Did God approve prostitution as a punishment?

Did God approve prostitution as a punishment?

Prophet Amos said something terrible to Amaziah, priest of Bethel, Israel.

Claiming to speak for YHWH, Amos said Amaziah’s wife would become a prostitute. And that Amaziah’s children would die violent deaths. And that Amaziah would “die in an unclean land.”

All that’s in in Amos 7:7-17, included in Sunday’s lectionary readings.

The declamation of Amos was his response to a speech and actions taken by Amaziah.

Amaziah was the king’s man, contra Amos, YHWH’s man.

The Bethel temple had been established by Jeroboam I of Israel. It was about sixteen kilometres (ten miles) north of Jerusalem. Jeroboam established it as a competitor pilgrimage site to the Jerusalem Temple.

Pilgrimage generated huge incomes. Priests give legitimacy to kings. It’s why kings appoint priests. Every priest knows that if he doesn’t side with his boss, his boss will punish him and his family.

But Jeroboam’s temple was not authentic. It was not built at God’s command, let alone served by God-licensed priests.

To compound matters, contra the first and second commandments, it had an image of a golden calf which Jeroboam claimed was one of two “gods” which had brought Israel out of Egypt (1 Kings 12:28-33).

Despite its worship of an unethical, earthly “god,” Israel was prosperous.

If you want to be among the elites, you side with the king. That’s what Amaziah did. He scolded Amos for calling out the injustice in the land, for announcing the impending collapse of king and nation.

Amaziah went further. He banned Amos from speaking. Ordered him back to Judah.

Yes, Amos was a Judahite, not an Israelite. He had gone and prophesied in Israel at YHWH’s bidding – we read him saying so in the passage.

The passage also tells us Amaziah wrote to the king, to make sure the king knew he’d acted “for the king.”

Of all the writing prophets, Amos is the most explicitly justice oriented. For him, any country should have one rampaging river which must never be dammed: the river of justice.

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, in his “I have a dream” speech in 1963, made famous these words of Amos:

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

Punishment is the reverse side of the coin of justice. Part of Amaziah’s punishment was the turning of Amaziah’s wife from elite to prostitute.

Bad persons deserve to be punished. But did God approve prostitution as a punishment?

The fact that something’s done doesn’t mean it’s approved. Consider the punishment of crucifixion. God chose for Jesus to be falsely accused, convicted, and then put to death by means of crucifixion. Why?

Because crucifixion was the most shameful, humiliating death possible. Because on the cross, in a mystery we can barely comprehend, God the Father made Jesus the Son to be sin.

And the only thing to do with sin is to expose it, shame it, humiliate it, kill it. The punishment grabs our attention, shows us the horror.

Idolatry is sin, both at the individual and national levels. Failure to expose idolatry, to abhor idolatry, to contest idolatry, is sin.

The results of sin will follow for as long as this present world continues. The type of punishment shows us the horror of the sin.

The sin of prostitution is also committed by those who use women. They too will be punished. Why? Because God has made all in His image. Objectifying anyone is sin. Let justice flow like a river, everywhere.

But perhaps we should focus on what the details of the declamation of Amos meant for Amaziah’s priestly self-assurance. David Allan Hubbard, in his commentary, includes this in his notes on Amos 7:17:

(1) for Amaziah’s wife to become a harlot … meant that she would be utterly unfit to be married to a priest (Lev. 21:7);

(2) for Amaziah’s offspring to be slain meant that his priestly line would be wiped out and his office perish; and

(3) for Amaziah to die in an unclean, i.e. ceremonially defiled, non-kosher land meant a stinging insult to all his priestly instincts.

Hubbard also notes that when Assyrians over-ran a nation, their “treaty” actions included prostitution of women, execution of children and dividing of land. These were “normal,” well-known acts of the occupier.

Did God approve prostitution as a punishment?

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