The prophets were renowned for taking on the powerful when they perceived injustice, immorality, iniquity or the misuse of power. They were aware like no others of the consequences of such behavior. They knew that such behavior, when found in a country’s leadership, had the potential to undermine the nation’s integrity. Amos was a paradigm for this approach to power. As one of the earliest of the literary prophets, he challenged those who reigned. He understood that leaders served as a role model for the nation’s citizenry and knew that people watched and listened very carefully to what they did and said. This is why it is not surprising who Amos labeled as “sinners” and why he singled them out for the most serious punishment: “By the sword shall die all of the offenders among My people who say: ‘The evil shall not approach and come close to us.” (9:10)
What does Amos mean by this obscure prophecy? His reproach is aimed at those who convinced themselves that they were safe from the dangers facing the nation and counseled others to be equally complacent. By doing so, they brought trouble not only upon themselves but also on others who heeded their counsel. In other words, Amos singles out those who lead others astray for the most severe punishment.
Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) adds another element to the equation: “[This punishment applied to those who say] that the evil will not come quickly upon us so we can do as our hearts desire and if bad things do happen they will not be as a consequence of our actions but rather they will only be coincidental.” (adapted) Kimche seems even more angry than the prophet Amos. For him, not only does the evil doer deny the trouble waiting at the door, he also denies any responsibility for the fact that it is happening. Kimche castigates those who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Implied in these words is the idea that such a person is “Godless” because they hold themselves above ultimate accountability.
This prophecy alludes to the idea that leadership is not just a claim to power. Those who claim power but shirk the responsibility for what leadership is all about will ultimately have to pay the price. And leadership means ensuring that those around you are not led astray. It means not shouting out on rooftops irresponsible talk when such behavior will cause harm. For the prophet Amos, such leaders deserve the fate prompted by their sins.