Amos vs. Solomon & Paul
Many Christians are familiar with the book of Amos. Even many non-believers are familiar with sayings from the book, even if they don't know their source. The most famous of them would be Amos 5:24 which says, "But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." People tend to fixate on that one verse, and to use it as applicable to everything verse. But we know that scripture does not contradict itself. So how does Amos sharp rebuke of the Nation of Israel's treatment of the poor not conflict with the many proverbs of Solomon that talk about laziness not being rewarded and Paul's admonition that if a man does not work, he should not eat?
Though it may appear contradictory, they are not. In fact, when you take the cultural understanding and context into account, you find that they are talking about two very different groups of people.
Amos is addressing a nation's treatment of it's population in general. He was describing a corrupt society where workers were not paid their wages, bribes were given for judges to rule in favor of the briber, and the land owners demanded almost impossible amounts of rent from those who needed a place to live. Amos' universal condemnation of the entire nation of Israel shows that this was not an isolated incident, nor was it something so small in scope that God would send him to a person or small group of people. No, the message was for the whole of the nation.
In contrast, Paul's message was about a small group of people within a given church. He talked about everyone pulling their weight. He was addressing specific persons, not even an entire church, let alone an entire nation. This means that Paul was not contradicting Amos' assertion that justice and fair treatment under God's law for everyone is important for society, he was addressing the specifics of an individual person who refuses to contribute to a church, or by extension society.
There is a big difference between a person who works forty hours a week and still cannot make ends meet and one who refuses to work and then complains that they don't have enough to eat. It's not fair to compare the messages because things that are different are not the same.
Amos castigates the rich who are oppressing the poor who work for them, and this must be understood through a cultural lens. Those who worked the land were wholly dependent on those who paid them, and if they were cheated, it was not a situation where they could just go find another job. Life back then didn't work like that. His focus was on the working poor who were being stolen from in order to increase the coffers of the rich who were not keeping up their part of the bargain. These weren't lazy sluggards, these were hard working people who weren't getting their due.
It wasn't that they weren't getting handouts, they weren't being paid and were also being overcharged. You see, it's not as simple as saying that Amos demands that we provide for everyone, but he did demand that we deal fairly and justly with those to whom pay is due, and to not steal or overcharge those around us. Rather than conflicting with Paul, this echoes his words to Timothy where he states that, "a hireling is worthy of his wages." 1 Timothy 5:18.
By understanding that Amos' message was not to the poor, but to the rich, we will find that drawing an equivalent meaning that everyone is universally to be taken care of is disingenuous. That may be what people want the text to say, but it is not, in fact what it says. Therefore, it does not conflict with Paul who takes on the other side on an individual level and says that we should not reward and sustain laziness. His message was to those who refused to work, not to those who were cheating others.
When you put the two together, you have a holistic picture of what is being said. The poor are to work and to contribute and they are to be paid fairly and taken care of by those who employ them and who benefit from their labor. Those who refuse to work can be taken care of out of compassion, but they are not to benefit from their non-work. There is no conflict, unless we attempt to apply it incorrectly to either create a necessity to provide more for those who refuse to work, or to give a pass to those who purposely scalp their employees and workers for everything that they can.
But what about Solomon? We could choose from many of his proverbs, but there are two that I think show this balance well:
Proverbs 20:4 "The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing." Yet Proverbs 29:7 "The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concern."
The wisest man on the Earth clearly saw a difference between those who were too lazy to work and those who were being cheated out of a living. As the Church, we need to find ways to fight injustice, while still staying true to God's Word on living and working properly. I'll leave the political side of it between you and the Lord, but I will tell you that neither side has it completely right, and neither side has it completely wrong. May we pray for and be blessed with the wisdom to find the truth between them and to live it out. Shalom.