A. The Price of Telling the Truth
Have you ever had to tell someone an unpleasant truth? Have you ever paid a price for telling the truth? Amos, the prophet who delivered the message of today’s lesson text, was a truth teller. He paid the price of ridicule, even direct repudiation (Amos 7:12, 13).
Telling the truth was dangerous in Amos’s world. Even today, a person with a message like Amos’s might be dismissed or killed. Yet what the world needs today are more people like Amos, willing to stand up for the truth when it is inconvenient or even dangerous.
Amos is often ignored in the contemporary church. This might be understandable if we had solved all the problems Amos talked about, but we haven’t. Maybe we ignore Amos today for the same reason people ignored him in his own time, he hit too close to home.
B. Lesson Background
Amos is one of what are often called the Minor Prophets. These prophets are not called minor because their books are insignificant. They are called minor because the books are relatively short. The Minor Prophets are collected in a group of 12 books that could be contained on a normal sized scroll. Amos is third on the list. Amos prophesied around 760 BC. He prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel, about 38years before it fell to Assyrian invaders. During the time of Amos’s preaching, Jeroboam II was king in that northern kingdom while Uzziah was king in the southern kingdom of Judah (Amos1:1). It appears that Amos prophesied around the same time as Hosea and Zechariah, perhaps a little before Isaiah and Micah. Those desiring to know more about those times should study 2 Kings 14:23-15:7 and 2 Chronicles 26.
Amos is, in certain respects, a rather unusual choice to deliver prophecy. First, Amos himself confessed that he was not a trained prophet, nor was he related to any prophet (Amos 7:14). In some places in the ancient world, there were schools for prophets, where groups of men studied under a prophet. Other places had a notion of succession; they believed that children of those who prophesied might well be prophets themselves. Amos had neither of these credentials. He was a simple farmer and shepherd. Yet God had written on Amos’s heart a message he could not suppress (Amos 7:15).
Second, Amos was from Tekoa, a small town about 20 miles south of Jerusalem (Amos 1:1, compare 2 Chronicles 11:6). That makes him a Judean, yet he was called to go northward from Judah to Israel. There was friction between the two nations, and the northern kingdom was quite resistant to a prophet from the south calling them to account (Amos 7:10-13). Yet God gave Amos a burden. Thus Amos had to speak up.
To the casual observer, it seemed that things in Israel were going quite well at the time. It was a time of general prosperity, and many had become quite wealthy. But Amos looked beneath the veneer and saw great social and religious corruption. The real picture was one of decadence (Amos 2:8; 4:1; 6:1-6), immorality (2:7), and worst of all idolatry (8:14).
In chapters 1 and 2, Amos indicts eight regions for their sins. These areas are Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab. Judah, and Israel. At the end of the book, chapters 7-9 relate certain visions that Amos received. They contain images of grasshoppers, fire, a plumb line, fruit, and God and the altar. All of these visions relate to Israel’s judgment.
In the middle of the book, chapters 3-6 appear to contain three sermons. Scholars have different methods by which to distinguish the three. One common method separates the sermons by the phrases “hear this word” and “hear ye this word” in Amos 3:1; 4:1; and 5:1. So the first sermon is chapter 3; it deals with the sinful affairs in Israel. The second sermon is chapter 4; it speaks of Israel’s past, sinful conduct. The third sermon is chapter 5; it warns of Israel’s punishment if they do not change.
Today’s lesson comes from this third sermon. This entire section of Amos 5:1-17 is also called a lament (see v. 1). The tone of the sermon in chapter 5 is set in verse 5. There Amos warned the people not to go to Bethel. Bethel was historic; it was the place where Jacob saw the vision of angels (Genesis 28:10-22). Nevertheless, Amos did not want the Israelites to go there because of corrupted worship in that place. People had turned Bethel into a substitute for Jerusalem. The worship in Bethel was blatantly idolatrous. This fact leads Amos to condemn Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba as a group. Amos looks for evidence of genuine worship in these places and finds none (compare Hosea 4:15; Amos 8:14).This condemnation continues through Amos 5:6.In verse 7 the concern switches from one of false religion to one of false justice. With the tone of the sermon now set, we break in at Amos 5:10.
I. Beware of Social Sins (Amos 5:10-15)
A. Indictment (vv. 10, 11)
10. They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.
We catch Amos in the middle of a strong indictment against the behavior of God’s people. This verse deals with a court situation because legal proceedings are held at the city gate. That is where many business and legal transactions take place. It is where the city elders meet (examples: Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Ruth 4:1-11).
Him that rebuketh is someone in authority who renders verdicts. Amos thus charges his listeners with being completely uninterested in justice and truth. In modern terminology we could say that people don’t want honest judges or witnesses (compare Proverbs 24:23-25; Isaiah 29:21).
11. For as much therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them.
The rich have robbed tire poor of their livelihood. Tying in with verse 10, the picture is of the rich abusing the court system to steal grain from the poor. There will be punishment! Though the rich may build fine houses, one day they will stand empty. Though the rich may plant vineyards, one day they will stand unpicked. The ancient curse of Deuteronomy 28:30 is about to be fulfilled! See question #1 page 350.
B. Warning (vv. 12, 13)
12. For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.
God’s anger is justified because the people have committed such injustice. One of the mighty sins is the rich giving bribes to those who pass judgment. Thus the rich use the court system to deprive the poor of their livelihood. If the legal system is corrupted so that those who can afford a bribe can get the outcome they want, then there is no hope for the poor. Denial of justice is specifically forbidden in the covenant (Exodus 23:1-8; Deuteronomy 16:18-20). The penalty for such denial is severe (see Isaiah 10:1-4; 29:20, 21).
TAKING A BRIBE
In the 1980s a major American city was hit by Operation Greylord, an effort to expose corruption among public officials. The facts disclosed were awesome and frightening. Corrupt lawyers conspired to request bribe money from their clients to pay off cooperative judges. In the corridors of the court building, courtroom personnel often bickered over the split of the bribes that were flowing into the judge’s chambers.
A young state’s attorney took $50 from misdemeanor defendants on the “understanding” that they would not be prosecuted vigorously. A secret FBI recording caught one judge requesting help from city politicians to get a different assignment, promising to help support the proposed political slate of new judges. One judge accepted $10,000 to acquit a man accused of assassinating a labor union official. Another judge was accused of “fixing” at least three murder trials. His payoffs were $4,000, $10,000, and $100,000.
By the time the investigation ended, ninety-two individuals were indicted. They consisted of seventeen judges, forty-eight lawyers, eight policemen, ten deputy sheriffs, eight court officials, and one member of the state legislature.
Amos would not have been surprised by such revelations. Even in his time, officials afflicted the just, accepted bribes, and denied the poor their rights. Amos calls these “manifold transgressions” and “mighty sins.” What do we call them?
13. Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.
This seems to be a strange verse at first glance. Aren’t we supposed to speak up when we see injustice and not keep silence? Amos is merely describing the situation as it exists at the time as he observes it. He is not recommending that people stay quiet, he himself certainly hasn’t! He is illustrating that things have become so corrupt that even sensible people are afraid to speak the truth. Things have become so bad that prudent people just keep quiet. They don’t want to make trouble for themselves. They live in a society that does not reward tellers of truth, it punishes them.
C. Plea (vv. 14, 15)
14. Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.
The people think that God is with them, but Amos points out that God is with them only if they decide to pursue good. Often in the Old Testament we see variations of the expression the Lord, the God of hosts, but we forget the impact. This host is an army, a heavenly army. God is its commander (1 Samuel 1:3, 11; Isaiah 37:16). Those who pervert justice have a powerful enemy!
15. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.
Not only are the people to pursue the good, they also are to hate the evil (compare Romans12:9). This suggests that the commitment to righteousness, while involving the behavior of the people, finds its source ultimately in the heart.The phrase remnant of Joseph hearkens back to Amos 5:6, which has “house of Joseph.”Joseph was father to Ephraim and Manasseh, after whom two of the twelve tribes are named (Joshua14:4). The dire predictions against the house of Joseph in verse 6 are balanced against a promise of hope. It’s not too late to repent!
II. Beware the Day of the Lord(Amos 5:16-20)
A. There Will Be Weeping (vv. 16, 17)
16. Therefore the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; Wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, Alas! Alas! And they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing.
Amos paints a word picture of a nation that will be in total despair. There will be wailing in the city streets as well as on the country roads. Everyone will cry out, from the city dweller to the simple farmer to the professional mourner (one who is skilful of fomentation to wailing).
17. And in all vineyards shall be wailing: for I will pass through thee, saith the Lord.
What makes the judgment all the more poignant is that the wailing will take place as God walks through their midst. Levitictis 26:6 speaks of what happens when people obey the Lord, it is a time when “neither shall the sword go through your land.” The case before us is just the opposite (Hosea 2:11). God now hates what the people have done in those days. God hates the very things the people think are pleasing to God. The people have made a mockery of God’s holy days.
22. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.
The opening chapters of Leviticus established various kinds of offerings. God himself is the author of what those offerings are to be and what they are to represent. Yet Amos says that these offerings have become completely unacceptable to God. God has not “canceled” the offerings in and of themselves in Amos’s day. Rather, it is improper motives and unholy lives of the people who offer false acts of worship that disgust God.
B. Insincere Songs (v. 23)
23. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.
Music is a vital part of Old Testament worship (Ezra 2:65; Psalm 150; etcetera.). Usually God delights in our music of praise but not if offered insincerely. Songs of praise that don’t match holiness in one’s life are so displeasing to the Lord that He demands they be removed from His presence. Many churches are struggling these days over styles of worship and music. While that concern is understandable, a greater concern should be the kind of person the music comes from rather than the kind of music that comes from the person.
C. Blessed Behavior (v. 24)
24. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.
This may well be the most familiar verse in the book of Amos. The great civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted it. The verse describes what God wants: justice and righteousness to permeate the land like a mighty stream bringing life-giving water to the people. Justice (judgment) most flow continually—day and night. Justice cannot be an intermittent, three times out of four, proposition.
A. Speak Up or Stay Silent?
Amos was not a professional prophet, he was not even a citizen of the northern kingdom of Israel. He might well have contented himself with pruning the fruit trees and watching sheep, but he could not keep silent. He chose to tell the people the truth, an unpopular truth at that.
The people’s complacency was exactly why they needed a prophet like Amos. Gary Smith says that Amos’s challenge was much like a doctor telling a patient he has a terminal disease. Sometimes people get angry with the messenger. Instead of being angry with the messenger, they need to take the cure. Amos did not just diagnose, he also prescribed. The problem is that the people did not want the prescription.
Amos drew a lot of attention when he came north. His activities were reported to the king himself (Amos 7:10-12). By coming north and condemning the worship in Bethel, he was coming to the center of idolatrous religion in the northern kingdom. Amos caught the ire of the lead priest at Bethel, who told Amos to go home and prophecy to his own people if he was determined to preach (Amos 7:12, 13).
We know that Amos’s prophecy was true, for history reveals Amos was right. We don’t know if Amos remained a prophet for the rest of his life or if he went back to farming. One thing is sure: his message has not been forgotten. Or has it?
Dear Father, help me to be concerned about the things that concern You. Help me to live in away that reflects my commitment to You. In my worship let not my rituals be isolated from my behavior and my devotion of the heart, in the name of Jesus, amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Repentance, not ritual. Commitment, not complacency.