The Silence Is Broken

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:5-17 ESV

It’s interesting to note that, as Luke begins his record of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he reminds his readers that there was a king ruling and reigning over the province of Judea, and this man’s name was Herod.

This is significant because Luke, like the authors of the other gospels, is going to establish Jesus as King of the Jews. But before Jesus even shows up on the scene, there is a contender or pretender for the throne. Herod was actually an Edomite, one of the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. Before Jacob and Esau were born, God had given their mother a prophetic message concerning the fate of her two sons.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

After their birth, Jacob, the younger of the two, would bargain and deceive his way into stealing the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn from his older brother Esau. When the boys were older and their father Isaac was nearing death, Jacob disguised himself as his older brother and tricked the near-blind Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for the oldest son.

“Let peoples serve you,
    and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
    and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” – Genesis 27:29 ESV

This life-altering event left Esau angry and frustrated. He demanded that Isaac provide him with a blessing as well. But what he heard left him embittered and far from satisfied.

“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
    and away from the dew of heaven on high.
By your sword you shall live,
    and you shall serve your brother…” – Genesis 27:39-40 ESV

Now, centuries later, Herod, a descendant of Esau, was sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem. But he was not from the tribe of Judah. Technically, he was not even a Jew. He was an Edomite. And he had gained his title by making alliances with the Romans. At one point, he had been appointed the governor of the northern province of Galilee. Herod’s father was a high-ranking official in the Hasmonean Dynasty, which had been ruling in Palestine until the arrival of the Romans. During a conflict between the Hasmoneans and the Romans, Herod chose to side with the Romans. As a result, the Roman Senate promised him the undeserved title of “King of the Jews,” if he could successfully conquer Judea, the largest Roman province that included all of Israel.

After helping to reign in the rebellious Judeans, Herod received his official title in 37 BC, and he would remain the unofficial king until 4 AD. So, as Luke begins his chronicle of the birth of the true King of the Jews, we discover that the position was occupied by a usurper. And we will quickly see that this two-king, one-title situation would prove to be a problem.

But after a brief, but important, reference to Herod, Luke introduces us to another character – a priest named Zechariah. According to 1 Chronicles, King David was the one who had organized the priesthood into 24 divisions.

David divided Aaron’s descendants into groups according to their various duties. Eleazar’s descendants were divided into sixteen groups and Ithamar’s into eight, for there were more family leaders among the descendants of Eleazar. – 1 Chronicles 24:2-4 ESV

Each group carried out its appointed duties in the house of the Lord according to the procedures established by their ancestor Aaron in obedience to the commands of the Lord, the God of Israel. – 1 Chronicles 24:19 ESV

Zechariah came from the division of Abijah. His wife, Elizabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron. So, this couple had strong ties to the Aaronic priesthood. And Luke lets us know that this couple lived up to their priestly heritage.

…they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. – Luke 1:6 ESV

But this godly couple had never been able to have children because Elizabeth was barren. Now, to make matters worse, they were both advanced in years. Sound familiar? It should. Because it is reminiscent of several other biblical couples who found themselves facing similar circumstances. When Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, was called by God, he and his wife Sarah were advanced in years and she suffered from barrenness. Rachel, the wife of Jacob, was also barren. Yet God allowed her to give birth to a son.

Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” And she called his name Joseph – Genesis 30:22-24 ESV

Hannah, the mother of the prophet, Samuel, also suffered from barrenness. In fact, the book of 1 Samuel records that God had closed up her womb (1 Samuel 1:5). Yet, when Hannah called out to the Lord, He answered her.

…in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.” – 1 Samuel 1:20 ESV

God entered into the pain and misery of each of these women, providing them with hope even after years of desperation and despondency. He moved in the midst of their barrenness and produced fruitfulness. He brought light into the darkness of their lives, graciously blessing them with the sons for whom they had so long waited.

It is not insignificant that Zechariah’s Hebrew name means “Yahweh remembers.” God was going to remember Elizabeth but, more importantly, He was going to remember His people, Israel. For 400 years, the nation of Israel had lived in a time of silence, with no prophetic messengers having been sent by God. The last words of the very last prophet had been declared four centuries earlier when Malachi closed out the book that bears his name.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

God was about to remember and fulfill that promise, and it would begin with an elderly priest and his barren wife. On the particular day of the year when Zechariah’s priestly division was scheduled to serve in the Temple, his name was “chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (Luke 1:9 ESV). Everything about this scenario shouts the sovereignty and providential will of God. He was orchestrating every aspect of this scene.

While performing his priestly duties at the altar of incense inside the Temple, Zechariah was suddenly joined by an angel. The appearance of this unexpected visitor left Zechariah in a state of fear. But the angel assured the frightened priest that all was well. He simply had an important message to deliver.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. – Luke 1:13 ESV

It’s likely that Zechariah had been praying for his wife’s barren condition for some time. But the text seems to indicate that he had been taking advantage of his access to the Temple and the altar of incense to offer up a special prayer of intercession. And the angel informed him that God had heard his prayer and the answer was on its way. She would give birth to a son whose name would be John. And Zechariah must have chuckled to himself when he heard the angel exclaim, “You will have great joy and gladness” (Luke 1:14 NLT). Of course, he would. This was a prayer he had been praying for years, and now God was answering it. God was remembering him and Hannah. And when John was born, Zechariah would be beside himself with joy and gladness.

But the angel added that John’s birth would be a source of joy for a great many people.

“…and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord.” – Luke 1:15 NLT

And the angel explains why this boy’s birth will have such an impact on so many.

“…he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.” – Luke 1:16-17 NLT

This birth, while a direct answer to Zechariah’s prayer, was going to be a fulfillment of God’s promise to send “Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5 ESV). This would be no ordinary baby. He would be a prophet sent from God with a message regarding the coming Savior of the world. The deafening silence of the last 400 years would be broken at last. God uses this miraculous messenger to declare the pending arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. John would do so under the influence of the Holy Spirit. But to ensure that His messenger would remain pure and undefiled, God commanded Zechariah to raise his son as a Nazirite. He was to abstain from the consumption of any form of wine or strong drink. His role would be too important to risk the influence of alcohol. He would be filled with the Spirit instead. 

John was going to be the preparer of the way. His job would be to declare the coming of the chosen one of God. John would serve as a herald, with a singular task “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

False Gods = False Hope

1 When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling;
    he was exalted in Israel,
    but he incurred guilt through Baal and died.
And now they sin more and more,
    and make for themselves metal images,
idols skillfully made of their silver,
    all of them the work of craftsmen.
It is said of them,
    “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!”
Therefore they shall be like the morning mist
    or like the dew that goes early away,
like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor
    or like smoke from a window.
– Hosea 13:1-3 ESV

Hosea continues to give the tribe of Ephraim a special designation as the premier tribe among the other nine that made up the northern kingdom of Judah. And this was appropriate considering the words of Jacob, spoken when he had blessed his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph.

“Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.”

So Jacob blessed the boys that day with this blessing: “The people of Israel will use your names when they give a blessing. They will say, ‘May God make you as prosperous as Ephraim and Manasseh.’” In this way, Jacob put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. – Genesis 48:19-20 NLT

The tribe of Ephraim was the largest of the tribes within the northern kingdom and it played a significant leadership role within the nation. In fact, the very first king who ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel had been Jeroboam, a member of the tribe of Ephraim (1 King 11:26). And it was Jeroboam who, after being given the responsibility by God to rule over the ten northern tribes, had made the fateful decision to create his own gods and religion. He had created two golden calf idols and decreed them to be the gods of Israel, even setting up temples for their worship in Dan and Bethel.

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT

The ten northern tribes had not gotten off to a great start, and their downward spiritual trajectory never fully recovered. Jeroboam had created a fertile environment in which apostasy and idolatry could grow, and his successors continued to lead the people away from worshiping Yahweh as the one true God. Eventually, this led to the worship of Baal, the god of the Canaanites. And Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, one of Israel’s future kings, would aggressively promote Baal as the primary god of the northern kingdom.

Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. And as though it were not enough to follow the sinful example of Jeroboam, he married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and he began to bow down in worship of Baal. First Ahab built a temple and an altar for Baal in Samaria. Then he set up an Asherah pole. He did more to provoke the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him. – 1 Kings 16:30-33 NLT

It should not be surprising to learn that Ahab was also a member of the tribe of Ephraim.

The seventh king of Israel, Ahab (reigned c. 874–c. 853 bc), was also an Ephraimite. His generally peaceful reign was marred by the worship of the Canaanite god Baal by his wife, Jezebel. From about 745 bc, the northern kingdom was often referred to as the Kingdom of Ephraim, a reflection of the tribe’s importance. – Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Ephraim”. Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ephraim-Jewish-tribe. Accessed 19 June 2021.

So, Hosea’s calling out of this particular tribe was well deserved. They had played a major role in Israel’s spiritual decline and would be held responsible.

the people of Ephraim sinned by worshiping Baal
    and thus sealed their destruction. – Hosea 13:1 NLT

They used their access to the throne to promote idolatry and, in doing so, led the people of Israel to forsake God. And according to Hosea, this one tribe encouraged a spirit of unfaithfulness among the other nine tribes.

Now they continue to sin by making silver idols,
    images shaped skillfully with human hands. – Hosea 13:2 NLT

The practice of idolatry became prolific and profitable. The making of idols became a cottage industry, providing a lucrative business opportunity for many in Israel. And it wasn’t long before the Israelites added a host of new gods to their growing pantheon of false gods. One could find shrines, altars, and high places dedicated to these deities all over the kingdom of Israel. And each was served by its own priests and warranted its own set of rules and rituals to regulate proper worship and to ensure its adherents received a favorable response.

But in order to worship these false gods, the Israelites had to turn their backs on the one true God. In bowing down before the idols they had made with their own hands, they were abandoning their hope and trust in Yahweh. They were seeking help from pieces of stone and metal that were incapable of hearing or responding to their requests. And the prophet Isaiah recorded God’s sarcastic assessment of idolatry’s absurdity.

You are my witnesses—is there any other God?
    No! There is no other Rock—not one!”

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit?
All who worship idols will be disgraced
    along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—
    who claim they can make a god.
They may all stand together,
    but they will stand in terror and shame. – Isaiah 20:8-11 NLT

Later on, in Isaiah’s book, there is another unflattering statement by God that reflects the sheer stupidity behind the practice of idolatry. Yahweh paints a ridiculous-looking portrait of a craftsman cutting down a tree and going through the process of creating his god.

…he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!
He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!” – Isaiah 44:15-17 NLT

And the prophet Jeremiah provides yet another one of God’s stinging indictments against the absurd practice of idolatry.

“Their ways are futile and foolish.
    They cut down a tree, and a craftsman carves an idol.
They decorate it with gold and silver
    and then fasten it securely with hammer and nails
    so it won’t fall over.
Their gods are like
    helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field!
They cannot speak,
    and they need to be carried because they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of such gods,
    for they can neither harm you nor do you any good.” – Jeremiah 10:3-5 NLT

But while these false gods can do neither harm nor good, Yahweh can. And Hosea points out the unsettling fact that all those who choose to worship other gods will be judged by the one true God.

Therefore, they will disappear like the morning mist,
    like dew in the morning sun,
like chaff blown by the wind,
    like smoke from a chimney. – Hosea 13:3 NLT

They were about to learn a painful but invaluable lesson. When the wrath of Yahweh fell, their false gods would be proven helpless and defenseless. Their sacrifices would accomplish nothing. Their cries for deliverance would go unheard and unanswered. While Yahweh was a “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1 ESV), their false gods would be exposed as worthless and, ultimately, totally unreliable.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Shall I Do With You?

1 “Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
    What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
    like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
    I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
    and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
    there they dealt faithlessly with me.
Gilead is a city of evildoers,
    tracked with blood.
As robbers lie in wait for a man,
    so the priests band together;
they murder on the way to Shechem;
    they commit villainy.
10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing;
    Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. Hosea 6:1-10 ESV

In the opening verses of chapter six, Hosea envisions a highly unlikely scene: The humble and sincere repentance of the rebellious Israelites. It’s unclear what Hosea hoped to accomplish with this description of a contrite and penitent response on the part of the people. Was he attempting to illustrate how his stubborn audience ought to be responding to his messages, or were his words intended to mock their hard-hearted rejection of His message of warning?

From a historical perspective, there is no record of the Israelites ever uttering words of this nature. At no point did they cry out to God, acknowledging their guilt, confessing their sins, and asking for His forgiveness and healing. All the way back before God divided the nation of Israel into two kingdoms, He had allowed King Solomon to build a temple in His honor. This remarkable building in Jerusalem was meant to be the house of God, where the people would come to offer sacrifices and seek His forgiveness for the sins they had committed. And God made a series of promises to the people of Israel confirming His willingness to grace the temple with His name and honor their humble, heartfelt prayers with forgiveness and healing.

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

Yet, by the time Hosea penned the words of his book, more than 150 years had passed since Solomon had dedicated the temple, and the people of Israel remained stubbornly unrepentant and unwilling to humble themselves before God. And exacerbating their problem was the fact that they no longer had access to the temple in Jerusalem. They had long ago forsaken Yahweh, choosing instead to worship at the shrines and temples dedicated to their false gods.

The scene of a repentant Israel calling out to God is meant to dramatize and accentuate the inexplicable hardness of their hearts. Hosea is portraying what their response ought to be when God brings His judgment against them. They will suffer greatly when God rains down His righteous indignation on them. But they will experience no healing because they will refuse to call out to Him in humble contrition.

Hosea even indicates that when the judgment of God comes, they will view it as short in duration and easily overcome.

In just a short time he will restore us,
    so that we may live in his presence. – Hosea 6:2 NLT

They won’t take His punishment seriously. They’ll end up underestimating the depth of their own depravity and mistakenly assume that any suffering they endure will be quickly remedied by God. Hosea seems to portray their repentance as a bit overconfident, and a bit too self-assured that God will quickly restore them.

He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
    or the coming of rains in early spring – Hosea 6:3 NLT

But none of this has ever happened. The people of Israel did not return to the Lord. They never did humble themselves before Him and confess their many sins against Him. Even their eventual defeat at the hands of the Assyrians did nothing to break their stubborn refusal to heed His call to repent. The prophet Amos delivered a sobering word from God concerning Israel’s inexplicable refusal to learn anything from the judgment they endured.

“I destroyed some of your cities,
    as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Those of you who survived
    were like charred sticks pulled from a fire.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:11 NLT

And, in response, God asks the probing question, “What shall I do with you?” (Hosea 6:4 ESV). He has warned. He has threatened. He has disciples. Yet, they have not yet returned to Him. At no point has Israel or Judah lived out what Hosea described in the first three verses of this chapter.  In the face of all of God’s blessings and despite all of His warnings and past judgments, the people of Israel and Judah remain determined to live in disobedience to His commands. And their failure to faithfully observe His laws was nothing less than an expression of their lack of love for Him.

“…your love vanishes like the morning mist
    and disappears like dew in the sunlight.” – Hosea 6:4 NLT

He had repeatedly sent His prophets with words of warning, “to cut you to pieces—to slaughter you with my words, with judgments as inescapable as light” (Hosea 6:5 NLT), but the people had refused to listen. And God lets them know that what He wanted from them was love, not sacrifices. What He desired most was intimacy, not religious duplicity. He was sick of watching His people go through the motions, offering their meaningless, heartless sacrifices. He was no longer willing to put up with their sanctimonious and hypocritical displays of religious zeal. Mere obedience to His commands was never what God wanted. He desired faithfulness that emanated from the heart. That was something King David knew and understood.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

And the prophet Isaiah would communicate God’s displeasure with His peoples’ meaningless displays of ritualistic religious fervor. It has never been about the bulls and goats, the blood and smoke, or the pomp and circumstance. It had always been about the heart.

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
    says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
    of bulls and lambs and goats.

“When you come to worship me,
    who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.” – Isaiah 1:11-13, 16-17 NLT

But God’s people, following in the footsteps of Adam, had been guilty of breaking their covenant agreement with Him. When God had placed Adam and Eve in the garden, He had surrounded them with beauty and provided them with everything they needed for life, including intimate fellowship with Him. The only condition God placed on the first couple was that they obey one command.

But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 NLT

God had given them every tree of the garden from which to eat. There was only one tree that was off-limits, and that happens to be the one tree they decided they had to have. They disobeyed God’s command and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In doing so, they displayed their lack of trust in God. They decided that they knew better than God. He had denied them that one tree and now, they had determined it was the tree they needed most. By eating the fruit of that tree Adam and Eve displayed their doubt of God’s love for them. He was denying them something they deserved and desired. He was withholding what they wanted.

And the Israelites were guilty of the very same thing. They had rejected God’s love and determined to live according to their own rules and standards. So, God described the unflattering outcome of their self-determination and blatant disregard for His love as expressed in His law.

“Gilead is a city of sinners,
    tracked with footprints of blood.
Priests form bands of robbers,
    waiting in ambush for their victims.
They murder travelers along the road to Shechem
    and practice every kind of sin.
Yes, I have seen something horrible in Ephraim and Israel:
    My people are defiled by prostituting themselves with other gods! – Hosea 6:8-10 NLT

It was not a pretty picture. Sin had spread like cancer throughout the nation. No city was remained untouched. Every level of society had been infected, including the priesthood. God describes the people of Israel as practicing every kind of sin. Nothing was left to the imagination. Their idolatry had turned to gross immorality, and the entire land was now diseased and in need of God’s cleansing.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Famine From God

1 This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. And he said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me,

“The end has come upon my people Israel;
    I will never again pass by them.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,”
declares the Lord God.
“So many dead bodies!”
“They are thrown everywhere!”
“Silence!”

Hear this, you who trample on the needy
    and bring the poor of the land to an end,
saying, “When will the new moon be over,
    that we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
    that we may offer wheat for sale,
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great
    and deal deceitfully with false balances,
that we may buy the poor for silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals
    and sell the chaff of the wheat?”

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
“Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this account,
    and everyone mourn who dwells in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
    and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?”

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning
    and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on every waist
    and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day.

11 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
    “when 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.
12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
    and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,
    but they shall not find it.

13 “In that day the lovely virgins and the young men
    shall faint for thirst.
14 Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria,
    and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’
and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’
    they shall fall, and never rise again.” Amos 8:1-14 ESV

As God continues to unveil His plans for the rebellious people of Israel, He provides Amos with another visual illustration, meant to drive home the imminent nature of the coming judgment. Amos is given a vision of a basket filled with ripe summer fruit. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a pleasant sight, but Amos knew that it was a symbol of something foreboding. It was meant to represent the last of the harvest. Once the content of the basket was consumed, there would be no more. And God makes that point painfully clear.

“The end has come upon my people Israel…” – Amos 8:2 ESV

The basket of summer fruit was meant to symbolize the current state within Israel. They were enjoying prosperity and peace. King Jeroboam II had successfully expanded the nation’s borders and the people were filled with eager anticipation of a future filled with more of the same. They expected their basket to be continually filled with the ripe fruit of material gain and financial success. They viewed themselves as somehow deserving of a never-ending supply of blessings from God – even though they had long ago abandoned Him for a host of false gods. But the vision was God’s not-so-subtle way of letting them know that there was going to be an end to all their “ripe fruit” gained through illegal and unjust means.

“In that day the singing in the temple will turn to wailing. Dead bodies will be scattered everywhere. They will be carried out of the city in silence. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Amos 8:3 NLT

And just so they wouldn’t miss the point He was trying to make, God outlines the long list of sins they had committed that were the impetus for His anger. Their basket of ripe summer fruit had been gained by improper and unjust means. They had robbed the poor and trampled down the needy. They had repeatedly taken advantage of the disadvantaged. Graft and greed were prevalent, and the ones to suffer the most were those on the lower end of the social food chain. The ubiquitous presence of dishonesty and deceit left the poorest of the land suffering the greatest injustices. They couldn’t catch a break.

But God has had enough of all their ungodly ways. He will no longer tolerate this kind of behavior among His chosen people. So, He conveys to Jonah His plan to deal with Israel once and for all.

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
“Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. – Amos 8:7 ESV

This is the second time that God has mentioned the “pride of Jacob.” And in both cases, God is referring to the nation of Israel by referring to them by the former name of their patriarch and father. Jacob was the name given to the son of Isaac and Rebekah. It meant “supplanter,” or more literally, “heel-holder.” When he and his twin brother were born, Jacob came out of the womb second, grasping the heel of his slightly older brother. This would prove to be a sign of things to come. Throughout his life, Jacob would use deceit and deception to gain an advantage over his older brother, cheating Esau out of his birthright and robbing him of the blessing of the firstborn.

Years later, God would change Jacob’s name to Israel, and from him, God would create the nation that bore his name. But when God delivered His message of judgment against them, He chose to associate them with Jacob, the supplanter and deceiver. Back in chapter six, God declared His strong displeasure with Israel’s pride and arrogance. They had managed to inherit the negative characteristics of their forefather, and God let them know that He was not pleased.

The Lord God has sworn by himself, declares the Lord, the God of hosts:

“I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and hate his strongholds,
    and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.” – Amos 6:8 ESV

God swore an oath, pledging to bring judgment upon the nation of Israel, and using the pride of Jacob as both His justification and the validation of His intentions. He would do exactly as He warned. Just as the Nile overflows its banks and floods the land, so will God’s judgment inundate the nation of Israel.

God describes a time of unexpected and inexplicable darkness. It will be like the sun setting in the middle of the day. This is most likely a metaphorical statement, describing the noonday sun being obscured by smoke from the many fires ravaging the city when the destruction finally comes upon it. There will be great mourning throughout Israel as its cities fall and its people suffer at the hands of their conquerors. It will be a day of bitterness and sorrow.

And all the destruction and devastation will result in a famine, but unlike anything they have ever experienced before.

“The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread or water
    but of hearing the words of the Lord. – Amos 8:11 NLT

People will stagger throughout the land, from the Sea of Galilee in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, trying to hear a word from God. But they will find that He has gone silent. The time for repentance will be over. Their opportunity to return to Him will have expired. They will hunger and thirst for a word from God but will hear nothing. The prophets will be silenced. The warnings will have ceased. And the calls to repentance will be replaced by weeping and wailing.

And God ends His vision of the basket of summer fruit by pointing out the utter futility and powerlessness of Israel’s many false gods. They will prove to be no help when the judgment of God comes upon the people of Israel.

“…those who swear by the shameful idols of Samaria—
    who take oaths in the name of the god of Dan
    and make vows in the name of the god of Beersheba—
they will all fall down,
    never to rise again.” – Amos 8:14 NLT

And we know that God kept His word. The book of 2 Kings records the day when the Assyrians entered the land of Israel and conquered the capital city of Samaria.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

And the author points out the cause behind this fateful day.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. – 2 Kings 17:7 NLT

But he reminds his readers that this entire ordeal could have been avoided if they would have listened to the words of God’s prophets.

Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.”

But the Israelites would not listen. – 2 Kings 17:13-14 NLT

And, as a result, the people of Israel found their bowl of summer fruit consumed by their enemy. The famine had begun, but “not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11 NLT). 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Will and the Word of God

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said,

“‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
    and Israel must go into exile
    away from his land.’”

12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. 15 But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.

“You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
    and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’

17 Therefore thus says the Lord:

“‘Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city,
    and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
    and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
    and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’” Amos 7:10-17 ESV

Back during the days when God split Solomon’s kingdom in two, He placed Jeroboam I as the king over the ten northern tribes. They retained the name of Israel, while the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin became the kingdom of Judah, under the reign of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. One of the first things Jeroboam I did was to establish his own religion, complete with golden idols. He set up temples in Bethel and Dan, and established a set of annual feasts to discourage the people from making pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. – 1 Kings 12:31 NLT

Now, hundreds of years later, another king of Israel, who was also called Jeroboam, proved that he and his predecessor had far more in common than a shared name.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had led Israel to commit. – 2 Kings 14:24 NLT

Jeroboam II had followed the ways of every king of Israel who had preceded him. He propagated the practice of idolatry begun by his namesake. And he continued to lead the people away from their worship of Yahweh. That’s why God had provided Amos with the visions of Israel’s pending destruction. He was not going to tolerate the continued apostasy of His chosen people, and He had specifically decreed the end of Jeroboam II’s reign.

“I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins. The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.” – Amos 7:9-10 NLT

It didn’t take long for this fateful news to reach the ears of the king, and it came through one of his false priests, a man named Amaziah. He served at the temple in Bethel, where Jeroboam I had placed one of his golden calves. Amaziah was no more qualified to be a priest than the idol he worshiped was qualified to be considered a god. According to God’s law, only members of the tribe of Levi could serve in the priesthood. God had set them apart for that very purpose. But Amaziah was not a Levite and, therefore, not really a priest at all. He was just a man who pretended to be a priest for a god that didn’t really exist. But in the apostate land of Israel, that was more than enough for him to have the respect of the people and the ear of the king.

So, when Amaziah got wind of Amos’ doomsday visions, he immediately reported it to the king.

“Amos is hatching a plot against you right here on your very doorstep! What he is saying is intolerable. He is saying, ‘Jeroboam will soon be killed, and the people of Israel will be sent away into exile.’” – Amos 7:10-11 NLT

The so-called priest rejected the word of God’s appointed prophet. He placed no stock in Amos’ words and simply viewed him as a potential threat to the kingdom and his own way of life. In Amaziah’s mind, Amos was nothing more than an insurrectionist who had threatened the life of the king. He needed to take his prophetic show somewhere else.

“Get out of here, you prophet! Go on back to the land of Judah, and earn your living by prophesying there! Don’t bother us with your prophecies here in Bethel. This is the king’s sanctuary and the national place of worship!” – Amos 7:12-13 NLT

According to the opening verses of this book, Amos was from the city of Tekoa, which was located in the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet God had called him to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel. So, Amaziah viewed Amos as an outsider and strongly encouraged him to go back where he came from, because he was no longer welcome in Israel. But Amos was anything but a professional prophet and he wasn’t in it for the money. He had been minding his own business as a sheepherder when God called him and sent him to prophesy to the northern kingdom. He had not chosen this less-than-enjoyable assignment, but had been divinely appointed for it. And as long as God continued to speak, Amos was going to repeat what he heard.

So, rather than take Amaziah’s advice and return home to Tekoa, Amos gave his nemesis a prophetic word from God.

Now then, listen to this message from the Lord:

“You say,
‘Don’t prophesy against Israel.
    Stop preaching against my people.’
But this is what the Lord says…” – Amos 7:16-17 NLT

Amaziah was in no position to dictate demands. He had no authority to order around a prophet of Yahweh. And while he thought he could ban the prophet of God, he couldn’t stifle the word of God. And the news that Amos had to share was anything but encouraging.

Your wife will become a prostitute in this city,
    and your sons and daughters will be killed.
Your land will be divided up,
    and you yourself will die in a foreign land.
And the people of Israel will certainly become captives in exile,
    far from their homeland.’” – Amos 7:17 NLT

It was as if God had placed His plumb line next to the life of this false priest and found him to be way out of alignment. He failed to measure up to God’s righteous standard. Amaziah had failed on all accounts. He was not a Levite. That means he was unqualified to be a priest. On top of that, he worshiped a god that didn’t even exist. He was a fake priest who promoted the worship of a false god. And he served a king who “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (2 Kings 14:24 NLT). Amaziah was nothing more than a poorly constructed wall that leaned precariously and dangerously in the wrong direction. And his fall was imminent and unavoidable.

Amaziah’s tenure as a well-respected priest in Israel would come to an abrupt end. As a member of the royal retinue, he would end up being taken captive when Israel fell to the Assyrians. That would leave his wife as little more than a widow, forced to sell her body in order to make ends meet. His children would be murdered by the Assyrians and his land holdings would be confiscated and divided among others. Amaziah would end up losing everything. This man who thought he could stifle the word of God would have his life destroyed according to the sovereign will of God. And there was nothing he could about it.

But because Amaziah was not a priest of Yahweh, he couldn’t recognize God’s voice or accept God’s prophet. He had long ago sold out to the false gods of Jeroboam I. He had grown rich and influential by promoting the worship of gods that didn’t even exist. But now, Amaziah was about to find out the hard way, that not only did Yahweh exist, His will was unavoidable and His word was always reliable. God had spoken and it would happen – just as Amos had said.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Self-Deception of Self-Importance

1 “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
    and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
    to whom the house of Israel comes!
Pass over to Calneh, and see,
    and from there go to Hamath the great;
    then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
    Or is their territory greater than your territory,
O you who put far away the day of disaster
    and bring near the seat of violence?

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
    and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
    and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
    and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
    and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
    but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
    and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”

The Lord God has sworn by himself, declares the Lord, the God of hosts:

“I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and hate his strongholds,
    and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.”

And if ten men remain in one house, they shall die. 10 And when one’s relative, the one who anoints him for burial, shall take him up to bring the bones out of the house, and shall say to him who is in the innermost parts of the house, “Is there still anyone with you?” he shall say, “No”; and he shall say, “Silence! We must not mention the name of the Lord.”

11 For behold, the Lord commands,
    and the great house shall be struck down into fragments,
    and the little house into bits.
12 Do horses run on rocks?
    Does one plow there with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
    and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood—
13 you who rejoice in Lo-debar,
    who say, “Have we not by our own strength
    captured Karnaim for ourselves?”
14 “For behold, I will raise up against you a nation,
    O house of Israel,” declares the Lord, the God of hosts;
“and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath
    to the Brook of the Arabah.” Amos 6:1-14 ESV

In this chapter, Amos addresses both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, and he does so by addressing their capital cities: Samaria in the north and Zion (Jerusalem ) in the south. But he focuses his attention on a particular class of individuals living in these two cities. They are “those who are at ease,” “who feel secure,” and are among “the notable men” (Amos 6:1 ESV). In other words, these are the influencers and trendsetters among the people of God, the movers and shakers, the power brokers and policy makers. They’re the well-to-do and looked up to, the social elite, and the upper crust of Israelite society.

But rather than praising these fortunate few, Amos pronounces a “woe” upon them. He uses the Hebrew word, hôy, which is an interjection, an expression of emotion or exclamation. It is sometimes translated as “O!” or “Alas!” And, in Scripture, it is most often associated with mourning over coming judgment. It is the same word he used back in chapter 5, verse 18.

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!”

These people who were enjoying the lifestyle of the rich and famous were in for a shock. At the time when Amos was writing his book of prophecy, the northern and southern kingdoms were experiencing unprecedented growth and prosperity. Under the leadership of Jeroboam II, Israel was enjoying a time of geographic expansion and economic revitalization.

He [Jeroboam] restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel… – 2 Kings 14:25 ESV

This statement indicates that Israel had been able to restore its borders back to where they had been during the reign of King Solomon, before God divided his kingdom. Things were looking up in Israel, and the upper crust of Israelite society were the ones who benefited the most from these territorial gains. Their land holdings increased, their flocks grew larger, and their financial portfolios prospered. In other words, the rich grew richer. Yet, Amos calls out these opportunistic and self-aggrandizing individuals.

How terrible for you who sprawl on ivory beds
    and lounge on your couches,
eating the meat of tender lambs from the flock
    and of choice calves fattened in the stall.
You sing trivial songs to the sound of the harp
    and fancy yourselves to be great musicians like David.
You drink wine by the bowlful
    and perfume yourselves with fragrant lotions.
    You care nothing about the ruin of your nation. – Amos 6:4-6 NLT

And he goes on to warn them that all of Jeroboam’s geographic gains would eventually be lost and, with them, their financial fortunes and freedom.

“For behold, I will raise up against you a nation,
    O house of Israel,” declares the Lord, the God of hosts;
“and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath
    to the Brook of the Arabah.” – Amos 6:14 ESV

Amos challenges these fat and happy people to consider what happened in Calneh, Hamath, and Gath. These were three “great” cities that had all experienced defeat and destruction. If they could fall, so could Samaria and Jerusalem. The capital cities of Israel and Judah were not exempt or immune from defeat. Amos warns them, “You are no better than they were, and look at how they were destroyed” (Amos 6:2 NLT).

Reveling in their superior social status and relying on their seemingly endless source of financial wealth, these people refused to acknowledge that danger was headed their way. Amos accuses them of living in a state of denial that was only making matters worse.

You push away every thought of coming disaster,
    but your actions only bring the day of judgment closer. – Amos 6:3 NLT 

And he delivers a sobering and somber message from God to these self-made celebrities and social glitterati.

“I despise the arrogance of Israel,
    and I hate their fortresses.
I will give this city
    and everything in it to their enemies.” – Amos 6:8 NLT

Rather than seek God, these people will seek refuge in their well-fortified homes. But when the judgment of God comes, their wealth and walled enclosures will be of no help. Amos describes a scene of utter destruction and widespread death.

If there are ten men left in one house, they will all die.  And when a relative who is responsible to dispose of the dead goes into the house to carry out the bodies, he will ask the last survivor, “Is anyone else with you?” When the person begins to swear, “No, by . . . ,” he will interrupt and say, “Stop! Don’t even mention the name of the Lord.” – Amos 6:9-10 NLT

When the time comes, they will fully recognize that their fall has been the sovereign will of God Almighty, but they will refuse to give Him the credit. And in their pride and stubbornness, they will continue to refuse to seek Yahweh. Despite God’s repeated calls to “Seek me and live” ( Amos 5:6 ESV), they will seek refuge in anything and everything but Him. And, as a result, “When the Lord gives the command, homes both great and small will be smashed to pieces” ( Amos 6:11 NLT). Those inside, regardless of their wealth, influence, or social standing, will all suffer the same fate. Possessions and position will save no one. All their land-holdings, stock increases, and financial gains made through illegal and unjust means will be lost. They will go from celebrating their self-achieved successes to mourning their God-ordained losses. Their pride will be humbled. Their false gods will be exposed. Their possessions will be plundered. And for many, their lives will be forfeited. All because they refused to seek God and live.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Seek the Lord and Live

1 Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel:

“Fallen, no more to rise,
    is the virgin Israel;
forsaken on her land,
    with none to raise her up.”

For thus says the Lord God:

“The city that went out a thousand
    shall have a hundred left,
and that which went out a hundred
    shall have ten left
    to the house of Israel.”

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:

“Seek me and live;
    but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
    or cross over to Beersheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
    and Bethel shall come to nothing.”

Seek the Lord and live,
    lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph,
    and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel,
O you who turn justice to wormwood
    and cast down righteousness to the earth!

He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
    and turns deep darkness into the morning
    and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name;
who makes destruction flash forth against the strong,
    so that destruction comes upon the fortress.

10 They hate him who reproves in the gate,
    and they abhor him who speaks the truth.
11 Therefore because you trample on the poor
    and you exact taxes of grain from him,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
    but you shall not dwell in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
    but you shall not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your transgressions
    and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
    and turn aside the needy in the gate.
13 Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time,
    for it is an evil time.

14 Seek good, and not evil,
    that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
    as you have said.
15 Hate evil, and love good,
    and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
    will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

16 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:

“In all the squares there shall be wailing,
    and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! Alas!’
They shall call the farmers to mourning
    and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation,
17 and in all vineyards there shall be wailing,
    for I will pass through your midst,”
says the Lord. Amos 5:1-17 ESV

Amos opens up chapter five with an announcement of Israel’s pending demise and invites them to listen to their own funeral song. Not exactly a happy thought. The Hebrew word translated as “lamentation” is qînâ (kee-naw) and it refers to a dirge or elegy sung to commemorate and mourn someone’s death. And the words of this funeral dirge contain equal amounts of sorrow and sarcasm. Amos describes Israel as a virgin who “has fallen, never to rise again! She lies abandoned on the ground, with no one to help her up” (Amos 5:2 NLT).

This somber-sounding song was meant to convey a sense of scornful derision. The sad reality was that Israel was anything but virginal, and everyone knew it. They had spiritually prostituted themselves with every false god imaginable. Their track record of apostasy and spiritual adultery was well-documented. The prophet Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, had some strong words concerning their ongoing unfaithfulness to God.

“Though you, Israel, are a prostitute, may Judah not be guilty of such things. Do not join the false worship at Gilgal or Beth-aven, and do not take oaths there in the LORD’s name.” – Hosea 4:15 NLT

But their penchant for adultery was more than spiritual in nature. Their abandonment of God had created an atmosphere where immoral and unethical behavior ran rampant. And Hosea records God’s indictment of their wickedness.

“There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
    no knowledge of God in your land.
You make vows and break them;
    you kill and steal and commit adultery.
There is violence everywhere—
    one murder after another.” – Amos 4:1-2 NLT

And Amos lets them know that the day is coming when they will pay for their sins. They will fall, never to rise again. Their destruction will be full and final, with no one coming come to their aid, including God.

Israel will find itself at war, but rather than experiencing victory over their enemies, they will see their army defeated and decimated. For every 1,000 soldiers who go into battle, only 100 will survive. Only one out of 100 soldiers will survive the battlefield or escape being taken captive by the enemy. No nation can experience those kinds of catastrophic losses and hope to survive.

But despite the gloomy pronouncement of coming judgment, there was cause for hope. While the nation of Israel could not avoid the coming destruction, the people of Israel could choose to seek God. Three separate times, God invites His adulterous people to return to Him so that they might live.

“Seek me and live…” – Vs 4

Seek the Lord and live…” – Vs 6

“Seek good, and not evil, that you may live…” – Vs 14

The Hebrew word dāraš conveys the idea of seeking something with great care and diligence. Rather than seeking help from their false gods, they are to seek the one true God. Like a loving husband, God is inviting His unfaithful and adulterous bride to return to Him. The entire book of Hosea provides a powerful illustration of this uncompromising love of God for His wayward people. At the very beginning of the book, Hosea is given a difficult assignment from God.

“Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.” – Hosea 1:2 NLT

And Hosea did just as the Lord had commanded, marrying a woman named Gomer. And, like the people of Israel, Gomer proved to be unfaithful to her marriage commitment to Hosea. She bore him three children but continued to pursue other lovers. And God would use Gomer as a visual illustration of Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him. At one point, He would declare an end to His patience and demand to see a change of heart among His people.

“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—
    for she is no longer my wife,
    and I am no longer her husband.
Tell her to remove the prostitute’s makeup from her face
    and the clothing that exposes her breasts.” – Hosea 2:2 NLT

God will reach the point when He says, “Enough is enough” and exposes the stubborn refusal of His bride to seek Him and Him alone.

“I will not love her children,
    for they were conceived in prostitution.
Their mother is a shameless prostitute
    and became pregnant in a shameful way.
She said, ‘I’ll run after other lovers
    and sell myself to them for food and water,
for clothing of wool and linen,
    and for olive oil and drinks.’” – Hosea 2:4-5 NLT

But God longs to see His people return. He begs them to seek Him so that they might live. Rather than continue their adulterous affairs with the false gods located in Bethel,
Gilgal, and Beersheba, they were to pursue a restored relationship with Yahweh. But God was looking for a change of heart, not just an alteration in their behavior. Their seeking of Him was going to require an abandonment of their other “lovers” – once and for all. Otherwise, God would be forced to cut them off.

“Come back to the Lord and live!
Otherwise, he will roar through Israel like a fire,
    devouring you completely.” – Amos 5:6 NLT

God could not and would not tolerate their ongoing unfaithfulness. And when His judgment came, their false gods would prove powerless to help them. They would be no match for God Almighty. The same God who created the universe, hung the stars in the sky, and formed the oceans, and sent the rain to water the land, would bring His power to bear on the sins of Israel. And there would be nothing they could do to stop Him. Except “Do what is good and run from evil” (Amos 5:14 NLT). He told them to “Hate evil and love what is good” and “turn your courts into true halls of justice” (Amos 5:15 NLT).

God was looking for heart transformation that showed up in behavior modification. They were guilty of all kinds of injustice and immorality. They took advantage of the poor. They despised the truth and promoted an atmosphere where dishonesty and deceit were encouraged and rewarded. But all that was going to have to change. God demanded that they “Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live!” ( Amos 5:14 NLT). 

If they wanted God’s help, they were going to have to show that they were serious about seeking Him. No lip-service. No feigned faithfulness. It was not too late, but they were going to have to be serious about pursuing God and abandoning their old ways of living. And, if they did, a remnant of them just might experience the grace and mercy of God.

“Perhaps even yet the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies
    will have mercy on the remnant of his people.” – Amos 5:15 NLT

Otherwise, they could expect the worst.

“There will be crying in all the public squares
    and mourning in every street.
Call for the farmers to weep with you,
    and summon professional mourners to wail.
There will be wailing in every vineyard,
    for I will destroy them all,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 5:16-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, and Naked

1 “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan,
    who are on the mountain of Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
    who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’
The Lord God has sworn by his holiness
    that, behold, the days are coming upon you,
when they shall take you away with hooks,
    even the last of you with fishhooks.
And you shall go out through the breaches,
    each one straight ahead;
    and you shall be cast out into Harmon,”
declares the Lord.

“Come to Bethel, and transgress;
    to Gilgal, and multiply transgression;
bring your sacrifices every morning,
    your tithes every three days;
offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened,
    and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
    for so you love to do, O people of Israel!”
declares the Lord God. Amos 4:1-5 ESV

As Amos continues to convey to the people of Israel God’s righteous indignation with them, he focuses his attention like a laser on the wealthy women of Samaria. Addressing them as “you cows of Bashan,” Amos is unapologetically brutal in his description of their selfish and luxuriant lifestyle. These well-to-do women were guilty of flaunting their wealth and social status by treating others with contempt and condescension. Amos accuses them of “oppressing” the poor and “crushing” the needy.  In the Hebrew language, those two words paint a stark and highly unflattering picture of these women from the upper strata of Israelites society. The word translated as “oppressed” is ʿāšaq, and it means “to violate, defraud, do violence.” Amos is accusing these women of taking advantage of the poor for personal gain. They were defrauding and deceiving the less fortunate in order to increase their own wealth and further enhance their luxurious lifestyles.

In Hebrew, the word “crush” is rāṣaṣ, and it too carries a much more sinister and sinful connotation. It means “to crack in pieces” and can be used either literally or figuratively. In the figurative sense, to crush someone is to treat them with such disdain and disrespect that they are left broken or crushed in spirit. It conveys a lack of empathy or compassion, a total disregard for the worth or well-being of the other.

It seems that Amos is targeting these particular women because they represent that segment of Israelite society that had enjoyed a certain amount of personal success during Jeroboam II’s reign. Under his leadership, the nation had expanded its borders and many of these wealthy families had probably profited from the boom environment this growth created. In the very next chapter, Amos points out the injust nature of their treatment of the poor.

You trample the poor,
    stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent.
Therefore, though you build beautiful stone houses,
    you will never live in them. – Amos 5:11 NLT

Amos is not suggesting that these women were responsible for all these injustices. But they were enjoying the fruit of someone else’s unjust “labor.” Most likely their husbands were the ones who were “trampling the poor” by levying excessive taxes and charging exorbitant rental fees for their properties. And all the while, they were using their ill-gotten profits to build luxury homes for themselves and their wives.

And Amos portrays the wives of these men as demanding taskmasters who treat their husbands like slaves. Amos purposefully uses hyperbolic, over-the-top language to illustrate the decadent and immoral lifestyle of the upper-class members of Israelite society. His portrayal of these women as lounging on their couches and demanding their husbands to bring them another drink is meant to expose the narcissistic nature of their lives. They are self-consumed and more interested in personal pleasure than in keeping God’s laws.

But by all appearances, these very same women were faithful members of the religious community of Israel. They made regular trips to the altars and shrines set up in Bethel and Gilgal. They worshiped the false gods that Jeroboam II and his predecessors had set up all throughout Israel. In other words, these wealthy women were outstanding members of the faith community. And they most likely believed that their wealth and prosperity had been a gift from the gods.

But Yahweh sees through their sanctimonious and self-righteous displays of mock-godliness. He sees behind the walls of their ostentatious homes and witnesses their “Lives of the Rich and Famous” lifestyles. But He also sees into the recesses of their sin-hardened hearts and knows that they are uncaring and unrepentant of their many transgressions. That’s why He sarcastically challenges them to keep doing what they’ve always done. He encourages them to continue offering their sacrifices and tithes to their false gods.

“Go ahead and offer sacrifices to the idols at Bethel.
    Keep on disobeying at Gilgal.
Offer sacrifices each morning,
    and bring your tithes every three days.
Present your bread made with yeast
    as an offering of thanksgiving.
Then give your extra voluntary offerings
    so you can brag about it everywhere!
This is the kind of thing you Israelites love to do…” – Amos 4:4-5 NLT

They’re worshiping the wrong gods and for all the wrong reasons. They want to be recognized for their religious zeal and applauded for their sacrificial displays of self-righteous sacrifice.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus exposed this kind of hypocritical religious play-acting. He viewed it as nothing more than an attempt to gain the praise of men.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6:1 NLT

These very same women who were oppressing the poor and crushing the needy were regularly offering their sacrifices and tithes at the temple. They even offered “extra voluntary offerings” but only so they could brag about it to others. Everything they did was all about inflating their own sense of value and worth. It wasn’t enough to be rich. They wanted to be esteemed. But to God, their acts of religious pietism were nothing more than evidence of their sin-hardened hearts. And Jesus would go on to point out the hypocritical nature of giving to get noticed.

“When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity!” – Matthew 6:2 NLT

But God makes it clear that these kinds of people will pay dearly for their actions. He cannot and will not tolerate this kind of behavior among His chosen people. God has sworn by His own holiness that the guilty will be punished. This statement is intended to stress the otherness of God. He is set apart and holy. He is fully righteous and without sin. He cannot simply turn a blind eye to the unrighteous behavior of His people. His holy nature requires that He deal justly with the blatant disobedience of those who bear His name and have been called to be His light to the nations.

And God announces that these self-absorbed, pampered, and pretentiously pious women will suffer a devastating and humiliating fate.

“The time will come when you will be led away
    with hooks in your noses.
Every last one of you will be dragged away
    like a fish on a hook!
You will be led out through the ruins of the wall;
    you will be thrown from your fortresses.” – Amon 4:2-3 NLT

God predicts a less-than-flattering outcome for these women. They will one day find themselves on the receiving end of the oppression and crushing. When the Assyrians invade Israel, lay siege to the capital city of Samaria, and eventually breach the walls, they capture these women, leading them out of the city with hooks in their noses – just like cows being led to the slaughter. Their wealth and luxurious homes will provide no comfort or protection. Their tithes and extra volunteer offerings will do nothing to garner aid or assistance from their false gods. They will be unceremoniously marched out of town and led to a life marked by poverty and oppression.

But it didn’t have to be this way. As Amos will reveal in the following verses, God had given them ample opportunity to repent and return to Him. He had warned them. He had even afflicted them with plagues, diseases, famines, and troubles of all kinds. But they had repeatedly refused to heed His warnings or be humbled by His judgments. And God will repeatedly remind them, “you did not return to me” (Amos 4:8 ESV).

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the words of Jesus regarding the spiritual state of the church in Laodicea, and it is not a flattering picture.

You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” – Revelation 3:17 NLT

This indictment from the lips of Jesus seems to apply to the wealthy women of Samaria who were living during the days of Amos. They were convinced that their wealth was evidence of their spiritual superiority. They were blessed. And they somehow believed that they deserved even more, which is what led them to oppress and crush the poor and needy. But like the Laodiceans, they were actually wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. And the day was coming when their true spiritual condition would be exposed for all to see.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Love God. Love Others.

Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod
    and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt,
and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria,
    and see the great tumults within her,
    and the oppressed in her midst.”
10 “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord,
    “those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.”

11 Therefore thus says the Lord God:

“An adversary shall surround the land
    and bring down your defenses from you,
    and your strongholds shall be plundered.”

12 Thus says the Lord: “As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who dwell in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed.

13 “Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob,”
    declares the Lord God, the God of hosts,
14 “that on the day I punish Israel for his transgressions,
    I will punish the altars of Bethel,
and the horns of the altar shall be cut off
    and fall to the ground.
15 I will strike the winter house along with the summer house,
    and the houses of ivory shall perish,
and the great houses shall come to an end,”
declares the Lord. – Amos 3:9-15 ESV

God calls on two of the foreign nations that surrounded Israel to act as witnesses to against her. He sends out an invitation to Philistia and Egypt, inviting them to gather on the hills surrounding Samaria and observe all the injustice and violence taking place within the walls of the capital city of Israel. God declares that the people of Israel no longer know how to do what is right. In Hebrew, the word that is translated as “right” is nᵊḵōḥâ, and it has to do with uprightness, integrity, or doing the right thing. Interestingly enough, it derives from another Hebrew word, nēḵaḥ, which means, “in the sight of” or “in front of.” In other words, the kind of “right” behavior they had forgotten how to do was to have been on display before others but, more importantly, before God. They had forgotten how to do what was right in God’s eyes.

Unlike the Philistines and Egyptians, who did not have the law of God, the Israelites had conveniently forgotten all that God had commanded them to do. Through the Mosaic Law, He had provided them with a very clear description of what upright behavior should look like. So, they had no excuse.

Amos mentions the acts of oppression, violence, and robbery taking place inside the walls of Samaria. These are the people of God acting in ways that are in direct violation of the law of God. Later on in his book, Amos will go into great detail describing the many acts of oppression and injustice committed by God’s chosen people – against one another.

You trample the poor,
    stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent. – Amos 5:11 NLT

You oppress good people by taking bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. – Amos 5:12 NLT

Listen to this, you who rob the poor
    and trample down the needy!
You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over
    and the religious festivals to end
    so you can get back to cheating the helpless.
You measure out grain with dishonest measures
    and cheat the buyer with dishonest scales.
And you mix the grain you sell
    with chaff swept from the floor.
Then you enslave poor people
    for one piece of silver or a pair of sandals. – Amos 8:4-6 NLT

The people of Israel had become callous and hard-hearted. They were driven by their base desires and more interested in comfort and convenience than showing compassion to one another. The rich preyed off the poor. The haves took advantage of the have-nots. Dishonesty and deception were the order of the day. And even the Philistines and Egyptians would be appalled at the unrighteous behavior of the Israelites. Even by pagan standards, the Israelites were immoral and wicked people.

Somehow, they had forgotten the words of God: “love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18 NLT). And centuries later, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to name the greatest commandment given by God, He had responded:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

According to Jesus, love of God and love of neighbor were equal and inseparable commands. You can’t have one without the other. And the apostle John would pick up on this theme in his first epistle he wrote to believers living in the first century.

But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 2:11 ESV

…whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. – 1 John 3:10 ESV

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? – 1 John 3:17 NLT

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 NLT

To both Jesus and John, love of others was a non-negotiable requirement for those who claimed to be children of God. To declare your love for God while denying love to your brothers and sisters was not only unacceptable but illogical. And John makes that point painfully clear: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20 NLT).

Yet the people of Israel were guilty of doing just that. And, as a result, God declared that He was going to judge them for their disobedience to His law. By failing to love one another, they were declaring their lack of love for Him. Their idolatry had transformed them into lovers of self rather than lovers of God.

The behavior of the Israelites was unacceptable to God. It violated every one of His commands concerning the righteous conduct that should have identified them as His chosen people. And centuries later, the apostle Paul would warn his young protégé, Timothy, about self-professing God followers who display this same hypocritical behavior.

…people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT

God will not tolerate this kind of behavior among those who claim to be His children. So, He warned the Israelites that their actions would have consequences.

Therefore,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “an enemy is coming!
He will surround them and shatter their defenses.
    Then he will plunder all their fortresses.” – Amos 3:11 NLT

Those who were practicing injustice would suffer the just and righteous judgment of God. Those who had enriched themselves by plundering the poor would find themselves being plundered and left to live in abject poverty. Their failure to love God and love one another was going to cost them dearly. And Amos paints a rather bleak picture of the aftermath of God’s coming destruction.

“A shepherd who tries to rescue a sheep from a lion’s mouth
    will recover only two legs or a piece of an ear.
So it will be for the Israelites in Samaria lying on luxurious beds,
    and for the people of Damascus reclining on couches.” – Amos 3:12 NLT

By the time God is done with them, there won’t be much left. Yahweh, the “roaring lion” of verse 4, will decimate the people of Israel, leaving only a small ragtag remnant living in the land. The rest will end up as captives in Assyria. The wealthy and well-to-do of Israel would find that the tables had turned.  The oppressors would become the oppressed. The privileged would end up as prisoners. The fat and happy would find themselves facing starvation and deep despondency.

And God makes a direct connection between their future suffering and their present sin. The fate they are about to endure will be the direct consequences of their idolatry, apostasy, and unfaithfulness. He warns them, “I will destroy the beautiful homes of the wealthy—their winter mansions and their summer houses, too—all their palaces filled with ivory” (Amos 3:15 NLT). But He makes sure they understand that their loss will be the result of their ungodly behavior, and it all ties back to their decision to forsake Him as the one true God.

“On the very day I punish Israel for its sins,
    I will destroy the pagan altars at Bethel.
The horns of the altar will be cut off
    and fall to the ground…” – Amos 3:14 NLT

God takes them back to the days when the northern kingdom of Israel began. After Solomon had ended his long reign by abandoning Yahweh for the false gods of his many foreign wives, God split his kingdom in two. The ten northern tribes became the kingdom of Israel, ruled over by Jeroboam. And this first king of the northern tribes began his reign by erecting golden calves in the cities of Dan and Bethel, then telling his people, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28 ESV). Those altars to Jeroboam’s false gods remained in Israel for generations. And the spirit of idolatry and apostasy that Jeroboam introduced into Israel had plagued the nation for hundreds of years. Now, God was going to do what the kings of Israel should have done years earlier. He would destroy the pagan altars and eliminate the false gods that had turned the hearts of the people away from Him.

In essence, God was going to make sure that all the idols were removed in Israel. That’s why he mentions the altars at Bethel, but also the “houses of ivory.” The people of Israel were guilty of worshiping their false gods, but they were also guilty of worshiping materialism, ease, comfort, and success. They had made gods out of their possessions. They had found comfort and significance in their social standing and all their status symbols of success. But all that was about to change.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Guilty as Charged

“Do two walk together,
    unless they have agreed to meet?
Does a lion roar in the forest,
    when he has no prey?
Does a young lion cry out from his den,
    if he has taken nothing?
Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth,
    when there is no trap for it?
Does a snare spring up from the ground,
    when it has taken nothing?
Is a trumpet blown in a city,
    and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
    unless the Lord has done it?

“For the Lord God does nothing
    without revealing his secret
    to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared;
    who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
    who can but prophesy?” Amos 3:3-8 ESV

Israel’s judgment by God was inevitable. That seems to be the point that Amos is attempting to drive home in verses 3-8. To do so, he uses a series of rhetorical questions that each has an obvious and non-debatable answer. God has already established that He and the people of Israel shared a unique relationship.

“You only have I known
    of all the families of the earth…” – Amos 3:2 ESV

And the knowledge of which God speaks was intimate and reciprocal in nature. The Hebrew word is yāḏaʿ, and it conveys the idea of both knowing and being known.  God had revealed Himself to the people of Israel and allowed them to enjoy an understanding of Him that was unavailable to any other people group on earth. Like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the Israelites had walked with God, enjoying intimate fellowship with Him and experiencing the benefits of His presence, power, and provision.

So, when Amos asks, “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?,” he is fully expecting his audience to respond, “No!” And his point is that the Israelites and Yahweh had a mutual understanding about their relationship. It came with expectations and was based on a bilateral covenant that required the Israelites to be faithful and obedient.

God had told them long ago, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 6:7 ESV). But He had also warned them that obedience would be a non-negotiable requirement if they wanted to experience His blessings.

Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.” – Jeremiah 7:23 ESV

Like two people who have agreed to go on a long journey together, the people of Israel had ratified the covenant God had made with them. In doing so, they had agreed to live according to His laws and in keeping with His will for them. The book of Exodus records that momentous occasion.

Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” – Exodus 24:3 ESV

But they had failed to keep their end of the agreement. They had not completed the journey or reached the destination God had in store for them. So, God was declaring His intention to judge them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. That’s why Amos uses the illustration of a lion roaring in the forest. He asks the question, “Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?” (Amos 3:4 ESV). And, once again, the answer is meant to be a resounding, “No!”

Under normal conditions, a lion remains silent, stealthily stalking its unsuspecting victim in order to catch it by surprise. If a lion is roaring, it is because he has successfully captured his prey. The roar is a declaration of victory. And in the case of Israel, Amos was declaring that the “roar” of Yahweh was due to their coming judgment. They were about to become His “prey.”

Yahweh was not a silent lion, having failed in the hunt. He was a roaring, victorious lion who stood over His prey, declaring His right of possession and demonstrating His  power and authority.

According to Amos, Israel was like a clueless bird being lured to a trap by the tempting presence of bit of tantalizing bait. The prophet Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, compares Israel to “silly, witless doves, first calling to Egypt, then flying to Assyria for help” (Hosea 6:7 NLT). They flit and fly this way and that, easily allured and distracted by those things it think will bring it satisfaction and security. But it’s all a trap, set by the hunter, who just happens to be God Almighty.

Finally, Amos moves from the metaphorical realm of nature to the very real arena of warfare and military conquest. In the day in which Amos lived, this next question would have struck a very sensitive nerve. He asks, “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?” (Amos 3:6 ESV). For centuries, the people of Israel had lived in a state of constant instability, facing the very real possibility of defeat at the hands of their enemies. The book of Amos starts out with a list of those nations that surrounded Israel and posed a real threat to their existence, including Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Ammon, and Moab.

The Israelites were very familiar with the sound of a trumpet being blown from the walls of the city. It was a warning signal to those living inside that the enemy was at the gates and the possibility of attack was eminent. This news was intended to produce a certain amount of fear and encourage preparation for battle. But Amos adds that the looming tragedy is meant to be seen as the handiwork of God.

Does disaster come to a city,
    unless the Lord has done it? – Amos 3:6 ESV

Once again, this is a rhetorical question that can only be answered one way: With the word, “No!” The sovereign God of the universe was in control of all things, and even the fate of a city was held in His fully capable, all-powerful hands.

Amos sums up his series of questions with a statement.

“For the Lord God does nothing
    without revealing his secret
    to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared;
    who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
    who can but prophesy?” – Amos 3:7-8 ESV

God had spoken through the prophets. In fact, every judgment Israel was about to undergo had been predicted by God’s appointed messengers, including men like Amos and Hosea. They had warned what would happen if Israel continued to ignore God and violate their covenant commitment to Him. And the rest of this book is going to defend God’s actions toward His rebellious and unrepentant people. God was going to fulfill each and every one of His warnings and, when He was done, they would hear His righteous roar as He stood over them in victory.

But Amos will also reveal that, while God will pour out His righteous anger against the nation of Israel, He will not completely destroy them.

“I, the Sovereign Lord,
    am watching this sinful nation of Israel.
I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel,”
    says the Lord.  – Amos 9:8 NLT

Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God will remain faithful to His covenant commitment to them. He will fulfill each and every promise He has made to them. But in the meantime, their many transgressions will have to be atoned for – they will have to pay the price for their disobedience. And the price will be high.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson