Amos As Preacher, Contrasted With Modern Social “Preaching”

I found Old’s discussion of Amos as preacher to be very engaging and helpful, especially as it focused on a book that we do not study very much, although it is a book that has undergone exceedingly extensive analysis since the 1960’s (60 commentaries have been written on this book in just the three decades of the 1960’s-1980’s).

Amos is generally regarded as the first of the writing prophets, the first whose words are recorded in literary form (p. 47). Old notes that “For the prophets, the word that they preached was as much the Word of God as the word that Moses preached.” In Amos’ case, it is clear from the opening words, wherein the prophecy is introduced as “the words of Amos,” but then immediately go on to say “The Lord roars from Zion” (p. 48).

Amos was not the “bubba” type sheep-herder that many have thought he was. Instead, the evidence of his own writing points to someone who was sophisticated, cultured, and wise (pp. 48-49). Maybe he was one of the elders in the gate (49). He could express himself clearly and with power, indicating some measure of practice with public speaking. And some of the book that bears his name records for us his public speaking, which can be labeled sermons.

Incidentally, we are treated to a helpful distinction between the Law and the Prophets, when Old writes, “The Law, the Decalogue, was understood as the Word of God in the most direct sense, too, but the Law, or at least the Decalogue, was apodictic. It applied to any place or time; regular pronouncement of it was sufficient. The prophetic oracle generally was understood to be the Word of God in every bit as direct a way, but it was sharpened and pointed to be shot like an arrow into a particular situation” (p. 49).

Another incidental discussion Old gives us is on the nature of the Word of God as preached, which, as the Reformers all stated, IS the Word of God. Muller has a very helpful distinction that helps us here (pp. 204-205 of volue 2 of PRRD) of immediate and mediate Word of God. What comes from God’s own mouth is immediate, and what comes from the preacher’s mouth is mediate. Nevertheless, both are said to be the Word of God (inasmuch as the preacher’s words agree with the text, of course).

Old notes that the targets of Amos’s preaching in the cows of Bashan has direct relevance to pampered women today (which is, of course, only one subset of all women), who tend enjoy the cosmetic luxuries of the culture, but care nothing for justice and righteousness. Amos’s thundering against them could very easily be applied to today’s Hollywood women.

Amos warns against syncretistic (read here “postmodern, inclusivistic, ecumenical”) worship in chapter 4. Old makes the very interesting observation that Amos 5-6 is a literary dirge for the whole Northern Kingdom, which at that time was prospering and well (p. 55)!

To close, Old has some choice comments for so-called “social” preachers, in his contrast to Amos:

In the strictest sense of the word, the Church has neither prophets nor apostles today; the canon of Scripture is closed. In a larger sense, however, both the word “prophet” and the word “apostle” are used today. Surely today’s ministers are called to be prophets as well as apostles, and surely the Church of today, as always, needs prophetic preachers. During the last half of the twentieth century, Americans have heard plenty of preaching that claims to be prophetic. We have had a whole generation of amateur social critics in our pulpits who thought they were following the example of Amos by denouncing everything from the Vietnam War to smoking marijuana. By a sort of typology they imagined that President Johnson or President Nixon, or President Reagan or President Clinton, was the contemporary Jeroboam. Few of these sermons even came close to those of Amos. Their social criticism may or may not have been justified, but that is not the point. The problem was that they imagined that one line of social criticism or another was the Word of God for our time. They used the prophets to justify some economic program or social ideology and thought they had done their job (pp. 58-59).