My Sunday school class is reading a survey of the Old Testament. Last Sunday, we talked about the prophets in broad-stroke terms, focusing on Amos, Isaiah and Malachi. When our Sunday school teacher mentioned Amos prophesying about the overthrow of Israel as a result of their moral decay, I thought of us … and my teeth.
Several years ago, my dentist informed me that my X-rays revealed decay in a back molar. Interestingly, the decay was not in the enamel, where decay generally occurs. No, the decay literally was inside the tooth. I was astounded and wanted to know how that could happen.
Regardless how it happened, he sent me to an endodontist for a root canal. As it turned out, there really was decay inside my molar, which I got to see after the endodontist. … I’ll spare the squeamish.
I asked how that could happen. How does decay get inside a tooth that’s healthy on the outside?
The answer: A crack.
A tiny crack allowed bacteria to get past the protective outer enamel and travel into the core of my tooth. Decay set in. As a result, I had the crown of my tooth removed, a root canal performed and an artificial crown glued on. And the thing about artificial crowns—they’re not as good as the original. I’m on my second one.
All that glitters may be gold leaf
Amos frequently is marshaled by proponents of social justice. So much so that those suspicious of social justice may be suspicious of Amos also.
And yet, God spoke through Amos just as authoritatively as God spoke through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jonah and many other prophets in the Bible.
If the biblical prophets who spoke for God ought to be heeded and Amos was one of them, then what did Amos say?
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From a birds-eye view, Amos warned the people of Israel against thinking they were all right with God because their economy was all right.
How do we know their economy was all right? Amos says the people were enjoying the good life, the sort of life economic benefits provide, at least for some.
… you have built stone mansions,
… you have planted lush vineyards …
You lie on beds adorned with ivory
and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs
and fattened calves.
You strum away on your harps like David
and improvise on musical instruments.
You drink wine by the bowlful
and use the finest lotions (Amos 5:11, 6:4-6).
The unseen danger of prosperity
What’s wrong with enjoying prosperity? Nothing, on it’s own. But like an unseen crack that lets the rot in, how prosperity is obtained and how it is used make all the difference.
In the case of Israel, Amos said, “You do all this, ‘but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph’” (Amos 6:6). You can’t even see the rot. You’re oblivious to it. You care nothing about it.
How was Joseph ruined? Amos spells out Israel’s sin.
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
and so profane my holy name (Amos 2:6-8).
But that’s not all. Amos continues:
There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
and detest the one who tells the truth.
You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts (Amos 5:10-12).
And for these sins, Amos prophesied:
Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile;
your feasting and lounging will end (Amos 6:7).
It’s a good thing we’re not like ancient Israel. Right?
What Amos sounds like today
To look at me, you wouldn’t know I have a root canal unless I told you. You wouldn’t know I had a rotten tooth—rotten on the inside—and that now I’m on my second fake tooth. You might take one look at me and think of a dozen other problems you see, but you wouldn’t know about my tooth. It’s all the way in the back, out of sight. But I know it’s there.
We’ve gotten so good at measuring the health of our nation by the health of our economy, we don’t see what it takes to make our economy look so good. And it does look good—on the outside.
But history tells us economies don’t look this good without people being stepped on, shoved aside, used and abused. But don’t worry about that. Did you see the stock market report today?
Well, that’s the world for you, but Christians aren’t wrapped up in that. Surely, Christians know better than to think everything’s all right because the economy is all right.
Amos points the finger at us
Amos reminds us luxury doesn’t mean everything is all right. We need to think about how we obtained such luxury and how are we using it.
The economy may be doing well, but who is paying the price? Under the glittering surface of record stock market closings, do we care at all about how those profits are being made? The reality is many of those profits are being made at the expense of women and children around the world who are in forced labor.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor 2018 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, it is very likely things Americans consume on a regular basis—perhaps daily—were produced by forced labor. This includes coffee, fruits and vegetables, nuts, clothing, gold, diamonds and, yes, pornography.
Amos also reminds us the luxury afforded by a good economy isn’t even the real tooth. It’s a second-best replacement.
During this election year, we will hear a good economy given as a reason to elect a particular candidate as president of the United States. We will be expected to ignore much else. Don’t think about it. Certainly, don’t ask about it. Just look at all the money.
But there’s a crack in the enamel, and the rot has set in. And no amount of shine is going to get rid of it.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.