I want to thank Michael Key for sharing the little book of Amos with us this week.
(Back in the mid 70's, I was fortunate enough to be a student in Dr. Bernard Boyd's religion class at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. It was there that I heard a master story teller tell me a Bible story that I had never heard. This week I will share that story with you.)
1. Amos - A Word From The Lord
In the year 787 B.C. a herdsman from the town of Tekoa traveled up to the fine temple in Bethel. He was a poor man, since only a poor man would bother to tend a sycomore fig tree to get the not-so-tasty figs for his food. His hometown of Tekoa was in Judah, the Southern kingdom that was in a civil war with the Northern nation of Israel; but he traveled up to the city of Bethel because God told him to do so. He probably would have preferred to stay with his small, scrawny sheep, but God had burdened him to carry a message to the temple congregation. In fact, the name Amos means "one who bears the burden." In the Jewish worship service there is a moment when the people were asked, "Does anyone have a word from the Lord?" Probably at that point, the shabbily dressed shepherd walked to the front of the temple. " And he said, The LORD will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither." (Amos 1:2) Possibly this was the first utterance of what we call "the prophets", He had quite a bit to say to the people at Bethel, and to all of us today.
2. Amos - "The LORD Will Roar From Zion"
"The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen 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. And he said, The LORD will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron: But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, which shall devour the palaces of Benhadad. I will break also the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from the plain of Aven, and him that holdeth the sceptre from the house of Eden: and the people of Syria shall go into captivity unto Kir, saith the LORD. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they carried away captive the whole captivity, to deliver them up to Edom: But I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, which shall devour the palaces thereof: And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and him that holdeth the sceptre from Ashkelon, and I will turn mine hand against Ekron: and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord GOD. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Tyrus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant: But I will send a fire on the wall of Tyrus, which shall devour the palaces thereof.(Amos 1:10)
The prophecy of Amos begins with the idea that God is getting ready to roar, and the mountains are getting ready to wither. Then Amos tells the people that God is going to judge Damascus, the nation to the north of Israel, because they have sinned not just once, but three or four times. One of the horrible things they had done was to run their plows over their enemies. Then Amos tells the people that God is going to punish the hated Philistines, Israel's neighbor to the southwest. (The Gaza strip is certainly in our headlines today!) Why? Because they had sinned not once, but three or four times. Their sin? They invaded nations just to replenish their inventory of slaves. Amos says that God will send His judgement--"a fire" upon these nations. Then in verses 9-10 Amos says that God will in the same way judge Tyre and Sidon, nations to the northwest of Israel. Amos says that God is going to deal with the enemies of Israel. Many people in the temple probably wonder about this shabby man who is declaring what God is getting ready to do. But they like the message a lot. They are thrilled to hear that God is going to punish their enemies. But wait until you hear..."the rest of the story..."
3. Amos - For Three Transgressions, And For Four
"Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he did pursue his brother with the sword, and did cast off all pity, and his anger did tear perpetually, and he kept his wrath for ever: But I will send a fire upon Teman, which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of the children of Ammon, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have ripped up the women with child of Gilead, that they might enlarge their border: But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, and it shall devour the palaces thereof, with shouting in the day of battle, with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind: And their king shall go into captivity, he and his princes together, saith the LORD. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime: But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth: and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet: And I will cut off the judge from the midst thereof, and will slay all the princes thereof with him, saith the LORD." (Amos 1:11-2:3)
The poor shepherd by the name of Amos has walked to the front of the temple at Bethel, and he has proclaimed that God will judge the enemy nations surrounding Israel because of their numerous sins. In verse 11 he has skipped down to the enemy to the south of Israel by the name of Edom. In verse 13 Amos says God will destroy the Ammonites. ln chapter 2 and verse 1, Amos declares that God will destroy Moab. Twice in the book of Psalms, God says that Moab is "my washpot" (Psalms 60:8 and 108:9). God used the country of Moab to cleanse Israel, to punish her for her sins. As Amos skips from place to place on the map, detailing God's coming judgment, the people at the temple were surely happy to hear his message. Their worst enemies were going to be punished. Maybe a few of the people even gave Amos an "Amen" as they heard him prophesy. Have you ever noticed how comfortable it is to hear a preacher condemn the sins of others? If God's man deals with sins that I have not committed, I can nod my agreement, or maybe even say "Amen" to the message. Just as long as my sins are not pointed out, and my judgment is not declared, I am fine. (It doesn't take a prophet to know where this story is going...)
4. Amos - Transgressions Of Judah And Israel
"Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have despised the law of the LORD, and have not kept his commandments, and their lies caused them to err, after the which their fathers have walked: But I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes. That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name: And they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god. Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath. Also I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith the LORD. But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not. Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves. Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself..." (Amos 2:4-14)
Amos has been declaring God's judgment on many of the surrounding nations, and the listeners at the temple in Bethel were probably enjoying hearing about these judgments. And now Amos mentions Judah, his home country. Perhaps the strongest bitter feelings occur when a country has a civil war, because the citizens view the other side as betrayers, those who were once on their side but have gone against them. So the Israelites sitting and listening to Amos probably get very excited about hearing how God will judge those in Judah. Then in verse 6 Amos lowers the boom. He says that God will judge Israel. And now the congregation is silent, as Amos details the reasons for God's judgment: they had forsaken the poor, they had become immoral, and they had turned to other gods. They would not even let others live for God. When God raised up their sons to be prophets, or to take Nazarite vows, the people had done all they could to corrupt them. Now judgment was coming, and no one would be exempt. You see, the Assyrians were forming an amazing military machine that would soon swoop down from the northeast and conquer every one of the nations that Amos has mentioned. And not even God's "chosen people" would be able to escape. Verse 13 is an amazing statement: the Israelites were literally "running over" God. God is "pressed" by Israel's treatment of Him and His laws, and He had finally had enough. The rest of this book will deal with God's judgment of Israel, and His reasons for it.
As a matter of application, I wonder if God is feeling "pressed" by America's actions today. He is longsuffering, but when we commit the same sins Israel did and do not seem to care about those sins, aren't we running over God the same way they were?
5. Amos - "Can Two Walk Together, Except They Be Agreed?"
"Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:1-3)
Amos refers to the people as "the children of Israel," and the book of Amos portrays God in a "Father to children" role. Notice that God refers to the "whole family," and then God emphasizes that the Israelites are the only family He knows "of all the families of the earth." How many times can we remember our parents telling us, "I don't care what everybody else is doing--you are MY child!" This is what God is saying to Israel. And all who have children understand what comes after the "therefore:" "I will punish you for all your iniquities." Think of it this way: if you came out of church one Sunday morning and saw several kids throwing rocks at cars in the parking lot, I'm sure you would correct them. But what if one of those kids was your child? My words (and volume) would be quite different for my own child. (I prefer not to think anymore about what I would do concerning my child...) Amos 3:3 is one of the key verses in this book: "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" God is reminding the Israelites that they had an agreement, a "covenant". They were to be His people, and He was to be their God. There were ten conditions, or commandments that went along with that covenant, and the Children of Israel had forgotten them. They had been in a position of privilege, walking together with God, but it was also a position of responsibility. God is saying through Amos, "You are my children, and you have done wrong. And now I must punish you." To be a righteous God, He must be a God of judgment. No good parent can let his child do wrong over and over without some form of correction. Why should we expect God to be any different?
6. Amos - A Pause To Look At The Prophet Hosea
"Then said the LORD unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the LORD toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine." (Hosea 3:1)
We will return to Amos and his prophecy, but I wanted to show you another relationship that pictures God and His people, and this is found in the book of Hosea. It is interesting to me that Amos shows God as a parent, and focuses on His judgment of His children, while the book of Hosea (which was written at almost the same time) shows God as a husband, and focuses on His unfailing love for his bride. Hosea loves his wife so much that despite her repeated unfaithfulness, he goes to the slave market and buys her back to himself. It is a sad book, and through the eyes and life of Hosea we can see God's broken heart. One of Laura Story's songs goes like this: "I ask you how many times will you pick me up, when I keep on letting you down..."
The books of Amos and Hosea are like two sides of a coin, showing how much God loves us and is hurt when we sin and are unfaithful, but also showing how God is righteous and must punish His children for their sins. God can speak to our hearts in both ways. (Tomorrow, back to Amos 3)
7. Amos - God Shows Him a Plumbline
The poor shepherd from Tekoa continues his prophecy against the Children of Israel. In Amos 4:1-2 he calls the women in the temple "fat cows": "Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink. The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks." One always swears by the highest power one knows. That explains how people who do not even claim to believe in God will say, "I swear to God!" Well, God swears by His holiness. Amos warns them that there is no one who will escape God's judgment, and those that are longing for the "day of the Lord" will be shocked when it comes and brings them destruction. He gives the sad analogy of a man running from one disaster to another: "As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him." (Amos 4:19) These Israelites still pretended to worship, but God says, "I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols." God wants nothing of their worship if it is only ritual and noise. How many people today are like those Israelites, going through the motions but their hearts are far from God? The Bethel temple was one of the finest and these wealthy people are shocked at the things that Amos says. They believe their wealth and
material possessions were proof that God was pleased with them, but Amos says, "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion..." And then Amos says God shewed him a plumbline, and a plumbline does not lie. "And the LORD said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel..." (Amos 7:8) The Word of God is His plumbline, and no matter what public opinion says, no matter what our political leaders say, no matter what Hollywood says, the Bible will decide if what you and I do in our everyday lives is right or wrong, righteous or sinful. Once God puts the plumbline on any life, there is nothing else to say.
8. Amos - A Message That Couldn't Be Stopped
"Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land. Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king's chapel, and it is the king's court. Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel. Now therefore hear thou the word of the LORD: Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac. Therefore thus saith the LORD; Thy wife shall be an harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land." (Amos 7:10-17)
The congregation in the temple send for Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, to stop the judgment message of Amos. Amaziah calls Amos a "seer", and tells him to go back to the land of Judah and to prophesy no more at Bethel. But notice his last accusation includes the claim that Bethel is "the king's chapel" and "the king's court." Things were so bad in Israel that Amaziah had forgotten that the temple belonged to God, not to the king. I love the answer of Amos. He states simply that he was not a prophet, nor a prophet's son. He had simply been minding his own business taking care of sheep in Tekoa when God called him to send a message unto Israel. He then gives Amaziah a personal message that is quite shocking. Amaziah was called by the people to run off Amos, but it is Amos that runs off Amaziah. Then he goes back to his message of judgment, which we will finish discussing tomorrow.
9. Amos - Will You Hear God's Message?
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:" (Amos 8:11)
After Amaziah is given his shocking personal prophecies from God (through Amos), he disappears from our story, and Amos goes back to his message. "God will judge!" is the theme of Amos, and the same way the people in Bethel dismissed the message, modern man has little room for anyone who tries to convey that message from God's Word. But as one old preacher titled his sermon, there is a "Payday, Someday!" All sins have to be paid for, and either Jesus can pay for our sins by His death on the cross, or we will pay for them ourselves. Amos says that God will judge, but many today scoff at that idea, stressing that God is only a God of love. They miss the fact that God is also a righteous judge, and those who reject God and embrace a life of sin must face judgment. Amos knew that the people would not believe his message, and he said that there would be a famine sent. This is not a famine of food or water, but a famine of "hearing the words of the Lord." We live today in the middle of that famine. God's Word is true, but people refuse to hear it. That is why the book of Amos is so relevant to us today.