The Minor Prophets, Part 3

All we know about the prophet Amos is what his book of prophecies tells us, which is precious little.

Amos was a herdsman living in the village of Tekoa. All day long he sat on the hillsides watching the sheep, keeping them from straying. (Amos 1:1 | TLB)

But Amos replied, “I am not really one of the prophets. I do not come from a family of prophets. I am just a herdsman and fruit picker.” (Amos 7:14 | TLB)

And that’s about it, as far as the Living Bible is concerned. This man Amos was not a prophet by training. He was just a herdsman who tended to his sheep and a fruit picker who looked after trees.. The man’s character and ideals were forged by the rough Judean wilderness in which he lived and worked.

Turning to another translation, verse 1 is slightly different:

The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel. (Amos 1:1 | TNIV)

Amos’ prophetic word concerned Israel. This may refer to both Israel and Judah, but most scholars are convinced Amos is dealing with the Northern Kingdom. His work as a prophet took place during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel. The mention of these two Kings tells us a little about the world in which Amos lived, the 8th century BC.

Historians tell us this time period was somewhat unique for both Kingdoms. During the late 7th century BC and early 8th century BC, Israel fell into a deep depression and was for all intents and purposes subjugated by a foreign power. Judah would have certainly collapsed had King Hezekiah not come to power to reverse it’s regression to ruin.

Yet at the same time, it was during this century that the “writing prophet” rose to prominence in both Israel and Judah. They came from very diverse backgrounds but they spoke and wrote with great authority. These men of God denounced the sinfulness and rebellion of their nations and wrote about the near and far futures. Their often stunning visions concerned both Jew and Gentile alike.

In spite of the horrible economic and spiritual shape of Israel and Judah, the 8th century BC brought a renewed sense of hope to each Kingdom. Israel’s subjugation to Damascus came to an end thanks to the Assyrians, who decimated Damascus in 802 BC. The political and religious problems that plagued Judah vanished when King Uzziah ascended to the throne. His rule saw Judah prosper both economically and spiritually.

Meanwhile, in Israel under Jeroboam II, Israel prospered along with Judah. Thanks to the sturdy leadership of both kings, Israel and Judah enjoyed a kind of second golden age, second only to the time of Solomon. But even as their economic well-being and national strength grew and brought about a sense of security to citizens, the internal, spiritual decay was eating both kingdoms alive. The biggest problem for both Israel and Judah was a long lasting, almost continual violation of the great covenant established by God at Mt. Sinai.

This was Amos’ world.

Judgment is inescapable

One day, in a vision, God told him some of the things that were going to happen to his nation, Israel. This vision came to him at the time Uzziah was king of Judah and while Jeroboam (son of Joash) was king of Israel-two years before the earthquake. This is his report of what he saw and heard: The Lord roared-like a ferocious lion from his lair-from his Temple on Mount Zion. And suddenly the lush pastures of Mount Carmel withered and dried, and all the shepherds mourned. (Amos 1:2 | TLB)

Amos means “burden,” and surely what he saw was a terrific burden. To make his burden even heavier was the fact that nobody wanted to hear it. Times were getting good. Both nations seemed to be roaring back to economic, military, and cultural strength in spite of their sin and rebellion. Here comes this shepherd with his talk of judgment from God. He was, to his people, all bark and no bite. As Longfellow observed,

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.

Whether the people realized it or not, and whether they cared to acknowledge it or not, judgment from God was coming. Amos mentioned an earthquake that the people would have remembered. It wasn’t part of God’s judgment, but Amos brings it up as he begins his message of judgment. The people may not have been able to get their minds wrapped around a coming divine judgment, but they would remember how devastating that earthquake was! Assuming Amos gave this word around 762 BC, then Israel would have had 40 years to repent or face the onslaught of the Assyrians.

This is what the Lord God showed me in a vision: He was preparing a vast swarm of locusts to destroy all the main crop that sprang up after the first mowing, which went as taxes to the king. Then the Lord God showed me a great fire he had prepared to punish them; it had burned up the waters and was devouring the entire land. Then he showed me this: The Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, checking it with a plumb line to see if it was straight. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” I answered, “A plumb line.” And he replied, “I will test my people with a plumb line. I will no longer turn away from punishing. The idol altars and temples of Israel will be destroyed, and I will destroy the dynasty of King Jeroboam by the sword.”. (Amos 7:1, 4, 7 – 9 | TLB)

The coming judgment would prove to be unrelenting. In chapters 3 – 6, Amos gives the reasons for this judgment. Essentially the people had habitually ignored God’s covenants. God was a faithful partner, but they were not. In chapters 7 – 9, God describes the results of His judgment.

Before facing the Assyrians, Israel would first face a locust invasion unlike any other. Locusts figure prominently in the Minor Prophets, and while Israel faced dreadful locust invasions regularly, one was coming that would be unprecedented and it would be a mini-judgment foreshadowing a much greater one.

What’s worse than the locusts was the threat of fire, in verse 4. There would be an all-consuming fire that would hit the land. Amos interceded and the Lord relented.

In the third vision, Amos saw the Lord holding a plumb line in His hand. In the old days, a plumb line was used to make sure walls were built straight up and down. God would check the nation He built; the one that used to be true to plumb – straight up and down – but was now out of line and needed to be torn down. Unlike the other visions Amos saw, there was no recovering from this judgment and God would not relent. God’s people would soon find out the truthfulness of something Leonard Ravenhill wrote:

Our God is a consuming fire. He consumes pride, lust, materialism and other sins.

God can also be a wrecking ball; smashing down the walls we build around our little kingdoms.

Woeful life of a prophet

Amos was preaching a series of sermons to people who had no interest in hearing what he had to say. Even the religious leaders of his day despised the prophet.

But when Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, heard what Amos was saying, he rushed a message to Jeroboam, the king: “Amos is a traitor to our nation and is plotting your death. This is intolerable. It will lead to rebellion all across the land. He says you will be killed and Israel will be sent far away into exile and slavery.” Then Amaziah sent orders to Amos, “Get out of here, you prophet, you! Flee to the land of Judah and do your prophesying there! Don’t bother us here with your visions, not here in the capital where the king’s chapel is!” But Amos replied, “I am not really one of the prophets. I do not come from a family of prophets. I am just a herdsman and fruit picker. But the Lord took me from caring for the flocks and told me, ‘Go and prophesy to my people Israel.’ “Now, therefore, listen to this message to you from the Lord. You say, ‘Don’t prophesy against Israel.’ The Lord’s reply is this: ‘Because of your interference, your wife will become a prostitute in this city, your sons and daughters will be killed, and your land divided up. You yourself will die in a heathen land, and the people of Israel will certainly become slaves in exile, far from their land.'” (Amos 7:10 – 17 | TLB)

This group of verses interrupts Amos’ visions and they give us some interesting information about the prophet himself.

Amaziah was the chief priest at Bethel, which was one of the state-sanctioned sanctuaries established by Jeroboam when he split from Jerusalem. It was designed to copy the religious system of Judah (the Southern Kingdom) and bring stability to Israel (the Northern Kingdom). This priest had accused Amos of conspiracy, and I love his attitude. He declares that he “wasn’t a professional prophet,” hired to say things against the king, but just a man of humble circumstance who simply heeded the call of God.

Furthermore, he did not “conspire against” the king, as Amaziah as he had been charged. The prophet who condemns the evil is not the cause of the evil, or of the punishment that follows the evil, and Amos wasn’t the first prophet of God to be held responsible for the judgment to come. Evil king Ahab had his run-in with Elijah, and Elijah’s reply is classic:

So it’s you, is it?-the man who brought this disaster upon Israel!” Ahab exclaimed when he saw him. “You’re talking about yourself,” Elijah answered. “For you and your family have refused to obey the Lord and have worshiped Baal instead. (1 Kings 18:17, 18 | TLB)

The people hated him and his prophecies of judgements because they knew he was right and that God was indeed justified in taking action against them.

A sad end

That Israel’s days were numbered was obvious to Amos and other prophets. The people, though, high on a return to prosperity and military soundness had no interest in what Amos was saying and didn’t believe him. Here were people who grew up surrounded by the Word of God. In fact, any time they wanted to, they could return to their roots of pure faith. The Assyrians were at the door, but something something else – something unexpected – was about to befall Israel:

The time is surely coming,” says the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land-not a famine of bread or water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will wander everywhere from sea to sea, seeking the word of the Lord, searching, running here and going there, but will not find it. Beautiful girls and fine young men alike will grow faint and weary, thirsting for the word of God. (Amos 8:11 – 13 | TLB)

These people who didn’t want to hear the Word of God one day would be UNABLE to hear the Word of God. God would give them their desire: A life without a single word from Him. The Assyrians would take away their homes, their jobs, their lands, and everything they held dear. God would remove His Word from their lives.

So it was that when they gave God up and would not even acknowledge him, God gave them up to doing everything their evil minds could think of. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness and sin, of greed and hate, envy, murder, fighting, lying, bitterness, and gossip. (Romans 1:28, 29 | TLB)

It musn’t have been easy for Amost to preach sermons like he did to people he knew and grew up around. But it was God’s own word for them, nonetheless. And God’s Word is, after all, as sharp as a double-edged sword.

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