In the aftermath of Harvey, the question we need to be asking ourselves is not, “Why did God punish the people of South Texas and Louisiana?” The question is, “How has God judged me and judged us as a community, as a nation, as human beings?” How has he brought to light things that were lurking deep within your heart? How has he called to you and to all of us to purify ourselves? How has he revealed the light and the darkness within our community and within our nation?
When you love money, you cannot love God. When you love money, people become numbers, commodities to be bought or sold in the marketplace. Contracts become technicalities to be danced around and manipulated. Societies that become dominated by this spirit are inviting God’s judgment.
In Amos 8:1-7, God uses a vision of a basket of summer fruit to say that the end has come for Israel. Why? In part, because of their greed. For the greedy merchant in ancient Israel, days of rest and holidays were not blessings but irritations, much the our greed pushes us towards a “24/7” society.
Being “poor in spirit”, as Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:3, is about realizing that we are bankrupt without God. When we deny the illusion that we are the masters of our own fates and confess our brokenness to God, the good news is that God is near to the brokenhearted, and where God is, there is the kingdom of heaven.
In Amos 7:1-9, God shows the prophet three versions of judgment, the last of which is the famous plumbline vision. Not only do we see in this exchange an example of prophetic intercession for a sin-sick society, we also see God’s plan for “separating the wheat from the tares” using prophets and their message as the litmus test – those who accept the prophet will be spared, while those who reject the prophet will be punished.
With Amos, the modern Christian must believe and proclaim that a prosperous economy cannot be built on a unjust society, because the foundation of peace and prosperity can be only justice, and especially justice that is built upon the acknowledgement that God is God and we are not.
Even after the destruction of Samaria, Amos is depicting the Israelites as not only not returning to God but actively avoiding turning to God out of Genesis 3-like fear. Rather than turning to God, those with wicked and foolish hearts look at their sufferings, which they brought on themselves by their own wickedness and foolishness, and they blame God.
Whatever strength you feel you possess that you can boast in, God does not think much of it. God is not against your strengths and talents, but when you rely on them rather than on him to secure and defend your prosperity, God says that all your excellence, all that in which you would take pride, is nothing next to his power. Your mighty fortress will not secure you against his justice.
There was a willfulness to the ignorance of the wealthy Israelite elite. It is not simply that they were unaware of the problems of their people and of their time. The evidence was all around them, as Amos had been pointing out, yet they were refusing to acknowledge that evidence, choosing instead to live in a constructed reality that was favorable to them. They only saw their own wealth and apparent safety, because that was all they wanted to see.
Using a heavy dose of sarcasm, Amos challenges the idea that Israel and Judah are the greatest nations on earth and that nothing could harm them.