Composer Seth Little applies the message of Amos 5 to our current context in this bluesy, funky, "saucy" rock song.
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A Call to Repentance
1 Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel. 2 The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise: she is forsaken upon her land; there is none to raise her up. 3 For thus saith the Lord [God]; The city that went out by a thousand shall leave a hundred, and that which went forth by a hundred shall leave ten, to the house of Israel.
4 For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live: 5 but seek not Beth–el, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beer–sheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Beth–el shall come to nought. 6 Seek the Lord, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Beth–el. 7 Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth, 8 seek him that maketh the seven stars and Ori´on, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The Lord is his name: 9 that strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress.
10 They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly. 11 Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them. 12 For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right. 13 Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.
14 Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. 15 Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.
16 Therefore the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; Wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, Alas! alas! and they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing. 17 And in all vineyards shall be wailing: for I will pass through thee, saith the Lord.
18 Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. 19 As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. 20 Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?
21 I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. 22 Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. 23 Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. 24 But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.
25 Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? 26 But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chi´un your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. 27 Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose name is The God of hosts.
I’ve tried to capture the major movements of Amos 5 in four sections. First, the organ intro represents the people of Israel offering worship to YHWH in a show of faithfulness while the shepherd of Tekoa makes his approach. With a loud knock on the door the prophet interrupts and begins to deliver his accusatory word from the Lord, following the outline of the text. The message isn’t all rebuke: YHWH adds his plea for repentance (“Seek me and live!”) in an altogether different and kinder tone. The song builds and finishes with the climactic imperative: “Let justice roll down, down, down, down…like a river.” And all this in what I think of as a “saucy rock” style.
This text isn’t altogether foreign to those of us familiar with some of the current religious context in the United States. The Northern Kingdom of Israel is enjoying a period of unquestionable prosperity while maintaining a robust religious institution, but they’re neglecting the administration of justice in the courts. So, Amos, the outsider from Judah, assures these folks that God isn’t interested in their worship without justice. Let those who have ears hear.
Seth Little is Director of Worship arts at All Angels’ Church in New York City. He studied music in college and went to work in the church shortly afterward. Music and art were largely set aside for several years until Seth went to Fuller Theological Seminary and began a process of integrating art-making and Christian ministry into his sense of vocation. That process is still in full force. Seth and his wife live in Harlem with their three young kiddos.