Posts Tagged 'Amos'

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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Famine For the Word of God

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“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,“when I will send a famine through the land–not a famine of food or a thirst for water,but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east,searching for the word of the Lord,but they will not find it. (Amos 8:11c-12 | NIV84)

Amos was not your run-of-the-mill Old Testament prophet. Not by a long shot. Technically he wasn’t even a prophet.

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. (Amos 7:14 | NIV84)

Here was an untrained, uneducated sheep-herder and tree farmer whom the Lord, in his wisdom, called to be His prophet. It’s not a seminary education that makes a preacher, it’s the call of God. He entered the scene during an interesting time in Hebrew history. Times were good for both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The economies of both kingdoms were booming and there was peace over the land. It all looked good, but serious problems were percolating under the surface. The greatest threat to the Northern Kingdom was the very prosperity she was enjoying.

God took a simple, hard working man to carry His message to this affluent, lazy, idolatrous people. But not just to God’s people. Amos actually began prophesying to other nations first, before leveling his sights on Israel and Judah. His first sermons were delivered to Damascus, then to Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Moab, and Judah. Finally he came to Israel. If his words were a little blunt and harsh to the nations around her, they were positively scorching and scathing when he spoke to Israel.

Even though Amos lived and spoke thousands of years ago, there are at least two really important lessons you may glean from his little book of prophecy. First, in his words we learn that God is the governor of all nations, not just of Israel and Judah. And God expects all nations to heed His Words and govern according to His will. Second, the message of Amos teaches that privilege creates responsibility. Those nations which had been blessed the most will be held accountable for how they used those blessings to both honor God and their citizens.

Sin, Suffering and Judgment

Verses 11 and 12, which talk about a famine for the Word of God, are actually the third point in Amos’ three-point sermon to God’s People. Here’s his outline:

Act One: Shady Business Practices

Israel was prospering; business was good; the economy was booming, but all was not as it seemed.

Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain,and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”–skimping the measure,boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals,selling even the sweepings with the wheat. (Amos 8:4-6 | NIV84)

That’s nefarious businessmen talking. Not all businessmen are nefarious but this bunch up in the Northern Kingdom was. They couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to end so that they could get back to business, but not just any business:  The business of ripping people off. In particular, the rights of the needy were trampled on by greedy and cold businesses. The Hebrew behind the English is graphic: These businessmen were literally “chasing after” the poor to take advantage of them. They couldn’t wait to invent clever ways to get money out of people’s pockets using highly suspect and devious means.

This kind of corruption wasn’t new and Amos wasn’t the only prophet to call out his people for their shameful practices. Isaiah wrote this:

So justice is far from us,and righteousness does not reach us.We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. (Isaiah 59:9 | NIV84)

Back in Amos, there’s a clever play-on-words going on that is lost in its English translation. In verse 4, the sinister businessmen were trying to “do away with” the poor, or they “caused the poor to cease.” The Hebrew word comes from a very familiar word: Sabbath. And over in verse 5, they couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to end. These were curious Jews indeed; completely narcissistic; nasty pieces of work.

But the Lord noticed what was going on, and He notices today, too. You may think that evil is triumphing over good, and it may well be at the moment. But it’s just temporary. The Lord will move and righteousness will be prevail.

Act 2:  Nature reflects more than God’s glory

In the New Testament and even in the the Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament, we read about how nature reflects the majesty of God. But nature reflects more than that! Nature, from time to time in the history of God’s people, reflects God’s mood. It did in Genesis with a flood, will again when the Lord returns and it did when Samaria and Israel fell under the heavy hand of God’s judgment.

Will not the land tremble for this,and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious feasts into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads.I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.” (Amos 8:8 – 10 | NIV84)

In these verses, God uses nature to show His displeasure with how Israel was behaving. Some of what we’re reading is, of course, metaphorical, some is not. That’s not the point. The end of Israel is portrayed as a premature darkening of the sky. That nation, after Jeroboam II’s successful conquests, seemed to have risen to a new heights, “noon,” when the sun is at its brightest and hottest. Yet God will not let that light continue its normal course, but will turn it off suddenly and totally. Darkness is often used in Scripture to signify calamity and God’s displeasure.

The people’s fake religious festivals would be turned into reasons for mourning. The party atmosphere will come to an end when the whole nation swerves sideways as God ramps up His judgment. The good times were coming to end. And they did, when Assyria plowed Samaria into the ground.

Act 3:  The unquenchable famine

The next group of verses shows the progressive nature of God’s judgment. Things go from bad to worse the farther away from God His people wander. This judgment – a spiritual starvation – may well be the worst judgment of all.

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,“when I will send a famine through the land–not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord,but they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11c-12 | NIV84)

The “words of the Lord” refer to the light of His revelation. What the Lord is promising here is shocking. Those who have no regard for the Word of God will one day literally hunger and thirst for it, but won’t be able to find it. Like the old saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” That’s not in the Bible, incidentally, but it’s true nonetheless. Those who despise the Word of God and want it silenced will get their wish. He will stop speaking to them.

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 | NIV84)

God is nothing if not fair. If a person – Israel or some schmuck next door to you – dislikes the Word of God so much, God will let that person experience what life is like without it. It’s like a spiritual version of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which a person finds out how cold and miserable the world is without the warmth of God’s Word in it.

It’s a sad fact, but our population today is so spiritually dull and historically ignorant that they have no idea the role Biblical teachings played in the foundation of the West and of the world in which they live. There’s a reason why for generations the West in general and America in particular have enjoyed such peace and prosperity; why we in the West are healthier and stronger than those in other cultures. And it’s sad that we might well be witnessing another fulfillment of Amos’ prophesy being fulfilled before our eyes as we despise the very teachings that made us great.

Think about that word “famine” and what it means. First, a “famine” suggests a serious lack of food and water for an extended period of time. Second, a “famine” implies a feeling of desperation as starving people look for food yet can’t find any. A spiritual famine is the same thing. Imagine people who want the Word of God but can’t find it anywhere. No matter where they look, they can’t find it. Imagine a time when a spiritually starving person wants desperately to hear the truth of God’s Word but can’t hear it!

Historically, that sad condition stretched on to the time of Christ with the funky spirituality of the Samaritans, a people who were the descendants of the very people who heard Amos’ prophesy firsthand.

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46a | NIV84)

That was the prevailing opinion of the people living in Nazareth, smack-dab in the Samaria region.

Back in Amos, we are told that men will “stagger” looking for the Word of God. “Stagger” is the Hebrew nua’, a word used of drunkards and the blind. The survivors of God’s judgment and their children will crave what their parents despised and refused.

The root cause of the famine

Amos tells us what was ultimately behind this judgment from God:

They who swear by the shame of Samaria,or say, ‘As surely as your god lives, O Dan,’or, ‘As surely as the god of Beersheba lives’–they will fall,never to rise again.” (Amos 8:14 | NIV84)

The “shame of Samaria” was the worship of the calf. The people worshiping the calf were the ones who would starve for the truth of God’s real Word. What we’re talking about here is idolatry, which is still a problem to day. Any substitution of the creature in any form for the Creator results in an inability to receive the Word of God. If a person substitutes nature for God, education for God, family for God, politics for God, money for God, philosophy for God, then though the Word of God be all around him, he hears nothing. And people bereft of the Word of God are the most restless people of all. All the time, searching for what they cannot find. Peace, justice, contentment, love, all the things that come from a life based on Biblical teachings. It’s a fruitless search for something that cannot be found apart from the Word of God. There is no substitute for teachings of Scripture.

The Lord honors those who honor Him. He will restore a person or a nation that, at the very least, puts into practice the moral laws of Scripture. We’re not talking about converting all 300 million people in America – although can you imagine what a wonderful thing that would be! But can you imagine if a majority of those in leadership and a majority of our fellow citizens started to consider value of a Biblical worldview as opposed to a completely secular worldview? In the words of Louis Armstrong,

What a wonderful it would be.

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 3

God’s Call for Justice: Amos & Zephaniah

What is “partiality?” In the Bible, there are no less than 15 Scriptures relating “partiality” to God’s character. In Deuteronomy, the question of God’s fairness is the basis for all human relationships:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17—19)

We may say that “partiality” is the opposite of justice in terms of Biblical thought. Based on the above passage, it seems clear that God’s people should behave like God behaves. God is impartial in His dealings with man, therefore we should as well.

In ancient Israel, the idea of “justice” formed the basis of not only the Jewish faith, but also its government. The minor prophets frequently railed against the treatment of their fellows because it was a manifestation of how they treated their God.

1. God hates arrogance, Amos 6:1—8

Justice has been on the minds of human beings for all time, it seems. Probably the most significant ancient work of non-biblical literature is what we call “Plato’s Republic.” What most people don’t know is it’s original title: “A Political Discourse Concerning Justice.” But long before Plato thought about justice, the Bible had that topic completely covered. Israel never needed “Plato’s Republic.”

a. A warning against complacency, vs. 1—3

In the ancient world, almost nobody could read or write. Even in the Roman world, historians estimate that less than 10% of the population was literate. Usually these skills, which we take for granted today, were taught only to the children of the elite class or the very wealthy. What sets the Bible apart from all ancient texts is that its writings stem, not always from the intellectually elite, but from the common man. Such is the case of Amos, of whom next to nothing is known. He was mere shepherd from Tekoa. He was no priest. He had no connection to the Temple. His parentage is not mentioned because there was nothing remarkable about it. The fact that God would raise up such a seemingly insignificant person is a demonstration of God’s impartiality!

This one-time prophet of God ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam, king of Israel. He was living and working during a time when all nations of the ancient Near East were very much aware of the mighty Assyrians and their propensity for the conquest of entire nations. The tyrannical Tiglath-Pileser III was the ruler of Assyria at this time and he managed, in a relatively short span of time, to establish one of the most enduring empires in ancient history.

Amos, as uneducated as he was, was a powerful speaker who could easily catch the attention of his audience. And he was skilful, too. He ably connected the moral decline of Israel and Judah to the coming of the Assyrians. As we read Amos, we can see how vitally connected moral obedience is to God’s Word and the security of a nation.

In the first five chapters, Amos dealt with God’s judgment of the northern kingdom, Israel. While the people expected a day of deliverance coming, Amos knew otherwise; he knew the great and terrible Day of the Lord—a day of judgment—was just over the horizon. The monarchy and political power brokers should have seen it coming, but the power structure of Israel was riding high, falsely secure in their military power and victories of Syria. They felt unconquerable. The people, for their part, seemed quite content to be “under their thumbs.” The people couldn’t do a thing without getting the approval of some political body. No wonder these verse stung and cut so deeply.

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come! Go to Kalneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror. (verses 1—3)

Amos aimed at and scored a direct hit at the false optimism and sense of security and carefree arrogance of the leaders. They looked so strong and unbeatable in their own eyes, but in God’s eyes, they were as puny as the leaders of any other nation. Amos lumped Israel in with a bunch of conquered and subjugated city-states of other greater nations.

Naturally, the leaders rejected Amos’ prophecy, and they continued to wallow in their complacency, and in their mistreatment of their own citizens.

b. A warning against elite luxuries, vs. 4—6

So while the political class revelled in their own lives of ease, indulgence, and affluence, they continued to care very little for the state of others. They stuffed themselves with gourmet food, went to the best golf courses, sang songs and got drunk.

You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

c. The coming judgment and exile, vs. 7, 8

To Amos, luxury and wealth, in themselves harmless, had become symbols of the oppression by which these leaders pampered themselves. And so, those who amassed so much wealth would be the first to go into exile. The corrupt government of the House of Israel would finally come to an end. Amos said this sometime around 760 B.C., when Jeroboam II reigned over an immensely prosperous people. Less than 4 decades later, Israel was overrun and conquered by Assyria and all but the poor were exiled.

As we read about the state of ancient Israel, we are prompted to think about the awesome responsibility of leadership. A country, church, Christian movement, or even a family can rise no higher than its leadership. Those being led will either rise to great heights or sink to new lows depending on the spiritual and moral quality of their leadership.

2. God hates injustice, Amos 8:4—12

Amos was concerned, not only that the people turn to the Lord, but that society as a whole repent from its injustice.

Looking after those who are incapable of looking after themselves has always been important to the Lord, and it should be important to His people. Much of the Law is devoted to making sure the real poor and afflicted were cared for; those policies had been enshrined in the religious and civil laws of Israel. Other nations exploited the poor, or they were left to die. When Israel did as they were told, the nation prospered, from the richest to the poorest. But when Israel, as they did time and again, followed the example of worldly nations, the poor suffered and the rich were harshly judged.

In Amos 7, the priest Amaziah grew weary of Amos’ preaching, and ordered him to return to Judah.

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the disciple of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ (7:12, 15)

Amos was faithful to the Lord, and continued to prophesy in Israel.

a. The sin of oppression, vs. 4—7

In Amos’ time, religious hypocrisy had become outright rebellion against God. Those who pretended to be religious were the ones who were taking advantage of the poor. God made it clear that to sin against Yahweh’s people was, in fact, to sin against Him. These religious types kept their festivals meticulously, but managed to find time to rip people off right and left. To these people, God had a particularly ominous message:

I will never forget anything they have done. (verse 7)

b. The land cannot withstand oppression, vs. 8—12

Israel’s end will be like an earthquake. The land will shake and heave. Nature will share in God’s anger. The earthquake will be followed by an eclipse, which will cause great fear. The earth and the very cosmos will seem to be in opposition to the people who turned away from their God, the Lord of all creation.

3. Spiritual renewal results in justice, Zephaniah 3:9—20

There is a “prophetic gospel,” and the minor prophets are full of it. What is the “prophetic gospel?” It is the “good news in prophecy.” God will always have the “last word.” This last word is repeated spoken in Psalm 136: His mercy endures forever.

The minor prophet Zephaniah, who prophesied during the time of great king Josiah, spent 2 chapters declaring what God would do to the nations on a worldwide scale. Now he turns his attention to Judah and Jerusalem. Joshiah’s awesome religious reforms, unfortunately, did not long outlast him. Jerusalem should have been the model for the whole world. Jerusalem should have been setting the example for every nation in the world to follow after. Instead, Jerusalem, like Samaria before it, became the home of those who were wilfully living in rebellion against God. They lived polluted lives, defiling themselves with sinful deeds, and disregarding the rights of others, especially of orphans and widows.

a. Arrogance abolished, vs. 9—13

Just when the promised judgment had reached its crescendo, God would enter center stage in a big way:

Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder. (verse 9)

The Hebrew for “purify” is a strong word that means “a turning away” or “a transformation.” It’s not a slow process, but a quick and total change; a radical break with the past. This radical change will affect all nations because this work of God will be worldwide in scope.

I will sweep away both people and animals; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all people on the face of the earth…” (1:2—3)

God would use the Babylonian Exile of the Jews to accomplish this purification. The rebellion would be purged from their souls. God would use the exile to reorient the people around God.

b. The everlasting presence of God, vs. 14—17

She who was once the rebellious, polluted, and oppressing city is given three titles of honor: daughter of Zion, Israel, and daughter of Jerusalem. In Biblical poetry, which much of the prophetic word is, cities and their citizens are often referred to as women.

Zephaniah is describing life in the Messianic era. It will be a time filled with great joy, singing, and gladness. All this happiness of God’s people will be shared by God Himself:

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (verse 7)

c. The restoration of the nation, vs. 18—20

In spite of the translation difficulties surrounding verse 18, Zephaniah writes of a time in the future of God’s people that even we have yet to experience. The years of exile in Babylong would be difficult for the Jews. They would be unable to worship, and would long for the day when they could gather together in praise.

To these exiles, God promised that one day, all would be restored. Once they lived in shame, but one day, they people would receive honor and fame on account of what their God will do for them.

Through God’s work of restoration, Judah will become renowned around the world.

At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes…” (verses 19, 20)

The minor prophets saw the day when God’s saving grace would flow from Israel to all the people over all the earth. By taking seriously the words of “the minors,” we can learn what God requires of us and how to “do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8)

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

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