Biblical meditation: “He casts down the mighty from their thrones”

Sunday September 25, 2022, four texts will be read.
First reading Book of Amos (Am 6, 1a.4-7).
Psalm 145.
Second reading First letter to Timothy (1 Tim 6, 11-16).
The Gospel according to Saint Luke (Lk 16, 19-31).

Amos, 6, 1a.4-7
Thus says the Lord of the Universe:
Woe to those who live quietly in Zion,
and to those who think themselves safe on the mountain of Samaria.
Lying on ivory beds, sprawled on their divans,
they eat the lambs of the flock,
the most tender calves in the barn;
they improvise to the sound of the harp,
they invent, like David, musical instruments;
they drink the wine straight from the amphorae,
they rub themselves with luxury perfumes,
but they are hardly tormented by the disaster of Israel!
That’s why now they’re going to be deported,
they will be the first of the deportees;
and the wallowing band will no longer exist.

Who is Amos?

The prophet Amos gave us, in his little book dated VIIIe century before our era, one of the oldest texts of the Bible. This collection has certainly known some additions and subsequent revisions, but its fundamental purpose was developed in this remote period. It is also in the VIIIe century that Isaiah wrote the oldest parts of the book attributed to him and which are consistent with what Amos denounces here. In other words, the oldest texts of the Bible come from these prophets who rebel against societies where the rich always get richer and the poor always poorer.

Amos was born in the South, in the kingdom of Judah, centered on Jerusalem (he also names Sion in our excerpt), but he is sent by the Lord to the North, to the kingdom of Israel whose capital is Samaria. He is a peasant who reports his lack of prophetic training (Amos 7, 14). Isaiah is a citizen of Jerusalem who lives in this city of which he will be a learned prophet, accredited to the court of kings. But both militate against the societies in which they live. They are opposed more exactly to the well-to-do classes, centered on themselves, which render a purely formal worship to God and which allow the condition of the less favored to deteriorate.

The Prophets and Social Thought of the Bible

It is sometimes believed that a social doctrine, among believers, could not have been forged until well after the composition of the Bible, by soliciting, even by overinterpreting its texts. However, social thought is rather at the very source of the Bible, in its oldest documents, which could be called the “triggering texts” of the biblical corpus.

Amos is filled with god-given fury when he rails against the haves of Samaria. His social critiques are, however, precise and thorough. The biblical prophets know as experts the economic and political situations of which they speak. Here, Amos denounces the insolent luxury of a rich and satiated bourgeoisie which does not hesitate, as he explains before, to “sell the poor for a pair of sandals” and to force destitute girls into prostitution to earn a little money to feed their families (Amos 2, 6-7).

A society that prefers to ignore “the weak and the poor”

The recklessness of the possessors is therefore based on the misery of a crushed population. These rich betray the most sacred realities. They want to be new Davids, those who invent musical instruments. But David, on his harp or his cithara, sang psalms in which he rightly denounced “the prosperity of the wicked”, that “nothing torments” and that “have no share in the pain of men” (Psalm 72, 3-5). Moreover, the mighty ones of Samaria “Anoint themselves with the firstfruits of oil” (the liturgical translation here is imprecise), which is a sacrilegious parody of the holy anointing that the messiah David received in his time (1 Samuel 16, 12-13).

Soon part of the inhabitants of Samaria will be exiled by the Assyrians, before many inhabitants of Judah are also deported by the Babylonians. Pretending to build a society that wants to ignore “the weak and the poor” (Psalm 71:13), it is to despise God Himself, and it is dangerous.

Philippe Lefebvre is a Dominican friar, professor of Old Testament at the Faculty of Theology of Friborg (Switzerland) and member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. He notably published Joseph, the eloquence of a taciturn (Salvator) and The Bible’s Intrusive Words on the Family (Stag). He just published how to kill jesus (Stag).

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Biblical meditation: “He casts down the mighty from their thrones”

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