Amos concludes his book of prophecy with a final vision of the Lord standing beside the altar, commanding to destroy the temple and kill all the people. The message of judgment — taught throughout the book — reaches a climax in this final chapter. There is no escape. All who rejected the Lord will be destroyed.
But there is hope for the future. There will come a day when the Lord will restore Israel, rebuilding the broken kingdom and returning the people to a land of peace and security.
The final chapter of Amos divides into two sections: the first showing The Judgment of God, and then the Restoration of God.
Through eight chapters, Amos has been repeating the same message to the people of Israel. You have disobeyed God, and turned away from Him.a Return to Him!
Stop taking advantage of your neighbors and return to Him!
Put away your immorality and return to Him!
Put away your idols and return to Him!
Care for the poor and return to Him!
And if you refuse to obey Him – if you refuse to return to Him — He will come back in judgment. Your wealth will be taken away, your houses torn down, and your people will be killed. Your nation will be destroyed as you are carried away as prisoners to a foreign land. Do not ignore the Lord’s warnings!
The Lord promised severe punishment for those who refused to listen to Him. But the worst judgment, above all, is the judgment of His silence. If you refuse to listen to the Lord, He will stop calling. You will search for Him and try to find Him, but He will have gone from you.
While we may not fear national exile, this message to ancient Israel is just as important for us in the 21st century. God has been warning His people throughout Amos’ messages. Now the judgment has reached a climax with four final statements:
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.
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!
Amos next delivers four messages from the Lord. There is grief over Israel’s impending doom, the land will be decimated, yet in the midst of this terror is a call to repent. There is still a chance for rescue if you seek the Lord! And the final message is of judgment for those who don’t return to Him.
One of our greatest dangers is for us to become caught up in our comfortable worlds. We follow what we think is right, forming a routine that should make us a “good person”. We may worship and serve at church regularly, but are we truly listening to God?
We can get so focused on ourselves that we fail to hear His voice. We no longer hear Him drawing us to the next step. We close our ears when we disobey God, wanting to wallow in our sin more than to come back to Him.
The problem is not that God isn’t speaking, the problem is that we have stopped listening. Our view of God shrinks to something small, safe, and manageable. We have lost touch with the true God who created the universe.
How big is your God?
The message of Amos 4 is directly addressed to the wealthy and complacent women, who have trampled over the poor in their rise to riches, and whose husbands cater to their every craving. They are satisfied and content, secure in their wealth and their religious devotion.
Amos pictures these women as cows, being fattened up for the day of slaughter. They have trampled the poor and made demands on their husbands. Their religious practices are a show of piety, but they are nothing more than hypocrites, with their false worship drawing them further away from God’s true standards. They lived like animals, and will be driven away like common livestock.
Although Amos’ message begins with the indictment of the wealthy women of Samaria, it soon shifts to the entire nation. Their worship has been false and they have ignored God as He has repeatedly called them back to Him.
God promised in His law that He would send them disasters if they turned from Him. And so He sent to them famine, drought, crop failure, pandemics, wars, and natural catastrophes. Yet despite all of these disasters, the phrase is repeated five times: “yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord”.
God has been calling, but they have been ignoring Him. Therefore, the time to repent is past. Prepare for judgment! God is not a simple formula or ritual for them to perform and then ignore. He is the creator of the world! He is the commander of Heaven’s armies!
It is easy to become secure in our comfortable world around us. When life is good, we look back at our job, our money, our relationships, and say that we are successful. But how does God measure success? And more importantly, where do we base our security.
Almost 3,000 years ago, God sent the prophet Amos to speak to a successful, wealthy people. They were secure in their powerful country, their devout religions, and their wealthy lifestyles. Yet God looked on them and announced that they were ripe for punishment! They had forgotten God!
Amos 3:1-2 Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.
Amos opens the chapter with a summary of his message. These are the people whom the Lord had led out of slavery in Egypt, through the desert, and into the promised land. He has guided, protected, and forgiven them throughout their long history.a
The Lord God had also chosen Israel to be His unique people. He chose pagan Abraham, his unlikely son Isaac, and his younger son, Jacob.5 These men fathered a nation that was unique to God and chosen by Him to be His special people. As the Lord reminded them in Deuteronomy, it was not because of their own goodness but because of His great mercy that He chose them. He chose to build a relationship with them!
But they rejected the God who led them. They received His laws and knew His commandments, yet refused to obey Him. Therefore, the Lord will come in punishment!
It’s so easy for us to point fingers! We can “armchair quarterback” everyone else’s problems around us, knowing that we would never do what they did! We sympathize when our neighbors have problems, but we often — if we are honest — also feel smug, thinking that “they must have had it coming”.
It’s bad enough to have these attitudes toward our friends and neighbors, but what about when our enemies have problems? We are so quick to judge! We forget our own problems as we applaud God’s judgment on those who “deserve it”!
Amos started out his message doing exactly that — he sounded out judgment against all of Israel’s evil neighbors. You can picture Amos’ Jewish audience nodding their heads and shouting “Amen!” to each failure and consequence that comes to each of their enemies! These enemies had been a problem for centuries, and they are now getting their payback!
But then the finger of condemnation comes closer to home. First to Judah, the neighbors to the south, then finally to Israel herself. Israel is even worse than her pagan neighbors, because they had God’s law, yet still rejected the Lord and His justice!
One of my favorite books has been The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. In the story, four British children are transported to a magical world of winter, which is under the power of a cruel witch. The central character is the lion, Aslan, who rules the world and has come to stop the witch’s tyranny, and one of the best descriptions of Aslan comes from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, as they tell the children about him:
“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”8
Amos presents a view of God that is far from safe! We see God in His greatness and judgment. Like a roaring lion, His voice is going out over the earth. He strikes the fertile pastures and destroys the strongest refuges.a
Amos 1:2 And he said: “The LORD roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers.”
The Book of Amos starts with an extended prologue, showing that all nations are guilty before Him. The pagan nations that surrounded Israel didn’t know God, yet they were still guilty in His sight. They didn’t have His laws, yet they failed to show human decency and compassion to their neighbors.
Amos also uses the repeated refrain, “for three transgressions, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment”. The Lord was not judging these nations for one-time failures, but for consistently rejecting His standards.b Therefore, God’s judgments are not only for the acts listed in these chapters, but for all of their wickedness and cruelty toward others.c
The surrounding nations are shown in this map here:
Amos 1:1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
The kingdom years of ancient Israel covered over 500 years of tumult. The events covered by Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles in the Bible often read like they could have happened during medieval times. We learn about some of history’s greatest heroes and worst villains. There are accounts of power and foolishness, intrigue and betrayal, and wisdom and faithfulness. Through all of these accounts, the world revolves around the kings and queens. The good and wise leaders lead their people through peace and prosperity, while the foolish and wicked rulers lead the people into wickedness and chaos.
The people of Israel had existed as a confederacy of twelve tribes until uniting in their wish for a king. God directed the prophet Samuel to their first king, Saul, in about 1100 B.C. Saul failed to obey God, and so the kingdom passed to David, a young shepherd from Bethlehem. David’s reign brought a golden age to Israel’s history, giving the nation expanded borders, peace from war, and, through David’s son Solomon, unequaled prosperity. At the height of Solomon’s kingdom, the nation of Israel stretched from the Mt. Hermon in the north to Sinai in the south, from the Mediterranean in the west, to the Ammonite and Syrian territory in the east. All neighboring nations were either allied or subdued by Israel during David’s and Solomon’s reigns.
Despite all of David and Solomon’s success, it took only one foolish act by Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, to shatter the united kingdom. As Rehoboam came to power in about 950 B.C., the northern tribes sent a delegation asking him to ease their pressure. Instead of granting their request, Rehoboam chose instead to stamp his authority and force them to submit. Jeroboam, who had led the northern delegates, now led them in breaking away from David’s dynasty, forming a separate kingdom. From that time on, the people of Israel were divided into two nations: the kingdom of Judah in the South, consisting of the two faithful tribes to David’s family (Judah and Benjamin), and the kingdom of Israel in the North, consisting of the remaining ten tribes.
One of Jeroboam’s first acts as king of Israel was to move the center of worship. The temple of God was in Jerusalem, where the people would regularly go to celebrate and offer sacrifices. But Jerusalem was also the capital city of Judah, Jeroboam’s rival nation. Therefore, he built two worship centers in the northern city of Dan and in the southern city of Bethel. Instead of directing the people to worship The Lord, he had two golden idols (of calves) built for worship. Jeroboam’s decision may have been politically astute, but he directly violated God’s laws by building idols and moving the people from true worship. These golden idols would be a stumbling block throughout the entire history of the northern kingdom.
The books of Kings and Chronicles tell about the succession of rulers over these two kingdoms. The descendants of David ruled over Judah in the South, with a (roughly) even split between good and wicked kings.a b The northern kingdom of Israel was much less stable. None of the kings followed God, and there was only one dynasty that lasted for more than three generations.
The Lord sent prophets to His disobedient people in order to bring them back to Him. He sent “speaking prophets”, such as Elijah and Elisha, to boldly preach His word with power and authority. But then, starting in the 8th century B.C., came the “writing prophets”. Not only did these men preach to the people, but they wrote down God’s message. Through the next 400 years, these men were faithful to write down God’s Word and to record their warnings to the people. Tradition has divided their messages into two groups: the four major prophets, containing the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, and the twelve minor prophets, containing the writings of Hosea through Malachi.c The prophets were not divided based on their importance or their stature, but by the size and scope of their message. The major prophets contained much larger writings and tended to cover a very broad scope of prophecy, while the minor prophets tended to have much shorter works, covering (usually) a much smaller scope. For example, contrast the 66 chapters of Isaiah to the single chapter of Obadiah!
It is my goal during the next few studies to look into the message of Amos, one of the lesser-known prophets.