Wednesday night I finished our last small group of the spring semester. Most of groups will break for the summer (although we will still have a Sunday morning “study” option during the summer). During the spring we have been studying Amos. Someone said, “I love my small group, but I was beginning to hate Amos.” Everyone (besides me) seemed to agree. What she meant was that Amos is a real downer. The whole book could be summed up as “Israel–you’re terrible and now your going to die forever.” Even the remnant speech at the end is about Judah, not the northern kingdom.
Contrary to my group, however, I dig the book of Amos because so much of it is ethics. Amos spends most of his time calling out the injustices that Israel (and other peoples, including Judah) have committed. Here is my survey of the ethics in Amos.
1. Unprovoked violence against other nations is wrong. (1:3)
2. The enslavement of other people is wrong. (1:6)
3. Violation of covenants (treaties of peace) is wrong. (1:9)
4. Murder of innocents (unborn babies) is wrong. (1:13)
5. Believing the lies others tell (naivete) is wrong. (2:4)
6. Slavery of your own people is wrong. (2:6, 8:6)
7. Ignoring the needs of the poor is wrong. (2:7, 4:1, 5:11, 8:4)
8. Usury is wrong. (2:8, 8:6)
9. Refusing to do justice is wrong. (5:7, 15, 24)
10. Taxing the poor is wrong. (5:11)
11. Taking (and offering) a bribe is wrong. (5:12)
12. Living in luxury with no concern of others needs is wrong. (6:1-6)
It is for these violations that Amos screeches the loudest and it is for these violations that Israel is being punished. Notably, it is because of the people’s unethical behavior that the Lord hates their religious practices and literally ignores their prayers (5:21-24). Amos makes rousing statements that the Lord has rejected the worship and ritual of Israel not because of the form or method, but because their behavior was so unsustainable.
It is not our worship or our doctrinal statements that earn God’s blessing. It is the way we treat one another and the way we treat other human beings. The weak, the helpless, the hurting, the poor, the alone and the needy are people created in the image of God just as we are. If we say we love God, then these people will matter to us.
I could expound on the application of these for many words but I’ll only share two thoughts today. First, the international aspects of ethics seems to be something our culture needs to pay attention to now. Treaties, drones, wars, economic sweat shops, and protests in far away places are all ethical issues. The second thing that strikes me is that much of what passes as politics in the United States is actually ethics. Euthanasia, welfare, homelessness, banking, abortion, and war are all essentially ethical questions. Part of the problem we have (in the United States) is that the left is biblical on some issues like welfare, workers rights, and suspicion of banking but the right is biblical on other issues like abortion, euthanasia, and prosecution of criminals. There is no biblically consistent ethical block in our political landscape.