“Then Amaziah said to Amos, ‘Go away, you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. Earn your living and give your prophecies there, but don’t ever prophesy at Bethel again, for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.’ So Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I was a not a prophet or the son of a prophet; rather, I was a herdsman, and I took care of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock and said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”‘” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We so often give attention to the messages of judgment the prophets brought to the people of Israel that we forget about the fact that they were real people living real lives and delivering messages to powerful people that they didn’t necessarily want to hear. Speaking truth to power is something we celebrate nowadays, but we like to tell the stories when doing it has a happy ending. It doesn’t always. Let’s take a look today at some of the pushback Amos received and how he responded.
Being a prophet is a tough gig. While there are, of course, people who look forward to hearing what they have to say so they can receive a word from whatever deity the prophet is representing, this benign or even positive interest only holds as long as long the words from the prophet fit what they already wanted to hear. As soon as the prophet starts spouting off things that challenge people in their beliefs or actions, opinions about him tend to change pretty quickly. Not many people are humble enough that they can easily take honest criticism and adjust their lives accordingly. This is especially true with people who are in positions of power. Making significant changes to the habits and patterns that landed them in their position brings with it the possibility of losing that power and position. As few as are interested in graciously receiving criticism from someone else, even fewer are willing to voluntarily relinquish power once they have accumulated it.
We don’t know how long Amos traveled throughout Israel speaking the words of the Lord. We don’t know where exactly he went while he was doing it. Eventually, though, Amos attracted enough interest to draw the attention of the royal court. What he was calling the people to do was to reject many of the habits and patterns that had led to their becoming the rich and powerful nation they believed themselves to be. He was also calling them back to worshiping God instead of the various idols they had adopted in His place.
The trouble with this was that King Jeroboam II’s entire power structure rested on the foundation of these habits and patterns. Not only that, but many of the people who were working under him depended on their staying in place. Thus, when word reached the ears of this power group of the kinds of things Amos was saying and apparently the number of people who were listening to him with interest (because if no one was listening to him, he wouldn’t have been a problem), they knew they had to act to silence him and shore up their hold on the national reins of power. What made things even more challenging for him was that he was coming in and saying all these things as a foreigner. When someone within the system speaks critically about it, that’s not going to be popular, but people will tolerate it. When that same criticism comes from someone from the outside, and who even comes from an enemy country, there is no tolerance; only hostility.
For Amos, then, speaking the truth to power did not lead to his being celebrated and winning the victory he set out to achieve. It resulted in his being persecuted, threatened with death, and a direct attempt to run him out of the country. He was told to go back to his own country and his own people and deliver his messages there to a people who were interested in putting up with them. He was not welcome here in Israel. And, at the end of the day, the people who opposed him seem to have won. There is no evidence that his warnings of judgment had any kind of a transformative impact on the nation. They continued chugging along the path they had been walking before Amos was sent to them.
So, did Amos really matter? Was he a failure? Was it worth his time facing all the risk and opposition he faced in order to deliver a message no one wanted to hear and didn’t evidently listen to at all?
It was, and for one simple reason: Amos was faithful. He wasn’t doing what he was doing because he suddenly became passionate about the spiritual state of the nation of Israel. He didn’t lose a bet. He wasn’t just a curmudgeon who loved getting under people’s skin. None of those things or more like them were the case. Amos was doing what he was doing because God told him to go and do it. That’s it. He was settled in a career. He probably had a wife and a family. He was likely fairly prosperous in what he was doing. He was settled and happy. Then God came and sent him to work. It wasn’t easy work. In fact, it was really hard. He faced fierce opposition, and he may have even been killed for doing it. We don’t know. But he was faithful. And that makes him successful.
Success in the kingdom of God is equated with faithfulness. If you want to experience the kind of lasting success that spans generations (after all, we are still telling and retelling Amos’s story today while only biblical scholars know the names Amaziah and Jeroboam), that will come when you are faithful to God’s call. He may not call you to speak truth to power like He did Amos, but He very well may call you to share the truth with a friend or family member who needs to hear it in spite of their not wanting to hear it. And you may receive about as warm a welcome as Amos did.
But when you can say in your heart and mind that you are doing nothing more than being faithful to God’s call, you don’t have to worry about anything else. Now, it is very easy to deceive ourselves into believing that’s what we are doing when we are actually riding a personal hobbyhorse. We must be relentlessly honest with ourselves, checking our motivations with trusted friends and advisors, and making certain our message is in perfect harmony with the Scriptures. When we can do that, though, the reception we receive is not our concern. Faithfulness is. Find a way to be faithful today. God will reward that, and His rewards are always better than the punishments the world may throw at us.