Lord says that he will destroy the nation, but not the whole nation. A remnant will rise up that will follow the ways of YAHWEH as well as follow the rituals prescribed. Amos sees that YAHWEH will not destroy his covenants but will be faithful to them.

Though the Israelites fell time and time again YAHWEH shows his love and mercy. He ensures people that His promise will be kept. Something better than what is currently present is promised. This is quite amazing when you consider the peace and economic prosperity that the nation was experiencing.

Going Through The Motions

In dealing with a living faith as seen in Amos, the most common interpretation appears to be that Israel was going through the motions and their hearts were not changed. They began to think more of themselves that was they should. In short, they began to succumb to pride and though going through the motions was enough.

However, God wants every part of a man. Amos shows us that going through religious ritual without a change of heart will lead to ruin. In Amos 9:7 YAHWEH lays out a very important question, “Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir (NRSV)?”

Amos And A Change Of Heart

It is a call for a change of heart and humility. YAHWEH reminds the people that they were chosen from the beginnings of the world for a specific purpose.

How about us? Like the people Amos is describing, perhaps we are going through the motions. We go to Mass and say the right things. Perhaps we are wearing a spiritual mask and our hearts are not changed. Maybe we are letting matters of the world nullify our faith.

Has Jesus changed your heart of stone to a heart of flesh? If not we await the ruin of the people mentioned in Amos. Even Jesus said that all who call him Lord don’t know him. Don’t be one of them.

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