The offence of Amos
The message of Amos is a timely one for today’s generation - not, however, for the people of today’s society who go about their business and who are either confessed enemies of the cross or indifferent to its message but, rather, for those men and women who profess faith in Jesus Christ and who honour Him with their lips when their hearts are far from Him (Mark 7:6-7).
For such is the message of Amos - an ordinary man chosen from the shepherds that dwelt either in or around the fortified city of Tekoa in the land of Judah (Amos 1:1, 7:14-15 - see the article below entitled ‘Tekoa’ for more on this location) who was sent north to cross the boundaries of his own nation and to proclaim God’s Words to a nation who had the name of God upon them (Israel or, translated, ‘He who strives with God’) but who were living against His clearly perceivable will for them.
Although many commentators and preachers would inadvertently or deliberately pervert the message of Amos to be one that speaks to the society in which they live, calling it to act with concern for the poor and to act with true justice to all men and women within the nation (matters which are right to draw people’s attentions to), the message of Amos wasn’t directed at the unbelieving but at those who had the label of being in a right relationship with God, the nation of Israel, and who should have known better.
Even if there’s an application of the message to the present day, therefore, we must primarily direct it at the Church, the people who have God’s name upon them and who claim to represent God on earth, rather than to justify our own relationship with God on the grounds of what others aren’t doing.
While Amos certainly contains a message for a secularised and worldly Church, it should by no means be taken as a specific word against society in general who already stand condemned before and judged by God (Rom 1:18-32, John 3:36). Although Amos 1:2-2:8 places the holy nation into the framework of the nations which lay round about them and shows how they stood equally condemned before YHWH (thus also pointing out the failures of those nations before God), the specific words of God to His people cannot be laid at the door of the world but must now and always be applied to the Church.
Or else what right do we have to snatch at the promises of blessing and restoration given to OT Israel, claiming that they rightfully belong to us when we’re unwilling - just as they were - to judge ourselves by the same words directed at them because of sin and disobedience?
When Amos speaks about the rich exploiting the poor to grow ever richer, he isn’t pointing a finger at the unsaved in society when such actions would be almost expected from them (indeed, it can be applied to the world around us very easily). Rather, it’s relevant to the leaders who grow affluent from the giving of the flock, people who have taken the name of God upon themselves and who insist on receiving their ‘ten per cent’ while pronouncing unfavourable words of judgment and condemnation, of disobedience and rebellion upon those who refuse to bow the knee and obey the rule they impose, even insisting that, because they’re God’s anointed man for the job (when they’ve been either voted in or appointed by the denomination that the fellowship is affiliated to), their rule can’t be questioned or called to account by Scripture.
I make no apologies, therefore, if at the outset of this commentary I set out my stall clearly and with certainty that I intend interpreting Amos’ message as primarily for the people who regard themselves as the present day Church of Christ.
To many of the men and women of eighth century Israel, life seemed pretty good and they were at a prosperous ease, following after their own beliefs, their own perceptions of what God was like and of what He required from them - exploitation seems to have been prevalent and it appears that, while the rich became more affluent, the poor became more destitute (for example, Amos 4:1, 5:11, 6:1).
When Amos came to them proclaiming God’s warning, they would have been shocked for they would, no doubt, have had their own prophets who were proclaiming a message which was far removed from that of God’s true messenger so that, to all intents and purposes, it looked out of place.
Wasn’t Amos just a lone voice crying with a message that was against the consensus of their own prophets who spoke from God? That, of course, had been the problem years earlier during the reign of Ahab when Micaiah had stood up against the prophets of Israel to declare the true mind and will of God into the discussions of war that Ahab and Jehoshaphat were holding (I Kings 22:5-28), when it showed that no matter how many voices echo in affirmation, there’s no substitute for knowing the will of God.
As a conclusion to the story, Ahab paid for his disobedience with his life, even though by disguising himself in battle (I Kings 22:30) he showed that he feared Micaiah’s message and probably actually believed the Word of God that had been spoken (I Kings 22:17 - that the nation of Israel was scattered with no shepherd indicated that the king, the head over the flock, would lose his life).
And such is the place where the Church stands today.
That there’s a great agreement over methodology and purpose - especially within denominations - is obvious to many of those who attend regularly. But that the lone voice which cries loudly in the midst of such meetings is generally ignored or ridiculed is also fairly obvious.
The problem has often been that the message of those who stand up to decry or ridicule the Church within its own ranks has usually been one that’s been wayward (that is, inspired by the wrong spirit or prophesied from the person’s own flesh) or misinformed (a reaction to a perceived situation that only exists in the person’s mind).
However, it’s all too easy for leadership to claim divine authority because of their position and to label those under them as heretical or misguided because they hold the reigns of power, conspiring against God’s true messengers because the Words they speak undermine their position and self-made Empire (as Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, did against Amos - Amos 7:10-13).
Even with the rejection of both Amos and his message, the kingdom of Israel continued on its own way regardless for another 30-40 years until the conquest by Assyria and the exile of the Israelite people to be resettled throughout its Empire. Although the prophet may initially have been thought to have been false because the message didn’t immediately come to pass, the inevitability of the fulfilment of the message was poured out upon a subsequent generation because the message of God through His prophet was met with neither repentance nor real change.
When I studied and produced a short commentary on the message of Habakkuk the prophet, I was struck by the misinterpretations of certain passages that were being - and still are being - used as maxims in the Church to anticipate the onset of revival in the immediate future with little or no cost or change. But the prophet’s heartfelt plea for revival came about out of the midst of a far reaching act of judgment that was to be poured out first upon God’s disobedient people so that, if we really did desire revival as Habakkuk did, we would see the parallel need for God to judge His people - not the most popular of messages in today’s established Church when such ideas could cause widespread panic and insecurity.
And there’s also an unacceptance and a refusal of application of messages to our present situation and experience that are found on the lips of the prophet throughout this short book. For example, when the established religious authority rejects the message from God, that can’t be something we’d do, can it (Amos 7:10-13)? Surely it’s for the denomination down the road who’ve never been ones for believing God!
Or, when the Word of God is to be withheld from His people, why could that possibly be for us (Amos 8:11-12 - though those who are not hearing God’s voice sometimes rationalise it away with various explanations, one being that prophets were only meant for the ‘early Church’. Indeed, anything that we aren’t experiencing is often argued away with this reasoning in one form or another)?
Or even when we read about God hating the traditional forms of service, He can’t possibly mean the weekly Communion services that God told us to observe (just as he told the Israelites to offer sacrifice, of course) or our commitment to festivals such as Christmas or Easter, can He (Amos 5:21-24)?
The problem is always that the prophet’s message seems too hard to a people who have so overdosed themselves of God’s love and mercy that they’ve forgotten that He continues to be a God of wrath and judgment against sin. What Jesus Christ did on the cross does not nullify God’s need to transform His people to be Christ-like (I Peter 4:17).
Amos’ message, then, calls us to sit up and give an account of ourselves to God - not to please men and ingratiate ourselves in the sight of those who have taken the name of God upon themselves (John 5:44, 12:43) but to examine ourselves in the light of the message to us both individually and corporately.
The message of Habakkuk - that the judgment of God’s people must precede genuine revival - is the same overall message that we find in the pages of Amos.
Many commentators today find it impossible to accept that the record of Amos’ prophecies to the northern Kingdom of Judah is just that, insisting on various other dates during which the composition is seen to have been put together. Sections are cut away and identified as being units that were fitted together at a later date and the full impact and message of the prophet in the context of the eighth century is largely lost.
While some of these discussions can be fairly illuminating, they probably tell us more about the actual person who’s proposing the ideas than it does accurately reflect the facts of the matter.
On the whole, there seems to be no good reason why we shouldn’t accept that the message as delivered to Israel through the prophet Amos was committed to writing before it was delivered, as it was being spoken or shortly afterwards in a form that summated the general arguments and message.
Amos 1:1 seems not to have been written by Amos himself and is better understood to be a prefix that appears to have been added to introduce the Book - possibly even added when a single scroll of the prophets was being compiled so that the reader could easily determine the relevancy of each work contained therein, but even a single scroll containing just these words would likely have needed to have been prefixed so that the person opening it could easily see its contents.
The date of Amos’ message to Israel is fairly accurately identified in the opening verse (and, as such, means that the prophet’s recorded message was one of the earliest of all declared to God’s people in the section in the OT known as ‘the prophets’), even though it’s now lost on us as to exactly what it means in our chronology of ancient time.
Initially, the verse notes rather vaguely that the delivery took place in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah (790-739BC in my chronology of the kings here where the dates stated have to be amended for the co-regency of the throne, 791-740BC according to Amstu, 792-740BC according to Amhub) and of Jeroboam II, king of Judah (793-753BC as given by all three sources, though Amstu also claims the dates as being 786-746BC in his introduction) before giving the precise dating that the prophecy was delivered
‘…two years before the earthquake’
(proof, incidentally, that Amos 1:1 is a prefix - for it would have been impossible to have known that the earthquake was to have taken place two years into the future).
The only problem we have, however, is that there’s no firm date that can be assigned to this event, something that so gripped the minds of the children of Israel that it seems to have lived in the memory for at least the next century (Zech 14:5). Amstu notes Yigael Yadin’s dating of the earthquake as around 760BC but this is no more than an attempt to correlate the destruction debris at Hazor and other cities in the land and may be greatly out (it does, however, show the accuracy of the Biblical record) so it can’t be relied upon. However, Amhub gives the range of 760-755BC, noting that this sixteen year period
‘…seems to have gained almost unanimous support amongst scholars’
Amstu, on the other hand, is only willing to say that the year 767BC is the earliest that it could reasonably have been expected to have been delivered and 742BC the latest. Even so, this isn’t a bad range of dates into which Amos and his message can be placed.
Finally, Amstu’s statement that
‘There is some possibility that Amos’ prophecies were all delivered within a short time - that is, less than a single year’
is based upon a literal interpretation of the statement in Amos 1:1 that the message was seen (that is, received by the prophet directly from God)
‘…two years before the earthquake’
This seems to be the meaning of the verse and, although it would probably be incorrect of us to limit it to a strict twelve month period, that the message was given in a brief period of time - after which Amos presumably returned to his occupation near Tekoa - is not without possibility.
There would have been no need to have continued preaching a message that the nation had heard during, for example, a year that had seen a great percentage of the inhabitants of the kingdom attend the sanctuary at Bethel (Amos 7:10-13) - if, as is often assumed, Amos had decided to stay here and declare the message as the nation came to sacrifice. His whereabouts as and when he delivered God’s message is only speculation, however, apart from the one specific mention of his presence at Bethel in chapter 7 and his assumed presence in Bethel as the words of Amos 4:4 were being spoken (‘Come to Bethel...’).
Amos 5:5, however, gives the reader the impression that Amos is referring to the altar at Bethel as something which was a distance away for he tells his listeners not to seek the place.
Amos 1:1, 7:14-15
Many commentators have tried to get behind the message of Amos to understand the type of man the prophet was. But God calls a multitude of people to serve him and it’s virtually impossible to know the person if determined solely by the message they bring - simply because, although the words may be flavoured by the life of the individual, the message is wholly God’s and, therefore, they tell us about Him rather than the channel through whom it comes.
Having said that, there are always a few pointers in the text which tell us something about the prophet’s background and life before his call (though we really must stop short of describing him as 5 foot 2 inches tall with black hair, olive-tanned skin and a wild, tempestuous look about him. Every one knows he was taller…).
Perhaps the most enigmatic of information is Amos’ actual name for it means either ‘Burden’ (Ungers and Strongs) or ‘Burden Bearer’ (Zondervan), something that’s uniquely relevant. I’m not suggesting that the prophet took this name because it had specific relevance to his message and mission for there’s no indication that this was the case (even though Amstu chooses to see it as a ‘nickname’ that had been retrieved from something like ‘Amasiah’) but, whether we follow the first interpretation or the second, his name adds meaning to his life.
As a ‘burden’, Amos becomes inseparable from the message. Although the words he speaks from God are themselves a ‘burden’ (as many of the prophet’s discourses are described in the OT), Amos is revealed as being equal to the message, where to divide the prophet from his words becomes impossible - both the prophet and his message are the burden that the people must bear.
If this is the intention behind his name, there may be more to the message than simply something which he’s passing on as a channel - indeed, it would mean that not only might the words be rooted in Amos’ life, the expressions, concerns and observations may well have been an intrinsic part of what the prophet felt, and all that’s actually happened to him is that God’s calling and anointing that’s come upon him has propelled him northwards to deliver the words.
Commentators would then be correct in reading Amos’ beliefs and feelings into the message recorded for us here. However, the other possible meaning of his name is ‘burden bearer’ and this has the opposite interpretation where the prophet is seen as only the ‘carrier’ of what God wants to say to His people.
The safest course is for the commentator to stick to what can be clearly known about the prophet - although when we turn to any biographical notes in the book, we find that there are very few.
We do know that Amos was a shepherd (Amos 1:1), an epithet seemingly put there as a prefix and introduction to the entire Book at a later date to its initial writing (though not too far after its writing for there’s a rather specific date that’s been recorded for us as ‘two years before the earthquake’). A fuller description of his secular work is given by the prophet himself in Amos 7:14 where he calls himself
‘…a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees’
the latter phrase causing Amhub to insist that the work
‘…took Amos away from Tekoa seasonally and gave him ample opportunity to judge the spiritual and moral quality of places beyond his hometown’
(Amstu also speculates in this manner but he’s bolder to declare that such work could have carried him ‘…frequently into the North’, though he admits that such statements are speculation).
Amhub further notes that the sycamore tree produced a fig-like fruit and that they were confined to the western edge of Judah and Israel that bordered on the Philistine territory, a warmer climate than the heights of Tekoa where Amos resided. A comment in the Targum of this Book (according to Amhub) has Amos declare that he owns sycamore trees in the Shephelah (to the west of Tekoa), but this is a late commentary which could have been added solely because, at that time of writing, the sycamore tree was limited to that region.
I Kings 10:27 does, however, note that the sycamore was extremely common in that area during Solomon’s time (through the use of a proverb) but this stops short of saying that the tree was limited to the area. Besides, I Chr 27:28 speaks of Baalhanan the Gederite as being set over
‘...the olive and sycamore trees in the Shephelah...’
when there’s no further mention of olives in that chapter and it would be incorrect to suppose that the olive tree was only cultivated and harvested in this area. Therefore, I Kings 10:27 needn’t be taken as proving that the sycamore was only grown west of Tekoa.
It may also be significant and not without coincidence that, in the days of Uzziah, parts of the Shephelah were re-taken (II Chr 26:6-10), it being noted that the king employed (v.10)
‘...farmers and vinedressers in the hills and in the fertile lands...’
to look after those areas that he owned. It could be reasoned that Amos was an official tender of the king’s allotment of sycamore trees but this would be no more than speculation.
Ps 78:47 indicates that the trees were susceptible to frost so that a location on the uplands of Judah would have been wholly inappropriate for them - not so east of Tekoa, however, where the type of agriculture has changed significantly over the centuries with human influence and it’s difficult to be accurate as to what forms of produce the land was capable of yielding.
Luke 18:4 also clearly notes that Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree (where a literal translation of the Greek compound word here gives the meaning ‘mulberry fig’ - Strongs Greek number 4809 - and there’s little doubt that the same tree or shrub is being referred to as occurs in the OT) in order to be able to see Jesus as He walked passed - but this occurred in Jericho, east of Tekoa. Sycamores, then, may have been plentiful in the Shephelah, but there’s no reason to doubt that they also existed on the eastern flank of the eighth century kingdom of Judah.
Even if it seems best to limit sycamore tree cultivation to the west of Amos’ home town, it doesn’t follow that he made his living north into Israelite territory (either to Galilee or to the western edge of the central highlands) and the statements of commentators to this effect are largely speculation.
Neither is it necessary to suppose that Amos knew the sin of the nation to which he was sent in any great detail (although I doubt if he was totally oblivious to what was going on in that place) but, rather, as he went in obedience to the command and call of God, what his eyes saw was illuminated by God who spoke into the situations in order for him to clearly perceive the message that needed to be brought.
As Amos 7:15 seems to indicate, the shepherd was going about his daily business of tending his sheep and making his livelihood from breeding (the only other use of the Hebrew word - Strongs Hebrew number 5349 - from which the translation ‘shepherd’ is obtained is in II Kings 3:4 where the RSV translates it as ‘sheep breeder’, a much better description in the context and it probably better describes what Amos did) when, one day, YHWH called him to leave it behind and to go and prophesy His message to the northern kingdom. The suddenness of the call could well be similar to that of Matthew who one day was making a living from tax collecting and the next was following Jesus wherever He went (Mtw 9:9 - even though it needs to be pointed out that Matthew probably already knew what Jesus had been doing in and around Galilee).
Amos certainly never trained to become a prophet and neither dwelt in the midst of a band of prophets where he learnt his true ‘vocation’. This appears to be the message of Amos 7:14 where he proclaims himself to be
‘…no prophet, nor a prophet’s son…’
though there may also be a straightforward interpretation in the last phrase to indicate that his genealogical line wasn’t noted for their spiritual insights from God that they declared to men and women. Here in Amos, then, we’re looking at an unqualified individual who had no naturally discernible ability to be used by God in this role - he was only known as an agriculturist. As Amstu states with accuracy
‘…spiritual gifts are more important than academic training for ministry…’
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).
Tekoa is generally accepted to have been located about ten miles almost due south of Jerusalem which, according to Zondervan, was
‘...on a prominent elevation 2700 feet high from which the Mount of Olives is visible, also Mount Nebo beyond the Dead Sea...’
It isn’t mentioned in the tribal allocation of the land to Judah in Joshua chapter 15 (though it does occur in verse 59 of the LXX version which may indicate the need felt by the translators to include the name of a then significant town or city of the land) which surely means that, if there was any settlement there, it was considered insignificant (Zondervan, however, takes the name ‘Tekoa’ as it appears in I Chr 2:24 and 4:5 as being a reference to the village or city and, therefore, an early reference to the place - but this appears to be without justification).
Although it’s tempting to think of Tekoa as being a purely agricultural area of Judah seeing as Amos is described, firstly, as a shepherd (Amos 1:1) and, later, as (Amos 7:14)
‘...a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees’
it would appear to have been a significant settlement by the time of the reign of king Rehoboam for he’s recorded as fortifying strategic places that could withstand an enemy attack, one of these being the city or village then in existence (II Chr 11:5-10). Therefore, Jeremiah’s words (Jer 6:1) to
‘Blow the trumpet in Tekoa...’
makes perfect sense as an alarm of war issued by one of the fortified cities to warn Judah of the approach of an enemy army against them. It may well be, therefore, that the city of Tekoa was ‘fortified’ by Rehoboam only insofar as it was to house a small military presence that would serve as a lookout post to alert the capital to the onset of a military danger - having a clear view of the Mount of Olives, it would have been able to send an immediate smoke signal to a waiting military post rather than have to send a courier on foot or horseback which would have taken a few hours.
There may, therefore, have been an insufficiently large garrison here that could have withstood an initial enemy attack. However, Josephus seems to contradict this when he comments of Rehoboam (Antiquities 8.10.1) that he
‘...built strong and large cities...’
after which Tekoa is listed.
Even before this date, however, Tekoa wasn’t without its significance, being the place from which a wise woman was acquired by Joab when he sought to trick David into bringing back his son Absalom from exile (II Sam 14:1-24 esp v.2,4,9) but, perhaps more significantly, it was the location from which one of David’s mighty men heralded (II Sam 23:26, I Chr 11:28, 27:9) and who was in charge over the sixth division of 24,000 (I Chr 27:1)
‘...who served the king in all matters concerning the divisions that came and went...’
though precisely what that meant is difficult to be certain about.
After the exile in Babylon, Tekoites are mentioned with the rebuilding of the wall under Nehemiah (Neh 3:5,27) though they’re singled out for very little praise as
‘...their nobles did not put their necks to the work of their Lord’
There appears to have been very little in the way of archaeology performed in and around this city though it’s not without possibility that the significant settlements there from the times of the first centuries AD onwards have removed what little could have been gleaned.
But was Tekoa, as Amhub summarises Gold’s view of the city in Amos’ time
‘...a famous city...a city whose political, cultural and agricultural importance matched the military importance it had earlier enjoyed’
or did it, rather, contain a fortified military ‘outpost’ which was attached onto more of a village or rural area?
The only significant thing to say here is that Amos is not a part of the great political hierarchies or the ruling aristocracy of such a place (if indeed it was like this). Rather, he’s content to represent himself simply as a shepherd (Amos 1:1, 7:14) and a tender of sycamore trees (Amos 7:14) and, as such, he pales his own life into insignificance before the far greater worth of the message of God that he’s been commanded to carry (Amos 7:15).
Nowhere are we meant to think of Amos as having been sent by the great city of Tekoa but, rather, that his message has come because he’s been sent by the great God YHWH.
His agricultural allusions also underlie the fact that God has chosen a fairly insignificant farmer rather than someone who would have had to have been respected by the northern kingdom of Israel, and Tekoa is largely stripped of any significance it may have had in his day - except, of course, that it lay in the land of Judah to the south and not under the control of the kingdom of Israel to which he’d been sent (see below under ‘The Offence of Amos’).
One other mention of Tekoa occurs in II Chr 20:20 and it may be more significant than it’s often made out to be seeing as it refers to ‘the wilderness of Tekoa’ - a place accepted as being largely due east of the city - into which King Jehoshaphat and the people of Jerusalem and Judah travelled as they advanced upon the great settling army that had invaded their land (II Chr 20:1ff). It’s also the area into which both Simon and Jonathan fled the threat of Bacchides (I Macc 9:33) though it speaks there only of them encamping
‘...by the water of the pool of Asphar’
and any idea that there were sufficient caves and holes into which one could take refuge (see below) isn’t specifically mentioned.
Zondervan so describes this area as to make me wonder whether it would be better to take the mention of ‘Tekoa’ in Amos 1:1 as referring to this region rather than to limit it to the city that was well-known in OT times. For he speaks of the area as producing
‘...olives and a peculiar fruit called “sycomore fruit”...’
that he immediately parallels with Amos’ mention of his work in Amos 7:14, going on to comment that
‘Shepherds and flocks must have found shelter in the many caves of the hilly land’
Again, this only points directly towards Amos’ own description of himself. If this area is as the author describes it (and, with no citation of any specific geographical authority at this point in his text, it makes it difficult to check it out), there could be no better setting for Amos’ day to day work, away from any significance Tekoa may have played as an influential centre of political or military importance, making God’s choosing of His servant all the more surprising.
I’d like to be able to check out the known agricultural history of this area down through the ages before I was compelled to believe that a region rather than a city was being referred to but, seeing as Amos’ message is couched mainly in agricultural terms and observations, we wouldn’t be going too far astray, I believe, to think of the prophet as having spent most of his time ‘in the wilderness’ rather than ‘in the city’. Therefore, Amhub’s observation that
‘…in seeking what influenced Amos, we are surely on solid ground if we keep in mind his agricultural vocations…’
is much to be preferred rather than to think of the geographical grandeur of his home town’s setting or even the political and military structures which are supposed or expected to have been present in Tekoa at the beginning of the eighth century BC.
Finally, I note with a fair degree of cynicism the observation by Zondervan that
‘The site of Amos’ tomb was confirmed by Isaac Chelo [in] AD 1134’
simply because it’s said with such certainty as to make the reader think that the prophet’s body has been found. Whether this is the case or not, Amos’ death and burial aren’t described in the OT and the elevation of his tomb up to that of a shrine would have been yet another word of warning that the prophet’s voice would have sounded against, echoing down through the corridors of history to the present day.
The offence of Amos
The message of Amos may have been less offensive had he been a national of the society to whom he’d been sent by God, but the prophet was a dweller of Tekoa, a village or city in the land of the Kingdom of Judah to the south and, although the two nations, Israel and Judah, looked back to a common origin they were, nevertheless, distinct and autonomous neighbour states rather than two facets of the one move of God.
Besides, when Jeroboam split Israel from king Rehoboam shortly after Solomon’s death, he feared that the offering of the levitical sacrifices (and, by extension, the observance of the annual festivals) were a sufficiently strong pull on the people of his newly formed nation to quickly reintegrate them into the kingdom of Judah, so he built his own places of sacrifice in Bethel and Dan, commanding them to worship God there (I Kings 12:26-29).
When Amos prophesied against the land of Israel at Bethel, it was described as (Amos 7:13)
‘…the king’s sanctuary…a temple of the kingdom’
so that it would have also been suspicious to the leadership that by so undermining the idolatrous worship that occurred there that Amos could even have been a political tool in the hands of the southern king to restore the people into a singular worship of YHWH in Jerusalem, thereby attempting a restoration of the Davidic Kingdom into his own hands by a ‘back door’ - Amaziah, the priest of Bethel doesn’t ever seem to have realised that Amos’ pronouncements were also against the land of Judah and weren’t restricted to the northern Kingdom of Israel (Amos 2:4-5).
Primarily, though, what doesn’t seem to have ever been considered was whether the words that were being spoken were actually from the mouth of God but were rejected, rather, solely because they were deemed to be ‘unacceptable’ words to speak.
As I pointed out in the first paragraph of this section, the main offence of Amos seems to have been that he was a Judahite who was prophesying in the land of Israel, a foreigner to all intents and purposes who should have been more concerned, notes Amaziah the priest, with speaking to his own nation than to point the finger at another people to whom he didn’t belong (Amos 7:12-13).
Although it hasn’t very often been pointed out, Jesus suffered from the very same problem - except, to put it literally into the time of Amos, it was the other way round. For Him (considering the situation on a purely natural level), it was a northerner, a despised and hated Galilean, who was seeking to get involved in the religious matters of those further south in Judah, for Pharisaism had its stronghold there.
It wasn’t just that the Scriptures indicated that no prophet was to arise from Galilee (John 7:52) - even though they got this ever so slightly wrong (Mtw 4:15-16) - but that He lived on ‘the outside’ of the religion of both the Pharisees and Sadducees, a voice that had no authority or approval given to it by them (Mtw 7:28-29 - see my notes on the subject here), hence their questioning of Jesus as to what authority He had to do the things He was doing (Mtw 21:23 - see also my notes here).
Indeed, the Galileans (and especially those from Nazareth) had a reputation for being ungodly and unusable by God (John 2:46), sinners that needed the salvation offered to them by the pious believers of the south.
We shouldn’t marvel at such a set up for it’s no different in our own day as it was back then in the first century - for, if a Baptist comes to a Baptist congregation, he might be heard. Indeed, the pulpit may well be opened up to him to speak publicly the message that he feels is on his heart (always remembering that the leading minister has the right, it appears, to stand up at the end of the sermon and negate anything that he disagrees with on no better grounds than he doesn’t feel it will help his congregation).
But a Pentecostal asking for speaking time in a Congregational fellowship is hardly ever going to be entertained because of who he is and what he’s perceived of as standing for - regardless of the message that he’s seeking to bring. Indeed, just that the person isn’t ‘approved’ by the board of governors or isn’t on the list of ‘accepted ministers’ seems to be sufficient for most fellowships in my experience.
Pulpits are generally closed to men and women whose faces don’t fit, shut off to people who aren’t easily recognisable as being affiliated to their own particular sect or organisation.
In the early Church, it wasn’t so.
Each person was encouraged to share what the Lord had given him, to build up one another into the fullness of Jesus Christ (I Cor 14:26) and visiting believers seem to have had no restriction placed upon them when they arrived in a city and sought out the brethren to fellowship amongst.
It’s quite true that both deceivers and the deceived were travelling round the Empire at the same time as the faithful, but that doesn’t ever seem to have worried the individual congregations for they were never forbidden to allow men and women visitors to speak before they were checked out and approved by a recognised hierarchy of leadership.
It’s certainly true that they could be warned about certain individuals (II Tim 4:14-15) but an outright ban on visiting ministers never seems to have existed. And rightly so, too, for if it had, people like Amos in the old and Agabus in the new (Acts 21:8-14) might never have been allowed to speak under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
It should further be noted that believers were also willing to approve believers (Acts 18:27-28) which, although it does take place in today’s churches, has the tendency to be something more akin to an ‘only these people can speak’ roster rather than a ‘regard these believers as especially worthy of listening to’ list. Contrasts and parallels abound in Scripture, however, and it’s equally true, as Jesus Himself said (Luke 4:24) that
‘…no prophet is acceptable in his own country’
where a familiarity with someone raised up by God can often be the reason why their ministry is seldom accepted. If a prophet won’t be accepted amongst his own people because he’s well-known (as Jesus was in Nazareth) and frowned upon as not being a part of an individual’s society when they carry God’s message to a foreign land (as Amos was), one wonders whether or not a prophet’s lot in life is to be entirely rejected no matter what they do!
Nevertheless, Amos’ message seems to have been widely rejected by the religious leadership of his day solely on the grounds that he was a stranger in a strange land, a person who was neither approved by them nor spoke the words that their own prophets were speaking.
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