“Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'” And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there…” – Amos 7:10-12
Amos and Amaziah are like a Friday night fight. The lectionary* reading gives us just a glimpse of these two going toe-to-toe. It’s a scene we see as though looking through a keyhole. We know little to nothing about either character beyond this glimpse.
We do know that the scene is another entry into the royal rumble battles commonplace in the scriptures.
Prophet versus Priest, Amos versus Amaziah.
Prophets were often outsiders. They were voices crying out saying things like, “Thus says the Lord…” or “Repent!” The priests were the insiders. They had the stamp of authenticity from lineage and training. They advised the king and interpreted the law.
At the core of priest/prophet batters is the question, “Who speaks for God?”
The prophet Amos pronounces God’s condemnation upon the people of Israel. He speaks of injustice, abuse of power, and unchecked oppression. He warns Amaziah saying, “The sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid to waste and God will rise against the Israel’s King Jeroboam with a sword.”
The priest Amaziah sends word of this trouble maker to the king looking for a little back up and then he tries to run the prophet out of town.
And I’m left wondering why.
The priest Amaziah was one of the most powerful men of his time. Why was he flustered by Amos? By Amos’s own admission he is no superstar, no great name. The one thing Amos makes plain about himself is what he lacks. He has no prophetic credentials; no religious background. Amos had no army, no hefty entourage, he’s alone. There was no impending crisis on the horizon to back up Amos’s claims of a coming doom. The people of Israel were experiencing a time of uncharacteristic prosperity and expansion.
Why was the priest Amaziah so shaken by Amos’s verbal blows?
Because Amos’s words about injustice and inequality shined a light on what was true (2:6-8, 5:10-12). Amos would not stay silent about the suffering he saw. Amos believed that the covenant the people had made with God mattered. Through Amos, God called the people to rise above their insecurity and inhumanity.
May the church find the strength of Amos. A strength to persist even when the world tells us that society’s problems are intractable. A strength to speak truth even when it’s hard to face. A strength to hold fast to love as the connection between God, ourselves, and our neighbor. May we echo Amos’s dream that “justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
* = The Lectionary is a set pattern of Bible readings. Every week the lectionary highlights four readings from Bible (one from the: Old Testament, Psalms, Gospels, and Epistles). Every three years the lectionary repeats the readings.