Vision one - locusts
Vision two - fire
Vision three - tin
2. Pass by
3. Three specific judgments
The words of Amaziah
1. Amaziah’s word to Jeroboam
2. Amaziah’s word to Amos
The words of Amos
The words of YHWH
Vision four - the basket of summer fruit
Chapter 7 begins a radically new section of the Book of Amos.
In these three chapters, we read of five visions that the prophet received (7:1,4,7, 8:1, 9:1), one of which begins each of the chapters (although this is the result of the person who was adding chapters and verses dividing them up this way and not of Amos sitting down and thinking ‘Mmm, a vision - let me start a new chapter’).
Indeed, it would have been better to have started chapter 8 at Amos 8:4 for the first three verses sit as a conclusion to chapter 7 rather than as a brand new idea that goes on to be developed. Therefore, although I’ve chosen to deal with twenty verses on this single web page, it seems justified because it holds together as one unit (just as I dealt with Amos 1:2-2:16 on another single page that seemed to go on forever - even longer than eternity).
We’ve not come across any visions before, even though we noted in our comments on Amos 1:1 that the writer observed that the Book contained the words that were seen, a peculiar way to bring both the announcement of the mouth and the witness of the eye together, but not without its Biblical parallels.
Chapter 7 also tells us more about the reaction of the religious leadership to the prophet’s message than anywhere else throughout the Book although, knowing the way men and women react when apprehended by YHWH, the response from Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, is hardly a surprise (Amos 7:10-13). What is a surprise, of course, is that Church leadership very often react in a similar fashion when God raises up His people to declare the word of God.
But Amos 7:10-17 is the only ‘real live’ event from the prophet’s own life that’s recorded for us and we get a glimpse of what it must have been like - and still is like - for a prophet to be raised up by God to deliver a message to God’s own people who only want to hear words that conform to their own desire to be ‘blessed’ and ‘cosseted’.
The three visions that occur here at the very outset also demonstrate to us that Amos wasn’t just a mouthpiece, although we’ve previously seen that both the prophet and the message should be thought of as being indivisibly bound together as one so that to reject either is to reject God Himself.
Not only this, but Amos is able to speak a word of rebuke against the people seemingly by His own insight (Amos 5:6-15) with God responding by confirming the prophet’s word through the pronouncement of judgment (Amos 5:16-17).
What takes place from Amos 7:1 onwards is a dialogue between God and His servant where what God announces will happen is stood against by a direct personal appeal so that God responds to the words and ‘repents’ (Amos 7:3,6). We would do wrong to label this as having occurred in ‘prayer’ because our own understanding of the scene would probably involve Amos kneeling or being locked away in the seclusion of a room somewhere - what we witness here could just as easily have happened while Amos was walking along the road as it could have done while we think of him as exercising his ‘religion’.
YHWH speaks just as much in everyday life as He does at other times and, so long as the heart of the believer is open to and ready for the Voice, there’s no reason why the word of God shouldn’t come to them in the most mundane and seemingly ordinary affairs of life.
That God’s word doesn’t inevitably come about is one of the observations that runs through the Scriptures - although God could choose to simply move man aside and Sovereignly bring about His will regardless of objections, that God will listen to men and women standing in the gap, repenting or rebelling against the delivered message, should wake us up to the possibility that declarations about specific events may not have to come about even when there appears to be no opportunity to change the destiny revealed.
I’ve already examined this foundational teaching on my brief web page entitled ‘Prophecy’ and, although much of the present day Church pay lip service to the principles, an application of it is normally lacking when dealing with the anointed and inspired prophetic word of God that comes to an individual or people, although it seems to be especially ignored when believers approach the Scriptures, when a malaise against Biblical principles normally takes place. But, as Amstu observes correctly and somewhat damningly of many a mindset when it comes to prophetic utterances
‘Theologies portraying God as inflexible are hardly Biblical’
Just as the destruction prophesied against Nineveh by Jonah was averted by God because of the city’s repentance (Jonah chapter 3), so too the message of destruction prophesied here could have been reversed had Israel responded positively to the message through Amos and altered their lives accordingly (Amos 5:14 - it has to be said that God’s message through Jonah provided no ‘if’ message that gave the Ninevites the opportunity to repent. It was because their reaction was spontaneous and sincere that YHWH decided against the action that He’d previously stated as certain).
But we should also remember that Amos and Jonah were contemporaries (II Kings 14:25, Jonah 1:1, Amos 1:1) and the latter had already prophesied correctly that YHWH would restore Israel’s fortunes because He’d taken pity on them (II Kings 14:25-27 - and not because of their obedience or righteousness).
That word of grace was contrasted by Amos’ word of judgment, then, and when Jonah was finally given a word of judgment to speak against the Ninevites, it outworked itself into another word of grace that was ultimately the reason why the message of God’s judgment through Amos was fulfilled in the people of the Assyrians, Nineveh being their capital. Had judgment fallen upon them, Amos’ message couldn’t have been delivered with some of the same wording as it’s come down to us.
Jonah knew YHWH to be a gracious and forgiving God through His fulfilment of the message concerning the nation of Israel previously. Even though they’d deserved a message of judgment, His word had come to take pity on them. Therefore, when we read Jonah’s words in Jonah 4:2 that what transpired at Nineveh was exactly what he feared would happen - that God would spare the city if they truly repented - it’s based upon his previous experience of God in His dealings with Israel, although, in II Kings 14:25-27, the action of God isn’t based upon any action on Israel’s part but squarely upon the grace and mercy of God.
Amos and Jonah, then, had contrasting messages to the nation - whereas the latter had probably already seen his message of mercy fulfilled, Amos’ message of judgment was the one that was ultimately outworked because the nation failed to respond positively to the message that was delivered to them, unlike Nineveh who not only repented but were the means whereby the message of judgment was fulfilled against God’s people.
Amstu points out that each of the four visions of Amos 7:1-8:3 begin with the translated words
‘This is what the Lord [sic] Yahweh showed me’
(I will deal below with why the words ‘the Lord’ are a misnomer in Amstu’s statement) and are thus seen to be a unit (although the RSV along with other translators would be seen to have done their best to obscure this by shortening the opening of the third for no better reason than ‘style’).
Amstu also thinks that the word ‘Lord’, because it’s missing in the Greek, shouldn’t be thought of as part of the original text of the first, second and fourth visions, so causing all four opening lines to be identical - why he renders the opening line as above, therefore, I have no idea, for it should rightfully be missing the word for ‘Lord’.
However, the opening words of Amos 7:7 do appear to be different, shortened in the Hebrew to resemble the RSV’s ‘He showed me’ rather than Amstu’s extended opening phrase already quoted above.
But, even if they slightly differ, the point is, surely, that they’re so similar as to cause the reader to have to consider them as four parts of one integral message while the fifth vision opens so differently (Amos 9:1) that it should be consigned to a different time and place (or, at the very least, a message that was intended to be distinct from the one contained in Amos 7:1-8:3).
These four visions and their subsequent messages can be divided into two pairs for a handful of reasons but perhaps the best is that which sees them as follows
Amos 7:1-3 - will not come about because of Amos
Amos 7:4-6 - will not come about because of Amos
Amos 7:7-9 - will come about unless they repent
Amos 8:1-3 - will come about unless they repent
where my words ‘unless they repent’ are based upon Amos 5:4-15 and the facts surrounding the subsequent response to the message of destruction delivered to Nineveh for, even though they were given no opportunity to put things right, that they did turn to YHWH for forgiveness shows that a positive response to a message can change the will of God for both individuals and entire groups of people.
There are other ways to contrast the visions, however.
We can, for example, observe that the first two record God as announcing the judgment plainly whereas the second pair have God having to interpret the vision that’s been given following a question asked of the prophet as to what it is He sees. The first two, also, are obviously messages of judgment, the second seem to make no sense without an interpretation.
What Amos succeeded in doing by his objections, however, was to remove the threat of agricultural disaster that would have caused untold anguish and suffering and, instead, prompted God to pour out His judgment against the religious sanctuaries (Amos 7:9a, 8:3), the descendants of the current king of Israel (Amos 7:9b) and, if the fourth vision is considered to be a continuation, the people in general through extensive death (Amos 8:3).
It might be reasoned that, because Amos knew already what God was intending to do by the means of an invading army, the widespread death of His people and their exile away from the land (repeated frequently prior to the opening of Amos 7:1), this passage must have occurred in the early days before the message of judgment became ‘fixed’ in the prophet’s mind - even that the visions here are the opening dealings that YHWH had with Amos that prompted him to either journey northwards or to open his mouth while there.
But it just doesn’t seem right - the conversation Amaziah has with the prophet seems to be dependent upon Amos already having preached for some time. He speaks about ‘all his words’ (Amos 7:10) which points at the messages having been delivered over a notable period of time (the message against Jeroboam being ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ - 7:9) and, although this is purely subjective, the responses of Amos give me a picture of a man who’s confident in God and not, as might be supposed, a person who’s stepping out for the first time to declare a message.
Boldness imparted by the Holy Spirit shouldn’t be overlooked, of course!
So, why does God begin with agricultural disasters (Amos 7:1-6) and end up by simply repeating what Amos already knew (Amos 8:3)? It may be simply that a fresh approach to the problem of Israel’s sin was in order - that God, being diverse, chose to approach the matter from a totally different perspective.
However, the first two visions do show God as merciful - that something has to be done against the nation’s sin is obvious and Amos will stand between God and His people to make sure that what might take place won’t be an unnecessary time of suffering but that, even in wrath, God will show them mercy (Hab 3:2).
Such detail encourages Israel to repent for they can plainly see that God will change the judgment when approached with an appeal. If they fear God and believe that what He’s stated will happen, they have the incentive to mend their ways that judgment might be averted and they be restored back into a covenant relationship.
Besides, Amos is never told that the first two visions are the full and final judgment to come (that is, as a possible contradiction to what’s gone before) - all he observes is a judgment that could have been thought of as a preliminary to the invasion and exile.
Therefore, Amos 7:1-8:3 doesn’t have to be thought of as having taken place towards the beginning of Amos’ ministry to Israel - it could have taken place throughout the entire time that he stood up to prophesy to the northern kingdom.
Vision one - locusts
It’s God who takes the initiative - it’s not satan and neither pure chance that’s conspired against the Israelites to produce a swarm of locusts so sizeable in number that the survival of the nation is being threatened. It isn’t a result of bad farming practices, of the neglect of those tillers of the soil who should’ve seen the eggs being laid and destroyed them. Neither have mischievous men and women transported the eggs by the million and sown them into the land, ready for the ideal damp conditions of Spring to cause them to hatch.
The locust swarm is purely the result of God’s initiative to bring judgment upon the land because of His people’s sin - there’s no other way that the observation that God ‘was forming locusts’ can be taken and the prophet’s appeal to ‘forgive’ presupposes that the action is the result not of the capricious nature of YHWH but a Divine response to transgression in the life of His people.
With the sin of the people forgiven, the judgment about to be poured out could be revoked but, even though Amos petitions God to wipe the slate clean, what He achieves is simply mercy that such a judgment won’t be allowed to take place. Subsequently, with sin left unforgiven, judgment must inevitably fall in a different form upon His people - which it does in the subsequent vision (Amos 7:4-6).
The word translated ‘mowings’ (Strongs Hebrew number 1488, M336a) comes from a root which means ‘to cut off’ and is used for both a fleece (Deut 18:4, Job 31:20 - because the wool has been ‘cut off’ the sheep) and mown grass (Ps 72:6 - because the blades of grass have been ‘cut off’ the remaining plant). Standing alone as it does in Amos 7:1, the word could refer to either but the context of ‘grass’ or ‘herb’ in Amos 7:2 points towards the interpretation of plant life.
The word for ‘grass’ (Strongs Hebrew number 6212, M1707a) is translated by ‘herb’ in the AV in many of the places where it occurs and by ‘plants’ in the RSV (for example, Gen 1:11,12,29,30, 2:5) and seems to be a word employed for any green, unwoody, plant that was eaten by animals for sustenance.
What’s being described here, therefore, is a harvest of the fields that were put aside to grow ‘wild’ and which would be harvested for fodder for the animals. In British terminology, we wouldn’t be going too far wrong to use the term ‘wild flower meadow’, a type of pasture that’s harvested in late springtime and late summer or early autumn (Amstu’s statement that the two ‘mowings’ are actually two separate ‘plantings’ makes the claim that two different crops were being ‘grown’. But this is incorrect and should be rejected).
The growing season is much different in Israel, however, and the times of the two ‘cuttings’ for fodder in the northern kingdom are difficult to fix with any great certainty (especially allowing for differences in altitude) partially because we have no other reference to such a practice.
However, with the advent of the long, dry summer from approximately April onwards, not much vegetation would have been expected to put on very much growth until the next rain fell come September/October time.
The ‘second’ cutting, therefore, which belonged to the farmer must have taken place as late into the year as possible (perhaps late April) when the maximum amount of fodder would be anticipated to be reaped. Perhaps the first crop would be harvested at the beginning of the agricultural year (in late October or November when the first rains caused substantial growth before the winter months with restricted daylight) or even early in the new year (our new year, that is, not the Israelites’ new year which began around our September) - not only through this consideration of the agricultural cycle but because Amstu notes that the locusts develop from eggs that
‘...hatch in ideal spring moisture conditions...’
a time of the year which needs to be placed in the midst of the two harvests. The locusts are noted as being formed
‘…in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth’
a phrase which is probably rightly applied to late February or early March when the daylight period lengthens and dormant vegetation goes into overdrive. But my proposition, admittedly, is purely speculative as I have no sources to be able to support the text.
The cultural background to this set up, however, appears to be that, as Amhub writes
‘...the royal [family had the] right to tax the lands of farmers for fodder to feed livestock maintained by the court...’
something which would have been a logical necessity seeing as they couldn’t be farmers in the strictest sense of the word for they were taken up with politics, the waging of wars and the general defence and welfare of the nation. Even so, if all Israel were expected to give the first crop of their pastures to the king, the size of the livestock maintained by the crown must have been substantial (that there was a ‘royal’ herd seems substantiated by I Kings 18:5).
In such a set up, if the judgment of the locusts hadn’t been revoked, the nation would have had their livestock starve to death which, subsequently, would have ended milk and wool production (and the items that could be made from them). It would have been rare for the Israelites to have eaten meat, especially if they were towards the poorer end of society and the slaughter of an animal for food would, no doubt, have been reserved for special occasions and religious feast days.
Therefore, although in the West we find meat freely available and would expect such a judgment to signal an end to regular trips to McDonalds for the family (although I’m sure they’d come up with a revolutionary new line in veggie burgers - if they haven’t already), to the majority of Israelite society it would mean an end to a very important source of sustainable food so that what was available to the people would have been insufficient, causing widespread suffering through malnutrition and, ultimately, starvation.
In such a disaster, the strong would survive at the expense of the weak, the very thing that God already saw as taking place in Israelite society, until both great and small would succumb to the judgment.
We saw on the last web page that the nation had begun to think of itself as undefeatable in battle following its successful advance against land in Gilead and further north to take possession of Syrian occupied territory (Amos 6:13). It had even begun to think of itself as the ‘first of the nations’ (Amos 6:1), a title that would signify its pre-eminence, importance and power over all its neighbours.
Even though they thought of themselves as so strong, God was about to show up their weakness through His own army as it came against the land to overthrow it (Amos 6:14).
Here in Amos 7:1-3, however, we get a further contrast between the eyes through which Israel sees itself and the vision of God. For maybe it does hold its head up high thinking itself aloof to trouble, but Amos has to intercede on their behalf because, in effect, it’s so weak (the size of the nation is the basis of the prophet’s appeal to God), not realising that it was still dependant upon YHWH for its destiny
For all the nation’s boasting, one natural disaster would have been enough to completely destroy it for all time and the people who’d been rejoicing in their strength would have died in their weakness and impotency.
Vision two - fire
We’ve already seen that the sending of locusts upon the land in the previous vision (Amos 7:1-3) compelled us to think in terms of a judgment that had come about through sin, for Amos’ appeal to God on their behalf is for forgiveness and not a reasoning that such a punishment was either unrighteous or unjust on God’s behalf.
It’s because Israel is ‘small’ or ‘weak’ that the prophet asks for mercy. Even so, because the nation’s sin isn’t forgiven (God only waives the punishment because of his importunity), it leaves the way open for a subsequent judgment to fall upon them here.
So, although this vision is obviously one in which judgment is being poured out, there’s no need to insist upon a description of the fire as being a ‘judgment’ in the opening text as the RSV translates. It seems better to accept the correction noted by both Amstu and Amhub that the phrase ‘judgment by fire’ is ‘rain of fire’ for it needs nothing more than a repointing of the Hebrew letters and a new division of them into words (as the original texts were written with neither spaces nor pointing, it’s easy to conceive of how it might have been erroneously and inadvertently changed at an early stage in the text’s transmission and then continued throughout the centuries by each scribe who was faithful to what he saw before him).
The fire, therefore, is implied as having come down from Heaven itself, being the direct result of God’s command in calling for it to happen, initiated by God Himself as was Amos 7:1-3.
The structure of the passage is so similar to the record of the first vision that very little needs to be added to the overall thrust of verses except to note that, be it not for Amos’ objections that the nation was too small or weak to stand up in the face of such a judgment, fire would have fallen upon them and devoured their land (I’ll deal with an interpretation of what this fire could have thought to have been below).
Amos doesn’t ask for forgiveness, however, but simply that God might ‘cease’ and YHWH, because of the prophet’s appeal, turns from His will, moving on to a third and fourth vision (Amos 7:7-9, 8:1-3) that Amos doesn’t oppose.
I must admit that I read Ammot’s summation of these verses - indeed of the entire passage that runs Amos 7:1-8:3 - with a fair amount of incredulity for, in them, far from seeing God’s very real intention of bringing judgment to bear upon His disobedient people’s sin, he rejoices that they simply proclaim ‘Eternal Security’ (or, his understanding of it).
For it seems impossible to Ammot that God would come against His own people and remove them from the inheritance given to them by Him (even though this is exactly what did happen as a fulfilment of the prophet’s message in earlier places).
Instead, he states that
‘…no supernatural or divine threat can imperil the people of God. Even here they are safe’
going on to insist that
‘Amos invites us to test the strength of this re-assurance’
although he doesn’t inform us just how the prophet appeals to us in the present day to do just that. He seems to assume that God only demonstrated what His anger wanted to do to His people because Amos was around to be able to persuade Him not to do it (even though he mentions Amos’ presence in terms that appear to speak of chance rather than design) and that it’s equally true in the NT that, even if His anger burns against His people because of sin, that He won’t actually do what He should and judge them.
Acts 5:1-11 is a fly in the ointment, of course - along with statements such as I Cor 11:27-32 which declare that God has judged His people because of their sin, by killing them - perhaps God should’ve made sure there was an Amos around to persuade Him not to do it rather than simply to go ahead? The fault must lie with God, then, not with us and our sin.
The point of the passage is, rather, that if Amos hadn’t stood against God’s will and opposed what was directed against His people, we might be travelling to Israel on our Holy Land tours to look at a fire-destroyed wasteland instead of restored forests and agricultural fields as is there now.
If this passage teaches that God’s people will never be judged by Him, that they’ll never have their inheritance removed from them, it undermines the clear statements of the OT prophets who announced beforehand what God was about to do, a few of whom witnessed the fulfilment with their own eyes both in Samaria and Jerusalem as they were overthrown and the people forcibly removed from the land to exile.
Besides, that God chooses not to send locusts or fire at the intercession of Amos is correct - but that it was changed into the outworking of a major annihilation of the Israelite population is equally certain (Amos 8:2-3), an act of God that YHWH announces as being
‘The end [that] has come upon My people Israel…’
His insistence (Amos 7:8,, 8:2) that He will
‘...never again pass by them’
by overlooking their transgressions is equally emphatic that the time has come when His own people must stand to be judged when He comes into their land (Amos 4:12, 5:17).
This isn’t Eternal Security for God’s people but it is Judgmental Certainty that they can’t continue in sin and go unpunished. Eternal Security isn’t salvation regardless of moral response and shouldn’t be thought of solely in terms of privilege - responsibility is an integral part of God’s call upon an individual.
Having said that, what’s this ‘rain of fire’ supposed to be understood to be in real terms? Neither Amhub, Amstu not Ammot give any proposal as to how it might have been expected to have been fulfilled and, although the first mentioned is careful to note that
‘Judgment by fire divinely dispatched is a familiar scene in Amos...’
the previous references have nothing to do with fire being rained upon the land from Heaven. Commentators are also quick to point out that there appears to be a direct parallel in Deut 32:22 where, speaking about Israel’s disobedience, Moses quotes YHWH as saying
‘...a fire is kindled by My anger and it burns to the depths of Sheol, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains’
but, even here, what that fire is goes unexplained. Also, when Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown, it’s recorded that fire rained down upon them from Heaven (Gen 19:24, see also Ps 11:6) but are we really to think that God had envisaged a supernatural disaster similar to what happened to the cities of the Great Rift Valley in Abraham’s day?
It seems best to take the description here given to Amos to be a symbolic way of speaking about a severe drought in which the sun would be progressively burning up the land (an interpretation which seems to be without precedent in the OT). The ‘great deep’, therefore, is best understood as Amhub who takes it to be referring to
‘...the underground water supply which nurtures growth and would ordinarily be drawn on to replenish crops after a fire’
rather than to understand it as a reference to the ocean as Amstu does. It hardly seems likely that God’s intention was to dry up either the Mediterranean or Galilee as a judgment but to scorch the earth by withholding rain clouds - or by little in the way of cover to prevent evaporation - and to have the underground water supplies used up would certainly be an ecological disaster rivalling that of the army of locusts of the previous vision.
This certainly seems preferable to a purely supernatural fulfilment but, perhaps, the uncertainty of what’s meant should cause us to leave it unexplained and open to other interpretations.
Vision three - tin
This short three verse vision is one of the more ‘famous’ sayings from the Book of Amos which the RSV translates in the traditional way of seeing YHWH standing with a plumb line in His hand, beside a wall that has also been built with a plumb line (Amos 7:7).
However, there are some things that just aren’t explained by the normal translation that raise questions that need to be answered. For example, the interpretation has always been that God was going to place a certain standard in the midst of His people Israel and that this would be what would determine whether they deserved to be judged or not, Is 28:16-17 normally being referred to that speaks of a future time when a foundation stone would be laid in Zion and God would
‘…make justice the line and righteousness the plummet…’
The only problem with this is that there already was a standard in their midst, the Mosaic Law, which embodied what both righteousness and justice was and, additionally, the prophet’s previous speeches and messages have already indicated that the nation had failed to live out that part of the covenant that dealt with looking after their fellow Israelite as they would themselves.
And God offers no explanation of the plumb line, either. He simply states the work that’s about to be done and then moves on to the specifics of the judgment about to fall upon them, a singularly strange thing to do if there was to be a standard by which they were to be judged for, even before it’s been set up, judgment is certain.
We need to consider carefully, therefore, whether the traditional translation and interpretation is the correct one.
Amstu describes the opening verse of the passage as
‘...considerably more corrupt than is the case in the first few verses of the corresponding visions...’
but he doesn’t propose a radically changed version of the text but he does, as we’ll now consider, propose a totally new translation based upon a consideration of the parallel vision of Amos 8:1-3 (it would appear that the ‘considerably corrupt’ verse is actually nothing of the sort because from my understanding of the passage, only the one word is called into question). In that place, YHWH shows Amos a basket of summer fruit and asks him what he sees - fortunately, the prophet isn’t short sighted and answers with exactly the right observation. Therefore, says God
‘The end has come upon My people Israel...’
a fairly strange step of logic, it has to be said. But the point is in the word play (the ‘paronomasia’ - no, I didn’t know what the word meant, either) in the original Hebrew, for the word for ‘summer fruit’ is transliterated by the RSV as ‘qayits’ while ‘end’ is ‘qets’, two words that are similar, if not identical, in sound. The first word, then, is the prompt that inspires the second and pronounces judgment.
Now Amos 7:7-9 is the parallel vision to this passage - in the same way as Amos 7:4-6 and 7:1-3 are similar in construction. The only problem is that, just when you would have thought that God would use the sound of the Hebrew word for ‘plumb line’ to announce the judgment, He does nothing of the sort.
We would expect that, after Amos’ positive identification of the vision as being a plumb line, we’d read YHWH as saying
‘Behold, I am setting [a word that sounds like ‘plumb line’] in the midst of my people Israel...’
and, as both Amos 8:2 and 7:8 end with the phrase
‘I will never again pass by them’
the first statements should similarly match in meaning. But, instead, all we read is that God repeats the idea of the plumb line and says that this is what’s going to be brought into the land. In other words, the word play that’s expected is missing and the reader is left to interpret the ‘plumb line’ with no indication in the text as to what it is that was intended.
We should first note here that the word for ‘plumb line’ (Strongs Hebrew number 594) is used only four times throughout the entire Bible and they all occur in the two verses in Amos. In other words, it’s impossible for us to determine any other context that would give us a different meaning.
However, we do know that the regular Hebrew word for ‘plummet’ is different (Strongs Hebrew number 4949 - II Kings 21:13, Is 28:17. The word is only used twice in the OT) and the ‘line’ that holds it is different, too (Strongs Hebrew number 6957 - Is 28:17). Although it’s possible that the word used by YHWH is distinctive to Israel, the northern kingdom, it’s also possible that the word was, firstly, never meant to be understood as a plumb line and, secondly, never meant to be thought of as being the sum total of what God wanted to say to Amos but, rather, the object that sparked a word play.
Most commentators accept that the reason why ‘plumb line’ is accepted in the passage is because the word seems to be a loan term for ‘tin’ or ‘lead’ borrowed from the Akkadian vocabulary, developed because it’s associated with a wall and reinterpreted to mean the entire plumb line that would be used in construction. But that’s quite a jump, for no one has yet shown that such a word was ever employed that way. Besides, by allowing the word to be translated as ‘tin’ with no interpretation, there’s no problem with the translation
‘...the Lord was standing beside a tin wall with tin in His hand. And YHWH said to me “Amos, what do you see?” And I said “Tin”...’
even though it would be unheard of to construct a wall of tin in ancient time. The point is, though, that the reason for the vision isn’t to spiritually apply tin to His people but to use the sound of the word ‘tin’ to say something about what God was about to do in the midst of the nation (indeed, it seems that the tin wall may have prompted Amos to respond ‘A wall’ had he only seen that in front of him. Therefore, God holds in His hand the substance that He wants the prophet to identify).
If the correct translation is, therefore, ‘tin’ (or even if the ‘leap’ of interpretation to ‘plumb line’ could be shown to be valid - the point is that the use of the Hebrew is to set the way for a word play and that the object isn’t what needs interpretation itself), we have to ask ourselves what word is meant to be used in the square parentheses of the following statement
‘Behold, I am setting [...] in the midst of my people Israel...’
knowing that the Hebrew word must sound almost identical to the one employed for ‘tin’ and make sense in the context of the message of judgment. Amstu proposes a word (Strongs Hebrew number 602 - the last letters of each of the two three-letter words is different) that, from the sources I have that are independent of his work, seems to have been pronounced almost identically to that employed for ‘tin’ (of course, it’s impossible to be certain exactly how the words were pronounced and the ‘pointing’ of the letters to indicate the vowel sounds are later additions that may not reflect the exact sounds of the original times in which they were written).
This word occurs only four times in the OT but is used of ‘groaning’ or ‘moaning’ where it’s accompanied with the idea of ‘mourning’ for something that’s causing distress.
So, in Ezek 9:4, the word’s employed to speak of those who live in Jerusalem who ‘groan’ over the sins that are being committed in their midst and, in Ezek 24:17, the prophet is told to ‘sigh’ but not to do it loudly as a response to the imminent death of his wife. It’s used as a result of judgment in the other two places and, in both (Ezek 26:15, Jer 51:52), it speaks of the wounded groaning when judgment has swept through the place, referring, then, to a sound that comes about from physical wounds rather than emotional distress.
Such an idea makes perfect sense in the context of judgment for we would read God’s reply to Amos’ answer as
‘Behold, I am setting mourning in the midst of My people Israel; I will never again pass by them’
and the necessary word play would be upheld. The only objection against this, it has to said (although it goes ‘unsaid’ by Amstu, unsurprisingly), is that there’s no evidence in the textual tradition that would indicate that the verse ever stood as has been proposed above. However, in the light of the construction of Amos 8:1-3 and the implication that would cause us to understand 7:7-9 to be a parallel passage, Amstu’s proposition is the more likely.
The alternative is to suppose that the identical three Hebrew consonants that stood for ‘tin’, also represented a now forgotten Hebrew word that had to do with judgment that fitted the context (there’s good reason to see this other word as retaining the same consonants as recorded in the Masoretic text and to propose only that the pointing used is incorrect).
It seems that the translation ‘plummet’ is wrong, however, and shouldn’t be used - something that it’s unlikely will be done because the vision is so well held amongst the Church as being the correct translation (it would, however, have the effect of causing God to be saying that He was to put a ‘judgment line’ within His Church, to the end of coming against them in judgment if they failed to live up to the standard. It would have to be demonstrated just what the standard could be if it isn’t the Person of Jesus Christ).
I’m willing to accept Amstu’s tentative suggestions as to the original meaning, however, knowing that, in the course of further study, a better alternative might be discovered.
2. Pass by
The two judgments of Amos 7:1-6 have been successively removed by the prophet’s appeals to God for mercy but the inevitability that judgment must fall is here announced, God confirming that He will
‘…never again pass by them’
a word that supplements and confirms others that have gone before (and which appears in the parallel vision of Amos 8:1-3). Although the Israelites had been announcing that God was in their midst, Amos’ appeal was that they might return to Him through righteous and just living so that God might once more take up residence within the nation (Amos 5:14). YHWH’s pronouncement that they should prepare to meet their God (Amos 4:12) was demonstrably a message of judgment as was the statement that God would pass through their midst with accompanying demonstrations of destruction (Amos 5:16-17).
Although He had, in former times, ‘passed by’ their nation and done nothing against their transgression, the time for a repeated action had now passed and they faced the pouring out of God’s anger upon them. It may be a strange concept for us to think that God could leave His people alone for a time and ‘let them get on with it’ but this appears to have been exactly what He did (although we must also point out that He wouldn’t have left them without messages through His prophets, calling them back into a right relationship with Himself).
They sacrificed, observed the festivals and sang praise to Him (Amos 4:4-5, 5:21-23) as if they were God’s special people who were being obedient, all the while having the external evidence of something alive but being internally dead to those things that made for peace with God.
And God was waiting either for the nation to repent that He might once more come into their midst or for the time of the offer of repentance to draw to a close when He would have to return in anger and judgment rather than in mercy and protection.
God would no longer pass them by, therefore - how they were to experience His presence was to be entirely dependent on the types of lives they’d been living. I’ve discussed on previous web pages (too numerous to list here), the way that Amos’ message should be applied to the present day Church (knowing that both leaders and congregations alike are hardly ever likely to think carefully upon these matters and judge their own lives by what echoes down to us through the corridors of history) and how we may well have all the external trappings of our ‘faith’ demonstrated in the meetings we attend and yet be spiritually bankrupt before God because we promote and live out unrighteousness and injustice, undermining the poor and weak in our midst and extorting and cheating in the world where we live, thinking that God doesn’t mind double standards in His people.
In such a scenario, God isn’t in the Church’s midst no matter how much it sings about it, how much it gives to God’s ‘causes’ or how often it celebrates the ‘rites’ of communion, baptism and so on. For all the prayers offered up to God that He might come anew in our midst, what happens when He does come is determined by how our lives have been lived prior to the day of His visitation.
If we truly are ‘seeking God’ by righteous and just living (see on my previous web page under the header ‘Seek Me and live’), He comes into our midst with mercy and provision but, if like the Israelites we only have the outward show of spirituality, He comes in judgment to destroy and remove.
Such was the case for His people of the Old Covenant and such is the position of His people of the New.
3. Three specific judgments
Although the end of Amos 7:8 has spoken a general word of judgment against the entire land, YHWH goes on to mention three specific judgments that will fall upon different sections of Israelite society, the first two of which deal with the centres of sacrificial worship throughout the land, the second judgment having already been described more specifically in Amos 5:5-6 where the sanctuary at Gilgal is said to be assured to go into exile while Bethel will be devoured by fire (something that was only completely fulfilled in the reign of Josiah - II Kings 23:15-20).
The mention of the high places as belonging to Isaac in the first of the three is taken by some commentators to be a reference to the sanctuary at Beersheba (inferred in Amhub but stated clearly in Amstu - see my previous web page for a description of the place and why it was associated with this patriarch) but this seems unlikely because, when Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba are mentioned together as the ‘trinity’ of worship sights (Amos 5:5), we noted that, while destruction is decreed against the first two, Beersheba received no such condemnation because it lay in the land of Judah which was not, at that time, to come under God’s judgment.
But, more than this, by comparison with Hosea 4:13 (the message of the prophet who succeeded Amos in the northern kingdom), we shouldn’t imagine by ‘high places’ that any of the three main centres are being referred to. The ‘high places’ seem to be more impromptu and unofficial sites that Israel chose locally for sacrifices.
What the reason was for describing the high places as belonging to Isaac (a term that Amhub notes is the only place in the OT where the patriarch’s name is used in this way - this is incorrect, however, for it’s used a little later in Amos 7:16 in an identical fashion) is uncertain - indeed, there may have been no more significance in its use than to be creative, just as a novelist today would try to use different words so as not to send his readers off to sleep.
It could well have been that Israel thought of its ‘high places’ in this way and that the connection is lost on us.
The judgment upon the sanctuaries, however, certainly refers to the religious centres that were located within the land of Israel (and not, therefore, Beersheba for the same reasons as I noted above) and the inclusion of Bethel and Gilgal are certain.
The fulfilment of the second of these judgments began in the destruction that fell upon the land under the Assyrian conquests that culminated in the overthrow of Samaria in 722BC but it was finally completed, as we’ve previously noted above, by Josiah.
Some would see the ‘house of Jeroboam’ being slain with the sword as already prophesied in passages such as Amos 3:15 and 6:4 but, even though we might include the royal family in the judgment there detailed, what’s spoken here is a direct and personal attack upon the lineage of the current ruling family of Jeroboam. The fulfilment of this began shortly after Jeroboam’s own death when his son, Zechariah, ascended the throne (II Kings 15:8). He only reigned six months, however, before being murdered by Shallum at Ibleam (II Kings 15:9-10), who took control of the kingdom for a month before, being overthrown himself by Menahem (II Kings 15:13-14).
It seems unlikely that any of these two kings would have found it acceptable to leave any of the offspring of Jeroboam alive in case the people began to support their claim to the throne of their father that had been usurped (after all, hadn’t Jeroboam brought prosperity to their land?). It’s not a stretch of the imagination, then, to expect Jeroboam’s offspring to have been searched out and killed once the coup had been successful and the new throne established.
So, what Amos had predicted should be seen to have started to come about within a year of Jeroboam’s death.
This mention of a specific judgment against the present king seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, prompting Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, to speak out against the message as it was coming through Amos (Amos 7:10-13). It also demonstrates that, even though we take Amos 7:1-9 as being a purely personal series of visions given to the prophet, they appear to have been repeated in the ears of the nation.
The words of Amaziah
The passage that begins with Amos 7:10 and continues until the end of 7:17 undoubtedly takes place at Bethel, one of the leading sanctuaries in the land of Israel (for information regarding Bethel, see my previous web page) for Amaziah is recorded as commanding Amos to
‘...never again prophesy at Bethel...’
Indeed, because Amaziah’s actions seem spurred on by the prophecy regarding Jeroboam’s house (Amos 7:9), it seems inferable that the entire passage dealt with on this web page was ‘delivered’ or took place in the context of the Israelite sanctuary.
Amaziah wasn’t just a priest who took exception to the prophet’s message - Amstu points out that, if he was, the Hebrew would run a whole lot differently than it does at this point and one is left to assume that he was the priest or high priest of the sanctuary who not only offered sacrifice but who oversaw all that took place within the boundaries of the religious centre.
As such, he would have been either ‘well-known’ to Jeroboam the king or, perhaps better, friends with the royal family, for such a position carried with it political responsibility that couldn’t be entrusted to a stranger whose allegiance was uncertain.
Even so, by his reaction, Amaziah’s spirituality is shown up for what it is - he wouldn’t know a word from God if it jumped up and bit him on the bum. Of course, leadership in the Church today is sometimes in no better a position and, as I’ve demonstrated on various previous web pages, when God actually turns up in their meetings and speaks directly to the congregation, they can usually be relied upon to either change the clear intention of the message, to ignore it totally as if someone has just broken wind or oppose it openly as an example to any others who might ‘jump on the bandwagon’.
Usually, the best ploy is to attempt to ignore it totally for the first option opens oneself up to the possibility that the person who’s delivered the message might stand up and say
‘Hang on! That wasn’t the burden of the message at all!’
and the last simply causes bad feeling, resentment and, if the prophet feels strongly about the message, he may even openly argue or prophesy against them as happened here (Amos 7:16-17). No, it’s always best to ignore a message as if it had never happened because, in this way, you show that it didn’t really ‘touch’ you at all.
Amaziah, however, can’t do this - there are political overtones that it’s his responsibility to deal with and, even though we can charge him with being unspiritual and unperceptive in the things that concern YHWH, we can’t rightfully object that he was politically naive.
He knew that the prophet’s declarations against the established monarchy could incite the people of Israel to overthrow the throne through discontent and unrest. After all, you’ve only got to stand up and announce in society that God has revealed to you that the leader of the nation will die and that it’s a judgment sent from God, and you’ll see on the next news bulletin a line of men and women forming a queue to declare that they’re the one who God’s raised up to fulfil the prophetic word!
If Amos’ words had no harm in them, Amaziah wouldn’t have taken the time to write to Jeroboam. But, even if he didn’t understand them to be YHWH’s words, he did understand them to be damaging to Jeroboam’s security and therefore the letter had to be written and sent.
Whether anything came of the letter is impossible to determine but there remained a very real threat from the state that, once the message had been assessed by the people who protected the royal family, there may have been an attempt to silence the prophet through coercion (as Amaziah attempted - Amos 7:12-13), physical abuse, death threats or death itself.
The passage that begins with Amaziah’s outburst is the only personal event recorded for us in the life of Amos and, as such, it tells us a little about the character of the prophet who’s more concerned to deliver the message entrusted to him by God than he is with listening to the voice of man - even if that man was almost equally as powerful and influential as the king himself.
1. Amaziah’s word to Jeroboam
There are a number of puzzling phrases in the recorded message of the high priest Amaziah in Bethel to king Jeroboam (who was presumably in Samaria) and they tell us more about the person who sent them than they do about the content of Amos’ preaching.
The priest’s opening charge (my italics) is that
‘Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel...’
where the italicised phrase is based upon a word (Strongs Hebrew number 7194, M2090) that initially means ‘to bind together’ (for example, Joshua 2:21 where Rahab binds the scarlet cord in the window as a sign for deliverance and I Sam 18:1 where Jonathan’s soul was bound to that of David) before going on to be used of the binding together of men and women together into some form of concerted conspiracy against a group of people or an individual (I Sam 22:8,13, II Sam 15:31).
There’s no evidence that Amos had done anything of the sort, however, although it could be imagined that there were a multitude of prophets who were going up and down the land all bringing the same message so as to try and ‘pervert’ the nation (a word that would likely have been on the lips of the priest, but it wouldn’t be mine).
There may also have been the implication that Amos was but one of a large group of people employed by the king of the southern kingdom of Judah to attempt to subvert the Israelites with a view to assimilating the nation back under its control if it threw off it’s royal authority to return to the nation from which it had split years earlier (I Kings chapter 12).
Amhub is at pains to find a usage of the Hebrew word to indicate that a personal conspiracy independent of helpers could be included in the concept of the word and offers three places in the OT (I Kings 15:27, 16:9, II Kings 10:9) where, although no one other than the person mentioned is said to be with them, it’s hardly likely that we could imagine an individual operating against another in these contexts without at least a few others who would have stood alongside them.
Although many individuals down through history have operated independently with high ideals, political coups are the result of groups of people coming together as a unit to overthrow a commonly perceived enemy. The fact that one individual is named in the three examples given to us by Amhub (and there are more than just three places in the OT where this occurs) need mean only that these individuals were the leaders of the conspiracy.
Besides, the root meaning of the word is a ‘binding together’ and there doesn’t appear to be any good reason to understand the concept of ‘conspiracy’ as having to be a single person operating independently of everyone else, fulfilling only a personal agenda.
Therefore, although we can be fairly sure that Amos had conspired with no one, Amaziah - either blindly or deliberately - chose to take the prophet’s words as being an indication that there was now a widespread movement in the midst of the nation that was being headed and led by Amos towards the ultimate end of political unrest and civil war.
We must remember - as I hinted at in the introduction to this four verse passage - that the prophetic word can be used by men and women to prompt action, not simply to predict it. If certain individuals believe that God has announced that an individual will be slain, they’re all the more likely to rise up and make it happen. Amos’ message against both the house of Jeroboam (which Amaziah identifies as a personal word against the current king - see below) and the religious sanctuaries that held the nation together, was tantamount to encouraging zealots to take it upon themselves to bring it about.
Therefore, we shouldn’t think of Amaziah as announcing to Jeroboam that one man was independently conspiring against him but, rather, that the high priest either fabricated or believed that the prophet was a potential threat to the crown because his influence was growing to the extent that there were a band of followers who were of the same mind and disposition.
If we take the priest’s words as a misinterpretation of the facts being witnessed (rather than a lie that was invented to add weight to the letter), it would appear that Amos had a significant number of followers at this point in his ministry.
Amaziah’s words that the land wasn’t able to ‘bear’ Amos’ words is also interesting. The word (Strongs Hebrew number 3557, M962) rightly means, as TWOTOT
‘to contain as does a vessel’
so that the priest’s accusation is more along the lines that the messages delivered had already filled the entire land full and were bursting the recognised boundaries of containment. That is, had Amos simply spoken one message against Jeroboam, had zero converts and then went his way, the land could have ‘swallowed up’ the damage done but there was a growing tide of feeling towards the words of the prophet (it’s not hard to imagine that the poor and oppressed would have been particularly encouraged to believe the message) and they had the potential to flood the nation, bringing it to its knees.
Amos just didn’t know when to stop, to put it in simple terms, and it was up to the throne to make him do so. Amhub interprets Amaziah’s meaning as being that Amos’ words were ‘uncontainable’ which gives another good understanding of the problem for it can be thought of as being like some disease that keeps ‘jumping’ the lines drawn for it, until it infects everyone and everything in its path. As he goes on to explain
‘...Amos’ words had spilled throughout the land and threatened to flood it with their calls for justice and threats of judgment’
Far from they being one man’s opinion, they were seen to be the root cause of possible future instability and unrest. If Amaziah was right then politically it was his duty to warn the king. The problem, of course, was that the message of Amos was something that would have made the nation secure and refusal to listen to the message was the very thing that was to bring about the overthrow.
We must credit Amaziah with being politically astute, therefore, even though he was spiritually blind. As I’ve previously said above, he wouldn’t have known a word from God if he’d tripped over it.
Caiaphas and the religious leadership of the Sanhedrin were equally astute when they encountered Jesus, of course, and just as bereft spiritually. For, when informers had come to them to confirm their worst fears (John 11:45), they realised the need for timely intervention (John 11:48) concluding that
‘If we let Him go on thus, every one will believe in Him - and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation’
eventually seeing with their own eyes His popularity when He rode into Jerusalem (John 12:19). Politically, of course, they were absolutely right - you can’t fault their logic. Spiritually, they had no perception that Jesus was the One to whom both the Law and the Prophets pointed.
Religious leadership, then, may very often perceive correctly what’s necessary to be done to keep together the numbers who attend their own congregations but, if that’s their sole and primary concern, they’ll be spiritually blind when a true word from God comes along and, as both the leadership in Amos’ and Jesus’ day demonstrated, they will be the persecutors not only of the message of God but of God’s messengers.
The statement of Amaziah that Amos had prophesied that
‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword...’
is obviously literally wrong for his message had been to speak of the house of Jeroboam, a phrase that must include all those descended from the king and, perhaps, even those associated closely with him. Amstu sees the priest’s statement as pure fabrication and writes that he was
‘...without foundation in virtually accusing Amos of death threats against the king’
going on to note that Jeroboam is more likely to have died a peaceful death than a violent one. Amhub, on the other hand, advises his readers that the nature of the difference
‘...should not be overplayed’
‘Given Hebrew understandings of the close identity of a person and his family, each statement may actually include the other’
although it has to be said that the person of Jeroboam may be included in the ‘house’ but it’s difficult to see how it could be the other way round. The solution seems to be not to accuse Amaziah of deceit or deliberate misrepresentation but of misinterpretation for his own repeat of the prophet’s message is perfectly accurate if the prophetic declaration was considered to be fulfilled imminently.
In that case, if the house was to be attacked ‘with the sword’ it must by necessity include the head who was over it. Therefore, we should certainly accuse Amaziah of a failure to understand that the message was for a time in the future that was still to come rather than for the days in which both prophet and priest lived.
Amaziah does, however, correctly understand that Amos has prophesied that Israel must go into exile, something that he’d either inferred or stated clearly previously (Amos 5:5,27, 6:7) and which he goes on to reaffirm in his personal message to Amaziah (Amos 7:17).
How the prophet managed to get to know the contents of the personal correspondence of the priest to the king isn’t given to us but it’s not without possibility that, before Amaziah’s warning to Amos to flee from Israel and to return to his home nation of Judah (Amos 7:12-13), he outlined his message that he might see that there was a distinct possibility that within a couple of days, he might be considered to be not just an unwelcomed visitor to Bethel but an enemy of the state, an encouragement to take the command with more seriousness than if it had thought to have only originated with Amaziah.
An application to the present day must be made here - one that I’ve already briefly dealt with above. A leadership that’s more concerned with maintaining what’s in existence rather than to listen to God and to follow what He says, will do the very same thing as both Amaziah did here and the Jewish council did some eight hundred years later to Jesus.
Not only will they interpret the message of the prophets in the way that suits them (either ignorantly or deliberately) but they’ll band together to oppose the one who’s sent by the One they profess to serve, themselves conspiring against both the message of God and His servant.
Even though Amaziah accused Amos of conspiring against the Throne, he was doing the very same thing against the prophet and the message. Present day leadership will often claim to be God’s anointed leadership, asserting that to ‘oppose’ them is to oppose God’s choice of leader and yet, at the same time, they’ll set themselves against the men and women who God has appointed as authorities within His Church.
We shouldn’t marvel at such a situation for it happens on an all too frequent basis - we should be concerned, however, to test everything, to hold fast to what’s from God and to reject that which is false.
2. Amaziah’s word to Amos
Based upon Amos’ knowledge of the contents of the letter to Jeroboam, it would appear, Amaziah warns him to flee from the northern Kingdom of Israel to the safety of Judah - a relatively astute withdrawal if one’s own safety is uppermost in the person’s mind.
Bethel, where this dialogue took place, was sited only a few miles (perhaps four as the crow flies) from the border with Judah so that Amos could have been across the lines within a couple of hours. The despatch of the message to Samaria and the return issue of orders concerning the problem would have taken the best part of a full day (a fifty mile round trip), if not longer.
The head start that the prophet would have had on the ‘posse’ would have meant that there would have been no way that he could have been apprehended without the help of the king of Judah - an event that would have been extremely unlikely.
Therefore, Amaziah’s words made perfect sense - but it was a non-starter from the beginning because of the call of God upon Amos’ life. If YHWH had truly told him to travel northwards from Tekoa and deliver the message of judgment to the kingdom of Israel, who was man that he should stand in his way (Acts 5:29)? Even if the worst happened and Amos was apprehended and, ultimately, killed, obedience to the call of God was of singularly more importance than any threat of man.
The latter might have power over the body but God alone had power over both the body and soul in the afterlife (Mtw 10:28). Of course, in today’s introverted and self-seeking Church, we might propose that he should have thought about his own welfare and fled for his life - that, even if he didn’t manage to obey God’s perfect will, there was always His acceptable one that could be obeyed (I jest not - this is a very strong and widely held belief in a lot of mainstream denominational churches, even the ones who you’d have expected to be upholding the fulness of God’s will on earth) and that, even if he chose to be disobedient, it only meant that he’d lose the blessing rather than his salvation (again, I’m not joking - this was stated almost word for word as I’ve typed it here in a personal email sent to me recently).
Such ideas are delusionary, although Amaziah was certainly one who, had he known the doctrines of today’s Church, could have incorporated them into his own message of flight to Amos, giving him justification for not being so ‘zealous’ because God was hardly going to attack His own people even if they had sinned.
As the religious leader (not an ordinary ‘Sunday worshipper’, please note, but one who holds a leadership position) in the Southern Baptist fellowship wrote (misspellings and grammar corrected)
‘You don’t lose your salvation, you just lose the blessings God wants to give you because of your sinful life...If you are not following the guidance of the Holy Spirit it doesn’t mean we have lost our salvation, it just means you aren’t obeying God. The punishment for that is not loss of salvation, it’s lack of blessings and other things that could happen to you in your life’
Or, in other words, why don’t we simply (Rom 6:1)
‘...continue in sin that grace may abound?’
or (Rom 3:8 - quoted slightly out of context)
‘...why not do evil that good may come?’
But, as Paul answered himself (Rom 6:2)
‘How can we who died to sin still live in it?’
Amaziah could have put together a nice little theological package for Amos had he lived in our own present day, this side of the cross. Where was the point in Amos getting so upset about the disobedience of God’s people? They were saved anyway and all they were doing was losing the blessing - their salvation was secure and certain, regardless of their moral state!
So, Amos, you’d best flee back to where you came from and stop this nonsense about judgment and exile!
When God’s people sin deliberately against Him, God will not ignore it. He may ‘pass them by’ for a time (Amos 7:8, 8:2) but eventually He’ll call them to give an account of themselves in this life and speak of the removal of their inheritance from them if they continue to live diametrically opposed to His obvious and clearly perceivable will - salvation is about taking upon oneself the responsibility to obey Jesus Christ, not to continue to live lives that are opposed to Him after you’ve professed to ‘bow the knee’.
If you start saying those sorts of things in some fellowships, though, the spirit of Amaziah is likely to rise up and to contest the message, undermining the words that are being delivered and even expelling the prophet who’s been sent there by God (note Amos 2:11-12, for this is exactly what the nation had already done before the specific attack on Amos).
As was said of the southern kingdom of Judah in Amos 2:4, so, too, here we should realise that such a leadership is demonstrating that
‘...their lies have led them astray...’
Just as Amaziah can’t allow the break up of the current political structures, endangered by the preaching of Amos, so present day leadership can’t allow a message that undermines the structures that perpetuate their own livelihood and security. Far from being a reaction of spiritual leadership to a deceitful message, the deceiving leadership simply blind themselves to any possibility that the messenger and his message are true and that the latter needs applying.
Expelling such a messenger from their ranks will also be shared amongst the denomination (even those of a different organisation who are physically close to their own fellowship) and the prophet will find that there’s an uneasiness whenever he enters another building to deliver the burden of YHWH.
Amaziah’s attack, however, is all the more interesting because he doesn’t forbid Amos from prophesying - only that he should remove himself from the northern kingdom and speak elsewhere, in an almost fatherly concern that the message should be delivered and that Amos should fulfil his calling, even urging Amos to ‘earn his living’ (‘eat bread’) as a prophet in Judah instead of in Bethel (an indication that prophets may have been supported financially by contribution). It’s paralleled in telling a prophet with Pentecostal leanings to go back to his own fellowship and to stop bugging the Baptists.
The problem, of course, is that if you remove the location from the delivery, the calling of the prophet could never hope to be fulfilled - a messenger of God must go to the people of God to whom he’s sent. He shouldn’t stay at home, receive the message and deliver it to somebody else - even if they’d receive a message about their enemies with eagerness and delight, honouring Amos with a fair amount of respect because of his words.
Before concluding, we should note that Bethel, one of Israel’s sanctuaries, was noted as being specifically that of the ‘king’, a phrase which is an indication that it was either the one most often used by him or that, better, it was the one supported or controlled by him.
The words of Amos
I’ve dealt with the background to the person of Amos in my introduction to the entire book for Amos 7:14-15 gives us some information that serves as a fitting backdrop (especially concerning his agricultural employment). The reader should turn there for the information as it won’t be repeated here except briefly where necessary.
Amos’ reply to Amaziah’s labelling of him as a ‘seer’ is certainly surprising. Because the Book of Amos appears in the midst of the section of the Bible which we call the ‘minor prophets’ and because we can see plainly that what he had to say was prophetic in nature (he even says that he’s been called to prophesy in Amos 7:15!), we’re immediately struck by the strangeness of his retort that
‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son...’
(some commentators propose various alterations to the Hebrew text at this point to make more obvious sense but there needs to be nothing emended, just a correct interpretation of what Amos was trying to say).
If Amos refused to accept the title ‘prophet’, then how should we regard him? Or, perhaps better, how did he regard himself? The answer to that second question follows on immediately from the first quote for Amos continues his explanation that
‘...I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees’
The problem appears to be in our own understanding of what Amaziah meant by his label ‘seer’ (Amos 7:12 - a word that Amhub comments was one employed for prophets of the southern kingdom while ‘prophet’ used by Amos was the label used of those who lived in the northern kingdom. Although this sounds interesting enough, it’s based upon a twenty year old work that I don’t have access to and I’m not certain that the demarcations are all that distinct. It does serve an interesting point, however, that Amos doesn’t deny being a ‘southern’ prophet but he does object that he’s not a ‘northern’ one).
The priest is probably equating Amos with being a professional prophet (that is, one who did it for a living) for Amos’ rebuttal of the possibility continues with the observation that he’s simply an agriculturalist and would have continued to be so had he not been called by God to be a messenger of the judgment about to come upon the nation.
The phrase ‘one of the sons of the prophets’ that the RSV shortens to ‘prophet’s son’ is best understood in the context of the occasional mention of the band of ‘sons of the prophets’ who appear especially in the life of Elijah and Elisha (I Kings 20:35, II Kings 2:3-5,7,15, 4:1,38, 5:22, 6:1, 9:1). It appears to be a term used to describe those men and women who banded together in groups, who associated themselves with the prophets called by God. It doesn’t have to assume that they were the direct genealogical descendants of one of those called to be a ‘prophet’ by God but were, perhaps, men who were hoping that they might be called upon to be a prophet by their close association.
This is too all-inclusive a description, however, for it’s plain that a son of the prophets could be used by God to speak His message to the people (I Kings 20:35) and it may be that those who either ‘felt’ themselves gifted or who were observed to be gifted in this manner were joined to their number.
Ammot’s understanding of this band of Israelites as being composed of people who served a ‘probationary period’ because they had ‘ambitions or plans’ to be a prophet and that they became
‘…a member of a school or guild presided over by a senior prophet…’
is just a little too interpretative for it to be thought of as coming directly from the evidence in the Scriptures (it would go some way to justifying our own ‘Bible Colleges’, though).
Amos is quite right to deny that he’s either one or the other for never was he operating his ministry as a business from which he made a living and neither did he associate himself with those groups of Israelites who were in the ‘right place’ to be called.
Amos was going about his business when - zap! - God called him to fulfil all that He needed speaking to the northern kingdom of Israel (the idea of the calling being sudden is well described in Ammot who speaks of the prophet as being
‘…arrested, apprehended, conscripted’
when thoughts of being a prophet were far from his imagination). Indeed, the calling seems to have been as much a surprise to Amos as it was to everyone else - he doesn’t appear to have considered himself as being all that special in the overall plan of God for His people. YHWH had other ideas, though, and, as Amos states almost apologetically
‘...YHWH took me from following the flock and...said to me “Go, prophesy to My people Israel”’
Amos is concerned for Amaziah to realise that he isn’t there by choice - and it’s not his call as to whether he should return to Judah to prophesy there. If God has called him north to deliver the message as it’s revealed to him then he can’t consider returning to his home until he receives a direct word from God to do just that.
There are a number of points here that, although they’re often paid lip-service to within the present day Church, often go unapplied to our own shame and disaster. In my introduction to the commentary, I noted Amstu as stating the interpretation that
‘…spiritual gifts are more important than academic training for ministry…’
and went on to observe that this was
‘...something that men and women forget time and time again in today’s Church. While we continue churning leaders out via our theological colleges (you can lose your spirituality by degrees), we miss the entire point of the Gospel - namely, that with God’s calling of His servants comes God’s equipping of them.
‘Colleges and schools are very able to produce men and women who look very good on the outside, but it’s the anointing and authority of God upon an individual’s life that counts for something and not degrees, qualifications or man-ordained appointments to church positions (see also my notes on Mtw 7:28-29 where I’ve shown that the authority structures we have today in the Church are the very same ones that the Pharisees had, in contrast with the way Jesus and the disciples received their authority directly from God)’
There are many people in the Church today who’ve never received the call to ‘Go’ but have gone ‘through the ranks’ of whichever denomination has suited them best to become a leader within the existing structures. Such people have not been called by God but have assumed that they have the authority of God upon them because they stand in the position of authority, not realising that a position carries with it no Divine anointing (see my notes here).
It’s no wonder, then, when God raises up his own authorities that they reject them, insisting that everyone submits themselves to the authority of their position as ‘put there by God’ when, in reality, they should consider their own position very carefully and realise that God would have them submit to His servants in their midst.
While the clear command in Scripture is to obey the leaders and to submit to them (Heb 13:17 - of course, the ministries outlined in Eph 4:11 that are appointed by God are just as much leaders as are those who are appointed by man to positions of power within the churches and who often take upon themselves the same labels to justify their own place of importance), it was never meant to raise up an elite group of people who would dominate and control those under their charge (Mark 10:42-43). If the leadership (and the congregation) would (Phil 2:3)
‘...in humility count others better than yourselves’
we’d see a Church that would submit itself to one another and that would be much healthier than the set ups that elevate leaders onto pedestals that they tend to fall off (and not just when they’re pushed).
It’s the call of God that’s the most important point of ministries within the Body of Christ and it’s that alone that Amos uses as the qualification for the right to deliver the message to Israel. He had no spiritual qualifications save for the direct commission from God who took him from his menial and secular profession to His central purpose of proclamation.
It was the same with Jesus, of course (John 7:15-17) - and the same with a multitude of other men and women who were commissioned and equipped by God down through the ages - and He correctly declared to those who wondered at His learning, having never studied, that
‘My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me’
for the training of God’s servants is done not through human agencies but directly by God Himself. Therefore, as Jesus continued
‘…if any man’s will is to do His will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on My own authority’
for those who don’t do God’s will won’t be able to recognise that which is from God. Such was the problem with Amaziah - as it is with a lot of man-appointed leadership within the Church today - for, although he had upon him the name of ‘priest’, there was no calling and subsequently no equipping by God. He couldn’t recognise a Word from God and his response (as we’ve seen above) was purely on a natural level whereby he saw the message as unsettling the nation away from its current security and unity.
Because he spoke against the sanctuary at Bethel (Amos 3:14, 5:6), there was also a direct threat against his own livelihood and prosperity, undermining his high position within the people of God. When God’s servant speaks a message within the confines of their own jurisdiction, you can be sure that they have to oppose it in some shape or form for it undermines the Empire in which they have refuge, security and safety.
The words of YHWH
There’s something eerily true about the claims that man-appointed leaders make in their own defence.
They’re careful to warn (normally as a last resort) that the opposition directed against God’s anointed is a dangerous action to take, being clearly forbidden by the Scriptures (I Sam 26:9,11,23, Ps 105:15) but then go on to erroneously apply it to themselves in order that they can justify their own opposition of the authorities that God has placed within the congregations of which they’re a part!
But God doesn’t hold the people who oppose His servants guiltless - even though they may suffer persecution from those who consider themselves to be God’s special people (and, to most people, the conclusions drawn would be that those in the minority are those who are wrong), God will wait His time before rising up to oppose those who are coming against His own choice of authority.
These two verses demonstrate what happens when man-appointed leadership opposes that which is Divinely appointed - and that’s not supposition on my part. YHWH specifically states the problem in the first verse to be that Amaziah had commanded Amos not to fulfil His calling before going on to give the consequence of the declaration as being judgment (the ‘therefore’ that sits at the opening of Amos 7:17 shows that this stands as the consequence of the previous verse).
The reason isn’t that he’s written to the king, that he leads an idolatrous sanctuary, that he takes part in sacrifices and offerings that are displeasing to God, that he’s been opposing the content of the message or even that he’s doing those things that Amos has already condemned the nation for. It’s solely on the basis of trying to forbid God’s servant from fulfilling His God-given commission that he now finds that YHWH has singled him out for a specific word of judgment.
There is grave danger for all leadership when they don’t allow God’s people to fulfil their divine calling, for YHWH doesn’t hold them guiltless in the matter. If He wants something done through an individual, opposition will be tantamount to making war upon God (and that’s going to be successful, isn’t it?).
So, to oppose the fulfilling of a Divine commission in someone is not high on a list of things to do for self-preservation. If you’re a leader and you want to know what it’s like to be judged by God, simply refuse to allow His people to fulfil their calling (whether directly or through structures that make no opportunity for them to do so).
There’s a humorous irony in Amos’ words here for Amaziah had said ‘Don’t prophesy at Bethel!’ so his immediate reaction is to ‘prophesy at Bethel’. He couldn’t have more blatantly ignored the message forbidding him to speak than by this reaction - and what a direct assault on the assumed authority of the high priest, too!
Ammot has, unfortunately, conformed the text to his own understanding of the Bible being the ‘word of God’ in his interpretation of the quote ‘Do not prophesy’ for he changes its meaning to be saying
‘Do not preach the Bible…’
There are many who insist that they are faithful representatives of Scripture but who deny the relevancy of prophets and their messages in today’s churches, the very culprits who’d rise up in the spirit of Amaziah and denounce those sent by God into their midst.
Let’s be careful, then, because what Amos speaks is not something that was recorded for him before he delivered it - it was something that was delivered to him directly from God Himself and, although it didn’t contradict Scripture, it was a new word, the word of God (see my study on the phrase ‘The word of God’ where I’ve contrasted the differences between Scripture and the Word, a doctrinal problem that’s deeply rooted in the present day Church).
You can preach the Bible all you like - but if you undermine the authority of a servant of God who’s been commissioned directly by Him, it doesn’t do you any good whatsoever.
The exact nature of the curse needn’t concern us too much here but we should note that, as an overview, Amaziah loses everything that he could possibly have held dear - his wife becomes a prostitute ‘in the city’ (does Amos mean Bethel that lay close by the sanctuary or, perhaps, Samaria where they may have had a residence?) so that the loss of all their sons and daughters ‘by the sword’ becomes irreplaceable. The end of Amaziah’s genealogical line, therefore - a curse of immense proportions in ancient times - is pronounced upon him.
His inheritance (or, perhaps better, the land that had been given to him by king Jeroboam) would be divided up and given away and he would also die in an ‘unclean land’, a term that would normally have to be taken to mean away from both Israel and Judah where the Gentiles ruled (although it seems to me that Israel was already an unclean land before God at that time in its history).
Assuming that ‘cleanliness’ conditions applied to the priest of Bethel in much the same way as they did to the Levitical high priest of the Mosaic covenant, these curses speak about the desecration of his office and not just physical loss. YHWH’s message isn’t simply to wipe out a genealogical line but to bring it to a point where it’s not qualified to minister before Him.
Finally, Amos repeats one of the statements that Amaziah had found particularly unpalatable, that
‘…Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land’
which, as Amhub explains, makes the event
‘…as certain as yesterday’s headlines’
Commentators see scenarios for the fulfilment of all these pronouncements, many or none of which may be the facts of the matter. However, Amstu notes (my italics) that
‘Amaziah surely understood them to mean that in the coming exile he might be separated from his wife…and from his children…Amaziah would die in exile…’
The problem with this is that the exile was still a long way off and, if the word was to be fulfilled, it would have had to have come about much earlier than the overthrow of Samaria in 722BC. We should expect, therefore, that, although we could concede that Amaziah thought that the exile was being prophesied as being in his own lifetime and that these things would befall him at that time, they were to take place much earlier than he would have anticipated and not as a result of the exile at all.
We don’t know what happened to Amaziah after this brief glimpse into his life but internal political decisions could have accounted for the fulfilment of many of the judgments here listed. If the high priest was chosen by the throne as would be expected if it was ‘the king’s sanctuary’ (Amos 7:13), a new appointment of someone who was favoured by the king may have had the effect of causing Amaziah to be removed from office and the security of his wealth.
Vision four - the basket of summer fruit
We’ve already seen under the header ‘Paronomasia’ above that this passage is a ‘word play’ in the Hebrew language, for the word for ‘summer fruit’ is transliterated by the RSV as ‘qayits’ while ‘end’ is ‘qets’, two words that are similar in sound. The first word, then, is the prompt that inspires the second and pronounces judgment.
We also noted that Amos 7:7-9 is so close in construction that it would be expected that such a word play occurred there also and I proposed that Amstu be followed for he sees it important that from the idea of ‘tin’ rather than ‘plummet’, YHWH would have moved on to use a similar or identical sounding word to make his point that He was about to set ‘mourning’ in the midst of His people.
These two visions, therefore, should be taken to be parallel that need to stand together rather than alone for the similarities are more than coincidental, even leaving the proposed emendation to one side. For, in both, YHWH reveals an object to Amos that needs identification, in both he’s asked what he sees and in both we get the phrase
‘...I will never again pass by them’
after an initial declaration of judgment about to fall. Both then go on to pronounce judgment upon the religious sanctuaries (even though the scope of each judgment is different) and conclude with a judgment of death upon groups of people.
These two visions, therefore, must be considered as two aspects of similar truths and the reason why Amos 8:1-3 is separated by the incident of Amaziah’s opposition is to confirm the word previously declared. As such, it sits as a conclusion to the passage that began with Amos 7:1 (and proves that the person who divided the OT up into chapters and verses wasn’t infallible!).
The word for ‘basket’ (Strongs Hebrew number 3619) occurs only three times in the OT, twice here. Its only other use is in Jer 5:27 which shows that, presumably, a similarly constructed basket could be employed as a bird cage.
The shape wouldn’t have had to have been different, though, if Zondervan’s interpretation of the word is correct for they define it as a ‘basket with a cover’. Our concept of a birdcage being one in which the birds could look out as pets isn’t what’s in mind here but it appears to have been one in which the birds were probably kept for sale at market.
It’s possible that such a basket was employed as a container in which summer fruit was ripened so that it wasn’t subject to much light that would accelerate the process.
But the important word is that employed for ‘summer fruit’ (Strongs Hebrew number 7019) for it’s this that causes the word play of the following verse to speak of Israel’s ‘end’. This word occurs 20 times in the OT and is almost equally divided between the translation ‘summer’ (Gen 8:22, Ps 32:4, 74:17, Prov 6:8, 10:5, 26:1, 30:25, Is 28:4, Jer 8:20, Amos 3:15, Zech 14:8) and ‘summer fruits’ (II Sam 16:1-2, Is 16:9, Jer 40:10,12, 48:32, Amos 8:1-2, Micah 7:1).
Because ‘summer’ was the time of ‘fruit’, the concepts became synonymous and the meaning only determinable by context. As we’ve noted above, it was the sound of this word that paved the way for the use of a different word in Amos 8:2 (Strongs Hebrew number 7093 - one that wasn’t so much as remotely derived from the former) to speak of the ‘end’ coming upon Israel.
In an interesting interpretative paraphrase, the Living Bible renders Amos 8:2
‘This fruit represents My people Israel - ripe for judgment...’
while Ammot explains the idea as being connected to the act of the worshippers as they brought their
‘...harvest hampers to the shrines of Israel’
something that appears to be purely speculative. Even so, he echoes the paraphrase of the LB, commenting that
‘They came into the presence of God not just with ripe fruit but as ripe fruit, ripened over all the months and years of moral and spiritual probation which He had afforded them...and now, sadly, ready for a particularly dreadful harvest time’
If this was the case, we might envisage such a vision to have been given to and delivered by Amos in the autumn but, although this is a clever way to understand the text, the only reason for mentioning ‘summer fruit’ is because it plays upon the sound of the word for ‘end’. We could just as well take the suggestion of Amhub (who mentions this as more unlikely than possible) that
‘...Israel...was going to be carried into exile as in a basket...’
The point is that the end has come upon the nation and that no more time will be given it to produce the required fruits of God’s people (Mtw 21:12-13,18-19 - another play upon the mention of the summer fruit that isn’t meant to be there in the text. See my notes here). God will no longer pass by His people but will come into their midst to judge (see above under the header ‘Pass by’ for further discussion).
Amhub’s statement based upon the clear finality of the sentence of 8:2 is that
‘All time for repentance was past’
but we must qualify that idea for, even when Nineveh was given no opportunity to repent and save their city (Jonah 3:4) their heart felt repentance (Jonah 3:6-9) did persuade God to be merciful (Jonah 3:10). As I’ve said repeatedly, God’s prophetic statements can be radically altered by the reaction of the people to whom the message comes, even when the word seems to be unchangeable.
The first judgment of Amos 8:3 has a variety of different translations offered by commentators. Amhub would change the translation of ‘songs’ by the RSV to ‘singers’, although both appear to be possible from the Hebrew employed. Either way, the truth being conveyed isn’t changed too radically for we’d see either the people employed to sing, wailing on account of the judgment that’s fallen upon the land or the songs that were full of joy being transformed into laments. Whether it be the people who sing or the songs themselves, the point is surely the same, just viewed from a different angle.
The alternative for ‘temple’, however, would radically change the meaning for we might just as well translate ‘palace’ (Strongs Hebrew number 1964, M493). In other words, we’d be thinking of the judgment being transferred from the sanctuary at Bethel to the palace of king Jeroboam in Samaria.
TWOTOT notes that
‘Extra-Palestinian applications of [the word] refer solely to the domicile of a king...Within Israel it refers to the dwelling palace of the great king, God...’
If the interpretation is as cut and dried as they make out, Amos 8:3 must refer to a temple-like structure in which God was assumed to be dwelling for the judgment to fall is being directed against the land of Israel and not outside it. However, the statement is too simplistic because there are at least two places (I Kings 21:1, Ps 45:15) where the correct translation of the word is ‘palace’ and these refer to a structure within the land of Israel or Judah that belonged to the king.
The ambiguity of the word is such that it might be best not to limit the meaning to either ‘temple’ or ‘palace’ and that Amos’ listeners could have taken it to mean either without one being right and the other wrong. For God was to come against the king’s house along with all the other houses of grandeur (Amos 3:15) and also lay low the sanctuary at Bethel (Amos 3:14, 5:16).
However, the presence of either singers whose songs turn to lamentation or the songs themselves that become the wailing of mourning would point towards the likelihood that the sanctuary at Bethel is meant for, although it would be wrong to think that ‘entertainment’ wasn’t an integral part of the life of royalty (Amos 6:5), songs are more associated with praise before God.
Therefore, the judgment hits at the heart of the religious life of the nation and, though it doesn’t state that judgment would fall upon the sanctuary and destroy it, it does show that the rejoicing that once was present there would be swallowed up in mourning and lamentation at the national humiliation of defeat and exile. It also serves the listener as a supplement to the judgment decreed against the various sanctuaries in Israel in Amos 7:9.
The subsequent description of vast quantities of dead ‘in that day’ (that is, the day when God would come into their midst in judgment - Amos 5:18-20) expands similar previous messages (Amos 5:3, 6:9-10) though here it’s the volume of the tragedy that’s to the fore. It also serves as a reason for the wailings in the temple though, where the dead are discovered and cast out into the streets, stupefied silence is the order of the day.
It gives a picture of a land where death is everywhere evident, where there aren’t enough people to bury the dead speedily so that they pile up throughout the territory - a bit like walking down your street and seeing three or four corpses outside each house’s front door. The picture of the decimation of the human population becomes an even more unsettling prophecy than simply to mention that mourning would come upon the land (Amos 7:8 - see above).
When you know only that sorrow will descend upon your nation, you might underestimate the scope of the judgment and think of a minor trouble - but when you’re told that the dead will be piled up in the streets, you begin to fear for all those things that you hold dear.
This section (Amos 7:1-8:3) had begun with Amos standing before God and averting the outpouring of specific judgments against Israel, but it concludes with the inevitability of destruction and the wide scale deaths of the inhabitants of the nation. In between, the high priest of Bethel had tried to silence Amos to prevent him from unsettling the nation’s political stability but, as he found out to his own cost, trying to silence God’s servant so that he’s unable to fulfil his calling has dire personal consequences.
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