AMOS: A Herdsman Speaks For God
Amos was not a man of high status, but it is clear from his own assessment, and from the attitude of Amaziah the priest, that he was something of a nuisance. Amaziah did not engage in debate but rather told him to go away to Judah. Amos, a herdsman and gatherer of wild figs, retorted: “The LORDtook me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel’” (Amos 7:12-15 NKJV). His mission was to the northern kingdom of Israel.
Like Abraham, Moses and David, Amos learned how to care for God’s people by caring for animals. That training prepared him to diagnose the spiritual and moral ills of his own and surrounding nations, and then pronounce God’s judgment upon them. It could not have been an easy task. But Amos had already forecast the death of King Jeroboam, and after Amaziah’s attempt to dismiss him, he warned him of his own death and the shame in store for his family (7:10-11,16-17). Would we have the courage to warn governments and leaders of their forthcoming doom?
The nations around Israel and Judah were rebuked for their cruelty and their hostility against God’s people. They hated Israel and Judah, unaware that they were under the judgment of God. Later on they suffered along with Israel under the invasions by the Assyrians, Syrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and the Romans. As then so now, they are still unaware that they are soon going to fall under God’s judgment by the armies of a combination of all these powers as the final phase of the Roman empire sprawls across the world map.
If aggressive cruelty was the sin of Israel’s neighbors, Israel and Judah were guilty of an even more heinous sin against God and their own people. By human reasoning, neglect of God’s Word doesn’t count as a serious crime. But God’s estimation through Amos was that it caused all other sins: “They have despised the Law of the LORD, and have not kept His commandments” (2:4).
Israel quickly followed suit and, silencing the prophets and causing the Nazirites to forsake their vows (2:11-12), they also forsook the Law of God for the sake of expediency under the first king Jeroboam. When God’s people reject the Law of God sin spreads. When God’s people live as if the Bible does not matter, all peoples are affected and lawlessness spreads. The salt, having lost its saltiness, becomes useless and corruption sets in (Mt. 5:13).
Being entrusted with the Word of God is a great privilege that also carries with it a heavy responsibility. At the end of his book, Amos’ warning echoes down through the ages and once more convicts the people who profess to follow the Lord Jesus: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD God, that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord … They shall run to and fro, to seek the Word of the LORD, but shall not find it” (8:1112). We must ask ourselves whether, through neglect, we have not done the same and are suffering the consequences.
Speaking of the various nations under judgment, Amos used a strange but poetic sounding language – and not simply for effect. There was a stark and cold reality when Amos said repeatedly, “For three trangressions … and for four” (1:3,6,9,11,13; 2:1,4,6). It was phraseology unique to Amos but it was not a quirk of dialect. The numbers carry a weighty significance to which we do well to take heed.
Three is the number of completeness. It is also the number of abundant witness. So it is that the three transgressions were enough to put that nation under judgment. They demonstrate that their iniquity was complete and final (Dt. 17:6; 19:15; Mt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1). Four is the number that shows us how sin is a corrupting force which taints all others in contact with it. Think here of the principle of the leaven and how corruption spreads until the whole is putrid. When Eve was tempted and “despised the Law of the LORD,” corruption began to spread. By the end of the preflood age, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Amos 2:4; Gal. 5:9; Gen. 6:5).
A Things like this never change. Sin brings moral, mental, physical and social corruption. Governments today think that all they have to do is improve the schools, train more social workers and police, and everything will get better. They have been doing all these things for many years and still the social and political gangrene spreads. The only time that moral improvement occurs is when a society takes up the Word of God. The only way to build a just society is when God’s Laws are written on the fleshy tables of the heart and men want to be good and work to make it so (Ezek. 36:25-27; 2 Cor. 3:3).
Peter confirmed this principle when he wrote, “The time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and … with us first” (1 Pet. 4:17.) We need not bewail the lack of Bible teaching in schools. We ought rather to mourn the lack of Bible teaching in the churches.
This theme of the sins of Israel, her luxuries and pleasurable activities, continues through chapters three and four: “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” (5:21-22). Does “judgment run down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” (5:24) in our churches? If not, then it certainly will not in the halls of government. And which of these, houses of prayer or government, is most responsible before God?
Amos saw a basket of summer fruit, and God told him: “‘The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore. And the songs of the temple shall be wailing in that day,’ says the LORD God” (8:13). The sad, sorrowful cry of Jeremiah for that same treacherous and rebellious people echoed God’s words to Amos: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved … I am mourning; astonishment has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jer. 8:20-22).
The prophecy of Amos is a logical, closely reasoned argument. The final chapter tells us how the judgments of God lead to a sifting, so that at last God brings in an age of blessing and peace. There is to be a sorting out of the righteous from the evil, so that the nation of Israel may realize God’s promises. The “Tabernacle of David” is being raised since there is “at this time a remnant according to the election of grace” (Amos 9:8-9,11; Rom. 11:5; Acts 15:13-18). These are the saved of Israel who become members of the body of Christ.
After the Church has been taken up to be with the Lord, there will be another remnant, saved from out of the Great Tribulation. Then “the mountain of the LORD’S House shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it” (Isa. 2:2). In that day “a King will reign in righteousness” (Isa. 32:1). The time of peace and happiness long dreamed of will at last arrive when Israel finally mourns for Him “whom they pierced” (Zech. 12:10).
These prophecies have more than one application, but only one final fulfillment in those last days. The verses from Amos 9:1115 will be more gloriously fulfilled when the Lord Jesus finally returns to the Mount of Olives and to Jerusalem, when “no longer shall there be utter destruction, but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited.” In the meantime, while waiting for His glorious appearing, we should act as watchmen on the wall and warn of coming judgment, whether they will hear or not (Zech. 14:11; Ezek. 3:17-21; 33:19).
By Roger Penney
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org