Read Part 1 here.
With the increase of commercial activities in Israel, wealth poured into the country. Great fortunes were quickly made, the arts flourished, and the cities began to grow in number and size. Beneath all this glamour and wealth there was a disastrous by-product caused by increased economic prosperity: the gap between the rich and poor became more predominant.
The wealthier classes imported new comforts and enjoyed undreamed of luxuries. The poor profited little from the new commercial relations for they had no capital to invest. James L. Mays, in his book Amos (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969) 94, wrote that the message of the prophet Amos is addressed to a group “who are steadily driving the landed peasantry away from their earlier solid independence into the condition of serfs. The small farmer no longer owns his own land; he is a tenant of an urban class to whom he must pay a rental for the use of the land, a rental that was often the lion’s share of the grain which the land produced.”
In his book, Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa, a village located south of Jerusalem, points out that the poor people were left out of the prosperity enjoyed by the most affluent citizens of Israel. So difficult was the distress of the poor and so harsh was their treatment that Amos spoke strongly against this outrageous treatment of the poor.
Amos spoke against those who bought the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes (Amos 8:6) and against those who sold the poor person into slavery when he defaulted in his payment. The injustice to the poor was caused by the economic prosperity in Israel under the reign of Jeroboam and this prosperity set the stage for the growth of ceremonial worship that was beginning to sweep Israel.
The presentation by the writer of 2 Kings of the religious life during the Jeroboam’s reign is not positive. According to 2 Kings 14:24, Jeroboam “did evil in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.”
Spiritually, Israel was in a deep depression. Over the years Israel had been slipping away from God, and it seems that under Jeroboam’s leadership, the spiritual decay of the nation was at an all time high. Under Jeroboam the nation of Israel was militarily strong but spiritually weak.
Amos preached mainly in Bethel, one of Israel’s most important centers of worship. In Amos 2:6-16 the prophet talks about many of the sins of Israel. Amos talks about Israel’s greed and her lust for gold and silver. He talks about the sexual immorality prevalent in Israel. Sacred prostitution was a common practice in the temples of Israel. He also talks about the oppression of the poor.
Over all, Amos paints a grim picture of the social and religious life of Israel. It seems that all the people of Israel, including Jeroboam, had forgotten Israel’s covenant with God. In the prosperous days of the eighth century, ritual had taken the place of righteousness. In Amos 5:21-22 the Lord himself speaks against the religious practices of His people: “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.”
Because Amos felt that Israel had little hope of correcting its faults, he proclaims Israel’s doom: “Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel–against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: ‘You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins’” (Amos 3:1-2). Amos also preached the death of Jeroboam: “Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land” (Amos 7:11).
Although the prophet Hosea began his career during the later part of Jeroboam’s reign, he also felt that Israel had very little hope. Hosea, like Amos, mentions many of Israel’s sins. He does it by comparing Israel’s relationship with God to a marriage.
For Hosea God was Israel’s husband and Israel was His bride. Comparing the worship of idols to adultery, Hosea said that Israel was caught in the act of committing adultery with other gods. God gives His bride the chance to repent but Israel refuses to repent. With strong words Hosea describes how Israel has turned its back on her King: “They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval. With their silver and gold they make idols for themselves to their own destruction. Throw out your calf-idol, O Samaria! My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity?” (Hosea 8:4-5). With these words Hosea declares that Israel has turned away from the Lord.
Jeroboam was one of the most illustrious kings in the history of Israel. Although Jeroboam was a great military leader, he was unable or unwilling to listen to the message of the prophets. Jeroboam allowed the worship of Baal to continue throughout his reign. His reign brought peace and prosperity to the nation and his military might helped Israel recover the territory the nation had lost. But peace and prosperity came at the expenses of the dignity of many Israelites who were oppressed by their own countrymen.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary