The prophets were not popular because they brought God’s word of challenge and judgment to His people. In Amos 2:6-16, we see this clearly. People who knew God’s grace and goodness, who had experienced His deliverance and provision through the wilderness and subsequently, should have known better than to abandon His word and truth, but sadly, as Hosea commented, there was no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. (Hos 4:1)
People may feel that because of their historical relevance, the prophets have little to say to us today, but the truth is that very little has changed in terms of people’s behaviour. Western civilisation has pushed God away and must inevitably reap the consequences of this; as George Orwell said (in ‘Notes On The Way’ in 1940), “For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake. The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all; it was a cesspool full of barbed wire… It appears that amputation of the soul isn’t just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic.”
People are not fundamentally good or nice. When God is pushed aside and His laws disregarded, sin abounds. We see this in civil wars in recent years; more recently, we see how pervasive is the need to control through fear, rather than through doing what is right. God had given His people clear instructions about justice and caring for the needy (Ex 23:6-7, Deut 10:18, Deut 24:17). These same principles should be at the heart of our laws and justice. Just as Israel could not assume they would not be judged (and judgment would surely come, Amos warns), we cannot hide from the truth that we are accountable before God for what we have done with His word and how we live before others.