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encouragement theology

Have We Lost the Standard?

Amos 7

The news reports are full of political battles in our country. Politicians and reporters expound on what they think we should do for their neighbors, for businesses, and for our country, and for themselves. 

There are major battles across the country, yielding speeches and protests based on needs and injustices that weren’t properly addressed. The battles become heated when the speakers are confronted by another view, claiming that someone else is “right”.

But where do we get our measure for right or wrong? Is it some holdover from an ancient patriarchal society that is no longer relevant today? Are we copying what we learned from our parents, or trying to emulate some great influence from our past? Have we been challenged by our peers to rethink what is right and wrong, good and bad?

It’s easy to forget that there is an absolute standard of right and wrong. When we look at the history in the Bible we see that people were at their worst when they forgot that standard. The book of Judges in the Bible recounts one of the most difficult times in Israel’s history. There are shocking accounts of murder, rape, betrayal, genocide, and human sacrifice — all when people chose to ignore God’s standard! The final statement of Judges gives a summary of that time:

Judges 21:25
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

As we study through Amos 7, we see that God is again holding out His standard. He has sent the prophet Amos to His religious people of Israel to warn them of the coming judgment, using a builder’s plumb line to illustrate His standard. His way is the straight way, all others are crooked. 

The Three Visions

The chapter begins with three visions that the Lord gave to Amos.a

Amos 7:1-3
This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,
“O Lord GOD, please forgive!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
The LORD relented concerning this:
“It shall not be,” said the LORD.

The first vision was of an attack of locusts on the later growth. On a good year, there was a chance to sow and harvest crops two times during the summer. The king would take the first harvest, leaving the people to live off the second. It was during the most vulnerable time, when the plants were beginning to sprout, that a swarm of locusts would be especially devastating.b The millions of insects would destroy all of the fields, leaving the people to starve! 

Amos interceded for the people and the Lord commuted this judgment.c d

Amos 7:4-6
This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, the Lord GOD was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. Then I said,
“O Lord GOD, please cease!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
The LORD relented concerning this:
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.

The second vision was of a fire that “devoured the great deep and was eating up the land”. Commentators speculate regarding what type of fire could devour the sea and eat up the land. It could have been a spectacular disaster that was beyond Amos’ understanding (e.g. a nuclear attack), a hyperbolic description of wildfires or extreme drought, or it could be a poetic reference to a great disaster, such as famine. Regardless, the point of the second vision is that Amos again interceded for the people regarding this terrible disaster and the Lord relented.

Amos 7:7-9
This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass by them;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

The third vision was of a wall with a plumb line. God didn’t picture a specific disaster this time, but instead He showed Amos His standard. Carpenters used a plumb line when building walls to ensure that they were straight. Likewise, God is measuring Israel against His standard of straightness. 

The Lord has measured Israel and found her lacking (compare with Daniel 5:27). Her priests and kings have not been leading the people according to God’s straight standard, therefore her religious sanctuaries will be destroyed and war will come to the kings of Israel.e

“No words are needed when a wall is tested by the plumb line. If the wall is out of the perpendicular (out of plumb), it is at once manifest to the confusion of the workman. God’s unerring Word is such a plumb line. Unmistakably, it tests every soul, manifests every departure therefrom, and calls down judgment on the violator.” – H.A. Ironside1

Note that Amos did not intercede for the people after the third vision. God has shown His standard and they have failed. 

The Confrontation with the Priest

Amos 7:10-13
Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,
“‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.’”
And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

The second part of Amos 7 documents the confrontation between Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, and Amos. Amaziah was appointed by the king to oversee the religious worship over the royal shrines in Bethel.

Amaziah’s first statement was to the king, accusing Amos of conspiring against him. He ignored the Lord’s warning in Amos’ previous vision (Amos 7:9) and interpreted the message as an attack on the king. 

Amaziah then directly confronted Amos, commanding him to take his prophet business back home to make money and fame back in Judah. He was not welcome in the “king’s sanctuary”. He labeled Amos as a foreigner who was looking to make a living off the king’s people at his sanctuary.

Amos 7:14-17
Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now therefore hear the word of the LORD.
“You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’
Therefore thus says the LORD:
“‘Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’”

Amos’ response to Amaziah is one of the most famous passages of this book. He answered that he was a farmer, not a professional prophet.g See also the introduction to Amos for more details about Amos’ life and profession. But he was called by God so therefore Amaziah better listen!

Amaziah tried to silence the Lord’s messenger. Therefore, the Lord says this against Amaziah:

His wife will become a prostitute. She will be forced to sell her body in order to survive.

His children will be murdered by raiding soldiers.

His property will be divided up and sold.

And he himself will dragged away as a slave, ending his days in exile, along with the rest of his country!

“Amaziah had position, wealth, authority, and reputation, but Amos had the word of the Lord.” – Warren Wiersbe2

Conclusion

Amos 7 can seem to be disjoint, covering multiple visions, disasters that were avoided, a confrontation with a wicked priest, and even more predictions of coming judgment! What can we learn from this chapter?

The first lesson is to remember God’s holiness. He is measuring us by His standards, regardless of what our world looks like. God has been patient in holding back His judgment on those who rebel against Him — especially those who claim to follow Him. Most of the judgment in Amos 7 is against the wicked priests and the religious men who have left God to follow their own vices.

The second lesson is to pray for each other. Amos prays for his wicked and wayward countrymen, asking the Lord to forestall His most terrible catastrophes on the people. In this way, Amos was similar to Moses, who prayed for the wicked people when they built the golden calf in the desert (Exodus 32:11-14, Deuteronomy 9:18-19) and when they refused to enter the promised land (Numbers 14:13-19). In both of these cases, Moses pleaded with God to not destroy the people as rebelled against Him. We can learn a lesson from Amos, to pray to God for His mercy, even when people deserve punishment!

See the article here showing Daniel’s example of prayer and intercession.

And the final lesson is to remember that God can use anybody. Amos was a simple farmer, yet he obeyed the Lord’s command, even when confronting the top religious leaders in the nation! God doesn’t need the skilled or the educated, he needs those who are willing!

Previous post: To The Comfortable and Complacent


References

[1] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries: The Minor Prophets, Amos 7, TEACHING BY SYMBOLS

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: Old Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Amos 7, pages 1432-1433

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 7, Zondervan, 1985, Amos 7, pages 320-324

[4] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Amos 7, page 998

[5] James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, Baker Books, 2002, The Prophet from Tekoa, Amos 1:1-2; 7:10-17, pages 161-168

[6] James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, Baker Books, 2002, Five Visions, Amos 7:1-19; 8:1-9:10, pages 213-221


Notes

[a] Amos records five visions across chapters 7-9. The first three visions are in chapter 7.1

[b] God had used swarms of locusts as instruments of judgment throughout Israel’s past. The most notable occasions were during the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 10) and the advent of Joel’s ministry (Joel 1).

[c] “Amos joined that select group of intercessors, which includes Abraham (Genesis 18), Moses (Exodus 32; Numbers 14), Samuel (1 Samuel 12), Elijah (1 Kings 18), and Paul (Romans 9:1–3; 10:1–2).” – Wiersbe2

[d] “When God “relents” (“repents” kjv), it doesn’t mean that He made a mistake and has to change His mind. Rather, it means that He maintains His intentions but changes His way of working. A good illustration is found in Jeremiah 18:1–17.” – Wiersbe2

[e] The ESV translates the latter part of Amos 7:8 as, “I will never again pass by them.” This is a specific reference to God’s patience, and that He will no longer hold back judgment. Another way of translating this is “I will spare them no longer.” (NASB, NIV).

[f] We don’t fully know the basis of why Amaziah accused Amos of predicting Jeroboam’s death in Amos 7:11. Some commentators have speculated that either Amaziah deliberately lied to the king about Amos’ words or that Amos predicted the king’s death in another unrecorded prophecy. However, Amaziah’s accusation is immediately following Amos’ third vision, leading us to the simplest explanation, that he was simply twisting the words of the vision in order to suit his purpose. Therefore, the prediction that God would “rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” (7:9) is retold as “Jeroboam shall die by the sword” (7:11). Note that Jeroboam did not die in battle but in peace (2 Kings 14:23-29), yet his son Zachariah would die a violent death (2 Kings 15:8-10).1 

[g] The term, “a prophet’s son”, or “son of a prophet” designated a student at one of the well-known prophetic schools (see 2 Kings 2).2

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