“The words of Amos, who was one of the sheep breeders from Tekoa — what he saw regarding Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
This morning we are finally turning the page on the prophet Joel and beginning a walk through the prophetic record of Amos. Amos had a bit more to say than Joel, but his message is just as focused as Joel’s is. Like Joel, though it was written long ago, Amos offers a powerful opportunity to reflect on some things that are happening now. And it all starts by reminding us that God’s concern for His people is always historically rooted. Let me explain.
As you read through the various prophets, there are some general themes that emerge in terms of the things that mattered to God. Idolatry, false worship, sin, and justice all rank pretty high on that list. The truth about human cultures is that the more of those first two items you have present, the more of the second two you are going to see because of it. Israel kept getting drawn into idolatry of some kind so God had to keep calling them from it.
For Amos, the issue of injustice was more of a concern than it was for most of the prophets. Joel fixated on the day of the Lord and a locust invasion. Nahum will zero in on the Edomites and pronouncing judgment on them. Habakkuk wrestles with God’s character. Haggai encourages the people to rebuild the temple. Malachi hits them for empty worship. Amos’ passion is the injustice he sees flowing from a people who are rich and militarily secure and who think they can do whatever they want. He essentially reminds a people who have reached the heights of success that trampling on the little guy in order to get and stay there isn’t okay.
Amos could speak to this matter with especial power and authority because he was a little guy. He was a shepherd from Tekoa. In other words, a far as his culture was concerned, he was a nobody from nowhere. In this, he is a great reminder that God can use anybody to deliver His words to a people in need of hearing them. Sometimes He uses who we might expect, but often He goes in the opposite direction. By using the least likely person He is able to better grab our attention. What that means for you and me is that even though we might count ourselves a nobody as far as the world around goes, God can and will still use us to do great things if we will let Him.
The message God gave to Amos to share breaks down fairly neatly into three parts. He starts in the first couple of chapters with a word of judgement for the nations including Judah and Israel. The promises of judgment here follow a clear pattern and offer a reminder that God, although may have some people who are special to Him because He’s chosen them for a certain task, is concerned about all of the people He has made. This round of judgment ends with an extra hard focus on Israel and calls them out for some specific issues of injustice.
The second part goes into more detail about these injustice issues and, like Joel, announces the coming of the day of the Lord because of them. This great and terrible day will be the time when God comes to deal finally and directly with the sins of His world. He wants for His world to reflect His character of justice and righteousness, and He’s going to address the fact that it doesn’t.
The final section contains a series of visions Amos has describing what the day of the Lord is going to be like which ends with a reminder that judgment isn’t going to be the end of the story. Redemption and restoration will fill that role.
That’s a basic summary of the book, but right here at the beginning, there is a little note that I think gives a whole lot more substance and relevance to the rest of it than it might appear at first glance. After identifying the author of this bit of prophecy as Amos, the shepherd from Tekoa, the editor—probably a priest during or after the exile—notes that Amos’ prophecy was written during the reigns of two distinct kings (Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel), which gives us a fairly narrow window of time to date it. But then he goes a step further and identifies it as coming two years before “the earthquake.”
Now, earthquakes in that part of the world are common. To speak of a single earthquake would seem like an almost meaningless distinction. But, Amos doesn’t refer to simply an earthquake, but to the earthquake. And he dates his book two years before it. To speak in these terms suggests a particularly strong earthquake; one that was going to be remembered for generations. While this doesn’t necessarily help us pin down his prophecy to a specific year—although there is some archaeological evidence of an earthquake during the reign of King Uzziah that was big enough to have done damage to the temple—for his first and early readers, they would have known exactly when he was talking about almost to the day.
Why does this matter? It matters because it roots his words to history. It roots them to specific history. Okay, but why does that matter. It matters because God isn’t really in the business of making general calls for people to get their act together or else. That kind of thing would fit a God who was relatively uninvolved or uninterested in the affairs of His world. That may be the god our critics rail against, but it’s not the one revealed in the pages of Scripture.
The God we find there is interested and involved in the lives of His people. He is interested and involved in the goings on of His creation. He cares about it, about us. He created us to be in a relationship with Him and is passionate about bringing to an end anything that gets in the way of that happening. And because we are all unique individuals and people groups, He roots His calls to repentance and warnings of judgment in specific things happening at specific times so we can deal with them with His help and be done with them.
In other words, the God who is knows who you are and what’s happening in your life. He knows and He cares. He wants more than just about anything to be able to be in a relationship with you and is going to make very specific calls to you to do just that. And His passion now is just as it was in the days of Amos two years before the earthquake is: for you to accept His invitation to life; life that is now guaranteed in Christ. I hope you’ll receive it.