The Burden of Amos
Special Series: Minor Prophets (#4)
I doubt that Amos ever thought God might call him to be a prophet. He was a simple sheepherder who lived about 750 B.C. in the village of Tekoa which was about six miles south of Bethlehem. This was during the days of the divided kingdom, when there was Israel to the north and Judah in the south. It was not an easy message that God gave to Amos. Israel and Judah had prospered, and with their new found luxuries came abandonment of God and the mistreatment of the poor by the rich. Also, the moral climate of the nation had degraded and political corruption was rampant. Finally, there was also religious corruption. Religious sentiment seemed to have been high, but not true devotion to the Living God. And so Amos is sent to announce God's judgment upon the nation. It is important to note that Amos was neither the first nor the last of a series of prophets that were sent to God's people with a similar message. God's judgment came in steps carefully calculated to induce repentance. God was very patient, taking over three centuries and sending a series of judgments up unto the fall of Jerusalem and the captivity of Judah.
There are some important lessons to learn in the prophets and their messages to a nation that was much like our own is today. Will we learn from Israel's mistakes? Or will we travel as a nation the same path away from God and His blessings?
Judgment and the Neighboring Nations
"The Lord roars from Zion, and from Jerusalem He utters His voice." (AMOS 1:2). Before turning his attention to the chosen of Israel, Amos is directed to sound forth the coming of God's judgment upon six heathen nations. The subject nations were: "Damascus" (Syria), "Gaza" (Philistines) , Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab. The reasons for God's anger vary, but include attacks upon Israel and horrible atrocities that followed, the breaking of covenants and betrayal of Israel, and various acts of cruelty, immorality and ungodliness.
Though God had given His written law and ten commandments only unto Israel, that did not relieve the other nations of their obligations to live moral lives. They were still responsible for their crimes and sin. While they were not accountable unto the Mosaical law given to Israel, they were accountable to God's universal moral standards including the responsibility to honor God as God (ROMANS 1:18-32; 2:14-16).
The Special Privilege and Responsibility of Israel
"And it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, and I led you in the wilderness forty years...Then I raised some of your sons to be prophets and some of your young men to be Nazarites. 'Is this not so, O sons of Israel?' declares the Lord...You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." (AMOS 2:10,11; 3:2). At one time Israel and God had walked together, but that is no longer possible in Amos' day "Can two men walk together unless they made an agreement?" (AMOS 3:3). The Lord and Israel are at odds now. The friendship has been broken because one of the friends has turned his back on the other. But without the friendship, the benefits are also gone. Israel has forsaken his best friend and is left without help.
It is easy for us to decry the evil we see in the world around us, just as I am sure it was easy for Israel to speak with disgust about the horrible things done in their neighbors' lands. But in doing so, we might be making the same mistake. So intent on seeing the evil in others we might forget our own shortcomings and be overcome by them. Simple neglect might not appear as bad as murder, but if it causes me to lose my relationship with God then in the end I am no better off. "For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (I PETER 4:17). Judgment will begin with the Lord's people. I fear that many of us will be unprepared thinking that as long as our lives are in somewhat better shape than the world that we will escape judgment for neglect, or selfishness, or greed, or some other "slight" sin.
Being Religious Not Enough
"Enter Bethel and transgress; In Gilgal multiply transgression! Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days...I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them..." (AMOS 4:4; 5:21,22). Amos informs the people that their worship at Bethel and Gilgal are empty. God does not accept them. It was a worship of the self-willed who entered into rituals of their own choosing and not as God had instructed. Golden calves had been set up and became the focus of worship in Israel. A false priesthood had been established, new feast days appointed and the people thought that God would accept it.
Today, as well, men are often not satisfied with the Lord's doctrine concerning worship. New means of worship are brought in and gradually become more and more acceptable. The emphasis becomes worship according to your choice instead of worship according to God's choice. These people, like the people of Jesus' day and our own as well, honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far removed thus rendering their worship vain (MATTHEW 15:8,9),
Call to Repentance
"For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel, 'Seek Me that you may live...Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the Lord of Hosts be with you, just as you have said...Perhaps the Lord God of Hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph." (AMOS 5:4; 14-15). Judgment could be avoided. There was yet time to repair the damages, but it must be on the Lord's terms and not man's. Too many want God on their own terms. It does not work that way. Sometimes we assume that the Lord's mercy will never be exhausted. That is a serious mistake because it lulls us into complacency about things that need to be changed.
It is a sad thing that many of Amos's day responded to the Lord's last calls to repentance with mocking and indifference. That nation was ultimately destroyed by their own stubborn minds. Will our own nation be any different? And the same questions that can be asked concerning nations can also be addressed to each of us as individuals.
When Opportunity Ceases Knocking
"Behold, the days are coming,' declares the Lord God, 'When I will send a famine upon the land, not a famine for bread or thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord. And people will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it." (AMOS 8:11,12). The spiritual and moral darkness with which the land would be left would be complete. Almost in panic, some would search in vain for the way out. Once it had been clear, but no longer. A serious thought is that there do seem to be points on no return; lines that if we cross them that we are incapable of finding our way back ; "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened...and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame." (HEBREWS 6:4-6).
A Beam of Hope
"In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the nations that are called by My name,' declares the Lord who does this." (AMOS 9:11,12). But out of the darkness and ruin the Lord will build something wonderful. David's house and throne shall be re-established. The new David is clearly fulfilled in Christ, the descendant of David. The New Testament confirms this (ACTS 15:14-18; HEBREWS 12:28). Jesus, the Messiah, is our hope and confidence.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 4.4; April 1997