Amos: Social Injustice

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Remember the children’s song “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see.” The sycamore tree in the Middle East is quite different from the sycamore that we have in America. It was a huge evergreen tree growing to a height of about 50 feet with a trunk circumference of over 20 feet. The trunk forked near the ground, and the branches grew outward. The leaves of the sycamore, sometimes called the sycamore fig, were heart-shaped, resembling the leaves of the mulberry. The fruit was similar to the true fig but was inferior in quality. These yellow figs grew in clusters close to the branches.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; (A chief tax collector & wealthy). He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. Zacchaeus said, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.

The message of Amos is one of the most eloquent cries for justice and righteousness to be found in the Bible. And it came through a humble shepherd who dared to deliver God’s message to the wealthy and influential people of his day. A literary device which Amos used is known as numerical parallelism: “For three Transgressions… and for four…”. He repeated this phrase seven times as he covered the sins of Israel. You can almost feel the suspense building until Amos reaches the dramatic climax: This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.

A prophetic Amos gives a fiery denunciation of the northern kingdom of Israel during a time of widespread idol worship and indulgent living. Prophetic in that Amos tells the truth at the cost of his very life. His name “Amos” fits him well because he does bare the “burden bearer” of his people. Amos emphasizes one central theme: The people of the nation of Israel have broken their COVENANT with God, and His judgment against their sin will be severe. Amos condemned the citizens of Israel for their oppression of the poor worship of idols, rejection of God’s salvation, and defilement of the Lord’s holy name. Hypocrisy, greed, and injustice prevailed throughout the land. Amaziah the priest of Bethel is determined to destroy Amos. He tells Jeroboam the King that Amos is raising a conspiracy against him. Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there.”

Have you picked up on what the real problem is in Israel? HYPOCRISY! The preacher was taking a special offering. Suddenly the town saloon owner jumped up and said, “I’ll give $5,000 for the building fund!” The preacher was in a catch twenty-two situation and responded like this: “Thank you, but as badly as we need the money, I just can’t accept such money.” Then from the back of the church came this loud voice, “Take it Reverend… that’s our money, anyhow.”

Hypocrisy is pretending to be what one is not. In the Greek theater, a hypocrite was one who wore a mask and played a part on the stage, imitating the speech, mannerisms, and conduct of the character portrayed. Throughout His ministry, Jesus vigorously exposed and denounced the hypocrisy of many who opposed Him, especially the scribes and Pharisees. They paraded their charitable deeds, praying and fasting as a theatrical display to win the praise of men. They sought to give the appearance of being godly, but they were actually blind to the truth of God.

Why is Amaziah the priest of Bethel so determined to destroy Amos? Hypocrisy! Amaziah lives one way and is a different way to the people. Social injustice is covered with a lot of hypocrisy. People who claim to be Christians and yet trample their brothers under.

Hypocrisy is dedicated to preserving its self-image of perfection, and is unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity. The hypocrite worries about this a great deal. They are acutely sensitive to social norms and what others might think of them . . . they dress well, go to work on time, pay their taxes, and outwardly seem to live lives that are above reproach. While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their ‘goodness” is all on a level of pretense.

Why is it an issue of social injustice for Amos? That is where hypocrisy reveals itself. No one should pay attention to a man delivering a lecture or a sermon on his ‘philosopy of life’ until we know exactly how he treats his wife, his children, his neighbors, his friends, his subordinates and his enemies. If Christianity doesn’t work at home, don’t export it. More people are won or lost in the home than in the church. The home is either the greatest witness for Christ, or the worst.

Following these messages of judgment, the Book of Amos ends on a positive, optimistic note. Amos predicted that the people of Israel would be restored to their special place in God’s service after their season of judgment had come to an end.

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