So Amos talked about the pagan nations surrounding Israel, and then he pronounced calamity for Judah. His first audience up in Israel likely cheered as they heard his condemnation of the pagans, and they probably cheered even louder when he brought up Judah, their main rivals. But then. . .
This reminds me of one of my favorite stories in Scripture: David’s sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. Actually my favorite part is not so much the story of his sin (although we can learn from it), but Nathan’s visit afterward. David was king, and no one who knew anything about it had the guts to confront him. Nathan showed up and told him a story about a poor man and his beloved lamb. The poor man treated this lamb like his own child. A rich man came by and took the poor man’s lamb, killed and ate it. David got all hopping mad over a lamb, swearing that this man deserves to die, and then the prophet pointed the finger at him and said the immortal words: “You are the man!!!” From this comes today’s title.
As someone once said, sins are like headlights: Others’ are much more glaring than your own. It’s easy to look at some horrible person and say “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this guy!”
So let’s take a look at the sins he lists first off the bat.
Basically the thing that really gets the Lord hot under the collar is oppressing and taking advantage of those who can’t defend themselves: the poor, aliens, widows, orphans, etc. The Lord went out of his way to sternly order his people not to oppress or exploit them, emphasizing that they were under his special protection and care.
We need a little background here for clarification. In those days, people usually only took loans for immediate needs, not to start up a business or buy a house. In other words, if someone took out a loan, it would be for food or rent, not a business venture or investment. For a fuller discussion on charging interest, you can look here, but here’s the upshot: You couldn’t take something indispensible as collateral, nor invade the house to receive the collateral, keep it overnight, or take a widow's cloak at all.
Apparently they were exploiting and oppressing the poor through loans. Verse 8 has three sins listed or implied in one short phrase: They were lying down (sleeping, so they were keeping it overnight) next to altars (pagan ones, since the only approved altar was in Jerusalem) on a garment taken as collateral.
In some way they were also abusing the poor through the legal system. Against the Lord's express command, they were apparently bribing judges and thus depriving the poor of their voice in the court.
And finally they were indulging in disgusting sexual immorality. Apparently both father and son were going to Canaanite cult prostitutes in pagan temples. Fathers, who're expected by God to be the moral example to their sons, were providing an example in the most negative way. And worst of all, they were profaning the Lord's holy name by doing this. How? Well, they were supposed to be a bridge between the Gentiles and the Lord, pointing the way back to him, not towards sexual deviancy. Paul's accusation towards the Jews of his day surely applies here: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Let’s see, how can we apply today’s passage? Most of us don’t make loans to poor people and then haul them into court and bribe a judge. And hopefully we aren’t practicing the sexual behavior that’s cited here. But let me share two possible applications which hit home to me. First, I need to get it in my head that to God, people are more important than things. Second, I need to make sure that my conduct, especially of the sexual type, brings honor, not dishonor, to my Lord’s name.
Father God, I really need to watch how I act around those who don’t know you. For this reason among many others, please keep my heart pure.
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