Amos 2:6–8 (NKJV)
6 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they sell the righteous for silver, And the poor for a pair of sandals. 7 They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor, And pervert the way of the humble. A man and his father go in to the same girl, To defile My holy name. 8 They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge, And drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god.
Amos was a prophet to Israel. Thus far in his list of judgments, however, Amos has addressed the nations that surrounded Israel and we can imagine the Israelites cheering at each full stop. “Yes, judge those Moabites, judge those Philistines, judge those Ammonites and Edomite and Judahites. They deserve it.” But the Lord of all, the Lion who has roared forth from Jerusalem, has simply been circling his prey. The real object of his attention is Israel.
What were Israel’s transgressions? It is instructive to note that whereas Amos only mentions the central transgression of the other nations, Israel’s transgressions are explained at length. Rather than seeking to protect the poor and the weak, they are exploiting and abusing them. Rather than honoring the sacredness of the sexual act, they are profaning and prostituting it. Rather than giving thanks for the gift of wine, they are corrupting it. Such are their sins. Israel is a society in moral decline and disarray.
Lilian, Jose, and I are reading C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Early in the voyage, King Caspian pays an unexpected visit to part of his domain, the Lone Islands. The Governor of the Lone Islands, Governor Gumpas, is a practical man, a man who looks at charts and figures and statistics and rules and laws but who has little use for a king or for ideals. Consequently, Gumpas has permitted the slave trade to grow up in the islands.
When Caspian arrives, he confronts Gumpas for allowing such a filthy trade to be practiced in the islands that had always been forbidden. Gumpas replies that the trade is absolutely essential for the present prosperity of the islands; an essential export. Caspian declares that whether it is essential or not, it must stop.
You see Caspian was a man of principle who understood that whether certain activities are economically viable or not they are wrong and therefore to be opposed. He knew that there is One who rules over the affairs of men and nations. Caspian was a servant of the Great Lion Aslan and understood that he held his post in trust. He knew that the slave trade not only debased these men and women who were made in the image of God but also angered the true Ruler of the Lone Islands who would demand an account. So it must stop.
But Gumpas was a practical man. He was a politician, one who, like former Missouri Senator John Danforth, insists that the essence of political discourse is compromise. So he responds to Caspian’s demand with disbelief – and listen to the words that Lewis so fittingly puts into his mouth – “But that would be putting the clock back! Have you no idea of progress, of development?”
Such a question was of course a distraction, a straw man. For progress can only be defined if we have some object toward which we are heading. Gumpas’ object was revenue – so anything that increases revenue is progress, the slave trade is progress. Caspian’s object was honor and virtue. Consequently, the slave trade was not progress but regress.
We find ourselves in the midst of a cultural slide; a slide, as Robert Bork once wrote, toward Sodom and Gomorrrah. When we oppose this slide, we often hear the words of Gumpas, “But that would be putting the clock back! Have you no idea of progress, of development?” Those who define progress as simple economic growth or as moving closer to unbridled license will inevitably express shock and disbelief when others come and oppose them. But this is our calling. We are to stand against immorality, impurity, and tyranny that parades itself as progress. We are to keep ourselves unstained from the world. For one day the Lord of all will act and will judge all those societies that degenerate into filth and decay even as he judged the nation of Israel.
So reminded that true progress means becoming more like the Lord of all, more like the King who rules and reigns over us, let us kneel and confess that rather than progressing we have regressed. We will have a time of private confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.