By Sam E. Stone
The exact length of Amos’s ministry is not specified in Scripture. Most Bible scholars agree that it was probably for a short time. Some guess only a half hour, while others think only a few months! James E. Smith suggested, “More likely his ministry extended for a few years. The years 754-752 BC for his mission to north Israel would not be far off.”
Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam II was king of Israel. Amos insisted on justice and judgment for God’s people in the northern kingdom. His message was consistent: being part of God’s family through faith requires obedience to the Father.
Desires of God
Amos 5:14, 15
In the verses just before our printed text, the prophet condemned the people for walking over those who didn’t pay them. “I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins” (v. 12). Although God had not yet enacted punishment on them, this did not mean he was unaware of their sin. The people’s hope was based on repentance. Seek good, not evil, that you may live (compare Isaiah 1:16, 17). The people claimed to have God on their side, but in reality they would not have him until they repented and did what was right. Jesus gave a similar warning to those who claimed to have a relationship with God in his day (John 8:39).
If people truly seek God, they will hate evil, love good, and do what is right. Such people could be a part of the remnant of Israel, whom the prophets had declared would be saved in the end (Isaiah 10:21, 22).
Days of the Lord
Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! . . . That day will be darkness, not light. For years the people of Israel had heard of the coming “day of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:11, 17, 20). This was seen as a time of the Lord’s judgment and vindication, bringing redemption and release to his people. Thinking they were secure in God’s favor, the Israelites were oblivious to how God felt about their hypocritical practice of religion. Amos used dramatic illustrations to picture God’s inescapable judgment on Israel. It would be like fleeing from a lion but then meeting a bear, or getting safely into your house only to have a snake bite you there.
God declared, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; Your assemblies are a stench to me.” God clearly expressed his displeasure with their charade of worship. It is not enough merely to give an impressive offering to God. He wants something more. No matter how well the musicians perform, God will not be impressed. He wants our hearts, not our harps. We can’t separate religion from morality.
Demand for Justice
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” In contrast to their gifts and their songs, the Lord wanted their heartfelt love and their righteous lives. God wants people committed to justice!
Declaration of Penalties
What about sacrifices during Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness? The nation’s idolatry was clearly at odds with their worship of the Lord. Harold Shank noted, “It is unclear whether these gods were worshiped in the wilderness, are objects of worship in Amos’s day, or will be gods the Israelites serve in exile (which links this verse to 5:27).” Regardless, a time of exile is foretold.
The people had been persistent in their disobedience since Israel began as a nation. In speaking of the star, the reference may be to a past or future trespass. Either way, Israel is guilty of worshiping other gods alongside the Lord. Later Stephen quoted this passage in Acts 7:42, 43, showing Israel’s constant rebellion against God.
Shank concluded, “Both the law (Deuteronomy 29:28; 30:4) and Amos (5:5; 6:7; 7:11, 17) speak of exile. Amos 5:2 spoke of Israel ‘deserted in her own land’ and 5:8 mentions a God powerful enough to water the land. This verse has God removing the people from the land. Beyond Damascus (v. 27) is a signpost to where they will be taken . . . . The exile will occur, says the word of the Lord, God Almighty.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.