Haftarah: Acharei Mot Kedoshim: The Prophet & The Priest
Amos 9:7-15: Under the long and brilliant reign of Jeroboam II, the Northern Kingdom (also called the Kingdom of Israel) reached the summit of its material power and prosperity, expanding its territory northward at the expense of Hamath and Damascus, and southward at the expense of Judah. Assyria was weak, Syria was on the decline, and Jeroboam took advantage of the situation to extend his kingdom, foster commerce and accumulate wealth. The Ten Tribes had pride, plenty, splendor, elegance and might. The rich had summer and winter palaces adorned with ivory, gorgeous couches with damask pillows on which they reclined at their sumptuous feasts. They planted vineyards, anointed themselves with precious oils, and their women were addicted to wine. But there was no justice in the land. The poor were afflicted, exploited, even sold into slavery, and the judges were corrupt.
A shepherd appeared – a tree-keeper who also happened to be the leading rabbi of his generation. He traveled northward from Judah to Bethel, where Jeroboam had built his capitol and the main temple of idol worship. His name was Amos. He was known as a terrifying prophet. While others wondered why God was silent, Amos spoke of God roaring in rage. Amos pointed his finger north, south, east and west. No nation was safe from his rebuke.
Amos was a fierce and passionate fighter for the poor and downtrodden. Amos did not only fight for the poor of Israel, but for those of other nations captured by the Philistines and sold into slavery. He cried out for the women torn open in battle and the people raked with iron weapons. His was a voice of great wrath.
This poor man was an embarrassment to the wealthy and sophisticated citizens of Bethel. They ignored him as he stood before their great Temples and palaces and poured out his words of wrath and rage.
But then, when he realized that God’s anger was about to boil over, Amos began to advocate for the good and the righteous. And the citizens of Bethel began to pay attention. They listened as he cried out against the crime and corruption endemic to Bethel. He was no longer the prophet of anger – he became the advocate for the poor and the weak. He was the fighter for those who had no one else to stand up for them. The crowds grew. The leaders and powerful of Bethel realized that Amos had become a serious thorn in their side.
The high priest of Beth-El, Amaziah, confronted Amos just before the steps to the elaborate temple. “Go, flee away to the land of Judah, never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” (7:12-13) Hundreds of people, on their way into their Temple witnessed the historic confrontation between the wealthy and powerful high priest and the poor shepherd-prophet.
The prophet of anger did not respond in anger, but humility. It was Amaziah who raged. Amos responded quietly. He had successfully shaken the leadership of the Ten Tribes and caught the attention of the people.
The successful and well-established citizens of Bethel were tired of the prophets and their constant words of rebuke. They wanted to be just like other nations, and at the beginning of this prophesy, Amos grants their wish: “Are you not like the Ethiopians to Me, O people of Israel? Says the Lord. Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?” (9:7)
The Ethiopians were usually sold on the slave market. The Philistines were the archenemies of Israel, and the Syrians a constant menace to the Northern Kingdom. Amos did not make these comparisons lightly. His words were addressed to those who resented the shepherd-prophet. Amos was sending a powerful message to those hiding from his words within the walls of their great palaces and villas: If you desire to be the same as the other nations, so shall you be.
But God will remember and save the poor and weak. They will share the triumph of the “Day of the Lord”, the rebuilding of the Davidic line, and the repair of the corrupt world in which they all lived.