Israel, Prepare to Meet Thy God

Amos 4:1–13

Israel had expanded her borders, taken control of major trade routes, and grown extremely prosperous during the reign of Jeroboam II. An upper-class society had emerged and clothed itself in opulence at the expense of the poor. Political corruption ruled the day as leaders committed violence and robbery against their people. Although calf and Baal worship covered the land, Israel continued to worship God, keep her feast days, pay tithes, and offer sacrifices.

In the midst of this scandalous society the Prophet Amos spoke. His speech was not that of a sympathetic statesman, placating prophet, or tactful talker. He spoke with uncompromising boldness against Israel’s narcissistic and national decadence.

Rich Corrupted

Amos began his second message with the words, “Hear this word, ye cows of Bashan” (v. 1). Bashan was located across the Jordan River, east of the Sea of Galilee. This lush, green grazing area was ideal for producing fat, sleek, beautiful cattle (Dt. 32:14; Mic. 7:14).

The wealthy women of Israel were like these beautiful cows who had grown fat and prosperous through a life of lazy luxury and self-indulgence. Amos pointedly accused these women of oppressing the poor (v. 1). This they did by demanding more money and material goods from “their masters” (husbands) (v. 1) to satisfy their insatiable lust for luxury and drink (v. 1). Their husbands in turn squeezed the poor and powerless to acquire the needed finances to satisfy the demands of their wanton wives (2:6–7; 5:11–12; 8:4–6).

The character of these women reflected the society in which they lived, a soft luxurious life-style. Naturally, their children were being reared to perpetuate the same social, moral, and ethical values. These woman had so coerced their meek husbands that they obediently pacified their whimpering cries for more wealth They abetted in the corruption of society by causing their husbands to compromise ethical business standards in order to meet their needs. They had no compassion for others; in fact, they crushed the needy (v. 1). They were the Jezebels of Israel!

God announced His coming judgment upon these women with a solemn oath: “The Lord [Adonai] God [Jehovah] hath sworn” (v. 2). Two indelible points were imprinted on the hard hearts of these corrupt women. Fist, God is sovereign over all humanity, especially these women. They might have usurped authority over their husbands, who catered to all their whims, but God would not allow it to continue. Second, He had “sworn,” or vowed, on the basis of “his holiness” (v. 2) that these women would be brought to justice. The nature of a holy God cannot tolerate unrighteousness; He must act in judgment.

Their punishment would be awesome! The captive women would not be marched out the city gate but driven or dragged out like cattle through the many “breaches” (huge holes) (v. 3) within the city walls. They would be taken “away with hooks [meat hooks], and … fishhooks” (v. 2). One commentator stated, “Those who balked or refused to be led away would be forcibly snagged with large harpoons or fishhooks,’ much like fish pierced together and jerked over one’s shoulder to be carried to market.”*

The Assyrians led these captive women out of Israel and “cast them into the palace [lit., harmon]” (v. 3) This is the only use of the word harmon in Scripture, and scholars have been puzzled as to its exact meaning. Some believe the word means palace or citadel, referring to the palaces of Assyria where these women would be taken. Others believe it refers to Mount Hermon which was the northern boundary of Bashan. Thus, these women (“cows of Bashan”) would be driven like cattle over the mountains (at the border of Bashan) on their way to Assyria. Either interpretation could be true within the context of this passage.

Religious Compromise

In a sarcastic tone, Amos called Israel to multiply their transgressions at Bethel and Gigal. Bethel was one of the main sites where Jeroboam set up a golden calf and Israel continually committed idolatry there (3:14). Gilgal is the first city where Israel camped after crossing the Jordan River, and twelve memorial stones were placed there to commemorate the event (Josh. 4:19–20; 5:9–10). It was here that Samuel judged Israel (1 Sam. 7:16) and worshiped (Amos 5:5; Hos. 4:15; 9:15; 12:11). These were the two major worship centers in Israel.

Speaking with great irony, the prophet encouraged all Israel to commit transgression: “Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression” (v. 4). The word transgression (v. 4) is best understood as stepping over a marked-out-boundary. One author put it this way: “The Hebrew word used here, pasha, primarily signifies “to break a covenant,” and it is so used in 2 Kings 1:1. It is the fitting word, because those who came to participate in the false calf-idol worship in Bethel and Gilgal were breaking God’s covenant; namely the second commandment that forbade making or worshipping any idol (Ex. 20:4–5).”*

Although Israel continually practiced idolatry, she still maintained Levitical worship to the letter of the law. Sarcastically, Amos encouraged them to do it even more zealously. First he said, “bring your sacrifices every morning’ (v. 4). This is not referring to the individual’s offering but to the prescribed offering presented every morning and evening (Ex. 29:38–39). Second, bring “your tithes after three years” (lit., every three days) (v. 4). Amos was bidding them to bring their tithes not every year (Lev. 27:30) or, in the case of the second tithe, every three years (Dt. 14:28; 26:12) but, in ironic exaggeration, every three days. Third, “offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven” (lit., a burning praise offering) (v. 5). They had broken the law of the thanksgiving offering in two ways: by putting leaven with the meal offering burned on the altar (Lev. 2:11; 7:12); and by burning cakes with leaven reserved for the officiating priest (Lev. 7:13–14). Fourth, “proclaim and publish the free offerings” (v. 5). Sarcastically, Amos told them to publish the offerings of their gifts far and wide, “for so ye love to do” (v. 5) said the prophet. That is, Your heart is set on such actions because it satisfies your self-righteous spirit.

Here is the height of religious hypocrisy. First, their gifts could never be accepted by God since they had been acquired through oppressing the poor. Second, no matter how zealous or accurate they were in keeping the Levitical law, such worship, from an idolatrous heart, was an abomination to God. Third, their gifts were self-serving and self-glorifying, only made to impress others. Fourth, God is not pleased with a multitude of gifts; He is pleased with only those gifts given with a proper motive from a clean heart. Fifth, they were posturing a zealous commitment to God while remaining in idolatry.

Jesus spoke out against such religious hypocrisy in His day. He condemned the Pharisees who did righteous acts and prayed long prayers only to be seen of men (Mt. 6:1–8). He used strong language toward such hypocritical religionists calling them “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “fools,” “serpents,” and “vipers” (Mt. 23:14, 16–17, 33). Christians must guard against committing similar acts.

Resisting Chastening

The Lord had chastened Israel in the hope that she would repent of her sin and return to righteousness. God had sent famine: “I also have given you cleanness of teeth …, and lack of bread” (v. 6). This famine is not recorded in Scripture. Notice, it came upon “all … cities, … and … all … places” (v. 6). But the famine did not result in Israel’s repentance: “yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD” (v. 6).

God had sent drought: “I have withheld the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest” (v. 7). The prophet referred to the latter rain which took place between February and April and was necessary if the crops were to ripen. Notice, one city received rain and another city did not (v. 7), showing that the drought was not by chance but was the sovereign act of God. This drought was so severe that “two or three cities wandered unto one city” (v. 8) to obtain water. The word wander pictured the people staggering over a long distance to find a small amount of water, but, when found, it did not satisfy their needs. But the drought did not produce repentance: “yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord” (v. 8).

God destroyed their crops with blight (scorching east wind), mildew, and the palmer worm (caterpillar) (v. 9). These three plagues destroyed their gardens, vineyards, fig trees, and olive trees (v. 9) at the peak of their productivity. Yet crop destruction did not produce repentance: “yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord” (v. 9).

God sent diseases and death, “the pestilence [sickness] after the manner of Egypt” (v. 10), referring to the many epidemics which periodically came upon the nation. Likewise their young men were “slain with the sword” and their horses taken away (v. 10). So great was the carnage that the stench (v. 10) of disease, decaying bodies, and the dead was unbearable to those still living. But the stench of sickness and the slain did not bring repentance: “yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD” (v. 10).

God sent total destruction to some of their cities as He did to Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 11). The word overthrown (v. 11) is used to describe a sudden and complete destruction of these cities (cp. Gen. 19:25). Israel had been spared like “a firebrand plucked out of the burning” (v. 11 ); that is, as a burning stick is snatched from the fire before being completely consumed. However, the threat of annihilation did not bring repentance: “yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord” (v. 11).

In Deuteronomy 28, God warned that failure to obey His voice and keep His commandments would result in famine (vv. 48, 57), drought (vv. 23–24), blight and mildew (v. 22), destruction by locust (vv. 39–40, 42), pestilence (vv. 21–22, 35, 60), military defeat (vv. 49–52), and destruction of the land like that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Dt. 29:22–23).

Notice how God dealt with Israel. First, His love and long-suffering were unremitting and exhaustively extended to this sinful nation. Second, God used different means to woo the nation to repentance—the respected law of Moses, the direct word of the Prophet Amos, and physical chastening—still Israel did not heed God’s warning. Third, the rod of God’s reproof did not produce remorse over their sin; in fact, they became more resolute in resisting His chastening. Fourth, a people who continually reject and rebel against God’s loving reproof will suffer destruction.

Revealed Confrontation

The Lord was left with no alternative but to say, “thus will I do” (v. 12). What would God do? Amos did not say, creating great apprehension for those marked out for destruction.

Israel was to brace herself for the terrors to come. “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel” (v. 12), cried the Prophet Amos, prepare to meet the God of wrath whose awesome judgment awaits this stiff-necked people. Yet, Israel could circumvent such calamity by preparing to meet God with a repentant heart.

Who is this God Israel will meet? This God is omnipotent: “he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind” (v. 13). The mountains are the most solid and everlasting manifestation of God’s material creation; while the wind is an immaterial manifestation of His great creative power.* The phrase, “who maketh the morning darkness” (v. 13) is another description of God’s mighty power to control creation. This God is omniscient: “and declareth unto man what is his thought” (v. 13). God needed no one to tell Him the real nature of Israel’s religious worship and rebellious wickedness toward Him, for He knows what is in the heart of man (Jer. 17:9–10). This God is omnipresent: “treadeth upon the high places of the earth” (v. 13). Here is a manifestation of God’s might and majesty showing forth His sovereignty over Heaven and earth.

What is the name of this awesome God? He is called, “Lᴏʀᴅ [Jehovah],… God [Elohim] of hosts [Sabaoth]” (v. 13). Israel might ignore the prophet’s warning of impending judgment, but she cannot ignore the One whom she is to meet in judgment. He is Jehovah the self-existing God, the eternal “I AM” who made a redemptive covenant with Israel and delivered her from the mighty Egyptians. He is Elohim, the true and living God who has a uni-plural existence. He is Sabaoth, the powerful warrior God of Israel who encompasses every force or army in Heaven and earth. He is the One who marshaled all the armies of Heaven to give Israel victory over her enemies. But conversely, if Israel would not return to God in repentance, He would employ His armies against her. This is tantamount to God declaring war against Israel.* Such a pronouncement would strike utter terror in the heart of God’s people.

The following epitaph caught the eye of a cemetery visitor: “Pause, my friend, as you walk by; as you are now, so once was I! As I am now, so you will be. Prepare, my friend, to follow me!” Under the inscription someone had scribbled, “To follow you is not my intent, until I know which way you went.”

We chuckle at such verse because of its truth. It is a sobering reality; we all must prepare to meet our God! The Scripture is clear: “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Those who have received Christ will meet Him in Heaven with all its glory. Those who reject Christ will meet Him at the Great White Throne Judgment to be condemned to eternal damnation and the Lake of Fire. “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men,” said Paul (2 Cor. 5:11).

Are you prepared to meet God and to persuade others likewise?

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