In this next section, we are going to have to follow the way Amos arranged the unit, which, although it starts at verse 1, does not match the chapter divisions (vv. 1-17). This section is a chiasm, and again, not surprisingly, it is seven-fold.
“Hear ye this word which I take up against you, [even] a lamentation, O house of Israel . . .” (Amos 5:1-17).
Structure and Overview of the Text:
Amos begins this word has he has the previous two (3:1; 4:1), with the exhortation that the rebellious house of Israel needs to hear (v. 1).
a lamentation over the fall of Israel (vv. 1-3)
b call for repentance (vv. 4-6a). Amos tells Israel to seek and to live. He uses seven verbs in this exhortation.
c condemnation of injustice (vv. 6b-7)
d Yahweh His name! And on either side of this statement is a hymn to God’s power (vv. 8-9).
c’ condemnation of injustice (vv. 10-13)
b’ call for repentance (vv/ 14-15). Amos tells Israel to seek and to live. And again he uses seven verbs.
a’ coming lamentation (vv. 16-17)
So the center of this word is the nature and character of God. Hear the lamentation, O Israel (v. 1). The virgin Israel is fallen (v. 2). Their fate will be terrible—a reverse decimation (v. 3). God’s appeal to Israel is simple: seek God and live (v. 4). The corollary also follows—if Israel seeks God, then they will not seek Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba (v. 5). These false shrines will fail. Seek God and live (v. 6). A condemning fire is coming (v. 6), and will fall on those who pervert justice in the courts (v. 7). The first part of the hymn declares the power of God over the stars, day and night, and the oceans (v. 8). Yahweh is His name (v. 8b). The second part of the hymn is to the God who strengthens the victim (v. 9). Amos then condemns the injustice of those “justices”who hate the prophet and the preacher because they want to sin with a free hand (v. 10). They walk on the poor, but God sees it (v. 11). They rip off the poor in court, and God knows it (v. 12). Because they don’t like being rebuked, they charge the prudent with hate and thought crimes if they say anything (v. 13). Amos returns to his call for repentance—seek good and live (v. 14). Hate evil and love good (v. 15). Establish justice in the gate, and perhaps God will relent (v. 15). But that is not going to happen, and so lamentation is coming (vv. 16-17).
Bethel and Gilgal:
The theme of Amos is not the oppression of the poor by the rich. This is not a class warfare thing—all the oppressed in Samaria who are being mistreated by these fat cat scoundrels are also going to be destroyed by the Assyrians (v. 3). There is no liberation theology here, but there is justice as God defines it. The theme of this book is not the oppression of the poor by the rich—it is the oppression of the poor by the fat cat false worshippers. Bethel is mentioned seven times in Amos. He brings this issue of worship up again and again. The two Hebrew words for exile have g and l as the root, just like Gilgal, and so Amos puns their judgment. And Beth-el, House of God, is rejected as Beth-aven, House of Worthless Idolatry.
God invites Israel to seek Him and live (v. 4). Seek and live. The flip side of this is found in the next verse. Seek idols and die. Seek the right God under the wrong golden and calf-like forms and die (v. 5). But the exhoration is repeated again. Seek the Lord and live (v. 6). This is also emphasized by the chiasm—seek good, not evil, that you might live (v. 14). If America is to be pulled back from our idolatrous slow-motion disaster, then we will need to seek Him in order to live. It will not be sufficient if all Americans seek Him in the cubby-holes of their own hearts, while refusing to admit publicly what they are doing. No Savior, no salvation. No Jesus, no way.
The perverted justices hate any kind of challenge in the gate (v. 10), and so the prudent are threatened and kept in check (v. 13). This is described as an evil time. And so the prudent are stirred up—don’t let them dictate to you what you can say. Seek good, not evil (v. 14), and if you do then God will be with you. That means there is nothing to fear—not even a Canadian human rights commission. When God is with you, you are charged to hate evil and love good, and do so outside the recesses of your heart. We are charged to hate evil in the court system, and to love good in the court system—in the gate (v. 15). Ancient courts were held behind the city gates, and in rooms and alcoves in the region of the gate.
Yahweh His Name!:
Although Amos is concerned with the false worship established in the northern kingdom, Scripture elsewhere addresses the issue of iniquity trying to co-exist with “true” worship. So the problem of Bethel and Dan is not solved simply by heading south to Jerusalem. Remember, the Lord Jesus fiercely denounced the worship that was occurring there. Reformation is not accomplished in that way.
True worship is what occurs when we come to worship God, with all the externals established in true obedience, and all the internals lined up to match. Clean the inside of the cup, the Lord said, but He did not say that the outside was irrelevant. He said that then the outside would be clean also.
So who is the Lord, that we may worship Him? He is not to be trifled with, and He cannot be tied up with worthless interpretations of the First Amendment, or bottom-line profit and loss statements, or progressive tax policies. He is the Lord. He spoke the seven starts of the Pleiades into existence, and He holds Orion in the palm of His hand—and out there in the galaxies, they have never even heard of Justice Souter.
We worship the God of the galaxies, the God of day and night, the God of oceans and rain, and the God who rises up to defend the downcast.