Reading Time: 7 Minutes
When Amos came to Israel in the mid-700s B. C., he found a people who actively pursued religious activities. In spite of all of their religious activity, their behavior was far from God’s standard.
Religious Activity Recognized
Amos frequently pointed to the religious actions of the people. Because of the civil war that had transpired years before with the Southern Kingdom of Judah, they didn’t go to the Temple in Jerusalem for worship.
Instead, they erected temples of their own in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They followed the customs of worship, but it didn’t make a difference in how they lived their lives.
Amos confronted this state of affairs.
Come to Bethel — and transgress;
to Gilgal — and multiply transgression;
bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three days;
bring a thank offering of leavened bread,
and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
for so you love to do, O people of Israel!
says the Lord God. (Amos 4.4-5)
At the heart of Israel’s religion was the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). The Ten Commandments serve as a “No Trespassing” sign to people.
Religion should have made the people of the Northern Kingdom aware of areas in life where God said, “No Trespassing.” However, the people looked at the sign, stepped over God’s fence, and went to where God said not to go.
Amos confronted the people with what was actually happening in their lives. They sought the forms of religious activity, but not God who is the sole object of religious observance.
For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:
Seek me and live;
but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
or cross over to Beer-sheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
and Bethel shall come to nothing. (Amos 5.4-5)
Bethel literally means, “the house of God.” Amos declared the message that people should seek God, not merely attend a house of worship.
Amos prophesied that the house of God, Bethel, would come to nothing. The only security was to seek God and live.
Amos passionately called his audience to seek the Lord. He knew that if they aligned themselves with God, he would be on their side instead of being their opponent.
Seek the Lord and live,
or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
and bring righteousness to the ground! (Amos 5.6-7)
Apparently, Israel kept up a pretense of religion, but turned justice into something bitter and oppressive. They came to the house of God and offered sacrifices, but it made no impact on their unrighteous behavior.
In the light of God’s presence, the wrongdoing of Israel would be revealed. That is why they chose not to seek God. Comfortable religion was enough for them.
The sin of the Northern Kingdom was one familiar to prosperous nations. They lived “large” at the expense of those who were exploited and oppressed.
Amos called women “cows” not as a supreme insult, but to recognize their ability to obtain plentiful amounts of food.
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan
who are on Mount Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
who say to their husbands, “Bring something to drink!” (Amos 4.1)
In the ancient world the majority of the population was skinny because they didn’t have enough to eat.
God wasn’t describing his ability to produce excellent dental hygiene when he said, “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities (Amos 4.6). Clean teeth and skinny women were a sign of hunger.
The women who lived in luxury were an indicator of the moral rot of the nation. Their materialism resulted in oppression of the poor that ended up crushing the needy.
Those who observe the trappings of religion and at the same take advantage of the vulnerable don’t want to hear the truth about their hypocrisy.
Amos called them out and said,
They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. (Amos 5.10)
When people clearly step over the line of God’s revealed will, Amos’ words to not speak truth to the powerful drip with sarcasm.
For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time. (Amos 5.12-13)
The fact that God sent a prophet to the Northern Kingdom was an act of grace and mercy. Through Amos, he gave them a message that would save them from coming judgment.
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5.15)
God’s Plumb Line
God gave Amos a vision of a plumb line. A plumb line is a line or cord that has at one end a weight and is used determine if something (like a wall) is vertical.
The Lord said to Amos, “Amos, what do you see?”
Amos said, “A plumb line.”
Then the Lord said,
“See, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by . . .” (Amos 7.7-8)
If the people of God would not evaluate their behavior, God would do it for them. When he dropped his plumb line on their behavior this is what he found.
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps. (Amos 5.21-23)
In the light of God’s plumb line, their religious activity was something that he hated and would not look upon.
What God wanted to see in his people was this.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5.24)
Reading Amos in 2021
God’s plumb line of standards have not changed over the centuries. He sends us prophets to disturb us and to shake us out of our delusions and to draw us back to him.
Billy Sunday, a professional baseball player turned preacher, used to say: “If I’m shooting down a hole and you’re in it, your gonna get shot.”
If the words of Amos hit us, then the Spirit of God has come to show us his plumb line. The proper response is to hear his message and obey.
About this Blog
I am currently alternating between the Old Testament prophets and the Letters of Paul. Tomorrow’s article will feature Paul’s message about wisdom in 1 Corinthians.
He used the word “wisdom” 15 times in the early chapters of 1 Corinthians and his message was appropriate both then and now.
If you have a prayer request, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. The prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church will be happy to pray for you.