by Pastor David Groendyk
Many of the minor prophets (the books of Hosea through Malachi) are unfamiliar territory for us, Amos included. The prophet Amos was a shepherd by trade (see Amos 7:14–15), which is actually quite important. He emphasizes the fact that he was not a “career prophet” or a “professional prophet” and that, therefore, he wasn’t merely going to preach and prophesy what the people wanted to hear. He had been called solely by God and was only going to deliver God’s message, whether good or bad. And in Amos, the message is mostly bad.
You might not recognize much from this book, although Martin Luther King, Jr., famously quoted Amos 5:24 in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Dr. King’s quotation was quite fitting for his time given theme of the book of Amos. Israel was in a time of unprecedented prosperity, but, as prosperity often does, it was corrupting Israel. Wealthy elites were abusing the poor and helpless for a profit. Men were mistreating and abusing their fellow man for their own personal gain. The people of God were not loving their neighbors as themselves, and they were totally complacent about it. This was the height of social injustice. There was no fairness and equity in the land. Everyone was seeking their own profit, no matter who they had to abuse. The rich were getting richer at the expense of the poor getting poorer, and the rich had no concern for the poor. The root of this lack of love for man was a lack of love for God. Throughout this book, Amos will highlight Israel’s idolatry and love for other gods instead of the one true God. We must be careful to remember that love for God and love for man are inseparably connected. At the root of our not loving our fellow man is always some sort of idol. Conversely, if we truly love God, it will always result in our loving and seeking the good of our fellow man, especially those who are the poorest and most helpless around us. A brief outline of the book, taken from Dr. Michael McKelvey:
- The lion roars in judgment of the whole world (chapters 1–2)
- The guilt and judgment of Israel (chapters 3–6)
- Destruction but hope (chapters 7–9)
Verse 2 is the theme verse for this book. It’s a dramatic entrance for the Lord being depicted as a lion who causes the highest mountains to wither at the sound of his deafening roar. He is roaring against all the wickedness that he sees in the world. Although we can’t get into detail about all these nations’ sins, you can see that the pattern is that they have abused and hated their neighbors. Damascus brutally attacked Gilead (v. 3), Gaza captured an entire nation and sold them into slavery (v. 6), Tyre did the same as Gaza but in so doing also betrayed a covenant with that people (v. 9), Edom was bloodthirsty against their brothers (v. 11), and Ammon committed a terrible genocide against their opponents (v. 13). Although not every modern day nation or individual is guilty of these exact crimes, every person is guilty of not loving their neighbor as themselves. And God holds every person accountable for not loving their neighbor as they ought. All the nations of the world are held to the same standard of God’s law.
As the victims of many of these brutal attacks, Israel was looking forward to the day when the Lord would come to crush their enemies, but the twist in the book of Amos is that Israel itself will undergo the same judgment because they have committed the same sins. Unless you’re a geography buff or are in the habit of looking at maps while you read Scripture, you won’t immediately notice the pattern in chapter 1. As Amos lists these various nations and condemns them, he is geographically zeroing in on Israel. While the pagan nations very obviously deserve judgment, Israel had not done a good enough job of “keeping watch on yourselves, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1) and so earned their own punishment. I saw a Christian author post on social media recently: “The idol in your backyard will destroy you sooner than the idol in your neighbor’s yard.” The sin of the pagan nations didn’t destroy Israel; Israel’s own sin did. Their eyes had been fixed on the sins of unbelievers, and they hadn’t paid attention to their own idols that had crept into their hearts. The warning from 1 Corinthians 10:12 also rings true: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
But there is good news in this book as well. All the way at the end of chapter 9 we’re reminded of the promise of God restoring his people from their punishment. The God who roars is also the God who restores. He restores the fortunes of his people and rebuilds their ruined cities. Despite our constant failure, God still seeks us out by his grace to save us. As you read through this book and examine your sinful heart each day, remember that God’s mercies are new every morning to us fallen sinners.