Part 4: Amos: A Corrupt People and a God of Fury

Posted on June 28, 2018

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By David Ettinger

Note: This series was published in the magazine Zion’s Fire a few years back. I offer it here for anyone interested. I plan to run one article a day for 13 days. Being magazine articles, obviously each post will be longer than my usual blog length. 

Name of Book: Amos 

Author: The prophet Amos 

Meaning of Author’s Name: “Burden Bearer”                                                                

When Written: It appears that Amos prophesied for only one year, which could have fallen anywhere between 762 and 755 B.C. (was either a contemporary of Hosea, or preceded him by a few years). 

Themes

  • The dangers of materialism
  • Mistreatment of the poor and needy
  • God’s judgment on wickedness
  • The restoration of Israel

Political Background
book of amosDuring Amos’ short time of prophecy, Israel – both the Southern and Northern Kingdoms – was experiencing great prosperity, but for different reasons. In the south, King Uzziah (790-730 B.C.) was a godly king who upheld the Mosaic Law and was rewarded for it. The Northern Kingdom, however, to whom Amos preached, was a different story. Despite his four-decade reign, King Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.) was a wicked and idolatrous king whose practices darkly influenced his people. However, during his rulership, Israel’s foremost enemies – Aram and Assyria – were in decline and in no position to mount military campaigns against Israel. This left the trade routes at Jeroboam’s disposal, and wealth started flowing into his kingdom. With booming business came the creation of an upper class which built large, ornate homes to complement their excessive and self-centered lifestyles. The wealthy began to oppress the poor, often enslaving those who could not repay their debts. Religiously, Yahweh worship was little more than lip service, the sacrifices at the shrines mere spectacle. 

Key Verses

  • Amos 4:13: “For behold, He who forms mountains, and creates the wind, Who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning darkness, who treads the high places of the earth – the Lord God of hosts is His name.”
  • Amos 5:24: “But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
  • Amos 8:11-12: “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord God, ‘That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find ’”

References in the New Testament

  • Amos 5:25-27 (Acts 7:42-43)
  • Amos 9:11-12 (Acts 15:16-17)

Synopsis
The book of Amos begins with one of the great “opening lines” in Scripture: “The Lord roars from Zion, and the top of Carmel withers” (1:2). Next, as if a modern courtroom, the prophet broadcasts a list of heinous crimes committed by Israel’s neighbors for which they will face certain judgment.

The list of heathen transgressors gives way to the next guilty party, the Southern Kingdom of Judah, of which Amos declares: “… they have despised the law of the Lord, and have not kept His commandments. Their lies lead them astray, lies which their fathers allowed” (2:4). In short, the Lord will judge Judah – the Southern Kingdom – for forsaking Him. The prophet then points his finger of accusation at the Northern Kingdom, and there is much accusation to be made.

tablets of lawIts crimes include: 1) horrible mistreatment of the poor by selling those who could not pay their debts into slavery (2:6); 2) father and son sharing the same woman sexually (either a servant girl or shrine prostitute) (2:7); 3) flaunting the Mosaic Law by permanently confiscating from impoverished debtors items intended for collateral (which should have been returned at sunset) (2:8a); and 4) worshiping other gods (2:8b). Because of these sins, God will punish His people. He decrees: “Therefore flight shall perish from the swift, the strong shall not strengthen his power, nor shall the mighty deliver himself” (v. 15).

In chapter 3, God elaborates on the punishment, which will come in the form of an oppressive enemy. For the Northern Kingdom, the foe will be Assyria; for the south, Babylon. To the Northern Kingdom, God says: “… in the day I punish Israel for their transgressions, I will also visit destruction on the altars of Bethel; and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground.” Make no mistake about it: God is angry! Bethel is, along with Dan, where the Northern Kingdom’s first monarch, Jeroboam I, established calf idols for the people to worship so they would not travel to the Temple at Jerusalem and hence return their allegiances to the south. Not only did the calf-idols divide the kingdoms religiously, but served more than anything else to stoke the Lord’s righteous fury. He vows to destroy the idols and their accompanying altars.

In chapter 4, we read one of the most scathing verses in all of Scripture as the Lord thunders: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring us wine, let us drink!’” (v. 4). The culture is one of wealth gone astray as the prosperous sit at ease upon satin-lined couches in their luxurious abodes, feeding themselves like cows in lush pastures. Much of their wealth has been gained at the expense of the poor, heartlessly oppressing and crushing the most fragile of Israeli society. We also see the weak husbands of the wealthy “cows” reduced to servitude as they pamper their spoiled spouses.

An infuriated God will not endure such wickedness: “Behold, the days shall come upon you when He will take you away with fishhooks, and your posterity with fishhooks” (v. 2). It is one thing to be led away captive in chains, but fishhooks through the nostrils – and yes, this is literal – is the height of humiliation.

Before the Lord executes this frightful justice, He reminds Israel of the warnings He has given her to turn her from her sin. These warnings include hunger, famine, drought, thirst, crop destruction, locust invasions, plague, and the death of young men through warfare. Despite this, the people of northern Israel have remained recalcitrant: “Yet you have not returned to Me” (v. 6). In fact, the people are so blind and stubborn that the prophet repeats this phrase four more times in the chapter. God’s patience is quickly evaporating as He warns His people, “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (v. 12).

Yet, for all His anger, the Lord is patient with Israel. He tells her, “Seek Me and live” (5:4, 6). Later in chapter 5, God again reasons with the northern Israelites, imploring them to, “Seek good and not evil, that you may live … establish justice at the gate. It may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (vv. 14-15).

lyreDespite God’s efforts to turn Israel back from her sin, He knows she won’t repent, and hence the rekindling of His fury in chapter 6. He cannot conceal His disgust of the affluent, condemning those who “… lie on beds of ivory … sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David … drink wine from bowls, and anoint yourselves with the best ointments” (vv. 4-6). Such loathsome behavior moves the Lord to impassioned anger: “I abhor the pride of Jacob, and hate his palaces” (v. 8).

In chapter 7, the Lord gives Amos frightful visions of Israel’s destruction. Overcome, the prophet pleads with the Lord to be merciful. The Lord relents, stating He will indeed punish Israel, but will not totally destroy her.

Amos then relates a confrontation with the apostate priest Amaziah, who was appointed by King Jeroboam II. Amaziah accuses Amos of discouraging the citizenry of northern Israel through the myriad of his fire-and-brimstone sermons. Amaziah tells Amos to return to his home in Judah and take his denouncements of doom with him. Amos replies that he has not sojourned to northern Israel on his own volition, but has ventured there on the Lord’s bidding (more on this under “Of Note.”) However, as a final word, the undaunted prophet tells the renegade priest, “And Israel shall surely be led away captive from his own land” (v. 17).

In chapter 8, Amos reiterates Israel’s extensive crimes, highlighting her oppression of the poor and hatred for the Sabbath and New Moon celebrations. The people loath Israel’s feasts and religious days because they are prohibited from conducting business on those days. They say: “When will the New Moon be past, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat?” (v. 5). God created the New Moon and Sabbath as days of rest, worship, and goodwill, but the Israelites have desecrated what the Lord has created as good.

In seething anger, the Lord again declares judgment on Israel: “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 … I will set My eyes on them for harm and not for good” (9:1, 4). And yet, there is always the promise of restoration, as the Lord says, “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” (v. 8).

anceint israelThe prophet then switches focus to the end times when he says, “At that time” (v. 11) “At that time” can read this way: “At the end of the age, when Israel is restored.” What will happen at this time? This: “I [the Lord] will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them’ says the Lord your God” (vv. 14-15).

How do we know this is the end times? Because these things have not yet been fulfilled. Israel returned following Babylonian captivity, but was again banished in A.D. 70 and 135. And so, in the end, God will redeem His people Israel. 

Aftermath: The Northern Kingdom would lose its wealth as Aram and Assyria regained their power, waged war against Israel, and devastated the people. Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom and exiled her people in 722 B.C.

Significance for God’s People Today

  • Wealth, specifically, the desire for it, can harden Christian hearts and blunt sensitivity toward God. Christians need to view wealth as a blessing from the Lord and use it to expand God’s kingdom.
  • Has God sent warnings into your life to turn you back to Him? Circumstances such as sickness and loss of income are most often natural events, but can also be used by the Lord to get your attention. Evaluate your life to make sure you are walking with the Lord as you should be.

Implications for the World Today

  • In addressing Judah, the prophet could just as well be addressing the West today when He says, “For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment,
    because they have despised the law of the Lord, and have not kept His commandments” (Amos 2:4).
  • And how about this sobering condemnation: “Woe to you who put far off the day of doom,
    who cause the seat of violence to come near; who lie on beds of ivory, stretch out on your couches, eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall … but are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph [substitute “the West” for “Joseph”]. Therefore they shall now go captive as the first of the captives, and those who recline at banquets shall be removed” (6:3-4, 6-7).

Of Note

  • amos textSome of the Lord’s strongest, sternest, and most severe language can be found in this book.
  • Amos the “non-prophet.” Whereas men such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea were “professional” prophets (as their decades-long terms of ministry indicate), Amos was, by his own admission, not a “professional” prophet. During his showdown with Amaziah, he says, “I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a sheepbreeder and a tender of sycamore fruit. Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me,
    ‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel’” (Amos 7:14-15). So, by profession, Amos was both a shepherd – though the Hebrew indicates he was more like a herdsman or cattleman – and a grower of sycamore fruit. Amos appears to have been a successful businessman whom God summoned from his home in Tekoa (1:1), about 10 miles south of Jerusalem, and sent 45 miles up to the Northern Kingdom capital of Samaria.
  • Up Next: Part 5: “Obadiah: Pride and Arrogance Brought Low”
  • Part 1: “Introduction: The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets”
  • Part 2: “Hosea: Adultery, Judgment, and God’s Grace”
  • Part 3: “Joel: Behold the Day of the Lord”