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STUDY EIGHT: AMOS 7:1 – 17

© Rosemary Bardsley 2021

In chapter 7 Amos records three visions that God showed to him, and then reports an incident that occurred while he was preaching. (There is a fourth vision in chapter 8, and a fifth in chapter 9.)

A. THE FIRST THREE VISIONS

Amos does not tell us how God showed him these visions, but he knows exactly what he saw, and he knows what he said to God in response, and how God answered him.

Keil & Delitzsch comment that Amos’s visions ‘are inward intuitions, produced by the Spirit of God, which set forth the punitive judgements of God’.

A.1 The vision of a locust plague – 7:1 – 3
If you have ever seen a locust/grasshopper plague, or video footage of such a plague, you will understand the impact of this vision.

Answer these questions:
Who was preparing the swarms of locusts?

What truths do you know about God that affirm the ability of God to do this?

 

What did the locusts do to the land?

Suggest why Amos was so upset by this impending destruction?

 

Some people think that the locusts are symbols for invading armies, rather than actual locusts. What do you think? Why?

 

For Amos and the people of Israel, the prospect of God sending a plague as either a judgement or a warning of greater judgement was not a new thing. The connection between various plagues, God’s judgement and human sin featured strongly in their history.

Read these verses. What do they show you about God’s purpose in sending plagues?
Genesis 12:10 – 20

 

Exodus 9:13 – 18

 

Leviticus 26:21 – 25

Numbers 14:36 – 37

Numbers 16:41 – 50

Numbers 25:1 – 18; Psalm 106:28 - 31

 

Deuteronomy 28:58 – 63

 

2Samuel 24:10 – 25

 

1Kings 8:35 – 40

 

Revelation 9:18 – 21

 

Revelation 15:5 – 6:12, 17 – 21

 

Is the vision to be understood literally or symbolically? The literal meaning, that God is sending an actual plague of locusts, is certainly quite possible, given the various plagues that were experienced by the Egyptians in Exodus, and those suffered by Israel referred to by Amos in chapter 4. The symbolic meaning, that the locust plague symbolizes an invading army, appears reasonable, until we remember that that is how God eventually did destroy Israel, and God here told Amos ‘This will not happen’. However, as mentioned above, some scholars do believe that the locusts symbolize invading armies.

 

A.2 The vision of fire – Amos 7:4 – 6
In the first vision Amos saw the Sovereign LORD ‘preparing swarms of locusts’; now, in the second vision he sees the Sovereign LORD ‘calling for judgement by fire’, and even as God calls for the fire it ‘dried up the great deep and devoured the land.’ That is an extremely powerful fire.

Answer these questions:
In this vision, what was God doing?

How extensive was the ‘fire’?

How did Amos intercede on behalf of ‘Jacob’?

How did God respond?

What do you think about the fact that ‘God relented’?

What other occasions are there when God is said to repent or relent?

 

 

Again questions arise:

Is the fire a real fire, a real burning, so intense that both the ocean and the land are consumed by it?

If it is, then when did, or when will, such a broad devastation occur?

If not, then what does the ‘fire’ symbolize, and what is the ‘deep’ that is dried up, and the ‘land’ that is devoured?

Or is ‘fire’ a general symbol for God’s judgement, as it is in several biblical texts?

People give a range of answers to these questions. And again we need to keep in mind that God again said ‘This will not happen’ when Amos pleaded on behalf of ‘Jacob’ – that is, Israel. If we understand the ‘fire’ to be invading armies, then God’s ‘this will not happen’ is proved insincere.

 

A.3 ‘and God relented ...’
In Amos 7:2 & 5, Amos pleaded with God to forgive Israel, to stop the calamity, and God ‘relented’, that is God, moved with pity, moved with sorrow, changed his mind, and withdrew the threat of the plague. Similarly with the vision of the terrible fire. This ‘repentance’ of God occurred on a number of occasions in the references in A.1 above, where a plague already in progress was halted by the intercession of a godly human.

This raises two important questions:

A.3.1 The concept of God changing his mind
The Bible teaches that God does not change.

Read these texts. What do they teach about God not changing?
Numbers 23:19

1Samuel 15:29

Ezekiel 24:14

Malachi 3:6

Matthew 5:18

Hebrews 13:8

However, on the other hand, there are verses that say the opposite: that God will actually repent, or change his mind.

Read these texts. What do they say about God repenting or changing his mind?
Genesis 18:20 – 33

 

Jeremiah 18:10

Hosea 11:8, 9

 

Now read these texts for evidence of God changing his mind. What do you learn?
2Kings 20:1 – 7

 

Jonah 3:3 – 10

 

Matthew 18:23 – 27

 

From all of the above, and other texts, we can conclude:

God himself does not change: he is always the same. He is always the Sovereign, Almighty, God. He is always just. He is always love.

God’s sovereign, eternal, purpose, towards which he is always moving, and within which he is always working, does not change.

God’s moral standards are constant.

Human sinfulness at times becomes so pervasive that, even though God is slow to anger, his justice is eventually activated and seems more evident than his compassion.

But, even the most wretched sinners, in their destitution, can, with appropriate repentance, find mercy and forgiveness from the compassionate heart of God. It is not that God ceases to be just, but that he provides a way to be both just and compassionate simultaneously. This is evident in the sacrifices included in the Sinai covenant, and in the death of Jesus Christ ‘the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’.

In addition, there are times when God appears to change his mind just because we ask him to.

We who believe in Jesus Christ, we who have received forgiveness of sins, acquittal, through the death of Christ, are living evidence of this ‘repentance’ of God, this ‘relenting’, this ‘changing’ of God’s mind. Once God’s wrath was upon us: now it is not. Once we were alienated from God because of our sin: now he has reconciled us to himself through the death of his Son. God’s attitude to us ‘changed’ at the moment we were united to Christ by faith, but his justice and his love never changed.

When we look at what has changed, it is not so much that God has changed, but that he, in his grace and mercy, has changed us. For example:

He has opened our blind eyes and enabled us to see the truth (2Corinthians 4:4, 6).

He has brought us to new life in Christ, giving life in the place of spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1 – 5).

He has rescued us out of the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his Son (Colossians 1:13).

He has redeemed us from the guilt and penalty of sin, by sending his Son to pay that penalty (1Peter 2:24).

In this, the plea of Ephraim, found in Jeremiah in 31:18, is instructive (both words are the same verb, which means to turn back): ‘turn thou me, and I shall be turned, for thou art the Lord my God’ (KJV); ‘restore me, and I will return’ (NIV).

God, knowing our absolute inability, knowing our spiritual destitution, has taken the initiative, and has removed the judgement and wrath that hung over us by putting all that judgement and wrath on Christ. Justice and love, love and justice, together expressed in the one act in which the unchanging God appears, from our perspective, to change.

Reflection:
What would your standing before God be today if he had not given you new life in Christ?

What would be your eternal destiny if God had not changed his attitude to you from wrath to peace?

How do you feel about God changing your heart from unbelief to faith?

How much do you thank him for his graciousness towards you?

 

A.3.2 The question: should we intervene in suffering?
If various bodily diseases and other physical plagues are expressions of God’s warning or God’s judgement, should we interfere with those diseases or physical plagues? Should we try to alleviate human suffering? Or, are we going against God’s actions/purposes when we try to alleviate suffering? Are we to embrace the mindset that forbids intervention in suffering because suffering is seen a person’s ‘karma’ – meted out as punishment for sins?

For example, if we believe that a city that has been hit by a severe natural disaster is suffering because of God’s judgement on their sins, should we or should we not try to help those people?

A similar question was raised Camus’ book ‘The Plague’. Francis Schaeffer summarises the dilemma this way:

‘The story is about a plague brought by rats into the city of Oran at the beginning of the Second World War. On the surface it reads like an account of any city that might have been struck by such a tragedy. But Camus intends a deeper understanding. Therefore he confronts the reader with a serious choice: either he must join the doctor and fight the plague, in which case, says Camus, he will then also be fighting God; or he can join with the priest and not fight the plague, and thus be antihumanitarian. This is the choice; and this is the dilemma which Camus faced and which all face who, like him, do not have the Christian answer.’ Francis Schaeffer: The God Who is There, Chapter 3.

The biblical perspective leaves us with no such dilemma. It tells us:

Suffering is in the world only because of the sin that entered as a result of Satan’s deception (Genesis 3). With sin, suffering entered the world, and will be removed only in the new heavens and the new earth [Read Genesis 3; Romans 8:18 – 39; Revelation 21:4]. This does not mean that we can say that every person’s suffering is the direct result/punishment of their personal sins. That may be the case in some instances, but we do not have the knowledge or the authority to make that connection [read John 9:1 – 3].

Some suffering, both physical suffering or demonic oppression, is the result of Satan’s direct activity [Read Mark 9: 17, 18; Luke 13:16].

The Sinai covenant mandated compassion and mercy towards those who were suffering: the poor and needy, the orphans, the widows, the strangers. This compassion was grounded on the compassionate heart of God.

Jesus, the Son of God, during the three years of his ministry, healed the sick, gave hearing to the deaf, and sight to the blind, made the lame walk, brought the dead to life, and set people free from demons. The presence of suffering grieved him greatly, as did the hardness of human hearts towards the suffering of others [read Mark 3:5; John 11:35].

These actions of Jesus in releasing some people from their suffering authorises us to do all that we can to reduce suffering. Although he did not engage in a mass healing ministry, he was very intentional in removing the suffering of individual humans. He acted with deep compassion, and commands us to do the same.

We do not have to waver on the knife-edge of a dilemma like Camus in his book. We are to show mercy and compassion to the hurting because that is what Jesus did. We can safely leave the questions about God’s judgement to him.

A.4 The vision of the plumb line – Amos 7:7 – 9
A ‘plumb line’ is a string with a small but heavy metal ball at one end. It is used by builders to ensure that a wall is perpendicular. In the vision God is standing by a wall that had been built perpendicular by the use of a plumb line, and he has a plumb line in his hand. It seems that, in the vision, although the wall had been built ‘plumb’ it is so no longer. The symbolism is made clear in God’s explanation to Amos – that he is setting his plumb line among his people Israel – he is assessing them, and he will spare them no longer because they are so far from what he made them, so far from how they ought to be.

From the warnings in Exodus and Deuteronomy, and from the messages of other prophets, it is clear that the standard against which God assesses Israel is the Sinai covenant. It required the acknowledgement and worship of God as the only God, and it required compassion and integrity in inter-personal dealings. These God-ward and man-ward responsibilities are summarised in the two great commandments:

To love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
To love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Israel has failed terribly in both of these, as God, through Amos, has already pointed out.

 On this occasion Amos raises no objection. He utters no plea on behalf of his people. He understands, he hears, what God has said: ‘I will spare them no longer’ - literally, ‘I will not pass by them anymore’. That is, I will not pass by, overlooking their sin, withholding the judgement, anymore. The time for judgement has come.

Read these verses. What do you learn about the inevitability of God’s judgement when evil reaches a certain point?
Genesis 18:23 – 32

Jeremiah 7:16

Jeremiah 11:14

Jeremiah 14:11

Ezekiel 14:12 – 20

 

In God’s explanation to Amos (verse 9), the key sin of Israel is identified by the key target of the judgement: the idolatrous worship in which the nation was engaged, and had been engaged from the beginning. The
judgement is directed against the false worship and false gods that Israel had embraced:

The high places of Isaac: ‘Isaac’, the son of Abraham and father of Jacob, is yet another way of referring to Israel. We have seen previously that (1) some of the ‘high places’ where people were now engaging in false worship were sites where the patriarchs had had encounters with God, and had built altars there in honour of God. (2) Some of the ‘high places’ were associated with the pagan worship of the Canaanites who had previously inhabited the land, and which the Israelites, disobeying God’s clear instructions, had not removed when they entered the land. (3) Some they had built for themselves in all of their towns (2Kings 17:9).

The sanctuaries of Israel: Some of these ‘high places’ – Bethel, Dan and Gilgal – were also places where the idolatrous worship was centralised, in deliberate competition with the God-ordained worship in the temple in Jerusalem.

The house of Jeroboam: Jeroboam I had deliberately aligned the northern kingdom, Israel, with idolatrous worship that persisted right through the history of this nation. Jeroboam II was no better – ‘he did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit’ (2Kings 14:24). Jeroboam II was king when Amos was preaching. His dynasty came to an end six months after his death, with the assassination of his son, Zechariah. The kingdom fell to the Assyrian attack 21 years later.

Read these verses. What do they say about the ‘high places’ and ‘sanctuaries’?
Leviticus 26:27, 30, 31

Numbers 33:50 – 52

1Kings 12:31, 32

1Kings 13:1 – 3, 32 – 34

2Kings 17:7 – 12

 

2Kings 17:16 – 18, 22, 23 (this is the fulfilment of the plumb line vision)

 

B. THE CONFRONTATION – Amos 7:10 – 17

In these verses Amos reports a confrontation between himself and Amaziah, a priest of the shrine at Bethel. It is obvious from Amaziah’s report to Jeroboam II that Amos was saying more than what we read in the book ‘Amos’.

Answer these questions:
What did Amaziah accuse Amos of doing? (verse 10)

 

Suggest why Amaziah calls Bethel, where Amos was preaching, ‘the very heart of Israel’? (verse 10)

 

What did Amaziah report that Amos was saying? (verse 11)

 

What did Amaziah tell Amos to do? (verse12, 13)

 

Why did he tell Amos not to prophesy at Bethel? (verse 13)

 

How did Amos defend his authority to prophesy? (verse15)

 

Rather than obey Amaziah’s command, what did Amos say to affirm to Amaziah the certainty of his message of imminent destruction? (verse 17)

 

So far is Amaziah from perceiving the truth – of realising the wrongness of idolatry and all the trappings of idolatrous worship – that he does not recognise the word of God when he hears it.

He thinks that all Amos is doing is raising a conspiracy against the king.
He thinks the Bethel is untouchable because it is the king’s temple.
He thinks the temple there is untouchable because it is the worship centre of the kingdom.

In his ignorance of the great difference between the true God and idols he is not aware that there is anything wrong. The clear dictates of the covenant have been long forgotten. The altars, the worship, the rituals of the high places, the sanctuaries, the shrines, the temples of the northern kingdom, in which Amaziah officiates, are farcical imitations of the real ones described in God’s instructions to Moses as part of the Sinai Covenant.

REFLECTION
What have you learned about God from this study?

 

What have you learned about the grace of God?

 

What have you learned about God’s judgement?

 

Where are you personally positioned – under God’s grace, or under God’s judgement?

 

Re-read 2Peter 3:8 – 10. What do you learn about the patience of God prior to the coming judgement?