Israel, Seek God and Live
Israel looked like the picture of health. Religious zeal was at an all-time high. Israelis were enjoying unprecedented prosperity. Political order ruled the day. Peace permeated the nation’s borders. Israel’s prestige and power were at their zenith among neighboring nations.
What seemed to be true, however, was not. Israel was, in fact, chronically ill. Sin, like a cancer, had defiled and decayed the moral and social health of the nation bringing her to death’s door; her demise was imminent.
For the third time in as many chapters, Amos sounded the warning “Hear this word” (v. 1), God’s message concerning her sin and survival.
Amos began his message with a “lamentation” (funeral dirge) against the “house of Israel” (v. 1). Knowing the nation’s destruction was near, the prophet mournfully sang of her approaching tragic death.
He pictured Israel as “The virgin” (v. 2), not in the sense of purity and faithfulness to God, but like a virgin who had been protected from compromise by another, thus, not conquered or cast down. She was described as “fallen” (mortally wounded), “no more [to] rise” (dying), “forsaken upon her land” (corpse left to rot away), with “none to raise her up” (to restore the nation) (v. 2). This is a ghastly prediction of the virgin’s destiny, to say the least.
Provision for Life
A glimmer of hope still existed for Israel. A long-suffering God with eternal love for His people extended the means by which judgment could be prevented. “Seek ye me, and ye shall live” (v. 4), said the Lord. The word seek (Heb. daras) means to seek with care and diligence (search), to inquire with the purpose of knowing the direction for one’s life. Life for Israel would be determined by the people seeking God in repentance and doing His will.
Such deliverance could not be found at Bethel (v. 5) for that had become the center of calf worship (4:4), was now known as Beth-aven (house of nothing), and was marked for destruction (v. 5, cp. 3:14). Neither should they seek God at Gilgal, the place of idolatry and destined for captivity (v. 5). Nor would Beersheba, where Abraham (Gen. 21:31–33), Isaac (Gen. 26:23–24), and Jacob (Gen. 46:1) worshiped, provide any hope, for it too was corrupted with idolatry (8:14). No mention is made of Beersheba’s fate because only Israel was marked out for destruction.
A more earnest plea was made a second time by the prophet: “Seek the LORD, and ye shall live” (v. 6). This time a warning was added: “Lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, … and there be none to quench it in Bethel” (v. 6). Failure to obey God’s command meant inescapable destruction would be sent on the ten tribes like an unquenchable fire.
Israel deserved such judgment because she corrupted moral justice turning it to “wormwood” (bitterness) [v. 7] for the poor and innocent who could not pay dishonest officials. Thus, they “leave off righteousness in the earth” (v. 7), or cast it down to the earth, stamping it into the ground.
A third time Israel was called to “Seek him” (v. 8), the true omnipotent God who rules over all. He is in control of heaven, having made “the seven stars [the constellation of Pleiades] and Orion” (v. 8). He is in control of life and death, turning “the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night” (v. 8). He can easily turn the threat of death into a bright morning of hope, or a bright day of hope into a night of death and destruction. He is in control of nature, “who calleth for the waters of the sea [evaporated into heaven], and poureth them [rain] upon the face of the earth” (v. 8). He is in control of nations, “Who strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress” (v. 9). In other words, God, like a lightning flash, smites the strongest man or nation, and no fortress can stand against Him.
Who is such a God as this? “The Lᴏʀᴅ [Jehovah] is his name” (v. 8). The lifeless gods of Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba, whom Israel worshiped, were nothing compared to Jehovah, their covenant-making and keeping God. The power of such a God should have convinced Israel to seek Him for their salvation and survival.
“Seek God and live” is a New Testament concept. In His dialogue with Nicodemus (Jn. 3), Jesus used Israel’s disobedience (Num. 21:5–9) as an illustration of His provision for salvation. Judgment came upon disobedient Israel when God sent deadly serpents to kill them (Num. 21:6). Their only hope of survival was to look upon an elevated bronze serpent which Moses lifted up on a pole (Num. 21:9). Those who looked received life! In like manner, Jesus said He must be lifted up on the cross (Jn. 3:14; cp. Jn. 8:28; 12:32–34). All those bitten by the serpent of sin, destined for eternal death, could look in faith and be given eternal life (Jn. 3:15).
Perverting the Law
Amos not only denounced Israel’s corrupt religion but the cruel rulers as well. First, their rulers “hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and … abhor him that speaketh uprightly” (v. 10). In biblical times business and court were held at the city gate. Those who reproved wicked rulers or spoke rightly on matters of the law were hated by their leaders.
Second, the rulers in Israel were condemned for “treading … upon the poor, and … [taking] from him burdens of wheat” (v. 11). They bled the poor by charging exorbitant prices for handling the sale of their grain, and judges expected a payoff before they passed rulings affecting these oppressed people. The money they extorted was used to build “houses of hewn stone” (a sign of wealth) and to plant “pleasant vineyards” (v. 11). They would “not dwell” in those houses or “drink wine” (v. 11) from vineyards acquired by ill-gotten gain, because the nation was soon to be destroyed.
Third, “they afflict the just, … take a bribe, and … turn aside the poor in the gate from their right” (v. 12). Those who were able and willing to bribe the judge either never went to trial or received a verdict in their favor. On the other hand, righteous people (those unwilling to pay) and poor people (those unable to pay) suffered injustices from these corrupt judges. The law strongly condemned such actions (Ex. 23:6–9; Dt. 16:18–20). God was not unmindful of their “manifold transgressions and … mighty sins” (v. 12). He would punish them accordingly.
Since the land was full of corruption, “the prudent shall keep silence” (v. 13). A righteous man wisely holds his tongue in a totally corrupt society. To speak out would not bring change; it would, rather, bring personal reproach and reprisal. Christ taught the same principle (Mt. 7:6) and practiced it before Herod (Lk. 23:9) and Pilate (Jn. 19:9–10) at His trial.
Although the people wisely held their tongues, the prophet had to speak the divine message which God had called him to deliver. Once again Amos thundered God’s word, “Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live” (v. 14). In so doing, “the Lᴏʀᴅ, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken” (v. 14), said the prophet. Israel falsely believed that God’s blessing was upon them since they were experiencing great prosperity and were His covenant people. Actually the opposite was true! If they refused to turn from evil, judgment was inevitable.
Those living in the United States may assume the nation is experiencing divine blessing since the country is experiencing great prosperity at this time. Such may not be the case, or, if it is, it will not continue, given the moral decay and social injustice running rampant throughout the nation.
Although judgment had already been announced (2:6; 5:3), it could have been averted. Amos told the nation to “Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the gate” (v. 15). They had to evidence a change and begin to practice righteousness. In so doing, “it may be that the Lᴏʀᴅ God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph” (v. 15) that is, spare a remnant after their repentance.
Amos said, “it may be that … God … will be gracious unto the remnant,” indicating that Israel’s day of grace could have ended. Even if mercy were shown, only a remnant, at most, would be saved.
Punishment for Sin
Amos predicted the sorrows which awaited Israel. A solemn declaration was put forth by the prophet, backed up by the weighty names of God, “the Lᴏʀᴅ [Jehovah], the God of hosts [God of armies], the Lᴏʀᴅ [Adonai]” (v. 16). God, the sovereign Ruler of the universe, would personally lead His armies against Israel in judgment. The death wail would be heard in every street and highway by the farmers, professional mourners, and those who worked in the vineyard (vv. 16–17).
Israel would be treated like Egypt had been treated during Israel’s great deliverance from slavery in that land. God would “pass through” (v. 17) the land touching every family with death and destruction.
Amos cried, “Woe [to those who desired that] the day of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (v. 18) might come. They believed the Day of the Lord would bring destruction for their enemies and blessing to them. The opposite was true! “Darkness and not light” (v. 18), “very dark, and no brightness” (v. 20) would be Israel’s plight in the Day of the Lord. There would be no escape from the utter terror and death which would be experienced on that day. Although they might escape death from a “lion” and even a “bear,” they could be leaning against a wall in the safety of their homes and be killed by a “serpent” (v. 19).
Amos condemned the people’s superficial worship in the day of judgment. Worship of God would not gain His favor or avert the coming destruction, for it was mere formalism without faith and good works. God said He hated, despised, had no delight in, would not accept, regard, or hear (vv. 21–23) their empty worship. He totally rejected their “feast days,” “solemn assemblies,” “burnt offerings,” “meal offerings,” “peace offerings,” “songs,” and “harps” (vv. 21–23).
God would respond to justice and righteousness from the nation. “Let justice run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (v. 24), said the prophet. In other words, political, social, and religious justice must continually permeate the land like an everflowing, mighty river if Israel were to survive God’s day of wrath. This meant a radical inner conversion and outward commitment to righteousness.
Superficial worship was not new in Israel; it had existed from the nation’s inception. God questioned, “Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years?” (v. 25). In other words, Did you offer unto me pure sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness? The answer, although not stated, was no! Their idolatry extended back to the wilderness wanderings (Ex. 32:1–6). Stephen quoted this passage (Amos 5:25–27) as proof of their wilderness idolatry (Acts 7:39–43).
Amos went on to condemn their worship by saying “But ye have borne the tabernacle [Sakkuth] of your Moloch [king] and Chiun [Kaiwan], your images, the star of your god” (v. 26). Sakkuth was the Assyrian god of war, sometimes known as Adar-melek, identified with the planet Saturn, called Kaiwan. The phrase “Chiun, your images” may be a Hebraism for image, or it may refer to many images made to represent Chiun. The “star of your god” probably refers to the representation of the planet Saturn on the head of the image of the idol. Some interpret “Chiun” to mean the pedestal. Therefore, the idea is, “You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.”*
Israel had a choice to make: life or death! Her failure to seek the Lord in repentance resulted in her death as a nation and “captivity beyond Damascus” (v. 27), which history documented to be Assyria. One writer put it well: “The horror of ‘exile’ was more than the ruin of defeat and shame of capture. For Israel it meant being removed from the land of promise, the land of God’s presence. Exile, in effect was excommunication.”*
Our nation, like Israel of old, is no longer built on scriptural truth. America has experienced a fatal lapse of memory, forgetting the God who raised her to a position of power, prosperity, and peace, protecting and preserving her freedoms. The god of secular humanism has infiltrated all our institutions, wherein man is worshiped and God is relegated to the back seat. Morality has been replaced with the new morality where individuals are free to express an alternate life-style of immorality. Idols of materialism cover the land as the nation wallows in opulence and self-gratification. The nation now openly condones and promotes those perversions that once made America blush.
Like the Titanic, America has gone adrift and is headed for a fatal collision. Although most Americans believe the country is strong and unsinkable, such an assessment is rooted in feelings more than facts. The nation already has a damaged hull, is leaking badly, and is in danger of sinking. The S.O.S. has gone out, but those in a position to rescue the nation have fallen asleep on duty. Lest they awaken soon, it will be too late to salvage the country.*
“The only thing men learn from history,” it has been said, “is that men never learn from history.” This is an overstated generalization, to be sure, but one which we should heed. Will our nation learn the lesson from prophetic history? Time will tell! In the meantime, we must call the nation back to God, for our survival hinges on seeking God to live.