In a recent impassioned speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Speaker Tom Foley (D-Washington) urged his fellow members of Congress to pass the President’s tax bill to save the American economy. Since the Clinton plan relies on the "contributions" of average Americans, Foley pleaded for its swift passage despite heavy opposition from most voters. He concluded, "This is a time to stand and deliver!"
For the last few centuries in the British Isles, "Stand and deliver!" has equated with our "Stick ‘em up!" British highwaymen have used the line with much success for generations, and in leaping the Atlantic Ocean, it has retained its meaning in America.
The prophet Amos used different words to get across the same idea. In a condemnation of Israel applying to today, he says:
Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals. They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor, and pervert the way of the humble" (Amos 2:6-7).
Taking advantage of the poor and powerless appears in many forms in modern America. Powerful and wealthy families, corporations, lobbying groups and governments hold tremendous sway over—and often outrightly control—the government of the United States. The members of the government, to please their various monied constituents, draft and enact legislation and directives that have funneled the wealth, opportunities and resources into fewer and fewer hands.
A case in point is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The pact between America, Canada and Mexico ensures the loss of at least a million jobs to Mexico as American companies move operations to take advantage of cheap Mexican labor. Under NAFTA, those who lose their jobs can expect little or no help in finding new employment, no financial assistance or health insurance after their layoff and no job training. Fortunately, NAFTA was somewhat crippled when a federal judge ordered that an environmental impact study must accompany the treaty before it is ratified by Congress.
Another example of profits over people is BankAmerica, which reported record profits for 1991 and 1992. How have they done it? When BankAmerica’s current round of layoffs is complete, only 19 percent of its work force will be full-time help. Most of the others will work less than twenty hours a week and thus receive no benefits and no pension.
The pension and retirement plan problems add to the mess. General Motors owes its pension fund $11 billion, having used the money to sandbag financial leaks elsewhere in the corporation. Retirees, many of whom absolutely depend on their pensions, may not be guaranteed their full benefits. If these pension plans fail, the government insures individual benefits up to $28,000 a year, which could lead to a bailout much like the recent savings and loan debacle. The total shortfall in employee pension plans in the U.S. stands at $50 billion, up 25 percent from last year.
These three examples barely scratch the surface of the problem. Amos, called by some commentators the "prophet of social justice," foretold of these conditions in the nations of Joseph.
Hear this, you who swallow up the needy, and make the poor of the land fail, saying, "When will the New Moon be past, that we may sell grain? . . . Making the ephah small and the shekel large, falsifying the balances by deceit, that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—even sell the bad wheat?" (Amos 8:4-6)
But God sees their unfairness and promises retribution: "The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: ‘Surely I will never forget any of their works’" (verse 7).
I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and He said: "Strike the doorposts, that the thresholds may shake, and break them on the heads of them all. I will slay the last of them with the sword. He who flees from them shall not get away, and he who escapes from them shall not be delivered. . . . Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob." (Amos 9:1, 8)
Such crimes as are being committed against the working people of America will lead to God’s wrath against the nations of Israel. Yet, as always happens with God, there is a bright side:
For surely I will command, and will sift the house of Israel among all nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve; yet not the smallest grain shall fall to the ground. . . . I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them. . . . I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up. (verses 9, 14-15)
That day of wrath against Israel is just ahead. We have our part to play in hastening it to relieve the poor and needy (II Peter 3:11-13).