Amos — Visions of Doom from the Shepherd-Prophet
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A Judean shepherd from Tekoa, just south of Bethlehem, Amos probably never would have envisioned himself a prophet. Yet, while he was busy raising sheep and tending sycamore fig trees, the Lord sent him to prophesy in Israel (Amos 7:14-15). In the very first verse of the book, Amos tells us his visions came to him during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam II of Israel “two years before the earthquake.”
The first few chapters of this book focus on impending judgments against the countries surrounding Israel, which had long harassed God’s people. Then the book focuses on the crimes, punishment and restoration of the Northern Kingdom itself. God’s righteousness and justice are maintained throughout, in contrast to the selfishness, greed, idolatry and complacency of Israel.
Amos Chapter 1
This chapter opens with the following introduction to its author and a statement of the time of his ministry, which have been very helpful to Bible scholars in authenticating the document: The words of Amos, who was among the sheepbreeders of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake (Amos 1:1).
Right away he tells us God is ticked off, saying YHWH “roars from Zion…the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of [Mount] Carmel withers” (v. 2). Joel had made a similar statement about the Lord thundering from Jerusalem so loudly the elements would shake in chapter 3, verse 16 of his prophecy.
Joel’s prophecies against the nations were more general and collective in nature, while Amos addressed each offending Gentile country individually. Each started with the poetic phrase, “Thus says the Lord, ‘For three transgressions of _____ , and for four, I will not turn away its punishment’”—meaning God was fed up with the wicked things these countries were doing and was not going to change His mind about their judgments.
First in line was the nation of Syria, represented by its capital city of Damascus. YHWH lists but one main offense: “they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron” (Amos 1:3)—probably referring to Hazael’s conquest of the land east of the Jordan, mentioned in 2 Kings 10:32-33. For this, God intended to “send a fire into the house of Hazael, which shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad” (Amos 1:4). Since Hazael was dead by this time, Amos referred to the palace of his son, Ben-Hadad III. As Amos prophesied in verse 5, Damascus’ gates were penetrated, its palaces destroyed and its people carried captive to Kir when the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser, invaded Syria in response to King Ahaz’ appeal for help against Ben-Hadad’s successor, Rezin (2 Kings 16:1-9).
Next, the Philistine kingdom was represented by its principal city, Gaza, which was accused of selling Israel’s captives into slavery to Edom (Joel 1:6). God promised to “send a fire upon the wall of Gaza, which shall devour its palaces” (v. 7). Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron were also mentioned, before the Lord said every last remnant of the Philistine people would perish (8). Uzziah (2 Chron. 26:6) and then Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:8) partially fulfilled this prophecy with their invasions of Philistine territory. The Philistines were further reduced to nothingness as a nation by the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Hasmoneans, who invaded over the centuries that followed.
Next, Amos confronted Tyre with not only selling captive Israelites to Edom, but doing this in violation of the ancient “covenant of brotherhood” with King David and Solomon (Joel 1:9; c.f.—2 Sam. 5:11; 1 Kings 5:2-6, 9:11-14 & 27; 1 Chron. 14:1; 2 Chron. 8:18 & 9:10). As with the others, this city’s penalty was to have its walls and palaces burned down (Amos 1:10). This prophecy was fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar besieged the capital of Phoenicia for thirteen years and then destroyed it, to the extent that the people rebuilt it on an island, which Alexander the Great finally destroyed entirely.
Edom’s crimes were perhaps the worst of all, since that nation was most closely related to Israel. Yet they nursed a grudge so extreme that the Edomites had no pity for the Hebrews, but constantly pursued them with the sword (v. 11). For their sins, YHWH promised to burn Teman and the palaces of Bozrah (12).
Ammon is the last offender mentioned in this chapter. Their crime was in ripping open pregnant women of Gilead in order to enlarge their territory toward the west (13). In addition to destroying its capital city with fire, God said He would carry away Ammon’s king and princes [some translators believe this could also refer to Ammon’s god, Milcom, and his priests] into captivity in the midst of shouting and a terrible tempest (14-15). Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled this prophecy with his invasion of the area.
Amos Chapter 2
Moab was condemned “Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime” (Amos 2:1). It wasn’t enough for these people to kill the king of their rival nation, but they reduced his body to ash in the heat of their revenge. So YHWH intended to bring a fire against their nation and their palaces in Kerioth (v. 2). They, too, would go out in the midst of an uproar, and all the judges and princes of Moab would be slain (3).
From these foreign countries, the Lord turned His focus against His own people. In verse 4 He actually lists three sins of Judah:
- They despised the Law of YHWH.
- They did not keep His commandments.
- Their lies led them astray, as they had their forefathers.
For this, they could be sure God would burn Judah and all the palaces of Jerusalem (5). This sentence was carried out by Nebuzaradan, the general of Nebuchadnezzar’s army, after the Chaldeans captured Judah’s capital city and carried its survivors off to Babylon (2 Kings 25:8-11 & 2 Chron. 36:17-20).
The rest of the chapter lambastes Israel, listing more than four offenses they were guilty of in God’s eyes:
- Selling the poor (cheaply) into slavery (6).
- Denying justice to the oppressed (7).
- Incest/prostitution/sexual perversion—with father and son sleeping with the same girl.
- “At their religious festivals, they lounge around in clothing stolen from their debtors” (Amos 2:8, NLT).
- The magistrates would fine people and then use that money to buy alcohol to worship their idols.
The Israelites worshiped these false gods which never did anything to help them, while forgetting how YHWH had gotten rid of the towering Amorites, after He led them forty years in the wilderness from slavery in Egypt (v.v. 9-10). He raised up some of their sons as prophets and others as Nazarites, yet the people tried to get the Nazarites to drink wine to break their vows and commanded the prophets not to proclaim God’s word (11-12). Their sins were a heavy burden on the Lord, just like a cart heaped with sheaves of grain (13). Therefore YHWH said,
“The swift will not escape,
the strong will not muster their strength,
and the warrior will not save his life.
The archer will not stand his ground,
the fleet-footed soldier will not get away,
and the horseman will not save his life.
Even the bravest warriors
will flee naked on that day…” (Amos 2:14-16, NIV).
Amos Chapter 3
The Lord continued His indictment against Israel in this chapter, saying of all the families of the earth, they were the only ones He knew intimately, having brought them out of Egypt (Amos 3:1-2). Since they belonged to Him, he was going to punish them for all the evil things they had done.
YHWH asked a series of rhetorical cause/effect questions in verses 3-6. You may be familiar with the first one: “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Verse 7 says, “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” In response to the statement in verse 4—which asks whether a lion will roar, unless it has found its prey—verse 8 told the Israelites, “A lion has roared,” and they’d better be afraid (8). I’ll bet you can guess who the Lion’s prey was in this situation! Since God had spoken, his messengers couldn’t help but prophesy.
Amos called Ashdod [The Septuagint substituted Assyria for this Philistine city.] and Egypt to “assemble on the mountains of Samaria” (9). YHWH summoned these nations against the capital of the Northern Kingdom, to sap Israel’s strength and plunder them, because the people didn’t know how to do what was right, but would constantly “store up violence and robbery in their palaces” (10-11). There would only be a tiny portion of the people of Israel salvaged from these ravenous attackers (12). God promised to destroy the altars of Bethel and all the palaces and prominent homes in Samaria (13-15).
Amos Chapter 4
Next, He addressed the well-to-do women of Samaria, calling them “cows of Bashan” (Amos 4:1). He pictured them as oppressive women, who mistreated the poor and ordered their husbands around, while lounging on couches, drinking fine wine. Wanna bet they learned that attitude from Queen Jezebel?
According to the second and third verses, YHWH Adonai swore by His holiness that these women would be dragged away with fish hooks through broken walls and carried into captivity. They could keep sinning at Bethel and Gilgal, bringing their inferior sacrifices to false gods all they wanted, but it wasn’t going to do them any good (4-5).
In a litany of consequences reminiscent of the curses for disobedience listed in Leviticus 26:14-26 and Deuteronomy 28:23-24, 27 & 39-42, the Lord recalled some of the things He had caused apostate Israel to suffer:
- Famine (Amos 4:6)
- Drought and thirst (vv. 7-8)
- Blight, mildew and insects to ruin their gardens, vines and fruit trees (9)
- Diseases like what had been inflicted on the Egyptians (10)
- Defeat and death in war
- Destruction akin to what was experienced by Sodom and Gomorrah (11)—perhaps referring to the earthquake?
Yet, in spite of each of these calamities, which should have made them realize God was angry with them, the people still did not return to YHWH. So He warned in verse 12, “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” This is the God who creates mountains and wind, knows exactly what a person is thinking, darkens the sky, and walks on the highest places on the earth (13). He’s not someone to be trifled with!
Amos Chapter 5
This chapter opens with a dirge for the nation of Israel, symbolized as a young woman struck down with no one to help her (Amos 5:1-2). YHWH says the population of Israel will be reduced by 90% (v. 3).
Preferring to restore, rather than destroy His people, YHWH appealed to the house of Israel to turn away from their idols at Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba, but to turn to Him, so they could live (4-5). “Seek the LORD and live, lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, with no one to quench it…” (6).
To those who “turn justice to wormwood,” and kill off good people, YHWH says He made the constellations, “turns the shadow of death into morning,” evaporates the waters of the sea to pour out on the earth, and demolishes strongholds (7-9). They hated correction of any kind, but continued to exploit the poor, so God promised they would not get to enjoy the fancy houses or vineyards they acquired through dishonest gain (10-11). The Lord was fully aware of the corruption of the leaders and how good men were afraid to speak out (12-13).
Amos urged these people to “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the LORD God of hosts will be with you, as you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate,” on the off chance that YHWH would “be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (14-15).
Knowing in advance these warnings would not be heeded, the prophet told the Israelites there would be wailing in their streets and everywhere else in the land (16-17). Some of them had been longing for “the Day of the Lord” to come, not realizing it would bring disaster to them—a day of “darkness and not light” (18). Amos offered a couple of scenarios, similar to our saying, ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’—meaning their situation would go from bad to worse (19).
God said He hated the Israelites’ feast days and sacred assemblies (21). He had no intention of accepting their offerings or the noise of their worship music (22-23). Instead, He wanted them to “let justice flow like a river, and let goodness flow like a stream that never stops” (Amos 5:24, NCV).
Here’s an interesting bit of revelation we haven’t heard before in the historical records of the Old Testament: All those years Israel sacrificed to YHWH at the tabernacle in the wilderness, they were also worshiping man-made idols, which they carried along with them (25-26)! For that reason, YHWH God of Hosts was going to send them into captivity beyond Damascus (27).
Amos Chapter 6
Again addressing the wealthy in Israel, Amos told them to compare their country to Calneh, Hamath and Gath—other great kingdoms that had recently been overthrown (Amos 6:1-2). He asked, “Are you better than these…?” Israel, although it had received revelation from the Lord, was living like these pagan nations that had been judged for their sins. How could the leaders of the Northern Kingdom expect to escape the same fate?
He said, “Woe to you who put far off the day of doom, who cause the seat of violence to come near” (v. 3). Either the prophet was saying that those who didn’t think God would judge anytime soon were ruling like tyrants, or they were hastening the Day of Judgment even sooner—or both. They relaxed on luxurious couches, ate the finest fare, enjoyed the best entertainment, drank wine by the bowl-full and wore expensive perfume, but were not the least bit concerned about the welfare of their countrymen (4-6). Therefore, God was going to let them be the first taken into captivity (7). YHWH said, “I abhor the pride of Jacob, and hate his palaces; therefore I will deliver up the city and all that is in it” (8).
People would drop like flies in the palatial homes of the rich, and all the houses would be broken to bits (9-11). To those who had overturned justice and outlawed righteousness, worshiped idols and patted themselves on the back, God said He would raise up a nation against them that would afflict them from one end of their kingdom to the other (12-14).
Amos Chapter 7
Next, God showed the shepherd-prophet two possibilities of how He could punish Israel for their sins. First was a massive swarm of locusts, which God formed specifically to devour what was left of the crops “after the king’s mowings” (Amos 7:1). This was the grass the cattle would’ve eaten, or perhaps the people’s share of the crops after taxes. Amos knew this would cripple the land and people of Israel, so he prayed, “O Lord GOD, forgive, I pray! Oh, that Jacob may stand, for he is small!” (v. 2). Because of the prophet’s intercession, the Lord changed His mind and said this wouldn’t happen after all (3).
As an alternative, the Lord showed the prophet a judgment by fire, which consumed the water reserves and burned up everything on the land (4). Again, Amos appealed for God’s mercy, saying Jacob’s descendants had been reduced in strength already and couldn’t survive this kind of trial (5). In response to the prophet’s intercession, the Lord again relented of this calamity (6).
But what Amos saw next was YHWH standing on a wall, checking it with a plumb line (7-8). He told His messenger that He was going to evaluate Israel as a builder checks the soundness of a wall with a weight on the end of a cord. “The high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste. I will rise with the sword against the house of Jeroboam” (9).
Apparently, Amos began proclaiming this third judgment to the people of the Northern Kingdom, for Amaziah the priest of Bethel [not a priest of YHWH, but of the false religious system first set up by Jeroboam II’s name sake] lodged a complaint, alleging a conspiracy by Amos against the king (10). He said the people were tired of hearing Amos say, “Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive from their own land” (11). The priest commanded the seer to go back home and make his living in Judah, “But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary,” and his royal residence was there (12-13).
Amos admitted he was not a prophet by profession, but had been a sheep breeder “and a tender of sycamore fruit,” when YHWH told him to go and prophesy to His people Israel (14-15). Because this pagan priest was trying to get Amos to stop doing what God had told him to do, he prophesied that the man’s wife would be reduced to prostitution, while his children would fall by the sword (16-17). The property of Amaziah the priest would be broken up and allocated to someone else, while he himself would “die in a defiled land.” And, whether he liked it or chose to believe it or not, the Israelites would indeed be led captive from their land.
Amos Chapter 8
Next the prophet saw a vision of a basket of summer fruit, which YHWH explained represented Israel, a nation ripe for judgment (Amos 8:1-2). He could not ignore the sin of Israel any more. The songs in the temple would become wailing, while dead bodies would be disposed of in silence (v. 3).
God addressed those “who swallow up [or trample on] the needy, and make the poor of the land fail” (4). They couldn’t wait for holy days to pass, so they could carry on commerce, exploiting the poor with dishonest measures and overcharging for their inferior grain (5-6). This was a sin God could not forget and was determined to shake the land in punishment (7-8).
YHWH said He’d “make the sun go down at noon and…darken the earth in broad daylight” (9). He was going to turn their feasts into mourning, their songs into lamentation—clothing everyone in sackcloth and baldness, as if they were grieving the death of an only son (10).
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD,
“That I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine of bread,
Nor a thirst for water,
But of hearing the words of the LORD” (11).
This sounds so much like our predicament today: YHWH said the people of Israel would be so anxious to hear from God, that they would travel far and wide “seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it” (12). Because they refused to listen when the Lord spoke, they were not going to be allowed to hear from Him when they wanted to. Both beautiful young women and strong young men would faint from thirst; while those who swore by the idols of Samaria, Dan and Beersheba, would “fall and never rise again” (13-14).
Amos Chapter 9
Next the prophet saw YHWH standing by the altar, declaring, “Strike the doorposts, that the thresholds may shake, and break them on the heads of them all. I will slay the last of them with the sword” (Amos 9:1). There was no escape—whether an Israelite should attempt to dig into Sheol [the abode of the dead] or climb up to heaven, the Lord would apprehend them (v. 2). There was nowhere they could hide that God or some sea creature couldn’t get them (3). Even if they were taken captive alive, the Lord could “command the sword, and it shall slay them” (4). He was intent on doing them harm, now, and not good.
Verse 5 reminds us with whom we are dealing—the Lord God of Hosts, who “touches the earth and it melts,” causing its inhabitants to mourn, making it swell or subside like a mighty river. He controls the sky, earth and water (6). Like the Ethiopians, Philistines and Syrians, whose migration YHWH oversaw, so He brought Israel up from the land of Egypt and could just as easily destroy that “sinful kingdom…from the face of the earth” (7-8). Like a farmer sifting wheat, YHWH was going to “sift the house of Israel among all nations” (9). The ones who thought nothing bad would ever happen to them were surely destined to be killed (10).
Nevertheless, there was coming a day when God was going to restore the dynasty of David, raising up its ruins and rebuilding it like before (11). Moreover, YHWH would give them authority over all the nations of mankind (12). So productive would be the land under this new regime that “the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it” (13). All the captives of Israel would be returned to their homeland to rebuild and replant it (14). From that time on, no one would ever uproot them again (15).
God is merciful and gracious, yet there comes a time when He can no longer overlook our sins, but must treat them as they deserve. He who formed and governs the elements has the authority to rule the nations, as well, doing with them as he pleases.
From its inception, the Northern Kingdom was bent on doing things its own way. They tried to silence those whom YHWH sent to correct them, but they could not stop Him from enacting judgment.
Individuals, like nations, can only go so far from the Lord before we must suffer the consequences of our corruption. We may assure ourselves God does not exist, He does not see, or does not concern Himself with us or our behavior; however, we only deceive ourselves and heap more judgment on ourselves and those close to us.
Scripture says “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). That is the ultimate penalty for those who shut out God and His correction. If we reject His provision for our sin and do not accept Christ as our Savior, then our misery and destruction is inevitable. However, if we receive salvation through Jesus—admitting and forsaking our faulty way of thinking and living and being filled with His Spirit instead—then we can look forward to God’s kingdom coming, first to our hearts and eventually to all creation.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.