This last section of Amos is built around 5 visions. Today’s text will take up 4 of the 5 visions. These 4 visions can be divided into 2 pairs because the first 2 are similar in style, structure, and purpose, and the second 2 are similar in style, structure, and purpose. Separating the third and fourth vision is a biographical account of a conflict between Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, and Amos, the prophet from Tekoa. Presumably, the 3rd vision provokes the conflict, and the conflict provokes the 4th vision.
Ultimately, what this text shows us is the NK’s rejection of the prophet and his message. The NK failed to see that God warns that He may not have to judge. The warnings of the Word are to be received for what they are: God’s grace to the hearer. Don’t despise the warnings of God. God mercifully warns and woos us, and in this He is showing Himself personal, caring, loving, near and knowing. When the warning of His Word is rejected, we are left only with our own failing devices. God’s warnings not only reveal something about Him, He is gracious, and our rejection of his warning reveals something about us, we are proud.
If you’re driving and you see signs warning that a bridge is out ahead, you can take the signs seriously or ignore them. If you ignore the signs (for any number of reasons: you don’t think they are credible; a lot of charlatans are putting up signs; you don’t care for signs) and drive over the bridge, and plunge to your death, you can’t fault the warning or who gives the warning (you could only blame yourself). Ignoring the signs are an outright rejection of the signs. If, however, you heed the warnings and arrive safely at your destination, you owe your safe arrival, not your own devices, but to right and true and kind warnings.
Do you see what a treasure the Word is? Do you see what a grace and mercy the appearance and preaching of Amos was to the NK? Rejecting the prophet was a rejection of both God and His Word. We are called to deliver God’s message among a people and in a culture that naturally opposes the Word and the church. In this text, we have some instructions for communicating God’s message in a hostile world.
We should pray for the mercy of God upon the peoples of the world (7:1-6).
These six verses are a wonderful example of the powerful, effectual intercession of Amos on behalf of the NK. They were not about to pray for themselves, and they resisted the prophet and his message. Their hardness in the face of approaching judgment moved the prophet to intercede for them.
The title Lord GOD is used at least 10 times in this final section. When you see GOD in all caps you know it translates YHWH. We could read it Sovereign LORD. God’s covenant name is here combined with a recognition of his absolute sovereign freedom.
In these verses (1-6), the Sovereign LORD gives Amos two visions that are constructed exactly the same and are highly repetitious. Both visions describe judgment that would completely destroy Israel. The first is of locusts that would devour the second planting (7:1). This was a plague of exodus proportions (Ex. 10:4ff) and covenant curse (Deut 28:38). God’s people had become God’s enemies. The second vision was of judgment by fire (7:4). This was no ordinary fire. It devoured the deep and ate up the land.
In both visions, Amos interceded on behalf of Jacob to the Sovereign LORD (2,5). Amos called on the Sovereign LORD to forgive in the first vision and to cease in the second. In Amos’s mind if the visions had become a reality Jacob would have ceased to exist. Amos’s estimate of Israel’s strength and their evaluation of themselves was two different things. Israel felt perfectly secure and well able to defend himself (6:1-2,13). Perhaps so, but not when God is their enemy. They were calculating their strength by the wrong comparison. God himself is the One by whom all things are ultimately measured.
Surprisingly, God relented. This is surprising because God’s relenting is not based on Israel’s repentance. Amos simply appealed to the Sovereign LORD to forgive in the one case, and to forebear in the other case. In both cases, God relented saying, It shall not be (3,6).
This text tells us something wonderful about the character and nature of God. This is not the first time in the OT the idea of God relenting or repenting his come up. Some people want to challenge the doctrine of God’s sovereignty with texts like these. They claim to want a God who does not know the actions of people and reacts to their free choices. That is clearly not the biblical case. In Amos, it is the God of absolute sovereign freedom, the Sovereign LORD, who relents. It seems that in each case where God is said to repent or relent, He is acting redemptively. So in reference to God relenting God is not turning from some wrong He was about to do. Mercy and justice are no conflicts in the nature of God. For God to act in mercy does no violence to justice and vice versa.
What this text tells us about God is His intent to be merciful. Both visions would have been completely devastating for the NK. Yet, in Amos, we have already learned of God’s intent to save a remnant from Israel (5:15). We will see that God not only intends to be merciful to a remnant within Israel but also to a remnant among the gentile nations (9:12). We could say the book of Amos holds out God’s purpose of grace to the nations (9:12), including Israel.
Notice, however, that God has put his prophet in a place to pray for the very thing God intends to do. Just as Amos has already told us, For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets (3:7), God shows his personal nature by bringing Amos into his purpose for Israel and leading his prophet to pray for them. Amos knew that total annihilation of the NK eliminated the possibility of a remnant. So he interceded in their behalf, and God, not on the basis of anything outside Himself, determined to be merciful to some.
I think this text gives us precedent to intercede for people in rebellion against God and plead for his mercy upon them. Some people are in rebelling against God and know it. They have some background knowledge of God. Others are in rebellion against God and don’t know it. They are going to their mosks and temples and advancing in their philosophies. Still others have identified Christianity as public enemy number one. When the righteous see the way the culture is moving at large, the response is often like the martyrs under the altar, O, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? (Rev. 6:10). When you are a martyr under the altar, you can pray like that.
But now, seeing our culture in decline should not move us to push it over the cliff, but to pray for the mercy of God on our land, and peoples of the world. This is the culture and the world God is calling us to engage with the gospel. The badness out there is our cue to pray in here. We have a grand opportunity to see God radically save some and transform their lives. If you come upon a house fire, you save those whom you can (Jude 22).
We cannot allow the distraction of opposition to control the message of the church (7:7-17).
7:7-8:3 is biographical account of Amos’s conflict with Amaziah bookended by two similar visions. Let’s take up the conflict between Amos and Amaziah, and, then, we will look at the final two vision.
Amos’s message of the demise of the religion and politics of the NK (7:7-9) was more than Amaziah the priest of Bethel could take (7:10-17), so he sent word to Jeroboam and took issue with Amos. Amaziah misrepresented Amos’s message to Jeroboam, apparently, hoping to arouse the displeasure of the king (10-11). He accused Amos of instigating a conspiracy to turn Israel against Jeroboam. Amos had become of such significance that the land could no longer bear him and his message. Amos did not say Jeroboam would die by the sword, but that God would rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword (9). Amos had spoken of exile on several occasions (5:5,27; 6:7). Apparently, Jeroboam, who died of natural causes in his old age, was not too concerned with Amos.
Amaziah took it upon himself to disinvite Amos from the NK (7:12-13). He assumed that Amos was a professional prophet, preaching for the money. In effect, Amaziah told Amos, Go preach for money in Judah. Amos had earlier complained that the LORD had sent prophets to Israel, but they commanded them saying, You shall not prophesy (2:12). Two of those prophets were Elijah and Elisha. Now, Amos is being told to no longer prophesy at Bethel because it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of his kingdom (7:13). Amaziah is confessing that he is a priest of the state and the religion is a religion created by the state to support the cause of the state. That is exactly what the religion of the NK was.
In response to Amaziah, Amos cleared up any confusion about His credentials, but only in as much as it supported his message. He was not a part of the prophetic guild (14). He was a herdsman and husbandman, but the LORD took him from following the flock, and the LORD said to him, Go prophesy to my people Israel (15-16). Unlike the professional prophets who sold out and told the kings and priests and people of Israel exactly what they wanted to hear, Amos was called by God to deliver His message to the NK.
Now the Lord had a word for Amaziah (7:16-17). Because Amaziah rejected the word of God, his wife would be forced into prostitution, his children would die in the siege, he would lose his inheritance in the land, and he would die a defiled priest in an unclean land.
The cultural opposition to the church has a tendency to control the conversation. The effect is that it gets the church off message, and we spend all our time trying to correct the cultural rhetoric about the Christian faith. To be sure, the church must be clear about its position on the issues, but that is of secondary importance to the message God has given us to proclaim. Our arguments are not going to win the day in the cultural discussion. If you think you can earn a voice in the cultural milieu by clever, logical, political, or philosophical arguments, you step right into the Satanic strategy to get the church off message. It never has been the excellence of our arguments, but simply the power of God through the Gospel that transforms not cultures but one life at a time.
The certainty of the day of judgment should move us in urgency and compassion to share the good news with others (7:7-9; 8:1-3).
There is a subtle mercy in these final two visions that we should not miss. There is a merciful progression in the 4 visions that make up this section of text. Unlike the first two where Amos intercedes and God relents, there is no intercession and no relenting here. How is that merciful? The first two visions would have led to total devastation of the NK, but that was not God’s purpose. The final two visions, while unspeakably severe, leave hope for the believing remnant to be saved. We will see this developed next time we look at Amos. In the face of opposition, accusation, and rejection, Amos stayed on the message God gave him.
In this first vision in this text (7:7-9), Amos saw the LORD standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand (7). A plumb line was a weight tied to a string. Builders would dangle the weighted line down a wall they were building to enable them to build the wall straight. The LORD had constructed Israel to reflect His own righteous character in obedience to the covenant. In this vision and in the summer fruit vision (8:1-3), Amos refers to Israel as my [God’s] people (7:8; 8:2). This is highly covenantal language, where God identifies with His people: I will be their God and they shall be my people (Lev. 26:12). With the demise of national Israel, this language will be reserved for the New Covenant people of God in the restoration.
God was setting his plumb line in the midst of His people, Israel. The result was, He would not pass by them again. This language recalls the Passover in Egypt. God passed through Egypt (Ex. 12:12) but passed over Israel (Ex 12:13). Amos had already used this language to warn the NK (5:17). Measured by the plumb line Israel was found to be a crooked wall in terms of religion and politics (9). Their syncretistic religion (high places and sanctuaries) would be desolate and laid waste (9). The dynasty of Jeroboam II would be removed (9).
God had revealed His nature and character to Israel in the Sinai Covenant. Clearly, They had not lived in covenant obedience and were now destined for judgment. Measuring themselves by the nations around them, Israel felt secure in his position. They were like an elementary art class whom the teacher told to draw a straight line. Before she could finish her instructions, she was called out of the room. While she was away the kids began to compare their lines. Bobby and Robby got into an argument over whose line was straightest. When they couldn’t settle the argument, a group of girls came over to be the judges. They all agreed that Bobby’s line was straighter than Robby’s line, but Mary’s line was much straighter than Bobby’s line. When the teacher returned, she completed her instructions. The children were to draw a straight line with a ruler. When the teacher drew a ruler line on Mary’s paper for an illustration, Mary’s line now appeared not so straight.
This is the effect of having our lives evaluated by God’s plumb line. As long as we are comparing ourselves to others who are doing worse than we are, we feel really good about our lives. But when God measures us, we are all crooked walls. This is the trouble with appealing to God’s justice. Many think that they want justice from God. They think that they are better than others, and they want that to be the deciding factor.
God says, Let’s see how you measure up. He sent His Son, Jesus, who is not only a straight wall, He is the incarnation of the plumb line. He lived a perfect life. Put your life beside His sinless life. How do you measure up? An appeal to justice will save no one. All will be condemned. God’s perfect, Son, died for our sins, bore God’s wrath reserved for sinners, is the sole reason why in visions 1 and 2, God could relent without any conflict in his nature of justice and mercy. Abandon your pride and quest for justice and plead for mercy through faith in Christ, who lived, died, and was raised again. Then look at the world and pray for mercy for them.
Amaziah’s rejection of the word, led to one final vision that is like the vision of the plumb line, only more ominous (8:1-3). The Lord GOD showed Amos a basket of summer fruit. Summer fruit marked the end of the harvest. The connection between summer fruit and the message of the vision is a sound play. The word for summer fruit (qayis) and end (qec) were pronounced alike (8:2). The end has come upon my people Israel. Their singing would turn to mourning and all they would be able to do would be to stand in silence before the just judgment of God (8:3 c.f. 6:10). Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God (Rom. 3:19). This would happen because of their rejection of Word.
We like Amos have to stay on message. If God’s sure and certain judgment moves you to turn away from compassion and urgency to share the good news with others, I want you to consider again what that doctrine should do in you. When we turn from seeing the badness of the world as an opportunity for good news, we who are the recipients of mercy have put ourselves in a position of desiring justice for others. No. We shouldn’t preach on hell and hope people go there. We shouldn’t view some sinful orientations as beyond the reach of God’s transforming grace in the gospel. God has let us see the approaching day and has, at the same time, called us to engage the world with the gospel. We must pray for God’s mercy upon the peoples of the world, the cites, the country side. We must stay on message and not be distracted by rejection and opposition. Urgency and compassion should move us to reorient our lives and our thinking toward engaging others with the gospel.