I kept grandkids yesterday. It was a full day of play and snacks, a day that flew by so fast, I felt whiplashed when they were scooped up and carried home at last. One-year-old Rafe is teething and had fever, his usual standoffish self melting in my arms most of the day. It was a rare, pure gift. He was unconcerned whether or not he got gingerbread or first dibs on riding toys, major concerns of the other boys. Rafe only wanted to be held.
It was the perfect set up for what I’ve read today.
Amos is a shepherd and fruit harvester-turned-prophet by God in the days of Jeroboam II, king of Israel. His book is full of farming illustrations, down-to-earth passages that stand out in stark contrast to the lifestyle of his day. Amos prophesied at the same time in history as Hosea did, and like Hosea, he directed his words to the northern kingdom during a time of great prosperity and political stability, (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/amos-1/).
The people are complacent in their affluent lives and do what’s expected in worship, like sacrificing animals and bringing temple offerings. These are the external acts they brag about, while inwardly chasing luxury and ease. They’re caught up in grabbing “the good life,” not living lives of true faith with concern for honest business dealings and the poor, Am 4:4-5; 5:21-24.
They’re also committed idol worshippers, visiting trending shrines they’ve set up at convenient high places scattered throughout their towns and countryside. Somewhere along the line, it’s made sense to go through the motions of worship at the temple while also devoting themselves to their idols, some going so far in their zeal as to sacrifice their children to Baal, 2 Ki 17:17; Am 5:5-7.
In confronting them, Amos repeatedly refers to Israel’s injustice in court and their oppression of the poor in buying and selling. They’ve become rich at the expense of their countrymen. God says they can take their fake worship of him and shove it, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.” What he wants instead is for “justice to roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Am 5:10-12, 24.
Yesterday’s passage in Amos 4-6 tells about their extravagant lifestyles. They live in stone houses with lush vineyards and lie around drinking bowls of wine on couches inlaid with ivory, Am 5:11; 6:4-7. Amos calls the women of the upper class, “cows of Bashan,” fat and pampered women who demand their husbands support the “easy life” they’ve become accustomed to. They say, “bring us drinks!” Am 4:1.
It’s not the wealth that Amos speaks against so much as the injustice they’ve embraced to get it and the self indulgence they spend it on–the “finest lotions,” feasting, and lounging about. God says the day is coming when instead of lounging, they’ll be lead through broken city walls on lines of fishhooks, Am 4:2-3; 6:6-7.
Eventually, Assyria comes in and does exactly this: it breaks down their walls and leads captives away on the long walk to Assyria, strung together with fishhooks through their bottom lips, (for another fishhook story, see the 2 Kings section of http://onetruelove.blog/2020/06/30/bears-of-no-brain-at-all/).
In today’s passage, God says Israel is like a bowl of ripe fruit that’s about to go bad and is ready for judgment. They observe traditional worship days like the monthly “New Moon” and the weekly Sabbath, but they can’t wait for the day to end so that they can get back to making money, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?” Am 8:4-5.
What’s more, they’re not just eager to get back to business, they’re eager to get back to dishonest business, “skimping the measure, boosting the price, and cheating with dishonest scales…selling even the sweepings with the wheat.” God says they’re “buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.” And God sees. They might think they’re getting away with it, but God says, “I will never forget anything they have done,” Am 8:5-7.
God shows Amos three visions of what he has in mind to do. One vision is of swarms of locusts that come in after the king’s crops have been harvested and destroy all the rest belonging to the people. They strip the land clean, and Amos cries out for Israel, “Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” And God relents and doesn’t bring it about, 7:1-3.
Next, Amos sees God’s judgment by fire that dries up the land so that there’s not even any water left in the ocean. First famine, and second, drought. Again, Amos cries out for Israel and God relents and says it won’t happen, either, 7:4-6.
Last, God holds up a plumb line in his hand beside a wall. He says he’s holding a plumb line alongside his people and will spare them no longer, the implication is they don’t measure up. He’ll destroy their high places and sanctuaries and Jeroboam’s royal house. How? By taking the people into exile and ending Jeroboam’s line, “‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land,'” 7:7-11.
It’s remarkable to me that God lets Amos give him feedback about how he will punish his people and that he relents twice before finally saying, “I will spare them no longer,” 7:8. Elsewhere in Scripture, it says that God doesn’t change his mind. “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” Nu 23:19 (see also Sa 15:29).
This relenting can’t be a change of mind by God. I think he’s planned all along to bring invaders in and carry the people away. So why does God have this conversation with Amos and show him these two options? Amos was sent by God to tell his people what God said, so he’s telling them everything he’s written here. Maybe their hearing what else God was considering besides captivity might shake them up enough to listen. Maybe God is saying something like, “I’m thinking over the options here. What do you think of these?”
Of course, neither famine or fire were good options, but compared to starvation because of locusts and drought, or annihilation because of fire, captivity would sound the least terrible. They won’t starve. They’ll eat–but it will be elsewhere. They won’t be burned alive. They’ll live–but it will be elsewhere. Even in his judgment, God gives mercy.
Jeroboam’s “house” pulled ten of Israel’s northern tribes away from David’s rightful rule and set up its own kingdom with its own capital city in Samaria. David’s “house” was left with only two tribes in Judah, its capital in Jerusalem. For the sake of maintaining control over his kingdom, Jeroboam I set up his own idea of temple worship with golden calves at Gilgal and Bethel, two convenient worship locations in Israel, so that folks wouldn’t have to travel to Jerusalem and be tempted to transfer their loyalty away from him.
While it’s hard to believe they could be so dense, this “calf worship” was thought to be a way to worship the true God, using the throwback image of the golden calf that Aaron had made at Mt Sinai. That was when God’s newly delivered slaves from Egypt grew tired of waiting for Moses to come back from his meeting on the mountain with God and wanted to worship, Egyptian-style. Ironically, this was when Moses got the Ten Commandments, the first one of which was not to worship other gods, Ex 20:3 and all of Ex 32.
It doesn’t take much beyond a third grade Sunday Schooler’s understanding that God wasn’t glad about their idolatrous calf worship at Mt Sinai to know that Jeroboam made a major mistake in Gilgal and Bethel. And while I shake my head at such stupidity, I realize that somehow it made sense to the people then, since they went right along with it.
There’s no outcry from them against Jeroboam’s two roadside Quick Stop Calf Cafes in their day. And why not? At least one reason is because they don’t know any better–the priests had stopped teaching their Jewish version of Sunday School, and the people were ignorant. But I’m guessing the priests were only doing what the people decided they wanted. After all, if nobody showed up for Sabbath School, nothing got taught, 2 Chr 15:3; Ez 22:26.
So Amos is sent to them to wake them up. He’s not a professional prophet–God’s just taken him right out of his fields in nearby Tekoa of Judah and marched him up to Bethel in Israel, Am 1:1. He speaks to the people at the temple there, but Amaziah, the priest, gets upset and tells him to shut up, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom,” Am 7:12-13.
These were likely the only true words Amaziah ever spoke. He’s right: this is not God’s sanctuary or temple. It belonged entirely to the king and his kingdom. And like a loyal subject of the king rather than of God, he sends word to King Jeroboam about Amos’ message, saying he’s raising a conspiracy against the king and “The land cannot bear all his words,” Am 7:10.
But what the land cannot bear are priests like Amaziah, who tell the people words they want to hear rather than God’s words. The time is coming when the land will literally tremble at the judgment God will bring, and all her people will grieve. In the day of God’s judgment, he will turn all their celebrations into mourning. All of them will wear sackcloth and shave their heads and end their days bitterly, Am 8:8-10.
What’s more, Amos says that Amaziah himself will suffer for trying to shut up God’s voice among the people: his wife will become a prostitute in the city, his children will die from the sword, and he will die in a pagan nation. “Israel will certainly go into exile, away from their native land,” Am 7:17.
God also says a time of “famine of hearing the words of the Lord” is coming. After Amos and Hosea, God stops sending prophets to Israel, and eventually simply does what he’s said: sends in swords from Assyria. It’s not a famine of food and water that they will suffer in coming days, but a “famine of hearing,” of being able to hear and understand God’s words, Am 8:11.
Since the priests are pagans and the worship is sordid and the people don’t listen to God’s prophets, they’ll wander about lost and looking for truth. But they won’t find it. Deliberate hardening and refusing to listen to God results in spiritual deafness, an inability to hear him even when you’re dying to. “Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it,” Am 8:11-14.
God says that when judgment finally comes to them, no one will escape. They can try digging down into hell and ascending up to heaven, but God will “hunt them down and seize them. Though they hide from me at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent to bite them. Though they are driven into exile by their enemies, there I will command the sword to slay them. I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good,” 9:1-4.
Whoa. That verse is disturbing: “I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.” God fixes his eyes on us for evil? What does that mean? God can’t be what he’s not, and he’s not evil. He doesn’t tempt anyone with evil, either, Js 1:13-14. But the discipline he lets us experience, the consequences for our sin, the pain and tearing and ripping to shreds that sometimes come, these are obviously not good things we would choose. We would say they’re evil.
Suffering evil things is what happens when we refuse to turn from sin. Suffering evil things can happen when we haven’t sinned. There’s nothing like suffering to get our attention and direct it at God—what do you have for me here, God? There’s nothing like pain to crack a hard heart so that a seed of faith can be planted and grow—what should I believe? This is consistent with the God who disciplines us as a father for our good, and with the God who attacks us like a mama bear to make us look to him. He 12:7; Ho 13:8.
Just this week, Hosea said that God tears us to pieces but will heal us that “we may live in his presence.” The process of shredding drives us to him, where we experience him like the rain, refreshing us and healing us in ways we hadn’t known before. “Let us press on to know him,” Hosea says, Ho 6:1-3. God fixing his eyes on them for evil is in order to bring about ultimate good: the repentance and restoration they need.
Amos’ next words pull my eyes off Israel’s sin and judgment and put them on God and who he is–the creator, sustainer, and ruler over the earth: “The Lord, the Lord Almighty, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn…he who builds his lofty palace in the heavens and sets its foundations on earth, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land–the Lord is his name,” Am 9:5-6.
A reminder of God is a good reality check: he’s the one who makes the earth melt and its people mourn, the one whose living quarters contain the entire universe, the one who uses the sea to water the land. Do people really want to ignore this God and his words and do their own thing while on his earth? Do they really think he will let them get away with idolatry in worship and mistreating one another–particularly the poor, who are at our mercy?
God says he’ll give the command and shake Israel and that all its sinners will perish. Who are these “sinners”? Amos says it’s those who deny his word and say that disaster’s not coming. They’ll die, Am 9:10. But as God always does, he never leaves them face down in the dirt. For one thing, he gives them this heads’ up. There’s still time to be among those who believe his word and take it to heart.
There’s also good news when he says that while he shakes them like grain in a sieve, “not a pebble will reach the ground.” God holds all the good grain that are his, all the good seed who believe. These won’t perish, In fact, these are those he will use to replant his land, Am 9:9-10, 15.
As he often does when he speaks of stern judgment, God gives his people a taste of grace, a peek into the future kingdom he promises. He says he will restore “David’s fallen tent,” which is a promise to return David’s line as king of God’s people again. This was a nod to Jesus, a descendant of David’s, who would one day come and reign, Am 9:11-12, (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/amos-9/).
God also promises future prosperity of a kind not yet seen. In those coming days, the mountains will drip with new wine, and “the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman, and the planter by the one treading grapes.” High mountains aren’t known for being good places for growing grapes, but in this day, God will bring in a harvest so bountiful that wine will “flow from all the hills.” There will be so much bounty, all of these workers will be getting in one another’s way to work the land and bring it all in, Am 9:13.
Besides prosperity, God promises that his exiled people will “rebuild the ruined cities and live in them” as they all enjoy wine from their vineyards and fruit from their gardens. The cities would become places of mutual benefit for all, not places of oppression and poverty as they currently were. “‘I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,’ says the Lord your God,” Am 9:14-15.
Does God mean a literal rebuilding of cities when heaven comes to earth one day? Some folks think so. John Eldredge’s book, All Things New, is a good read of remarkable things from the Bible about what heaven will be like on earth in that day. His account from Scripture of what Jesus meant when he says, “I am making everything new!” was such that I stood up and cheered when I read it, and then settled sheepishly back down on the sofa, Re 21:5.
I’m content to know that God has great things in store for us, and that he’s driving all of history toward that one final day when the heavens roll back and Jesus returns riding the clouds, Is 34:4. There’s so much we don’t know about that day, but these are the things that carry me from this passage until it comes:
God is good. He gives us his words. He sends men to say listen up and repent. He gives people plenty of chances to turn to him. He lets us see how much worse his judgment could be. He’s not content to let us wander away from him, the source of true life and love. He uses the evil circumstances from our evil choices to discipline us for our eternal good.
God is patient. He gives us our whole lifetime to turn to him. For the hundreds of years that his people turn away from him, he still wants them back. With the bad news, he always reaffirms grace. He says we shouldn’t take advantage of that offer and delay our turning or returning, but the truth is, the offer is on the table until our last breath. The only thing he doesn’t forgive is failing to turn to him at all, which is the sin against the Holy Spirit, Mk 3:29.
God is intentional. He keeps us safe. Though he shakes the whole world to get our attention, he doesn’t let his seed fall away–not even the tiniest pebble escapes him. Jesus said that “all the Father gives me will come to me.” He’s the shepherd who leaves the 99 to go after one lost sheep. He’s the father who sees the prodigal “a long way off” and runs to meet him. He’s the God who holds up the plumb line and sees where we don’t measure up and sends his Son to make up the difference, Am 9:9; Jn 6:37; Lk 15:4, 20.
God doesn’t sit back in judgment. He’s the Judge who announces the sentence, puts down his gavel, takes off his glory, puts on our flesh, dwells among us, bears our sins, dies to pay our sentence, rises to give us forever life, lives now to hear and help us, and one day will come back to bring us home with him for a New Heavens and New Earth Celebration that never stops.
“Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.”
“I know your deeds.
See I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.
I know that you have little strength,
yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name,” Re 3:8.
This is what Jesus says to the church in Philadelphia, one of seven churches he speaks to in Revelation. He has nothing negative to say about them except that they’re weak. Despite weakness–and it’s not clear what kind of weakness he means–they’ve done the thing that mattered most: they kept his word and believed him.
And their reward is great:
–they have an open door that no one can shut
–they’ll be known by unbelievers for being loved by Jesus,
–they’ll get to skip the “hour of trial” that will come on the earth,
–they’ll receive a crown,
–they’ll become a permanent “pillar” (praiser? partier?) in God’s house,
–they’ll have God’s name and God’s city’s name and Jesus’ new name written on them (3 tattoos?!), Re 3:9-12.
God, I’m wanting all of these rewards, too. I figure I”ll be cool with tattoos by heaven. Keep me in your word. Give me faith to believe you. I’m weak, too. Thank you that in Jesus, when I’m weak, I’m strong, 2 Co 12:10.
I’ve just had to tussle with God and repent again over blog stat checking. It’s distracting me; it takes away my joy; it tempts me to pride and to despair. I’m not strong enough to handle it when it’s high or low. This psalm shows me the heart I want to have with God and don’t.
Please work in me, God. I’m unable to be at peace and rest. Forgive me for thinking your approval isn’t enough.
“My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.”
My take away today is the weaned child–stilled and quieted, trusting and depending on the mother. Not restless. Not frantic and anxious.
I want to trust you with the things I don’t understand and don’t know, the “things too wonderful for me.” I want to trust you with how the end of life on earth happens, as well as what’s in store for next year and next week and the next hour.
This has been such a different sort of year. It’s easy to worry about things I can’t control. Help me to settle into my days as you design and bring them, trusting you with the big and little things, being content to listen to your word, and to believe you, and to relax and be held.
Life is amazingly simple when I get off your throne and just lean in.