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The Message Of Amos

The unity of Israel under the monarchy was short-lived. God's promises of blessing for His people were dependent upon their keeping the terms of the covenant made at Sinai. Israel were constituted a holy nation and their national life was to be regulated by the law of God. It was a tragedy that idolatry became a "besetting sin" resulting in the people repeatedly breaking the first two commandments. This led to the rending of the nation into two kingdoms, north and south, an act of divine judgement. The northern kingdom comprised ten tribes, the southern was composed of Judah and Benjamin. To both kingdoms God sent His spokesmen the prophets to plead with the people to return to Him and re-dedicate themselves to the covenant terms.

After the division, Jeroboam became king of the northern kingdom. He decided that his subjects must be prevented from going up to Jerusalem to worship in the place of divine choice, lest they transfer their allegiance to Rehoboam king of Judah. Jeroboam reasoned that it would be more convenient for his people if shrines were established and golden calves set up in Dan and Bethel. These two shrines became stumbling blocks to the northern kingdom for centuries. In addition, a "priesthood" not of the tribe of Levi was set up and a ritual purporting to represent the festivals of the Lord established. Everything was based on expediency; principles of divine worship were compromised.

The false shrine at Bethel was still operative 150 years after the death of Jeroboam I, when Jeroboam II came to the throne. During the reign of Jeroboam II, there was commercial prosperity. Samaria, the capital, became the meeting-place of merchants who travelled between Egypt and Mesopotamia. The merchants became prosperous but the poor were oppressed and downtrodden. Material prosperity was accompanied by moral and spiritual decline. Amos was chosen by God to challenge Israel and to bring them to an awareness of their responsibilities to Him. This would lead to greater love between a man and his neighbour.

Amos came from the village of Tekoa where the grazing lands were not lush pastures but scrubland, so that he eked out a living by tending a few sycamore trees. Amos was a humble man. He was the kind of man God could use because he trembled at the word of God. He would not have chosen this task for himself, "I am no prophet, neither am I one of the sons of the prophets" (Amos 7:14 RVM). Amos was no country yokel. He was knowledgeable about current affairs and knew what was going on in the countries of the Middle East. He had a rare literary genius, his writing being marked by graphic illustration from everyday life; he was an able speaker. He lived close to his God in the Tekoan desert. When the call of God came he responded; in contrast to Jonah who at first tried to run away.

God, who had communed so often with Amos in the Tekoan desert, had a message for His rebellious people in the north. Amos was to leave

his herd in the care of someone else in the south and go to proclaim God's message to the people of the northern kingdom. It was a daunting task. Despite his own feelings of unworthiness, Amos set off to be God's spokesman: "The Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" (Amos 3:8). The call was to speak the message in Bethel, one of the centres of idol worship. What Amos saw in Bethel filled him with revulsion. He saw the evidence of the spiritual and moral decadence of the people. Wherever he looked he saw the results of backsliding, and no one seemed to care. Amos began to speak at Bethel, prefacing his message with "Thus saith the LORD". Amos paved the way for his scathing attack on Israel by proclaiming the judgement of God upon six surrounding nations.

When Amos rounded on the people of Judah for their sins he must have captured the hearts of his hearers. At this time there was no love lost between the northern and southern kingdoms. What had the people of Judah been guilty of? "They have rejected the law of the LORD" (Amos 2:4). What an indictment! It is a principle of God's dealings with men that greater light brings increased accountability. "And their lies have caused them to err". The Hebrew word which is here translated "lies" literally means "untrue" and is used figuratively of idols. It would require the refining fire of the Babylonian captivity to purify them of idolatry.

When Amos proclaimed punishment on Israel the audience may have wondered what was coming next. This was too near home to be comfortable. They probably expected that, having dealt with the nations bordering Israel, Amos would turn his attention to the major powers, Egypt and Assyria. The people of the northern kingdom were complacent; had lulled themselves into believing that because they belonged to a divinely chosen nation their prosperity was guaranteed.

God expected His people to be an example to the nations round about. They should have been different, but in many ways they lived and acted as their pagan neighbours. There was too much "confidence in riches". In that acquisitive society the rich swindled the poor. God intended His people to love people and to use things. Many were materialistic in outlook; they loved things and they used people.

They thought that they went up to Bethel to worship God; but Amos told them that they sinned against God. There was irony in his chiding reproof, "Come to Bethel and transgress" (Amos 4:4). They were largely concerned with externals; their hearts were not right with God. Their elaborate ritual of sacrifice was just that - a ritual. It was not based on an appreciation of God's greatness and goodness.

Through the prophet God says, "I hate, I despise your feasts... though

ye offer Me your burnt offerings and meal offerings, I will not accept them" (Amos 5:21,22).

Through the prophet God asks many pointed questions to provoke His hearers to take stock of the situation. "Ye have not returned unto Me", is a refrain which occurs five times in the book. God longed for them to return to Him for restoration and renewal. "Seek ye Me, and ye shall live" (Amos 5:4). But if they continued in their wrong course of conduct they would be caught as a bird in a snare. They would not be able to escape judgement. They had not realized that the repeated calamities which had overtaken them were a result of God's displeasure. "I have smitten you with blasting and mildew" (Amos 4:9). Their poor harvests were a direct result of departure from God; He was withholding the blessing.

The book graphically records five visions which were granted to Amos. The vision of the plumbline may be taken as representative. Amos saw the Lord standing "beside a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in His hand" (Amos 7:7). The purpose of a plumbline is to ensure the perpendicular accuracy of a wall. The wall is first constructed with the plumbline, but in process of time the wall may become out of true, consequently, when the plumbline is again applied the wall will fail the test. It was because the nation of Israel pledged their obedience to the law of God that they became the people of God. But when the standard of the law of God was now applied to Israel their failure was apparent. The judgement of God was to fall on the shrines of apostate worship and upon Jeroboam personally.

Although Amos was a southerner, he identified himself with the northern kingdom, pleading for God's disobedient, careless people, "Then I said, 0 Lord GOD, forgive, I beseech Thee: how shall Jacob stand? for he is small" (Amos 7:2). But as Amos had proclaimed the inevitability of the Babylonian captivity for Judah he also prophesied that the ten tribes of the northern kingdom would be carried into captivity by Assyria and scattered amongst the nations (Amos 5:27, 9:4, 9:9).

Does Amos see anything beyond the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities? He was granted a vision of Messiah's millennial kingdom. "In that day", God says, "I will close up the breaches thereof". When, in that future day, Israel's Messiah appears for her healing, the nation will be reunified. In that day "the plowman shall overtake the reaper" (Amos 9:13). The curse which followed the Fall having been largely removed, there will be two harvests in one season. What a contrast with "I smote you with blasting and mildew"! Because Israel's King is on His throne "they shall no more be plucked out of their land" (Amos 9:15).