Turning from God’s judgment of the surrounding nations (Amos 1-2; see here for remarks), the prophet’s message now focuses on God’s people Israel. Chapters 3-6 constitute the largest section of Amos and contains sharp criticisms. These warnings are applicable, not only to Israel then, but to the Church today. We ignore them to our peril. Read on.
Amos 3:1-2 sets the stage for the entire book of Amos. Israel had been chosen by God to be in his family. Israel had been saved from bondage in slavery. Israel had become recipients of God’s grace. All of these blessings are no less true of the Church, so the message of Amos is our message today. What is that message? It is this: with the privilege of belonging comes a responsibility to behave.
God asks rhetorical questions to illustrate one point. Every effect has a cause. Every warning has a corresponding danger. Every fire has smoke and every sin has judgment. In other words, there are no
coincidences in God’s moral universe. God communicates his moral will to his people and he uses circumstances as his words. He is not distant nor indifferent. History’s unfolding is not merely a set of unrelated, unconnected events that randomly manifest based solely on human choices and natural events. “When disaster
How the poor are treated by the wealthy matters (Amos 3:9–10). How justice is served up matters (Amos 5:10-12, 15). When homes for the rich are icons of economic oppression (Amos 3:15) or opulent banquets point to a complacent attitude toward poverty (Amos 6:4-7), God will not turn a blind eye to social injustice.
A theological point to be made here is that politicians, economists, and the wealthy are not in charge of a nation’s destiny. Rather, it is the Sovereign Lord who uses economies, wealth, and politicians as instruments of his relentless love to correct the moral ship whenever it sails off course. Could it be that prosperity is an instrument of God’s impending judgment rather than a sign of his blessing? Amos teaches us that God does not just sit back and watch his creation revel in pleasure, but can in fact use nations, economies, and leaders as means of correcting the moral course of events (Amos 3:9-11).
Chapter 4 opens with the indulgent women of Israel who are labeled “cows of Bashan.” The expression is not a slur per se. Bashan cattle were known for their excellent qualities from grazing in lush fields and being fattened for the slaughter. Similarly, Israel’s elite women had lived in the lap of luxury but are actually readying themselves for judgment. They were haughty, arrogant, and had a strong sense of entitlement. Their materialistic, self-indulgent greed only prepared them for the impending slaughter.
Not only were the women morally bankrupt, so too were Israel’s spiritual leaders (Amos 4:4-5). Pretense in ritual and hypocrisy in worship was a stench to God, causing the nation’s moral decay to worsen — the opposite of what true religion should do! The Sovereign Lord will not be part of anyone’s agenda and he will not be co-opted by anyone for some other ends (Daniel Carroll).
Despite the increase in prosperity, the moral condition descended so low that even suffering and pain, loss and famine, drought and crop disease, war and earthquake did little to get the attention of God’s people (4:6-11). Though calamity is often intended to raise awareness of sin and our need for God, not even misery and despair moves a heart bent on prosperity, comfort, and convenience. This oft repeated lament only highlights the incorrigible attitude of Israel, “Yet you have not returned to me declares the Lord.”
Another theological point to be made is that we must come to grips with the possibility that some disasters and calamities come from the Lord (see esp. 2 Sam 12:15). We don’t like speaking this of God, but Scripture says otherwise (Isaiah 45:7). Indeed, God says of himself (note the first-person), “I gave …. I withheld …. I struck …. I sent …. I killed …. I overthrew ….” (Amos 4:6, 7, 9, 10, 11). Simply because God’s people are recipients of God’s grace does not mean we will be favored above justice or escape his discipline. We would do well to remember that the same sin which enslaves unbelievers equally charms believers.
Jesus’s warning in Luke 13:1-5 regarding disaster may go unheeded, but it is still no less true; repentance is the only force that rises above disaster and changes the course of history (see Jonah). The message of Amos is the same.
In poetic style, Amos sings a funeral dirge lamenting the inevitable results of a people judged by God (Amos 5:1-3). Four elements from Amos 5:1-17 stand out.
First, complacency has set in. Despite thriving economies, fortified cities, strong governments, and the regularities of nature itself, indifference had taken its toll. In sweeping irony, no economy, government, city, or natural phenomenon would survive were it not for God! Every living being and every constellation exits under the providential care and divine permission of God. The fragile and contingent nature of all things was the very principle that Israel had forgotten. Life was too good to acknowledge this reality! When times are great, it’s easy to divert our attention away from our dependency and let complacency take hold.
Second, the same God who permits affluence and prosperity can equally take it away. The fate of an entire nation can be devastated by one word spoken from God! It was God who would “pass through your midst” and destroy it all (Amos 5:17). Not only is this true of Yahweh in the Old Testament, but this sentiment is echoed in the New Testament by Jesus (Matt 10:28) and by Paul (Rom 11:22). In all her prosperity, Israel failed to grasp her desperation and humiliation; her deep dependence on God. And in this failing, demise is inevitable (note a sense of finality indicated by the past tense, “fallen”, “deserted”, Amos 5:2).
Third, when systems are used as tools of oppression, God says, “Enough!” Heavy taxes and high rents imposed on the poor is sheer robbery. Why? Because it steals not only practical livelihood but human dignity. When intimidation by legislation is used to force harsh financial burdens on those who do not have the means to pay for their basic needs, then the very structures in place to help the disadvantage were being used to make things worse! It is morally indefensible to exploit the poor in the masses to shore up the wealth of a few (Amos 5:7, 10, 11-13). The justice of human courts may be subverted, but the courts of heaven cannot. In God’s economy, it is moral — not legal — grounds by which he judges a nation.
Fourth, mercy can still be found, but it is not free. Sincere worship is requisite to mercy (Amos 5:4-6; see also Hosea 6:6; Matt 9:13). A church built on pretense or hypocrisy is not a highway to heaven, but a road to hell. Repentance is requisite to mercy — not merely remorse or fear of judgment, but seeking after God by treating others justly. Repentance has an ethical dimension as well as a volitional and emotional one (Amos 5:14-15).
Amos 5:16-27 speaks to a naive optimism. A preoccupation with the future illustrates a shallow understanding of what the “day of the Lord” really means (Amos 5:18). True, the day of the Lord would bring salvation to God’s people, but it also portrays divine judgment. To focus on the former and ignore the latter shows a lack of wisdom and insight, compassion and understanding. Worse, it lacks an understanding of God’s character. Anyone who longs for the “Day of the Lord” must weep with tears for the lost, not proclaim, “It’s all good!” This one-sided view of the end of history is nothing short of escapism with a side of triumphalism thrown in for good measure. What is lost here is a failure to recognize that when Scripture gives us a vision of the future it is not only to encourage us with how things will be, but to call us to moral action now (2 Peter 3:11-12)! This is what Amos is saying. This is what God says to us.
Moreover, God objects to all forms of public worship where righteousness and justice are ignored (Amos 5:21-23; see also Micah 6:6-8). Ignoring the social dimension of treating others justly makes worship irrelevant and putrid (see Matt 23:24)! Amos came to remind God’s people that God makes good on his promises (see Deut 28:36-37; Amos 5:26-27). Why? Because with the privilege of belonging comes a responsibility to behave.
Chapter 6 repeats the principle that prosperity can yield complacency. The aristocracy (those with wealth and power) are no better off than the impoverished governments nearby (Amos 6:2). Governments who side-step responsibility to help the oppressed brings only judgment to themselves (Amos 6:1-7). When governments turn a blind eye to the needs of the people they’re intended to serve, the doors of disaster swing wide open (on the legacy of Israel’s king, Jeroboam II see 2 Kings 15:8-31; three kings in one year and whole lot of drama in the decade that follows).
Military might and border security mean little when social justice is ignored (Amos 6:12-13). Strong defenses are no antidote to moral indifference. A nation’s sustainability does not lie in military strength but in moral strength (Zech 4:6). The fruit of complacency comes with a price to pay. A demonstrable concern for everyone’s welfare is the role of government.
God ensures the entire nation of Israel gets the message (Amos 6:14). The borders mentioned stretch north to south and encompass the continuous territory of Israel (Hamath is 120 miles north of Damascus; Arabah extends south of the Sea of Galilee). Just as chapter 3 began by calling out the “whole family” of Israel, this section ends with including the whole geographical space occupied by God’s people. No where to hide; no place to run when God’s judgment is unleashed. The party’s over!
Most of the remarks here are a curation of gleanings from Where Love & Justice Meet: The Truth of Amos for Today by Roy Clements.