National dynamics were at play with God's people when Amos appeared with his bold and blunt prophecies from "the Lord God of hosts." Amos, neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet (7:14), was simply God's workhorse to bear the burden of the divine message to a spoiled society. The message was as a lion's roar from Jerusalem to Mt. Carmel (1:2). Christians should be "tuned in."
In 765 B.C., the main players in Palestine were Judah and Israel - the Divided Kingdom - with Syria to the north, Philistia to the south, Tyre of Phoenicia to the northwest, Edom, Ammon, and Moab to the south and east. Amos, rugged farmer that he was, lists them off in order with divine insight of them and their sins - "for three transgressions, and for four."
Looming far to the northeast was Assyria, the instrument of God's punishment for the Ten Tribes in the not-too-distant future (722 B.C.).
As Amos farmed his sheep and sycamore figs in the starkly rugged area of Tekoa, twelve miles south of Jerusalem, Uzziah ruled in Judah as one of the few righteous kings. Jeroboam II waxed strong in Samaria from about 793 to 753 B.C., and although he was not righteous before God, by him the Lord preserved Israel for the time (2 Kings 14). Amos' colorful verse shows just how prosperously the affluent of Israel lived under his rule, underscoring Amos's message of doom, particularly for the Ten Northern Tribes.
The sins of the neighbors were bad, unhampered by the salty influence of God's word. Syria had "threshed Gilead with implements of iron." Gaza of the Philistines had foolishly beleaguered God's chosen family. Tyre had forsaken its covenant with Solomon. Edom's lack of pity and perpetual enmity toward his cousins aroused the wrath of God. The reckless character of Ammon was displayed when their warriors "ripped open the women with child in Gilead," and they would be punished. The hatred of Moab was so deep that their rulers ground up the bones of the kings of Edom into lime to be used in the monuments to their idols (chapters 1-2).
In time God would deal with Judah, "for three transgressions, and for four," but for now Amos explained that "they have despised the law of the Lord, and have not kept His commandments."
Now for Israel, whom God had delivered from Egypt, had saved from the Canaanites, and had blessed with milk and honey: how could they have so forsaken the Lord? The weight of their crimes against God made Amos the burden-bearer totter as a wagon overloaded with sheaves (2:13)! Their sins were severe, and their punishment would be severe (3:2).
The Northern Tribes never overcame the idolatrous sins of Jeroboam who corrupted the Lord's religion with those golden calves at Dan and at Bethel (3:14; 2 Kings 17:22-23). The result of their perverted worship was a twisted character among the people.
Father and son visited the same harlot as they drank the wine of idols. The Nazirites were seduced to drunkenness and the prophets hushed. The wealthy wives ("cows") of Bashan, reclining on their ivory beds and cushy couches, crushed the poor as they demanded more drinks of their husbands. The righteous were sold for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals. Bribery was the order of the day. The scales were falsified. The opulent palaces were storehouses of violence and robbery.
All the while they offered sacrifices, they celebrated their festivals, they sang their songs, and played their instruments. But God said, "I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them.... I will send you into captivity beyond Damascus..." (5:21-22, 27).
It's no wonder the priest at Bethel and King Jeroboam II did not like Amos and his prophecies. He gave them little hope. God had brought Israel out of Egypt and saved them from the strong inhabitants of the land (2:9-11). He had corrected them with famine, drought, blight, plague, and firebrands. All that was left for Amos to say was "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" (4:6-12).
The soft women would be led away with hooks. Those at ease in Zion, who had put off the day of doom, would be treated no differently than the other nations who knew not God (6:1-2). Their feasts would be turned to mourning, and their songs to lamentation. There would even be a famine of the words of the Lord (8:11). The tiny remnant left from Israel would be as the meat salvaged by a shepherd from a lion's kill, "two legs or a piece of an ear" (3:12).
"Can two walk together unless they are agreed?" (3:3). God could walk with Israel no more. For those who would walk with God, Amos shows the way.
One, justice moves at God's own pace. The basket of summer fruit in Amos' vision is a clear indicator that the end was near for Israel. However, two visions, visions of locusts and fire, preceded this summer fruit vision in which Amos pleaded Israel's case. A third vision, of a plumb line against a leaning wall, brings only silence from the prophet (7:1-8:2).
There are millions of people who mistake the patience of God for tolerance, who mistake God's longsuffering for safety (Ecclesiastes 8:11; 2 Peter 3:9). Amos emphasized an end to God's forbearance.
Two, the righteous will scarcely be saved. Out of ten tribes, only "a piece of an ear?"
Do not be dismayed if a brother falls into sin (Galatians 6:1), if you fall into severe trials (James 1:2-3), or if the number of the faithful is small (Matthew 7:13-14). Even the righteous line into which Christ was born is dotted with scandal (Matthew 1), but if the righteous have troubles, consider that the world is for sure lost! "Unspotted from the world" is the goal (James 1:27).
Three, the power of the world is great. Religious prostitutes, wine, merriment, wealth, ease, and disdain for justice and honesty composed a formidable enemy for the prophets and the people. The devil's forces in the world today draw the multitudes away, even from among those who have known God. We must not love the world (1 John 2:15-17).
And the fact that our religious neighbors may not be as depraved as the idolaters of Samaria does not translate into innocence. The apostle warned the Corinthians against gross sensualism AND against corruption of their worship (1 Corinthians 6:11).
The power of God is greater than the world - if we stay focused. "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).
Four, God gives hope to those who would seek Him. The last five verses of Amos' prophecy point to a time when the tabernacle of David would be restored and God could dwell among His people, when the people would be returned from captivity and when even the Gentiles would be called by His name. Amos points to the time of Christ!
But as Amos roared repentance or doom, so does Christ preach repentance from sin (Acts 2:38; Luke 24:47; Luke 13:3, 5), and John the Baptist, a wilderness preacher like Amos, had a strong message of repentance (Acts 13:24). Hope and personal repentance go together.
Five, "God rules in the kingdom of men." One by one, Amos reveals God's judgments against Israel's neighbors -- "for three transgressions, and for four." Especially would God be sensitive to a nation who claims "In God We Trust."
Not only should that nation be mindful of the source of its power and blessing, but also it should be aware that it could fall. God has many options for judgments against nations who turn their backs on the Lord God of hosts. My friends, "be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). Let Christians seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
- Biblical Insights, August 2012 (edited for space)