Amaziah the priest of Bethel said to Amos “O seer go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there; But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and a temple of the kingdom” (Amos 7: 12-13).
For the sake of emphasis, I find the Hausa version of this same reading very captivating: Amaziya kuwa ya ce wa Amos, “Kai makarayaci ne na ainihi! Koma kasar Yahuza ka nemi abin zaman gari, kayi ta annabcinka a can.”
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It simply says: Amaziya said to Amos, you are a very big liar, go back to Judah and prophesize there. I will return to this subject later.
Amos prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah over Judah (792-740 b.c) and Jeroboam II over Israel (793-753). The main part of his ministry was probably carried out (760-750. Both kingdoms were enjoying great prosperity and had reached new political and military heights (2 Kings 14:23) -15:7; 2 Chronicles 26). It was also a time of idolatry, extravagant indulgence in luxurious living, immorality, corruption of judicial procedures and oppression of the poor. As a consequence, God would soon bring about the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom (722-721).
Israel at the time was politically secure and spiritually smug. About 40 years earlier, at the end of his ministry, Elisha had prophesied the resurgence of Israel’s power ( 2 Kings 13: 17-19). And more recently Jonah had prophesied her restoration to a glory not known since the days of Solomon (2 Kings 14: 25). The nation felt sure, therefore, that she was in God’s good graces. But prosperity increased Israel’s religious and moral corruption. God’s past punishments for unfaithfulness were forgotten, and his patience was at an end — which he sent Amos to announce.
In Amos (5: 24), he called for social justice as the indispensable expression of true piety. Amos was a vigorous spokesman for God’s justice and righteousness, whereas Hosea emphasized God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. Amos declared that God was going to judge his unfaithful, disobedient, covenant-breaking people. Despite the Lord’s special choice of Israel and his kindnesses to her during the exodus and conquest and in the days of David and Solomon, his people continually failed to honor and obey him. The shrines at Bethel and other places of worship were often paganized, and Israel had a worldly view of even the ritual that the Lord himself had prescribed. They thought performance of the rites was all God required, and, with that done, they could do whatever they pleased — an essentially pagan notion. Without commitment to God’s law, they had no basis for standards of conduct. Amos condemns all who make themselves powerful or rich at the expense of others. Those who had acquired two splendid houses (Amos 3:15), expensive furniture and richly laden tables by cheating, perverting justice and crushing the poor would lose everything they had.
God’s imminent judgment on Israel would not be a mere punitive blow to warn as often before; (Amos 4: 6- 11), but an almost total destruction. The unthinkable was about to happen: Because they had not faithfully consecrated themselves to his Lordship, God would uproot his chosen people by the hands of a pagan nation. Even so, if they would repent, there was hope that “the Lord God Almighty would have mercy on the remnant” (5:15).
The preaching of Amos and the concern of Amaziah who was an idolatrous priest of Bethel (Amos 7: 10-17), will continue to dominate our national discussion. Amos is referred to as a prophet of doom, because he splits fire and destruction to all perpetrators of injustice. For Amos, God cannot be worshipped in a circumstances of injustice. Amaziah said, to Amos, this is the king’s temple, therefore go elsewhere to prophesy. The temple of the king according to Amaziah’s understanding cannot withstand the naked truth. The king and his temple should not be told the truth. And this is equally a very big tragedy. We remember the story of Herod and John the Baptist in the gospel of (Mark 6:14-29). Herod beheaded John the Baptist because he told him, it was improper for him to inherit his brother’s wife Philip.
Amaziah will represent all the elements in our national discussion that are seeking to stifle and arm-twist the truth. On Monday the 12th of July, 2021. All the newspapers in Nigeria, have on the front pages of their papers, a human face with lips gagged by jail cell design and a screening headline: “Information Blackout.” The front page advertorial further read; this is what the National Assembly wants to achieve with the NPC and NBC Media Act amendment Bill. It is not just about the media… it’s about society’s right to know, your right to be heard.” Prophet Amos, will add it is about social justice.
Amaziah in his honest understanding, felt, the call for justice as preached by Amos, should not be heard by the king. Very often, our ruling class are blocked from accessing the simple truth on the people they are meant to govern, very basic information that are on the lips of even children are not known to the people who have been elected or appointed to know. For example the provost of the college of Agriculture in Bakura, Zamfara State was kidnapped by the bandits last week. The bandits have been in touch with the family, and are demanding five million naira. When the police was contacted to verify the negotiation between the bandits and the family of the provost, they claimed ignorance. The Amaziahs, in our security system have consistently denied access to credible information to those that should give the go ahead for concrete actions to be taken, or halt carnage.
The Hausa translation of this opening verse, referred to Amos as a big liar. We know that it is not easy to tell truth to power and to the people; to all those few men and women of integrity, who have been able to confront the authorities and the people with the truth, they are often referred to as a complete sale-outs. In 2011, Sheikh Abdullahi Halliru Maraya a renowned Islamic cleric from Kaduna, against all ‘conventional norm’ then, went on radio and television to preach in support of the reelection of late Governor Patrick Yakowa. He spends quality time on air weekly to talk about the merit of his candidacy, Sheikh Maraya deliberately disabused the minds of so many Muslims on not voting Yakowa because he was Christian. In a country at the verge of ethnic and religious polarization, caused by social injustice and corruption, the words of Amos are always important for our national conversation, and the priests like amaziah should always try to let the truth pass to the right ears. I personally find preachers like Maraya rare and a gift to our nation.
Fr Stephen Ojapah is a priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is equally the director for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism for the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, a member of IDFP. He is also a KAICIID Fellow