When we come to chapter seven of Amos, we shift from poetry to prose, from woe-oracles to narrative. The theme and the message are the same as throughout the rest of the book, but the form in which it comes is quite different. In the first six chapters, Yahweh has been the main speaker; now the main speaker is Amos himself.
“Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me; and, behold . . .” (Amos 7:1-8:3).
In this section, there are four vision reports (7:1-3; 4-6; 7-9; 8:1-3). The first three vision reports are given, and then the flow is interrupted with a narrative of how Israel officially responded to the ministry of Amos, which was not well. After this, the last vision is given, and with a striking and ominous pun.
The first vision is that of a swarm of locusts which devasates Israel. Amos is appalled and intercedes, and so the Lord relents (vv. 1-3). The second vision is that of a great fire that completely parches everything. Amos intercedes again, and again the Lord repents (vv. 4-6). The third vision comes, which is that of the Lord standing on a wall holding a plumbline (vv. 7-9). The Lord is the Lord, Israel is the tilting wall, and Amos is the plumbline. The Lord will relent no longer—that wall has to come down. The high places will be made desolate.
After the first three visions, Amaziah, priest at Bethel, tries to rid himself of Amos. First, he tries to get the king to take action, accusing Amos of sedition and conspiracy (vv. 10-11). That doesn’t work, and so Amaziah turns to cunning. Go home and prophesy there (v. 12). But stop prophesying in Bethel, for it is the king’s chapel and court (v. 13). Amos refuses because it was not his idea to become a prophet (vv. 14-15). And then, Amos makes it even more personal, prophesying straight back at Amaziah, and with full consciousness of what he is doing (v. 16). Thus saith the Lord: your wife will become a whore in the city, your sons and daughters will be slaughtered by the sword, your land parceled out, you will die in a polluted land and Israel will go into exile (v. 17). You thought the land could not bear up under my words before?
Then Amos is shown the fourth vision, a basket of ripe fruit (8:1). There is a close pun between this summer fruit, w hich represent harvest judgment, and the word for end, which God uses in v. 2, promising that He will not relent as He did in the first two visions. No more. The end will come. The word for summer fruit is qayis, and the word for end is qes. At the end the music of the temple will be turned into howling. There will be dead bodies everywhere, and there will be silence.
For He is Small
In the first two visions, Amos takes up a prayer on Israel’s behalf, but note carefully how he pleads. He says, twice, that God should relent because Jacob is small (vv. 2,5). But Israel has incurred judgment precisely because she does not know this, or has forgotten it. Throughout this book, Israel has been preening herself over her wealth, her privilege, her status, her security. But Amos sees how vulnerable she is and pleads that way—Lord God, Jacob is small. “Lord God of hosts, have mercy on the United States for we are tiny.” The fact that such a plea would stick in our throats reveals a large part of our problem—the same, incidentally, as Israel’s.
Blood and Lies
The enemy of our souls hates us, and consistently deploys two weapons against us. The first is overt persecution. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, takes a quote from Amos and sends it off to Jeroboam II, accusing Amos of disturbing the peace with his conspiracy, his sedition, his lack of decent patriotism. The land is not able to bear up underneath his hate crimes. Amos prophesies jagged things; he does not know how to get along at court, or in ecclesiastical palaces, which everyone knows is by prophesying smooth things. From what we can see in the text, this didn’t work—Jeroboam doesn’t do anything.
So Amaziah moves on to lies. Many Christians who would be valiant in the face of an open threat, straight up the middle, are far too gullible when it comes to the cunning of our adversary. “Thus and so.” “Really?” What lies does Amaziah, priest of Bethel, try to pass off on to Amos? This is quite apart from the lie he told the king about Amos. The prophet was not being seditious by calling the king and the nation to repentance. If that is sedition, then the gospel is always sedition. And, of course, apart from repentance, it is understood to be sedition. But the statement that the land could not bear Amos’ words was a straight-up lie. What the land really couldn’t bear was the coming judgment fromGod.
The five lies of Amaziah to Amos were these: First, he tells him to go, as if he were at liberty to go (v. 12). Second, he tells him to flee, as though the only way to protect himself from harm was by running away (v. 12). Third, he tells him that he will have a good living at home in Judah. There he can eat his bread safely (v. 12), and make a decent living. Fourth, Azariah was a decent king in Judah and so prophets of Yahweh are welcome there, and can prophesy there, with emphasis on the there. If Amos says that he must be a prophet, then the reply is that he can be a prophet someplace else. Amaziah even calls Amos a seer, granting the point of his office. But not a seer for these parts. And fifth, whatever you do, don’t prophesy in Bethel because this is a religious establishment that answers to the king (v. 13). It is not surprising that kings love to meddle with the Church. What is surprising is that the Church sometimes loves this as well.
For the Healing of the Nations
Throughout this book, we have been hammering at the two central problems that Israel had—corrupt worship and a high-handed opulence that was grinding the poor. You always become like the god you worship (Ps. 115), and so if you worship a calf made of gold, you will become hard, cold and metallic yourself, not to mention deaf, dumb and blind.
But you do not avoid false worship by “avoiding false worship.” You can only avoid false worship by worshipping God in spirit and in truth. The water for the healing of the nations (which includes the healing of their economic woes) is water which flows over the threshold of the new temple, and it gets deeper and deeper. And so again, with these two elements, we must guard against two errors. One says that the “important thing here is water,” and so we shouldn’t mind if it flows from Bethel, Dan, Gilgal, and Jerusalem. The other says that we have to keep the water pure and holy, so we dam it up behind the walls of Jerusalem.