Amos announces punishment as the consequence of Israel's oppression and their failure to act as Adonai's people. This punishment falls on the nation, Israel as a whole, not on particular individuals among the people.
A typical example is the lament that begins chapter five, in 5:1-2: "house of Israel" and "maid of Israel" are both descriptions of the nation.
3:15 (if one accepts the translation "many") makes it even more explicit that the poor will suffer alongside the rich oppressors.
Chapter eight describes how the rich oppress the poor (8:4-6). Yet in 8:8 the punishment falls on all.
This failure to discriminate between oppressor and oppressed when judgment day comes is far from being a comfortable notion, but it is realistic.
Rich Puchalsky tells a story which illustrates this:
A few years ago, I was eating lunch at a small pizza place in Washington, DC. This was a few years after the Washington, DC, Columbia Heights riot and just after the Los Angeles riot, both of which were started by incidents of police brutality.
As I was sitting and eating, I overheard the counterwoman talking to a male customer. Both were black, and, as far as I could tell, working class. As he was waiting for his order, she looked up and said (as far as I remember), "You know, I really wish that a riot would start here. That way... something would happen."
He looked back at her with a direct, eye-to-eye challenge. "Why do you want that? It's not just the 'right' people that get hurt in riots. You could get hurt too. And if this place burns down, you'll lose your job."
That's why Amos is sad for those who look forward to Adonai's day, for "It will be darkness not light" (5:18) even for the poor and oppressed who desire it.
There are however two sections of the book which suggest a judgment which discriminates guilty from innocent. At the center are warnings (5:4-6 and 5:14-15) which suggest a possibility of escape. At the end, just before the concluding salvation oracle, the final declaration of judgment speaks of "shaking like a sieve" so that no pebble falls and of the "guilty" dying by the sword (9:8-10).
This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.