"Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’ Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’” - Amos 7
|Carving of an Assyrian invasion, 7th century B.C.E., from|
In other words ...
AMAZIAH: Uh, King Jeroboam? Amos says you're going to be killed, and that our country of Israel will be taken over by the Assyrians, and that we'll go into exile.
JEROBOAM: What?! How dare he! That's unpatriotic. If he says things like that, they're more likely to come true! He's taking hope away from our troops. People like him are a threat to the very fabric of our society! Tell him to go someplace else.
AMAZIAH: Amos. Dude. Go to Judah. They're the ones who do really evil things ... not us. If they hadn't been so bull-headed, our countries would still be united. But, you know, those Judahites are all the same. Go prophesy doom to them. It's obvious they need you more than we do.
AMOS: Sorry, but I can't go for that. No can do. I didn't sign up for this gig. I just calls 'em as I sees 'em, as God reveals 'em to me. Really, I'd rather herd sheep and prune trees. That's what I most love to do. But God called me away from all that, so here I am. If I didn't say what I'm saying, I wouldn't be the man God calls me to be ... So look, Jeroboam, I'm going to tell you exactly what God says about the situation. Your wife is going to become a whore. I know, I know, that's pretty personal and it doesn't make literal sense, but clearly God isn't happy with you. Oh, and all your children will be killed in the upcoming battle. As the Assyrians sweep into the country, they'll take the whole land away from you one bit at a time. All of the big important people, like you -- all the educated people -- will be marched off to Assyria, and you'll die there. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to the streets and let everybody else know that it's too late. There's nothing left to do but to watch it happen.
Personally, I'm amazed that Amos survived this little exchange. But then, while the words of the prophets weren't greeted with welcome, the prophets were revered enough that they weren't always murdered in cold blood. Kings thought twice before taking that drastic a step.
I wonder how people knew which people were really prophets, and which were just delusional? The prophets who have books in the Bible were the very few who "made the cut." What about everybody else?
Perhaps one mark of authenticity here is Amos's desire NOT to be doing this. Prophets don't sign themselves up for the job. They prophesy because they absolutely must in order to be who they are. And when they talk, we'd better listen.
Sometimes they tell us that the doom to come is simply inevitable. But another mark of prophets is that they also preach hope. A prophet who only preaches doom cannot be speaking with God's voice, because with God, doom is never the last word. Amos was a pretty gloomy prophet, but even his book ends with a vision of the return of the Israelites from exile. Even before the exile happened, Amos told the people it would end someday.
We have prophets today, too, in our world and in our country. Are we listening to them?