New Series Introduction
When Mr. BenDedek asked me if I would like to contribute to the Christianity Section of Magic City Morning Star News, he gave me a free hand in deciding the content of my articles but did offer some suggestions on the writing style. If I could summarize his suggestions, it would be something like this.
Be topical, not theological; teach, don't preach; challenge, don't exhort; highlight, don't bore to death; and aim for the wider audience rather than those who already understand the message. I hope that I have been successful so far, and on that point I will point out that my original commitment was only to half a dozen articles.
Today I begin a series on the prophets of the Old Testament. I'm not sure how many articles I will write in this series, but I am going to commence with a few select prophets who prophesied around the same time period, and my focus is on the role that religious and secular leaders play in the destruction of their societies.
Following Mr. BenDedek's advice I have done only a general overview, highlighting some key points, and drawing some general conclusions.
M. Wallace Johnson
No 1 - An Overview of the Prophet Amos
An Overview of the Prophet Amos during the reign of King Uzziah, prior to Assyrian incursions into Syria, Israel and Judah. The prophecies take place about 35-40 years prior to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom Israel and the exile of its people, and less than 200 years before King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took the Southern Kingdom of Judah into exile in Babylon and destroyed King Solomon's Temple.
Amos Chapter 1 verse one says that the prophet Amos was a herdsman from a place called Tekoa and relates that the things which he saw concerning Israel and Judah occurred in the latter years of the reign of King Uzziah of Judah (2 years before the earthquake of 759 BC) during the final few years of the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel - perhaps no more than 6 years.
His prophecies principally relate to the Northern Kingdom of Israel but do include the Southern Kingdom of Judah and other nations. The principal targets of his prophecies are the leaders, religious and civil, and the rich of the land. Issues of concern to God were those of justice, avarice and oppression.
Amos chapter 1 is all about God's Judgment against nations surrounding Israel. The reasons are provided and include broken promises to and broken treaties with Israel and Judah, and the merciless treatment of citizens during periods of warfare.
In Amos Chapter 2 attention is directed toward the Southern Kingdom of Judah (with its capital in Jerusalem) and the Northern kingdom of Israel (capital Samaria).
It is said of Judah that they despised the law of the LORD, did not keep his commandments, and told lies. Fire and destruction of Jerusalem's palaces is decreed.
It is said of Israel that they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes (complete disregard for people and devotion to money).
The people of the divided kingdom face God's judgment because of the varieties and abundance of their sinfulness. God declares:
I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink (they were not permitted wine); and commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not.
The people had no sense of gratitude for the deliverance God had wrought for them. Furthermore they were disobedient in following the commandments (Nazarites) and did not want to hear correction (prophets).
Amos Chapter 3 concerns oppression, violence and robbery and the punishment that will be dealt out for these sins. The use of the words 'palaces' and 'houses' and the references to the various types of houses, indicates that the target of God's judgment are the rich and powerful in the land.
Amos Chapter 4 once again talks about the oppression of the poor and needy and promises that the oppressors will be taken away with 'hooks' and 'fishhooks'; a reference to an Assyrian custom from which not even royalty were exempt. Captives were taken away with a hook or ring passed through the upper lip, under lip or both.
Verses 5 and 6 indicate that God had already afflicted the people in the hope that they would repent. Unfortunately they had not and so there was greater punishment in store for them.
Amos Chapter 5 is described as a lamentation over the house of Israel. The Chapter is a call for the people to repent and be spared the entirety of the punishment that is coming. In Verse 4 God says: 'Seek ye me, and ye shall live'
The chapter again points out the sins for which judgment is decreed:
Rejection of truth
Treading down the poor
Denying people their rights
It is interesting that from verse 18 onwards God makes clear that even if the people do all the right religious rituals, he will still bring judgment on them. This is such an important lesson here. Religious rituals - the doing and saying of all those things which one is supposed to do and say is not enough if the character of the heart is not changed and if those things which God hates continue to be manifest in the lives of those who call themselves by his name. The end result for these people was a promise of 'captivity beyond Damascus'; meaning Assyria (Today's Iraq).
Amos chapter 6 starts with a proclamation of woe to fall upon those described in a way so as to indicate that they are the rich and powerful of the land. Those 'that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall' and who 'drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments'.
These are they who are not grieved by the suffering of the people and who have turned judgment 'into gall'; meaning that their judgments are not just.
Amos chapter 7 speaks of the judgment against the Northern Kingdom Israel and the royal house, and goes on to talk about the Priest Amaziah of Bethel ('house of God'). He refers to Bethel as the king's chapel and court (v 13). He made false accusations to the King about the prophet Amos. He complains that Amos has said that 'Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land'. (Verse 11)
In defending himself Amos makes the point that he was not a professional prophet nor had inclination to be such, but that the Lord took him from his regular life and commanded him to 'prophesy'. And that prophecy is one of complete judgment - 'thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land' (v 17)
Amos Chapter 8 is extremely explicit in describing the sins for which judgment is decreed.
Verses 4-6: Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?
The description is one of utter financial abuse of the people. The expression 'Saying, When will the new moon be gone' indicates that the oppressors demonstrate an outward appearance of following the commandments but are all the while eager for their religious obligations to be dispensed with so that they can continue their unrighteous ways.
Amos Chapter 9 speaks of both the judgment and redemption of Israel. It is quite explicit about the coming judgment:
- Verse 8 - Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the LORD
- verse 10 - All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us.
Then comes the promise of God that he will once again 'raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old'.
The promise of God in verses 14 and 15 relate to the physical country called Israel. Although God shall punish them for their sins by sending them into exile, yet will he return them to their country and bless that country again.
And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God.
Judgment is decreed because the wealthy and powerful oppress the poor whilst at the same time pretending to be observant in their religious beliefs. God's primary concern is seen to be that of 'Social Justice'
Moral of the Book:
Those with wealth, power and religious or secular responsibility are the measuring rod by which a nation shall be judged, and its fate depends on their righteous behavior.
Amos is only one of several different prophets during this period prior to the destruction of the Southern Kingdom Israel. As we begin to go through the others, we will not only note God's concern for common justice, but become more aware of how God views those who 'appear' to be fulfilling their religious duties but who do understand the spiritual implications of their religious obligations.
M. Wallace Johnson
Articles by M. Wallace Johnson
Introducing M. Wallace Johnson
Holy, Wholly or Holey SERIES
Idols in Ministry SERIES
Full list of M Wallace Johnson articles in his Column at the Writers Journal