Amos–a Prophet from the Past–a Message for the Present
Part 4 of a 5 part series
The First Three Verses of Amos
Amos Chapter 6 is in my view primarily addressed, in our time, to churches which espouse the Faith/Prosperity message. Consider verse 1 of Chapter 6:
Woe to them those are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came – Amos 6:1.
The first half of the chapter describes those who trust in their position and believe they are entitled to live in luxury, ‘at ease’, while others suffer. They believe they are ‘blessed’ by God because of the positions they hold “in Zion and Samaria”. Matthew Henry has this to say:
Many are puffed up with pride, and rocked asleep in carnal security, by their church-privileges, and the place they have in Zion.
God’s judgement was predicted by Daniel and others. Amos emphasises the fact:
Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and them that reclined themselves at banquet shall be removed. The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself, says the LORD the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein – Amos 6:7-8.
Matthew Henry’s commentary on verse 8 says it all:
God will abhor and abandon them, and that implies misery enough, all misery: I abhor the excellency of Jacob, all that which they are proud of, and value themselves upon, and for which they call and count themselves the chief of nations. Their visible church- membership, and the privileges of that, their temple, altar, and priesthood, these were, more than anything, the excellencies of Jacob; but, when these were profaned and polluted by sin, God abhorred them; he hated and despised them.
The second half of Chapter 6 expounds God’s attitude and Judgement towards those who insist on a life of ease and material prosperity. I leave further study of this to you; especially if you know people caught up in the Faith/Prosperity gospel.
The duty of an Old Testament prophet was twofold; first he was to bring a warning and then he was to pray for those he warned. The Book of Amos is divided into two parts; the warnings and the visions. In the first 3 articles we focused on the warnings, now, by examining the visions of Amos, we shall see not only God’s final judgements upon the nation of Israel, but also the effect of having a man of God stand in the breach in fervent prayer.
The Bible tells us that the “fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (cf. James 5:16), and when that prayer is for a sin-filled nation, or a sin-filled church, then we shall see that God’s forgiveness is greater than ours.
The final three chapters of Amos deal with five God given visions that have much to say to us. They cover everything from the mercy of God, to His wrath and judgement. This is perhaps, the most complex, but yet most central message of the entire series.
Consider Amos Chapter 7
The first two visions, of Locusts and Fire, (verses 1-6), portray the great mercy of our loving Heavenly Father, both then and now. In the vision of the Locusts, we see two clear examples of that mercy, and the possibility of a third.
Firstly, note that the Locusts were not sent until the time of the latter harvest. God could have sent them earlier, but in His great mercy, He did not. Locusts, first mentioned in Exodus chapter 10, were symbolic of God’s judgement on a rebellious nation, and were included as one of God’s curses for covenant disobedience (Deut. 28:38). It is interesting to note, that Locust plagues are also a part of the visions in the book of Revelation.
And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which do not have the seal of God in their foreheads – Revelation 9:3-4.
The parallel is obvious.
The prayer of Amos brings forth the mercy of God a second time (verses 2 and 3).
O Lord GOD, forgive, I beseech you, by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small. The LORD repented for this. It shall not be, says the LORD.
Of course God does not repent as we repent. He doesn’t have to change the direction in which He is going. Rather, the prayer of Amos was able to extend God’s inclination towards mercy even further. Perhaps this is how we need to pray today for the society in which we live; that God will extend His great mercy in these end times.
The question is posed, “by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.” Faced with both their sin, and its consequence, there is only one answer:
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up – James 4:10.
No one except God was able to lift up the people of Israel, and then only if they humbled themselves, repented and turned to Him. The same holds true for us and our churches. We need a humble church, not an arrogant one which attempts to dictate to God Almighty. Remember too, that while God may readily forgive sin, this doesn’t negate the consequences flowing from that sin. Those consequences still have to be faced and dealt with.
In the next vision, that of fire, once more God shows His mercy in response to prayer.
Thus has the Lord GOD showed me and, behold, the Lord GOD called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and did eat up a part. Then said I, O Lord GOD, cease, I beseech you by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small. The LORD repented for this. This also shall not be, says the Lord GOD – Amos 7:4-6.
Fire too is an important consideration in the book of Revelation. In fact, the Bible is full of references to God sending His fire and this is a subject worthy of separate study. The only additional point I’ll make at this time is that fire is linked with the altar used for sacrifices, especially the sin offering (which I dealt with in part 3). This image appears several times in the Book of Amos and helps give it a multi-layered coherence.
The significant aspect of these first two visions, however, is the demonstration of the mercy of God in response to the fervent prayer of a righteous man. That should be an encouragement to all of us, to pray for both the nation and the church.
Now we come to the third and most complex vision God gave to Amos:
Thus he showed me and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, Amos, what do you see? And I said, “A plumb line.” Then said the Lord, “Behold, I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel I will not again pass by them any more And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” – Amos 7:7-9.
This is where things get complicated. There are two competing interpretations of these verses. So let us examine each one. The difference boils down to how one translates the Hebrew word ‘Anak’, which in the KJV, is rendered ‘plumb-line’.
Some scholars contend that this word ‘Anak’ could rightfully be translated ‘tin’. Verse 7 would then read that the Lord was standing on a wall made of tin, with tin, (probably a sword,) in His hand. Verse 8, would similarly have a wall of tin set in the midst of the people of Israel. If this rendering is correct, then the obvious question is what is the significance of ‘tin’?
For those who promote this translation, tin signifies weakness, something that will perish easily, or which can easily be destroyed. Contrasts are drawn with Jeremiah 15:20 and Ezekiel 4:3.
And I will make you to this people a fenced brazen wall: and they shall fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you: for I am with you to save you and to deliver you, says the LORD – Jeremiah 15:20.
Moreover take to you an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between you and the city: and set your face against it, and it shall be besieged, and you shall lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel – Ezekiel 4:3.
However, in the Amos reference God was no longer willing to protect His people, so the wall was no longer of Brass/Bronze, or Iron, but only of the much weaker tin. Note how OT prophets are often associated with some type of metallic wall which symbolises the protection of God for His people. In this case, tin would indicate softness, uselessness (for protection) and its obvious perishability when compared to something like iron. Was God here signifying the end of His protection, as He was about to stand against them with a sword in His hand? This is one possible interpretation.
The better known translation of this word ‘Anak’, is that given in the KJV and in Strong’s, where it is rendered ‘plumbline’.
A plumbline, is a device used by a builder to ensure that a wall or a building, is straight and true. Thus, if this is the correct translation, then here God is setting a standard for both Israel and by extension for ourselves. The metaphor is used elsewhere in scripture, and is perhaps the best known:
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believes shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place – Isaiah 28:16-17.
We know that Jesus is the cornerstone mentioned in verse 16 above, but see how the plummet, or plumb- line, is associated with righteousness in verse 17. That’s what is being measured and all lies will be swept away in that day. We know that Israel was found wanting when measured against God’s plumb-line, but where would we stand in the same situation? The Bible tells us that our righteousness is as dirty rags - it doesn’t measure up. Only the righteousness we obtain from our Lord meets God’s standard; only it is straight and true, for He is the Truth personified.
Which then is the correct interpretation? Does it really matter? Both sound good to me and both can be equally valid interpretations, though I probably lean more to the better-known rendering. In Amos 7:9, God gives His judgement.
And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.
Note the reference to ‘high places’, which indicates idolatry. These, the prophet says, will be torn down and made desolate. This is God’s judgement on ALL idolatry. There will be no sanctuary, no place of safety from God’s wrath in the day of His judgement. All lies and deception will be swept away and the land will be laid waste. His mercy is NOT forever. Yes, prayer will extend its time, but Amos clearly shows that a time will come when God will no longer extend His mercy to the unrepentant.
What Then Is Our Response?
We are in the position of Amos. We may not be God’s chosen prophet, but we are His voice in this day, in this society and in this nation. If we won’t speak forth a word of warning, then who will? If we won’t declare forth the Truth of the Gospel, then who will? If we don’t take any action, but continue to sit and just enjoy our fellowships, then who will ultimately be responsible for the judgement that descends, and for the people who perish for want of a vision, for want of hearing what God has to say? (cf. Ezekiel 33:2-6)
Israel’s Response to Amos
Note first in verse 10, that Amaziah, a priest of Bethel, the centre of the idolatry, went to the King, to bring a negative report about Amos, God’s chosen Prophet. We see quite clearly here, an example of how false religious leaders attack the reputation of the true men of God. They bring accusations against them, to those who are in power and authority; in our case, it would be the government. I like what Matthew Henry has to say,
Great pretenders to sanctity are commonly the worst enemies to those who are really sanctified.
Instead of thanking Amos for his God given warning, they persecuted him. Sound familiar?
There is no substance to Amaziah’s claim. Amos had not conspired at all. In fact, if anyone had conspired it would be God, not His messenger. Nowhere, does Amaziah attempt to answer the charges that Amos brought, instead he tried to ‘shoot the messenger’ because he didn’t like the message. He certainly wasn’t open to repentance. What happens today when a true man of God brings a warning - the same thing? The name and reputation of the messenger is sullied and reviled. No real attempt is ever made to actually address the issues.
Next, in verse 11, the priest twists the words of the prophet. Amos did not say that ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,’. In verse 9 he said, ‘and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’ This is a quite different thing. In fact, he didn’t die in that manner:
Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, and all that he did, and his might, how he warred, and how he recovered Damascus, and Hamath, which belonged to Judah, for Israel, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? And Jeroboam slept with his fathers, even with the kings of Israel; and Zachariah his son reigned in his stead – 2 Kings 14:28-29.
Who’s bringing the false message now, Amos, the Prophet, or the so-called religious leader(s) who feels threatened by Amos’s words? What do we witness today, when accusations are brought? Is it not also, the twisting of words to the advantage of those who have been on the receiving end of God’s warning?
Threaten the livelihood of a false religious leader and watch the personal attacks that come. We have seen it over and over again in the last few years; it’s not something new. None of them ever try to defend themselves from Scripture, because they can’t. They always attack the integrity of the messenger and ignore the message.
A classic example of this is their references to ‘prosper’, or ‘prosperity’. What they fail to mention is that these words don’t have the same meaning in Scripture that they do in our society. They have little or nothing to do with material possessions. They twist the meaning. Usually this is then compounded by referring to that well known verse ‘Pressed down, shaken together and running out all over’ (Luke 6:38). The problem is that that particular verse exists in the middle of a teaching on ‘forgiveness’ rather than wealth and prosperity. The context is everything.
When a personal attack doesn’t work, as it didn’t with Jeroboam and Amos, the opponents try another ploy:
Also Amaziah said to Amos, O seer, go, flee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there. But do not prophesy again any more at Bethel for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court – Amos 7:12-13.
False teachers, false prophets, false ‘men of God’, will always try to ‘warn off’ the true prophets. They will tell you to go home, go overseas, go anywhere in fact, except right here where you are; anywhere but the place God wants you. That is the key in all this. Prophets don’t go where they choose; they go where they are sent by God and by no-one else.
The reference to Bread is interesting. While on one hand it is frequently used in Scripture as a symbol of God’s total provision; Manna in the Wilderness, Jesus our ‘Living Bread’ and the prayer ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, it was also considered a symbol of acceptance and hospitality. When Jesus, for example, sent out His disciples, He told them to take nothing with them. The understanding was that Bread would be offered by the people to show their acceptance and hospitality. If it wasn’t, then they were to shake the dust from their sandals. The implication is that Amaziah was totally rejecting both Amos and his prophecy.
Note the audacity of Amaziah; he not only tells Amos to go away, he tells him not to prophesy anymore. In effect, he was telling him to disobey God and obey men.
Does this sound familiar? Consider verse 15.
And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.
Amos didn’t choose to be a prophet, he didn’t go to a school for prophets. God chose him, as He chooses all true prophets, and told him where to go and what to say. Amos chose to obey God. Whenever the true comes up against the false, there will be conflict and the false will do everything it can to be rid of the opposition. Therefore, persecution, in one form or another will always be the lot of the true people of God.
However, we also see here the correct way to respond to this situation. Amos didn’t shirk, or waffle, or make excuses. He simply stood his ground and continued to obey the voice of his Lord. That is always what we are called to do; obey God, not man.
Finally, let us see how Amos answers his attacker. He does not do it in his own strength, but in the strength and words of the Lord.
Now therefore hear the word of the LORD; You say, do not prophesy against Israel, and do not drop your word against the house of Isaac. Therefore thus says the LORD; Your wife shall be a harlot in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided by line; and you shalt die in a polluted land and Israel shall surely be led away captive from his own land – Amos 7:16-17.
Note, it is God who answers Amaziah; God pronounces sentence on all false religious leaders. As it was then, so will it be today; God doesn’t change. We don’t have to worry about defending ourselves. God says clearly in His Word, that He will give us the words to say, He will be our total justification in all situations. All we have to do is trust Him fully and obey Him totally.
There are 5 judgements given here, which is interesting when you consider that 5 is the number of Grace in Bible numerics. This is the second time the number 5 takes a prominent place in Amos.
- His wife shall become a harlot.
- His children will be killed.
- His land will be divided.
- He will die defiled.
- Israel will go into exile.
Let us consider the significance of each of these pronouncements for our society. They have both a natural and a spiritual significance
The Bible tells us that a husband and wife are one in the sight of God. He (Amaziah) is a spiritual harlot through his idolatry and that will also manifest in his natural relationships. It’s amazing how much sexual immorality is associated with those who bring false messages; either through falling themselves, or through members of their immediate family. A little leaven spoils the whole batch, and God’s judgements are still at work today. God is seeking a Pure and Spotless Bride, not an adulteress. Woe to those churches which are polluting the Gospel with a false message. The natural will always reflect the spiritual. Keep your eyes open and your guard up. Stay well away from any ministry tainted by sexual immorality; according to Amos, it is a sign of God’s judgement.
There are several ways we could interpret the second judgement, depending on how we perceive the meaning of ‘children’. While this could obviously relate simply to his natural children. It could also apply to spiritual children. Who are these spiritual children? They are the fruits or products of “ministry”.
We have all, to some extent, been shaped and influenced by the ministries under which we have sat over many years. Preachers of the Word have sowed into our lives and impacted our choices and decisions in life, if only in a small way. It should be obvious then that there is potential both for great good, or great harm in this. God says through Amos that He will destroy the children of Amaziah, the fruit, the product of a false prophet. Theirs will be a spiritual death. Are we not seeing this already in the world today? What has happened and what is happening to the people who have been caught up in false ‘experiences’? Sadly, many have fallen by the wayside as the Parable of the Sower predicted (cf. Matthew 13; Mar 4).
Thirdly, his land will be divided. All his material possessions that are so important to him will be taken away and divided among his enemies. Nothing of these will remain; family, wealth, reputation and ministry; all will be taken and divided. Again, we see examples of this happening today with false ministries and it will continue to occur. The Bible tells us that when darkness is exposed to the light, darkness will flee. God has said it and that settles it.
The fourth judgement relates to his own end, both in the natural and the spiritual. He shall die defiled. The Hebrew word used here, is “tame” which means foul, defiled or polluted. That’s how God sees these people and their pollution. It is a spiritual and a natural pollution and they will die in it. They have chosen spiritual and eventually natural death in a land God did not choose for them. They die defiled, separated from the one pure and living God. Unfortunately, they will probably take many others with them, unless we do something about it.
Finally, Israel will be taken into exile. God’s people were in a sense taken from His presence; they were taken from the land He gave them to a foreign, heathen land where God’s presence would no longer be manifested. This too has not changed. Those who do not heed the warnings, who follow blindly after the false prophets and teachers of this age, will also go captive into exile from the presence of the one true God. As the Bible says, “they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Yes, they have been deceived by the wiles of Satan. The New Testament is full of warnings. All they have to do is read their Bible. God’s message is spelled out very clearly in nearly every book. These people really have no one to blame, but themselves. Sadly, on the day of Judgement, they will be the ones crying “Lord, Lord ...” (Matthew 7:22).
On the one hand, this message from Amos is frightening, but on the other, it should be an encouragement. If we follow after the false, then our end will be destruction. However, as we look with discerning eyes on what is happening in the so called church today, we see that God is still in control and He will judge all things righteously as His Word declares. The pleasures of the sin these false men of God seem to be enjoying, is but for a season and that season is fast coming to an end.
NEXT – Part 5 – the Conclusion
About The Author:
David Yarwood is a retired high school teacher, a semi- retired church pastor and a foundation member of CWMF. After many years with both CLC and the AoG he and wife Margaret became associated with Philip and Kathleen Powell in 2001. David recently completed his current preaching series on the Book of Amos. David and Margaret have two adult children. They live in Tanah Merah, Queensland.