There is a dramatic shift in the closing chapters of Amos’ prophecy. The final three chapters unveil five visions of judgment. Amos 7 contains the first three visions. The visions begin in verse 1 with the words, “This is what the Lord God showed me.”
Vision #1 — Locusts (1-3)
The first vision is an image of utter devastation. The timing of this plague is critical. The latter growth was the final harvest until the next season. The king has already taken his portion (likely as taxes) and so the harvest that is left is now reserved for the people. However, the judgment is a mass of locusts coming and wiping out the food for the people. Amos recognizes that this judgment is severe and that no one would survive. The people will die from starvation if the final harvest is destroyed by the locusts. The use of locusts was one of God’s tools of judgment as a warning for the nation of Israel if they broke the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:42). We have observed in our study of this prophecy the fiery nature of Amos’ words against the nation of Israel. But even at seeing this vision of judgment, Amos prays to God for his to not do this. Notice Amos’ words, “O Lord, God, please forgive!” Amos is calling for an act of pure grace. The people have not repented. There is no basis upon which Amos can make a plea to God because the people have not changed at all (which is the irony of this chapter as we will see as we progress through this chapter). Amos simply cries out, “Forgive,” depending completely on God. There is no reason for God to act. But notice what God does: “The Lord relented concerning this. ‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord.”
Vision #2 — Fire (4-6)
The second vision is similar to the first vision. The vision is of an all-encompassing, all-consuming fire upon the nation, devouring sea and land. Once again Amos surprisingly intercedes on behalf of the people of Israel, asking the Lord to relent. Once again there is no basis for God to relent of this judgment. There has been no change in the hearts of the people. Yet Amos begs for grace and the Lord relents of this judgment.
We must never underestimate the value of prayer and the intercessions of the righteous. As much as Amos is angry with these people for their sins, there is compassion for the souls of these people. His compassion for these people has led him to proclaim God’s word to them and his compassion has led him to intercede on their behalf. Intercession requires a love for the souls of the people. We must learn the value of intercession on behalf of others. We should see the power of our prayers in the hands of our God. God is influenced by our prayers. It is a truth that is difficult to see and perhaps even more difficult to accept. But the repeated message of the scriptures is that we have the ability to speak and influence the Almighty God. We can even ask for God to act graciously in the lives of others without basis or cause. What an amazing and compassionate God we serve! Israel was worthy of these judgments because of their sins. Yet Amos begs mercy and grace, and the Lord, without cause, relents. God is long-suffering and surprisingly patient. We must appreciate this in how we pray and treat others. God has been gracious and compassionate toward our great sinfulness. On that basis we must cry out to God to act similarly toward others because we love God’s creation and want their souls saved from the coming judgment.
Vision #3 — Plumb Line (7-9)
The third vision is of a plumb line. A plumb line is a standard by which a wall’s vertical trueness is tested. It determines if the wall is straight and in line, or if it is leaning. The plumb line is being set in Israel to determine its moral straightness. God exposes the true state of his people’s character and faithfulness to his covenant with the plumb line. It is a call to the people to measure up. God is going to test them for their moral uprightness. The plumb line is placed and God will not overlook or pass by the sins of the people any longer. God has overlooked the sins of Israel for hundreds of years. But this is no longer the case. It is time for judgment. The people have not measured up. Therefore, the judgment is described in verse 9. The places of their pagan sacrifices and sanctuaries will be destroyed. Further, the dynasty of Jeroboam will be brought to an end. Notice that this is a merciful change from the previous two visions. In the first two visions, all the people were going to die. Now the picture is of being taken into exile and the death of the royal family and the leadership (cf. 7:11). Even in judgment, God is being compassionate toward the people.
Accusing Amos (10-17)
In the middle of Amos revealing the visions that the Lord gave him, we have an interruption. You will notice that chapter 8 continues the rest of the visions Amos saw from the Lord. But verse 10 records an interruption to Amos’ preaching. Amaziah is a priest at Bethel. Recall that Bethel is one of the locations were the first king of Israel, Jeroboam the son of Nebat, erect golden calves and sanctuaries for worship. This was an abomination to God. Amaziah is a priest at this false temple and send a message to King Jeroboam (please note that this is a later Jeroboam, often called Jeroboam II, to differentiate him from Jeroboam the son of Nebat). The summary of Amos’ message is this: “Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.” Amaziah cannot handle listening to Amos’ message against sin and the coming judgment for sins.
Amos is preaching a counter-cultural message. He is preaching a message that is not politically correct. We are in a society that rejects the message of God. We are in a society that only wants to hear what is acceptable and correct in our culture today. If you say anything against this acceptable message, then you will be rejected and labelled. We are called upon as Christians to preach counter-cultural messages. We are given that task. That is exactly what it means to be lights shining into the midst of a crooked and perverse people (Philippians 2:15). It is shame and sad that all too often Christians are molded by the world rather than transforming the world with the message of the gospel. Christians too often are deeming what is acceptable or not acceptable by the definitions of the world, rather than the definitions of God’s word. Only when the world says something is wrong do we then say that it is wrong. Sexual sins and marriage issues are classic examples. Seventy years ago the church would stand up and say that sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage, sex with anyone who is not your spouse, and the like are sinful. The church would say that divorce is sinful. The church would say that homosexuality and adultery are sinful. The church would say that remarriage is sinful. But the reason that was taught was not because that was God’s word but because the world agreed. The proof is that the world has changed its thinking and Christians have changed their thinking also. Now Christians do not have a problem with divorce and remarriage or do not have a problem with sex before marriage or adultery, and all the rest. Why? Why is it a problem now? The reason we have problems now with it is not because God’s word changed or became more difficult, but because the world changed and we do not want to be counter-cultural. We make an enormous mistake and commit a grave sin when we examine God’s law through the lens of our culture today.
Please notice how Amaziah frames the message of Amos to the king. “For thus Amos has said” (7:11). Amos was saying, “The Lord said to me.” But Amaziah does not see this as a message from God, but the words of a man. How many times people will do this with God’s word! You will not believe how many times I will read a passage of scripture and the person I am studying with will say, “Are you trying to say…?” Or “So what you are saying is…” I always answer the same way: “I am not saying anything. This is what God said.” This isn’t my interpretation. This is not my words. This is the word of the Lord. This is what God’s word said. All I did was read it and make some passing comments of interest about what God said.
Finally, notice what Amaziah says to Amos in verse 12. Amaziah calls Amos a prophet for hire. Basically, I know you have a job to do and that is why you are preaching, but go do your preaching somewhere else. Stop preaching against Bethel. Amos responds that he is not a prophet for hire. He was a herdsman and a grower of figs. Amos was not doing his job for the money. He was prophesying because he received the word of the Lord. We need preachers, teachers, elders, and leaders among God’s people who do not work for the money, but because the work needs to be done. We should not have to bribe people to do the Lord’s work and people should not be working because of the money. Preacher, do not preach because of the pay check. Do not preach because you do not know what else to do with yourself. Preach because your are compelled by the word of the Lord! Preach because you feel like you must proclaim God’s word and not for any other reason.
The irony of this chapter is staggering. Amos has been the one who has interceding on behalf of these people to not be fully destroyed by locusts or by fire. The thanks that Amos receives is to be called a prophet for hire and told to go home. Do not tell a person who is declaring God’s word to not speak it. Everyone must proclaim God’s word and we cannot listen to those who tell us not to. We cannot listen to people who want a softer, more culturally acceptable, and more politically correct message. God’s word is God’s word and we must declare God’s word, even in the face of rejection and opposition. This is the consistent example of the scriptures from the prophets to the apostles. People will reject, but we must obey God rather than humans by continuing to proclaim God’s truths.
Notice the retribution God brings on those who reject and torment those who are proclaimers of God’s word. Amos responds to Amaziah that he will die in an unclean land, his land would be divided up and given away, his children would be killed by the sword, his wife would turn to prostitution, and Israel will surely go into exile. We cannot be shaken when people tell us to adjust our message to match the culture. We cannot give up when people do not want to listen to God’s word. We must keep teaching, knowing that God will pass his judgment on those who try to interfere with the work.
Notice how compassion and the proclamation of truth fit together in this chapter. We are compassionately praying to God on the behalf of others, meanwhile teaching them the way of the Lord. We must proclaim the truth of God’s word, unchanged, unfiltered, and undiluted. This is a compassionate reaction to the world, and then pray for them to receive and accept the good news that God has extended to the world.