Forming Faith Blog

The Morality of Wealth? (Amos 1 & 5)

God, through the prophet Amos, condemns the injustice and evil that is prevalent during that period, where those with wealth prosper at the expense of those without. God commands them (and us) to make justice flow like a mighty flood.

A waterfall in the forest. God condemns the injustice of wealth and calls for justice to flow like mighty waters.
Since the Creation

It is now ten weeks since the creation of the cosmos or, at least, since the beginning of the Narrative Lectionary year. We have moved from the inherent goodness of creation through Abraham and Jacob, the exodus and wilderness, and the times of Samuel, David, and Solomon. Last week, we heard a still, small voice alongside an exhausted prophet Elijah. We will now spend the next five weeks in the literary prophets before jumping into John.

A Shepherd from Tekoa

As an introduction to his prophetic words, Amos made sure to point out that he was a shepherd of Tekoa. Now Tekoa was on the edge of arable land near Bethlehem and Jerusalem. This was a hard place to farm and shepherd. So, Amos is not from the upper echelons of society but from the class of those struggling to get by.

Eighth-century Socioeconomics

Amos was written in the middle of the eighth century BCE. This was a time of economic expansion (better explained here). There was an increase in foreign trade and the need for agricultural goods. This, however, did not mean that each farmer with their ancestral land grew crops and sold them equally. Don’t be ridiculous. The land of peasant farmers was incorporated into larger estates, and they were often made into tenant farmers. And this is economics. If want to increase your profits and your ability to buy all these cool foreign goods, you need to increase your production or reduce your expenses. The larger landowners didn’t pay the tenant farmers, they just demanded a portion of the yield. Increasing the amount the tenant farmers needed to pay you got you more, and if they couldn’t pay, then you might get slaves out of the deal. What if the peasants couldn’t grow enough for both you and their own survival, or the goods they needed became more expensive? Too bad for them. In case the judges might try to oppose you, just line their pockets and you will be happy with their verdicts every time!

Power Over, Richer Than

If you have wealth, then you have power, the ability to do things others cannot. Then you can use that wealth and power to gain more wealth and power. The problem doesn’t specifically come from someone having money or power. The problems come from how you have gained your wealth and what you do with it once you have it.

Morality of Wealth

It is moral to be wealthy? That’s a loaded question, right? Let’s start with the basis of biblical morality. It can be subject to many interpretations, but Jesus and many others boiled it down to a dual commandment: love God, love your neighbor. So, at its most basic, an action that honors God and helps your neighbor is good, an action that disrespects God and harms your neighbor is bad. It is also clear in Scripture that you cannot love God and mistreat those made in the image of God.

So, did the people that Amos was addressing gain their wealth through actions that honor God and help their neighbors. Amos gives that a big “no.” But there is a second—unrelated—aspect: were they using their wealth to honor God and help their neighbor? Also, “no.”

Is It Moral?

So, with this measure, wealth can only be “moral” if it is gained while honoring God and helping our neighbor and if everyone else has all that they need to thrive. In a world filled with poverty and need, it is not okay to be wealthy. Even if we didn’t contribute to poverty and suffering while gaining our wealth, we are obligated to use what we have gained to eliminate poverty and suffering where it exists.

What about Us?

We get to a big, sticky problem when we start looking at ourselves. I must ask myself: “Am I wealthy?” By most metrics, I am not. But I certainly have more than two sets of clothing (Luke 3:10-11). Perhaps it’s best not to try to determine the dividing line between wealthy and not. Personally, and professionally, we can act in ways that honor God and help others. And we can steward our resources to alleviate suffering wherever we can.

But injustice is more than individual actions. Entire systems can and do cause poverty and suffering; others ignore the suffering that could be alleviated. Both contribute to the injustice in the world, and we need to fight both to work toward letting “justice roll down like waters.”

What Are We to Do?

As we are teaching or preaching this text, it’s important to break this down. Since justice is about loving our neighbor in the long term, we need to think of it that way. Here are some questions to challenge our participants and ourselves:

  1. What would a world governed only by love of God and our neighbor look like? Write a list, draw pictures, or discuss this in large or small groups.
  2. Where do we see suffering around us? You can use a bulls-eye diagram to help participants think about this in terms of those closest to us (innermost ring) to those across the world (outermost ring).
  3. Choose one problem. What is causing this suffering?
  4. What can we do to help solve this problem in the long term? (An important first step is to learn about the situation. Then you can research about what others are doing to work for justice in this area and decide what small steps you all can take to make a difference. “Acts of Justice with Youth” by Chris Wilterdink is a helpful read when looking at acts of justice.)

You might need to adapt these steps to the appropriate developmental levels, but this can be done with younger, older, and intergenerational groups.


Gregory Rawn (Publisher and Owner)

I am excited to announce the imminent arrival of our newest product: Learning Together, a curriculum divided into independent thematic units for intergenerational and children’s rotation or traditional education classes. Our first unit is on “The I AM Statements of Jesus” from the Gospel of John (release in January 2022) and second will be “Do Justice” (release Spring 2022).

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Needs and Wants” from our intergenerational worship resource Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship (NL) home devotional resource which can be used with many ages in many contexts!

Leave a Reply