Whereas chapters 1-2 begin with God’s judgment of the nations surrounding Israel, chapters 3-6 focus on Israel and a warning of impending judgment. The language in these chapters becomes more threatening as God’s judgment on Israel is immanent.
Beware the fury of a patient God (Amos 7:1-9)
As I’ve said previously, God is patient but he is not eternally tolerant. This means, at least, that we would be mistaken to assume God’s long-suffering is the same as apathy. Patience is not indifference. Amos 7:1-6 teaches this. God may relent (i.e., repent), but that does not necessarily involve escaping his judgment, or certainly lowering his standards. In fact, just as prosperity can masquerade as a sign of blessing only to be used as God’s instrument of discipline (see previous post), so too can God’s patience be a prelude to the unfurling of God’s wrath (see esp. Romans 2:4-5). For instance, while courts allow for harsher judgments on first-time offenders, it would be pretentious for offenders to expect leniency their first go round, just as judgments on repeat offenses often show. When God is provoked, his patience is not indifference (on God changing his mind, see my “Does God Really Change His Mind?“).
Note also that Amos pleads with God not to bring down judgment (Amos 7:5). Consequently, God relents because Amos prayed. This does not mean, however, that God can be manipulated to change his plans. This is to say that prayer is a means God has already factored into the blueprint of events that unfold in time (on the intersection of prayer and God’s providence, see here). While prayer is always necessary, it is not always sufficient to keep God from unleashing his fury. Prayer may in fact be the means God uses to avert his judgment!
“Enough!” (Amos 7:7-9)
Using a plumb line, God insists his standards will not be compromised and that his judgment is real. Notice God speaks directly of himself, “I will…” When complacency toward sin sets in, God gets personal. We would do well to remember there is a point of no return (Hebrews 6:4-6) and “there is a sin that leads to death” (1 John 5:16), the consequences of which no amount of repentance can undo (see Hebrews 12:17). God’s patience has limits.
EXCURSUS: Complacency does not occur overnight. It requires time; lots of it. Justice is also related to time. It’s not just doing the right things; it is doing the right things at the right time. If Israel’s leaders had been persistent in treating others fairly at the time of their need and not consistently neglecting them, then God may have shown mercy. So too, with us. God expects us to respond to others’ needs with the means that we have where it is feasible and reasonable to do so and in the time of their need. Otherwise, we risk becoming complacent.
The plumb line illustrates God’s building standards for our moral lives. It also suggests that, just as an entire building can be off if the foundation on which it is built is not level, so too can decay and ruin spread throughout an entire nation that fails to keep God’s moral standards. One small step in the wrong direction can set the trajectory for ending up at the wrong destination!
Withholding judgment may give ample opportunity for change, but there is a time when God says “Enough!” While we may not (indeed cannot) know where the line is drawn and the point-of-no-return exists, the fact that we do not know should be sufficient to motivate (see esp. Amos 9:10)! Peter says as much and his words are no less true today than when they were written almost 2,000 years ago.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare (2 Peter 3:9-10).
“God will not be silenced!” (Amos 7:10-17)
Amos goes head to head with established religion, which was full of pretense, pride, and politics. In a few twists of irony, the lead religious person of Israel (Amaziah) conspires with king Jeroboam II to silence God by charging Amos with conspiracy! The strategy is to accuse Amos of political sedition who was foretelling the death of the king and the capture of the king’s subjects, the nation of Israel. Though Amos spoke for God, it was Amaziah who interpreted Amos’s words to mean that it was Amos who was going against the king (“Amos is raising a conspiracy”…”this is what Amos is saying” vv 10-11). How better to silence God than to gag those who speak for him!
Amaziah uses intimidation by mocking Amos’s credentials, seeking to discredit him through humiliation (Amos 7:12-13). Amos responds by admitting he has no credentials, except that he is called by God to speak for God (Amos 7:14-15). Much like Jonah or Moses , Amos did not apply for the job of prophet. It was not a career change he sought. But when God speaks, Amos listens. God says “Go,” and Amos goes. God says “Speak,” and Amos speaks. Obedience is the only qualification God requires. No establishment, official, or king can keep God from speaking through his people. God will not be silenced. Though Amaziah seeks to silence God, Amos responds in a sheer act of defiance, by prophesying for God (Amos 7:16-17)!
“Who Says So?” (Amos 8:1-14)
It’s important to recognize that without authority, moral imperatives carry no weight. Moreover, unless penalties are exacted, then moral imperatives lose their purpose and function. For ethics to be binding, there must be a belief in authority and some knowledge of consequences. Amos speaks for God and we are assured of God’s authority and his ability to exact penalty. “Who says?” and “what happens if I don’t?” are questions that find their answer in one word: God (Clements, Where Love and Justice Meet, pp 153-161).
When business comes before compassion, or religion, or honesty, or people in need, we can be assured that God will not forget (Amos 8:4-7). When we are discouraged by repeated unjust and immoral behavior, we can be assured that our lament does not vanish into thin air. It finds its fulfillment in the righteous wrath of Almighty God who does not (indeed, cannot) forget. Just as ripened fruit meets its destiny in being consumed, so too do years of injustice meet their demise and destiny in God’s punishment.
Israel’s end involves natural disaster and leaves no territory untouched (Amos 8:8-9). Again we see the first-person, “I will”, repeatedly used by and of God who actively and personally engages sin. What’s more, if we fail to obey God’s word, then we risk losing his voice altogether. The Bible may not be banned in developed nations, but is it read? Most importantly, is it followed? We ignore God’s word to our peril and are ripe for judgment. Without God’s voice regularly speaking into our lives, we are undone!
God shows up! (Amos 9:1-7)
The time has come, the verdict is rendered, and the sentence is severe. Punishment is delivered personally by God and no one is exempt. True, nations are judged, which is Amos’s point; but nations are made up of individuals and no guilty person is exempt from God’s wrath. People suffer for their own sins and not those of another.
The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness (Ezekiel 18:20).
Chapter 9 opens with God present at the Temple in Bethel; God shows up. But his presence is not for worship but for judgment of worship! From top to bottom, the Temple is decimated. Rather than a house for worshippers, it becomes a grave for sinners. Whether nature or Israel’s enemies, God utilizes every means at his disposal to unleash his fury on his people (Amos 9:1-4).
EXCURSUS: It is often said “God loves the sinner but hates the sin” and, while there is some truth to this, it does not entirely capture important nuances. It is sinners who are punished, not acts of sins. Think about it. What parent separates a child’s defiance from the child who willingly disobeys? What court system separates guilt from the guilty offender? Behavior is not reprimanded; the guilty are! God hates sinners who sin (see Psalm 5:4-5; 11:5). Still, it is entirely possible that God both loves and hates simultaneously (read together John 3:16; 3:36). This is inconceivable from a human perspective, but God is not human nor subject to the limitations of human psychology. Most importantly, God’s hate is not from a sinful disposition, but is the natural response of a perfect moral being whose love has been rejected.
Amos 9:5-6 rehearses God’s mighty attributes to remind the Israelites that the One who creates is also the One who can destroy. Knowing who it is they’re dealing with in judgment deepens their fear of God as Judge. Clearly they needed reminding! The NIV rendering “the Lord [God] Almighty” does not bring out the full extent of the expression “The Lord, God of Hosts” (NRSV, ESV, HCSB, NASB), which the NLT renders as “The Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (Amos 9:5; see also Amos 4:13; 5:14 for the same expression). God is not just almighty; he commands the forces of heaven and earth to do the bidding of his will (see Psalm 103:20-22)!
Amos 9:7 strongly affirms the equity and justice of God. Although it is true that with privilege of belonging comes responsibility to behave, it is no less true that when responsibility to behave is repeatedly ignored, then God treats the privileged as he does all others. In other words, those who claim to know God had better look like they belong to him. Full stop! It is the height of hypocrisy to expect immunity from God’s judgment simply because Israel was chosen (Amos 3:2). The condition for God’s blessing is not privilege but obedience (see esp. Deuteronomy 18). This is no less true for Christian believers than the nation of Israel in Amos’s day (see Matthew 3:8-9; also see my “A Faith That Works: James 2:14-26“).
Severe judgment | selective mercy (Amos 9:8-10)
Yes God’s judgment is severe, but it is also selective because God is merciful. Hope is on the horizon. Amos follows a pattern used by many of Israel’s prophets (sweeping judgment—but not total annihilation—then hope). The reason for the message of hope is not only to encourage, but also to shore up faith in the God who delivers on his promises. But this faith in God must be tethered to the sobering fact that prophecy entails judgment first, before blessing.
Throughout the book Amos has been targeting those who oppress and exploit the poor and the weak. It is the complacent privileged who will not escape judgment. Those who are victims of economic abuse, the poor, the honest, or the “righteous” (Amos 5), are assured of God’s protection from judgment. They are the “true kernel” (Amos 9:9, NLT) who are spared God’s wrath. God is just and only those who persist in evil will find the evils of God’s wrath to be their lot. God’s judgment is severe; his mercy is selective.
The final post in this series shines a light of hope on the fulfillment of God’s faithful promises.
Most of the remarks here are a curation of gleanings from Where Love & Justice Meet: The Truth of Amos for Today by Roy Clements.