[On Sabbath] Restlessness and Recreational Idolatry (Amos)

Bible opened to Amos 8 with Green and Black's Organic Mint Dark Chocolate

WARNING: Uneven Chocolate Break detected! But it still tastes the same.

Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Mint Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassageAmos 8:4-10

Have I told the story of the time I got in trouble for losing my TV privileges? No? Okay, let’s open with that one.

One Saturday morning when I was 8, I got my TV privileges revoked. I don’t remember what evil I had committed to incur such a penalty, but that morning when my parents took me to Queen City Fitness center, I wasn’t allowed to watch TV in the lounge. However, they hadn’t said anything about hearing TV. So, while my dad went swimming and my mom went to her aerobics class, I went behind the lounge couch and listened to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the couch blocking my view of the TV. When dad found me behind the couch, back to the TV set, I received a stern lecture about the letter and the spirit of the law. And I relate that story because 1) you’ve got to introduce your blog post somehow, and 2) the letter and the spirit of the law are what today’s passage from the prophet Amos are all about.

Amos is well-known for his social critique and calls to justice. In this passage, he indicts those “who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land” (8:4), the poor and powerless. He summarizes their attitude:

“When will the new moon be over,
So that we may sell grain,
And the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market,
To make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger,
And to cheat with dishonest scales?” (8:5)

Walter Brueggemann characterizes this duplicitousness as “multitasking.” In Sabbath as Resistance, he writes, “The appearance is one of rest, but, says the poet, the social reality is one of restlessness, for the pattern of acquisitiveness is not interrupted, even on the day of rest” (66). The people Amos describes never really stop working on the Sabbath, even though they keep the law in outward appearances; they’re hiding their souls behind the lounge couch, listening to the commerce that they can return to when Saturday is over.

And the multitasking that Brueggemann identifies is just one of their sins. They also exploit the vulnerable; not only do they fail to “defend the rights of the afflicted and needy” (Proverbs 31:9), they actively violate those rights by cheating their customers and selling necessities at grossly unfair prices because they can get away with it. I can’t help but think of the healthcare industry in America as I read these verses. For you, they may bring other areas of society to mind, but you can probably think of an arena in today’s world where desire for wealth runs roughshod over respect for human lives.

Here’s the point of the passage as it relates to Sabbath: it does no good to keep one point of the law while you ignore another. What Amos’ opponents are doing is a clear violation of the Torah: “Use honest scales and honest weights” (Leviticus 19:36). If you’re spending your day off planning to cheat your customers, you’re missing the point of the Sabbath: you’re not resting with God and your neighbors. It does you no good to rest on the Sabbath by engaging in recreational idolatry.

Amos 8:5 marks the last appearance of the word “Sabbath” in the Old Testament. Have a good Sabbath tomorrow, and on Monday we’ll start looking at the Sabbath in the gospels. Are you hype, fam? I’m hype.

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