Prophecy and the Prophets

By Barnard C. Taylor

Part II - A Story of the Individual Prophets

Chapter 7



Parallel reading: The same as for the book of Hosea, and 2 Chronicles 26.

1. Date and Historical Occasion

Amos prophesied about 750 B. C., while Jeroboam was king of Israel, and Uzziah king of Judah. His work came before that of Hosea, though the occasion of both was practically the same. His home was in Judah, but he prophesied in Israel, being sent there with a special message.

The further statement that the time was two years before the earthquake is supposed to refer to the fulfilment of a threat found in his prophecy. (Ch. 8:8; 9:5.)

The marked prosperity of the reign of Jeroboam of Israel led to luxury, greed, sensuousness, oppression, religious indifference. Hence Amos was sent from the care of his flocks to condemn Israel, and tell of the imminent punishment.

The purpose in naming the time of a prophecy seems to have been to give aid to understand it. The mention of the reign of Uzziah was probably because the success of that king too led to conditions in Judah similar to those in Israel, and shows how Amos was at times led to include Judah within the scope of his threat.

The northern kingdom began 935 B. C., and when Amos delivered his message the fall of the kingdom was less than thirty years away. These two hundred years had been a period of unbroken sinning. Every king of Israel followed in the wickedness of the first. The longsuffering of God that had spared his people so many years was about to end, so far as that kingdom was concerned. Amos was to sound the alarm.

2. The Chief Work of Amos

There are not sufficient reasons for believing that any parts of this book were added after the first visit of Amos to Bethel. He had one message to deliver. An attempt was made to prevent this, but it was not successful. The prophet himself says he went to Bethel to prophesy because Jehovah sent him. It was not because he had seen the wickedness that prevailed, and was therefore moved to speak. It was not because he was accustomed to simpler living in his tent at Tekoa, and was envious of the splendid houses of the wicked Israelites. He did not go to deliver a message that would have occurred to any one who looked at the state of things, and who would easily see that the end of such a course could be ruin only. The kingdom of Israel was never greater and more powerful than it was at the very time that Amos went to tell them that utter destruction was at hand.

The power and wealth of Israel made the powerful and the rich feel secure. The most cruel oppression was practised to satisfy greater greed. The chief thing that Amos had to do was to condemn this greed, and to warn the oppressors of their impending doom. The sin of idolatry is also condemned by Amos, but most stress is put upon the oppression of the weak by the strong.

3. The Chief Thought of Amos

Almost all of this prophecy is taken up with condemnation and threat. There is comparatively little of promise found in the book. This is so clearly the case that some claim that what promises we do find must have been added by another, as they are not in accord with the style and general subject of Amos. His dominant thought is, not only destruction, but destruction imminent. It is as near at hand as the enemy is when the alarm trumpet is heard. We may suppose that the danger would have been averted even at this late day if Israel had turned from sin and served Jehovah. But Amos seems to see no prospect of such turning. The end has come.

It cannot be maintained, however, that any promise of restoration was out of harmony with the purpose of Amos, that the assurance of mercy was inconsistent with the message of punishment. If we accept the fact that God had chosen the people of Israel in order that through them he might make known his purpose of redemption; then such people must be holy, and if they sin they must be punished, not to destroy them, but to chastise them. God’s purpose was not to be thwarted by the failure of Israel to obey. There must be then ultimate favor; restoration must follow exile; blessing must follow punishment. If Amos or any other prophet did not speak of this aspect of the course of God’s dealings with his people, he must yet have known of it, and believed in it. And as this assurance of permanence was as ancient as the origin of God’s people, no prophecy was too early to include the thought.

4. The Divisions of the Book

While the contents of this book form one prophecy, delivered at one time, they may yet be divided for convenience of study into two chief divisions, besides an introduction, and a few verses of promise at the close.

Chs. 1, 2 form the introduction, giving the general thought that God is coming to punish.

Chs. 3 to 6. Three of these chapters begin with the same words, and the general thought of all is, sins that have made punishment certain and near.

Chs. 7 to 9. The main thought of this division does not differ from that of the preceding, but it is here presented in connection with visions that Amos had.

Ch. 9:11-15. These closing verses contain the promise of the restoration of God’s people and the blessings that should come to them.

5. The Chief Teaching of These Divisions

Amos takes as a sort of text for his entire prophecy the words of Joel 3:16,

The Lord will roar from Zion,

And utter his voice from Jerusalem.

The thought is, God will come to punish sin. Amos shows that this will be true, not only in case of the surrounding heathen nations, but also of Judah, and especially of Israel. It is with Israel that he is particularly concerned. But his teaching is that sinners will be punished whoever they are. The heathen shall be punished for hostility to God’s people; Judah, because they have despised the law of Jehovah; Israel, for their wickedness.

The repetition of the same phrases in these successive threats was not due to a lack of ability in Amos, but it gave terrible emphasis to his words. The sin of Israel is seen to be all the greater because of what God had done for them. In this introduction Amos declares that the sinner shall not escape.

In the first part of chapter 3 the series of questions show that the prophet has come up to Bethel by the appointment of Jehovah, and he has been sent to warn of danger, for when God sends a judgment upon a city he sends a prophet to interpret it as such. When the lion roars, when the trap springs, when the trumpet sounds, the danger is at hand. The sin that deserved such punishment was so great that even heathen Egypt and Philistia would be astonished at it.

The first part of ch. 4 seems to have been addressed to the wives who were leaders in their husbands’ oppression. Their selfish greed shall be fully punished. Then follows a list of a number of chastisements in the past which had not wrought repentance, hence a greater shall now come.

In ch. 5 there is exhortation and promise mingled with threat. Where joy had been there should be wailing. If they sought to flee, they would only run into another danger. In v. 18 we have a thought suggesting the book of Joel. As already stated, that prophet showed that the day of Jehovah would be dark to the nations only, while Israel would be blessed. These wicked Israelites in the days of Amos seem to be resting in that belief, as though they were safe in sinning. Amos teaches that they will be punished as well as the heathen. Their offerings to Jehovah were not acceptable, coming from wicked hearts. What God demanded was righteousness, justice toward their fellows. From their first days in the wilderness they had turned away from Jehovah. Captivity then is sure.

Ch. 6 shows how completely the Israelites had given themselves up to sensuous gratification. They thought no harm could reach them. They were secure. The leaders are here addressed. But they shall be the first to go into captivity. The desolation shall be complete.

In the second part, beginning with ch. 7, there are a series of visions, the first two indicating punishments that had been sent in the past, which were stopped before the people were utterly consumed. The third vision, that of the plumbline, differs from the former in teaching that God would no longer pass by their sins. The test was to be put to the people, and they must meet it, or be destroyed. The basket of summer fruit of the fourth vision, ch. 8, has the same meaning, but is still more significant. In the Hebrew the word for “summer fruit” and the word for “end” have nearly the same sound.

The attempt of the priest of Bethel to stop Amos from his task gave occasion for the prophet to show why he had journeyed from his home to deliver such severe messages against the northern kingdom. God had sent him.

The wicked greed of the Israelites is especially shown in the eighth chapter, in their selling to the poor, and even selling them if they could not pay what they owed for a pair of sandals. Hence the earthquake, darkness, and destruction. God then would not hear their cry.

In ch. 9 the altar is smitten, the worshipers cut down by the sword. None shall escape by flight. They thought themselves the people of Jehovah because he brought them from Egypt, so they were safe. But God had caused the other nations also to migrate from one country to another. Israel was to be different in conduct, but they were not, and Israelite sinners must die like others.

Amos did not close his message with darkness. He added a bright promise of hope. Beginning at ver. 11 of ch. 9 we have in few words a remarkable prediction of the restoration and blessing of God’s people. The nations would seek Jehovah. (See the quotation in Acts 15:17.) The time of captivity would end. God’s people should be planted in their land, and not be pulled up again.