These last few lines of the book are about hope (Amos 9:11-15). But hope is vacuous if not rooted in something else. We may have the tenacity to hope against hope, but we do not put our hope in hope. What Amos offers is a hope that is grounded in something beyond itself. It is hope that is established by and held firmly in something immovable, something reliable. It is hope in the faithfulness of God keeping his promises. The very foundation of this hope is both the character of God and the nature of his covenant with Israel.
What I mean by this last point is that God’s covenant with Israel is unilateral; namely, it is contingent upon one party only. Despite the gravity and extent of human sin, this covenant is not established by human agreement or compliance. It cannot be breached or fragmented. Even when judgment is carried out on those who are covenant participants, it will not be compromised. Beginning with Abram God enters into this covenant (Gen 12:2-3), remembers and expands on it through Moses (Exodus 2:24; Ex 19; Deuteronomy 28), reiterates it with the house of David (2 Sam 7:8-16), and fulfills it through King Jesus (Revelation 11:15). Since God swears on oath by himself, this covenant cannot and will not be broken (see especially Heb 6:13-20).
From Amos we learn that, although the curse of judgment is inevitable, it is penultimate; it does not have the final word. Hope does. Similarly, the cross is penultimate; death does not have the final word; the risen Christ does. In the unfolding of God’s redemptive story, hope gets the final word because God is faithful to his covenant people.
This comment from Roy Clements should not be lost on us:
The Hebrew expression [in Deuteronomy 30:3] translated ‘restore your fortunes’ is precisely the phrase rendered in Amos 9:14 as ‘bring back my exiled people’. ‘The milk and honey will flow again then,’ says Amos. Security and peace will be enjoyed again but this time nothing will threaten its continuance: ‘”I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God’ (9:15). (p 181)
Still, benefits (namely, peace and economic prosperity) are linked to obedience, just as God warned. Covenant status may not be jeopardized, but covenant blessings can be forfeited (see especially Deuteronomy 28:15-68; 30:1-10). In many ways, then, Amos is a record of God’s threat of judgment carried out on those who fail to keep God’s Law by caring for God’s people.
We should note, too, the significance of James applying Amos 9:11-15 to circumstances around Gentiles coming to faith in Christ (Acts 15:13-17). As a leader among Jewish Christians, James sees the restoration of “David’s fallen tent” (a reference to the nation Israel) as the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s kingdom, the Church. In effect, Gentiles, whose allegiance is to Jesus as Christ, have the same covenant status as Jews who follow Jesus as Messiah because the requirements for entering into that covenant are the same for both; by grace through faith (Acts 15:11). The new Israel (see especially, Galatians 6:16) is composed of all nations and peoples who follow the crucified and risen Lord Jesus (see Rev 5:9). This is God’s renewal. This is God restoration. This is God’s family. We might even say that the fulfillment of Amos 9 is not some time in the future; it is in the present as the kingdom of God continually expands by those coming to faith in Christ. The consummated kingdom may be future, but its fulfillment is now. This is hope!
Even though hope is present, the book of Amos is burdensome. It carries a weighty message of judgment with just a glimmer of hope tacked on the end. In keeping with the weight of that emphasis, I want to close this series by repeating something already mentioned. There is a certain sequence of circumstances that must go in order. The blessings of God’s covenant are on the other side of judgment. This is the way of God. First the cross, then resurrection. Good Friday comes before Easter Sunday. That’s the order; that’s the pattern of God’s redemptive plan unfolding. There is no way to bypass the process or change its order. Judgment precedes hope but both can work to warn us and to give us a vision for the future. Or, as Clements puts it, “eventually, judgment would work repentance” (p 180).
Why keep this order before us? Recognizing God’s judgment comes before blessing serves to keep us from Israel’s sin, namely, complacency. True, God’s purpose in judgment is not merely punitive but also restorative, we must not lose sight of the fact that God’s discipline may be God’s hand showing us we have grown indifferent toward others’ need. Moreover, one of the purposes of Israel’s story is to give us hope by way of warning. Listen to God’s inspired text:
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. (Rom 15:4)
Not only does this pattern or sequence work on a personal level, it works on a national level, too. Rome fell because of its immorality (contra Edward Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; see Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Excellent Empire). So too will nations fall that do not care for their destitute, their impoverished, their disabled, or most vulnerable. More specifically, leaders of nations, whether religious or political, are held to account for supporting polices that ignore the “least of these” (see Matt 25:31-46).
Amos’s message of hope is not for everyone. It is only for some. It is for those who have been victimized, mistreated, and abused. Their message of hope is the promise of blessing and the certainty of judgment. That message of judgment, however, is for “all the sinners among my people” (Amos 9:10), the oppressors, which in Amos’s day, were the upper class, the leadership, the religious elite, and all who had turned a blind eye or a deaf ear to the needs of those they were called to serve in their positions of power.
To the powerful: Beware the fury of a patient God.
To the vulnerable: Behold the blessings of a faithful God.
Whoever has ears, let them hear.
Most of the remarks here are a curation of gleanings from Where Love & Justice Meet: The Truth of Amos for Today by Roy Clements.