By Sam E. Stone
This quarter’s lessons are taken from a number of important passages in the Minor Prophets (so named because their books are shorter in length than books by other prophets like Isaiah and Daniel). They reveal God’s judgment on all kinds of injustice and disobedience.
Many Bible scholars date Amos’s ministry around 760 BC, while Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam II was king of Israel. Amos was from Tekoa, a small town near Bethlehem. He was a herdsman who took care of sycamore fruit. His message was one of justice and judgment for God’s people in the northern kingdom.
Henry Halley wrote, “Jeroboam’s reign had been very successful. The kingdom had been considerably enlarged (2 Kings 14:23-29). Israel was in the high tide of prosperity but brazen in its idolatry and reeking in moral rottenness (a land of swearing, stealing, injustice, oppression, robbery, adultery, and murder).”
The book of Amos begins with thundering judgment on Israel’s neighbors. He specifically named Aram, Philistia, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, and Moab, finally ending with Judah and Israel. Alan R. Millard explained, “After pronouncing judgment on Israel’s neighbors for various atrocities—judgment that Israel would naturally applaud—Amos announces God’s condemnation of his own two kingdoms for disobeying God’s laws.”
Amos 2:4, 5
Amos repeated the familiar formula used with the previous six cities/nations when he confronted his own people: “For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not relent.” There had been many occasions when the nation of Judah sinned against God’s law. God had been patient—but judgment was coming!
Similar warnings had been given to humanity throughout the centuries—in the days of Noah, with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and later on at Nineveh. Peter pointed out the governing principle of the Lord’s eventual judgment: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8, 9).
Specifically Amos mentioned the people’s rejection of God’s law, noting that they had been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed. The sins of Judah were not physical atrocities between people but rather the basis of their indictment involved their rejection of the law of the Lord. Amos promised that God would send fire on Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.
As he turned next to the sins of Israel (the northern kingdom), Amos used the same introductory formula as before. Speaking directly to the people of his homeland took courage as well as character. Eventually the prophet was told to go home to Judah and prophesy there (Amos 7:12). The charges he specified about Israel involved social injustices against their own relatives. Human trafficking was common. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. Although God had instructed them to care for the poor, instead they trampled on their heads!
The book that bears his name tells us a great deal about Amos. James E. Smith suggested, “He was well acquainted with the world of his day. He mentions the names of at least thirty-eight towns and districts of the ancient Near East. He had a keen awareness of the history, not only of his own people, but of foreign peoples as well. He possessed a note of objectivity and sternness. He was forthright in the presentation of the word of God. He was a literary master and an incomparable preacher.”
While the northern kingdom had temples at Dan and Bethel, true worship was to be restricted to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. The citizens were so thoughtless that some even took clothing they had stolen from the poor with them when they went to worship. The payment of fines was sometimes done with wine.
Throughout the remainder of the book, we continue to see how God’s prophet insisted that his people turn back to the Lord in repentance. Alan R. Millard concluded, “Israel at the time was politically secure and spiritually smug. The nation felt sure . . . that she was in God’s good graces. But prosperity increased Israel’s religious and moral corruption. (God’s) patience was at an end.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.