Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail. (Amos 8:4)

God is speaking of the exploitation of the poor. I feel it is important for us to realize how God feels about the poor of this world. I have experienced being poor. My dad died when I was fourteen, and it was up to me to support my mother and sister. I had to secure a special permit to get a job. Then, after I was converted and felt called to the ministry, some folk took an interest in me and helped me get through school.

In the days of Amos, God accuses them of even making “the poor of the land to fail.” That is, the poor were brought down to such a low poverty level that they never could escape from it. The poor always suffer more acutely in a godless nation — I don’t think that statement can be successfully contradicted.

Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? (v. 5)

God knew what was in their hearts. “The new moon” and “the sabbath” were holy days on which business was not transacted. God is saying that even when the rich went to the temple to praise God, they were so greedy and covetous that they were thinking about business the next day and how they could make more money by cheating their customers. They not only practiced their sin during the week, but they carried it into the temple. What a picture this gives us of Israel in that day — and of modern man as well.

That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat? (v. 6)

The poor even had to sell themselves into slavery. That was permitted in that land under the Mosaic system. They would buy the needy for a pair of shoes — that’s how cheap they were! And they would sell the poor the refuse of the wheat. That means they got the “seconds,” the leftovers which an honest dealer throws away. I have never felt right about giving old clothes to help the poor in the church. I have never felt they should be given the leftovers of anything. Remember how David said, “…neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing…” (2 Samuel 24:24).

It is no accident that the Lord Jesus, when He was here on earth, sat and watched how the people gave in the temple. Was that His business? Yes. And He is interested in how much we give to Him and how much we keep for ourselves.

Maybe the reason I love this man Amos so much is that he talks my language. He was a poor man himself, and he says the thing that I understand. You see, Amos is explaining why Israel was like a basket of summer fruit. The goodness of Israel was just as perishable and just as soon deteriorated as summer fruit. One evidence of this was the way they treated the poor.

—From Edited Messages on Amos by J. Vernon McGee