The Altar at the Center/Amos III


The two great sins that Amos condemns throughout the course of this book are abuse of authority and power, and the corruption of true worship. As a native of Judea bringing an indictment against the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Amos goes out of his way to show that he is not engaging in any kind of carnal partisanship, and he comes now to Israel in the name of the Lord of hosts.


“Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof . . .”

(Amos 2:6-16).


Remember the seven plus one formula. Amos has rebuked the seven nations round about, and then he settles into a detailed dissection of the sins of Israel, which continues for the rest of the book. He begins with the usual “three, no, four” formula (v. 6). But he then gets even more detailed and specific than he has up to this point, listing all four sins that he has in mind. The first is that the righteous are sold for silver and the poor for a pair of shoes (v. 6). The second is corruption of worship by various means. For example, there is sexual corruption—a man and his father share the same girl (v. 7), and they carouse next to altars with the proceeds of their unjust litigations (v. 8). The third is the ungrateful abuse of the land God had taken for them from the Amorite, becoming Amorites themselves (vv. 9-10). The fourth great sin was that of ignoring the prophets (vv. 11-12). God is sick of them all, weighed down underneath them like an overloaded cart would be (v. 13). Because of all this, an inexorable judgment is coming (vv. 14-16).


The sins that Amos points to are indicators of judicial oppressors—the problem is not that muggers and thugs are roaming the streets. The problem is, as an old song puts it, that not all robbery is conducted with a six gun—some do it with a fountain pen. The problem here is corrupt judges. One of the oldest mistakes in the world is that of thinking that if it is legal then it must be okay. The silver here is likely going to judges in the form of bribes. And once the corruption has set in, it doesn’t take much to sway a judgment—a pair of Gucci shoes perhaps?

The poor live close to the margin, and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. Consider the situation in 2 Kings 4:1-7. But when cruelty reigns, the misery of the poor is the point. These are people who start to breathe heavily with desire when the opportunity of crushing some miserable wretch arises (v. 7a). We are not talking about abstractions here—say a man owns stock in some mutual fund that has invested in a company that used to own a factory in a country where the dictator two dictators back did some bad things. In Amos, this sin is personal.


Amos notes that the next set of problems occurs right next to their altars. Remember that this is the northern kingdom, which means that their places of worship were already corrupt. But even what they consider as holy and set apart to God is defiled by them. What were these problems? The first is a sexual perversion, that of a man and his father having the same girl. It is not clear if this is the result of widespread promiscuity, or if it is more flagrantly incestuous than that (Lev. 18:15; 20:12; Dt. 22:30). In either case, it is terrible. They also take the collateral provided by the poor in a high-handed way (Ex. 22:26). They take the repossessed wine of the condemned and hold a party in the house of their god. All this is linked to their altars, to their worship.


The Amorites had been a race of giants, and God had delivered them up to the Israelites. They had been glorious and majestic like oaks and cedar, and yet God had destroyed them, leaf above and root below. God had destroyed them utterly (v. 9). Not only that, but God had spared the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness to possess this land (v. 10). Having done all this, God provided them with a means of remembrance—He raised up prophets to teach them, and He raised up the ascetic Nazarites to remind them of their wilderness wanderings. Is this not the truth, O Israel? In this verse, verse 10, God moves from the third person to the second person, addressing Israel directly. You, O Israel. Yes, you. God had given them the means to remember, and yet they had forgotten.


Of course, in one sense, God never wearies. But in the same sense in which our sins grieve the Holy Spirit, so the continued impudence of high-handed rebellion wearies Him (v. 13), with the necessary result being judgment. The swift will not be able to run; the strong will be impotent; the mighty will be trapped; the archers will be defeated; the cavalry overthrown. The heroes of Israel will flee, naked, from the field of battle.


We, like ancient Israel, have a corrupt judiciary. We frame iniquity with a law. Let us begin with some of the more obvious examples. We think that a man can put on a black robe, ascend to the bench, and redefine marriage. But while he is there, he might as well try to invent a new primary color. We think that a man can sanctify wholesale murder in the same way. Roe v. Wade, the milestone abortion decision from the early seventies, was itself a legal abortion, and was one of the most godless events in the history of our nation (and there have been many to choose from). May all those black-robed injustices (let us not call them justices) fall in repentance on the Rock of Christ. If they do not, then the Rock who is Christ will fall on them, and they would prefer to have the mountains fall on them.

Back in the sixties, they used to have a sign that read, “Make love, not war.” Now, thanks to the abortion decision, it is possible to do both. It is possible to be immoral and shed innocent blood. And take special note of how the godless love to parade around altars when they are doing this. It is no accident that most of our homo-battles have to do with altars—the consecration of bishops and priests, or the walk of a couple so-called grooms, or so-called brides toward an altar.

In response, do we remember God’s deliverances of our nation? No—and we are too sophisticated to identify with those who do remember them. We would rather be urbane and unfaithful than hokey and faithful. We don’t have to choose, but what if we did? Then be hokey.

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