The Lion Roars
Amos started out a layman and became the prophet who proclaimed the lion roars. He owned many flocks of sheep that were bred for kings and sacrificial systems. He too was a fig tree farmer. At the heart of the introductory verses to the book of Amos is the incredible image of the lion roars (1:2). Will a lion roar in the forest? Yes, and it will roar from Jerusalem, even from the temple itself, because it is God’s message which roars. The expression translated “utters his voice” in verse two refers to the roar of thunder (e.g., 2 Sam. 22:14; Pss. 18:13; 77:17-18 [Hebrew, 18-19]; 104:7). It is thunder which brings destruction. Amos “saw” (Hebrew “haza”) words that roared (1:1). Words that Amos saw become more than what you could have imagined. God granted Amos access to the council of God in the heavens (compare Jer. 23:18; 1 Kings 22:19-22; 2 Chron. 18:1-17). He saw what God sees from the perspective of Heaven. Amos admonishes Israel for their sins and proclaims their forthcoming judgment from the heaven itself. The lion roars and its shattering effect brings earthquakes (Amos 1:1; cf. Zech. 14:5), drought, and exile (Amos 1:2; 1:3-2:16). Amos 3:3 and Amos 3:11 speak well of this destruction. Many know Amos as the prophet of social justice because of Amos’ message regarding the sins of the people toward the poor and needy. Amos preached we should care for the poor and needy. While Amos cares deeply for the lack of social justice, he addresses this problem by drawing attention to the underlying issue. He suggests that the sins of the people are a result of their broken covenant with Yahweh for which they face impending judgment. The foundation for Amos’ oracles to the northern kingdom is the Abrahamic covenant (Amos 2:6-16). His speech to the nations is about breaking the Noahic covenant (Amos 1:3-2:3). But Amos refers to the Mosaic covenant (Amos 9:15) and the Davidic covenant (Amos 9:11) too. Though Amos is known as the prophet of social justice, his message of the lion roars has greater depth and breath. He accuses Israel of sins against the poor and needy. These sins can be divided into three categories: taking advantage of the poor and needy (2:6–7; 4:1; 5:11; 8:4–6), violence (3:10), and denying justice and integrity (5:7, 10, 12, 15, 24; 6:12). The idea of a prophet concerned with social justice strikes a chord with many today, as it has for centuries. The denial of justice, rights, wealth, and privilege to certain classes of people has been a major problem in all societies, including modern America. And there is much to learn about Amos’ condemnation of social injustice. However, to sum up Amos’ message as a call for social justice is to minimize the breadth of his message and fail to understand the foundation of his message. Social justice that stands on any other foundation than the truth of Yahweh is an incomplete and imperfect form of social justice. Amos does not attack their lack of social justice on the grounds of morality. Absolutely not. For in Amos (and the entire Bible), to deny social justice is to work against Yahweh. Additionally, while Amos does address a lot of social justice issues, he spends more time addressing Israel’s relationship to Yahweh. He refers to their twisted cultic banquets (2:7–8; 6:4–7), their treatment of those commissioned by Yahweh (2:11), and their cultic places and activities (3:14; 4:4–5; 5:4–6, 21–23, 26; 8:5). So while Amos does concentrate on issues we would call “social justice,” he has a much broader perspective, a perspective founded on the full revelation of Yahweh. The lion roars become a fitting expression for Amos’ message in 1:1 – 2:16 and we best pay heed to it.