We continue in Amos chapter 7 where, just for a change of pace, Amos talks about judgement…Amos 7:1-4 This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested and just as the late crops were coming up. When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” So the Lord relented. “This will not happen,” the Lord said.
Amos has a vision: God was preparing swarms of locusts, just at the worst time of year so that maximum disruption to the food supply would happen. (Some think this refers symbolically to the invading Assyrian army, as locusts are used in other parts of Scripture to symbolise invaders, but here it’s probably actual locusts. Judgement by invading armies is in the third scene of this chapter.)
Once the plague has done its damage, Amos pleads for the land: how can Jacob (referring to the northern tribes) survive this? So God relented, and didn’t allow Israel to be destroyed. (Either the plague in the vision didn’t happen, or God stopped it short of total devastation.)
Notice how God “changes” in response to human petition (a bit like Abraham pleading for Sodom in Genesis 18.) He allows our prayers and pleas to be what produces his mercy.
So far, Israel has been warned, but not destroyed. Maybe they’ll listen?Amos 7:4-6 This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: The Sovereign Lord was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land. Then I cried out, “Sovereign Lord, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
So the Lord relented. “This will not happen either,” the Sovereign Lord said.
This “fire” is probably a way of referring to the summer heat. The season is so severe and the drought so total that even the underground springs dry up. God withholding rain was, according to Deuteronomy, the punishment for idolatry – here, it seems to be taken to the extreme.
Again, God relents after Amos’s plea. These two scenes represent all of the times throughout Israel’s history when God didn’t totally destroy them like their idolatry and rebellion deserved. And they also act as the “foil,” or set-up for the punch line in the third scene:Amos 7:7-9 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”
God now shows Amos a wall that had been built perfectly upright, using a plumb line. (Unlike my most recent attempt at putting up shelving. I used the spirit level simulator app on my phone. Let’s just say it’s not as accurate as the real thing, and leave it at that.) Israel are to be judged against that kind of upright standard – and they will be found wanting. Judgement is coming.
And just like the third time a pattern occurs in a joke (usually to the poor Irishman), this is the focus – it’s the punch-line. Unlike in the previous two scenes, God doesn’t relent. The plumb-line scene promises total destruction, without mercy.
The expression of their idolatry – the high places at which Canaanite gods were worshipped – will be torn down. And the sword will come to the northern kingdom.
This was Amos’s message. And word of it soon spread:Amos 7:10-11 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. For this is what Amos is saying: “‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”
“The land cannot bear all his words” – may refer to Israel being “too small” to endure it, or the words are too much, and too scary. Either way, Amos’s message has been noticed by the powers that be. And they’re not happy. They’re threatened. Because kings in the ancient were used to being surrounded by prophets that told them what they wanted to hear; that affirmed that God – or “the gods” – were on their side. Yet here, God’s word is a challenge to political power, and to the status quo.
In fact, God’s word is often a challenge to those in power.Amos 7:12-13 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “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.”
The reaction to Amos and his message is essentially political spin, reflecting the political challenge he posed. King Amaziah tells him to go back to Judah, reminding everyone of his southern origins. (This guy’s from our bitter rivals south of the border!) He then paints his motives as a prophet-for-hire (doing the bidding of perhaps the southern kingdom, or even Amaziah’s political opponents in the north.) And he reminds Amos that the rival temple (at Bethel) is very much connected to royal power – so he’d better not speak against it, or he’s messing with the king himself!Amos 7:14-15 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
Amos’s response: Hey, I didn’t ask for this job! I’m not doing this for the money! I wasn’t even a prophet to begin with. Possibly he still doesn’t think of himself as a “vocational prophet” in that sense. And I wasn’t the “son of a prophet” either. This probably isn’t about his dad, as being a prophet wasn’t hereditary; rather, “son of” means “belonging to.” In other words: I’m not part of any group of prophets or formal prophetic movement. I was just a simple shepherd. Until God gave me a commission and a message – and I couldn’t say no!Amos 7:16-17 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say, “‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’
“Therefore this is what the Lord says: “‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword. Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country. And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”
Amos tells the king: you’ve ignored me, which is the one lifeline God sent you. So the result is inevitable. Because you’ve tried to shut me up, God will judge you.
The king’s family will be killed (meaning his family line wouldn’t continue – very important in the ancient world) and he himself would die in a pagan land (i.e. away from where God is). And Israel will also follow him into exile, because of their rebellion.
In the ultimate proof of Amos’s prophetic calling, 25 years later Israel is attacked by Tiglath Pileser III of Assyria. And 35 years later Sargon destroys Samaria. God’s word, through Amos, is fulfilled.
To think about
God’s word is often a challenge to those in power. But are we?
When is church merely a servant of those in power (like the court prophets of old), telling those in power what it wants to hear, legitimising its rule?
When is the church a challenge to power – a source of discomfort to those in charge?
In each case, what are the consequences for the church?
In what way have you been taken from “tending your flock” and sent to declare God’s message to a rebellious world?