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The prophet Amos lived and preached during the lifetimes of the prophets Hosea and Isaiah. While Isaiah was hanging out in the southern part of Israel (aka Judah), Amos and Hosea were in the north. Amos was a shepherd, and in his short little book Yahweh prophesies disaster for eight different nations: Israel, Judah, and their surrounding neighbors. It’s bad news in the book of Amos, and in Chapter 2, Yahweh stops talking about neighboring kingdoms and focuses in on His chosen people. As usual, they’re wallowing in spiritual rebellion.
This is what Yahweh says: “I will not relent from punishing Judah for three crimes, even four, because they have rejected the instruction of Yahweh and have not kept His statutes. The lies that their ancestors followed have led them astray. Therefore, I will send fire against Judah, and it will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.” (Amos 3:4-5)
The Hebrew expression that is translated “for three…even four…” is like saying “again and again” in English. When Yahweh refers to “lies” that have led the ancestors astray, He’s referring to idolatry. False gods are often referred to as deceptions in the Old Testament.
Now if you’ve been taught that generational cursing is a real thing (which it’s not), then you could easily read this language and think that Yahweh is punishing these people for choices that their ancestors made hundreds of years earlier. Well, no, He isn’t. The belief that God punishes people for the sins of their fathers is a very destructive misconception that we get from trying to understand the Old Testament without relying on God for guidance.
Punishment is motivated by anger. When little Naomi is born to an alcoholic father who beats her, God is not punishing Naomi with some generational curse. He isn’t angry at Naomi because Naomi isn’t trying to defy Him. The fact that God has placed Naomi in an abusive home does not at all mean that He loves her less or that He is holding some grudge against her. When we think like this, we get all bogged down in needless guilt and in the utterly useless ritual of trying to confess other people’s sins for them.
God intentionally brings trials into every life. Early life trials are about laying the groundwork for future growth. While we are focused on today, God is looking at the big picture and using trials to steer us down certain roads and give us the kinds of issues that He wants us to have in order to shape our future development. Getting beat up by your father is going to give you a different set of issues than being traumatized by almost drowning in a pool. Every human has issues, fears, and insecurities, and the form those things come in are largely shaped by our experiences as children. Since God did not create you to be the clone of someone else, He is going to handle you differently than He does that other person. Before you decide that God is shoving you away in anger, you need to ask Him to help you properly interpret His actions in your life (see It’s Personal: Understanding the Divine Perspective of Trials).
Here in Amos 2, Yahweh is very angry with the folks who are currently living in Israel, but He’s angry at them because of their own soul choices, not because of the choices their ancestors made centuries before. This will becomes clear when we keep reading. Whenever you’re trying to understand something Yahweh or Jesus is saying in the Bible, make sure you’re reading Their entire speech and not just focusing on a few lines. Our Gods are very good at clearly specifying why They are angry with people. In the few places where They’re not clear, you can be sure that the issue is one of wrong soul attitudes.
This is what Yahweh says: “I will not relent from punishing Israel for three crimes, even four, because they sell a righteous person for silver and a needy person for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the poor on the dust of the ground and block the path of the needy. A man and his father have sexual relations with the same girl, profaning My holy Name. They stretch out beside every altar on garments taken as collateral, and in the house of their God, they drink wine obtained through fines.” (Amos 2:6-8)
Don’t get focused on the specific behaviors Yahweh lists, because the behaviors themselves aren’t the issue—it’s the soul attitudes behind them. Yahweh is describing people who are informed about what He wants, yet they are proudly flaunting their defiance of His Authority by intentionally doing the things He says are wrong. This isn’t a case of folks stumbling into temptations that they just can’t resist. Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the Ones who supply humans with the resources they need to not sin, and those resources constantly change. One man isn’t given the self-control he needs to not get drunk—another man is. As an outside observer, you can’t tell how much empowerment each man has, but God can, which is why God is the only One who can judge fairly. When both men get plastered, God responds to each of them differently based on the resources He gave them and the soul choices that they made (see Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy).
Because Yahweh is such a gracious Sweetheart, you can be sure that whenever He’s angry at someone, it’s because that person has all of the resources they need to honor God, yet they are refusing to do so. Yahweh never reams people out for doing things that He knows they can’t help doing. These Israelites in Amos 2 know who Yahweh is and they hate Him. Their rejection of Him is very personal, and Yahweh is responding to it in that way. After calling them out on their bad attitudes, He now reminds them of how richly He blessed Israel from the beginning. The Promised Land was already occupied when the Jews reached it, and the people who lived there were too strong for them to defeat. But Yahweh gave them miraculous victories in battle over and over again. Before that, He rescued the Hebrew slaves from oppression in Egypt and kept them well provided for through forty years in a desert. He gave them personal guidance through prophets like Moses and Samuel. And while these are all historical facts, what is Yahweh’s point in going over them? Well, He’s talking like the husband who says to his wife, “Even though I was faithful to you all of these years, you went and cheated on me.”
Jewish culture was very group minded. The Jews put enormous importance on the welfare of their nation as a whole, and they viewed the whole community as being more important than each individual member of that community. Since He is talking to people who think like this, Yahweh often speaks of all Israelites as a single community, and He frequently reviews that community’s history with Him. The bottom line is always the same: while He was faithful to Israel, she ditched Him.
“Yet I destroyed the Amorites as Israel advanced; his height was like the cedars, and he was as sturdy as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. And I brought you from the land of Egypt and led you for forty years in the wilderness so that you could possess the land of the Amorites. I raised up some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as Nazirites. Is this not the case, Israelites?” This is Yahweh’s declaration. (Amos 2:9-11)
Today many people view Catholic nuns and monks as being people who are extra committed to God. Even though this is often not the case, it’s a stereotype that sticks. We see people living a different way of life that is filled with religious rituals and we think, “Wow, they must really care about God.” Well, back in Moses’ day, Yahweh came up with a special set of laws that men or women could volunteer to live by in order to publicly express their desire to please God.
Yahweh said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites: ‘If men or women want to promise to belong to Yahweh in a special way, they will be called Nazirites.’” (Num. 6:1-2)
What was so cool about the Nazirite laws was that anyone could participate. To work as a priest in the Temple, you had to be a man, you had to have the right bloodlines, and you had to be within a specific age range. But when it came to prophets, Yahweh called on both men and women to speak for Him. And when it came to being a Nazirite, you didn’t have to receive some special message from Yahweh that you would need to pass on. Being a Nazirite gave any Yahweh follower the chance to say, “God, You are so important to me and I want to express my great love for You in some public way.” For a sincere believer who was just bursting with zeal for God, being a Nazirite was very satisfying.
Now in Israel’s wine guzzling culture, one of the things that really set the Nazirites apart was that they didn’t drink any alcohol. This was one of the special rules Yahweh gave Nazirites to help them stand out. Well, when people hate God, they can’t stand being around serious believers. So in Amos’ Israel, Nazirites and prophets have become targets of bullying.
“But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy.’ So now I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain. The swift will not escape, the strong will not muster their strength, and the warrior will not save his life. The archer will not stand his ground, the fleet-footed soldier will not get away, and the horseman will not save his life. Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,” declares Yahweh. (Amos 2:13-16)
Getting stripped on the battlefield was the ultimate humiliation for Bible time warriors, so when Yahweh says that Israel’s buffest warriors are going to be fleeing naked, He’s describing a situation of total military defeat. At this point in history, we’re just a few decades away from the fall of the north: the time when Yahweh crushes the kingdom of Israel using the mighty Assyrian army. The Assyrians were big on humiliating their enemies through things like body shaving and stripping, and when they storm Israel’s borders, it’s going to be a very dark day for the Jews. But then again, it’s not like Yahweh hasn’t given these people countless chances to repent, and it’s not like the Jews don’t know Who they’re messing with. So in this situation, your sympathy should be with God, not with snarky humans who are intentionally defying Him.
As we come to Chapter 3, Yahweh finishes His first batch of warnings like this:
“Hear this word, people of Israel! This is the word that Yahweh has spoken against you—against the whole family that I brought up out of Egypt: You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” (Amos 3:1-2)
When Yahweh calls Israel His chosen people, He’s not saying that they are the only ones He cares about. Instead, when you hear the word chosen, think of more information and more responsibility. Certainly Yahweh is talking to individual souls all over the world in Amos’ day. But what makes Israel different is that Yahweh introduced Himself to her in such a formal, big way.
Imagine the difference between Jesus suddenly appearing in front of you when you’re alone in bed one night, versus Jesus suddenly appearing in the middle of your nation’s capital. The first situation is personal and private. The second situation is very public and it ends up being broadcasted to all of the people in your country, as well as throughout the world. This second, very public sighting is how Yahweh introduced Himself to the Jews. He put on grand performances. He addressed the entire lot of them through prophets like Moses and Samuel. And as exciting as all this was, it also caused the Jews to become extra accountable to God.
The more you know, the harsher you are judged: this is how it works in the world of spiritual illumination. Because the entire nation of Israel has a long history of interacting with Yahweh as a whole community, the whole community is now in big trouble for defying Him. It is much worse for the Jews than it would be for folks who had never heard of Yahweh, so before you start feeling envious about this chosen business, realize that this wasn’t just some joy ride. Being chosen has nothing to do with being extra loved or extra wanted—it’s about being given extra responsibility whether you want it or not. Israel didn’t choose to be chosen. Yahweh chose her, just as He chooses individuals out today for various tasks. Once God drops some assignment in your lap, you are forced to respond to His command with obedience or rebellion. You no longer have the option to just coast along as you were. Instead, God has pinned you into a corner where you are being forced to make a choice which can greatly affect your future. It’s always a sobering thing when God speaks, and this is a good thing to remember the next time you’re feeling jealous of some other soul who can’t stop yammering on about his or her “calling”. Being called by God for any reason is a great responsibility, and souls who don’t take that responsibility seriously because they’re too busy boasting about being special are going to end up in a major mess (see Being Called by God: The Responsibility & The Risk).
In Amos 3, Yahweh is saying, “Israel, of all the nations of the world, you have received extra information about who I am and what I want. Because I have given you the privilege of receiving so much direct revelation about Me, I am now extra mad at you for squandering that privilege. After all I have done for you, your unceasing rebellion is inexcusable, so I am going to destroy you.”
Now since the original Hebrew manuscripts didn’t use quotation marks, it can sometimes be quite tricky to tell who is talking. In the prophetic books, prophets often interject their own thoughts between messages from Yahweh. This plus the fact that Yahweh often speaks of Himself in the third person often makes things confusing. John 3:16 is a fabulous example of how confusing things can get. Who said John 3:16—was it Jesus or John? It’s unclear, which is why some translations will highlight that verse in red and enclose it in quotes, while others show it as part of John’s narrative. Does it matter? Yes. There’s a big difference between God saying something and a human just sharing his own musings. But then again, just because someone is quoting God in the Bible doesn’t mean that person is quoting Him correctly, so you always need to be asking God for wisdom as you read.
It is unclear who is talking in the next part of Amos 3. This is a creative little speech which emphasizes Yahweh’s sovereignty. Since Yahweh loves to remind humans that His control over this world is absolute, this could easily be Yahweh talking. Or it could be the prophet Amos reminding his fellow Jews of God’s sovereignty. Either way, this speech serves as yet another reminder that God is intimately associated with what humans call “evil.” Bad things don’t just happen to us—God makes them happen, and to pretend that He doesn’t is utterly absurd.
Do two people walk together unless they have agreed to do so? Does a lion roar in the thicket when it has no prey? Does it growl in its den when it has caught nothing? Does a bird swoop down to a trap on the ground when no bait is there? Does a trap spring up from the ground if it has not caught anything? When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not Yahweh caused it? (Amos 3:3-6)
After listing off a bunch of very obvious cause-and-effect relationships, Amos concludes by saying, “When disaster strikes a city, obviously it was Yahweh who caused it.” Well, yes, it is obvious. It’s obvious because Yahweh says He is in total control of this world, not in partial control, and that leaves no room for coincidences, accidents, or created beings pulling off stunts behind God’s back which He does not approve of. So while the New Testament writers and the Church today will often say that Satan is the ruler of this world, no, he really isn’t. Trying to focus your blame on demons and people when bad things happen is just a copout. If you really want to know who is responsible for your troubles, you need to look at the Gods who are holding all of our molecules in place. Everything originates from the true Gods: this is what Yahweh teaches, and the sooner we stop trying to downplay God’s sovereignty, the better off we’ll be (see God’s Absolute Sovereignty: Essential Theology).
Surely the Sovereign Yahweh does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets. The lion has roared— who will not fear? The Sovereign Yahweh has spoken— who can but prophesy? (Amos 3:7-8)
Given the absurdity of this claim, it is best ascribed to Amos. Since when does Yahweh give humans a heads up before He makes a move? Amos is being utterly ridiculous here and grossly misrepresenting the prophetic calling. In real life, God’s prophets don’t come close to having the volume of understanding that Amos suggests, nor does God feel any obligation to give His prophets a heads up before He does something.
Any insights about the future which God gives us should be treated as both a great privilege and a sober responsibility. God doesn’t tell us the future just to entertain us. When God prophesies negative events like the end times, He is giving us help with spiritually preparing to stay in alignment with Him during difficult times (see Your End Times Faith Crisis: Staying Aligned with a Scary God). Anyone who tries to monetarily or socially profit off of future information from God is acting like a total fool. Trying to use God to promote yourself in this world is guaranteed to land you on the wrong side of His wrath. While the Church revels in gross materialism by producing and selling an endless stream of end time products, you need to realize what a dangerous game it is to make such a mockery out of the concept of Divine prophecy (see Identifying False Prophecy About the End Times).
Continuing on in Amos 3, Yahweh calls out to two of Israel’s neighbors—Philistia and Egypt—to witness the destruction that He’s going to bring on Israel. This is about God flaunting His power and justice—He’s not implying that Philistia and Egypt are in a better spiritual place than Israel. But there are many ways for God to motivate souls to obey Him, and flaunting His punishment of rebels is one method He’s used from the beginning.
Announce this to the leaders of Philistia and to the great ones of Egypt: “Take your seats now on the hills around Samaria, and witness the chaos and oppression in Israel. My people have forgotten how to do right,” says Yahweh. “Their fortresses are filled with wealth taken by theft and violence. Therefore,” says the Sovereign Yahweh, “an enemy is coming! He will surround them and shatter their defenses. Then he will plunder all their fortresses.” (Amos 3:9-11)
Samaria is the capital city of northern Israel, and Damascus is the capital of Israel’s neighbor Syria. Yahweh is going to hand both of these nations over to the Assyrians, and He now makes it clear that there won’t be many who survive that epic military attack.
This is what Yahweh says: “A shepherd who tries to rescue a sheep from a lion’s mouth will recover only two legs or a piece of an ear. So it will be for the Israelites in Samaria lying on luxurious beds, and for the people of Damascus reclining on couches.” (Amos 3:12)
During the reign of Solomon, Israel totally turned her back on Yahweh and began worshiping a whole pantheon of false gods. After building his famous Temple for Yahweh in Jerusalem, Solomon went on to construct many other shrines to false gods as well, because the man was a spiritual dingdong. Yahweh was so ticked by Israel’s betrayal—and especially the treachery of Solomon—that He smashed the nation into two warring kingdoms after Solomon’s death. Because the Temple was located in the south, the north was left without any central worship site for Yahweh. The first king of the north was a twerp named Jeroboam and he was quite anxious that his newly acquired kingdom wouldn’t last long unless he created some new worship site which would cause his people to lose interest in visiting Yahweh’s Temple in Jerusalem. So Jeroboam had two large golden calves constructed and he announced that those lifeless lumps of metal were the “gods” who rescued the Jews from bondage in Egypt. And after giving his golden monstrosities all of the glory for the things Yahweh had done for Israel, Jeroboam set one cow up in the city of Bethel and another one in the city of Dan. These two cities were spread out in his kingdom, which gave the people easy access to a cow god. As you might imagine, Yahweh was more than a little irked by Jeroboam’s defiance, especially when Yahweh had just handed the man a whole kingdom. In the middle of a grand celebration for one of the cows, Yahweh sent a prophet in to tell nasty Jeroboam that one day Israel was going to be utterly destroyed because she’d had the audacity to betray Yahweh in such a public way. Now, 200 years later, Yahweh is about to fulfill that prophecy. He now makes it clear that when Israel goes down, the cows will as well. And yes, 200 years later, Jeroboam’s two cow gods are still being worshiped in the north while Solomon’s temples to false gods are still being used in the south. Ancient Israel was everything that we don’t want to be (see Treachery & Wrath: Lessons Learned from King Jeroboam).
“Now listen to this, and announce it throughout all Israel,” says Yahweh, the God of Heaven’s Armies. “On the very day I punish Israel for its sins, I will destroy the pagan altars at Bethel. The horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground. And I will destroy the beautiful homes of the wealthy— their winter mansions and their summer houses, too— all their palaces filled with ivory,” says Yahweh. (Amos 3:13-15)
Now in America, when you want to get someone really mad at you, you start making derogatory cracks about their mother. Saying, “Your mama is a fat cow,” is a great way to get the fists flying. Of course you don’t have to stick to mama jokes. Likening people to dogs, cows, and pigs is another winner. Well, in ancient Israel, they also enjoyed insulting each other in these ways. When Yahweh is talking to Jews, He talks like a Jew, and as we begin Amos 4, we find Yahweh calling the Jews in the north a bunch of fat cows. Bashan was the name of a particularly fertile region in the north. Good grasslands result in nice, fat animals. So when Yahweh calls the rich women living in Israel’s capital “cows of Bashan”, He’s using the ancient Jewish lingo to say, “You wealthy, self-centered women are a bunch of fat cows!” You can forget about “speaking the truth in love.” When our Gods are angry, They feel no need to be polite with Their language.
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
The Sovereign Yahweh has sworn by His holiness: “The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks. You will each go straight out through breaches in the wall, and you will be cast out toward Harmon,” declares Yahweh. “Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings— boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,” declares the Sovereign Yahweh. (Amos 4:1-5)
The meaning of Harmon is unknown, and several translations alter the original Hebrew word to be something more familiar. But this is the advantage of studying context: you don’t need to understand every single word to get the idea. By the time Yahweh is calling Jewish women a bunch of fat cows who oppress the poor and worship idols, we know that being “cast out toward Harmon” is a form of Divine punishment, which means that it’s all bad.
When Yahweh speaks through prophets, His messages get passed around both inside of ancient Israel and beyond her borders. Then He makes sure some of them are preserved for us to read today, even though we’re living thousands of years after Amos. Once you understand how intentionally Yahweh is circulating and preserving these messages, you can appreciate how He is helping us all get an accurate understanding of His Character by describing all of the things He’s done to motivate stubborn souls to repent. He could just preserve the parts of this speech where He calls people fat cows and talks about trashing them in hideous ways. Those sections certainly help us understand how real God’s wrath is, but they can also cause us to worry that Yahweh is the kind of God who is swift to anger and very impatient with our shenanigans. To help us gain a correct view of His wrath, Yahweh doesn’t just preserve the parts where He’s describing the kinds of punishments He’s going to dole out. He also preserves sections where He describes some of the miraculous things He did to get the Jews’ attention. When we see God toying with the weather and messing up crops season after season, we start to appreciate how much time He’s been giving these rebels to repent. We also realize that He doesn’t just walk away from us the moment we get attitudinal with Him. Instead, He remains intimately involved in our lives, and creates new kinds of trials which will motivate us to return to Him. When we see God going to such lengths to drive people back to Him, it demonstrates how real His love and desire for us is.
“I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to Me,” declares Yahweh.
“I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up. People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to Me,” declares Yahweh.
“Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, destroying them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to Me,” declares Yahweh.
“I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to Me,” declares Yahweh.
“I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to Me,” declares Yahweh.
“Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, Israel, prepare to meet your God.” (Amos 4:6-12)
That last line of “prepare to meet your God” becomes quite chilling when we read it in its original context. The many forms of disciplinary trials that Yahweh describes here would take a lot of time to unfold. And indeed, the northern kingdom has been given 200 years to clean up her act. But instead of smashing her stupid cow gods to powder and returning to Yahweh, these Israelites have decided to remain impossibly stubborn. It was in the north that the prophets Elijah, Elisha, and many others lived and preached. Over the years, Yahweh has given these people a ton of chances to repent. Generation after generation, He has been calling souls to repent, pouring on the problems, and sending in prophets to amplify His convictions. But no one is responding, and now time is finally running out. Israel is going to go down, and the prophet Amos closes this chapter by personally marveling at the awesomeness of Yahweh.
He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals His thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— Yahweh God Almighty is His Name. (Amos 4:13)
How insane is it to defy a Being as powerful as Yahweh? There is nothing more foolish than for humans to try and war against their own Creators, and yet this is the path most of us have chosen since the beginning of this Creation and we’re continuing to choose it today. You can’t stop other people from heading down the road of spiritual suicide, but you certainly don’t have to follow their lead. If we sincerely ask Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to have Their way with us and to make us pleasing in Their sight, They will honor our request. When we hold nothing back in our submission to the true Gods, They respond by drawing us close to Them and keeping us on the path that They know is best for our souls.
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Know Your Bible Lesson 19: More Kings & the Prophet Amos