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by Peter Pett
Commentary on The Prophecy Of AMOS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
The Prophecy Of Amos.
Amos prophesied somewhere around 760 BC during the reigns of Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah, possibly, but not certainly, before Hosea’s earliest prophecies. This was at a time of great prosperity for both countries. Israel and Judah were at peace with each other and their major and ever threatening enemy Aram (Syria) were already weakened as a result of Assyrian depredations, so much so that 2 Kings 14:28 tells us that Jeroboam II ‘recovered -- Damascus for Israel.’ After his death it would finally be crushed by the Assyrians. Aram had thus been rendered helpless, no longer able to interfere with Israel in the way that they had in the not too distant past (2 Kings 8:12; 2 Kings 13:3; 2 Kings 13:22).
Consequently the northern kingdom of Israel had reason to be feeling very pleased with themselves. The tolls from the trade routes which passed through their territory were adding to their growing wealth, the weather was on the whole being kind to them resulting in good harvests, and the result was that many of the people, especially the upper classes, were growing wealthy, although, as so often, it was at the expense of the majority of the others. As a consequence of their prosperity they no doubt considered that the syncretistic religion that Jeroboam I had established at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:26-33) had more than justified itself. How could all this prosperity possibly have happened if YHWH and the other gods whom they worshipped there were not pleased with them? (YHWH was the covenant Name of God (Genesis 13:4; Exodus 3:15), although no one knows how it should be pronounced because it was seen as too sacred to use. Thus the reader (and the versions) would substitute ‘LORD’ or ‘GOD’ when reading it out, and most translations have carried on the practise).
Unfortunately, however, there was also a bad side to all this in that they failed to see (as we so often do) the practical ways in which their lives were very far from pleasing to YHWH. Due to the fact that the debased Yahwism introduced by Jeroboam I in Israel had tended to override the covenant and become mingled with Baalism, their worship had become degraded, impure and syncretistic, YHWH was seen as almost just another nature god, and the laws of YHWH were being ignored, and this in spite of the fact that He had proved Himself by redeeming them from Egypt and giving them the land of the Amorites/Canaanites (Amos 2:9-10) having chosen them as His own special people (Amos 3:2). As so often in times of prosperity growing wealth had made people greedy for more and lacking in any consideration for others (Amos 2:6-7; Amos 8:4-6). It had become every family for itself. The old laws that had ensured that families retained their own tracts of family land through the centuries were being thrust to one side (see 1 Kings 21:1-16), and rich, greedy landowners had taken advantage of any bad times in order to foreclose on debts and loans made to the less well off in times of hardship, by taking over as much of the land as they could, ignoring the provisions that God’s law had laid out both for a generous policy with regard to loans, and for the eventual restoration of the land to its original owners (Deuteronomy 15:1-11). Greed for gold had made them override their brotherly concern for one another. While large numbers of YHWH’s people were living in dire poverty, the wealthy grew richer and richer. God was not pleased. (It is one of the quirks of human nature that the more we have, the more we want to hold on to it, or, of course, spend it on ourselves. Consequently instead of becoming generous we become possessive, and less concerned about the needs of others).
And yet, as so often with sinful man, they still thought that God would look out for them no matter how they behaved. Thus their very prosperity, often resulting from direct disobedience to YHWH’s covenant, had raised in their minds optimistic expectations that YHWH would shortly fulfil His great promises of the past, and would introduce for them a time of continuing prosperity and blessedness when all would be light and joy. They were looking forward gladly to ‘the day of YHWH’ promised by former prophets, the day when all would be set to rights and Israel through her anointed king would rule the world (e.g. Psalms 2:6-12; Psalms 22:22-31; Psalms 89:19-37).
It was into this world of naive optimism that Amos came in order to disillusion them. As a small cattle-breeder and dresser of sycamore-mulberry trees (Amos 7:14) living in Tekoa in Judah (Amos 1:1) YHWH had called him to go to Israel to show them just how far they were coming short of His requirements, and the consequent future that lay in store for them. He began by warning them that in all their prosperity they should recognise that YHWH was about to roar from Zion and speak from Jerusalem. Let them recognise that although they may have forgotten or diminished Him, He had not forgotten them and was aware of their sins. And the consequence would be that all their prosperity would disappear (Amos 1:2). Indeed while all the foreign nations around them would certainly be judged because of the way in which they had treated Israel and Judah (Amos 1:3 to Amos 2:3), Judah, and especially Israel, were also to be judged, in their case in terms of their disobedience to His Law and covenant (Amos 2:4-6). They were therefore right in thinking that a Day of YHWH was coming, but wrong in what they were anticipating. That day would not be the kind that they were hoping for. For them it would be a day of darkness and not light (Amos 5:18), because God was going to bring severe judgment on His people, a judgment then expanded on in the following chapters.
Yet as always with YHWH, underneath His words there lay a call to repentance for any who would hear. It was for that reason that He sent His prophets. YHWH had no pleasure in punishing His people and rather desired that they would turn from their wickedness and live (Amos 5:4; Amos 5:6 a, Amos 5:14-15).
The prophecy then closes with the promise that while His judgment certainly awaited them if they did not repent, that would not be allowed to thwart God’s purposes, for one day the house of David would be restored to what it once was with consequent blessing for Israel (Amos 9:11-15). He made apparent, however, that this would only be after it had first been preceded by severe judgment.
The Prophecy of Amos has an important lesson for us today. It warns us that unless our worship includes concern for social justice and a desire to help those less fortunate than ourselves, it is unacceptable to God, for what God requires, along with faith in Him, is that we be just and righteous, walking in obedience to His word, and showing due consideration for others. True spiritual worship must always go hand in hand with lives that show a practical concern for our fellow-man, because for us too a ‘day of YHWH’ is coming when Jesus Christ comes again in His glory, and in that day all will be judged, even though in different ways. We need therefore to be living in the light of that day so that it will be for us, not a day of darkness, but a day of light.
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25