Amos was a contemporary of the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Jonah. He prophesied in the days of King Uzziah (or Azariah) from Judah, and King Jereboam 2 from Israel. While Uzziah was generally faithful, Jereboam (like all Israel’s kings) did evil in the sight of the Lord, although his reign brought material prosperity (2 Ki. 14:25-28). Amos primarily addressed unfaithful Israel during this time, when many were accumulating personal possessions but were not rich toward God. Let’s look at a brief outline of Amos and his lessons for us. Broadly speaking, the two sections of this prophetic book include Amos’ declarations (Amos 1-6) and his visions (7-9). The Lord roars like a lion to begin the pronouncements of Amos: “He utters His voice from Jerusalem ... and the top of Carmel withers” (1:2 NKJV). Mount Carmel is on the northwest coast of Israel’s kingdom, at the same latitude as the Sea of Galilee, so this picture indicates that the Lord’s judgments will burn across all Israel. Declarations of Judgment God’s justice is universal, so He does not fail to notice the transgressions of six nearby nations (1:3-2:3), followed by the sins of Judah (2:4-5). In each case the Lord promises to send the fire of His judgment against them. The repeated phrase “for three transgressions, and for four” suggests an ongoing propensity for wickedness; moreover, the Lord names each nation’s particular sins of violence or injustice. We often lash out at the first sign of wrongdoing, but the Lord tends to allow a course of evil to develop over time. As a result, when He acts, it is clear that His ways are righteous, for iniquity has been filled up to the brim (Gen. 15:16; 1 Th. 2:16).
Then the declarations against Israel begin (2:6-12). God speaks in great detail about their greed, immorality and idolatry. In the past, the Lord had delivered them from the Amorites in Canaan and from the Egyptians when they were enslaved. He had caused some of them to be prophets and others to be Nazirites, allowing them the privilege of being devoted to Him. Yet the people were not interested in following Him.
Therefore He declares that judgment is coming (2:13-3:15), again emphasizing lionlike ferocity. First, there is a series of rhetorical questions, including this one: “Will a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?” The questions conclude poignantly: “If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?” (3:4,6). While tragedies are not always specific judgments of the Lord (Lk. 13:15), we should still search our hearts when we face them. This ought to have been the mindset of Israel, yet in spite of the Lord’s warnings they did not respond. In the coming judgment, a remnant of the people would be preserved, but so few that it would be like “a shepherd taking from the mouth of a lion two (sheep’s) legs or a piece of an ear” (3:12). They had trusted in false altars and false worship, and all of this would reach its end.
To further explain His reasons for judgment, the Lord specifically addresses the wealthy, selfsatisfied “cows of Bashan” in chapter 4.* They oppressively crushed the needy while demanding satisfaction for their own desires. They piously brought sacrifices to Bethel and Gilgal, which were now centers of idolatry (1 Ki. 12:28-33; Hos. 9:15) rather than to the spiritually significant places of generations past. God had warned these selfabsorbed people through famines, droughts, crop diseases, physical plagues, and even the overthrow of some cities. Each time, however, we hear His echoing lament: “Yet you have not returned to Me” (4:6-11). As the judgment nears, He warns them, “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (4:12).
Even in the midst of such strong words, the Lord welcomes those who seek Him: “Seek Me … Seek the LORD … Seek good … It may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious” (5:5,6,14-15). God desires to be found (Jer. 29:13-14), which should encourage us even when we have failed. A refusal to seek Him, however, brings “wailing in all streets” when the day of the Lord comes, overwhelming the self-righteous by His persistent judgment (5:16-20).
The nobility are warned in chapter 6. They should have been leading effectively, but instead they focused on personal comforts, ignoring the afflicted and believing that God’s justice was far off. As a result, God caused them to lead the people as the first ones to be taken into captivity (6:3-8). When the calamity arrived, people would not even want to mention the name of the Lord, as if that would attract further judgment upon them (6:10). This does not indicate a restful confidence in a gracious God! It shows how far the people had departed from knowing His true nature.
Judgment would afflict the whole nation, from Hamath in the north to the Valley of the Arabah (Hebrew for “desert”) in the south (6:14). “The entrance of Hamath” likely refers to an area farther north than Galilee. God originally intended the people to possess it (Num. 34:8), and Jereboam had finally reestablished Israel’s control from Hamath to Arabah (2 Ki. 14:25). This dominion appeared to indicate God’s blessing; instead, that same precise region was under His explicit judgment. We can achieve great things on our own, but they are worthless if done without regard for God’s righteousness.
Five Visions of Justice
Amos concludes with five visions. In the first, Amos saw locusts devouring the late crop after the king had taken his portion, meaning the people would have nothing. The second vision showed a terrible fire consuming the land. Twice Amos interceded for the people, and the Lord responded in mercy, declaring that He would not judge in those ways. But the third vision portrayed the Lord standing on a wall with a plumb line. He would certainly assess Israel with the straight line of justice; none would escape His evaluation (7:1-9).
The fourth vision, (Amos 8), concerned a basket of summer fruit, no doubt a familiar sight to Amos. The image was probably a pleasant one, but the Lord used it to indicate that the end had come upon Israel (8:2), just as the produce had been harvested at summer’s end. Again He enumerated their sins and promised a day of mourning instead of celebration, a time of famine for God’s Word which the idols of Dan and Beersheba could not satisfy. This day was partially fulfilled when Assyria conquered Israel about 70 years later, but the description suggests an even greater day of judgment yet to come.
The fifth vision in chapter 9 focused not on some object but on the Lord Himself, standing by the altar. His judgment would begin in the temple, and no one would escape, even if someone could dig into hell or climb into heaven. Years before, David had been comforted to know he could never get beyond God’s care (Ps. 139:7-10); yet the similar expressions here are not comforting, but fearful. Still, the Lord can never forget His people. The sinful kingdom may be dispersed like chaff from a sieve, but not even the smallest grain will be lost. The future day of the Lord will restore the glory of David’s house, which in Amos’s time seemed as insignificant as a “ tabernacle … fallen down” (9:11). Captives will be returned to a productive land where God will plant them, and even Gentiles will experience God’s blessing (9:12-15).
Four Lessons From Amos
1. Amos was a devoted servant of God who earnestly fulfilled his calling. His normal work involved sheep and sycamore figs, yet the Lord took him from those tasks and told him to prophesy. Even when the false priest of Bethel wrongly accused Amos of plotting against the king, Amos persevered (7:10-17). He knew the urgency of his task: “Surely the LORD God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (3:7-8). Are we hesitant to speak the words of the Lord when we learn them from the Scriptures? There is no special status required to spread His message. Let’s be as true to this calling as Amos!
2. The next lesson concerns religion without reality in the hearts of the people.They regularly brought sacrifices to idols. Theirs was a “designer” religion that pleased their own sense of spirituality (4:4-5). They recklessly wished for the day of the Lord, as if they would be vindicated by His presence. Instead, the Lord detested their feasts and offerings, for their hearts had no relationship with Him (5:18-23). They either undermined or else rejected outright the testimony of the Lord through prophets or Nazirites (2:11-12). Some outwardly observed the Sabbath and other feasts but secretly despised them because they could not do business (8:5). In a startling comment on the people’s history, we learn that they had carried idols with them all through the wilderness in the days of Moses (5:25-26). Sometimes unrighteousness has a root cause from long ago that must be dealt with; and the danger of religion without reality still afflicts God’s people today.
3. Growing out of this self-centered piety was a sense of entitlement to wealth, leading naturally to the oppression of the poor. The harsh sarcasm about the “cows of Bashan” indicates God’s disgust for this attitude (4:1). The leaders of the people reclined on expensive furniture and ate sumptuously while the cause of the afflicted went unnoticed (6:1-6). Those who despised the Sabbath also cheated in business, taking advantage of the needy so they could have a new pair of shoes (8:4-6). Yet the Lord desired not songs from the people’s lips but justice and righteousness like mighty streams from their hearts (5:18-24). It seems a principle of both Old and New Testaments that one essential way to demonstrate a relationship with the Lord is to show concern for the downtrodden (Rom. 12:16; Jas. 1:27-2:9; 1 Jn. 3:17).
4. The final lesson concerns the nature of God Himself. He is a universal God, observant of every nation. On the one hand, He knew their sins and applied His justice (1:3-2:3). On the other, His nurturing care not only brought Israel out of Egypt but also took the Philistines and Syrians out of their respective places to new lands (9:7). Amos even anticipates Gentiles being called by the Lord’s name (9:12) – a remarkable statement that will be fulfilled in Christ’s millennial kingdom but applies to the Church as well, as James attested in Acts 15:14-19. While God certainly has a unique relationship with His own special people, whether Israel then or the Church now, it is good to remember that we are not the only ones He considers. This stirring view of God’s consistent character should arouse our hearts to be devoted to Him, as was Amos.
* The word for “cows” here is feminine, leading some Bible translators to conclude that these are specifically the rich women of Israel, who tell their husbands (or “lords” in Gen. 18:12) to bring them wine.
By Stephen Campbell
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org