Amos 3:7 reads, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” I know this because it was a Seminary scripture, a Missionary scripture, and perhaps the most important Latter-day Saint proof text in the entire Old Testament. At different points in my life, I have used it to “prove” that the Church is true because it has prophets, that revelation is and has always been important, and that God is a woman and her name is Shirley. It is really a remarkable proof text.
And like most proof texts, you can use it for a long time without having any idea what it is saying. Or who is saying it. For most of the years that I quoted him regularly, I had no idea who Amos was or why he said stuff. I would have been completely unprepared if someone had asked me, “what sorts of things did Amos say? And what did the Lord share with His prophet?”
But context matters. And the context of Amos matters a lot. He was one of only a handful of prophets who worked in the Eighth Century rather than the Sixth, and most scholars rate the Book of Amos as the oldest of the prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible. Even though it appears towards the end, it really represents the beginning. And though Amos he hailed from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, he prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He was, in other words, an alien.
And what did he prophesy about? Mainly he prophesied about the people forgetting their God and about the way that their society treated the poor and disenfranchised—and, as Amos presented the issue, these were the same things:
Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name: And they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god. (Amos 2:6-8)
It was sort of the major theme of prophecy in the Old Testament. Jesus didn’t invent the idea that God’s most important requirement of a society is to care for its most vulnerable members. This is important to Christianity because it was important to the Prophets that Christ read and quoted. It is the job of the people in a society to comfort the afflicted. It is the job of the prophets to afflict the comfortable.
This is the job of prophets in the Book of Mormon, too. Or at least of the one that Jesus specifically referred to when He showed up. Like Amos, Samuel was an alien—a Lamanite among Nephites. And after his first round of prophecy, Samuel couldn’t even get back into Zarahemla. He had to stand on the wall (yes they had a wall, because of course they did). Samuel stood on the wall and said what prophets are supposed to say in societies of great wealth and dire poverty:
Behold ye, the people of this great city, and hearken unto my words; yea, hearken unto the words which the Lord saith; for behold, he saith that ye are cursed because of your riches, and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them, and have not hearkened unto the words of him who gave them unto you. Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches, not to thank the Lord your God for them; yea, your hearts are not drawn out unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities. (Helaman 13: 21-22)
Latter-day Saints, I fear, often become so wrapped up in establishing the organizational need for prophets that we ignore the spiritual need for prophecy. We confuse the incidental functions of a prophet—such as overseeing the day-to-day management of an organization—with the essential function: forcefully reminding anyone who will listen that remembering God and creating a society that cares for vulnerable people are actually the same thing. That is what prophecy means–and in a world of wars, walls, refugees, and hearts set firmly on riches it is exactly what we need.