Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Job Done Right Doesn't Make You Friends

Without a prophet you can't have Civilization

Thus says the LORD, "For three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they sell the righteous for money And the needy for a pair of sandals. These who pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the helpless Also turn aside the way of the humble; And a man and his father resort to the same girl In order to profane My holy name. On garments taken as pledges they stretch out beside every altar, And in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined. Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, Though his height was like the height of cedars And he was strong as the oaks; I even destroyed his fruit above and his root below. It was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, And I led you in the wilderness forty years That you might take possession of the land of the Amorite.”
An ancient prophecy, also known as Amos 2:6-10

What does God do when a king or a nation or a town does the opposite of their command from God?  What if they oppress instead of assist the poor?  What does God do, how does He right the wrong?

            Well, in ancient times, God would first send out a prophet.  He might send an Elijah, to pronounce punishment on a nation,28 or he might send an Elisha to reform the government.29  But usually God will first send a spokesperson, a warner, to clearly inform the people what would happen if they continue in the route of oppression.  This is Amos.

            Amos was a shepherd, who cared for his flock and plowed his fields.  He wasn’t doing much one day when God spoke to him—‘Amos, you’re my prophet now, go out and tell the king what I said.”  

Amos was shocked, “I am no prophet!  Do you see me flailing around like a prophet?  Do you see me speaking to kings?  Do you see me trying to grab the ear of the high and mighty?  I’m a humble man, just a shepherd.”  

“Try again, Amos—I make prophets, and so that’s what you are.”  

Rasputin was quite the ladies' man
Most prophets of ancient days weren’t of the John the Baptist model.  Most of them didn’t hang out in nowheresville, prefering their mesquite raw, straight off the tree, and hold the meat, please.  No, most prophets liked the high life, the rich clothes, the occasional orgy (when they aren’t fasting, of course), and getting the attentions of the nobility—especially the female nobility.  Most ancient prophets followed the model of Rasputin rather than Gandhi.  The occasional trance, a flood of flattering comments, a lucky break in a prediction and a number of sermons against the king’s enemies and a prophet can have room and board for life, as well as a significant advisory position.30

            This model of prophet—shockingly!—led to much abuse.  I know it’s hard to believe, but many prophets of this type didn’t actually hear from God at all!31  Some of them might even be said to—and I say this in fullest confidence—be deceiving those they spoke to.  This is why God had to pull his true prophets from different stock.  He didn’t want his prophets to be concerned primarily with the desires of the high and mighty.  Rather, he wanted his chosen spokespeople to say the hard truths, and to speak for the lowly and needy.  Thus, God made unlikely choices for prophets—Jeremiah, the young; Michaiah, the irritating; Jonah, the xenophobe; Habakkuk, the questioner of God; and Amos, the lowly shepherd. 

            Well, Amos had heard prophets before, and he knew that they flattered the nation and preached against the kings enemies. But Amos had a judgment against Israel—a nation his own home (Judah) has had border disputes for decades.  How would the king of Israel, Jeroboam II, ever listen to that?  Let’s see, Amos thought.  Ah, I know.  God has plenty to say about the surrounding nations, why not start with them?  So Amos stood before Jeroboam II and opened his mouth and spoke first about Damascus

Damascus,” he said, “used excessive violence in war, and so Yahweh, the God of Jerusalem will destroy him.”  So far, so good.  Even though Amos mentioned that Yahweh was of Jerusalem, not Carmel where Jeroboam worshiped Yahweh: at least Jeroboam was still listening.  

Gaza,” he continued, “enslaved a whole  people, and so Yahweh will destroy them and all of the Philistines.”  The king is nodding now—that’s a good sign.  Then Amos continued with condemning Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab.  All neighboring countries, all condemned to punishment.  The king wasn’t displeased, but he didn’t hear anything really new.  This was the kind of stuff he could hear from any of his local prophets. Now, thought Amos, we can reel him in.  

“As for Judah, they have ignored Yahweh’s laws and so they will be destroyed by fire.”  King Jeroboam II was smiling now, for Amos, a prophet from Judah, was condemning his own nation.  He liked this new prophet—Amos was saying what he wanted to hear.  But there was a bit of confusion as well… What were these laws of Yahweh?  He couldn’t remember any laws that God had laid down that Judah wasn’t obeying that the king’s own nation was.

Now it was time for the coup d’gras.  “But Israel, you are also condemned.  You say that you worship Yahweh, but you ignore the law of God daily.  Look at what you are doing to the poor?  The poor have debts and so you steal their livelihood to force them to repay!  You sell those who owe you money into slavery because they weren’t able to repay you for a pair of shoes!  You raise the rents of the poor, so that they would be bound to you eternally!  And if someone needs shelter for a night, you drive them away!  You immoral, godless people!  When you were under the thumb of the Amorites, didn’t God deliver you?  And when you were enslaved in Egypt, didn’t Yahweh redeem you?  Then why are you acting like the power, the great, the mighty?  You are but a nation of slaves, set free by God!  You are but the poor, made wealthy by God!  Show your gratitude by doing justice to the needy!”

This rampage became so heated, that a priest, standing by his king said, “Why don’t you go back to Judah and prophesy to them?  We have plenty of prophets here.  We don’t need to hear your diatribe!”  

Amos responded, “I am not a professional prophet, but a shepherd, called by God to come here and speak to Jeroboam.  Because, you priest, are complaining about God’s messenger,  simply because he isn’t saying what you like, then your wife will trade her sexual favors to strangers for food and your house will be divided and sold to immigrants!” 32

A prophets life isn’t easy.  It isn’t easy to tell people with power and authority God’s true message that they’re messing up and will face judgment unless they change their ways.  It’s not a popular message.  But God has always found someone to say it.  Most of the time, God was telling his people to live according to His law, that he gave to Moses.  And very frequently, he was reminding them to do right by the poor.  Isaiah told the people not to steal from the poor.33  Ezekiel told them not to take interest on loans to the poor.34  Jeremiah reminded them to defend the needy in the court.35  And all of them, at one point or another, commanded the people to assist the poor when they were in need—do acts of charity.36  To not give to the needy was a sin before God, disobedience to his law.

28. I Kings 21
29. II Kings 9
30. An excellent example of the difference between the professional prophets and the God-called prophet is in I Kings 22.
31. Kind of like how the present system of having a professional salary for a pastor doesn’t really call the God-inspired so much as the money-educated.  
32. Ouch.  That had to hurt.  It really happened, too.  The last few paragraphs are a summary of Amos 1-2, 7:10-17.
33. Isaiah 3:14-15.
34. Ezekiel 18:15-17.
35. Jeremiah 5:28-29.
36. For example, Isaiah 58:5-7; Ezekiel 16:49; Daniel 4:27; Amos 5:12; Zechariah 7:10.

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