Before a Fall

The Bible has a lot to say warning us against the dangers of our pride. When Solomon lists things that God hates, he begins his list with “haughty eyes.” (Prov 6:17). Literally this expression is “high eyes,” but "haughty" works. The same word is used in Numbers 15:30 for “sins defiantly” (NIV) or “with high hand” (ESV) or “brazenly” (NLT). When we lift our eyes, we are to see God-- not raise them in arrogance and defiance. Many of the Proverbs warn us about the dangers of pride (see Prov 8:13, 11:2, 16:18, 29:23). And our reading today from Amos begins with a scathing denunciation of the pride of Israel, “I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it” (Amos 6:8). “Pride goes before a fall” (Prov 16:18) and Israel was going to fall big time!

The problem as Amos presents it is really “the disease of ease,” that led to a proud complacency, "Woe to you who are complacent in Zion,and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria" (Amos 6:1). Amos attacks the rich, privileged class who are totally clueless about God and “at ease in Zion” (KJV). This was a time of great prosperity, and Israel did what you do in boom times and bull markets— they assumed it would last! And so the rich basked in their arrogance and ignore the sufferings of others and the call of God.

Our present economic darkness was caused in large part by huge banks and investment companies lending money (and the rest of us borrowing it) like the boom time would last forever. And it never does. I recall seeing a 60 Minutes piece on a bank in Iceland that continued to thrive despite the bust. Why? It is totally run by women, and the theory is that women are more social and tend to act based on what’s best for whole group.  This particular bank did not make all the bold, risky, get-rich-quick moves that caused the economic collapse in much of the banking world. After all, it wasn't “Lehman Sisters” that went bust!

Why did Israel act like they thought the good times would roll on forever? Pride! Amos points them the to the examples of the city-states that Israel had captured (Amos 6:2-3). Those cities thought that they would last forever as well. Their arrogance led them to think that there wouldn't be a price to pay. And if those cities thought they would never have to pay the piper, why did Israel think they were protected? Israel’s pride blinded her to her own vulnerability.  That same pride led Israel to be unconcerned about anything or anyone else. Amos is known as the prophet of social justice for sermons like this. (Amos 6:4-6)

4 You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches.
       You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.
5 You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.
6 You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

What a picture of a prideful, self-absorbed and self-centered people... that sounds too much like too many people today.  These were the rich and important people who only had time for rich and important things. And they didn't care about the people round them not about the things of God. Their pride blinded them to everything except themselves. That is what is what pride does; that is why pride goes before a fall.

Boy, it's a good thing Amos was talking to 8th century B.C. Israel.  This would be scary if it had any application to our country or our church!