The Prophet Amos, Hate Speech, and Treason

Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words.  11 For thus Amos has said, “’Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'” 

12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there,  13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs.  15 But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’  16 Now therefore hear the word of the LORD.

“You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’ 

17 Therefore thus says the LORD:
“Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'”
Amos 7:10-17 English Standard Version

As Amos preached against the sins of his nation, Israel, and prophesied against the king and the priest of Bethel, there was an effort to silence him from speaking the truth.  150 to 200 years later, the prophet Jeremiah in Jerusalem was arrested for treason for his preaching and imprisoned, at one point placed in a cistern, sinking into the mud. Prophets are normally rejected and persecuted, not welcomed by those in charge, but despised as trouble makers.

Recent hate crimes legislation that was signed into law by President Obama has raised considerable concern as to the likely abuse of it to silence people of conscience from speaking truth as they see it without being accused of hate speech.

My contention is that hate crimes legislation is dangerous and unnecessary.  The torture and murder case of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming was the primary cause célèbre behind the recent law as well as the case of James Byrd, the Texas man who was dragged to death behind an automobile. Both were indefensible and brutal cases of premeditated murder. Those guilty of such heinous crimes deserve to die. The hate crime in each case had to do with homosexuality and race, but the intent to murder Shepard and Byrd was/is already covered by existing law and was enough to bring about justice and the appropriate penalty. By definition, all premeditated murders are hate crimes of sorts in that human life is devalued.

The broader intention, at least by some, is to silence all dissent that identifies homosexual behavior for what it is, an affront to God and damaging on several levels to those who practice it and to society in general.

What must a modern day Amos or Jeremiah do? No one today can speak with the authority of the Hebrew prophets in the way they did to the leaders of their day.  But we are obligated to speak prophetically in the sense of applying the revealed truth of Scripture to our culture, calling our nation and people to repentance and to the liberating and life transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Keep reading the Hebrew prophets! They illustrate how to communicate the truth to a hostile culture and what to expect when that truth is not welcomed.

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