Our study continues with chapters 4 and 5. The last time we saw that the Lord had worked up a fine head of steam in presenting His indictment of the Northern Kingdom. He’s far from finished.
Israel Has Not Returned to God
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
The Sovereign LORD has sworn by his holiness: “The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks. You will each go straight out through breaks in the wall, and you will be cast out toward Harmon,” declares the LORD(Amos 4:1-3).
The cows of Bashan were the premier breed of cattle in the land. With biting sarcasm the Lord compared the upper class women of the North to these pampered cattle. Contrasting His Holiness with their haughtiness, He warned them of the coming disaster. The Assyrians typically led their captives off with ropes attached to rings in their noses or lips. In the same way these highborn women would be brought low.
“Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings— boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,” declares the Sovereign LORD. (Amos 4:4-5)
Bethel and Gilgal were worship centers of the North, but not for giving thanks to God. The sacrifices and offerings brought there were given to the idols that had been set up in violation of the commandments. Leavened bread was only permitted at Pentecost, and bragging about the money and goods they gave was likewise prohibited. The Northern kingdom had become prosperous and powerful, and the One who had made them so had been abandoned in favor of powerless, man made gods.
“I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. “I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up. People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.
“Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, I struck them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.
“I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.
“I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD (Amos 4:5-11).
Before the Lord brought His people out of the desert and into the Promised Land, he had Moses give them a clear warning against forgetting Him. He said if they didn’t remember it was He who had blessed them, and began attributing their prosperity to other gods, or to their own abilities, He would take it all away.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.
You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed (Deut 8:10-11, 17-19).
I believe the Lord often calls us first with blessing, hoping that we’ll realize just who’s responsible for our well-being and give credit where credit is due. But if that doesn’t do the trick, He’ll begin withdrawing the very blessings He brought us. Where before we couldn’t fail, now it seems we can’t win. Where everything used to work in our favor, now it’s like we can’t get a decent break. His desire is that maybe, having been divested of everything including our pride, we’ll turn to Him.
But the Israelites had responded to neither, even though His withdrawal of blessing was obviously not mere chance. There was no option left but judgment.
“Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.” He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, he who turns dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of the earth—the LORD God Almighty is his name (Amos 4:12-13).
A Lament and Call to Repentance
Hear this word, O house of Israel, this lament I take up concerning you: “Fallen is Virgin Israel, never to rise again, deserted in her own land, with no one to lift her up.”
This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “The city that marches out a thousand strong for Israel will have only a hundred left; the town that marches out a hundred strong will have only ten left.”
This is what the LORD says to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.” (Amos 5:1-5)
The Northern Kingdom received none of the reassurances that the Lord would later give the South. While Judah would return and rebuild after 70 years in captivity, Israel would disappear, never to rise again. At the time of the division of the kingdom, all the Levites and the faithful of every other northern tribe relocated to the south, leaving only the apostates in the north (2 Chron. 11:14-16). But even though they had rejected Him, He still pleaded with them to turn away from their pagan worship, warning that their refusal would result in 90% of them being lost.
Seek the LORD and live, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire; it will devour, and Bethel will have no one to quench it. You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground (he who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns blackness into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land— the LORD is his name- he flashes destruction on the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin), you hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth. (Amos 5:6-10)
One of the reasons today’s unbelieving world is so adamantly opposed to the Judeo-Christian view is that deep down inside they know it’s the truth. It’s just too obvious to be denied (Romans 1:18-20). That’s why God thinks of unbelievers as being disobedient. It’s not that they can’t believe, it’s that they won’t believe. Every alternative to God that man has proposed over the centuries has been proven false, and they know it. If they were really secure in their denial of the existence of God, their feelings toward believers wouldn’t be anger but pity, as for one who’s been deluded. They’re angry because while they desperately want to be right, at the sub-conscious level they know they aren’t. And they hate us because they know we are. Like the apostates of the Northern Kingdom they despise those who tell the truth.
You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil. Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.
Therefore this is what the Lord, the LORD God Almighty, says: “There will be wailing in all the streets and cries of anguish in every public square. The farmers will be summoned to weep and the mourners to wail. There will be wailing in all the vineyards, for I will pass through your midst,” says the LORD. (Amos 5:11-17)
The Lord had solid evidence against them, and advised them not to waste any time denying it, but instead to begin immediately acting in a manner pleasing to Him. Maybe that would ease His wrath against those who admitted their guilt and voluntarily changed their ways. That was good advice for them. For us the best advice is to make sure we’ve claimed the pardon the Lord purchased for each one of us. Jesus said, “Everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds, and to he who knocks the door will be opened”(Matt. 7:8). But this won’t last forever. Hebrews 4:7 warns us, “Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts.” If you haven’t already done so, the time to ask is now.
Joseph was the father of Ephraim and Manasseh, whose combined territories made up a substantial portion of the Northern Kingdom. The remnant of Joseph is the term the Lord used for those few He would spare from defeat and captivity.
Speaking of this time, the Lord had earlier said to King Solomon,
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:13-14)
But they had forgotten His admonition. Now nothing they did could completely deter the Lord’s judgment against them. Their rebellion had gone on for too long and their behavior could no longer be tolerated. This promise, which God meant for them, could not deflect the judgment that was due them. How can we believe it will deflect the judgment that’s due us, when the promise is not even meant for us?
The Day of the LORD
Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light — pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? (Amos 5:18-20)
With the double vision common to prophets, Amos described both the terror the Israelites would soon feel at the hand of the Assyrian armies and that which would befall the people of Earth at the End of the Age. Relentlessly attacked, without a moment’s rest even in their own homes, why would anyone wish to be part of a time like this?
“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. (Amos 5:21-23)
The audacity of some people! Sinning like there’s no tomorrow and then coming to Him like there’s no problem. Some were just going through the motions, others had themselves convinced they weren’t sinners. All were relying on their false gods and only paying lip service to the real One. They mistakenly thought that the works of their hands would mask the thoughts of their hearts.
Religion hasn’t changed much through the years has it? The only difference is that today He doesn’t bother telling us how much He detests it. He and His angels just don’t go to churches like that anymore.
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty. (Amos 5:24-27)
While they experienced drought, God reminded them of a never failing stream, one of justice and righteousness. In the wilderness they had been faithful to Him and He provided for them, bringing forth a lake full of fresh water from a rock in the desert, quail to eat, and bread from heaven. He gave them victories over vastly superior enemies and built their nation into a world power. But in spite of all that, the vast majority eventually made gods of their own and worshiped them, so He was sending them away.
In Isaiah 29:13 the Lord said, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” He was talking about the Israelites in the 8th Century BC. He might easily say the same thing about organized religion today. And if He judged their world then you may be certain He will judge ours now.