Primacy of Morality


So the moral decay, the greed, the indulgence
of the upper classes, this is directly responsible for the social injustice that according to
the prophets outrages God. Amos 8:4-6: Listen to this, you who devour the needy,
annihilating the poor of the land, saying, “If only the new moon were over, so that we
could sell grain; the sabbath, so that we could offer wheat for sale, using [a measure]
that is too small and a shekel [weight] that is too big, tilting a dishonest scale, and
selling grain refuse as grain! We will buy the poor for silver, the needy for a pair
of sandals. The Lord swears by the pride of Jacob: I will never forget any of [their]
doings. Again, notice that they are prone to extreme
formulations and high-flown rhetoric, and sometimes when you strip away the rhetoric,
you see that the crimes that are being denounced are not murder, and rape, or horrendous physical
violence. These [the latter] are obvious and grievous violations of social morality. Rather
many scholars have pointed out, I think Kaufman chief among them, that the crimes that are
denounced here are crimes that are prevalent in any society in any era. The crimes that
are denounced as being utterly unacceptable to God, infuriating God to the point of destruction
of the nation, are the kinds of crimes we see around us everyday, taking bribes, improper
weights and balances, lack of charity to the poor, indifference to the plight of the debtor.
A second theme that is pointed out again by many scholars, is what Kaufman calls the idea
of the primacy of morality [Kaufman 1972, 345]. That is to say the idea or the doctrine
that morality is not just an obligation equal in importance to the cultic or religious obligations,
but that morality is perhaps superior to the cult. What God requires of Israel is morality
and not cultic service. Now, the prophets are all going to have–we are going to see
many different attitudes towards the cult among the prophets. So allow that to become
a more nuanced statement as we go through. Some are going to reject the cult of the entire
nation. Others will not. So there is going to be some variation, but certainly morality
is primary. And their words could, at times, be very harsh and very astonishing. Amos 5:21-24.
“I loathe”–he is speaking now as God, right? So God is speaking–God says:
“I loathe, I spurn your festivals, I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies.
If you offer Me burnt [sacrifices] or your meal [sacrifices]
I will not accept them; I will pay no heed
To your gifts of fatlings. Spare me the sound of your hymns,
And let Me not hear the music of your lutes. But let justice well up like water,
Righteousness like an unfailing stream.” This is an attack on empty piety, on the performance
of rituals without any meaning, perhaps, behind that performance, or in accompaniment to social
injustice–the two can’t happen at the same time. And that’s a theme that is sounded repeatedly
throughout prophetic literature. So for Amos, and for all the prophets, injustice is sacrilege.
The ideals of the covenant are of utmost importance. That is why they are called the standard bearers
of the covenant, harking back to the covenant obligations. And without these, without the
ideals of the covenant, the fulfillment of cultic and ritual obligations in and of itself
is a farce. That is not to say that they would be rejected were Israel to be upholding the
covenant.

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