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encouragement theology

To the Comfortable and Complacent

Amos 6

Under the reign of Jeroboam II, the nation of Israel had reached extraordinary wealth and success. They had peace from their enemies and expanded their borders.  A new class of wealthy citizens emerged who showed off their status through their possessions, including their gold and ivory mansions. But the people followed a religion of convenience and had no compassion for their less-fortunate neighbors. It was into this world that God sent the man Amos to preach His judgment. 

This is Amos’ fourth message to God’s people. The Lord had sent His warnings (Amos 3), and yet they had not listened. They minimized God as they built themselves up (Amos 4), yet he pleaded with them to seek the Lord (Amos 5). And now, this next message of judgment is directed to the complacent and comfortable Israelites. 

The message starts with two statements of sorrow (“woe”). The first sorrow is for the complacent, who were confident that God would never punish them! The people were filled with national pride, considering themselves the “first of the nations”. They were secure in the belief that God preferred them to their neighbors and would exempt them from His punishment. But they were no better than the great and mighty nations of Calneh, Hamath, and Gath — all who have met destruction at the Lord’s hand. They push away the warnings of judgment while they pull in their own violence and wickedness.

The second sorrow is for the comfortable, who lived their lives in luxury and leisure. They slept in lavish beds of comfort, eating the best of the flock, and passing their time in music, drinking wine, and the finest cosmetics. But while they rejoiced in their comfort, they had lost their compassion. Their neighbors are headed for disaster and they don’t care! They counted themselves first of the nations, yet they will be the first to exile. Their lives of comfort will be over as they are herded away into slavery.

But the core issue was their pride. They were consumed with themselves and their own accomplishments, and had forgotten that it was the Lord who saved them. They were caught up in their own greatness, yet the Lord swears them to punishment by the greatest thing possible — Himself! Their city will be taken and they will be totally destroyed. The people will fear to even call upon the Lord as their houses are demolished. 

Their pride has turned their justice into poison and their righteous acts only make the world more bitter! To expect justice or righteousness from them is as damaging as running a horse or driving a plow over slippery rocks! They take pride in their accomplishments, never realizing that they have accomplished nothing, and have no strength of their own!

Woe to the Complacent

Amos 6:1-3
“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel comes!
Pass over to Calneh, and see,
and from there go to Hamath the great;
then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
Or is their territory greater than your territory,
O you who put far away the day of disaster
and bring near the seat of violence?

Unlike the earlier messages, Amos 6 was directed to both the northern kingdom of Israel, with its capital city of Samaria, as well as the southern kingdom of Judah, with its capital city of Jerusalem (i.e. “Zion”). Both Jerusalem (Zion) and Samaria are included in the message here.

Their first failure was their complacency. They were at ease, feeling secure in their fortresses and believing that they were the first of the nations. They believed that they were the greatest nation, and that they had the monopoly on God’s favor. Yet the Lord compared them to the great nations of Calneh, Hamath, and Gath.a The following questions are rhetorical: they are no better than these kingdoms, nor is their territory any greater than their territories. The Lord’s message is direct: If He destroyed their neighbors for their wickedness, what makes them think that they will fare any better on the day of His judgment?

“If the enemy had already destroyed places bigger and stronger than Samaria and Israel, what hope was there for the Jewish people, especially when the Jews were living like the Gentiles and were disobeying the Lord?” – Wiersbe2

Verse 3 is ironic: they push away the warnings regarding the “day of disaster”, yet they bring close the “seat of violence”. They refuse the warnings while they add to their sins!

Woe to the Comfortable

Amos 6:4-7
“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”

Their second failure was their comfort. There is no inherent evil in luxury and leisure — even David was musical — but the people were obsessed with their comfort and refused to grieve over their friends and neighbors who were headed to ruin! They were comfortable, but without compassion!b

The irony of Amos 6:7 is that they saw themselves as the first of the nations (Amos 6:1). Yet they will be the first to go into exile.c

The Main Issue

They will be destroyed because of their pride

Amos 6:8-11
The Lord GOD has sworn by himself, declares the LORD, the God of hosts:
“I abhor the pride of Jacob
and hate his strongholds,
and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.”

And if ten men remain in one house, they shall die. And when one’s relative, the one who anoints him for burial, shall take him up to bring the bones out of the house, and shall say to him who is in the innermost parts of the house, “Is there still anyone with you?” he shall say, “No”; and he shall say, “Silence! We must not mention the name of the LORD.”

For behold, the LORD commands,
and the great house shall be struck down into fragments,
and the little house into bits.

Amos 6:8 has an amazing display of the Lord’s greatness, “The Lord GOD has sworn by himself, declares the LORD, the God of hosts”. This short phrase include three separate names for God, all showing His greatness: 

  • The Lord GOD” – Adonai
  • declares the LORD” – Yahweh
  • God of hosts” – Elohim Sabaoth

In addition, the Lord swears by the greatest thing possible — Himself! See Hebrews 6:13-18 for more about the significance of this promise when God swears by Himself.

But in contrast to the Lord’s greatness is man’s pride. Despite our great God, we continue to push up our weak and feeble selves, thinking that we are great. God hates our pride! Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven things that the Lord hates, beginning with pride!d e f

They have corrupted justice and righteousness.

Amos 6:12-14
Do horses run on rocks?
Does one plow there with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood—
you who rejoice in Lo-debar,
who say, “Have we not by our own strength
captured Karnaim for ourselves?”
“For behold, I will raise up against you a nation,
O house of Israel,” declares the LORD, the God of hosts;
“and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath
to the Brook of the Arabah.”

Their perversion of justice and righteousness make them as useless and damaging as running a horse over rocks or plowing over bedrock. The horse will likely slip and fall, damaging the horse and the rider. The only reward for plowing over bedrock is a ruined plow.g

They take pride in their accomplishments, calling out Lo-Debar (literally, “nothing”) and Karnaim  (literally, “horns”, or “strength”). They are proud of their feats of strength, but Amos says that they have accomplished nothing!

Lebo-hamath and the Brook of the Arabah were the northern and southern borders of the kingdom of Israel (see 2 kings 14:25).4  The Lord — the God of heaven’s armies — will drive them from their country — from the North to the South! 

Conclusion

Israel and Judah were guilty of complacency and comfort without compassion. They were happy with their lives and looked forward to God’s best for them. But their confidence was misplaced. They expected the Lord’s blessing and protection on them because they believed themselves to be the greatest. They looked down at their pagan neighbors when God punished them, failing to see that they had the same problems!

Combined with their arrogance was their lack of compassion. They couldn’t break out of their own lives of comfort to care for their brothers who were headed to destruction!

This message is sobering when I look at my own life. I am ashamed to think of how many times I am guilty of the same failures as ancient Israel. 

May God forgive us for our arrogance. When disaster befalls our neighbors, do we reach out to them, or do we look out in pride, thinking that “I’m glad it’s not me!” Do we mentally check off our own goodness, telling ourselves that God is protecting us because we are so good? Thank God for His protection over you, but don’t let pride take root in you, thinking that you are better than others!

May God forgive us for our lack of compassion. We live comfortable American lives, but do we truly grieve over our fallen friends and neighbors who are headed toward God’s punishment? Have we reached out to them with love, helping to bring them to Christ?

1 Peter 5:5b
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Philippians 2:5-8
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Previous post: Seek The Lord!


References

[1] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries: The Minor Prophets, Amos 6, AT EASE IN ZION

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: Old Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Amos 6, pages 1430-1432

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 7, Zondervan, 1985, Amos 6, pages 317-320

[4] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Amos 6, pages 997-998

[5] James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, Baker Books, 2002, At Ease in Zion, Amos 6:1-14, pages 204-212

[6] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Scourge for Slumbering Souls, November 3, 1861 


Notes

[a] We don’t have much information about Calneh. It is probably the Calno in Isaiah 10:9, which also tells of its destruction.4 Hamath was a region of Syria, which is related to the prophecy against Damascus in Amos 1:3-5 (see here). Gath was one of the major Philistine cities, which had been destroyed by Amos’ time (see also here).

[b] “The wealthy also enjoyed elegant feasts, eating lamb and veal, drinking wine in abundance, enjoying beautiful music, and wearing expensive perfumes. The poor people, whom they exploited, couldn’t afford to kill tender lambs and calves, but had to settle for occasional mutton and beef, perhaps from a sacrifice.” – Wiersbe2

[c] Neither Israel nor Judah were the first conquered nations to go to their respective exiles, so the “first of those who go into exile” in Amos 6:7 cannot be chronological. The first here most likely relates to prominence. They will be the most well-known victims of their exiles.

[d] The parenthetical section of Amos 6:9-10 shows the extent of the destruction. The earlier judgment (Amos 5) predicted ten survivors for every hundred. Now, even the ten remaining men will die.

[e] The conversation inside the destroyed house in Amos 6:10 is difficult to interpret. The best understanding of this sentence, “Silence! We must not mention the name of the LORD”, is that the Lord’s judgment will be so severe, that they will fear even speaking His name.2 4

[f] The description of the great house and little house in Amos 6:11 indicate the totality of the destruction. The term could either represent both the rich and the poor (i.e. “the mansions and the slums”), or it could represent the winter and summer houses of these rich and pampered Israelites (similar to Amos 3:15). Another possibility is that it is a poetic reference to both Israel and Judah, in that the two houses represent both nations which will be destroyed.

[g] Some translations have translated the phrase in Amos 6:12 as “Does one plow the sea with oxen?” (NIV). It is a more difficult translation to assume the sea, but the point of Amos 6:12 is still the same, their perverted justice is as useless and damaging as running over rocks or plowing the sea.

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