Proper 23 • Amos 5:6–7, 10–15 • October 14, 2012
By Reed Lessing
Early in his rule Jeroboam ben Joash (793–753 BC) changed the political map of Israel. Through military conquests the territories east of the Jordan were recovered and annexed (Am 6:13), the northern border was extended to Lebo-Hamath, and the southern border was enlarged all the way to the Dead Sea (2 Kgs 14:25). The Northern Kingdom had reached the summit of its material power, the height of its economic prosperity, and the pinnacle of its territorial expansion. Though everything looked great on the outside, Amos saw that the inside was rotten to the core. And the prophet could smell it from as far away as his home town of Tekoa.
Comments on the Text
The sermon’s focus is upon Amos 5:10–15, thus the comments only involve these verses.
Verse 10: The hymn of Amos 5:8–9 extols Yahweh as the God who changes seasons, days and nights, and sea and water. He also turns strongholds into rubble. This is bracketed by Amos’ description of people who resist change and who refuse to repent. They go to Bethel, Beersheba, and Gilgal (Am 5:5) only to destroy justice and righteousness (Am 5:7).
Amos 5:10 begins with a third person plural verb, “they hate” ( שָׂנְא֥וּ))). Perhaps, for a brief moment, the prophet’s audience was tempted to think, “Very well, Amos is finally addressing those people. It’s about time!” But in Amos 5:11 he changes to the second person plural verbs, “you all.” The “they” become “you,” and as a result Amos becomes one of the reprovers in the gate whom the judges hate.
Verse 11: The “poor” (דָּ֗ל) in this verse are likened to “small Jacob” (Am 7:2, 5) who also are called “the needy” (Am 2:6; 4:1; 5:12; 8:4, 6), “the oppressed” (Am 2:7; 8:4), and “the righteous” (Am 2:6; 5:12). People in this group were being abused sexually (Am 2:7), fiscally (Am 2:8; 5:11), judicially (Am 5:10), spiritually (Am 2:12), and vocationally (Am 4:1; 5:11). This is the remnant of Joseph (Am 5:15).
The legal officials oppressing these people lived in houses of hewn/dressed stone which were extravagant, as witnessed by the fact that both David and Solomon used hewn stone for their dwellings (e.g., 1 Kgs 5:31; 6:36; 7:9, 11, 12). By paying taxes on what they harvested, the poor and needy were forced to finance the lifestyles of these judges with their expensive homes and valuable vineyards.
Verse 12: As a noun כֹ֔פֶר normally carries the meaning of a material gift that establishes an amicable relationship between offended parties (e.g., Ex 21:30). Amos, however, uses the word to show the perversion in this system, where the gift is given, not to the offended party but to the judge. In this context, then, the meaning of כֹ֔פֶר is something closer to “hush money.”
Verse 15: Instead of overturning and throwing down justice and righteousness (Am 5:7), the judges are called to rectify the dismal situation by “loving what is good” and “setting up justice in the gate,” which was where public business was transacted. The noun שְׁאֵרִ֥ית, “remnant,” denotes what is left over after an enemy invasion. “Joseph’s leftovers” are Yahweh’s chief concern.
Homiletical Development of the Sermon
Who likes leftovers? Not me! And so this makes the days right after Thanksgiving some of the most excruciating experiences of the year. First there are turkey sandwiches, then turkey soup, and then turkey casserole. Pretty soon turkey starts showing up in soufflés, burgers, and I’ve even been forced to eat turkey meatballs. Who likes leftovers? Not me!
Neither do the judges during the time of Amos (glean ideas from the textual notes above). “The remnant of Joseph” (Am 5:15) are the leftovers that no one cared about (from the notes above discuss the “poor” in the book of Amos).
Why does Amos call the down-and-outs “Joseph’s leftovers”? Joseph’s brothers cast him aside (cf. Gn 37). Joseph cried out in distress when his brothers threw him in the pit (Gn 42:21). While he wept, his brothers sat down and ate a meal (Gn 37:25). “Joseph,” therefore, symbolizes the oppressed people throughout the book of Amos.
All too often we treat people as worthless leftovers that we quickly discard and throw away. (Here announce the law).
But Yahweh loves leftovers! The Bible is full of people who are rejected, e.g., Hagar, Hannah, Elijah, Zacchaeus, all whom God deeply loved. Jesus was also despised and rejected by men (Is 53:3). He was mocked by the crowd, betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, forsaken by the ten, unjustly accused in a kangaroo court, sentenced to death by a weak-willed Roman governor, crowned with thorns by those who spat upon him, and scourged by muscle-men just short of death. But the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Ps 118:22). God loves leftovers. God loves us!
Motivated by Christ’s love, we care for those among us who are the least, the lost, and the last. While so many dismiss these kinds of people, we will feed them, clothe them, and bring them the gospel. We love leftovers!