In this passage, we begin part way through chapter five, and continue on through the entirety of chapter six. Amos eloquently continues to hammer away at the two things that turn God’s stomach—false worship and an opulent, violent stupidity.
“Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! . . .” (Amos 5:18-6:14).
Structure and Overview of the Text:
Amos continues his prophetic denunciation of Israel in his characteristic fashion—a seven part chiasm, with a sevenfold woe at the center of it.
a. disaster is approaching (5:18-20)
b. things Yahweh hates (5:21-24). God despises their worship activity.
d. a woe is declared for seven kinds of sin (6:1-6).c’. threat of exile—glh, pun on Gilgal (6:7)
b’. things Yahweh hates (6:8-10). God detests the pride of Jacob
The false teaching at the false center of worship was that the day of the Lord would be good for them (v. 18). But Amos says that the day would be filled with bad surprises (vv. 19-20). Relief will bring no relief. God detests their cultic worship (v. 21). He can’t stand their sacrifices (v. 22). He has had it with their music ministry (v. 23). Rather, He wants judgment and righteousness like a river, a mighty river (v. 24). Israel struggled with this problem from the very beginning, from the time in the wilderness (vv. 25-26), as Stephen notes when he quotes this passage (Acts 7:38- 43). The result will be exile (v. 27).
The heart of the chiasm is the seven-fold woe—coming down on those who are, first, at ease in Zion and Samaria (6:1); second, who kid themselves about the evil day (v. 3); third, who sprawl on luxury furniture (v. 4); fourth, who eat luxury meats (v. 4); fifth, who jam on instruments like they were David (v. 5); sixth, who slam down wine from punch bowls (v. 6); seventh, who anoint themselves with refined oil (v. 6). They do all this not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Their problem was a moral stupidity that amounted to insanity.
They were to be led off into captivity (v. 7). God swears by Himself that He hates the pride of their palaces (v. 8). Even the few survivors will die (v. 9). A relative will come to bury them and will ask if any lived (v. 10). The answer is no, and they will be told not even to mention the Lord, a far cry from how we began this—with hypocrites desiring the day of the Lord (5:18). God is going to level the whole thing—the great houses and the little ones (v. 11). Rich and poor together will all be destroyed. The perversion of Israel’s justice into poisonous wormword is like running horses on rock and plowing the ocean with oxen (v. 12). So the lunacy of those who vaunt themselves over a bunch of nothing (v. 13). But God will raise up a nation against them, and Israel will be afflicted (v. 14).
Two Problems With Their Wealth:
This passage repeats and highlights one of the problems with Israel’s wealthy elite, and brings out another. The first problem is that they used the vulnerability of others to gain their wealth. We see this in the great statement of 5:24—judgment and righteousness need to flow as a river. This ruling elite “put away the evil day” and caused the “seat” (or throne) of “violence” to come near (6:3). They were getting their wealth from rip offs.
The second problem was their enjoyment of luxuries in a time and place where it was not fitting. When they should have been grieved for the affliction of Joseph (6:6), they instead gave themselves over to ostentatious and violent self-indulgence. The context determined the sin—we cannot condemn ivory beds per se, not unless in the next breath we also condemn couches, veal, musical instruments, wine, and anointing oil.
From the Wilderness On:
In Stephen’s trial, he defends himself with a long recital of Israel’s history, and he quotes and paraphrases from the Septuagint version of Amos, which causes some of the different readings. The gist, however, is the same. The people of Israel worshipped the golden calf made by Aaron (Acts 7:40-41). God gave them over to worship the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Remphan, with the resultant exile past Babylon (vv. 42-43). From the Hebrew text we have Moloch and Chiun, and exile past Damascus (5:26). The ancient prophets used to regularly misspell the names of idols as a way of taunting them, which is possibly how Chiun gradually became Remphan over the centuries. In 6:13, Amos deliberately misspells the name of the first of the towns reconquered in the TransJordan (2 Kings 14:28) so that it means “nothing.” According to ancient Mesopotamian texts, Chiun is another name for the planet Saturn. And Stephen rebukes their worship of the host of heaven, so this fits.
Although there is one reference to Zion here (6:1), Amos is assaulting a system of false worship, deliberately set up to compete with and supplant the true worship that God required in Jerusalem. Worship at Zion could be corrupted as well, but worship at Bethel, Dan, and Gilgal was corrupt of necessity.
Worship is a big deal. Our God is a consuming fire, and so we must worship Him with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12: 28-29). If God hates going to particular kinds of worship services, we have no business wanting to go. If God refuses to go, then why do we agree to go?
Because the children of Israel were prancing around with images, and had been doing so from the forty years in the wilderness on down, God was sick of them. They had images of false gods (Moloch and Saturn), and they had false images of the true God (golden calves as Aaron would have construed them). It does no good, incidentally, to try to make a distinction between images and idols because the word used here is images (5:26). We are not to bow down to any likeness. When worship is false this way, God hates it. When worship is false like this, God can’t stand the feast days, the solemn assemblies, the sacrificial offerings, the vocal music, or the instrumental music. He hates all of it, and the better it is, the worse it is. We are engaged in trying to recover the dignity of liturgical worship, and so if there is anyone who needs to keep this kind of thing in mind, it would be us.