Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lesson From A Fig-Picker

One of my favorite little vignettes in all of scripture occurs in the little, oft-neglected book of Amos. The northern kingdom of Israel was enjoying one last burst of prosperity (just a few years before being vanquished by Assyria), and they had started to believe they were blessed, safe, and secure. But Amos saw their rampant sin and impending doom, and he proclaimed a message calling them to repent or face judgment. His message had been made known to the king's inner circle, and they were none too pleased with it. We pick up in Amos 7:10.

Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst 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, and eat 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.

Amaziah the 'priest' was nothing more than a yes-man, one of the false prophets the kings of Israel surrounded themselves with to pretend they had the Lord's blessing. (This trend did not die with them, by the way.) When he heard what Amos had been preaching, he had the king bring Amos in so they could intimidate him into silence or, better yet, make him go away. So Amaziah gave him a dressing down, telling him to get in line or take his message south to Judah where that sort of thing was more acceptable. It's easy to imagine Amaziah axing "Who do you think you are? Don't you know what we're supposed to tell the king? Don't rock the boat! Get with the program or go away."

Amos had an answer that Amaziah and King Jeroboam probably weren't expecting:

Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, "I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs."

Interesting, eh? In response to the "who do you think you are?" challenge, Amos essentially answered, "Me? I'm nobody. I'm not of royal descent or noble birth, I don't have a great job, I'm just a lowly shepherd and occasional fig picker." So if Amos was nothing special, why did he go around challenging the status quo? By what authority did he pronounce judgment on the king and contradict all the king's hand-picked prophets and advisors?

"But 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."

Amos knew the truth, that he was nobody special. But he had what none of the supposed priests and prophets of Israel did - the word of God. He was fully aware that his authority did not come from his own greatness, skill, charisma, or persuasiveness. Like Paul, Amos had no illusion of his own grandeur, but he knew the grandeur of the message that was entrusted to him by God.

And so he spoke boldly, pronouncing judgment on Amaziah, continuing to preach God's word even when threatened by the king. God had spoken, and that message was to be proclaimed, regardless of how it would be received, regardless of any opposition. What mattered was not the greatness of the messenger, but the divine authority of the message. It was too important to be compromised, molded to the acceptable standards of the day. What God had said, Amos would say. He would preach the whole counsel of God, because only in God's word was there hope for Israel.

Perhaps we should go and do likewise.

1 comment:

Robert said...

I actually preached a sermon on Amos 5:18-27 (filling in for pastor on vacation) and remember doing a brief overview of the book, including the section you are mentioning. What is amazing to me is that Amos was actually from Judah and followed the Lord's command to go and preach to the people of Israel. I can't even think of a modern-day analogy good enough to draw a real comparison to what that would be like.

I think that a good reading of the prophets (especially the minor prophets) can do every Christian a lot of good. Amos would definitely be a good example for Christians who are afraid of even the slightest persecution.