This is the first installment in a series on the book of Amos (for references used, see Resources below). Nothing technical here. These posts are intended to highlight some key theological themes (what we can learn about God) and some practical implications (what we can learn about ourselves and our world today). My aim is precise and my scope is narrow. Though Amos is packed with far more than what these posts will cover, I’m hopeful you’ll find this series helpful by (at least) increasing your familiarity with this oft-neglected book of the Bible.
Things had gotten bad in the divided kingdom….really bad. Israel and Judah were about as corrupt as nations get. Kings, governors, citizens alike were dolling out one injustice after another to the marginalized, the poor, and the disenfranchised. Humanity was viewed as a mere means to profitable ends — and in the name of religion! Despite material prosperity, God’s people had become indifferent to justice for all. So, using a reluctant shepherd from Tekoa (just south of Jerusalem) God pronounces impending judgement on the northern kingdom of Israel and the surrounding nations. This book is dated just a few decades before Israel’s inhabitants are taken into captivity in what is known as the Assyrian exile (722BCE). Roughly 130 years after the events recorded in Amos the southern kingdom of Judah failed to learn from her neighbors to the north and and also came under God’s judgement. They too were taken into captivity in what is known as the Babylonian exile (586BCE).
We are told repeatedly that God is long-suffering, patient, kind, and ready to forgive whenever we sin. And Scripture bears out these truths! Yet, the book of Amos paints with a broader brush. One cannot read Amos without seeing that God has lost his patience with his people. Enough is enough! As “Sovereign Lord” (used 38 times in the book) he is Judge of all. Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Israel, and Judah all experience the limitations of God’s mercy.
On the one hand, it’s comforting to know that God judges others; that is, when you are not part of the “others” God judges. But the sword of justice cuts in both directions (how could it do otherwise and remain “just?”). It was not so much idolatry that provoked God in Amos; it was crimes against humanity. And it is not simply other nations that are judged; it is God’s people who are judged. As models, Judah and Israel were to be examples to the neighboring nations. Instead, Israel especially turned a cold heart to the oppressed and failed to show the compassion and mercy of a just God. Amos teaches us (at least) that belief in God does not exempt God’s people from judgement. We’re also taught that genuine faith manifests in how we treat others. What we do matters! The lesson: “Beware the fury of a patient God!”
I. Message to the Nations & Israel (Amos 1-2)
II. Message to Israel and Its Leaders (Amos 3-6)
III. Visions of Amos (Amos 7:1-9:10)
IV. Message of Hope (Amos 9:11-15)
“This is what the LORD says to Israel:
‘Seek me and live.’”
“Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.”
“But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Most of the remarks here are a curation of gleanings from Where Love & Justice Meet: The Truth of Amos for Today by Roy Clements and the NIV, Archaeological Study Bible, Hardcover: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture.
The outline above is taken from the BibleProject, which has an excellent 7-minute video overview of the book. I highly recommend it. Do take time and watch it.
Images are sourced from the BibleProject site.