Day 5 Amos 4 ... Street-corner Prophet

Biblical prophets represented a wide spectrum of social backgrounds and personality types, but modern-day cartoonists tend to perpetuate a single stereotyped image. And the fact is, Amos fits the stereotype. He was the kind to stand on street corners with a signboard and rail against the whole miserable world.

Ironically, Amos appeared on the scene when Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was booming. They had beaten back all their traditional enemies and even invaded neighboring Judah, taking land and prisoners. For a change, the government was stable: King Jeroboam II presided over a half-century of prosperity and strength. People were too busy enjoying the good life to listen to the rantings of a prophet, and for precisely that reason Amos spoke in italics and exclamation points.

Unlike Jonah, Amos was not a professional prophet. He was a man of the land, a shepherd and a tender of sycamore trees. A migrant to Israel from the South, he spoke with a rural accent and was probably the butt of many jokes by city sophisticates.

Amos the peasant could not get over what he found in the Northern cities. The luxurious lifestyles shocked him: gorgeous couches, beds of carved ivory, summer homes, top-grade meat, fine wine. It seemed obvious to Amos that this extravagance was built on a foundation of injustice: oppression of the poor, slavery, dishonest business practices, court bribes, privilege bought with money. The pampered rich women - half of them alcoholics - reminded Amos of the "cows of Bashan" that would be fattened up just before butchering.

People considered themselves properly religious, but they couldnât wait for Sabbath to end so they could dash back to work and cheat someone else.

Lulled into security by their powerful, victorious army, the Israelites thought they were safe for generations. But, as Amos warned, Israel could not forever push God into a small corner of their lives, to be brought out like a magic charm whenever they needed him. God is a lion, not a pet, and in the book of Amos, he roars.

Apparently, no one took Amosâ ravings seriously. "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel," he shouted from the street corners, but those words had about as much impact in his day as they do in ours. Nevertheless, the prophetâs warnings proved true: in a remarkably short time, Israel fell apart. Five kings lost the throne in thirteen years, four of them by assassination. A mere thirty years after Jeroboamâs reign, the Northern Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist.

Amos is not a comfortable book to read - its message hits too close to our own time, when nations judge success by the size of gross national product and military forces. For that reason alone, it deserves a close look.

Point to Ponder: What parallels do you see between Amos' time and our own?