Amos 5-6, pt.1

This week we are reading through the Two Woes Against Israel found in Amos 5:16-6:14. In these two selections Amos 1) once more, attacks the worship of Israel as despicable and unacceptable because worship without a concern for justice is worthless and 2) upbraids the luxurious self-indulgence of the elites of society who turn justice into poison and righteousness into bitterness. It is within the reading that Amos delivers that great quote “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Amos 5:24. 

The concern of chapter 5 is on the justice of God set in opposition to the worship of God.  I have attached Chapter 11 of Heschel’s discussion of the meaning of God’s “Justice” as expressed through the prophets. As Heschel explains the deeds of injustice vitiate both sacrifice and prayer, for worship can never become a substitute for righteousness.  Looking back, the very covenant with Abraham is based upon his descendants carrying forth the ways of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, which precedes both the law and worship. Gen 18:19.  When Israel fails to practice justice and righteousness it breaches the very basic terms of their divine covenant. Heschel sees justice and righteousness as deriving from interpersonal relationships and not from the breach of sovereign law. For God does not tell Cain that he broke the law but that the voice of his brother cries out. Gen. 4:10.  Justice doesn’t mean obedience to a commandment but the maintenance of a right relationship. Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes Amos 5:24 in most of his speeches. See if you agree with his notes on this verse:

Amos 5:21-24: This passage might be called the key passage of the entire book. It reveals the deep ethical nature of God. God is a God that demands justice rather than sacrifice; righteousness rather than ritual. The most elaborate worship is but an insult to God when offered by those who have no mind to conform to his ethical demands. Certainly, this is one of the most noble ideas ever uttered by the human mind.

One may raise the question as to whether Amos was against all rituals and sacrifices, i.e. worship. I think not. It seems to me that Amos’ concern is the ever-present tendency to make ritual and sacrifice a substitute for ethical living. Unless a man’s heart is right, Amos seems to be saying, the external forms of worship mean nothing. God is a God that demands justice and sacrifice can never be a substitute for it. Who can disagree with such a notion?

In Chapter 6, Amos attacks the indolent rich who make justice and righteousness into a bitter poison. Jesus echoes this Woe of Amos in his Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:24-26) and later in his confrontation with the Pharisees and the Lawyers (Luke 11:37-54).  This chapter of Amos (sans God) also appears to be echoed in the writings of Karl Marx or the French Revolution. At least on the surface, all would agree that both formal religion and the rich should be destroyed.  Read Chapter 6 carefully and see if and how Amos speaks to the present-day economy.  Do we, both individually and in the general socio-economic reality of America, fall under Amos’ condemnation?  Does this chapter speak to any of our current economic policy debates or is this chapter simply a historic artefact? 

Dinner is at 6. The menu is a baked potato bar. We may start the discussion a bit earlier this week. Weather permitting, we’ll have evening prayer outside.

He has showed you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

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