By Sam E. Stone
This month we have focused attention on Amos, one of the most important of the minor prophets. As James E. Smith pointed out, “The oracle which follows the fourth vision may have been delivered in Judah during a second phase of Amos’s ministry. In any case, these verses contain one of the strongest indictments against covetousness found anywhere in the Bible.”
Previously in his message, Amos had announced God’s coming judgment on Israel. This had been emphasized by the command “Hear this word” (Amos 3:1; 4:1; 5:1) and “Woe” (5:18; 6:1). All of the warnings had promised the coming destruction of Israel. Amos explained what would happen by revealing a series of visions—hordes of wild locusts, a ravaging fire, and a plumb line. Chapter 8 begins with another vision—the basket of fruit.
Basket of Fruit
God asked the prophet what he saw, and Amos responded, “A basket of ripe fruit.” Just like the fruit in the basket, the time was then ripe for God to render judgment on the people. The end of Israel was ahead. T. E. McComiskey emphasized that this new oracle was directed against those who oppressed the poor, “exterminating the oppressed of the land. . . . The privileged, by their ruthless greed . . . in effect gradually exterminate the needy, by whose exploitation they have gotten unjust wealth.”
Things would be different from that point. The Lord declared that “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing.” No longer would it be a place of happy and holy worship. C. F. Keil said that the “songs of joy would be turned into yells, i.e., into sounds of lamentation.” Many bodies would be dead all around them. Seeing such death and desolation, the people would become silent (6:10) and “bow beneath the overwhelming severity of the judgment of God, as in Zephaniah 1:7.”
Sins of Israel
The world will always have poor people until the Lord returns (Matthew 26:11; Deuteronomy 15:11). Amos reminded Israel, however, that the poor and needy have always been objects of compassion in God’s eyes (Exodus 23:11; Deuteronomy 15:7-11). McComiskey added, “We are reminded that Jesus came ‘to bring good news to the poor’ (Luke 4:18), and that ‘God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom’ (James 2:5).” The serious condemnation spoken by the Lord’s inspired messenger should strike fear in the heart of any person who abuses the poor. The actions of the people of Israel showed how they really felt. Their religion was nothing more than a hypocritical pious act.
They did not want the New Moon festival to take long, because it kept them from making money—and making it dishonestly. The people were guilty of other specific crimes as well. They skimped when measuring the products they sold, cheated customers with dishonest scales, engaged in human trafficking, and even put worthless chaff in with the wheat when they sold it. They were bad!
Punishment for Israel
Amos 8:9, 10
The Lord said that the sun would go down at noon, darkening all the earth. This does not mean that the elements changed their nature. As Albert Barnes pointed out, “Our eyes, confused by a cloud of sorrow, cannot receive the light from its rays purely, nor are they alike impressible.”
The severity of God’s judgment makes it clear that the Lord will not overlook and forget the sinful behavior of those who claim to be his people. Their singing will be turned into weeping. Their mourning will be like that later shown by King David (2 Samuel 18:33). Wearing sackcloth and shaving the head were other common evidences of mourning (Genesis 37:34; Jeremiah 47:5). The ripened fruit declared this sinful kingdom was itself ripe for ruin. It suggested the cause—greed, dishonesty, and merciless brutality to the poor. None can escape the consequences of persistent sin.
Over and over God said “I will” as he emphasized the certainty of judgment. The people’s mourning would be as intense as the grief expressed when one’s only son dies. It would be a bitter day indeed. Sin must be punished.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.