"The Land is Full of Silver and Gold, Chariots and Idols"
"Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands". The prophets clearly saw the deep contradiction between power and its claim of realizing justice for everyone.. Exploiters confuse and distort good and evil.. Let us be open and not deaf or blind to prophetic social criticism.. What we celebrate could make an important contribution." translated from the German
"The Land is Full of Silver and Gold, Chariots and Idols" (Isa 2,7f)
On the Reception of Prophetic Social Criticism
By Frank Crusemann
[This essay is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://ot.re.kr/daten/frank.html.]
Whoever in the middle of a war where there is killing and murder, where the hiding or denying of the victims unites adversaries, where Israel is fatally threatened by German gas and children die because of oil, where reasons and occasions to despair are as distorted as the thinking leading to them, where law and justice seem as far away as ever (Isa 59,14), whoever in such a time sits on the spectators' bench and celebrates birthdays would do well to examine his foundations. What are we doing and thinking? How can one stand firm? I personally have always looked at theologians from war times with astonishment and hair standing on end. Will our drives and activities look justifiable to the next generation?
My feeling in the last years when I meditated on this address and pulled out older thoughts is that reflecting today about prophetic criticism, how prophetic criticism was received in exegetical research and theological approaches, is proper.
Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands. (Isa 2,7f)
We have incredibly transposed what Isaiah experienced in the Judah of his time. What are silver and gold compared with the wealth of the new Germany? What are horses and chariots of the ice age against the insect-like instruments of our aircraft that we admire on the television screen? What are Canaan's gods and goddesses compared to the powers that claim our worship? When was the work of our hands admired more and feared more than these days? Prosperity, the war machinery and false gods - Isaiah draws a triangle here that represents a summary of prophetic criticism whose contours we have not yet sufficiently grasped.
The root of war, destruction, suffering, catastrophes and God's absence lies in this triangle. In his 1964 dissertation, Willy Schottroff formulated the central point: zkr - "remember" means in prophecy "the recollective recourse to the past so that the past is determinative in present conduct".
Prophecy is a favorite child of Protestantism. The law or Torah was regarded as finished and overcome, the psalms were an appendix to the New Testament and prophecy remained alongside the original history. People felt near to prophecy. However what was received from prophecy was not social criticism. Social criticism plays an astonishingly trifling role or no role even today in the theologies of the Old Testament. Revelation, freedom, God's word, history and time are the themes in G. von Rad. The social criticism to which all this refers in the text is missing. It simply doesn't occur (cf. Wildberger's commentary on Isaiah). Where it is mentioned in theologies, it remains marginal. This is also true for its present conversion in sermons [cf. W. Raupach, Interpretation of Social Conditions in Prophetic Proclamation, in: R. Zerfass/ H.Prtusgen (ed. Die vergessene Wurzel. The OT in the preaching of the Churches, Wurzburg 1990]. That these texts found a significant acceptance outside theology and the church or at their edge strengthened the resistance of research. What lies behind this massive theological resistance? With the radicalism and one-sidedness of prophetic attacks on the rich and powerful, the prophets never attained the radicalism of the gospels.
The vivid pictures of the prophets remain in our memory, never forgotten and never compromised: the comparison of upper class women with fat cows from Bashan (Am 4,1), the descriptions of persons lying on beds and living it up (Am 2,8; 6,4ff; Mi 2,2), the insatiable greed for more land and more property (Mi 2,2ff; Isa 5,8). That the rich in themselves are separated from God, that they stand before God's reign like a camel before the eye of a needle - such radicalism is not found in the prophets. Fundamental declarations about wealth and the rich are entirely absent. The terms for wealth and prosperity customary in wisdom writings are not applied. Nevertheless the irritation from their words is great (cf. Jer 9,22 and the post-exilic text Mi 6,12).
Seen sociologically, the distance between rich and poor was not very great in the 8th century B.C. when social-critical prophecy was massively introduced with Amos, Isaiah and Micah. The oppressed in the prophetic sayings were even identified as "middle-class" [cf. M.Fendler, On the Social Criticism of Amos. An economic and social interpretation of Old Testament texts, EvTh 33, 1973]. This is supported in the texts. Most of the land-owning class of free farmers had legal capacity [cf. Am 5,12; M. Schwantes, The Right of the Poor, BET 4, 1977]. The differences between the houses of the rich and the poor only appear on second view. Every question about actuality for our present must start from the glaring difference of the economic- and social systems. Pre-capitalist characteristics are there for all to see. Israel at that time was an almost entirely agrarian society. Social dependencies mostly occurred through indebtedness, interests, personal liability and debt slavery. Hoarded wealth was squandered, not invested. This was true for the property of the big landowners (for example Isa 5,8) who produced for their own personal needs. Large concentrations of slaves as producers cannot be proven. What is threatening for the 20th century?
The extent of hidden actuality or danger presumed in these words for present theology, church and society is great. What immense effort was taken then and today to render these words harmless and show their theological irrelevance! If according to Sigmund Freud the repression effort is greater "the more annoying the idea to be censured", our theme must be a minefield whose danger compares with Jesus' statements about the poor. In Part 1, I describe four theological-exegetical strategies of censorship as types and representatives.
Firstly, there is the reproach of unrealistic utopianism as leveled in the middle of the 1st World War by Ernst Troeltsch in his essay "Faith and Ethos of the Hebrew Prophets" (1916). He reduces the standards and themes of prophetic criticism to the "characteristics of an ancient, simple, rural and small trade custom or tradition". "The same simple demands are always encountered: justice toward widows and orphans; freedom and honor of the man in relation to the acts of violence of the great and officials; struggle against the hard lien and indebtedness law of the new urban society; humanity toward slaves; maintenance of the poor; and sparing domestic animals and the soil... There are demands resulting from the sense of freedom and honor of independent landowners and from the intimacy and mutuality of a simple neighborhood ethic." With all necessary and possible differentiation, all the demands could still be basically approved. That old assumptions were put in question and destroyed by the economic development and then formulated as rights and gained by struggle impelled by the prophetic criticism is a rough but objective description of the process that has numerous parallels in the history of law and in our present [cf. F. Crusemann, "... and they don't obey the laws of the king", Resistance and Law in the Old Testament, WuD 17, 1983].
For Troeltsch, the legislation corresponding to such an ethic "failed and was impossible for his own time. The kings, nobility and army, the representatives of the city culture, may have had all possible vices. They were approximately the same as in the Orient today. They could not live and survive with the prophetic preaching. They had to make world policy in their own political interest and could not stop the process of social transformation. From this perspective, the prophetic preaching appeared as pure utopia." The prophets "resisted the course... of political necessities. Their passionate faith in Yahweh had no presentiment about these necessities." The "religious ethic of introspection" arose out of the prophetic criticism that then continued in Christianity. "The political hopes were eradicated from the ideal."
That such criticism from Troeltsch and Max Weber comes from and ultimately aims at our own present cannot be denied. The pattern of denouncing social criticism as utopia and nonsense is still very strong today outside the church. On criticism, I limit myself to three aspects:
Troeltsch's underlying presupposition (despite his reference to the salvation prophets) that the leading political circles borrowed the intellectual presuppositions of their time and had a real politics oriented only in the "objective" play of forces to pursue their own interests is completely unhistorical. This was as little true for the kings and ministers of the 8th pre-Christian century with their trust in the salvation traditions of Israel and Zion as for the "realists" in the Germany of the 1st World War and contemporary real politicians. They all not only didn't prevent but also caused enormous catastrophes as the prophets foretold.
- The fact not denied by Troeltsch that the prophetic criteria were found in Israelite law, particularly in Deuteronomy with the interest prohibition (Dtn 23,20f), regular debt relief (15,1ff) asylum for escaped slaves (23,16f) and so forth, indicates that these rights were realizable. A utopian character is also partly ascribed to such rights by contemporary research. Nevertheless Israel's legal and social history show that they were partially effective up to the Roman time.
- Astonishingly the characteristics of biblical-Christian ethics are quickly reduced here to introspection and thus cut off from all effectiveness in reality. One only needs to reread the catalogue of "simple" demands compiled by Troeltsch: justice, freedom, humanity, maintenance and frugality. Are all these only unrealistic crazy ideas?
b. A new variant of prophetic anti-criticism, the reproach of economic ideas that don't do justice to the market as raised by the American economist Morris Silver, is related to the old variant. In his book Prophets and Markets (1983), he sees the market laws of the present economy unrestrictedly in force in ancient Israel as in the ancient Orient generally. If one starts from that assumption, the following picture results: the prophets appeared with very unexpected demands of "liberal" origin in a thriving economic phase of the 8th century B.C. They urged a ridiculous social balance and criticized those who managed and profited from the market laws. With their criticism, the prophets enormously exaggerated the social distinctions, urged interventions completely foreign to the market and laid the axe to the root of the system. The catastrophe of the flourishing societies of Israel and Judah occurred as the prophets foretold. However disaster happened as a self-fulfilling prophecy and in no way on account of supposed injustices. The prophetic demands - partly converted in state measures - disturbed the flow of production and the market, weakened the readiness and capacity for defense and thus provoked the catastrophe.
In economic history, this thesis is criticized as a projection of modern conditions and experiences back in the different ancient society. Silver regards the modern laws of the market as universal and judges them politically and ideologically in the sense of current liberal policy. The efforts made by Karl Polanyi and other authors to envision a society based on very different basic decisions where distribution is not regulated by markets are baselessly pushed aside. [The Great Transformation. Political and Economic Origins of Societies and Economic Systems (1944)... "Prices on the peripheral markets have only trifling or no repercussions on production decisions."] The diverse historical and ethnological material about pre- and non-capitalist economic systems is not considered.
Great problems still persist in grasping the details of the social- and economic system of the Israelite time of the kings. However the fundamentals can be clearly recognized. This agrarian society organized by small farmers largely produced for personal needs or domestic requirements. Whether there was a real market for certain products like ceramics and metal, for products of long-distance trade and luxury consumption is very unclear and controversial. Rather there are suggestions of different distribution systems. In any event, only a marginal part of production was involved. The value skimming by the state and the upper class occurred in the form of tributes, taxes, interests, fees of all kinds and confiscation of human labor power and persons in which drudgery and different forms of debt slavery were very important. The few specialized callings and regions with production centers were hardly enough to reconstruct a primarily market-oriented economy. A market-oriented view alone is very controversial for judging present economic processes. In any event, it is not consistent with prophecy and the Torah.
c. If the first two models aimed at supposed reality deficiency of prophetic ideas, the other two deny them any theological relevance. The inner theological approaches follow the non-theological approaches. The first sees in prophetic social criticism a later, incidental and therefore theologically insignificant justification for the prophetic announcement of the future. The starting point is the form history structure of many prophetic sayings. Often a typical double structure is found, an announcement of the future and a before- and after justification for divine action. Traditionally one speaks of scolding words and threatening words, for example of demonstration of guilt and the word of judgment. Frequently only the announcement of the future is introduced as God's word. In the saying about the Bashan cows in Am 4,1, the culpable conduct of the women is described following a call to hear. The threat is first formulated in verse 2f. It alone is proven as God's word thro9ugh the formula "The Lord God has sworn by himself says the Lord, the God of hosts" (cf. Am 2,9-11; 6,1-7; 8,4-7 and elsewhere).
From this typical structure, W.H. Schmidt in his book "Future Certainty and Present Criticism" (1973) concludes that the future certainty expressed in the word of judgment was first suggested "baselessly" to the prophet. Beyond that, he sees a fundamental discrepancy between announcement of disaster and its justification. However in relation to the actual Word of God who ultimately alone has theological relevance, the problematic substantiation of the prophets could be added and thus a conclusion derived from future knowledge that only serves the substantiation. The astonishing sentence is found:
"Demonstration of guilt is the true occasion of social criticism, not partisanship for the disadvantaged and those deprived of rights." From this analysis, Schmidt concludes: "The prophetic criticism of time has the challenge of establishing and making understandable the future message under different presuppositions than our present consciousness. To a certain extent, the prophets can stimulate us for a criticism of society and church service but their precondition and intention can hardly be accepted. The prophetic future knowledge is unique." Theologically this future knowledge is completely unrepeatable in view of the eschatological horizon of later theology and New Testament faith.
In protestant theology, fundamentals of such a prophetic picture are widespread. Presumably this is the most effective way of the inner theological elimination of the prophetic tradition. Von Rad regards the social criticism of Amos as invented by the prophet and thus not a part of the divine word. Its consequences are found in many sermons and sermon meditations. In contrast, the following points could be emphasized:
- Exegetically the structure of the prophetic sayings is clearly reversed into its opposite. As in every individual saying, the logic or theo-logic of his or her proclamation starts from the notion that God brings about the coming disaster only on account of injustice. For our thinking, whether the reason can support the punishment is controversial. However for the prophets, doing this meant forbidding them their word. Here is a very striking example how historical-critical exegesis can overrule clear declarations of the texts.
- Contrasting the function of showing guilt with (divine!) partisanship for the oppressed carried out by Schmidt is questionable from my perspective. Were the prophets as free in their argument as suggested? Could completely different explanations be formulated, for example (to cite Silver) the reproach that the rich are not rich enough so that performance is no longer worthwhile?
- The deactivation of social criticism by referring to the later eschatological horizon where "the historical necessities and possibilities" are surpassed is unacceptable in view of the gospels and their massive criticism of wealth in an eschatological horizon and shows the blatant interest of such exegesis.
- If prophetic future certainty is not possible to us and the justification of social criticism is theologically insignificant, why should other aspects of the same prophetic proclamation be theologically so important for us? Isn't your understanding of people, your view of God, your appreciation of freedom and your relation with history affected by the cancellation of immediate future certainty? The logic of this argument is obviously feigned. Something else is involved.
J. This last-mentioned attempt is based on the insight that the prophetic books altogether have to be regarded as post-exilic compositions and redaction-historical social criticism. In an essay "On the Present Significance of Old Testament Prophecy" (1985), H. Chr. Schmitt stressed the importance of the late post-exilic writings of the prophetic books in the example of Isa 1-12. He underlined what has often been said lately about the final canonical form of Old Testament books and their significance for all exegesis. [Cf. R. Rendtorff, The Old Testament. An Introduction, 1985] The words of the social-critical prophets of the 8th and 7th centuries are embedded in compositions of the exilic-post-exilic time and can only be reconstructed from them. These compositions are marked by comprehensive eschatological words of salvation as in the conclusion of the book of Amos (am 9,11-15). It is also indisputable that interpreting such later writings as additions and supplements as happened for a long time is inadequate. In fact these compositions represent the form in which the pre-exilic prophets were understood and received in post-exilic times and are therefore decisive for their canonical form.
The pre-exilic cult and social-critical sayings are part of this final form. What does this new context mean for their interpretation? On Isaiah's sharp cult criticism in Isa 1,10-17, Schmitt argues that this criticism "can only be understood from the post-exilic situation". To him, "Israel's religious identity" ultimately depends "on the religious primacy of ethics", not on cult acts. Thus faith aims at "ethical probation in everyday life" which Schmitt sees as analogous to Luther's "church service in everyday life". What is involved is a pure admonishing word. A prophetic message of judgment is missing or reduced to the initial address as "you rulers of Sodom, you people of Gomorrah" (Isa 1,10). Schmitt regards a reception of social-critical prophecy in the post-exilic composition as only conceivable in the form of ethical admonition. "In contrast, pre-exilic prophecy with its political-social judgment preaching cannot be directly actualized in the present. This prophecy only has present significance insofar as its experience of God's seclusion and the personality of relations to God made possible the hope arising in the exile time of God's new `eschatological' action independent of human failure."
The results of exegetical study have rarely been expressed so clearly. Important parts of the Bible have been shown as no longer theologically relevant. The elimination of uncomfortable traditions serves historical-critical study according to their own self-understanding, not understanding and remembering. In addition, the important question about the final canonical composition is raised. The horizon of eschatological salvation expectation did not lead to the liquidation of social criticism and judgment preaching either in the composition of the prophetic books or in the New Testament. [Cf. R. Smend, The No of Amos (1964)] The cross in no way invalidated the threat of Amos. Rather a salvation expectation which is based on forgiveness and thus waits for God's action independent of human failure, social criticism and its negative consequences are also set in an eschatological horizon.
That criticism and the judgment message could be irrelevant for the time of the late phases of redaction history and for the composition of the prophetic books is an historical misjudgment. The prophets appearing in this epoch were involved with the same social problems (cf. Neh 5) and responded in their proclamation through judgment announcements. This is true most clearly for Tritoisaiah (Isa 58, 59 and elsewhere). This prophet belongs indisputably to the final canonical form of the Book of Isaiah and with great probability also left his traces in Isa 1-12 (for example Isa 1,27f). Why did the late editors actually adopt the old words unchanged if they were irrelevant and disturbi8ng for them? Were all the preceding words made invalid by the conclusion of the book of Amos? Didn't they become relevant again in the light of the contemplated salvation? The eschatological compositions of the post-exilic time continued and intensified the ancient social criticism and the judgment announcement up to the declarations of the gospels.
Attempts to make clear textual statements harmless with the historical-critical method so that "the time of Amos can have never occurred either under Jereboam II, today or any time [R. Smend, The No of Amos] necessarily lead to the question what insight is prevented and which theological impulses are discredited. This is the theme of Part II.
The prophets and the Old Testament as a whole never focused entirely on a critique of wealth, luxury and enjoyment of life as such. Pictures of superfluity were connected with blessing since time immemorial (cf. only the song to Bileam in Num 23f; Dtn 28,3ff), in prophecy and in no way first in the eschatological perspective describing God's goal with his people. The gift of the land and its fruitfulness even appear in the threatening visions of Amos (Am 7,1f.4). An ascetic ideal is nowhere manifest in the frequent comparison of the people of God with a fruitful vineyard (Hos 10,1; Isa 5,1ff), the portrayal of the former and future Jerusalem in Isa 1,21-26 and many other passages. Jeremiah makes this explicit. In a sharp word against king Joachim who built a luxury palace with unpaid workers (Jer 22,13-19), the formulation about king Josiah declares: "Your father ate and drank and it went well with him!" (v.15). Such enjoyment of life does not exclude that the king according to the same verse practiced justice and righteousness, in other words advocated for the poor and miserable (v.15f). Not wealth in itself but the following four aspects of wealth suggest that criticism of wealth is irritating and theologically unacceptable.
a. The origin of wealth is attacked in nearly all-social critical sayings. The social wealth accumulated in the hands of a few is wealth taken from others. What was due smaller and weaker ones was appropriated by the greater and more powerful. The simple conditions allow us to see things precisely. The clothes (Am 2,8; Mi 2,8), wine (Am 2,8), grain, bread (Am 5,11), houses (Mi 2,9; Isa 5,8) and fields (Mi 2,2; Isa 5,8) of the poorer are in the hands of the rich. The labor power (Jer 22,13) of the weak, their families and the weak themselves belong to the rich (Am 2,6; 8,6). Isaiah summarizes this: "The spoil of the poor is in your houses" (3,14). Thus the way of goods can be followed concretely. This stream goes upwards from below, from the poor to the rich. In a word, they eat the flesh of the people (Mi 3,2f).
Thus the origin of wealth at the expense of the poor is the central issue, not waste or the relationship of luxury and the poverty-stricken (as in later times). This is very clear in the 8th century in the beginnings of biblical social criticism. Everything that the prophets usually attacked, the physical violence, the manipulation of the law and legal institutions, the perverting of the cult and the national salvation traditions, was connected. The presuppositions, veilings and consequences of robbery were named. For the prophets, the process was robbery as Isaiah said, independent of the method of accumulation, whether with conventional legal debts and debt slavery, manipulation of legal regulations (Isa 10,1f) or in manifest breach of the legal order in bribery and violence.
The finding that wealth is based on exploitation and that this is uncovered in God's word seems so unbearable to some theological contemporaries that it must be repressed theologically. As Willy Schottroff explained, "Since Israel's prophets did not isolate wealth and poverty as phenomena against one another in analyzing their age - as often happens in our society with an obvious apologetic intention - but recognized the immediate connection in societies of all times between the wealth of the few and the poverty of the many. They also clearly saw the deep contradiction opening up everywhere between the power structuring real conditions and its claim of realizing justice for everyone.
b. "Acts of violence and oppression in the citadels" of the powerful are added to what was robbed of the poor (Am 3,10). Not only material surplus was taken from the poor. Something else was involved. The anthropological presuppositions and the consequences of robbery are the second point. Many prophetic words reflect an astonished indignation over the coldness and indifference with which the poor, widows and orphans are extorted and deprived of their rights. A massive protest is raised here in a society strongly established on family relations with corresponding norms and values on the emotional plane. The prophets assumed that merely naming events was enough as a proof of guilt and unleashed their indignation.
Above all they name consequences of exploitation. Two sayings of Amos point to two connected aspects. "They are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!" (Am 6,6) is one aspect. Such blindness for the future of one's own people does not first appear in the prophetic declarations of the future but is already part of the present criticism. It is the constant, so to speak, that releases the catastrophe and clearly comes to light in the catastrophe. The conduct of the criticized is so concentrated on prosperity and influence that the consequences cannot be seen and remain unconsidered. "It is you who have devoured the vineyard" (Isa 3,14) is a very striking Isaiah picture for this connection. If one drives cattle into a vineyard and the cattle eat up the vines, no fruit can be expected any more. Accusation here is used in the same sense of the same Isaiah in the vineyard song as a term of future punishment (Isa 5,5f). In other words, present conduct already expresses the coming disaster (cf. Isa 5,8.9f). Present conduct destroys the future and is blind to see this. "They do not know how to do right" (Am 3,10). Exploiters become incapable of objectively ethical conduct. Again and again, they confuse and distort good and evil. This is emphasized with shock.
"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter." (Isa 5,20; cf. Mi 3,2)
When Isaiah speaks of the stubbornness that provokes his prophetic message, he only formulates in an exaggerated way the effect of wealth based on injustice that makes people blind. A clear judgment is not possible any more.
This blindness is particularly manifest in the term used to justify war today: responsibility. The reversal of good and evil is massively concrete here. Max Weber critically developed the term responsibility ethic against an attitude founded only on ethical judgments apart from consequences and connections. Pure pacifism is irresponsible. [Cf. Max Weber, Politics as Calling, 1919] Those who apply this term consistently refuse to grasp the foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences of their conduct. Responsibility has almost become a term for irresponsibility. In these days, everyone only makes the adversary responsible for the consequences of war for ecology, the contamination of large areas, the worldwide fa/ tour. What does responsibility mean in view of the consequences that many generations must bear and which cannot be entirely ignored?
I don't only want to speak about others. Where the consequence is ethical and religious blindness, we ourselves are affected as far as we profit from the results of exploitation. We doubtlessly do profit. Don't we have to admit that we are included in this growing inability to see what is right and grieve for the ruin of Joseph? A theology pursued in our context must take the Bible seriously and take into account its own blindness, the texts and one's powers of discernment. The reference to the Bible on one hand and the connection with people and their theology from another context on the other hand is possibilities of orientation and self-correction. Doubt remains.
I ask myself whether or not this blindness is at work in the two following points and whether it is often very hard for our theology to come to clear decisions in both contexts then and today. What is central to me is raising questions and addressing deficits in research and theology.
c. One deficit is the connection of injustice and exploitation with an expected foreign policy and military catastrophe. This was a decisive part of prophetic proclamation. What Willy Schottroff wrote in 1968 on the vineyard song is entirely correct: "An order which would be whole and correspond as a counterpart to the order castigated by Isaiah must understand the right of the weak that is always broken and easy to break in the history of human community as God's absolute call in which the being or non-being of a community is decided." [Schottroff, "Gedenken", Amos - The Portrait of a Prophet (1), Stimme 24, 1972]
Being or non-being is much more abstract than the prophets. Now one can lump everything together less than the prophets did in some other time. The social and political situation and thinking were so differentiated that everything here appears in a detail. However when we understand the incapacity for justice and proper ethical conduct as a starting point and as a consequence as an act and punishment, then an outward connection can be imputed to the prophets as research does. They saw the injustice on the one side and they saw the advancing Assyrian power on the other side and connected both. We see today publicly revealed in many connections that greed, orientation in profit and enhancements of a life of luxury have catastrophic consequences. This hovers above us as an inheritance of humanity. How massively this happens to jostle us! In many contexts, we still don't see and believe this. The prophets offer the chance of studying these connections in great diversity in the detail of different political constellations and before and under apocalyptic perspectives.
4. Finally what are central are religious and theological aspects. The blindness is directed toward God, not merely in ethics. The blindness or delusion through robbed prosperity first mockingly rejected the prophetic word (Mi 2,6.11; Isa 5,19). The prophets see Israel's traditional religion, victims, prayer and the God-relationship itself become a farce. The group of oppressors, profiteers and spectators who speak unfailingly of salvation could welcome this. One should trust the security that Zion promises (Mi 3,11) and count on God's solidarity and presence in all dangers (Am 5,41). Critical aspects of one's own tradition are silenced (Am 2,12; Mi 2,6).
This impressive connection between the wealth based on exploitation of the poorest with blindness for the fate of others and of the whole leads to the perverting of faith into a pure salvation guarantee. Dominant theology in the theology of rich Europe in the 20th century should see itself here. This connection makes possible and necessary and brings forth again and again the great expenditure of repression energy. The salvation theology that the prophets attacked rises from the ashes as the supposed Christian salvation message. Formulations arise that the cross "invalidates the threat of Amos". "God's Yes shown to us can be measured by the magnitude or totality of the threat of Amos." [Smend, The No of Amos] Amos must be reduced to an absolute total prophet of disaster announcing Israel's destruction to annul his announcement.
The inability to understand the connection of judgment and salvation in the prophetic books like Am 8,2 and 9,11ff is real and concerns us directly as exegetes. The two are separated in the same dubious way theologically and in literary criticism. Seeking and legitimating appear almost inevitable. This is also true for the prophetic emphasis on God's presence and absence, on Israel's destruction and preservation, on not forgiving and God's overwhelming love. Both stand in the same texts. Everything turns on understanding this. However inability or incapacity is possible when one reads the texts in a land that is as full of silver and gold, weapons and idols as our own. The texts speak of something about which we are largely blind. We have first begun to theologically receive the prophetic social criticism. If we want to live, we should work on this. What we celebrate could make an important contribution. We hope that we will all have time and strength to research and remember this past so the past can be determinative in present conduct.
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