Reading through the Bible together
This chapter has distinct messages to northern Israel. It is about her condition and the devastation prophesied through upcoming war. Israel was proud, felt superior as expressed in the phrase “the virgin of Israel.” So she will fall and no one will raise her up. The prophet sorrows over Israel while reflecting the spirit of Christ, who shows us our sins and sorrows when He must punish us (v.2). God’s chastisement of Israel would be so severe that only a tenth of the inhabitants will survive (v.3).
God continues to call Israel to repentance. Seeking God and following His ways is the only way out of the tragedy of conquest, deportation, and exile that loom at the horizon. They must not seek Bethel or Gilgal—centers of idolatry, or Beersheba, a shrine of idolatry (v.5). The house of Joseph, that is, Israel will be destroyed for her intense injustice and extreme corruption (vv. 6-7), if they do not refrain from doing evil and start doing good. God desires the salvation of all, but whoever does not leave their evil ways cannot escape God’s punishment (2 Pet 3:7-9).
Amos presents God as the Creator and Judge, with the central statement, “The Lord is His name” (v.8). He made the stars, the Pleiades and Orion. He turns “the shadow of death into morning,” a striking contrast to what Israel did—turning justice into bitterest injustice. He makes the day as night. He causes the sea water to rise as vapor and fall on earth as rain. He brings ruin upon the rebellious though they are strong (vv. 8-9).
The wicked hated the one who rebuked them and spoke uprightly. They oppressed the poor and demanded contributions from them. Moreover, they were involved in afflicting the just, taking bribes, and depriving the poor of justice. Hence, they will not dwell in their luxurious houses of hewn stone nor drink wine from their vineyards (vv.10-12). In addition, the prudent became silent—they did not report to the magistrates because justice would not be done (v.13).
However, Amos pleads with Israel to seek the good in opposition to evil (v.14). In fact, evil must be abhorred and good, adored (v.15). In the world many deceive themselves: some delight in doing evil—harming others; some do not do evil as such but don’t do good—useless; some do both good and evil—hypocrites. Only those who hate evil and love good are righteous and are promised God’s abiding presence and His transforming grace (vv. 14-15).
Amos further described the fate of Israel that there would be wailing in the streets; the farmer and the skillful would wail and there would be wailing in the vineyards. The day of the Lord would be darkness to Israel. It would be like escaping from a lion or a bear only to be bitten by a serpent in the house (vv. 16-20).
As the people of Israel follow their wicked ways, God hates their feast days and sacred assemblies. Their burnt offerings or grain and fattened peace offerings are not acceptable to Him. Their songs and the melody of their stringed instruments are noise to Him (vv. 21-23).
The Lord’s desire is to “let justice run down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” (v.24), that is, a continual supply of water by an ever-flowing stream instead of a seasonal one. Justice and righteousness, the core values of the whole structure of Biblical faith, are the divine attributes that God shares with His loyal and covenant partners. Without that religion turns into meaningless formalism and hypocrisy (v. 27).
Deepati Vara Prasad, Ph.D.
Watchman Publishing House, India