Israel Refuses to Listen (Amos 4-6)
Israel Refuses to Listen
The Sunday after Martin Luther King, Jr. day, I began our series on Amos, the minor prophet. In MLK’s famous "I have a dream” speech, which he delivered August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, he made this brief statement: “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”
That last statement: “Justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream," originated with this minor prophet from the OT named Amos. Each year, I select a minor prophet and give a series of lessons from his sermons in order to learn about that minor prophet and to bring his message up-to-date for 21st century Americans. This year, we’re studying Amos; this is our second lesson from Amos.
Amos informs us in 1:1 that he preached during the days of King Uzziah of Judah and King Jeroboam II of Israel. That would put him about 750 years before Jesus. This date also means that he was a contemporary of Jonah.
Amos was a little bit of a reluctant preacher (7:10-17) but when God speaks, man must hear and obey. So, Amos goes to his fellowman, his fellow Israelite, and he preaches to him God’s word. What does Amos have to say that is relevant for Christians today?
HEAR, COWS OF BASHAN! - Chapter 4:
Notice in the first paragraph of this chapter, 4:1-3, that Amos directs his words to the “cows of Bashan,” (ver. 1) who “oppress the poor, who crush the needy.” “Hear this word!” Amos calls to them at 3:1; 4:1; and 5:1.
“Bashan” was a fertile area east of the Jordan River, appropriate for pasture for cows. “Cows of Bashan” is a derogatory term used by Amos to refer to the women who were evil, corrupt, selfish, and self-centered. All they thought about was getting themselves richer and fatter. And they did that at the expense of the poor and needy.
Samaria, as you probably know, was the capital of northern Israel. These people, God’s people, were perverting justice. Amos makes that especially clear in 5:7, 15, 24; 6:12.
And injustice violates the holiness of God, as we see in verse 2. God is going to swear an oath on three occasions in Amos: 4:2; 6:8; 8:7. When God swears, He is simply emphasizing that His word is going to be fulfilled. To swear by His holiness shows that His promise cannot be changed. God’s holiness sets Him apart from mankind and man’s world; in other words, there is nothing external to God that can change God’s plans. He only changes His plans if He decides He will change His plans - that’s His holiness. In this case, His word, to be fulfilled, is the destruction of Israel by the invading armies of Assyria. The Assyrians will lead Israel away with meat hooks, run through their septum (between the nostrils) or through the lower lip.
They will be led through “breaches” or holes in the walls of Samaria so their defenses are not going to stop the wrath and judgment of God from invading the city. Then they will be taken to Harmon. We do not know where this Harmon was. The point, though, is that these Israelite women will be drug off in the most humiliating and derogatory way possible.
God calls on you and me, as Christians to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). He calls on us to reflect His perfection, His completeness (Matt. 5:48).
Their ultimate sin? In verses 4-5, Amos points out that it is idolatry. “Bethel” was a great city in the days of the patriarchs (the name means “House [bet] of God [El}”) but then King Jeroboam I came along and turned it into a hotbed of idolatry. Verses 4-5 are words of sarcasm. These tithes were to be brought every three years (Deut 14:28) - Amos says: “Bring them - every three days!” But their religious practices would not do them any good! Why? Because they were just going through the motions and their lives were not holy in the eyes of God! Thank offerings and free will offerings (ver. 5) were being offered insincerely. “For so you love to do, you sons of Israel!”
Jesus points out to His followers that God has always desired mercy as opposed to sacrifice (Matt. 9:13). Our worship can be as Scriptural as possible, but if our lives are not caring and generous, our doctrinal conservatism will not do us any good!
Then, in verses 6-11, Amos reviews some of Israel’s history, their past, where God had repeatedly disciplined them for their good. But, notice this phrase, which is repeated five times in the text: “Yet, you have not returned to me! declares the Lord” (ver. 6, 8, 9, 10, 11).
Giving Israel “clean teeth” (ver. 6) means that God withheld food from them. Their teeth were clean because they had nothing to eat!
God withheld rain, to get them to repent (ver. 7). He caused it to rain on one city and not another, to motivate them to repent. They did not.
Israel could not find enough water to quench their thirst (ver. 8).
God sent a scorching wind, mildew, the caterpillar, each of which destroyed their crops (ver. 9).
God sent plagues after the similarity of those on Egypt (ver. 10), even killing their sons and their horses (symbols of their military strength), but it did no good.
God even overthrew them as He had done Sodom and Gomorrah (ver. 11; Gen. 19), but He stopped just short of destroying them completely, as He had done to Sodom and Gomorrah. Still, it did no good.
Some people are so bound and determined to serve themselves rather than God, that nothing, not even the miraculous judgment of God, will get them to repent! I am reminded of Revelation 9:20-21.
“There’s a sad day coming!” We sing in our invitation song sometimes. That’s the message of verse 12. God has the ability to create, mountains and wind, out of nothing (ver. 13). God knows one’s thoughts. He can turn the dawn into darkness. He can walk on the highest places of the earth! You do not profane the name of Jehovah God!
You don’t profane the holy name of the Holy God! Amos has to emphasize that over and over again: 2:7; 4:13; 5:8, 27; 6:10; 9:6, 12! Today, you and I carry God’s name - “Christ”ian; the church carries God’s name - the church of “God in Christ.” You and I do not need to profane ourselves nor should we allow the church to become profaned by the world.
HEAR A DIRGE! - chapter 5:
The word “dirge” in verse 1 carries the idea of a lament, a funeral song. If you would imagine in your mind one of this Native American songs or chants that we have heard on TV or movies… That’s the type of song we hear. Sad. Low pitched. Mournful.
The tragedy is described in verses 2-3. Remember, this is God’s people Amos is talking to, and about. Israel was, at one time, a pure virgin, dedicated to God. But now, she is fallen. Now, she is neglected. She has no friend (ver. 2). This chapter depicts the judgment of God on the city of Samaria and the nation of Israel but, the southern nation of Judah and its capital, Jerusalem, needs to listen closely and carefully! They will be enduring the same punishment within 130 years! For Israel to fall in her own land illustrates just how bad this is! And the only one who can pick her up is Jehovah God.
A city that has 1,000 people living in it (ver. 3), will be reduced to 100. A city that has 100 people living in it, will be reduced to 10.
Just as with Israel, who was judged harshly because she had enjoyed an exalted status as the children of God, so it is with the church of Christ. Peter writes that judgment will begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). That’s why it is so important for us to remain faithful to God and why it is so awful to turn our backs on God as Peter warns in 2 Peter 2:20-22. If the righteous are scarcely saved, how are the godless and sinner going to be saved?
In verses 4-6, Amos calls on Israel to mourn - Jesus will say that those who mourn will be comforted (Matt. 5:4). Amos calls on Israel to mourn: “Seek me that you may live!” (ver. 4).
Bethel was the hotspot for idolatry (ver. 5). Amos says, “Please don’t go there!” Don’t go to Gllgal! Don’t go to Beersheba! Those villages are all going to be destroyed. Again, in verse 6, “Seek the Lord that you may live!” Only God can bring salvation and, because of that, we must listen to and obey only God! God is a consuming fire; His holiness consumes sin (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29).
The sins of Israel are listed in the next large paragraph, 5:7-13:
As we have mentioned, Israel was perverting justice (ver. 7) and they were also ignoring the righteous requirements for their lives as God had commanded.
In a reflection of what Amos had said back in 4:13, Israel was profaning the name of Jehovah God, the creator of the heavens and the earth.
God will destroy disobedience (ver. 9).
Israel hated the prophets and other Israelites who were trying to correct their sins (ver. 10).
Again, in verse 11, we see how Israel as a whole was treating their poor people. They imposed heavy rent, taxes on their food, even though they were living in beautiful houses of “well-hewn stone.” But, when God brings Assyria against them, they will not live in those houses anymore. The vineyards they had planted, they will not drink their wine.
Why? Because, in verse 12, Amos says, their transgressions are many and their sins are great. Amos has preferred this word “transgression;” he has used it 12 times in his preaching, up to this point. This word “transgression” means a “false step;” it means to turn aside from the right way. “Sin” means to miss the mark, to fall short of expectations. Amos uses this word only twice. The wise, prudent person, is going to remain silent (ver. 13) and trust God to implement justice and defend the righteous.
The righteous have something to do (5:14-15). For the third time, Amos tells Israel, whoever will listen and obey, to seek the Lord. Seek good, in order that they may live. God will be with them, even when they go into exile, if they will be faithful to God. “Hate evil; love good; establish justice in the gate!” (ver. 15). Maybe, perhaps, God will be gracious to them. Moses is calling on Israel to go back and restore their worship and their lives according to the Law of Moses, very similar to what we are trying to do today - establish our moral lives and our worship and the church according to the teachings of the NT.
Verse 16 begins with “Therefore,” so it shows Amos is drawing a conclusion. Everyone is mourning, weeping, and wailing. It is a very loud, very sad funeral service.
The “day of the Lord” (ver. 18-20) will not be pleasant for Israel. Sometimes, it is a good thing; it refers to a day of blessings. But not for sinful Israel. For them, it will be a day of darkness, not light. A man might flee from a lion but runs right into a bear. Or, he goes home, where he thinks he will be safe and he gets bitten by a venomous snake. The day of the Lord for them will be gloom, not brightness.
Remember the worship practices Israel was doing? In versos 21-23, God says He, in fact, hates their religious practices. Of course, God is the one who commanded those sacrifices and festivals, but their lives were not holy, were not consistent with their worship. The bottom line is that God will not accept their worship (ver. 22). In fact, in verse 23, God practically tells them to quit singing praises to Him! Why? Because they were being hypocrites. What God wants among His people, in this context, is justice and righteousness (ver. 24), the text made famous by MLK.
Yes, God had required those sacrifices, but even during that 40 year period of wandering in the wilderness (ver. 25), they were not whole-heartedly dedicated to God. God wanted them to love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength (Deut. 6:5). They engaged in worship practices, but they did not love God as they should. Instead, verse 26 shows that they were, in fact, practicing idolatry. “Sikkuth” is the Assyrian god of war and it literally means “king of decision” or the “chief arbiter of war.” “Kiyyun” is Assyrian word for Saturn, which Israel was worshipping. Stephen quotes Amos 5:26 in Acts 7:43 to illustrate how idolatrous Israel had been throughout her history.
So God finally promises in 5:27 that He will take Israel into exile “beyond Damascus,” that is, beyond Syria, which would imply in that time, into Assyria.
There is so much idolatry running rampant today in our society. People are so willing to put their allegiance and trust into anything or anyone besides a “thus says the Lord.” Incidentally, Amos uses that expression 14 times in his preaching and he uses the phrase “declares the Lord” 20 times.
Let’s finish our study with chapter 6…
COMPLACENCY AND PRIDE - chapter 6:
We are just going to divide chapter 6 into two large paragraphs. The first paragraph, 6:1-7, reflects the complacency of Israel. So many people just did not care about much of anything, except their own ease. As long as life is good and comfortable for them, they could not care less about other people. Notice that Amos mentions “Zion” as well as “Samaria.” “Zion” referred to Jerusalem, so Amos has in mind judgment agains the southern nation of Judah as well as the northern nation of Israel.
The different nations or cities mentioned in verse 2 was to point out to Israel that if they choose to live just like the pagan nations, then they will suffer the same consequences of God’s judgment as the pagan nations!
In verse 3, the religious leaders rejected Amos’s prediction of judgment and influencing others not to repent of their sins but, ironically, that would only speed up God’s judgment in violence.
Verses 4-6 picture the Israelites living in self-indulgent luxury. They reclined on beds of ivory; they ate lamp and calf. They had their musicians to play music for them. They drank their wine from bowls intended to be used in worship to God. And, they anoint themselves with the latest in cosmetics. The problem was at the end of verse 6: “they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.” Joseph was the father of Manasseh and Ephraim, referring to the northern tribes of Israel.
Therefore, verse 7, God promises to take them away into exile.
Faithful Christians have to be careful that you and I don’t become complacent to the need to stay faithful to God and to share the gospel with others. I do not know what the future holds relative to the government’s position toward Christianity but you and I need to make sure that we continue, daily, taking our Christianity seriously and we continue to stay faithful to the Word of God in our teaching and in our lives.
The second major paragraph stars at verse 8-13. God speaks and swears by Himself, that He cannot tolerate arrogance. “Citadels” refers to Israel’s defenses, which refers to their confidence in their military. So, God says He will deliver them up. God despises pride.
Verses 9-11 show just how destructive God’s exile of Israel is going to be.
In verse 12, Amos says that it is as unnatural for Israel to ignore justice and righteousness as it is for a horse to run on rocks or farmers to plow on rocks with oxen. Israel was supposed to respect justice and follow righteousness. But they were not.
Jeroboam II had conquered the town of “Lo-Debar,” which was located east of the Jordan and 12 miles south of the Sea of Galilee. But Amos makes a play on the name of the town because “Lo-Debar” literally means “nothing” or “no word.” Amos says, “You rejoice in Lo-Debar? You rejoice in nothing?” “Karnaim” was located on the plain of Bashan, also conquered by King Jeroboam II. That word literally means “horns,” and Israel boasted that they defeated that city by their own strength.
But what does all that mean? God says, “I’m going to raise up a nation against you and they will afflict you from the entrance of Hamath to the brook of the Arabah.” Basically, that means God is going to conquer Israel from the north to the south, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. The exile will be complete.
Take home message: You and I, as Christians under the covenant of Christ, cannot become complacent in our practice of Christianity. We can’t just say, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry,” while the world around us falls apart. We’ve got to continually love God supremely and be merciful to our fellowman, especially our fellow Christians, sacrificially.