Uniform 06.28.2015: No Rest for the Greedy or the Needy

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Amos 8:1-6, 9-10

The rationale offered in Deuteronomy 5 for keeping the Sabbath commandment is enlightening for our reading of this week’s lesson text:

Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day (Deut 5:13-15).

One reason, then, that Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath was out of a sense of empathy for those who were most tied to their labor, who were most dependent on those who were wealthier than they were, and who had the least liberty to stop working when they became tired. God’s people were to observe the sabbath out of concern for those who had the least freedom, power, and resources; even the slaves were to share in the blessing of the sabbath.

The message of the Lord that came through Amos to the people of eighth century BCE Israel was that God would judge them because they not only were not concerned about the plight of the powerless and poor among them but actually through their oppressive business practices used and abused them. As Patrick Miller says, Amos “does not accuse them of violating the Sabbath Commandment, but he does denounce their eagerness to get past the Sabbath so that they can go back to selling their many goods by devious and nefarious means (Amos 8:5)” [Patrick Miller, “The Ten Commandments,” Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 154].

Amos said that God’s inevitable (see v. 1) judgment of the people would come because the wealthy and powerful were so anxious to get back to the business of making profits through exploitation of the poor that they couldn’t wait for the sabbath to end. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the sabbath couldn’t have been very enjoyable for the poor who knew what faced them when it was over; after all, they faced that exploitation every day.

It doesn’t take much imagination, either, to see that Amos’s words about the greedy exploiting the needy continue to speak God’s truth to our culture. At issue is how we will put our imaginations to work to figure out what to do about it.

Discussion

1. What current economic practices exploit the poor and powerless? How can the church address those practices? What alternatives can we offer?
2. How can the church have a helpful discussion about the place that the business practices, both of the church and of the individuals who make up the church, have in offering a positive or negative witness to our faith in God and to our commitment to biblical teachings?
3. Do Amos’s words about the sabbath speak to us even if we don’t spend the day anxiously awaiting the opportunity to exploit people through shady business practices? If so, how?
4. When it comes to business, how do Christians live in the world without being of the world? How can we participate in our culture’s economic system while still being faithful to Christian economic practice?

Reference Shelf

The End?

The fourth vision again focuses on an object—a basket of “summer fruit” (qayits, a play on the word “end”—qets). Amos is to concentrate on the summer fruit, repeating the word: qayits, qayits, qayits. Repeated, it could bring to mind the word qets, “end.” The likely point of the summer fruit is that it looks great but will become rotten in a short time and be discarded. It may be associated with the harvest (qasir) of summer fruit, and the link between “harvest” and “end” is also sharp and clear (see Hos 6:11; Jer 51:33). The “end,” a word also used for the flood and its effects in Genesis 6:13 (see Ezek 7:2-6), is uncompromising! It will not be the end of an individual life but the end of a people! The end is coming on the people of Israel as certainly as on this fruit; as God repeats, “I will never again pass them by” (see 7:8).

The theme of mourning and wailing reappears (see 5:1-6:14), permeating an atmosphere of death with many dead bodies strewn about (8:3, 9-10). The songs to which God would not listen (5:23) have become laments. The end is silence (see 6:10; Zeph 1:7). The translation of JPS catches the disjointedness: “So many corpses left lying everywhere! Hush!” The prophet is not to intercede or otherwise speak.

It is difficult to understand a word like “end” for a people to whom God has made a never-ending promise. Did God break a promise? Is there any way in which God can be said to fail when people fail? God’s promise can be rejected by those to whom it is given! And that may mean that God’s will does not get done.

Source: Terence E. Fretheim, Reading Hosea-Micah (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2013), pp. 150-151.

On That Day

8:9-10. Day of judgment. That day, the day of judgment, is here compared to a solar eclipse at high noon. In the ancient world, eclipses, solar and lunar, were almost universally regarded as portents of disaster. Even for sophisticated moderns a solar eclipse sends chills down the spine. The darkness recalls Amos’s earlier words about the day of the LORD (5:18-20). Again the precise nature of the calamity is not spelled out, but it will bring a reversal of the festive air that pervades the current life of the rich and powerful. Donning sackcloth and shaving the head were traditional expressions of mourning. The pain of that bitter day can only be likened to the death of an only child.

Source: John C. Shelley, “Amos,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Macon: Mercer University, 1995), 753.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Uniform Series Curriculum Editor.

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