Amos on Faith Through the Fires of Injustice
The nation continues to be rocked by the latest three shootings of supposedly unarmed black men by the police, as well as the retaliatory strikes by black former soldiers against police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The families of the dead on both sides weep in anger and frustration and confusion. The politicians meanwhile only make the situation worse by capitalizing on the deaths by politicizing their own personal agendas. Some are calling it the beginnings of a race war, while others cry “National anarchy!” All believe grave injustices have been committed, and all are looking for justice.
And yet, the nation wonders in skepticism: “Where can justice be found?”
I believe if you read the following excerpt from my new book, co-authored with Steve Howell, titled 12 Faith Journeys of the Minor Prophets (available on our website and on Kindle and Nook), you will marvel at the similarities between the people of the nation of Israel in the Prophet Amos’ time and God’s people today when asking that very same question.
We’ll begin with an introductory story, an elaborations on Scripture, an imaged scenario that the text hints at but doesn’t necessarily describe. We ask that you take this story as intended—as historical fiction to illustrate historical fact. Then we’ll dive directly into the book of Amos and learn what the prophet has to teach us concerning faith through the fires of injustice.
The man’s yell split the stillness of the night. He awoke with a start, leaping up from the coarse woolen mat he’d been tossing about on for the past few fitful hours. With ragged breath, racing heart and fully soaked with sweat, he tried to clear the fog from his head. “Was I really asleep?” he asked confused. The empty air within the goat-skinned tent offered no reply. “Couldn’t be,” he realized as the confusion lifted from his mind. “Dreams? No, visions rather. Visions? Visions from Yahweh God!”
Realizing what just happened to him, the man began tearing through his worn travel bags, upending their contents hastily onto the mat. “Where? Where is it?” he asked in a panic while rummaging through his meager belongs. “Ah-ha!” The rolled up leather parchment and writing kit were quickly unfurled on the ground. Gripping the reed and dipping it into a murky inkwell, the man knelt on calloused knees and began to print furiously. He must write down the visions he was given before the images were lost to the dark recesses of his mind. For hours the only noises in the little tent were the frantic scribbling sound of reed to parchment and the pleading mumblings, “Oh, Lord, forgive… Lord, forgive… please forgive them.”
The rip of the tent flaps being torn asunder shook the man from his frantic reverie. Snapping his head in the sound’s direction, his gruffly bearded face felt the blast of the cold morning air that proceeded two hulking figures. With no loss of stride, the large men flung themselves upon the stooped writer. Well experienced in a fight, he clamored valiantly to defend himself, but was laid low by a violent uppercut to the stomach. Falling to the ground winded, he attempted to try and protect his vitals as blow after blow landed upon his body. The beating mercifully stopped when the assailants each grabbed an arm and dragged the man kicking and flailing out of his travel home.
Dumped unceremoniously onto the ground, the beaten man raised his head painfully to gaze blearily at the finely sandaled feet standing before him. Rich in his tasseled robe, imperious posture, and a sneer of outright contempt as if he was looking down at a mangy dog, the figure could only be the high priest of the Bethel shrine. Spitting out of his mouth his own salty blood mingled with dirt, the accosted man let out a bitter chuckle, then stated plainly “Amaziah.” The imperious man standing above him replied in the same. “Amos.” Falling back on his haunches, Amos squinted contemptuously at the stately figure framed by the blinding morning sunlight.
After what seemed an eternal stare down, Amaziah finally spoke in his supercilious tone while wagging a finger. “Amos, oh, Amos. Jeroboam, king of Israel, doesn’t take kindly to threats against his life and his nation. Israel will be taken away as captives? Indeed! What fantasy.” Amaziah lifted an eyebrow and waited for a response, but the only reply was the look of pitying disdain on Amos’ swollen face.
Seeing he had not stirred his rival, Amaziah nodded to his two temple thugs. Grabbing Amos’ arms a second time, they dragged him roughly up onto his bare feet. Amaziah continued speaking, this time with a hint of vehemence, his calm veneer cracking just a bit. “Go, you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. There eat bread, and there prophesy. But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is the royal residence.”
Another punch to the stomach from a burley arm and Amos went down to his knees again. Catching his breath for a second, Amos jerked his head up to reveal eyes of molten steel. “Seer, you say?” growled Amos. “I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a sheep breeder and a tender of sycamore fruit.” Working his jaw, Amos continued unabashed, “Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’”
Clearly unimpressed by Amos’ claim to a divine mission, Amaziah countered, “And so here you are, though not for long.” Nodding again, the guards replied to Amaziah by grabbing Amos by the hair and yanking him backwards, dragging him towards his tattered little mule. He struggled heroically, but the men were too strong and only laughed derisively at Amos while they bound his hands with a rope to the animal. “Grubby farmer,” one spat, “get out of here!”
The crowd that had gathered during the interchange watched disconnected and unfeeling. None rose to Amos’ aid, rather some used the spectacle to cover their plunder of Amos’ tent. A slap to the hind side of the mule propelled it forward and Amos was yanked off his feet and onto his back. The crowd burst into laughter at the sight of God’s prophet being dragged down the street. Not moving from his spot, Amaziah looked on, betraying his calm with only a cruel smirk.
Bloodied, dirty and derided, Amos was not yet finished. Rolling onto his back as he was being dragged away, Amos called out. “You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not spout against the house of Isaac.’” A piece of rotting filth smacked him in the face, cutting him off. Shaking the stench out of his nose, Amos thundered on undaunted. “Hear this, Amaziah, thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall be a harlot in the city; your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword; your land shall be divided by a survey line.’” The crowd booed and heckled. “You will all die in a defiled land; and Israel shall surely be led away captive from his own land!”
Once the prophet of God was dragged well outside of town and was finally out of sight, Amaziah let out an imperceptible sigh of relief. The smirk disappeared from his face, replaced by the cold shudder of foreboding.
Where Can Justice Be Found
That was the question the Nineteenth Century author, Joseph Ignatius Kraszewski, cried out from the depths of his pain concerning the treatment of his defeated and scattered people—the Jews. He lamented, “The only rights accorded, or, rather, dearly sold, to the Jews can at any moment be revoked, suspended, or torn in shreds by the tribunal of the clergy. Where can justice be found? To whom can they complain?”1
The Jews of Kraszewski’s time were treated just as their ancestors had treated God’s prophets and Israel’s servant class during Amos’ time. As wanderers for centuries in countries not their own, with no land to call home nor place where they were welcome, the Diaspora Jews had few and often untenable rights. Their property and even their lives could be taken at any moment. Local officials merely turned a blind eye to their persecution. Very few people cared enough to lift a finger to help them in their distress. The general public disdained these inconvenient people. Where can justice be found? To Kraszewski, the answer was obvious. Nowhere!
Injustice. How does one define it? Injustice can be defined in the tear-stained face of the bedraggled woman who in a back alley tries to stay warm under a pile of old newspapers. Injustice can be defined in the glazed-over eyes of the nine year old boy who has been sniffing glue to kill the pain of being unwanted. Injustice can be found in the rat-a-tat sound of semi-automatic weapons ripping apart a classroom of teenagers. Injustice can be found in the blood seeping out of a peaceful villager hacked down by the machete of an insurgent. Injustice can be found in the defeated look of the desperate father who cannot provide food for his family. Injustice can be found on the smug grin of the murderer who yet again escapes a prison sentence.
Wherever the inalienable, God-given rights of people are violated without legal recourse, there’s injustice. Wherever the law of the land is cast aside for convenience or ignored due to position and wealth, there’s injustice. Wherever the needy are trodden down to burgeon the lifestyle of the greedy, there’s injustice. Wherever crime goes unpunished, criminals run rampant, laws are skirted, freedoms are denied, property is taken wantonly, decisions are made based on biases and innocence is stolen, there’s injustice.
Label injustice by another name such as inequality, unfairness, unjustness, selfish malevolence, cruelty, or call it what truly in essence it is—Evil—the results are the same. Injustice hurts people, leaving them angry, defeated and often broken. Injustice hurts the human condition, degrading humanity to its baser and more violent instincts. Injustice hurts society, leaving it dysfunctional and decaying. Injustice even hurts the earth, destroying the natural systems God has created.
And, injustice seems to be everywhere. A scan of the news headlines on AP becomes unbearable under the onslaught of daily injustices. As King Solomon once said in, “Moreover I saw under the sun: in the place of judgment, wickedness was there; and in the place of righteousness, iniquity was there” (Ecclesiastes 3:16).
You yourself know injustice. Never has a single person escaped the sting of injustice, though some suffer under it in greater degrees. Maybe your job was outsourced to someone overseas. Maybe you couldn’t get into that club because of the color of your skin. Maybe you lost that court case over a ridiculous legal loophole the other side exploited. Or, maybe you were teased by your classmates for standing up for your beliefs. You fill in the blank. You know the pain firsthand, and wonder like Amos must have often wondered, “Why, God?”
Fortunately, the questions surrounding “Why, God?” when it comes to maintaining one’s faith through the fires of injustice are at the very heart of the message of the Minor Prophet Amos.