God needs a shepherd, not a prophet. In the eighth century BCE, His “flocks” are scattered and spiritually deaf. So, the Almighty chooses a man—not a prophet—a shepherd and an arbor keeper from the tiny hovel of Tekoa, a town huddled yet today on an angled hillside outside of Bethlehem.
After all, a shepherd knows how to gather a flock, not just with a gentle voice but with the goading swat of his staff. Here in Chapter 1, Amos prods with the prophetic formula of an un-prophet, “For three transgressions… and for four, I will not revoke the punishment” of Damascus (vss. 3-5), Gaza (vss. 6-8), and Edom (vss. 11-12). These “sheep” of the world have bullied and beaten God’s “flocks” into defeat and slavery. So, Amos’ words hammer on their power again and again.
But just when God’s “sheep” are about to say, “Yes, Lord, give it to them. They deserve it!,” Amos stuns God’s own flocks with the same formula, the same thumping rod, “For three transgressions and for four, I will not revoke the punishment.” (Of course, this is Amos 2.) The Jewish flocks of Judah and Israel are a divided kingdom, attacking each other behind two kings, Uzziah and Jeroboam, after the death of one King Solomon. They are no better than the “flocks of the nations.”
Today, Lord knows, we still need a shepherd as much as a prophet. We bully the “sheep” of the world and the “sheep of God’s hand.” We bleat against Capitol rioters and the Derek Chauvins, the George Floyds and Black Lives Matter protesters, then “baa” because “there is no unity” in the flock or really in our nation. We confess that we are Christians and belong to God’s one flock, but judge and exclude those who will not condemn gays, pro-choicers, and Muslims as “unsaved.” So, what are we saved for—only to judge and exclude and divide?
If this division is going to end, something—or someone—must happen. “I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). And the result is “so there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). Only Jesus can gather us into one unified flock.
Rich Hites is a retired pastor who lives in Hickory, NC with his wife, Peg, and special needs son, Clark. In his retirement, he likes to travel and write and has published three fictional novels of New Testament characters, God’s Centurion, Prophet of Corinth, and Great and Beloved Physician, all available on Amazon.
1. Name one individual or group whom you have judged in the last month. What has this judging done to them? What has it done to you?
2. How would the promise of forgiveness from the Good Shepherd toward the one you have been judging change your behavior or feelings about them? Could you Include them in your prayers? Why?
O judging and forgiving Good Shepherd, open our eyes to find You in those who hurt us, divide from us, and we from them. Remind us that You have come to open our hearts to those who feel the pain of our suspicion, separation, and judging. Make us one and unify us, not for the sake of unity, but for the one “flock” for which You gave Yourself. Thank You for the pain to make all of this happen through the staff of Your cross, Lord Jesus. Amen.