Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, “Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.”’
And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’
Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
‘Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” Therefore, thus says the Lord: “Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parcelled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.”’
Into the words of the prophet in the previous sections we have this narrative interlude. The professional priests have been getting upset by what Amos is saying so they try a two-pronged attack. Firstly, Amaziah, the chief of the priests accuses Amos of treason sending word to the King, and then he seeks out Amos to speak face-to-face. Two tactics of intimidation. Amos is not deflected, scarred off or cowered; indeed he goes further in his rhetoric against the nation of Israel. It is not pleasant reading, the language is meant to shock and is very clear. Amaziah could be in no doubt that if Amos is a prophet what the message is that he brings. But that is the problem: either Amaziah thinks he can dismiss him because Amos has not got the right credentials, or that he suspects Amos of speaking a truth and he is trying to suppress it. I suspect the former reason. Amos happily acknowledges that he does not come from a prophetic line. He has no background, other than a man who has heard the call of God and has responded to it.
That is the challenge in this passage. How do we respond to people who tell us uncomfortable truths? Do we dismiss them because they don’t come with a certain authority behind them, or we can say they don’t really understand the situation, or that they are just trying to stir up trouble? Or conversely have we held back from speaking up for justice because we don’t think we have the correct background to do that? Either way it can feel very uncomfortable. Yet we must also be aware of those who would speak out or cause trouble for their own reasons and agenda. We need to discern what God is saying to us. Amaziah is too preoccupied with his status to come before God in humility to ask for guidance, perhaps if he had Israel may have been spared.
Gracious God, We encounter difficult people in our lives People who say things, claim things and make life uncomfortable. We ask that you will give us the discernment to know when we hear a prophet and when we are right to be cautious.
May we be open to hear what you would have us hear about our time and our situation. May we also have the courage to speak out about the injustice we encounter in the lives of those we meet in our daily living. In the name of Jesus Christ and for the sake of your Kingdom. Amen
The Rev’d Hilary Collinson is a minister in the Tees and Swale Pastorate.