VISIONS OF JUDGMENT Amos 7–9
“Then the Lord said, ’Look, I am setting a plumb line among My people Israel: I will spare them no longer’ “ (Amos 7:8).Amos looked ahead, and he foresaw the certain judgment of a people who had refused for decades to heed God’s call to repent.
Three visions of certain judgment (7:1–9) are interrupted by an account of Israel’s reaction to Amos’ preaching (vv. 10–17). The sinful kingdom, ripe for judgment (8:1–14) would surely be destroyed (9:1–10), yet one day Israel’s prosperity will be restored (vv. 11–15).
Understanding the Text
“I will spare them no longer” Amos 7:1–9.
In a vision Amos saw destructive judgments God was preparing to unleash on Israel. He successfully diverted the first two. But finally God refused to delay any longer. The plumb line is a tool used by carpenters. It is simply a weight attached to a line, that is held against a wall or other construction to measure uprightness. Old Testament prophets frequently used the plumb line metaphorically as a tool used by God to measure the moral uprightness of a generation. God’s plumb line indicated that the judgment of Israel could no longer be delayed. The New Testament helps us understand the principle of delayed judgment. It is an expression of God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience. Yet the person or nation that persists in showing contempt for God’s forebearance stores up wrath against “the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:4–6). Israel was not “getting away with” the wickedness entrenched in her society. Each failure to seize a new opportunity God gave His people to repent simply made the coming judgment more certain. “The priest of Bethel” Amos 7:10–17. The attitude of the people of Israel toward Amos is illustrated in the reaction of Amaziah, who apparently functioned as high priest at the Bethel worship center. Amos was clearly challenging the social order. So the priest informed the king that Amos was “raising a conspiracy against you.” Amaziah then expelled Amos, commanding him not to prophesy because, “This is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom” (v. 13). What a revealing statement! The sanctuary did not belong to God, but the king, for religion in Israel was dedicated to maintaining the social status quo, not to challenging social evils! Biblical faith is never a truly comfortable faith, for it calls us to constantly examine our lives and our society. Biblical faith is radical, in that it is never to be identified with a political theory, political party, or national ideology. Scripture calls us to stand outside our culture, and to judge it when it is wrong. This the high priest of Israel’s religion was unwilling to do. He willingly subordinated religion to politics, and when Amos stood up and announced God’s judgment on Israel’s sinful society, the high priest angrily demanded he leave town! But it was not the radical Amos who was judged by this priest. The priest judged himself by his actions. And God announced that he would live to see the consequences of conformity (vv. 16–17). As for unrepentant Israel, the people “will certainly go into exile, away from their native land.” “The time is ripe for My people Israel” Amos 8:1–14. My wife watches bananas set out on the kitchen counter carefully. She wants them just right—not too green, not too soft. God through Amos announced that Israel had the “just right” stage: just right for judgment (see DEVOTIONAL). Israel had rejected justice. God will “never forget anything they have done” (v. 7). All will mourn in bitterness, and even if they should seek the world over for a word from God, “They will not find it” (v. 12). “I saw the Lord standing by the altar” Amos 9:1–10. The altar and coals from the altar symbolize judgment in the Old Testament. A priest might take his stand at the altar to appease God by offering a sacrifice. But in this vision Amos saw God Himself at the altar. He stood there not to receive a sacrifice but to execute judgment. The text makes this abundantly clear. God would kill the wicked with the sword. “Not one will get away, none will escape” (v. 1). God was committed to “hunt them down and seize them,” for the Lord has fixed “His eyes upon them for evil and not for good” (v. 4). This awesome picture of a God committed to execute judgment is an appropriate corrective to an overemphasis on the love of God. Yes, God is love. God eagerly desires to extend the benefits of salvation to all. But those who refuse to respond to a God of love must and will face Scripture’s God of judgment and justice. Those who live in a sinful kingdom may be completely sure that God “will destroy it” and that “all the sinners among My people will die by the sword” (v. 10). “In that day I will restore” Amos 9:11–15. In a few brief verses Amos, as the other Old Testament prophets, added a word of hope. This unjust generation of God’s people must fall. But God will restore the chosen race. Amos specifically links that restoration to the appearance of a Ruler to come from David’s family line. This is the meaning of “I will restore David’s fallen tent” (v. 11). When He appears, the Jews will be regathered to their land, and know an age of unparalleled prosperity. And how graphically Amos portrayed that time: “The reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes” as “new wine” drips “from the mountains.” Israel rejected God, but God had not abandoned them. Calling Himself “the Lord your God,” God promised, “I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them” (v. 15).
Ripe for Judgment(Amos 8)
One of the best marketing gimmicks I’ve heard about was thought up by the fellow whose crop of Yellow Delicious apples was ruined by hail. Every place a hailstone struck, a brown mark developed, making the apples almost worthless. But the clever orchard owner found a way to turn his disaster around. He launched an advertising campaign warning customers to buy only apples with those brown spots that show they were tree-ripened! Israel too bore distinctive spots. But there was no way the nature of those spots could be disguised. Such spots on any society mark it off as truly ripe, but ripe for judgment. There is trampling on the poor. There is indifference to true religion. There is dishonesty in business. There is exploitation of the weak and socially powerless. Perhaps these marks are not yet visible on the surface of our society. But should you observe them, don’t let yourself be fooled. They’re not evidence of “tree-ripened” quality. They are signs that our society too has become ripe for judgment.
Spots appearing in any society tell Christians it’s time to repent, and pray.