I have been reading the Old Testament prophet Amos and the commentary on Amos by 19th century German Bible Scholars Johann Friedrich Karl Keil (1807-1888) and Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890). One of the prevailing themes of Amos, who prophesies before the Assyrian dominance of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) of God's people, is spiritual pride or spiritual arrogance. Keil and Delitzsch repeatedly identify this theme, which also cannot be missed if one reads Amos even casually. Spiritual arrogance is a problem the chosen people had. Being chosen, they forgot to be humble and grateful before God.
American Bible scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier also identifies this prominent theme in Amos in her volum in the New International Bible Commentary (1996, Vol. 17). She writes of Amos 6:1-7, "Amos continues to attack those aspects of Israel's life in which it rests [in] its [self] confidence. ... He treats one of the standard themes found in the prophetic writings concerning the day of the Lord, namely, the inability of fame and wealth to save in the day of Yahweh's wrath and sovereignty" (p.212-213). Most Americans enjoy tremendous wealth (when compared to the rest of the world). As I read Amos and the commentaries and try to understand how the prophet speaks in our idea, I begin to wonder about spiritual arrogance.
I first read Amos 6 in the English Standard Version and in the Good News Bible (the Today's English Version). I found the TEV to be helpful in getting to the heart of what Amos is saying. Here is Amos 6 in the TEV.
1 How terrible it will be for you that have such an easy life in Zion and for you that feel safe in Samaria - you great leaders of this great nation Israel, you to whom the people go for help! 2 Go and look at the city of Calneh. Then go on to the great city of Hamath and on down to the Philistine city of Gath. Were they any better than the kingdoms of Judah and Israel? Was their territory larger than yours? 3 You refuse to admit that a day of disaster is coming, but what you do only brings that day closer. 4 How terrible it will be for you that stretch out on your luxurious couches, feasting on veal and lamb! 5 You like to compose songs, as David did, and play them on harps. 6 You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest perfumes, but you do not mourn over the ruin of Israel. 7 So you will be the first to go into exile. Your feasts and banquets will come to an end. 8 The Sovereign Lord Almighty has given this solemn warning: "I hate the pride of the people of Israel; I despise their luxurious mansions. I will give their capital city and everything in it to the enemy." 9 If there are ten men left in a family, they will die. 10 The dead man's relative, the one in charge of the funeral, will take the body out of the house. The relative will call to whoever is still left in the house, "Is anyone else there with you?" The person will answer, "No!" Then the relative will say, "Be quiet! We must be careful not even to mention the Lord's name." 11 When the Lord gives the command, houses large and small will be smashed to pieces. 12 Do horses gallop on rocks? Does anyone plow the sea with oxen? Yet you have turned justice into poison, and right into wrong. 13 You brag about capturing the town of Lodebar. You boast, "We were strong enough to take Karnaim." 14 The Lord God Almighty himself says, "People of Israel, I am going to send a foreign army to occupy your country. It will oppress you from Hamath Pass in the north to the Brook of the Arabah in the south."
In my honest talk with God, I first want to know, how can I avoid being among those who trust in my own wisdom, my own resources, and my own strength? I like being self-sufficient. I like being the one others turn to for help. I don't want to have to ask for help. I don't want to depend on God. How do I live in appropriate humility and gratitude before God?
A second question I bring to the Lord. How do I recognize damaging, spiritual arrogance in the church and in people all around me? I don't want to judge people, but I do want to be able to recognize what's going on. I want to be able to see and to speak the truth the prophets witnessed and testified to.
Third, when confronted with damning spiritual arrogance, what do I do? What is the appropriate response when I see someone in the church who acts like he knows it all? There are many in Christendom who behave as if they are the possessors of all the "right" answers and all truth. They speak their theology as if they stand on the hill of righteousness and to disagree with them is to be in error and heresy. How do I avoid becoming that person? How do I relate to that person?
Particularly chilling is Amos 6:10. Ten in a home have fallen dead before God's wrath and the last one left shouts out for silence. Don't even speak God's name. The pathetic fool had been glorying in his own opulence until the anger of God rained down on him. Now, he's left hiding in the house with decaying corpses around him. From whom does he hide? God. He thought he was in the right and that his prosperity was a sign that he was in God's favor. Now, he lives in dread and stays in the shadows. Fear is his companion, paranoia , his best friend. And in his lowest moment, he cannot even call on God for help. He has ignored God, forgotten God, and now all his woes are from God.
What can Christians learn from Amos? How can the prophet help us live today? I don't have all the answers, but I think it starts with us cultivating humility and gratitude. Neither can be generated by one's own will. To stay humble, a believer has to constantly praise God and see the beauty and the value in other people. Further, he or she must never see himself or herself as being above anyone else. To cultivate gratitude, the believer has to make prayers of thanksgiving a regular practice, even in difficult times. Thanksgiving prayers must be our defense against greed, jealousy, and the temptation to covet our neighbors things. Will humility and thanksgiving provide a sure safeguard against destructive arrogance? I think it's a good place to start.