Today’s writing is comprised of three messages of judgement against Israel, with Amos indicting Israel for a false understanding of their status as God’s chosen people. The messages show a progression towards judgement. This first message from the Lord warns Israel that just because they are God’s chosen people, they are not exempt from His judgement. Instead, they will be held to a higher standard than the surrounding nations. God reminded them that He was the one who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. And Israel is the only family or nation God has chosen as His. They had privileged status and they took advantage of that. Now God would punish them. Verses 3-6 represent Amos speaking of his call to prophetic ministry and he uses a series of rhetorical questions that must be answered in the negative. Amos’s walk with God was evidence that his message was in accord with the direction of God’s plans for Israel’s judgement. His messages would have God behind them, meaning what Amos says will happen to Israel. God is the lion who roars and He had already found His victim; the people of Israel who are ripe for judgement. The trap here pictures the consequences of Israel’s sin. They fully deserved the judgement Amos proclaimed, and he has proclaimed that God sends both the good and pleasant plus the harmful and painful. God the lion roars from Mount Zion and compels Amos to prophesy.
Amos invited the leaders of Ashdod, a city in Philistia, and Egypt to gather around the city of Samaria to see its chaos and oppression. Samaria appeared strong on the outside but they were rotting and crumbling on the inside. There were a multitude of class struggles and division. These enemies would take advantage of Israel’s weakness. Israel’s wealthy had gotten wealthy because of their neglect and brutality against the poor and helpless. While Ashdod and Egypt may attack Israel, their real enemy was Assyria. They were the only superpower in the region. Shepherds were responsible for their sheep. When one went missing or was killed they had to account for those sheep. So, when a wild animal attacked, a piece of the sheep was somehow rescued to prove it was eaten and not stolen by the Shepherd. But, the people of Judah and Israel believed that because they were God’s chosen He would intervene and rescue them. Not this time. Instead their rescue would be like the Shepherd who arrived too late to save the sheep and can only pull a leg or piece of an ear from the lion’s mouth. So as complete as the destruction would be of the sheep by the lion, so complete would Israel’s destruction be. Many of the wealthy Israelites also had expensive homes in Damascus because they traded their goods there as well. But whether they were in Samaria or Damascus did not matter. All would be judged and punished accordingly. Perhaps a few would survive, a remnant. Amos was to make the announcement to all Israel, which meant Israel and Judah. By referring to the Lord as the God of Heavens Armies, Amos is portraying God as the ultimate commander. This is the God of the universe not some local deity made by human hands.
The altars at Bethel were first built by Jeroboam after the nation split into two kingdoms. Jeroboam built the altars and the golden bulls to worship, leading the northern kingdom right smack dab into idolatry. The shrine here mixed the worship of the Lord with pagan idols. When the altars were destroyed the Bethel shrine, the king’s officials sanctuary, and the northern kingdom would also be ruined. If we go back to 1 Kings 1:50-53 we will read about the horns of the altar being the last refuge for a condemned person. To cut off the altar horns rendered the altar useless for religious purposes. The four houses mentioned in verse 15 all represent symbols of oppression. Many small inheritances were stolen to form the large estates of the wealthy and powerful, where they built their opulent houses.
Chapter 4 speaks to punishment for abusive people. Here Amos holds Samaria’s wives accountable for urging their husbands to perform ruthless acts in order to provide them with money for their parties. Bashan was famous for their fierce fat bulls but Amos here uses the feminine form…cows…to paint a picture of Israel’s upper class wives, who cared little for the poor. Their only concern was to extract enough wealth from the needy to support their own consumption. Holiness speaks of God as existing outside of and independent of creation. His nature is wholly other than what he has created. The Assyrians were known for their inhumane treatment of war captives. Typically they led prisoners of war away by hooks or rings in prisoners noses or lips. Ropes were passed through these rings tying people together. The women of Samaria trusted that the city walls would protect them but the image of broken walls was a picture of the thoroughness of destruction of the city and the homes they held so dear. Amos is full of sarcasm when describing how far Israel had strayed from God’s ways. He lampooned their worthless piety at the altar Jeroboam built at Bethel. Gilgal was also a popular shrine at the time of Amos and Hosea. Israelite males were to appear before the Lord at the sanctuary three times a year. Tithes were usually paid annually and a special tithe was paid every three years. Amos was making the point that the Israelites were religious to the point of absurdity but they balked at being godly.
Leavened bread was for daily consumption but the more primitive unleavened bread became a sacred symbol, commemorating Israel’s affliction as Slaves in Egypt, the Passover, and their hasty departure from that land. Unleavened bread became altar bread. But the burning of leavened bread in the sacrifices was strictly forbidden. God sent natural disasters to bring His people to repentance, but each time they failed to respond in any sincere manner. Amos ended the account of each disaster with the refrain, “but you still would not return to me says the Lord.” God had used plagues to convince Egypt to let Israel go and He promised to bring the plagues of Egypt on Israel if they continued to turn away from Him to worship pagan gods. And as the plagues with Egypt, the ones against Israel increased in magnitude and intensity. The thought that God would treat His chosen people just like He did Sodom and Gomorrah was shocking to Israel’s theology. Verse 12 is striking in its intensity. Because Israel had not returned to God through these five plagues or calamities now they would have to meet God Himself. But to be confronted by the God they had scorned and rejected would be a fate more terrible than Israel could even begin to imagine. While verse 13 appears to be a hymn fragment, perhaps sung by the worshipers at Bethel, Israel had been treating God as a Baal. God whom they would face in judgement is all powerful. Amos seemed to ground God’s right to exercise judgement on Israel on His character as the Creator and Sustainer of all the earth. God is sovereign.
Chapter five is a lament and call to repentance. This is a funeral song with the rhythm of a dirge. The ominous significance was clear. Israel had already died and now awaited burial. When used to describe political powers virgin refers to a state of being unconquered by a foreign power. This verse is a reversal of the promises in Leviticus 26:8. Israel has been deserted, left in an open field, which would have been a disgrace and an indignity. Verse four changes directions. The Lord invites Israel to return to Him and live. It is clear that in order to live Israel should seek the Lord. In order for us to live we also need to seek the Lord. Otherwise the funeral song would become Israel’s death sentence. Beersheba was another patriarchal site, think Abraham in Genesis 21:33, 22:19. This site had also been made into a shrine, like Bethel and Gilgal. Again the Lord invited the Israelites to return to Him and live. Here the northern kingdom of Israel is referred to the house of Joseph, or Ephraim. Verses 8-9 are also hymn fragments with Amos emphasizing the difference between the cosmic God and local gods. In the ancient world stars, celestial bodies, and constellations like Orion and the Pleiades were regarded as deities . Amos said no! These were created by the one true God and they were not to be worshiped. Only God was to be worshiped. The ancients had also observed a process they did not understand…evaporation and condensation. But the Lord controls nature.
Again justice plays a role here. In both verses 7 and 10 we read of justice perverted, justice twisted and a loathing of honesty in the courts. Israel’s courts were controlled by the wealthy and they were dependent on corrupt judges and hired witnesses. They wanted nothing to do with what was truth, only for what was profitable for their causes. Witnesses pleaded they saw nothing and heard nothing. Being truthful was a liability and it could have endangered the lives of those who spoke it. Amos was relentless in his targeting of the wealthy. They lived in houses made of cut stones which was extremely expensive handiwork. The poor lived in mud brick houses. Amos was even more insistent. Israel must do what is right and good in order to survive. If the people could manage to do this maybe then God will have mercy on the remnant that is what is left of the northern kingdom. They were still God’s people in spite of their idolatry and rebellion. Grief will be widespread and destruction certain because of the disobedience. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Everyone will be weeping and wailing. The pronouncements of sorrow here develop two themes. First Israel’s apostasy would make the day of the Lord a day of judgement, not salvation and second, Judah’s spiritual complacency would also bring judgement.
Amos wrote “what sorrow awaits you” , detailing despair brought on by great tragedy. The day of the Lord was a time when God would intervene in the world to set right those things that had gone wrong. God’s intervention would mean vindication for the righteous and judgement for the wicked. But the Israelites had been disobedient and the day of the Lord would bring darkness, not light. The darkness came in the Assyrian invasion in 722 B.C. The rest of the chapter deals with the Israelites religious hypocrisy. God would not accept the offerings of the Israelites because they were simply attempts to manipulate Him into doing as they wanted. What Israel brought was neither true repentance or faith. After dismissing Israel’s empty worship as noisy and tumultuous, God called for the honest tumult of the rolling waters of justice and the perennial stream of righteousness, the only foundation for true praise and worship of the Lord. God wanted continual not seasonal justice. Although the people of Israel claimed that God had to bless them because of the Sinai Covenant, Amos demonstrated that they had been fundamentally pagan from the very earliest days of the covenant.
Israel’s relationship with God was based on true devotion that yielded obedience. Sacrifices representing repentance and faith could repair a breach made by sin, but it was not a substitute for a life lived in accordance with God’s Word. The names in verse 26 are most likely of unknown pagan gods, with the kings god perhaps being Molech, god of the Ammonites. Since Israel insisted on worshiping other gods, including astral deities, God would send them into exile to lands where these deities seemed to rule supreme. Israel was exiled beyond Damascus, Syria’s capital to regions of Assyria and beyond.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W