Amos described the consequences that would come on people who had turned their backs on God. Amos’ warnings were not meant only for his day, but also for today.
Amos (meaning “burden” or “burden-bearer”) was an inhabitant of the rugged region of Tekoa, located in the territory of Judah about 12 miles south of Jerusalem. He was a shepherd and tended to sycamore fig trees.
Despite the fact that he lived in the southern kingdom of Judah, God sent him as His prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel. Amos probably traveled to Bethel to give these prophecies around 760-754 B.C., a few years before Jeroboam II’s death.
It was a time of economic prosperity for the wealthy in both nations, which unfortunately led to their becoming morally and spiritually godless and corrupt.
Specific warnings were also given to surrounding nations, explaining that their cruelty to Israel would not escape God’s notice and justice.
The Day of the Lord
Amos, like many of the other prophets of God, prophesied of the Day of the Lord. A significant portion of biblical prophecy, including much of the book of Revelation, refers to this period of end-time events. After futilely pleading with nations to change their depraved ways, God will finally intervene in the affairs of this world to humble its citizens in order to bring them to genuine repentance.
In Amos 5:18-20 God declares that it will be a terrible time. People should not “desire the day of the LORD,” as “it will be darkness, and not light … with no brightness in it” (verses 18, 20).
Blinded by prosperity
“Israel was failing because its very prosperity had blinded the people to the demands of justice and true worship demanded by God. … Such failure will meet with God’s judgement. Unfortunately, a corrupt society becomes morally blind, and unable to see possible judgement coming from God. Amos … paints a terrible and dramatic picture of the inevitable result of such blindness” (Collins Bible Companion, p. 192).
In harmony with this statement, The Lion Handbook to the Bible remarks: “But beneath the affluence the nation was rotten. Amos was sent to denounce the social and religious corruption, and warn of God’s impending judgement. But the people turned a deaf ear, as they did to his contemporary, Hosea. … But the prophet has a word for any nation in Israel’s condition. Put his descriptions in 20th-century dress and they still strike home” (edited by David and Pat Alexander, p. 444, emphasis added throughout).
The warnings of punishment came true a few decades later when Shalmaneser and Sargon, kings of Assyria, invaded and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. The leaders and inhabitants of the land unfortunately refused to heed the advice and admonitions God gave through Amos and Hosea.
Despite its predictions of punishment and destruction, the prophecy ends with a promise of a glorious future restoration (9:11-15).
Outline of the book of Amos
Chapters 1:1 to 2:5: Introduction and prophecies against Judah and the surrounding nations.
- Syria (1:3-5).
- Philistines (1:6-8).
- Tyre (1:9-10).
- Edom (1:11-12).
- Ammon (1:13-15).
- Moab (2:1-3).
- Judah (2:4-5).
Chapters 2:6 to 6:14: Judgments against the northern kingdom of Israel; “hear this word” introduces each judgment.
- Sin is the reason for God’s judgment (chapter 3).
- Destruction is the result (chapter 4).
- Call for repentance (chapters 5-6).
Chapters 7 to 9: Five visions of judgment; final restoration.
- The vision of the locusts, fire and the plumb line (7:1-9); confrontation with Amaziah, priest of Bethel (7:10-17).
- The vision of the summer fruit (8:1-14).
- God standing by the altar; the utter destruction of Israel described (9:1-10).
- Restoration of the tabernacle of David; blessings of the restored kingdom of Israel under the government and direction of Jesus Christ (9:11-15).
The five visions
The locusts: Destruction of the nation’s harvests. Amos begged for God’s mercy and God responded to Amos’ plea.
Fire: A fire that destroys not only vegetation but even underground water. Again, Amos prayed and God responded.
Plumb line: A weight attached to a string a builder uses to measure how straight a wall is. God was measuring Israel’s religious conduct and behavior. The nation was falling far short of the standard God had set for them.
A basket of summer fruit: Israel was ripe for chastisement and discipline. One of the major problems was the lax and careless manner in which the people celebrated God’s holy Sabbath day (observed from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset). The inhabitants were desecrating the Sabbath by planning their business ventures even before the day had ended, thus profaning a period of time that God had declared holy from creation and in His 10 Commandments (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:8-11). They were also stealing from the poor with deceptive practices (Amos 8:4-6).
The Lord standing at the altar: The altar is a symbol of worship. The meaning is obscure, but it may refer to the pagan altar and chief religious sanctuary in Bethel (4:4), thus indicating punishment for false religious worship.
God’s accusations against Israel
- Despite God’s blessing them above all nations, they forgot Him (2:10; 3:2).
- The greedy rich oppressed the poor (2:6; 4:1; 5:11; 6:4-6; 8:4).
- Their justice is corrupt and depraved (5:10, 12-15).
- They practiced dishonest business dealings (8:5-6).
- Their religious worship and practices were superficial, empty ritual (4:4-5; 5:21-27). Years later Christ would state: “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).
Prepare to meet your God, O Israel
God pronounces seven disasters that will bring Israel to its knees:
- Famine (4:6).
- Drought (4:7-8). God controls the weather, and He can bring about extreme and destructive weather conditions.
- Destruction of the crops (4:9).
- Disease epidemics (4:10).
- Defeat in battle (4:10).
- Fiery devastation of the cities in a way similar to how Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed (4:11; see also Ezekiel 6:6).
- Large-scale captivity (5:3).
Such calamities did occur when the Assyrians conquered Israel and destroyed Samaria around 722 B.C., but the devastating scale described indicates these are also end-time prophecies that will again be fulfilled.
“For three transgressions … and for four”
This phrase is used to introduce judgments against the nations. The meaning is unclear, but this phrase is found in other Semitic literature. It may refer to a nation that has reached the zenith of sin, that is beyond the point of return. They have sinned again and again with impunity, and punishment is certain.
Few people realize that dramatic future events implicating our modern Western nations have already been accurately recorded by the ancient prophets. Amos is one of the prophets who documented what is ahead for the nations of the world.The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states: “The lack of reference to a specific punishment following the statement “for three sins of” creates a feeling of dreadful uncertainty at the outset of the oracle. Thus the attention of the hearers is riveted on the prophet’s words as they wait for the explicit description of the judgement that comes in the last section of each oracle” (revised edition).
Ancient prophetic warnings for modern-day nations
Few people realize that dramatic future events implicating our modern Western nations have already been accurately recorded by the ancient prophets. Amos is one of the prophets who documented what is ahead for the nations of the world.
Some mistakenly assume that the prophecies recorded by Amos and the other prophets were completely fulfilled by past events, such as the demise of Israel in 722 B.C. and Judah in 586 B.C., or the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Roman armies in A.D. 70.
Amos predominantly prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel. However, under God’s inspiration he also wrote to all 12 tribes of Israel, including the Jews who originated from one of the 12 tribes—Judah.
Punishment before the blessings
The nations of modern Israel will face severe and unprecedented national calamities during the period described in the Bible as the Great Tribulation. Amos provides a brief rundown of these events in Amos 4:6-12 and 5:1-3.
Years later, Jesus Christ in His famous Olivet prophecy also referred to this time in Matthew 24:21: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” See Daniel 12:1 as well.
“Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (Amos 4:12). These are not the ideas of any human being.
Finally abundant blessings and restoration
Amos predicted that after the nations had learned their lessons, Israel and all nations would be restored and abundantly blessed, both physically and spiritually (Amos 9:11-15). Among the many blessings:
- The tabernacle of David will be raised up (9:11).
- God’s presence on the earth will result in many benefits (9:12).
- Farmers will reap bountiful crops (9:13-14).
- Permanent peace will prevail (9:15).
It is a mistake to assume that Amos 9:11-15 refers to the ancient return of the Jews from Babylon or the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Ancient Judah and the modern state of Israel have been subjected to continuous troubles. Consider all the terrorist attacks, bombings, rocket blasts, wars and so on since 1948. These are most certainly not the ideal conditions described by Amos!
The road ahead
As righteous judge, God says, “I will punish you for all your iniquities” (3:2), because the people refused to agree or walk together with God (3:3). Furthermore, they adamantly refused to acknowledge God or submit to His teachings and warnings: “They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks uprightly” (5:10). The people stubbornly refused to heed God’s correction and admonitions.
Yet God pleads: “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the LORD God of hosts will be with you. … Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (5:14-15).
Unfortunately, God’s pleading for repentance fell on deaf ears then—and continues to be ignored today.
Make the right choices!
Despite the fact the world is floundering around us, we have become so desensitized to world conditions that we go about life as though everything is normal. What may have shocked us 20 years ago doesn’t even get our attention today. The world is not getting better. Violence, hatred and the threat of world war are constant and menacing shadows hanging over us.
Lamentably, professing Christian nations are rejecting many of the sound biblical principles on which they were founded and replacing true values with secular and humanly devised dogmas. God (and what He represents) is becoming less relevant in the lives of people. The Bible warns that these alternative, humanistic principles of life will end in complete and utter failure (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).
As free moral agents, we have the right to choose how we want to conduct our lives. However, God has set before us two lifestyles: “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).
It is God’s desire that we choose the way that leads to blessings, not the way that leads to sorrow and heartache: “Therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
The decision to accept or reject God’s offer for salvation is up to each human being. It is important to act before it is too late.
For further study, read the articles in the “Minor Prophets” section.
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.