They hate him who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor him who speaks the truth.
Therefore because you trample on the poor
and you exact taxes of grain from him,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not dwell in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and turn aside the needy in the gate.
“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
This is not an easy or happy portion of Scripture, but it’s an important one. I have said before and I say again now … any American Christian, Jew, or Muslim (the three faiths who acknowledge the prophets of the Old Testament) who reads the prophet Amos and does not tremble for our country isn’t paying attention. And the message of Amos, over and over, is of the injustice of the people. God doesn’t care about good worship and good theology if justice doesn’t accompany them.
“Justice” in this sense is largely about how we treat the poor. It’s the whole concept of Jubilee that God instituted as a basic law of the people, but which we do not know if they ever followed. I have previously meditated over what Jubilee might look like in our modern concept and I’m not entirely sure, but I am quite certain that one element of it would be that the poor–and especially lending to the poor–cannot be a godly profit center. Amos 5:11 suggests that perhaps the poor ought not be taxed (I know, in the U.S. the poorest don’t pay income tax, but they DO pay a much larger portion of their income in Social Security and sales tax than do the middle class or wealthy).
Notice one other thing … although Amos has plenty to say about idolatry and economic justice, sexual sin is only mentioned twice in the whole book: once in Amos 2:7 where it is a part of Israel’s sin, and once in Amos 7:17 where prostitution is a foretold result of the devastating punishment to come. So yes, God does care about sexual sin, but I think especially conservative America has the proportions backwards in terms of the balance of decrying sex vs economics.
May we learn the lesson of the prophets, and concentrate our efforts, as they did, on the sins of the elite and powerful (which too often means “us”) rather than those of the poor and outcast “them.”