Today is all about woes and warnings. Since Amos was mainly a prophet to the northern kingdom it seems a bit surprising that Jerusalem is included too, but Amos is simply showing that God shows no favorites. Anyone who rebels against God will experience judgement and sorrow. Amos uses both Zion and Mount Samaria to indicate the two citadels of the two capital cities. At this time in their collective history they had enjoyed a period of both economic and military prosperity. All of the people were smug and self important. They believed God would not let them be harmed and that the cities were indestructible. Once again they were relying on their own strength instead of the Lord’s. The cities of Calneh and Hamath were Arameans cities that were under Israelite influence. Calneh fell to Assyria in 738 B.C. And Hamath was forced to pay tribute shortly there after. Uzziah had broken down the wall of Gath but that city also fell to Assyria in 711 B.C., only 11 years before Israel fell. Amos told them they were no better than anyone else. There were many who insisted that Israel was too strong for destruction to fall on them anytime soon. But It is more likely that Amos meant Israel’s behavior hastened the violence of the Assyrian conquest. It could also be that he was referring to the everyday violence that the wealthy and powerful visited upon the poor as a means of pushing the thoughts of coming disaster from their minds.
Once more we see Amos’s sarcasm as he referred to the wealthy and powerful. He describes the extravagant living of the wealthy, gotten because of their abuse of and theft from the poor. Meat was a luxury for most families of the ancient Near East and it was only served to honored guests. The rich ate it every day. The upper classes of Israel were so engrossed in their own privileges and luxuries they cared little for the affliction of their fellow Israelites, even though it was their transgressions that caused it. The common food for the majority of the people was bread, fruits , vegetables, and dairy products. Verses 5-6 continue on with the description of decadent living, here describing drunken revelry. The music was trivial and those who played instruments thought they were as proficient as King David was. Drinking wine by the bowlful paints quite a picture. The word for bowl here is related to the Hebrew verb that means to sprinkle or splash. This same word was used to identify the basins used for sprinkling blood or water in religious ceremonies, adding a sense of sacrilege to this description of their drunkenness. It was clear the impending destruction of Israel meant nothing to them. As a result, God would take these folks into exile first and there would be no more luxuries, fine food and wine, or independence. They would be in the same place as those they had spent a lifetime oppressing.
The most solemn oath the Lord could pronounce was in His own name, and we see that here. Amos called Him the Lord of heaven’s armies, making the Lord the ultimate commander in chief. The Lord spoke against Israel’s arrogance and Jacob’s pride. None of God’s people would escape His wrath and punishment. God would personally see to the destruction of Samaria and her proud inhabitants. Verses 9-10 depict graphically the wholesale slaughter by the Assyrian military conquest. When the relatives came to carry out the dead bodies the one left might refer to the last one alive who was sick or wounded but not quite dead. One might expect this last person alive to invoke the name of the Lord for help but before they could do so they were quieted and told not to invoke the Lord’s name. Those who remained were fearful of drawing the attention of the Lord to them even more. Those who had not believed God would come in judgement, would now be afraid of what further disaster God might bring on them. Cremation was not an Israelite practice so there is a bit of debate here about what verse 10 really means. Some believe this is not referring to actually burning bodies but instead lighting a memorial fire for the dead. Others read this verse and see a means of disposing a number of remains, rather than a cremation. Still others believe that since there was a large number of bodies to dispose of, cremation was in fact used to avoid putrefaction and the spread of disease.
By citing two obviously impossible actions in areas of life that all Israelites would have been familiar with, Amos was hoping to get the people to see the moral impossibility of Israel’s perversion of justice. Unshod horses cannot run over rocks without doing serious damage to their hooves and oxen cannot plow rocks. Amos is saying…this is how foolish you are. In fact, Israel could turn justice into poison. The people perverted what was just and right, turning it into something toxic and bitter. Worse yet, Israel’s pride in its military strength would be its downfall. Lo-debar and Karnaim were cities and areas Israel had regained in their time of military prosperity but they would be lost again to the Assyrians. And God promised that Israel’s punishment would fit their crimes of pride. From north to south, God would stand by and let Israel be defeated in battle. Then they would realize they were indeed puny in their own strength.
The rest of the Book of Amos is comprised of five visions. Three of them are a part of today’s reading. As you read it is helpful to compare these five visions to the judgements that Amos listed in 4:6-11, famine, drought, crop devastation, plagues, and destruction. The first two visions set up a mood of hopeful expectancy. God calls for judgement but then revokes it at the prophets intercession. Locusts were one of the plagues the Lord brought on Egypt. Great swarms of locusts invaded these lands, often in times of drought. The kings share, or the first harvest, went to the king as taxes. The later harvest or the main harvest was what the people were allowed to keep to support themselves and whatever animals they might have. But if locusts ate this crop starvation would follow. After this vision Amos prayed. One of the functions of a prophet was to be an intercession between God and the people. Amos prayed that the vision decreed in heaven might be stopped before it was accomplished on earth. And the basis for Amos’s petition was that he saw the true assessment of Israel’s position and knew they were not large and strong like they thought they were. Israel was not big enough to survive such at radical depletion. And the Lord relented.
The next vision was the Lords call for conflict or judgement by fire. To try by fire means that fire would have been both the instrument by which Israel’s guilt would be judged and the instrument by which their punishment would be carried out. This fire would come in the form of oppressive heat and excessive drought. This would also dry up the great deep, most likely a reference to the Mediterranean Sea. It may not actually mean this would disappear but more likely it pointed to large bodies of fresh water like the Sea of Galilee that Israel used to irrigate its fields. If it were to dry up the Mediterranean Sea the land would be devastated beyond hope. Again Amos interceded for the people and the Lord relented.
The third vision began just like the first two but this time the Lord allowed no intercession. The abrupt shift in outcome here contributed to the power of Amos’s message. The Hebrew word for plumb line is very similar to the word for groaning which means there would be great suffering when God held Israel accountable. A plumb line is a string with a weight tied to one end, used to establish a vertical line so that a wall can be built straight. Here the plumb line of God’s revelation in the law had been set in the midst of Israel for many generations. Now God would stretch that line to demonstrate just how crooked the people had become in terms of obeying His laws, statutes, and commands. Every vestige of the apostate Israelite religion, from the common high places to the royal shrine at Bethel would be destroyed. Isaac stood for Israel’s ancestors, the fathers of the nation. The use of Jeroboam could mean a couple of things. If it is Jeroboam I then this is a reference to the nation, the house of Israel. If Amos means Jeroboam II then this points to the royal household. Jeroboam II died of natural causes but his son, Zechariah was killed by the sword less than a year after he took office. This created instability in the northern kingdom and they never were able to overcome that. The rest of the chapter describes the corruption of the priesthood, reinforcing the point of the visions on either side of its judgement as inescapable. Amaziah misinterpreted Amos’s words as a threat on Jeroboam’s life and reported that as a call to revolt and not repentance as Amos intended. Amaziah shooed Amos back to Judah, assuming they would appreciate Amos’s words. He also intimated that Amos was looking to be paid for his preaching. Amaziah was not concerned at all that Amos had proclaimed a message from God, only that the king’s interests should be protected from this seditious prophet. According to Amaziah, the urbane and sophisticated Israelites did not appreciate the prophet Amos. Amaziah’s loyalties were clearly to the throne. He wanted to keep the king happy so that he could keep his job.
Amos’s answer to Azariah came in two parts. First he denied being a prophet by profession. He wasn’t even a disciple in training and there was no financial incentive to leave his current profession of shepherding. He was not trained in prophecy and his father wasn’t a prophet either. The word used here for Shepherd is not the same as is often used for sheep herders . This word is related to a word for cattle which suggests that Amos may have actually raised or bred cattle. And the sycamore-fig was commonly gathered for cattle feed. Amos was not motivated by financial gain. Instead he was motivated by the Lord’s voice to prophesy. Chapter 7 ends with a final word from the Lord for Amaziah and the Israelites. The first part was directed against Amaziah personally. The only way the spouse of an important official could become a prostitute would be if all her family and all her resources were taken away and she were left to fend entirely for herself. Amos predicted that this would happen to Amaziah’s family. Because Amaziah had tried to silence Amos, the Lord confronted him with a grim prophecy of what his life would be like after the Assyrian siege. He would loose his land. Its would be sold off and divided among new owners. He would keep nothing of his vast holdings. He would die in a pagan country, in this case Assyria. And he would die as an exile from his homeland.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W