47. Amos

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 47.  Amos

Amos 9:11   In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places,

restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be,

If we have suggested that a highlight is a high point of faith or hope in a book, when it comes to Amos we have to wait until the last half of the last chapter of this nine-chapter torrent of negative prophetic outpourings. From the first verse we see that the main part of Amos’ ministry was probably about 760-750BC, which is not long before Samaria in the north was destroyed and the people carried away in 722.

Although the vast majority of the book is condemnatory, speaking against the sins of surrounding nations and cities – he has the Lord roaring from Jerusalem (1:2) against Damascus (1:3-5), Gaza (1:6-8), Tyre (1:9-10), Edom (1:11-12), Ammon (1:13-15), Moab (2:1-3), as well as Judah (2:4,5) and Israel (2:6 – 5:27) etc. there is within it a poetic and prophetic symmetry that is almost unique in the Bible and is fascinating to read.

For example in chapters 1 & 2, where he identifies each of this cities or states or nations, he uses this phrase “For three sins of …., even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.” (v.3,6,9, etc.). I like the way the Message Version puts it: “Because of the three great sins of…  – make that four…” It’s almost like the prophet says, “For at least three sins, no there are more than that.” It is also a style that is often used in Proverbs, and it is a style that makes it easy to see the divisions and direction of the various prophecies that are coming.

In chapter 3 there is a lovely example of prophetic repetition to illustrate a point. Observe the word ‘do’ or ‘does’ here in verses 3-5:

Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?

Does a lion roar in the thicket when he has no prey?

Does he growl in his den when he has caught nothing?

Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground where no snare has been set?

Does a trap spring up from the earth when there is nothing to catch?

These are cause and effect things, i.e. nothing happens without a cause, and so he follows it with the outcome: “Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared– who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken– who can but prophesy.” (3:7,8) i.e. prophecies don’t come unless God has spoken and when He speaks the prophet can’t help but speak and (implied) this is why I am saying all these things!

In chapter 4 there is this same sort of repetitious style as the prophet points out what the Lord has already done in His disciplinary judgment, each one starting with ‘I’: “gave you empty stomachs” (4:6), “withheld rain from you” (v.7), “struck your gardens and vineyards” (v.9), “sent plagues among you” (v.10), “killed your young men” (v.10), “overthrew some of you” (v.11). It is a call to wake up and repent. As I have studied judgments, it is clear that death is only a judgment ‘of the last resort’ and so it is clear the depth to which Israel has fallen by the extreme lengths the Lord has had to go to, to seek to get them to come to their senses and return to Him.

Another example of this sense of repetition so often found in Scripture, and especially in prophetic writings, is in chapter 6 where he speaks against the complacency found in both the northern and southern kingdoms (6:1). See the number of time ‘You’ is used. You… “put off the evil day” (v.3 in your thinking pretending it won’t happen), “lounge on your couches” (v.4a – indifferent to your plight), “dine on choice lambs” (v.4b food becomes a focus – a characteristic of life in the West for so many today), “strum on your harps” (v.5 music – ditto), “drink wine by the bowlful” (v.6a ditto), “use the finest lotions” (v.6b cosmetics – ditto), “do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph” (v.6c indifferent to the plight of God’s people – ditto) “will be among the first to go into exile” (v.7 but the judgment WILL come on all this – ditto)

When we come to chapters 7 & 8, we come to a number of very visual warnings: A swarm of locusts (7:1-3), a consuming fire (7:4-6), a plumb line (7:7-17), a basket of ripe fruit (ch. 8). Rather like Jeremiah, he receives opposition from the religious establishment (7:10-17)

In chapter 9 he has a vision: “I saw the Lord standing by the altar,” warning of impending judgment that is all-encompassing (v.1-10) but then remarkably, out of the blue so to speak, comes this final word of hope – to restore the Davidic reign (v.11,12), to bring great fruitfulness and abundance (v.13) and to bring back from exile and restore Israel (v.14) and utterly restore Israel in their own land (v.15). Now whether that last promise was deferred for nearly three thousand years (from then), by Israel’s rejection of their Messiah, or whether it was simply supposed to bring great reassurance in a time of tumult, is unclear. Even this book could not be written without an  element of hope for the future. The present required a strong message calling for repentance (which would be rejected in the north resulting in their destruction in 522, and by the south resulting in their destruction in 587), but in the longer-term there was the Lord’s knowledge of what would have to happen, eventually resulting in a restoration of a purged and purified people of God. It is a fascinating book!