c. 763 BC
Of all the prophets, Amos emerges as a leading voice on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden. Amos longed for righteousness to be found in the land. His concern for justice touches the heart, for his message goes beyond criminal justice to demand that government be sensitive to the needs of all people. Initially, Amos appears to be a dour and unhappy prophet, who spends so much time speaking about God’s justice, that the mercy of God is obscured. In contrast, another eighth century prophet, Hosea, emphasizes the mercy of God.
Early in the book of Amos we read the following. “Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron:” (Amos 1:3).
What follows is a prophetic announcement of God’s judgment upon the city of Damascus.
“Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof;” (Amos 1:6).
“Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Tyrus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof;” (Amos 1:9).
“Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof;” (Amos 1:11).
In a series of oracles, God, through His prophet, announces Divine judgment on the wicked cities that surround Israel.
Amos himself is from the southern kingdom of Judah. But he has gone north to prophesy to his brethren. Gathering people from the northern kingdom around him, Amos declares that God is going to judge Damascus. The people of the northern kingdom cheer. Then Amos declares that God is going to judge Gaza, Tyrus, and Edom. And the people roar their approval.
Then, suddenly, Amos changes his message. At the height of the people’s excitement that their enemies shall be destroyed, the prophet says, “Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof.” (Amos 2:6a) The specific reason why the LORD will judge Israel is given. “because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes.” (Amos 2:6b)
The people of the northern kingdom were as stunned as the people of the southern kingdom had been when Amos first announced, “Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof;” (Amos 2:4a) While the northern kingdom had perverted justice and sold righteousness at a cheap price, those in Judah “despised the Law of the LORD, and have not kept His commandments.” (Amos 2:4b) The many lies of their lips and their lives caused the people in Judah to err, morally and spiritually. They failed to walk after the way of their fathers. (Amos 2:4c)
As Amos preached, the mood of those who were listening changed. The people became sorrowful, bitter, and hostile. That is one response to the gospel. The truth of sin exposed, and proclaimed, can make people angry, for the message of the LORD assaults self-esteem, threatens to take away pleasurable experiences, and reveals wickedly willful behavior. If God is merciful, and grants the gift of repentance, the gospel can also melt the heart, convert the soul, and produce authentic sorrow over sin, repentance, and a renewal of life by the Holy Ghost.
Having heard that both the southern kingdom, and the northern kingdom of Israel would be judged, the people began to wonder when the Day of the Lord would come. Was divine judgment near, or far away? “Amos, when is the Day of God’s Visitation?” The Jewish people longed for God to visit His people. But, they did not want Him to visit them in His wrath.
Normally, the Hebrew people looked forward to the Lord’s visitation with exceeding great joy. When Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, spoke to Zacharias in the Temple in Jerusalem about the impending birth of John the Baptist, the context was how many people would rejoice at John’s birth because he would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Following the birth of John, Zacharias said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people.” (Luke 1:68) The Day of Visitation was anticipated for it was a day of God’s mercy, grace, and salvation
But here was a concept that robbed the people of their happy eschatological anticipation and joy. Amos was telling them that God would come in judgment. “Therefore the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; Wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, Alas! alas! and they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing. 17 And in all vineyards shall be wailing: for I will pass through thee, saith the LORD.” (Amos 5:16-17)
An Oracle of Doom
Once the LORD passed over His people, now He passes through them in judgment. Amos continues with an oracle of doom. “Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light. 19 As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. 20 Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:18-20)
This is one of the most pessimistic presentations of the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament. The Day of the Lord’s Visitation has turned into a terrifying surprise. There will be horror upon horror, like a person fleeing from a hungry lion who runs into a ferocious bear. While fleeing from the bear, the person runs into the safety of their home, places their hand against the wall in a sigh of relief, only to be bitten by a poisonous serpent.
Hosea tempers the judgment associated with the Day of the Lord, and holds out a picture of God’s mercy and grace for the remnant of Israel. The Day of the Lord will be, for the faithful remnant, a day of hope and joy. So the Day of the Lord is a double edged sword. For those who are not prepared for the coming of the Lord, it will be a time of terror. It is a day of darkness with no light in it. But for those who love the Lord and are obedient to His will, and Word, it is a time of triumph. It is a time of unparalleled blessing.
In the NT the coming of Jesus is described by the term visitation. It is a time of exceeding great joy. But the Lord’s initial visitation was also a time of crisis, for it brings judgment upon Israel. “For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, 44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” (Luke 19:43-44) Jesus came to His own, and His own received Him not. For this, Jesus lamented. “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,” (Luke 19:41)
Because he was faithful in proclaiming the message that the LORD gave to him to the northern kingdom of Israel, Amos was opposed by the priest of Bethel, Amaziah (Jehovah is mighty). Amaziah sought to silence the prophet.
Amaziah Speaks to Jeroboam, King of Israel
(c. BC 786 – 746)
“Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land” (Amos 7:10-11).
Amaziah Speaks to Amos, the Prophetic Herdsman
“Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court. (Amos 7:12-13)
Amos Speaks to Amaziah, the Priest of Bethel
“Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel” (Amos 7:14-15).
Though Amos denied that he was a prophet, or even the son of a prophet, he was a Nabi, a seer of the Lord. But Amos was in contrast to the professional prophets of Israel, or prophets for hire. Amos was setting himself a part from those cultic individuals. He was not a hireling, as Amaziah was suggesting.
16 Now therefore hear thou the word of the LORD: Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac. 17 Therefore thus saith the LORD; Thy wife shall be an harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land.” (Amos 7:16-17)
This prophetic judgment upon Amaziah would be in keeping with the general visions of judgment upon those in the northern kingdom. The prophets were known for giving object lessons, strange behavioral patterns, and vivid images of visions they had received from the LORD. In all of the visions, the central motif is God’s concern with social unrighteousness, personal immorality, and religious apostasy. The poor were sold for a pair of shoes (Amos 8:6). The rich women were like the fatted cows of Bashan (Amos 4:1). The elite recline on beds of ivory and eat the best portions of food without regard to the hungry in the land (Amos 6:4). The courts, which are to be impartial, are perverted. Judges are accepting bribes. Justice is turned into wormwood (Amos 5:6-7).
The time came when God despised the feasts of the people, abhorred their souls, and their sacrifices. The outward trappings of religions did not atone for the oppressive way the people were treating one another. “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. 22 Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. 23 Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols” (Amos 5:21-23),
What should the people do? “Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. 15 Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:14-15).
After fulfilling his mission, Amos probably returned to Judah to be a herdsman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit, a reference to a large, edible fig. The time and manner of the death of Amos is unknown.
As Amos focused on social justice, Hosea emphasized the love of God.
Chose by God, Hosea was commanded to marry a professional prostitute. “The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). This marriage was to illustrate the relationship God had with Israel. The people of God, His bride, had become unfaithful to Him.
Hosea was obedient to the known will of the Lord. “So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; which conceived, and bare him a son. 4 And the LORD said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:3-5) This prophecy predicted the military defeat of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel. The name of the firstborn son was given a name that spoke of the prophecy of God. When Gomer was with child, the LORD commanded Hosea to name the child, Lo-ruhamah, “un-loved”, to indicate no more mercy. “And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Lo-ruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away” (Hosea 1:6) God was saying to his unfaithful bride, Israel, “I will have no more mercy.” But then, the Lord did have mercy—upon Judah. “But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.” (Hosea 1:7)
However, upon Israel, the judgment was severe. The birth of a third child indicated how severe. “Now when she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived, and bare a son. 9 Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.” (Hosea 1:8-9)
Oh how the heart of God ached in this prophetic announcement. The ancient and covenanted nation of Israel was no longer to be the people of God. Despite the miracles the people had seen, despite the privileges of receiving the Law, and being a light to the Gentiles, Israel was to be no longer the people of God!
In making this terrible announcement, the heart of God ached to the point that the LORD repented, and so we read one of the great words of Scripture, “Yet.” “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. 11 Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:10-11)
Do you not feel the pathos in the heart of God? “Yet – shall Israel live and thrive!” “Yet – shall the people be called the sons of the living God!” “Yet – shall the people survive from the Valley of Destruction!”
The rejection of Israel was not full and final after all. There is hope for the people after all, but it will not come quickly, or without more drama and trauma.
In Hosea 2, the prophet finds Gomer unfaithful. In chapter 3 Hosea is commanded to redeem his adulterous wife from the slave market of sensual sin. “So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley:” (Hosea 3:2)
In the end, Hosea was reunited with Gomer as God is reunited with His covenanted people. They will call Him their “Ishi”, husband, and no longer, master. “And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. 16 And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali” (Hosea 2:15-16)
The love of God will be established in righteousness. “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. 20 I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD” (Hosea 2:19-20)
The mercy of God will be restored. “And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (Hosea 2:23) God will restore His bride as His people, and restore His name.