Introduction to Amos, from The Message
More people are exploited and abused in the cause of religion than in any other way. Sex, money, and power all take a back seat to religion as a source of evil. Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind. The moment a person (or government or religion or organization) is convinced that God is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering. The biblical prophets are in the front line of those doing something about it.
The biblical prophets continue to be the most powerful and effective voices ever heard on this earth for keeping religion honest, humble, and compassionate. Prophets sniff out injustice, especially injustice that is dressed up in religious garb. They sniff it out a mile away. Prophets see through hypocrisy, especially hypocrisy that assumes a religious pose. Prophets are not impressed by position or power or authority. They aren’t taken in by numbers, size, or appearances of success.
They pay little attention to what men and women say about God or do for God. They listen to God and rigorously test all human language and action against what they hear. Among these prophets, Amos towers as defender of the downtrodden poor and accuser of the powerful rich who use God’s name to legitimize their sin.
None of us can be trusted in this business. If we pray and worship God and associate with others who likewise pray and worship God, we absolutely must keep company with these biblical prophets. We are required to submit all our words and acts to their passionate scrutiny to prevent the perversion of our religion into something self-serving. A spiritual life that doesn’t give a large place to the prophet-articulated justice will end up making us worse instead of better, separating us from God’s ways instead of drawing us into them.
excerpts from chapters 5 & 6:
7-9 Woe to you who turn justice to vinegar
and stomp righteousness into the mud.
You bully right-living people,
taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they're down.
13Justice is a lost cause. Evil is epidemic.
Decent people throw up their hands.
Protest and rebuke are useless,
a waste of breath.
14Seek good and not evil—
You talk about God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies,
being your best friend.
Well, live like it,
and maybe it will happen.
21-24"I can't stand your religious meetings.
I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That's what I want. That's all I want.
Woe to you who think you live on easy street in ____,
You assume you're at the top of the heap,
voted the number-one best place to live.
Well, wake up and look around. Get off your pedestal.
The God-of-the-Angel-Armies speaks: "I hate the arrogance of _______."