We have finished working through the book of Amos passage by passage, and we need to take a week to look at the structure and message of the book as a whole. Next week, Lord willing, we will come to some detailed applications.
“Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel . . .” (Amos 5:1).
Structure and Overview of the Text
Our text is the first verse in the passage that serves as the center of the seven-fold chiasm which is the entire book. Since many of passages that make up the segments of this chiasm are chiasms themselves, we have something of a “Russian doll” situation.
a coming judgment on Israel and her neighbors (1:1-2:16)
b the prophet is compelled to announce the destruction of Israel and the shrine at Bethel (3:1-15)
d a call for repentance and a lament for Israel (5:1-17)
b’ the prophet is compelled to announce visions of judgment, and the coming destruction of the shrine at Bethel (7:1-8:3)
There are two things to do here. The first is to realize that there are many more parallels within these sections beyond the broader themes laid out above. For example, take the third and the third from last sections. Cows of Bashan are in the mountain of Samaria (4:1); there are those who feed secure in the mountain of Samaria (6:1). These wealthy women drink idly (4:1); these wealthy men drink wine (6:6). The women will go into exile toward Harmon (4:2); these men will be first into exile beyond Damascus (5:27). Empty religious activities are depicted (4:4-5); empty religious activities are depicted (5:21-25). Israel loves it this way (4:5); Yahweh hates it this way (5:21). The coming judgment will turn morning into darkness (4:13); the day of Yahweh will be darkness and not light (5:18, 20). What this means (among many other things) is that this jeremiad is not a blind rant; it is a well- crafted poetic tour de force.
The second thing to remember would be the structured themes found in the whole thing:
a seven-fold chiasm: call to repentance and lament (1:1-2:16)
b seven-fold chiasm: Israel does not know how to do right (3:1-15)
d despite lack of repentance: a seven-fold hymn to Yahweh’ power (5:1-17)
Remember the Two Great Themes
False living begins in false worship. If a man worships at Dan, or Bethel, or Gilgal, or Beersheba, instead of worshipping faithfully at Jerusalem, then the necessary result will be false living. That false living will work its way out, necessarily, into cruelty and hardness of heart. Self-serving wealth can do nothing but try to squeeze more out of others. So the two great sins condemned in the book of Amos are syncretistic worship, golden calf worship, and the necessary consequence, which is opulent violence against the needy.
A Prophet, Not a Partisan
Amos could have been taken an ambassador for Judah, which had her own sins. Amos could have been seen as carrying water for Assyria, which was to be the instrument of the judgment that he declared. Amos could have allowed himself to be dragged down into the factionalism that exists in every prosperous era. But he did not. Not only did he insist that the northern kingdom not dilute its worship by going to various shrines, he refused to dilute his message by coming from “various perspectives.” He came with the law of God, and the revealed word of God that had come to him, and he spoke to the sins of Israel that were plain, lying right there on the surface, and therefore undeniable. And that is why he was told to go—as prophets always are.
C.S. Lewis remarks somewhere that courage is not a separate virtue, but is rather the testing point of all the virtues. If a man is honest only so long as it does not cost him, then he is not honest. The only thing that will protect his honesty is courage. Amos was a courageous prophet, and was unwilling to bend simply because there was a consensus that he ought to. But at the same time, we have to be careful not to affirm the consequent. Courageous prophets will not bend, and neither will mule-headed stubborn men.
The Lure of Wealth
We will have to consider this in more detail as we make application to our circumstances, but it is crucial that we see the problem with the wealthy in the book of Amos. They were condemned because they worshipped the golden calves, not because they had the gold out of which those calves can be made. Compare the riches of those lolling around on ivory beds with the riches of a farmer whose plowman is catching up with his harvesters. What is the issue? What is the difference?
Two Kinds of Light
In the book of Amos, we find two different kinds of light. Picture it this way. If the day is dark gray and overcast, and terrible storms are coming, we still know that if we go high enough above the clouds, the sun is still shining bright. That is what Amos is doing in his periodic hymns of praise to Yahweh. However dark it is here and now, the prophet knows (and sings) that God remains on the throne. The sun is not ever buffeted by the winds.
Because this is true, it is possible for Amos to predict, in the last few verses of the book, that the storm will blow over and that the sun will appear here. A glorious future will come to Israel after the storm. Think of it as Calvinism in current afflictions, and Calvinism looking forward to future glory. Because God is the God of storms now, He will be the God of endless sun, where sorrow and mourning have fled away, and every tear has been wiped from our eyes.