Amos 4 – Week Two
Last week, we were introduced to Amos, one of the prophets sent by God to warn the Israelites. As we were studying 1 & 2 Kings, there were several prophets that were well-known as prophets. Amos wasn’t one of them. He was an ordinary man. A sheep breeder, in fact, who also raised figs. We aren’t privy to know how and when God spoke to him, but we do know that God gave Amos prophetic words to speak, and Amos knew who needed to hear them. Although Amos lived in the Southern Kingdom, he traveled to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to deliver his message.
So, picture this. Amos goes to the Northern Kingdom when life seems good. The Israelites are currently experiencing much prosperity and peacefulness. In their minds, they must be in right standing with God because that’s how we as humans think, isn’t it? When all is well, we interpret that as God’s favor. But then Amos, an unknown sheep breeder, shows up in an area that isn’t necessarily fond of his hometown, and he comes proclaiming to have a “roaring” message from God that’s dripping in anger.
Amos starts off by listing the things that Israel’s neighbors have done that have angered God and he warns them of what’s to come. He mentions the destruction and burning down of city walls, as well as the palaces. Amos also states that people will be taken captive or killed by their enemies.
This kind of talk must have intrigued the Israelites at least to some extent. They were, after all, God’s chosen people, so they considered themselves a little bit superior to their neighbors, the non-Israelites. And truthfully, I can almost see some grins on their faces as they listened to the harsh words Amos delivers about their enemies. That’s just part of our humanness, isn’t it? To stand back and feel even just a little satisfied watching God take vengeance on those we deem worthy of it.
Just when they think that God’s chosen people are immune to His wrath, Amos addresses the actions of their next-door neighbors, their fellow Israelites down in Judah.
Amos 2:4b NLV “They turned away from the Law of the Lord. They have not obeyed His Laws. They have gone the wrong way, following the lies of their fathers. 5 So I will send fire upon Judah, and it will destroy the strong-places of Jerusalem.”
The listeners would not know this, but that prophecy is fulfilled roughly 200 years later in 2 Kings 25:9 NIV “He [Nebuchadnezzar] set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down.”
Maybe the Israelites were really starting to feel even more superior or perhaps they anticipated that Amos had some disturbing news for them specifically. They don’t have to wait long because Amos wastes no time in delivering a very specific message. And the news isn’t good. In fact, it’s quite scathing.
Amos 2:6 ERV “6 This is what the Lord says: “I will definitely punish Israel for the many crimes they have done. They sold honest people for a little silver. They sold the poor for the price of a pair of sandals. 7 They pushed their faces into the ground and walked on them. They stopped listening to suffering people. Fathers and sons had sexual relations with the same woman. They ruined my holy name. 8 They took clothes from the poor, and then they sat on those clothes while worshiping at their altars. They loaned money to the poor, and then they took their clothes as a promise for payment. They made people pay fines and used the money to buy wine for themselves to drink in the temple of their god.”
After detailing these displays of disobedience, God has Amos recount to them all that God has done for them over the years. How He delivered them from the Egyptians and drove out their enemies from the Promised Land. God has provided and protected, and the Israelites respond to God’s goodness with defiance. And then He asks them. “Is it not so?” They couldn’t deny it. They had said they would never forget what God had done and yet they did. Then Amos delivers a heartbreaking revelation from God.
Amos 2:13 ISV “Oh, how I am burdened down with you,
as a wagon is overloaded with harvested grain!”
There’s something about that statement that grieves me because I can’t help but think how overloaded is God’s wagon right now with us? We, as a nation, have strayed so far from Him. We have allowed the morals of this country to be so compromised so that we don’t offend, we don’t alienate others. We are hesitant to categorize rights from wrongs even when God’s Word is clear. We have become complacent. Generally speaking, we’ve allowed our zeal for God to become somewhat stale. Romans 12:11 NIV “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
Do you see yourself as being zealous for God? Before any of us pat ourselves on the back, the Israelites may have considered themselves zealous for Him as well. They may have been reliving their history with God by replaying in their minds all that had taken place years ago and not focusing on their lack of dedication to Him in the here and now. Can you go to bed every night and count at least one thing you did for the glory of God that day? Back in the 1980’s Janet Jackson sang a hit song, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” This is what God’s message through Amos is asking the Israelites. “What have you done for Me lately?” And the Israelites had no response because there was no legitimate response.
Amos 2:13 is written with a different meaning in other translations. “Look, I am about to crush you in your place as a wagon crushes when full of grain.” (Amos 2:13 HCSB) Whether the initial meaning was that the people had burdened God or that He would crush them, neither interpretation is pleasant to hear, is it?
The reality then is the same as it is now. They knew better and so do we! They had been given the Laws of Moses years earlier. Today, we have the Bible. But just like the Israelites didn’t let God’s Words matter to them, I can’t help but feel that we are just as guilty. The Israelites forgot what God was supposed to mean to them. Have we also forgotten Him?
We don’t read, know, and apply God’s Word as we should. What we do know we will sometimes reshape to make it more comfortable, more palatable. We don’t speak up and we don’t defend His Word for fear of being considered insensitive or upsetting someone because of their choices, lifestyle, or beliefs. When did it become more important to please people rather than to please God?
Listen to Amos 3:1NRSVUE “Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:
2 You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities.
Amos 3:6b GNT “Does disaster strike a city unless the Lord sends it?
7 The Sovereign Lord never does anything without revealing his plan to his servants, the prophets.
8 When a lion roars, who can keep from being afraid?
When the Sovereign Lord speaks, who can keep from proclaiming his message?”
Amos 3:11 ICB “So this is what the Lord God says:
“An enemy will take over the land.
He will pull down your strong towers.
He will take the treasures you hid in your strong cities.”
12 This is what the Lord says:
“A shepherd might save from a lion’s mouth
only two leg bones or a scrap of an ear of his sheep.
In the same way only a few Israelites will be saved.”
Amos 3 is not a feel-good speech, and it shouldn’t have been. God had been tossed aside and neglected by His very own people. The gloominess that permeated Amos’ speech was directly related to the actions of the Israelites. Just a brief glance at some of the words used in this chapter alludes to the somberness of the message.
Punish. Iniquities. Prey. Snare. Afraid. Calamity. Fear. Violence. Destruction. Destroy.
But tucked in the middle is a tiny glimmer of hope. A few, but only a few, Israelites will be saved. Just like God kept a remnant of His people safe during the flood, He promises to do the same here. A few Israelites will be saved. Those will be the ones who later return with Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild.
So, who would be the chosen ones to be saved? Well, my guess is that it’s not going to be the ones Amos addresses in chapter 4.
Amos 4:1 TLB “Listen to me, you “fat cows” of Bashan living in Samaria—you women who encourage your husbands to rob the poor and crush the needy—you who never have enough to drink! 2 The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that the time will come when he will put hooks in your noses and lead you away like the cattle you are; they will drag the last of you away with fishhooks! 3 You will be hauled from your beautiful homes and tossed out through the nearest breach in the wall. The Lord has said it.”
Sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? By using the term “fat cows” to describe them, Amos is referring to their self-indulgencies. It would seem that these women who lived in a lush area known for its superior livestock profited by oppressing those less fortunate. These were most likely women of governing and powerful men who misused their positions and authority to take advantage of those not quite as fortunate. Biblical “Karens”, I assume. Always wanting their way, demanding to be served, and insisting on having what they want, when they want it. This is not how God’s people are to live and yet, we encounter them nearly every day. Amos delivers a warning from God that they will be treated like cattle they worshipped and treasured and would be dragged from their beautiful homes into captivity. We must wonder. What was their reaction to this? Were they disturbed? Were they amused? Was there any part of them that took this seriously? The next couple of verses suggest that the Israelites were clueless when it came to seeing themselves the way God was seeing them.
Amos 4:4 GNT “The Sovereign Lord says, “People of Israel, go to the holy place in Bethel and sin, if you must! Go to Gilgal and sin with all your might! Go ahead and bring animals to be sacrificed morning after morning, and bring your tithes every third day. 5 Go on and offer your bread in thanksgiving to God, and brag about the extra offerings you bring! This is the kind of thing you love to do.”
Amos delivers this very ironic message from God telling the people to just go on and continue doing what they were doing. Nowadays, we’d call it “playing church”. They were not going to Jerusalem to worship as they were supposed to do. Instead, for convenience, they were going to Bethel where the golden calves stood, or they were going to Gilgal to do their worshipping. This was not what God desired and they knew that. They were going through the motions on their own terms and not abiding by God’s laws. Amos tells them to go ahead and sacrifice every morning and bring tithes every third day if they wanted, rather than every third year as God had commanded. And why were they told this? Because their sacrifices and their tithes were meaningless. They only did these things as an outward showing of supposedly doing what was pleasing to God, but God knew their hearts and He knew that there was no sincere worship behind their acts.
“God saw through their religious veneer; He was neither impressed nor deceived. No amount of religious fervor can substitute for faithful obedience to God marked by a life of integrity.”[ii]
I can recall some years ago when online giving became an option and I heard someone say, “I don’t like that. I like for the people on the pew with me to see me put my offering envelope in. Otherwise, how will anyone know that I tithe?” That right there is a giant problem. And it’s not just with tithing. It’s with all manners of fake worship, insincere good deeds, and shallow service. We sometimes neglect the last part of Matthew 5:16 CEV “Make your light shine, so others will see the good you do and will praise your Father in heaven.” By desiring the spotlight on ourselves, we’re omitting the very reason we are called to be the light of the word. It’s not about us. It’s all about being simply a reflection of God.
I was giving thought to what it takes to reflect God; to be a true representation of Him. I kept envisioning mirrors in a fun house at a carnival. And how you can stand in front of them and see a distorted image of yourself. The funhouse mirror effect is accomplished by bending the glass so that it’s curved in different directions. The result is that the mirrored image reflects an image that is warped and reshaped from the original image. If we were to stand in front of such a mirror in a spiritual sense, how different would our image be from God? Have we allowed ourselves, like the Israelites to become so indifferent to what angers God that we’ve become bent? Have we, also like the Israelites, increased our desire for what makes us content, happy, and satisfied rather than what God desires for us to the point that our lives have become crooked? Have we, once again like the Israelites, grown accustomed to His favor and no longer seek to serve and please Him, and as a result, our lives have become warped?
Proverbs 3:12 CEV “The LORD corrects everyone he loves, just as parents correct a child they dearly love.”
God loved the Israelites, but they had displeased Him over and over. He tried to get their attention. He tried to cause them to seek Him.
Amos 4:6 TLB “6 “I sent you hunger,” says the Lord, “but it did no good; you still would not return to me. 7 I ruined your crops by holding back the rain three months before the harvest. I sent rain on one city but not another. While rain fell on one field, another was dry and withered. 8 People from two or three cities would make their weary journey for a drink of water to a city that had rain, but there wasn’t ever enough. Yet you wouldn’t return to me,” says the Lord.
9 “I sent blight and mildew on your farms and your vineyards; the locusts ate your figs and olive trees. And still you wouldn’t return to me,” says the Lord. 10 “I sent you plagues like those of Egypt long ago. I killed your lads in war and drove away your horses. The stench of death was terrible to smell. And yet you refused to come. 11 I destroyed some of your cities, as I did Sodom and Gomorrah; those left are like half-burned firebrands snatched away from fire. And still you won’t return to me,” says the Lord.
12 “Therefore, I will bring upon you all these further evils I have spoken of. Prepare to meet your God in judgment, Israel. 13 For you are dealing with the One who formed the mountains, made the winds, and knows your every thought; he turns the morning to darkness and crushes down the mountains underneath his feet: Jehovah, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, is his name.”
“The message of Amos was predominantly about Israel’s social corruption and moral decline.”[iii]
But the words God spoke through Amos are also about our social corruption and our moral decline.
Over and over and over and over, the people still didn’t return to God despite the tragedies, the circumstances, the challenges, or the times of distress.
God sent Amos to warn the Israelites, but they didn’t listen. Years later, I’m sure as they watched their homes and their Promised Land be destroyed and ruined, as they found themselves and their families and neighbors being taken captive, they wondered, “Why didn’t someone tell us?” The truth was and still is God did warn them. They just didn’t listen.
What will it take for us to listen before it’s too late?
Today marks the 21st anniversary of 9/11 – a day that none of us will ever forget. In November of 2001, just two months after security in America was breached and the deadliest terrorist act in world history[iv] took place at our own front door, a survey was published. “Seven religious behaviors were studied to assess the impact of the 9-11 events. The surge in church attendance has been widely reported, and while current levels of adult attendance are higher than before the attack, they are not statistically different than the numbers recorded last November, thus reflecting the usual seasonal increase. It appears that attendance, which nationwide increased by perhaps 25% immediately after the attack, is back at normal levels.”[v]
God told the Israelites, “Still you won’t return to Me.” Our nation was attacked by terrorists and still, we did not return to God.
“Bible reading remained at 39% of adults pursuing the Bible, other than at church, during a typical week.”[vi]
God told the Israelites, “Still you won’t return to Me.” Our nation had never been more vulnerable and yet, we did not return to God.
“Prayer, also alleged to have escalated, is currently at its normal level, with 85% praying to God in a given week. Participation in a small group other than a Sunday school class that meets during the week for Bible study, prayer or Christian fellowship remained static, as did having a private devotional time during the week. ”[vii]
“In fact, among the born again adults surveyed before and after the attack, there was a slight net decrease in the percentage of believers who had shared their faith with a non-Christian at any time during the past year.”[viii]
One of the most life-altering events in our nation’s history and yet, we still didn’t return to God. There was no real revival when there should have been. There was no returning to our roots of a nation based on Christian beliefs, acts, and morals. “’Spiritually speaking,’ said Barna’s David Kinnaman, ‘it’s as if nothing significant ever happened.’”[ix]
Amos came to tell the Israelites that they had failed God. How I wish I could tell you that they heeded his advice and returned to God, but we all know from Scripture that they didn’t. Could it be that the message God gave to Amos years ago is now directed at us? How much more grief will His wagon hold until it breaks? May we never forget Him and all that He does.
[ii][ii] Explore the Bible, T.J. Betts & Liz Sherrer