The ministry of the prophet Amos was the earliest of the minor prophets, except for that of Jonah. Amos lived in the latter portion of the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel – in the early part of whose reign, Jonah seems to have spoken the Word of the Lord. However, unlike Jonah, Amos was not a subject of that Northern Kingdom; for he was a native of Tekoa in the Southern Kingdom of Judah – a place about six miles south of Bethlehem. But his prophetic mission was chiefly directed against the Northern Kingdom; and in fulfillment of it, he went to that country – and in the presence of the idolatrous golden-calf altar at Bethel, he denounced the iniquities of Israel and declared their impending doom. He began this ministry around 808 BC – two years before the great earthquake mentioned in the first verse of this chapter.
The latter years of the reign of King Jeroboam II were characterized by great material prosperity; but they were also marked by a prevalence of injustice, oppression, and vice. The poor were frequently ground down under the heel of the rich. But the general prosperity was construed by the people as evidence of Divine protection, despite the fact that they were willfully forgetful of the requirements of the Lord’s law. The burden of Amos’ message is that of national accountability. He reproved the nations of his day in general, and Israel in particular. He speaks directly of judgments that were hanging over the head of both, and he solemnly calls upon them to turn to the Lord. And in the sweet conclusion of his prophecy, he gives a bright prospect of the coming of the Lord Jesus to His Kingdom. Here the prophet seems to rise to a great degree of beauty and fullness, as he speaks of the Messiah’s Advent and reign!
It appears, from his own account, that Amos was a peasant; and this is an interesting fact because it sheds light upon his frequent allusions to rural affairs, his strong sympathy with the sufferings and oppression of the poor, and his keen sense of the luxurious habits of the great (which contrasted with that condition of country life with which he was most familiar). He was a humble herdsman, and yet he was called – by God’s grace – to the work of the ministry.
The first words that the Lord commissioned Amos to utter were against several of the nations that were neighbors to the people of God in his day. He directed his attention against Damascus (the head-city of Syria), Gaza (a metropolis of the Philistines), Tyre, the Edomites, and the Ammonites. The controversy that God has with each of them is prefaced with, “Thus said the Lord Jehovah, the God of Israel!” Although those nations would not worship him as their God, yet they would be made to know that they are accountable to Him as their Judge. The God of Israel is the God of the whole earth, and He has something to say to them which will make them tremble. The indictments that are drawn up against these nations are very similar. They are charged, in general, with three transgressions and with four – that is, with many transgressions. The particular sin which is specified in each of their cases is the sin of persecution, in some form of mischief or another, that was done against the people of God. As for the judgments that were pronounced against them, they are also very similar; for since their sin had risen to such great heights, the Lord would not turn away the punishment thereof. He had granted them a long reprieve, and had often turned away their punishment; but now He would turn it away no longer, and allow justice to take its course.
These denunciations of God’s wrath against the heathen open up to us an answer to the question, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” They teach us the principles upon which God deals with human beings in punishing them for their sins, and it may be good for us to observe some of the principles which are revealed in them.
Nations and individuals that do not retain God in their knowledge are given up to commit sins which are abominable even in the judgment of human reason, and the justice of their punishment is evident even to their fellow human beings. We see this clearly stated in the first chapter of the Book of Romans. Man’s unrighteousness makes him transgress God’s truth which has been made known to him; and the degree of clearness with which any truth of God is made known to him becomes the measure of his guilt in neglecting, perverting, or disobeying it. The whole creation speaks to man of something invisible. And within his heart, he has reasoning powers which infer the existence of the Creator from the things which are created. But instead of using these faculties rightly, he commits the heinous offence of changing “the truth of God into a lie” (Rom. 1:25). As a result thereof, God gives him over to a reprobate mind; and then he becomes notorious for horrible offences against himself and his fellow human beings. These offences prove to be the avenue whereby punishment, pain, and disgrace eventually come upon him. Lack of regard for God’s law leads human beings to courses of thought and deed which also infringe upon the civil laws of human society. Neglect of the revealed will of God is followed by a violation of the natural rights of man.
Let us cry out to the Lord for mercy so that neither we nor our families may come to the point of casting His Word behind our backs and neglecting His holy and righteous law! Let us beseech Him to cause it to continually govern every single aspect of our daily thoughts, words, and lifestyles.
Lord, we praise You as the just and righteous Judge of all the earth, Who most assuredly does what is right, just, and equitable at all times! Amen.
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illustration by Gustave Doré | Wikimedia Commons