Date: The first verse of Amos places the writing of the book in the mid-700's B. C. in the reign of Jeroboam II the son of Joash. Portions of Joel are quoted in Amos and help to support the contention that Joel was written earlier, although the dating of Joel is problematic.
Message: Amos begins with stinging prophecies against the enemies of Israel and Judah: "For three transgressions of Damascus (their enemy in Syria to the north), and for four, I will not revoke the punishment" said the Lord. And the Hebrews must have rubbed their hands in glee, for Syria to the north was all too willing to negotiate with Israel's enemies to allow their armies to pour through from the north to afflect both the Northern and Southern kingdoms.
"For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment," said God through Amos, and again Israel and Judah must have clapped their hands in glee, for Gaza (Philistia) had not been good neighbors either. It was good news that God was going to judge them and afflict them for their shortcomings. "Go, God!"
And the list of wicked nations went on . . . Tyre, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, Moab, . . . the prophecies against the wicked and idolatrous neighbors of Israel and Judah were pronounced. All would be destroyed. All would face the wrath of God because they were so wicked. Surely Israel and Judah must have been ecstatic.
And then God finished his list: "For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment." They must have heard this in stunned silence. Judah is being listed right in there with the wicked and idolatrous nations all around them. They are being treated in the same way as the nations with their fornication and infanticide and injustices towards their orphans and widows. Judah is just as wicked, and looks no different to God than the wicked neighbors. Judah has "lost the edge" and is being judged!
Nor is Amos finished. In Amos 2: 6-16 he pronounces the judgement of Jehovah against Israel, the Northern kingdom. They have engaged in the same idol worship to Satan as their neighbors, and before very long--as it turns out, in 722. B. C.--they will lose their nation as well. The way Israel lived, they were no different from their wicked neighbors. They sold the righteous for silver (3: 6) and the needy for a pair of shoes [they thwarted the justice system and took advantage of the defenseless]. This particularly angered God.
Amos' prophecies were so harsh that most likely the people around him turned away from him. Some of the language he used ("Cows of Bashan", (4: 1), "Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory" (6: 4), "All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, 'Evil shall not overtake or meet us.'" (9:10)). But by his utterances he was trying to save his people. His people of Israel and Judah would not be saved, because they did not exercise the self-discipline to repent.
Application to today's life. It has always been God's expectation that His people would live above the world. I Corinthians 6: 16-7: 1 --"Come out from among them, and be separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing . . ." is a quote from Isaiah 52: 11, which was being written or had been written at about the same time. In the New Testament, Colossians 3: 1-20 and Galatians 5: 16 - 26 repeat the same theme: to be God's people, we have to turn away from the excesses of the world. Romans 12: 1-2 tells us to not conform to the present world, but be transformed to a new life. We can't live like the world and then expect to be treated differently at the judgement. See also Revelation 22: 14 for a repetition of this theme at the time of the judgement.
In chapter 4 Amos describes the discipline of the Lord that was supposed to be for their good: "'I gave you cleannes of teach in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,' says the Lord." His point is that there are worse things than physical discomforts. Spiritual discomfort in Hell is unending.
Amos 6:5 is sometimes quoted as a passage against instrumental music in worship. In fact in Old Testament times instruments were sometimes used in worship, as evidenced in the Psalms. Amos' point was that their worship in Old Testament times was not heartfelt. In the New Testament, Ephesians 5: 18, 19 and Colossians 3: 16 about singing (exclusive of playing) are direct enough to make their own points about the worship service of the church to not need Old Testament passages to back them up. Amos 5: 23, 24 further repeat God's distaste of worship that was without any real meaning to the worshipper.
"Woe to those who are at ease in Zion" is a familiar injunction to those who preach; it is the task of the preacher to comfort those who are afflicted, and afflict those who are comfortable, and Amos 6: 1 is a good passage to illustrate that.
Chapter Seven has the vision of the plumb line. With the plumb line, God is measuring Israel. Man is always at a disadvantage when God starts measuring things exactly. Man is always better off when he operates by grace, giving to God without counting every bit of the cost to him, and with God not measuring him exactly as well. At the judgement, we seek grace, not exactness.
In Amos 9: 8 he gives the prophecy that Israel will be destroyed first, but that Jacob (Judah) will not be utterly destroyed. The book ends with a familiar remnant theology that God's people will forever be preserved somewhere
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