Amos was sent to prophesy a warning of doom and condemnation for the northern Kingdom of Israel in the days of Jeroboam (II), king of Israel: if they would not change their ways, YHWH would bring the calamity and disaster of the Assyrian hordes (Amos 1:1-6:14). The next section of Amos is primarily defined by a series of “visions” which YHWH gives to Amos (Amos 7:1-9, 8:1-3).
YHWH showed Amos a host of locusts who would come up and consume all the shoots of the “latter growth,” after the “king’s mowing” (Amos 7:1). Many see this spiritually or allegorically, but it appears to be a vision of the coming of locusts at a precarious moment after the rains came, after the traditional mowing of the grass according to the king, which would lead to devastation of crops and a subsequent famine. Amos cried out in intercession for Israel, asking God to spare Jacob, for how could he stand, since he is small (Amos 7:2)? YHWH relented; this would not be (Amos 7:3).
YHWH then showed Amos fire, which would come out to contend for YHWH’s purposes; it consumed the great deep, the ocean depths, and would overcome the land (Amos 7:4). Again Amos cried out in intercession for Israel, since Jacob is small; again YHWH relented, and it would not be (Amos 7:5-6).
Amos then saw the Lord standing by a wall made by a plumb line, holding a plumb line (Amos 7:7). YHWH asked Amos about it, and explained its purpose: He would set a plumb line in the midst of Israel, and would not pass by them anymore; the holy places of Israel would be desolate, and YHWH would rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword, for death and devastation (Amos 7:8-9).
In some way Amos communicated these visions to the Israelites, and this time a response came swiftly. Amaziah, the priest of YHWH at Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam regarding the “conspiracy” which Amos spoke, that Jeroboam would die by the sword and Israel would be sent into captivity; he was sure the land could not bear these prophecies (Amos 7:10-11). Amaziah called Amos a seer and told him to go and prophesy in Judah, and no longer at Bethel, since it was the king’s sanctuary and a house of God (Amos 7:12-13). Amos then corrected Amaziah: he was no seer, but a shepherd, and a keeper of sycamore trees; YHWH had told him to go to Israel and prophesy against it (Amos 7:14-15). Amos then set forth the word of YHWH to Amaziah: since he would forbid prophesying against the descendants of Isaac and Israel, his wife would become a prostitute in the city, his children would be executed, his land would be divided as by a plumb line, and he would die in an unclean land, thus participating in the exile of Israel (Amos 7:16-17).
The Lord YHWH then showed Amos a basket of summer fruit (Amos 8:1). YHWH then explained its purpose: the end had come for Israel, and He would not pass by them again (Amos 8:2). God then envisioned what it would be like on that day: wailing in the temple; corpses everywhere; horror and astonishment in silence (Amos 8:3).
All of these visions work together to communicate God’s warning for Israel: their judgment would not come by famine or fire from heaven; instead, God would lay down His line, and Israel would be left to their own devices. They thought a glorious age awaited; in truth, they were enjoying the last fruits of their relationship with God, and their end was near. Death and devastation would come for many; for those who stayed alive, exile or slavery.
Amos’ message proved politically explosive; the authorities at Bethel wanted nothing to do with him and what he had to say. He was accused of plotting sedition and conspiracy against Jeroboam and against Israel; he was proving to be a pesky Judahite who did not belong and was meddling in business which was not his. Then, as now, it was easier to get rid of the messenger than it was to heed the message. Amaziah would have not been troubled much by Amos; he would have been sure that Amos was cantankerous, and that judgment was far away if it ever came.
Did Amos’ prophecy regarding Amaziah come to pass? We have no revelation of explicit validation, but we have every reason to expect it took place. Within a generation Israel would be devastated and cast into exile; as part of the elite, Amaziah’s wife would have been easy prey for rape and a life of prostitution, his children targets for execution, and his own life spared only to exacerbate his humiliation.
Amaziah’s story would be Israel’s story. They did not heed Amos; they would experience devastation and suffering; those who died would be considered more fortunate than those who lived to experience further humiliation in exile.
Unfortunately, most of those who come with a message of sharp rebuke from YHWH receive the same response as Amos did. It remains easier to dispatch or ignore the messenger than it is to heed the message. Every generation convinces itself that they are different, and they will heed the messages previous generations did not. And yet every generation, in its own way, refuses to heed God’s warnings. Judgment will invariably come.
As Christians we do well to heed the things which took place in Israel as examples for us. We must prove willing to listen to the prophetic critique we find in the pages of Scripture and go through the uncomfortable experience of having our idols and ideologies exposed for what they are so we can more fully trust in God in Christ and obtain salvation in Him. May we heed the Word of God and obtain the resurrection of life!
Ethan R. Longhenry