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Oppression and God’s Anger
Oppressing the powerless infuriates the LORD and provokes him to wrath (Amos 3:9-11). Indeed, throughout the Scriptures, and especially within the book of Amos, the God of the Bible is revealed as a compassionate friend of the afflicted and the unflinching foe of those who oppress the needy. Accordingly, when the prophet Amos first started his ministry, he began with the words, “The LORD roars from Zion” (1:2). He proceeded to employ some of the most ferocious language and imagery found in Scripture, to terrify his audience and call them to repentance. It is interesting to note, however, that while Amos’ message was directed at a horrendously wicked society whose sin sprawled over the full gamut of human depravity—complacency (6:1-7), pride (6:8), extravagant living (6:4), abuse of power (6:1), economic rackets (8:5), human trafficking (2:6), sexual immorality (2:7) and brutality (1:13)—Amos’ message shows that God’s anger is especially kindled where human oppression is concerned.
Through the mouth of Amos, God declares that those who “oppress the poor” will be taken away with “hooks” and “fishhooks” (4:1, 2), and he will bring baldness, sackcloth and darkness to those who “trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end” (8:4ff). Moreover, the widespread oppression is given as the reason why God will not relent from his judgment of Israel, for he will not show mercy to those who sell “the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6). As the sins of oppression escalate, so do the threats of divine retribution. Perhaps the climax of the barbarity comes when the nation of Ammon’s crime is described as that of ripping open pregnant women’s wombs in order to extend its national borders. Precisely how this act of violence extended the perpetrator’s borders is not explained; however, we should notice that this crime of brutal oppression was motivated by greed.
Before judging these ancient crimes, it is important for us to examine our own contemporary culture and the ways in which our own society commits acts of oppression and “rips open pregnant women” in order to extend our influence or financial borders. For example, in America today children are aborted on a daily basis simply because their lives would bring a financial burden to individual parents or the society as a whole. This is especially true in poor and underprivileged communities. At the same time, it is important to point out that showing concern for life before birth is of little value if those children are neglected or abandoned to an underprivileged life of scraping by after they come into the world. This, too, is a common act of oppression that the LORD hates. So, before judging the culture of Amos’ day, we must repent of our own sins of selfishness and oppression and work to enact change through God’s word as Amos did.
In his commentary, The Day of the Lion, A.J. Motyer points out that Amos falls within a longstanding Old Testament prophetic tradition of speaking out on behalf of the weak and the oppressed (e.g. 1 Kings 21:17-9; Isaiah 1:17, 23; Jeremiah 7:6; 22:16). In the ancient world, a simple attitude based on survival dominated political decision-making. However, the message of Amos stands out as highly unusual in its own time and historical context because he was a social advocate who spoke on behalf of the weak when everyone else was silent (Psalms 82:3-4; Proverbs 31:8-9). Let us not be content to allow the oppression of the powerless to continue around us. Like Amos, we can expose oppression for what it is: a violation of God’s law which arouses his righteous anger.
Related Passages: Exodus 3:7-9; Psalm 82; 103:6; 140:12; 146:5-9