STUDY SIX: AMOS 5:1 – 17

© Rosemary Bardsley 2021

Chapter 5 begins with a lament (vv1 – 3). This is followed by an extended call to repentance (vv4 – 17), and a further description of what the ‘day of the LORD’, the day of judgement, will mean for Israel (vv18 – 27).

Before you continue with this study, read chapter 5, really listen to what it is saying, and let it open your heart to the heart of God as he speaks to his rebellious people.

A. THE LAMENT – 5:1 – 3

A lament is a mournful song – a dirge, sung because someone has died. Israel is mourned as for one who has died.

A.1 The fallen ‘virgin’
Israel is depicted as a ‘virgin’. Most scholars believe that this refers to the fact that Israel had once been a strong, unconquered nation. That had indeed been God’s promise, dependent on Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant. Now, having despised the covenant, having rejected God, Israel is mourned because of the impending destruction that will bring her to nothing, with no one to help. (A similar description/lament is raised over Babylon in Isaiah 47:1. Babylon had a history of being undefeated in battle, but God predicted her downfall.)

A.2 The extent of the fall

Read verses 2 and 3. List the phrases that describe the extent of Israel’s fall:

 

 

 

The destruction, when it comes, will be devastating. Amos has already indicated this in 3:12; only a few, a small remnant, will survive.

 

B. CALLS TO REPENTANCE – 5:4 - 17

In these verses Amos, speaking the words of God, repeatedly urges the people to repent. He uses different phrases in his calls to repentance.

Read these verses. How is the call to repentance expressed? And, what does each call mean?
Verse 4,5:

 

Verse 6:

 

Verse 14:

 

Verse 15:

 

Amos has already taken up a lament over the irreversible fate of Israel. Yet still God, in his great mercy and love, issues a repeated call to repent, even while he knows that Israel will not listen. Even while death and destruction are threatening them, yet still God offers life.

B.1 ‘Seek me ... seek the LORD’
Amos is not the only prophet to urge the people of Israel (and Judah) to ‘seek the LORD’. The context of this command, this plea, is always the context of either idolatry, the occult, or dependence on human powers rather than on God. It is God’s desire that people worship him. He wants people to live not die. God knows that a right relationship with him is life – spiritual, eternal life. God knows that separation from him, rejection of him as God, means death. God knows that the worship of idols means death. And this ‘life’ is far more than the avoidance of physical death. Far more, even, than the promise of life beyond the grave.

How is this desire of God that we should seek him and live, and not die, expressed in these verses?
Genesis 2:17

Deuteronomy 4:25 – 31

2Chronicles 15:2

Psalm 9:10

Psalm 14:2

Isaiah 55:3, 6, 7

 

Jeremiah 50:4, 5

Hosea 7:10 – 14

Hosea 10:12

Amos 5:4 – 6

Zephaniah 2:1 – 3

This seeking of the Lord is the opposite of the repeated accusation in Amos 4: ‘yet you have not returned to me’. Both those accusations and this challenge to ‘seek’ the Lord are about that change of heart and mind that the Bible calls repentance. They show us clearly that the key element in repentance is our attitude to God: are we refusing him and his word, or are we turning to him and his word. And it is in distinct and deliberate contrast to seeking, following, some other ‘god’.

B.2 ‘... and live’
Through Amos, the Lord implores Israel to seek him ‘and live’ (verse 4 & 6). Here is stated a principle that was in place from the very beginning. The Genesis command, and the consequences of breaking that command, reveal the connection between God and life:

To reject him and his word is to die – Genesis 2:17.
To reject him and his word is to be barred from the tree of life, and from eternal life – Genesis 3:24.

The final reversal of this is found in Revelation 21 and 22:

There, in the new heavens and the new earth, there is no more death (21:4).
There, the tree of life is freely available to all (22:2).

Because there, the uninhibited relationship between God and humans is restored (21:3).

In between this beginning and this ending, making this ending possible, is Jesus Christ.

Read these verses. What is the connection between Jesus Christ and life?
John 1:4

John 3:36

John 4:14

John 5:24

John 6:35

John 6:57

John 8:12

John 11:25, 26

John 14:6

1John 5:11,12

1John 5:20

This connection between Jesus Christ and life goes hand in hand with his deity. Jesus Christ is God, the Son. As God he is both the source and the giver of life, as the first reference indicated. As God he actually is life, as the last reference states. To have received him, the one true God, is to have also received life.

Check these Old Testament references that express a similar connection between God and life
Genesis 2:7

Deuteronomy 30:11 – 20

 

Psalm 27:1

Psalm 42:8

Proverbs 14:27

In Ezekiel 18:30 – 32 God pleads with Judah long after the northern kingdom had been destroyed:

‘... Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!’

Think about these verses from Ezekiel. Answer these questions:
What does God not want to happen?

How can that be avoided?

How do God’s words here make you feel about him?

How do God’s words here make you feel about yourself?

 

B.3 The alternatives
God, through Amos, puts two alternatives to the Israelites:

Seek God, the true God, and live.

Continue to engage in idolatrous religion, and be destroyed.

Again he refers to Bethel and Gilgal (see notes on 4:4), and adds Beersheba, another site of patriarchal significance, but now involved in idolatrous practices.

Check these verses. What do you learn about Beersheba?
Genesis 21:31 – 33

 

Genesis 26:23 – 25, 32, 33

 

Genesis 46:1 – 7

 

[Note: The phrase ‘from Dan to Beersheba’ is commonly used in the Old Testament to refer to the whole land occupied by Israel. Dan was in the far north, and Beersheba in the south.]

In 4:4 – 5 God employed sarcasm in referring to the false worship practised at Bethel and Gilgal. He tells them to keep on doing what they’ve been doing, because that is what the love to do. That is the bent of their hearts; that is their inclination. But now in 5:4 – 6 he warns them ‘Do not go ...’ to these places. Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba as well, will be destroyed. Nothing and no one will be able to stop that destruction. Their gods and their worship there will not save them. Those gods and that worship cannot save them. The only thing that can save the Israelites is to seek the LORD, to return to him. Only then will they survive. Only then will they live.

B.4 The accusations
Amos’ message again points out the sins of social injustice which Israel continued to commit.

Read these verses. What do these accusations against the Israelites mean?
5:7

 

5:10

 

5:11

 

5:12

 

Here we see again that injustice, corruption and bribery are rife in the courts of law. Here again we see people taking advantage of and oppressing the poor and the ‘righteous’ (the legally innocent). So common and pervasive is this, and so beyond correction, that Amos comments ‘The prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil’ (verse 13). Speaking out against the evil will achieve nothing.

Are these accusations relevant today? Discuss these questions:
Which of these accusations are relevant in your community/country today?

 

In what ways are things better or worse in your country/community?

 

Does God have higher expectations of his people than of those he has not revealed himself to? Explain.

 

In what ways are these accusations and expectations relevant for your church?

 

What can the church do to ensure that it does not disappoint God as the Israelites did?

 

Israel dishonoured the name of God. In what ways is the church today dishonouring the name of Christ?

 

B.5 A second accusation
There is a second accusation hidden in Amos 5:8 – 15: the unspoken accusation that Israel has forgotten, or deliberately chosen to ignore, the truth about who the true God actually is. This accusation is hidden in the first two calls to repent: ‘Seek me ... Seek the LORD ..’ (vv4, 6). Now Amos reminds them who this God actually is whom they have rejected and replaced with idols. He is not just one more ‘god’ among many ‘gods’. He is not a ‘god’ that you can serve in tandem with other ‘gods’.

Read Amos 5:8 – 16. List all the information you can find about the nature, actions, and identity of God. (You might find as many as twelve.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the God they have rejected – this powerful God who is the creator, controller and sustainer of the universe, who sees everything and knows everything, who acts in both judgement and mercy, this is the God who is about to pass through their midst (5:17). Because he is who he is, all idolatry and all syncretism is not only totally inappropriate; it is also utterly foolish.

 

B.6 The second call to repent - ‘Seek good, not evil ... hate evil, love good’ (verses 14, 15)
The second call to repent of necessity accompanies the first. To seek God is also to seek good. To turn aside from the idolatrous worship is also to turn aside from evil. We have already seen that to claim to know God and at the same time to mistreat our fellow human beings is to demonstrate that our claim to know God is invalid. Faith does not mean that obedience is optional. Rather faith is evidenced by obedience, particularly by obedience to the commands to love our neighbour, to show to others the same kindness, compassion and mercy that God has shown to us.

So God, through Amos, just as he challenged the people to seek him, now rewords that challenge in terms of obedience: seek good, not evil, hate evil, love good. If they really return to him, they will also turn aside from and hate evil. If they really return to him, they will also love good. In particular, instead of the corruption of justice, they will ‘maintain justice in the courts’ (verse 15).

Check these verses. As people who love God, what should our attitude be to evil?
Job 31:13 – 15

Job 31:16 – 23

Job 31:24 – 28

Psalm 1:1 – 2

Psalm 119:158

Psalm 139:21

Psalm 141:4

Jeremiah 8:21 – 9:2

Mark 3:5

Ephesians 4:30

Loving God means loving what he loves. Loving God means hating what he hates.

Seeking God, rather than idols, goes hand in hand with goodness. Following idols, rather than God, means that God’s standards are jettisoned: justice, honesty, purity, compassion are discarded, because the God who values these qualities has been discarded.

Only such a joint seeking of God and of goodness can avert the impending judgement and evoke the mercy of God on a remnant (5:15).

B.7 The impending judgement
Even as God issues his calls to repentance, even as he gives warning to seek him and thereby live, he also gives warning of the judgement that is about to come upon the nation.

From these verses describe the judgement:
5:2

5:3

5:5b

5:6

5:11

5:16 – 17

God’s judgements against the nation Israel are all physical calamities. There is nothing here about ‘hell’ or spending eternity beyond death separated forever from God. And this is something that we need to keep in mind: that here we are dealing with God’s judgement on the nation that he had chosen to be his own, set apart (holy) nation, through which he had chosen to reveal himself and his purposes and out of which the Messiah would arise in fulfilment of the promises concerning the seed of the woman, the descendant of Abraham, and the king in David’s line. While God continued to work out his purposes through his chosen nation, that nation had forfeited the covenant blessings by their persistent idolatry. These judgements fell upon them this side of the grave.

When we come to the New Testament, we find that, apart from those physical judgements associated with either the ‘end’ of the world or corrective discipline, the central focus of God’s judgement is not a nation with its idolatry and forfeiture of the covenant blessings and exposure to the covenant curses. Rather the judgement in focus in the New Testament is on a spiritual level concerning the individual, and the judgement, while already in place, continues, importantly, beyond the grave. It is not about the future of the earthly kingdom, but about whether or not an individual enters the kingdom of heaven.

How is God’s judgement (look for the opposite of salvation) defined in these verses?
Matthew 22:13; 25:30

Matthew 25:46

John 3:16

John 3:18

John 3:36

John 5:24

John 8:24

Romans 4:8

Romans 5:9

Romans 5:16, 18

Galatians 3:10

The opposite of judgement under the Sinai covenant was national and physical: political, economic, military blessedness. The opposite of judgement in the New Testament is personal, spiritual blessedness – personal reconciliation with God, personal forgiveness of sins, personal redemption from wrath and condemnation, personal justification by faith, personal peace with God. This ties in with the spiritual aspect of the Abrahamic covenant – the crediting of righteousness (legal innocence) on the basis of personal faith – in which all true believers in both the Old and New Testament eras share.

 

C. THE DAY OF THE LORD – 5:18 – 27

In this section Amos continues to talk about the impending judgement. He begins by referring to the ‘day of the LORD’ about which some are self-deceived, then refers to the hypocritical worship which both in the past and present characterised the nation.

C.1 The day of the LORD – 5:18 – 20
Amos was the first of the prophets to use the concept of ‘the day of the LORD’. After Amos, this phrase, or its equivalents – ‘that day’ or ‘the day’, are used by both major and minor prophets, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Zechariah and Malachi.

Its meaning and significance varied:

It was used to refer to the day on which God would act to release Israel from its enemies.
It was used to refer to the day on which God would act in judgement on those enemies.
It was used to refer beyond the Old Testament era to the day when the Messiah would come bringing deliverance to Israel.

[Looking back from the New Testament perspective, it becomes clear that some references to the ‘Day of the Lord’ anticipate the return of Christ and the ‘end of the world’.]

But here in 5:18ff, Amos, as do some other prophets, points out that this expectation of the day of the Lord being a good thing for Israel is misplaced. In the false security of their hypocritical religion they do not see the precariousness of their position. So far are they from God and his standards that they do not even recognize the shallowness of their ‘faith’ or the emptiness of their hope.

From 5:18 – 20 answer these questions:

How did they feel about the day of the LORD?

 

What did they expect it to be?

 

What did Amos say it would be?

 

What images did Amos use to indicate it was not possible to escape?

 

How do other prophets describe the ‘day of the LORD’?
[As you read these references, think about which ‘day of the Lord’ is in focus: the day of judgement on Israel, or the ‘end of the world’, or, possibly, both?]
Isaiah 2:6 – 21

 

Isaiah 3:16 – 4:1

 

Isaiah 7:18 – 25

 

Isaiah 13:6 – 13

 

Isaiah 22:5, 12, 25

 

Jeremiah 4:5 – 9

 

Ezekiel 7:1 – 14

Joel 2:11

Joel 3:14

Zephaniah 1:7 – 2:3

 

Zechariah 14:1,2

 

C.2 Hypocritical worship – 5:21 – 27
Amos has already drawn attention to Israel’s religious failures:

God had worked powerfully on their behalf in the past, but they had silenced both his prophets and the Nazarites who were committed to his service (2:9 – 12).

Out of all the families of the earth God had chosen them, but they had not lived in keeping with his commands (3:2). Those sins included widespread, ongoing social injustice (multiple references).

They had embraced other gods and other worship (3:14; 4:4,5; 5:5,6).

Yet despite all of this, and despite the warnings embedded in the Sinai covenant along with its promises, they lived with the mistaken confidence that they were outside of God’s judgements, and looked to ‘the day of the LORD’ with anticipation, not with dread.

So Amos confronts them with what God really thinks about their syncretistic worship that had lulled them into a false sense of security.

What did God think about ...
Their religious feasts?

Their religious assemblies?

Their burnt offerings and grain offerings?

Their fellowship offerings?

Their songs and their music?

In Leviticus 26:14 – 39 God had warned the Israelites what would happen if they did not listen to him and carry out his commands. These warnings included ‘I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings’ (verse 31). None of their visible, audible worship was acceptable to God unless it was a true expression of their hearts. As God will later say to Judah ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ (Isaiah 29:13). They went through the outward expressions of worship, but their lives betrayed the true state of their hearts. So God says to them

‘But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!’ (Amos 5:24).

That, not the outward trappings of worship, would have validated their claim to faith.

God then reminds them (verse 25) that right from the beginning, during the forty years in the desert, their sacrifices and offerings had been superficial. Even then their hearts were not aligned with God; even then, as we have seen earlier, they embraced idols, even while promising to keep the covenant requirements, even while promising to have no God but God. And that practice of idolatrous worship has persisted to the present (verse 26).

Because of their persistence in idolatry, because, rather than honouring God, they have lifted up idols, God, the almighty, sovereign God, will bring the northern kingdom of Israel to an end (verse 27).

REFLECTION
What have you learned about God from this study – who he is and what he does?

 

 

What have you learned about the right human response to God?

 

 

What have you learned about the wrong human response to God?

 

 

What have you learned about right and wrong treatment of your fellow humans?

 

 

Where are you positioned, personally, regarding the previous three questions?