Amos 7-9

I have been keeping up with my Bible reading, but not with the blogging. Although the most important aspect is, of course, reading the Word, writing about it can really help me consolidate and concentrate on what I’m reading. Over the last few days, my internet has been intermittent in the evenings, so blogging was a bit harder.

In Amos 7, the prophet begged the Lord not to show his wrath against Israel. However, God finally told Amos enough was enough. He had measured the people of Israel and the results showed that they were left wanting. They did not measure up. God, the God of justice, needs to correct this.

Obviously, Amos’ prophecies upset a few people and in this chapter, he was told to leave. However, Amos told them that it was God who had told him to say these things and the consequences for Israel’s disobedience would be dire.

Amos 8 again shows the sin of the people of Israel. Their dishonest economic practises have disadvantaged and oppressed the poor. The people have cheated or sold short their goods. They “trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land”.

As a result, God will destroy them. Not only this, but he will hide his face from them. This is perhaps more terrifying, that though they seek for the word of God, they will not find it. Amos 9 reiterates how total the destruction of Israel will be. It seems utterly hopeless.

However, the book of Amos ends with Israel’s restoration. Despite this destruction, he will lift Israel again. There will be redemption. There will be rebuilding. There will be hope. Is this the time we live in, when Jesus is restoring and redeeming this world? Sometimes it’s hard to know which. But we can have hope, that God is restoring his people back to him; that Jesus will come again and Jerusalem will once and for all be made new.

These are the questions that Amos 7-9, and indeed the whole book, have made me ponder:

  • What current political or economic practises are happening that are detestable to the Lord?
  • How are we complicit in the trampling and oppression of the poor?
  • What will the consequences for us?
  • How do we let justice flow like a river?
  • How do we show are we a people of hope of a new heaven and new earth?
  • How do we usher in God’s holy and just kingdom to where we are?

Amos 6

There seems to be two themes in this chapter: pride and complacency. We see that the people of Israel are enjoying life. The drink wine, have beautifully furnished homes, eat delicious food, listen to music, relax and have fun. It all seems great.

But this wealth and status has made them arrogant. They look down on the poor; they have stopped caring about them. It also means they’ve forgotten about God and his desires. Their worldly gain has been their spiritual loss. It’s stopped them doing what is right and good.

And the result we be destruction. The big mansions will be destroyed. Israel will be oppressed. The Lord detests their ways.

Amos 5

God calls the people of Israel to repentance. He tells them again and again “Seek me and live.” This is what we are to do. We too are sinners; like Israel we turn astray. Although our idols are not the gods of foreign nations, we have idols. But we are to seek God and live.

He is particularly condemnatory of those who “turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground”; “hate the one who upholds justice” and “detest the one who tells the truth”. Those who levy unfair taxes will see their wealth and homes destroyed. Those “who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts” are to experience God’s wrath. Again, it feels like these accusations can be about many people we see today in the media, people in very influential positions.

It’s interesting what it says in verse 13. It says, “Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” It makes me wonder if this too is a moral judgment against the “prudent”. It seems a bit like cowardice here. It also makes me ask, “Are these evil times?”

Verse 14-15 set some ways to please God and live: seek good, love good, maintain justice and hate evil.

The end of Amos 5 is pretty famous. It mentions religious ceremonies. They are doing what is seen to be right. Here, perhaps, is the emphasise on the word seen. These offerings, festivals and assemblies are outward displays of righteousness. However, they are just window-dressing; they are glitter on a turd. You can still smell the stench, no matter how much you put on.

For it is the lack of justice, the oppression, the hatred of truth that is what angers God and is what needs to change.

And the more I read Amos, the more I feel it was written for now. For the times are evil.

Amos 4

Amos 4 continues to list Israel’s crimes. Oppression of the poor was given as a sin again, as well as gloating about offerings. God had already tried to warn them and bring hunger and crop failure and war on them. However, they still refused to return to the Lord.

It’s interesting as it’s easy to think of God as petty and vengeful towards the Israelites. They slighted him and now he’s punishing them to the extreme. But there’s things we should remember:

  • God deserves glory. He made the universe, he is all powerful, he is mighty and full of love. He deserves recognition.
  • The Israelites were treated with special favour, which they have rejected.
  • For God to be just, there needs to be a consequence for sin. Rejecting the one holy God is the biggest sin there is.

So in the light of these things, God is only seeking what is due to him and is only responding in the way a just, powerful God would.

Amos 3

Amos 3 speaks of God’s special relationship with the people of Israel. He has chosen them and they have rejected him. Therefore, they will be punished. This punishment is presented as a sure thing. This is done through a series of rhetorical questions that seem to state the obvious. Therefore, this retribution is just as obvious.

Verse 7 tells us that God uses his prophets to reveal his plans. This is so his people can know about it.

The plan is that the people of Israel will be overrun by its enemies and will be destroyed.

Amos uses some farming similes, that reflect his status. Israel will be like the remains of a lamb pulled from a lion’s mouth. There will only be scraps left.

At the end of the chapter you get an idea of Israel’s wealth. There are winter palaces and summer palaces and houses adorned with ivory. This isn’t a poor pitiful nation. They are rich and they are well off. And they have abandoned the Lord.

This, like Amos 2, is scary. Symbols of wealth are all around us: holiday homes, big houses, lavish decor. These thing are pointless if you do not follow the Lord; these things can’t save you and these things will be gone when judgment comes.

Amos 2

Amos 1 warns various countries surrounding Judah and Israel about their future. Moab gets the next warning in Amos 2. God will destroy Moab’s rulers.

Then God’s anger turns on his own people. Judah rejected the law of God; they worshipped idols. Again, Judah too will experience consuming fire.

Israel’s list of sins is quite extensive. They sell vulnerable people for gain; destroy the poor; fail to help the oppressed; they are involved in sexual scandals and the use of prostitutes; they use their power to make themselves rich. Those that should be honouring God the most – the prophets and the Nazirites – have all fallen into sin.

This list is somewhat terrifying. It’s not just because what they have done is wrong; it’s because the list is all too recognisable. There have never been as many slaves as there are today. People work in sweatshops for the profit of multinational business owners. London has become a hotbed of people-trafficking. Desperate refugees are used to make profits. The poor are being made poorer and the oppressed are still hindered through systematic, institutional and cultural prejudice and injustice. So many leaders and celebrities have been reveal to have been sexually immoral. People, even world leaders, abuse their power to get what they want. Churches are involved in such scandals nowadays it makes one weep.

Even “Christian” nations are full of these sins. They are the Israels of Amos’ times.

What does God tell them? He tells them he will crush them. It will be swift and no one will escape.

It’s a terrifying warning, especially as the picture looks so recognisable. It does make me wonder what might happen to the nations and the leaders of today.

Amos 1

Chapter 1 of Amos is pretty much about the divine judgment of God against the nations surrounding Israel. These nations have committed terrible sins against God’s people: Israelites being killed and enslaved, breaking treaties with them, women were killed and even the pregnant women were slaughtered. The atrocities they did were horrible.

But God will punish them, tearing down the walls of their capitals, bringing fire to their cities. Their kings will flee or perish.

Often, the Old Testament prophecies are somewhat unpalatable for modern readers. They speak of retribution and revenge. God seems cruel and hard.

But we need to remember, God is holy. He is just and good.

Our societies see guilt and innocence in very black and white terms: you did it or you didn’t. However, I think the Biblical idea of sin is far more complex and pernicious than that. It kills and spreads. It’s like a disease that infects and ruins, like yeast in dough. Therefore, when we read these chapters, we perhaps have to think of sin as being more than we can define and therefore the cost of it more than we can say.

But it does make us ask a number of questions of our faith and reflect upon what we believe:

  • Do we trust God enough to believe in his justice?
  • Do we have faith that God’s plan is right?
  • Do we believe that God’s ways are perfect?
  • Do we believe that he is love?

This passages definitely challenge our thinking.

However, God loves his people. He loves other nations too. This is why prophets are sent: they warn people. God want the people to turn back to him and to find his mercy. However, sadly with the case of a lot of prophets, they don’t heed the warning. Because of God’s just nature, something needs to be done about the wrongs they have committed. So, when they fail to seek God’s mercy, they find themselves at the hands of his justice.