Of Amos, we have much more information than is customary concerning the minor prophets. He gives us, by the inspiration of God, several autobiographical notices of deep interest, which it will be well to look at briefly ere entering upon the study of his messages to Israel and the surrounding nations.
His prophecies were given in the reigns of Uzziah king of Judah and Jeroboam II king of Israel. He describes himself as a herdman of Tekoa, a town in the hill-country of Judea, about twelve miles from Jerusalem, of which mention is frequently made in Scripture. Thence came the “wise woman” sent by Joab to persuade David to permit his murderer son to return to his patrimony, in plain violation of all law, both human and divine (2 Sam. 14:2). There too, Ira the son of Ikkesh, one of David’s mighty men, was born (2 Sam. 23:26). It is noticed on numbers of other occasions, and even after the return from Babylon, the zeal of the men of Tekoa is spoken of, though their nobles are reproved in connection with the building of the wall of Jerusalem (Neh. 3:5, 27). A desert town, surrounded by large solitudes, it was a suitable place for men of pastoral occupation; and there Amos pursued his humble calling till separated by the Lord to the prophetic office.
He tells us that he was neither born into the goodly company of the prophets, nor did he choose that calling for himself. But when he was “a herdman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit” (that is, the fruit of the wild fig), the Lord said unto him, “Go, prophesy unto My people Israel” (ch. 7:14, 15). This was enough for Amos. He was not disobedient to the voice from heaven, but, leaving behind the pastures of the wilderness, and turning his back on the place of his birth, we soon find him declaring the word of the Lord away up in the capital of the northern kingdom, greatly to the disgust and arousing the indignation of Jeroboam and his false priest Amaziah. When ordered to flee to his own land and do his prophesying there, he boldly gives his divine credentials, and delivers a message more searching than ever.
Of the duration of his ministry, or the time or circumstances of his death, we have no record. But what has been vouchsafed to us is fraught with most important lessons.
It is ever God’s way to prepare His servants in secret for the work they are afterwards to accomplish in public. Moses at the backside of the desert; Gideon on the threshing-floor; David with his “few sheep” out upon the hillside; Daniel refusing to be defiled with the king’s meat; John the Baptist in the desert; Peter in his fishing-boat; Paul in Arabia; and Amos following the flock and herding the cattle in the wilderness of Tekoa—all alike attest this fact. It is important to observe that only he who has thus learned of God in the school of obscurity is likely to shine in the blaze of publicity.
Amos had no thought of becoming, or being recognized, as a prophet, as men today select “the ministry” as a profession. He would doubtless have been quite content to pursue his humble avocation as a small farmer, or possibly a mere farmer’s hand or assistant, to the end of his life, if such had been the mind of God for him. But as he followed the flock, his soul was communing with Jehovah. As he gathered the wild figs of the wilderness, his heart was meditating on the great issues of the soul’s relationship to God and the importance of walking in His ways. As he tended the herds he was learning wondrous lessons of a faithful Creator’s love and care. And so, when for him “the fulness of time was come,” the Lord, so to speak, kindled the already prepared fuel into a flame, and the humble herdman became a mighty, Spirit-energized prophet of God, not only to his own people, but to all Israel and the nations around.
We read of no unbelieving hesitation, no parleying with God, no bargaining or questioning as to temporal support; even as before there was no fleshly impatience or desire to be at the front attracting notice as a prophet or speaker. Throughout it is the record of a simple, humble man of God, who can wait or run as his Lord sees fit. In all this how much there is for our souls today! There are many self-made ministers whose inner lives are in sad contrast to their ministry. Many, too, insist on taking the place belonging to a servant of God who have never spent any time in His school, learning His ways, as did Amos. Thus their utterances are empty and disappointing in the extreme, as might be expected when coming from men who had not been sent by the Lord. It is blessedly otherwise with Amos. The more we learn of the messenger, the more we are prepared to listen to his message.
Those hidden years had not been wasted. Not only were they years in which he listened to the voice of God speaking to his own soul, but in them he was acquiring experience, and an insight into men and things which would be invaluable to him later on. Again and again in his public utterances he uses figures, or illustrations, which show how closely and thoughtfully he had observed the many things, animate and inanimate, surrounding him in his early life. This the following passages make abundantly plain: Chapters 2:13; 3:12; 4:9; 5:8; 6:12; 7:1, 2. Others too we shall notice as we proceed.
The theme of the book of Amos is emphatically one of judgment on Israel and Judah, and the nations about them.
In the first two chapters we have eight separate burdens, addressed respectively to Damascus, Gaza, Tyrus, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, and Israel.
The second part of the prophecy includes chaps. 3 to 6, giving the word of the Lord to Israel, that is, the ten-tribed kingdom of the north.
The third and last division takes in chaps. 7 to 9, in which we have a series of five visions, with a considerable parenthesis (ch. 7:10-17) devoted to the personal history of the prophet, which we have already slightly noticed. The visions close with the declaration of millennial blessing and restoration, as seen in both the preceding books, Hosea and Joel, and generally throughout the Prophets.
For though judgment be the theme, yet judgment is but to prepare the way for glory. The Lord will not cease till He has established righteousness and blessing in all the earth.
Chapters 1 And 2
The Indictment Of The Nations
Amos does not conceal what men might be disposed to call his mean origin. He boldly begins with, “The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake” (ver. 1). Here the prophet’s name, his humble calling, the place of his dwelling, and the date of his prophecy, are all plainly set forth.
The earthquake referred to would doubtless mark a time-epoch for more than one generation; but we have no record by which now to locate it. In Jewish traditionary lore it is said to have occurred when Uzziah impiously sought to take to himself the office of a priest of the Lord. Josephus thus connects the two incidents. But of this there is no proof.
Having already dwelt somewhat on the other points mentioned in this first verse, in the introduction, we may turn at once to the prophetic messages, of which, as before noted, there are eight in the first two chapters; five in chapter one, and three in the second.
From verse 2 we gather that the nations addressed are regarded in connection with Jerusalem and Mount Zion. There Jehovah had set His name. Thence He would roar in His indignation and utter His voice in judgment, so that the pastures of the shepherds should mourn and the top of Carmel wither.
Notice that each separate prediction begins with the same solemn formula, save for the change of the name: “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because——.” This the Jewish expositors generally understand to have the force of, “Three transgressions have I forgiven them, but the fourth I will visit in judgment.” It at least implies that, in His long-suffering, God had waited again and again, looking for some evidence of repentance ere finally dealing in wrath; but there was none. In three transgressions they had filled up the cup of their wickedness. In the fourth it had overflowed, and declared that all further testing was useless. They were corrupt and abominable in His sight. Judgment therefore must take its course.
The crowning sin of each people is especially set forth in the terrible indictment and sentence combined which proceeded from the seer’s inspired lips.
Damascus had “threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron.” Ruthlessly persecuting the exposed borders of Israel across the Jordan, they showed no mercy to age or sex, but swept over the land, cutting down all alike, and treating them as grain under the flail. For this they should have judgment without mercy meted out by the Moral Governor of the Universe, whose eyes were upon all their ways (vers. 3-5).
Gaza, the ancient Philistine capital, had made His people their prey, taking them captive and selling or giving them to Edom (in type, how graphic a picture of false religion delivering man up to the power of the flesh 0, and thus aiding this cruel unbrotherly foe to destroy and enslave his near kinsman. But as they had sought the destruction of the erring people of the Lord, His fire and His hand would be against Philistia, even to its utter destruction (vers. 6-8).
Tyrus, the merchant city by the sea, once in “brotherly covenant” with Israel, in the days of Solomon and Hiram, had forgotten the pledges made, and likewise sided with Edom, delivering up to them the captives they had taken. Therefore the fire should devour the fancied impregnable wall of Tyre and blot out her palaces (vers. 9, 10).
Edom, ever the bitterest enemy of the seed of Jacob, had been unrelenting in his fury, “pursuing his brother with the sword, and casting off all pity.” So should the Lord forget to pity him in the day of His righteous wrath, recompensing to Edom the indignities heaped upon Israel. The prophecy of Obadiah connects intimately with this passage (vers. 11, 12).
Ammon’s fiendish display of hatred against Israel, seeking by cruelty of most heinous character to blot out the hope of the chosen nation, that he might enlarge his own border, had called down the divine retribution upon his own guilty head, and he should be exposed to all the fury of the tempest of Jehovah in the day of the whirlwind of His wrath (vers. 13-15).
Moab, on the other hand, is not charged with cruelty to Israel, but with having undertaken to execute judgment on Edom when guilty of the gravest crimes himself. Therefore the judge should “be cut off from the midst thereof,” and all their princes slain (ch. 2:1-3).
Thus far the prophetic messages have been directed against the peoples surrounding the land of Israel. History is the witness of their fulfilment. Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab are now but names. Their glory has long since disappeared. Damascus still exists, but her people have gone into captivity and the Moslem dwells in her palaces. Thus have the predictions of the herdman-prophet been proved to be the word of Jehovah.
But not only against the heathen did he lift up his voice. To Judah and Israel he also had to proclaim the coming of long-delayed judgment, because of their unholy ways.
Judah, privileged above all others, had despised the law of the Lord, and refused obedience to His commandments. The lies of their false teachers had caused them to err—the prophets whom they preferred to the heaven-sent messengers of the God of their fathers. Alas, the fathers had turned away from their Rock, and the children had walked in their ways. Because of this, Jerusalem’s palaces, like those of the nations, must be burned with fire, and the place where Jehovah had set His name be given up” to His enemies (vers. 4, 5).
The indictment of Israel is the lengthiest of all. The proud northern kingdom is charged with covetousness, licentiousness, idolatry, and yet with utter unconcern as to the mischief wrought. They sold the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes. The most commonplace article of commerce was of more value in their covetous eyes than the cause of the poor. Living in the practice of uncleanness of the vilest description, they yet called themselves by the holy name of the Lord, thus profaning it in the sight of the heathen. Idolatry inflamed them, and they drank “the wine of the condemned in the house of their god,” laying themselves down upon the pledged garments of the needy by every altar. The law had forbidden the keeping of the garment of the poor as a pledge overnight; but they not only despised the law, but openly devoted the garments thus acquired to the worship of their idols. The judges also, contrary to all law, used the fines of those they condemned for the purchase of wine for their idolatrous festivals. This was “the wine of the condemned.” Thus was the Holy One of Israel dishonored by those who boasted in His name.
Yet had He, as He touchingly reminds them, cast out the Amorite before them, having brought them up from the land of Egypt and led them forty years through the wilderness. He had raised up prophets among their sons, and Nazarites, devoted to Himself, among their young men. But they led astray the separated ones by wine, and refused to listen to the warnings of the prophets. It is a sad and pitiful picture, but how often has it been duplicated since! They to whom the greatest privileges appertain are often the greatest offenders.
At last their iniquities had come to the full. The last sheaf had been cast upon the cart, and the mercy of the Lord had come to an end. Therefore none should stand “in that day”—the day of the Lord’s anger (vers. 6-16).
How solemn the charges here recorded! Searching too are these words of old. Oh, that we who today are called by the name of the Lord may consider them well!
The Chastisement of the Chosen Nation
With this chapter the second division of the prophecy begins, going on to the end of chapter 6, embracing the word of the Lord to Israel, a last solemn remonstrance ere carrying out the predicted judgment we have just been noticing.
It is not merely the ten tribes that Amos addresses under the name of “sons of Israel” in this prophecy, but “the whole family which [the Lord] brought up from the land of Egypt” (ver. 1). They are viewed as one nation though divided into two kingdoms at that time. Their special privileges made them far more responsible than their ignorant heathen neighbors. “You only,” He says, “have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (ver. 2). This is a divine principle we should never lose sight of. “Responsibility flows from relationship.” Because Jehovah had separated Israel from the nations, and taken them into covenant with Himself, they were expected to yield that obedience which their favored position demanded; otherwise they must be the special objects of His disciplinary dealing. The same is true as to the assembly of God in this dispensation, viewed collectively, and of every individual saint likewise. We are called to walk worthy of our exalted vocation; and if we do not, we incur our Father’s discipline. Nor does chastisement prove that God’s heart is hardened against us; but the contrary. It is His love that leads Him so to act. The world may go on in its folly, and know little of such governmental care; but it must be otherwise with the people who are called by the name of the Lord.
Verse 3 lets us into the secret of true fellowship. Two can walk together only when they are agreed. It is not a question of seeing all details alike, but of having common thoughts as to the ground of their communion together. God cannot walk with gainsayers in that intimate, happy sense that is here contemplated. Neither can saints walk together in holy association if the one seeks to honor God, and the other has lapsed into loose thoughts and evil ways.
Beginning with verse 4, the prophet declares the reason for his message. Results spring from adequate causes. The trumpet was to be blown, that the people might tremble, for God was about to bring evil upon them. “Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?” is His challenge. This verse has perturbed some, over-zealous for the reputation of the Lord of hosts. But evil is, of course, calamity (not sin), as we have seen in the first chapter of Joel, and which God uses as His rod of discipline. Of this Amos was to warn the careless inhabitants of the cities of Israel.
He has good cause to prophesy. God has revealed His secrets to him. Therefore he must boldly proclaim them. “The Lord God hath spoken; who can but prophesy?” (vers. 4-8). This is high ground indeed; but it is the only proper ground for one who essays to minister divine truth. If God has not spoken, then one man’s guess is as good as another’s; one philosopher’s speculations are as worthy of credence or consideration as those of his fellows. But if God Himself has spoken, as He has in His Word, that at once settles everything for the one who fears Him. His servant has naught to do but proclaim what has been revealed, rejecting “oppositions of science, falsely so called,” and all “vain imaginations.”
This is the value of Scripture; and of this Satan would subtly seek to rob us at the present time. God has revealed His will in His Word. “The Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets.” Therefore the man of faith accepts the prophetic writings, to which the Lord Jesus has set His seal, as a final court of appeal; knowing that “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Here faith triumphs, where mere reason stumbles in the dark; vainly endeavoring to peer into the future, to explain the past, or to understand the present.
It has often been alleged by opponents of the inspiration of the Bible that unless we were prepared to believe that the writers of the various books were infallible, it was idle to talk of the unerring Scriptures; and this in face of the solemn declaration of the Lord Jesus that “the Scripture cannot be broken.” But the question of human infallibility does not come in at all. When God speaks, one needs but to be obedient, not infallible, in giving out what He has made known. So it was with Amos and his fellow-servants of the prophetic band. An amanuensis need not have exact knowledge of the events concerning which he writes at the dictation of another. He hears the word, and transcribes accordingly. Thus can we understand the Old Testament writers, “searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify (or point out) when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow.” It is only unbelief that could make any difficulty here.
The prophetic message is given in vers. 9 to 15. Israel’s dispersion is foretold; but that a remnant shall be saved is likewise made known.
In the palaces of Philistia and Egypt it is to be published that, because of their sins, the Lord God would no longer be a bulwark to His people. The nations that had once been witnesses of His power would now witness His righteousness. When His people walked not with Him, He could only give them up to chastisement.
But as the Eastern shepherd “taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be delivered that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus on a couch.” The shepherd who lost one of the flock would have to be responsible for the same, unless he could bring proof that it was torn of beasts; therefore his anxiety to recover a portion, if only the tip of an ear, of the creature devoured. So shall God preserve a portion of Israel, though a very small remnant, from being devoured by the wild beasts of the Gentile empires. Their transgressions must be visited upon them because of their idolatrous practices, of which the altar at Bethel, set up by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, was a standing memorial. Its fall would involve the destruction of those who gloried in their wealth and reveled in luxury, careless of the fallen state of Israel. This is more fully gone into in ch. 6:1-6, which will be noticed in its place.
Yet Have Ye Not Returned!
In this chapter they are reminded of the various means whereby God had been speaking, with a view to recalling them to Himself; but the sad result had been that they pursued their ways of sin regardless of warning or punishment. They despised the chastisement of the Lord.
It is probably the great women of Israel who are addressed in vers. 1 to 3; for in place of “kine of Bashan,” the feminine form is used in the original. Luxurious, insolent, and self-pleasing, these haughty dames oppressed the poor and crushed the needy, that they might minister to their own carnal desires. Indifferent to the sorrows their ill-gotten pleasures entailed on others, they feasted and rejoiced; forgetting that the Holy One of Israel was looking on. He had sworn by His holiness to visit upon them their sins, taking them away in the midst of their folly, as the angler hooks the greedy fish that fancies not there is danger lurking in the bait so temptingly displayed.
Verses 4 and 5 have been variously understood; some seeing therein a call to repentance seriously addressed to the consciences of the people. In this case they consider “the sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven,” to be according to the word of God, as set forth in Lev. 7:13, where leavened bread accompanied the sacrifice of thanksgiving as the offerer’s acknowledgment of his own personal unworthiness.
But a thank-offering was only in place when the people were in a right state before God. To call them to the schismatic altar of Bethel, there to bring a thank-offering, when they needed a sin-offering, would surely be contrary to the mind of God.
I understand the passage, therefore, to be one of solemn irony, after the manner of Elijah’s taunts to the priests of Baal. In fact, it would seem as though the prophet were saying, “Bring a sacrifice of leaven as a thank-offering, for so liketh you, O ye children of Israel!” There is no thought of the leaven here accompanying a slain victim or a presentation of first-fruits; but the leaven is the offering which they are ironically called to bring. The whole passage is a sad commentary on the pitifully low state of Israel, whose whole system of worship was but iniquity and transgression, while yet they prided themselves on their pomp and ritual.
Does not He who gazes down upon the pretentiousness of a guiltier Christendom regard it with even greater abhorrence? Where conscience is active it will surely lead to departure from iniquity of so glaring a character.
That there was no thought in the mind of God of accepting a sacrifice offered at Bethel or Gilgal is plain from ch. 5:5. All that circled around these centres of apostasy was abhorrent to Him who had set His name in Jerusalem; though there, alas, it had also been profaned.
Because of what we have been considering, He had sent a grievous famine upon them, “giving them cleanness of teeth in all their cities, and want of bread in all places;” but there had been no evidence of repentance, and He had to say, “Yet have ye not returned unto Me!” (ver. 6). The rain too He had withheld, and that in such a way as to lead to inquiry and exercise, had conscience been at all active, giving rain to one city and withholding it from another; but again comes the solemn refrain, “Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord” (vers. 7, 8); and with blasting and mildew He had smitten them, so that their scanty crop was ruined ere it reached perfection; and if the orchards, vineyards and gardens seemed to do well, the palmer worm (the locust in its most voracious form) was sent to destroy them. But there had been no awakening—conscience remained dormant. “Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord” (ver. 9).
With pestilence too He had visited them, “after the manner of Egypt;” the putrid carcases of their goodliest sons, together with their horses slain in battle, polluting the air so that they breathed in disease and death. But none seem to have discerned who it was who afflicted them, and so they returned not unto Him (ver. 10).
A great physical catastrophe, possibly an earthquake, with an accompanying conflagration, had added to their woes. He had overthrown some of them after the fashion of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, so that the survivors were as firebrands plucked out of the burning: yet had they not returned unto Him (ver. 11). Failing to discern His hand in all that had befallen them, they sought only to escape the rod, hearing it not, nor yet Him who had appointed it. Such is ever the way of man untouched by divine grace. Shutting his eyes to the most palpable evidences of God’s dealing, he pursues his careless way till the pit closes upon him.20
Because of their utter indifference, there remained only one thing more: they must meet Him in judgment whose warnings and acts of discipline they had despised. “Therefore ... prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!” (ver. 12).
For though they knew Him not, yet He who formed the mountains and created the winds, declaring unto man his secret thoughts and making the morning darkness, treading on earth’s high places, was Jehovah, the mighty God of hosts (ver. 13).
Him they must meet—but how? And you too, my reader, have this before you, if still unsaved. Think well how you will stand in that great day of His wrath!
For the believer walking carelessly, this word also has an application. Taking his own way, he may despise the chastisement of the Lord, and fail to hearken to His reproving voice. But not for long can he so continue. Sooner or later God must be met, and all be solemnly gone into in His presence. Oh, then, keep short accounts with Him who knows the secrets of all hearts!
A Lamentation For Israel
Sad and solemn are the dirge-like measures of the prophet’s lamentation over the fallen nation that he loved so well. They had utterly broken down as a people in their allegiance and fidelity to God, and on the ground of responsibility could claim no blessing whatever. If God take them up at all, it must be in pure grace; otherwise naught but judgment could be their portion.
Thus has everything failed that God has committed to man, not excepting the testimony entrusted to the Church. But God has infinite resources in Himself, only to be displayed upon the failure of the objects of His grace. This may well cheer and uplift the spirits of all who sigh and cry for the unhappy divisions and utter breakdown of what should have been for testimony to Christ and the glory of God in these last days. Still, despondency and gloom need not overwhelm the soul. God may yet be entreated of His people. If there be brokenness and repentance manifested, He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think.
The virgin of Israel had fallen so low that she could never rise again—that is, so far as her own volition was concerned; nor were there any of her leaders who could raise her up. But God still entreated, crying in the ears of any who might heed, “Seek ye Me, and ye shall live!” None could deliver but He from whom they had grievously departed. To seek to Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba, where the high places that told of idolatrous self-will were set up, would be all in vain, as ironically declared in ch. 4:4. The fact that a certain sacredness of association was connected with each of the places named would not prevent their going into captivity. Bethel was no longer the house of God, nor did Gilgal now speak of reproach rolled away. Rather had Bethel become a hold of demons, and Gilgal was itself a reproach (vers. 1-5).
There is nothing in “succession,” whether it be the dream of apostolicity, or the modern notion prevailing in some quarters as to “the original ground of gathering,” and “the continuity of the Lord’s table.” What was once clearly of God becomes readily corrupted where pride and self-will are at work, and may have to be turned from and refused, in faithfulness to the Lord, despite all former associations of blessedness and the manifest acknowledgment of God in the past.
Scripture must ever be the guide—not human rules and assumption of authority. “That which was from the beginning” is the original ground— and only that!
So Israel are exhorted to seek the Lord and live, “lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel” (ver. 6). Alas, the warning was unheeded; so in a very few years the threatened judgment was carried out, and the house of Joseph was dispossessed of their land—never to be re-gathered till the day of the coming glory.
The herdman of Tekoa soars to loftiest flights of inspired poetry in verses 7 to 9. The “stars in their courses” had, no doubt, often been his contemplation as he watched his flocks on the hillside at night. The book of Job too had evidently been studied, for ver. 8 is closely linked with Job 9:9 and 38:31.
“Ye who turn judgment to wormwood,” he cries, “and cast down righteousness to the ground, consider the Maker of Kimah and Kesil (the Pleiades and Orion), even turning the shadow of death into morning, and who maketh the day dark with night; that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: Jehovah His name; that strengthened the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress” (7-9). Kimah and Kesil cannot be identified with certainty. That they refer to some of the more important constellations is clear. Both in the two places in Job where the words occur, and in this passage, they are generally translated as “the seven stars,” i. e., the Pleiades, and “Orion.” The Hebrews generally understood them to refer to these brilliant star-groups, which display the majesty and glory of their Creator. The prophet calls the workers of iniquity to contemplate Him who guides the heavenly bodies, and who brought them into being; who causes the sun to rise in his glory, dispelling the darkness; and whose hand likewise controls the planetary movements that bring the night again; and who gives rain to the thirsty ground. With Him men have to do, whether they desire it or not. His eyes beheld all the unholy ways of the people who were called by His name.
Wilfully rejecting light, they hated him who rebuked in the gate, and abhorred him who spake uprightly (ver. 10). Many are their successors. It is a most common thing to find those walking carelessly, or sinfully, filled with indignation against any who faithfully rebuke their unholy ways. Easy-going, man-pleasing preachers and teachers are delighted in; but faithful, God-fearing men are abhorred and despised. But he who would stand for God must expect the opposition and evil-speaking of the unspiritual and worldly-minded.
Knowing that he would be hated for rebuking in the gate, Amos nevertheless proclaims his solemn message without excuse or hesitation. He presses home upon their consciences the sins that were about to draw down coming judgment on the guilty nation. They oppressed the poor, thought only of their own comfort, afflicted the just, were bribe-takers, dealt unjustly with the needy in the place of judgment—the gate—and withal were so overbearing and insolent that it seemed the part of prudence to refrain from exposing their wickedness, so evil was the time (vers. 11-13). But God’s faithful servant covers nothing, using no flattering words. He manifests their hypocrisy, and then calls on them to “seek good, and not evil,” that they might live, and that the Lord of hosts might be with them. If the word was heeded, God might yet be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph (vers. 14, 15).
Men like Amos are never popular with the mass. Better far, however, to have the approbation of One than of the many. Like Paul, he spoke “not as pleasing men, but God, who trieth the hearts.” Yet there is no railing, no cutting or abusive language; simply the solemn, earnest recital of their guilt, and a tender, loving call to repentance.
If this call be unheeded, then wailing must supersede their empty songs, as it did very soon, when all joy was darkened, and even in the vineyards of gladness the lamentations of the desolate were heard (vers. 16, 17).
It is remarkable how low people can fall, and yet how religiously and piously they can talk. Wretchedly vile as was Israel’s condition, there were still to be found among them those who professed to desire the day of the Lord, hoping thereby to be delivered from their troubles—the fruit of their own waywardness. A woe is pronounced on such. What profit would there be for them in the day of the Lord? It would be as if a man fled from a lion, and was met by a bear. Seeking to escape this second danger, he flees to his house; but as he leans his hand against the wall, a poisonous serpent, concealed in some corner, or behind some drapery, strikes him with its venomed fangs. There could be no escape from judgment. The day of the Lord is to be the day of manifestation, and therefore, for the wicked, a day of darkness, and not of light; “even very dark, and no brightness in it” (vers. 18-20).
Quite in harmony with this pretended desire for the day of the Lord was the unreality of the feasts and solemn assemblies. Outwardly, there seems to have been some pretence to honor Jehovah in the reign of the second Jeroboam, but actually He was dishonored by the unholy practices indulged in. Therefore He hated the feast-days, and would not accept their offerings. He looked for righteousness to roll on as a mighty stream in the land, not for outward forms and ceremonies (vers. 21-24). But, alas, their present unreal course had been characteristic from their beginning. Even in the days of the wilderness they had set up the tabernacle of their false gods beside the sanctuary of Jehovah, and had offered sacrifices and offerings to them throughout those memorable forty years. “Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose name is The God of hosts” (vers. 25-27). This is intensely important, and worthy our most serious consideration. Here the Lord declares that the Assyrian captivity was the result of their sinful idolatry “in the wilderness!” Over seven hundred years had rolled by since that first apostasy; but as it had never been really judged, they must be judged for it! How this passage rebukes those who refuse to face the fact that unjudged evil is ever at work, like leaven, leavening the whole lump! Again we have the same lesson enforced which we noted at length in our study of Hos. 7:4-7. Oh, for hearts to bow to the truth so frequently pressed in Scripture, and thus to be kept from the defilement of unjudged evil!
At Ease In Zion!
It was not alone the house of Joseph who had provoked the Lord. As before noted, Israel refers throughout, not to the ten tribes only, but to the whole nation. Therefore this division of the prophecy concludes with a stirring word to those at ease in Zion, and to those who trusted in the mountain of Samaria (ver. 1). Down in the southern kingdom, the danger threatening the northern one seemed far off, and they took comfort in the fact that Samaria would, as they supposed, withstand a siege long enough to give them plenty of opportunity to prepare if the enemies drew near. Hence they took their ease, and were not concerned about obeying the voice of God calling them to repentance, nor did they afflict their souls for the sorrows of their brethren.
“At ease in Zion” may well speak to us of that unexercised condition in which so many of the professed children of God are found at the present time, unheeding the special message for the moment, and manifesting no concern as to walking in the power of the truth. But if God’s people are indifferent to that which is of importance in His eyes, they need not expect Him to act for them when difficulties and afflictions arise.
Philistine cities, once splendid and magnificent had been destroyed. Calneh, Hamath and Gath were but solemn reminders of past glory, and now in ruins. What better was Israel than these kingdoms? They put far off the evil day, while violence and corruption abounded within their borders. Stretched on beds of ivory and carved couches, they feasted without fear on the choice of the flock and herd. They chanted to the sound of musical instruments, drank wine, and delighted in costly ointments; but God winds up the solemn indictment by declaring, “They are not grieved for the breach of Joseph” (vers. 2-6). And shall not this have a voice for every saint of God today? Are we not in grave danger of living to please ourselves, rejoicing in our possessions, and forgetting the breach of Joseph?—forgetting the unhappy state of the assembly, indifferent to the breaches made by self-will, and which have so dishonored the Lord, the Church’s glorified Head? Surely true love to Him will result in exercise of soul as to the present state of that which is so precious in His sight. Such exercises will lead to searching the Scriptures, and judging all in their light; to seeking to walk individually in “the old paths” in which the people of God have walked, even if one has thus to walk alone. But, withal, there will of very necessity be a manifestation of that “love to all the saints” which should characterize every one who enters in any degree into the truth that “there is one Body, and one Spirit.”
Because of this lack of concern for the affliction, or breach, of Joseph, the Lord could not show Himself strong on their behalf, but would abhor the excellency of Jacob, and deliver up even the city of David to the Gentile oppressor (vers. 7, 8).
When at last the destruction came, the fearful sense of Jehovah’s wrath would close every mouth, even as they buried the dead, for the name of the Lord would be unsuited to their denied lips (vers. 9, 10). It is sad indeed, to be under the rod, and yet to be utterly unable to get into touch with Him who appointed it. Such is the hardening power of the deceitfulness of sin!
Vers. 11 to 14 look on to the Babylonian captivity, which followed the Assyrian invasion of the north over a century later. When the Chaldeans came in like an inundation, overflowing all the land, it should be as by direct command of the Lord, as His rod, because of Judah’s having turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into poisonous hemlock. The Holy One must Himself take sides against His own if they turn His truth into a lie, and walk in unclean-ness. So is it still. “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness,” and will not connect His name with what is contrary to it.
With this message the second division of our prophet comes to a close.
Teaching By Symbols
The last division of the book contains a series of five visions, symbolically setting forth divine judgment, and embracing chapters 7 to 9, as noted in the Introduction.
In verses 1 to 9 of the present chapter, three of these visions are described; while the balance of the passage gives a most interesting and instructive bit of autobiography. In the first vision, the prophet was shown a plague of locusts (not merely grasshoppers), “in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth, after the king’s mowings.” In Palestine two crops a year were readily harvested. Under favorable conditions, “the latter growth, after the king’s mowings,” would have reference to the second crop, which would be depended on largely for the winter supplies of food and provender. But the seer beholds devouring locusts destroying every tender shoot, leading to the heartfelt prayer on the part of Amos, “O Lord God, forgive, I beseech Thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.” And the Lord hearkens to the intercession, and replies, “It shall not be.”
Undoubtedly a desolating scourge like an army sweeping all before it, leaving no remnant, was symbolized by the locusts. As in Moses’ day, the anger of the Lord was kindled, and would have destroyed the nation; but the intercession of the mediator interposed. God loves to be entreated. He delights to answer when He hears the cry of such as bear His needy people on their heart.
In the second vision (vers. 4-6), Amos beheld a devouring fire of such intensity that it licked up in its fury the waters of the great deep, “and did eat up a part.” It is again threatened judgment of the fiercest character, yet not making a full end. Once more the cry comes from the heart of the man of God, “0 Lord God, cease, I beseech Thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.” And again, in grace, the response is given, “This also shall not be, saith the Lord.”
It was the awfulness of overwhelming wrath without discrimination, falling on all alike, that appalled the prophet. Therefore in the next vision he is shown that which assures him that each one shall be dealt with according to his own iniquity.
The Lord stood upon a wall, to test its correctness by the plumb-line in His hand; and cried, “Amos, what seest thou?” The answer is given, “A plumb-line.” The Lord replies, “Behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of My people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more: and the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” (vers. 8, 9). It was a figure easily understood. No words are needed when a wall is tested by the plumber. If out of the perpendicular, it is at once manifest, to the confusion of the workman. God’s unerring word is such a plumb-line. Unmistakably it tests every soul, manifesting every departure therefrom, and calling down judgment on the violator of it. Throughout the whole land of Israel that Word was despised, while the people took their own ways, and asked not counsel of the Lord. Therefore none could rightfully complain when they were visited according to their ways. Every high place in the land was a silent testimony to the gainsaying and disobedience of the nation. Upon them all desolation would fall, in the day that the sword was to be drawn against the house of Jeroboam. It is, of course, the second of the name that is referred to —the monarch in whose reign Amos uttered his prophecies.
Amaziah, the apostate priest of the high place at Bethel, hearing these solemn words, rises in anger to denounce Amos as a traitor to the king. As head of the apostate ritualistic system, established and supported by Israel’s wayward kings, he would, if possible, get the pestilent preacher of the truth out of the way, because the craft was in danger if such utterances were permitted in the land. Therefore he sent to Jeroboam, saying, “Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land” (vers. 10, 11). It was unpalatable truth indeed that Amos had declared. But Amaziah seems to have reported Amos’ words incorrectly, either intentionally so, or his own guilty conscience leading him to misunderstand them. We have no record of Amos declaring that Jeroboam himself should die by the sword (which is manifestly not the case, see 2 Kings 14:23-29), but that the sword should be drawn against his house; which was fulfilled in the violent death of his son Zachariah (2 Kings 15:10).
We read of no reply on the part of the king. That energetic monarch may have considered the herdman-prophet and his predictions as beneath his notice; or he may have feared to touch one who evidently was sent of God. So the enraged prelate is left to deal with the intrusive preacher himself. He reasons with him, bidding him consider that he is trespassing in a parish that belongs to another! “O thou seer,” he says, “go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: but prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is the king’s court (or palace)” (vers. 12, 13). It is an oft-repeated complaint this, on the part of man-made priests and preachers, that Spirit-sent men of God must not fish in the waters which they claim, nor touch any of their flock. Looking on God’s heritage as their particular allotted portion, they cannot brook the untrammeled servant who comes with the plain word of the Lord, seeking not financial or other gain, but simply declaring the whole counsel of God. Being a hireling himself, Amaziah intimates that Amos is the same, when he urges him to go to Judah, and “there eat bread.” He cannot conceive of one going forth to proclaim God’s word who has not his eye on a good living. His own covetous heart led him to consider the office of high priest as a desirable means of livelihood, and he takes it for granted that Amos, in his way, is as much a professional man as himself.
Then too he arrogates to himself the right to be the supreme minister and spiritual adviser of the king and people at Bethel. It was what we today would call a cathedral city, and Amaziah was its ecclesiastical head. Away with this unlicensed interloper from the south.
Amos modestly and faithfully answers the haughty and indignant priest. “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son,” he replies. He was neither a professional seer, nor did he obtain his appointment through human hands, nor by descent. “But I was a herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit (the wild fig of Palestine): and the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto My people Israel” (vers. 14,15). Here were credentials that were as inexplicable to Amaziah as they have been to thousands of others since. Amos entered upon his ministry by the direct call of God. Like the New Testament apostle, it was “not from men, nor through man” (Gal. 1:1), but by divine appointment. In neither Testament do we ever read of one man empowering another to speak the word of the Lord. An Elijah may, at the command of God, anoint an Elisha; or a Paul may choose a Silas; but God alone gives the gift and accredits the servant.
But Amaziah is to hear more. As he impiously attempted to control divinely-given ministry, he must hear his own doom pronounced. “Now therefore hear thou the word of the Lord: Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac. Therefore thus saith the Lord; Thy wife shall be a harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land” (vers. 16, 17).
Plain words these; and though we have no record further, we cannot doubt that they were fulfilled to the letter. We read of no reply on the part of Amaziah. His conscience was on the prophet’s side; and that may have sealed his lips. How every word must have come back to him when, stripped of all his honors, he lifted his tear-dimmed eyes heavenward in the Assyrians’ land!
A Famine Of The Word
The opening verses (1-3) contain the fourth vision, and its application. It will be noticed that, with the exception of the last of these object-lessons, all are of such a character as would readily come before the mind of a young man who had been reared in a rural district, and was familiar with agricultural life. Locusts are the dreaded plague of the Eastern farmer. Often too Amos may have helped combat a brush or forest fire, threatening destruction to crops and herds alike. The use of the plumb-line would be quite familiar to him, as stone walls were used almost exclusively both in dwellings and enclosures under special cultivation. And the subject of this fourth vision would be as familiar as the rest.
The Lord showed him a basket of summer-fruit; that is, overripe fruit, which could no longer be preserved. In reply to His inquiry, “Amos, what seest thou?” the prophet answers, “A basket of summer-fruit.” Then comes the explanation of the simple symbol. Israel had become like a decaying fruit. The end was near— the time of being cast away. No longer would grace be extended to those who had rejected it so repeatedly. The temple songs would be changed to woeful cries of anguish and despair, while the dead bodies of the despisers of God’s message would fill the cities, and be cast out in silence.
Accompanying this declaration that the end had come, we have a solemn summing-up of the sin of the people. They swallowed up the needy in their covetousness, making the poor of the land to fail, as in the last days of James 5:1-6, where the word is, “Ye have heaped treasure together in (not for) the last days!”
This same covetous spirit made the appointed feasts and the sabbaths a burden. Outwardly they observed them, but they longed for the close of the day to come, that they might buy and sell, and get gain.
For this the Lord sware, saying, “Surely I will never forget any of their works.” All were under His holy eye. All were noted in His book. All should be faced at His judgment-seat! If the eye of an unsaved sinner rests on this page, oh, let me press upon you this statement in all its solemnity. You may forget your own works, so great may be the number of your sins; but God has declared He will ever remember them. And if He thus remembers, you must be banished from His presence forever. But of all who now judge themselves and own their guilt, trusting the One who died to save, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 10:17). Are your sins then, remembered or forgotten, dear reader?
For Israel’s sins the land had to tremble, and its people were to be carried away as by the overflowing river of Egypt, when the sun should go down at noon, and the earth be darkened in the clear day. It is a poetic figure for utter desolation; the result of their grasping selfishness, their heartless misconduct toward the poor, and God’s displeasure upon their ways. Bitter would be the mourning in that day, when, alas, repentance would come too late to avert the threatened calamity, which was to be as the mourning for an only son, and the end be a day of woe (vers. 4-10).
But more: a famine was to come upon them—who would “swallow up the needy,” and “buy the poor for a pair of shoes.” It would not be a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord, which they had rejected. From sea to sea, as a people forsaken, they should wander, seeking on all sides for the once-despised word of the Lord; but too late now —they “shall not find it”! (vers. 11, 12).
Undoubtedly this prophecy had its fulfilment in measure when the people of Israel were carried into Assyria. But a larger fulfilment awaits them in the days of Antichrist. Nor shall Israel and Judah alone pass through that famine. Guiltier Christendom, so richly blessed with the Holy Scriptures, will have utterly turned from the truth, and will be turned unto fables. The day will come when the grieved Spirit of God will have left the earth, and when the very Scriptures of truth shall, as it were, be taken from those who have esteemed them so lightly.
Then “shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst,” because the water of life, which they refused, shall be withdrawn, when they are left to die in despair, and given up to strong delusion, that they might believe a lie, and will all be judged who obeyed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. The famine will result, not in their turning to God, but they shall swear by their idols still, only to find, as in Elijah’s day, that there shall be none to hear, nor any to regard. So shall they fall, never to rise again (vers. 13, 14).
Not A Grain Lost
This final chapter readily divides into two parts. Verses 1 to 10 give the last of the five visions, and Jehovah’s recital of the afflictions awaiting Israel in the lands of their wanderings, but with the assurance that not a grain of His wheat shall be lost. Then, in verses 11-15, as is customary with the prophets, the seer looks on to their restoration to glory and blessing in the last days, when their tribulations shall be forever past, and the nation be saved in the recovered remnant.
The vision has to do, this time, with the house of God. The Lord is seen standing upon, or by, the altar. He commands to smite the lintel, or chapter of the door, that the posts may shake. The fleeing priests and people are devoted to destruction from which there can be no escape (ver. 1). He declares that though they dig into sheol, the world of spirits, or attempt to climb to the heavens, His hand will find them out. They might hide themselves on the top of lofty Carmel, or in the depths of the sea, but they should not escape the judgment their sins deserved. Even when in captivity among their enemies, He would send a sword after them, and set His eyes on them for evil, and not for good (vers. 2-4). Such was the vision: Amos uses it as a text in the following verses. He describes the might of the God they had contemned, and calls on nature to witness to His power and wisdom. At His touch the land melts and the dwellers therein mourn. He spreads the clouds over the heavens, and pours the rain upon the earth. Jehovah is His name (vers. 5, 6). Who, then, can withstand such a God, or who could expect to prosper who despised Him? Israel’s special privileges would not avail now. They were no more deserving than others. In nothing were they superior to the Ethiopians. The same One who brought Israel out of the land of Egypt had brought the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir. In His eyes, Israel was now but a sinful kingdom even worse than their neighbors. So He would destroy them from off the face of the earth.
Nevertheless He remembered His promise to the fathers, and His word as to the coming Seed must not fail; so He excepts a remnant. He “will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob” (vers. 7, 8). He will sift them among all nations as wheat is sifted in a sieve, but not the least grain shall fall to the ground. Only the sinners of His people will die by the sword, they who said, “The evil shall neither overtake nor hinder us” (vers. 9, 10). This is the figure the blessed Lord uses when addressing self-confident Peter. He is to go into Satan’s sieve, but not for final destruction; only that the chaff may be separated from the wheat.
Such shall be the result of Israel’s sifting among the nations. They are not all Israel that are of Israel; that is, not all that are descended from Jacob are children of faith. Only those who bow to the word of the Lord and believe His testimony are the Israel of God. Upon such, a New Testament apostle invokes peace from God. These will be the wheat that will be preserved for the coming kingdom.
In that day, David’s tabernacle, long fallen, will be again reared up, and the city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt and raised up on the old ruins. Then shall restored Israel possess the land of Edom, and all the saved nations shall own their sway (vers. 11, 12). It is noticeable that this is the scripture quoted by James in the 15th chapter of Acts to justify the call of the Gentiles, though there is probably more in his use of it than that. It harmonizes perfectly with the thought of grace going out to the nations. It also shows that after the present work of God in taking out from among the Gentiles a people for His name is completed, the Lord will turn His hand once more to Israel, and raise up the tabernacle of David, fulfilling all the promises made through the prophets (Acts 15:16, 17).
In that glorious restoration period, Palestine shall once more be under cultivation, and made to rejoice and blossom as the rose. The captivity of Israel will be settled in their own patrimony. The waste cities shall be rebuilt and inhabited. Vineyards and gardens shall flourish, and God Himself shall plant His chosen people in the land given to their fathers and confirmed by His oath; “and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land,” to which He shall restore them, but shall dwell there under the beneficent sway of the Lord Jesus Christ. The words, “Saith the Lord thy God,” abruptly close the book. He has spoken, and He will perform His word for His own name’s sake.
20 The writer passed through the California earthquake of April 18, 1906, and was an eye-witness of its horrors. Not the least solemn thing noticed was the persistent efforts of the preachers of all denominations to quiet the fears of the populace by assuring them that God had no part in the calamitous events that had taken place. Natural causes explained everything! This the Christless were only too ready to believe; and thus were their partially awakened consciences lulled to rest and their ears closed against the voice of Him who through Amos said, “I have overthrown some of you!”
From vers. 11 and 12 of this chapter, it was my solemn opportunity to press the truth upon many at that time, and not altogether, I trust, without fruit; but “the day” will declare it.