STUDY TEN: AMOS 9:1 – 15

© Rosemary Bardsley 2021

Although both the main thrust of Amos’ message, and specific accusations, are directed towards the ten tribes that comprised the northern kingdom, Israel, there are a number of indications that some of the things he said and the warnings he gave applied also to Judah, the southern kingdom, where kings of David’s line continued to reign.

This broader application of his message is indicated in the following:

In the prophets, ‘Israel’ sometimes had particular reference to the northern kingdom, but was also used to refer to the whole twelve tribes.

In his introduction, Amos stated that ‘The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem’. Jerusalem (aka Zion) was both the capital city of Judah, and the divinely authorised worship centre for the whole of Israel.

Amos 2:4 – 5 directly addresses Judah.

God’s historic actions on their behalf in bringing them up out of Egypt (2:10) were true of both the northern and southern tribes. And in 3:1 we read ‘Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel – against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt.’

Similarly, in 3:2, God refers to the whole people ... ‘You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth.’

In 6:1 the message is addressed to those ‘who are complacent in Zion’ as well as those ‘who feel secure on Mount Samaria.’

In 6:8 God says ‘I abhor the pride of Jacob’ – where ‘Jacob’ potentially includes all the descendants of Jacob, all of the twelve tribes. And in 7:2 and 5 Amos pleads on behalf of ‘Jacob’. In 8:7, God swears by ‘the Pride of Jacob’ – a reference to himself as the true source of significance and glory of the whole nation that he had declared to be his own.

A. THE LORD STANDING BY THE ALTAR

Now in 9:1 Amos reports that he saw the LORD ‘standing by the altar’ and calling for the destruction of the temple. And the question is raised: Is this the altar and temple in Jerusalem, or is it one of the altars and temples in the northern kingdom, associated with idolatry, but syncretistically mimicking some of the rituals of the Sinai covenant? Scholars are divided about this.

However, the fact that Amos began his prophecy by saying ‘The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem’ makes it quite fitting that this last chapter of his prophecy would also begin with the LORD standing by the altar that was in Jerusalem. In addition, Amos specifically says the altar, whereas he has previously referred to the altars, plural, at Bethel (3:14).

Let us look at the history and significance of the temple in Jerusalem.

A.1 The Tabernacle
In Exodus 25 to 30 Moses recorded the instructions which God gave him about the tabernacle, its furnishings and its priests. The purpose of the tabernacle is stated a number of times:

Exodus 25:8: ‘Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.’
Exodus 25:22: ‘There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.’
Exodus 29:42, 43: ‘There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.’

The work of constructing the tabernacle and its furnishings is described in Exodus 35:30 to 40:33. When the tabernacle was completed we read:

Exodus 40:34, 35, 38: ‘Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. ... So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.’

Although all of the tabernacle furnishings have significance, there are two items of great significance.

The Ark of the Testimony. This was located in the Most Holy Place. In it were, among other objects, the two tablets of stone on which the covenant law was inscribed. Its cover, sometimes called the ‘atonement cover’ or ‘mercy seat’, and on which were two golden cherubim, was the place where atonement for sin was made once a year on the Day of Atonement. Importantly, this ark, in this Most Holy Place, spoke of the presence of God with his people

The bronze altar. This was situated in the courtyard. Here various animals were sacrificed – daily (the morning and evening sacrifices), weekly (on the Sabbath), monthly (New Moon festival), and at a number of annual festivals (Passover, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles). In addition, whenever an individual felt the need for forgiveness they could bring sacrifices and offerings for the priests to offer on their behalf. This altar was of key significance in the covenant requirements, providing a means of forgiveness, of expressing thankfulness, and of fellowship with God.

Given the high significance of the tabernacle, there is surprisingly little reference to it in the history of Israel. Most of the references to it are in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. We read in Joshua 18:1 that when Joshua had brought the land under the control of the Israelites the tabernacle was set up at Shiloh, and (although it is not mentioned in Judges) it seems to have continued there during most of the two hundred years of Israel’s history reported in Judges. It was still at Shiloh in 1Samuel 3:3. 1Samuel 21:1 – 6 indicates that the tabernacle was then at Nob (this was during the time when Saul was king). During David’s reign the tabernacle was in Gibeon (1Chronicles 16:39).

The Ark of the Testimony (the symbol of God’s presence with them) had a somewhat separate history. It played a significant role in both the crossing of the Jordan River (Joshua 3 & 4) and the fall of Jericho (Joshua 6). It was the central focus of anxious prayer (Joshua 7:6), and of renewal of the covenant (Joshua 8:33 – 35). It is mentioned only once in Judges (Judges 20:27), where it was located at Bethel. 1Samuel 3:3 locates it in the tabernacle at Shiloh. In 1Samuel 4 it is taken into battle by the Israelites and captured by the Philistines, where it caused destruction (1Samuel 5) and was returned to Israel (1Samuel 6:1 – 7:2) where it was positioned in Kiriath Jearim for twenty years. King Saul took it into battle with him (1Samuel 14:18). In 2Samuel 6 David had the ark brought to Jerusalem, where he had set up a tent for it.

A.2 The temple
When Solomon built the temple (1Kings 6; 2Chronicles 3) he had the ark, and the tabernacle and its furnishing brought into the temple. From this point on the temple, with God’s affirmation, became the centre of Israel’s worship, taking over the role and significance of the tabernacle and the ark.

Read the verses. Answer the questions.
2Chronicles 5:2 – 14
What happened when the ark was positioned in the Most Holy Place in the temple? (v13, 14)

 

2Chronicles 6:12 – 42
What significance is given to the temple and to Jerusalem in verses 5 to 10?

 

What was in the ark that gave it great significance? (v11)

 

Where was Solomon standing, then kneeling, as he dedicated the temple? (v12)

 

How did he acknowledge God, and the covenant responsibilities of the people? (v14)

 

What connection does Solomon make between prayer, the temple, and the presence of God? (vs20 & 21, 24 & 25, 26 & 27, 29 & 30, 34 & 35, 38 & 39)

 

What is Solomon’s desire for the temple? (vs32 – 33; 41 – 42)

 

 

But what does Solomon fear? (vs24, 36)

 

2Chronicles 7:1 – 3
How did God demonstrate his presence in and acceptance of the temple and the associated offerings

 

2Chronicles 7:11 – 22
How did God affirm the temple? (v12,15, 16)

 

What would happen to the temple if the nation embraced other gods? (v19 – 22)

 

 

Now here in Amos 9 God stands by the altar, the place he had provided grace and forgiveness, and announces the destruction of both the temple and the people.

B. THE JUDGEMENT

B.1 No one will escape – 9:1 - 4
God makes it very clear that no one will escape the judgement about to fall.

Read these verses. How is this inescapability of the judgement described?
9:1

9:2

9:3

 

9:4

Now answer these questions:
How certain is the judgement?

Who is it who brings about and implements the judgement?

How do you feel about God’s last statement in verse 4?

 

How are God’s judgements here an expression of his faithfulness to the Sinai Covenant that we have looked at previously?

 

What can you learn about the final judgement of the whole world from these verses?

 

When the judgement comes, there is no way to escape it. Just as there is nowhere that we can be hidden from God’s sight, so there is no place to go where his justice and his judgement cannot follow and find us. The same God who in his grace provided the altar as a vehicle for atonement and forgiveness, now stands beside the altar and calls down his judgement. The same God who confirmed the temple as a house for his Name, now calls for an action that will destroy that temple and the people who had despised and dishonoured both him and his Name.

B.2 The Sovereign LORD – 9:5 – 10
Lest Israel wrongly believe that God will not or cannot do what he says, or think that he is just another ‘god’ like the ‘gods’ they have embraced, he reminds them who he is.

He is:

‘The Lord’ – adonai : the Master, the one in charge.
‘the LORD Almighty’ – Yahweh: I AM + tsawbaw: of hosts.

He is the Sovereign Lord. All the hosts of heaven are under his command. All the armies of the nations are under his sovereign authority. All the multitudes of people on the earth are under his control. He can do with them whatever he pleases. Similarly, all the natural elements on the earth and in the universe are in his charge. He can command them as he wills.

Note what Amos records: the earth, the land, the heavens (the atmosphere, outer space), the foundations of the earth, the sea, the rain – all are subject to God’s command. Normally all of these great spheres of nature operate by the ‘laws of nature’ that God has embedded into the universe, but, at his will, he can intervene, he can interrupt the normal, and bring about the abnormal to achieve his purposes.

Read these verses. How did God interrupt the natural order of things? And why did he do it?
Genesis 6:17; 7:11, 12

Exodus 14:21, 22

2Kings 20:8 – 11

Daniel 6:16 – 22

 

This Almighty LORD is sovereign not only over the natural universe, but also over the nations of the earth. In 9:7 God speaks of this. Although he, in his sovereign purpose chose Israel to be his special people, Israel is not the only nation that he has dealings with. Every nation, every people group – and God mentions three: Cushites (Ethiopians), Philistines, Arameans (Syrians) – are God’s to raise up, God’s to bring down, God’s to move as he wills. And he does this without their knowledge and without their consent. As we know from history, God would soon move the Assyrians and use them as his instrument of judgement upon Israel. And two hundred years later, he would move the Babylonians to execute his judgement upon Judah. And then, seventy years later, he would move the Persians to defeat Babylon and release the exiled Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem. Later still, he would move the Greeks and then the Romans so that when his Son became flesh and dwelt among us there would be a common language for the preaching of the gospel, and a public execution by crucifixion in fulfilment of the scriptures.

Israel, the chosen people, was not above God’s judgement. God, the Sovereign LORD, sees all that Israel is doing, and he will certainly bring on the judgement. Rather than the covenant protecting them from God’s judgement, the covenant itself required that the judgement must fall. It has, in fact, rendered them more culpable, more deserving of that judgement.

Verses 8 – 10:
Verse 8 tells us that ‘the eyes of the Sovereign LORD are on the sinful kingdom. I will destroy it from the face of the earth’. It is not just that God sees sinful Israel, but that seeing them means that he cannot disregard, he cannot turn a blind eye, to their sin. Seeing their on-going sin his wrath, his anger, indeed his justice, is aroused..

Verse 9 tells us that God will scatter them among all the nations.

Verse 10 tells us that all the sinners among God’s people will die the sword, even those who deny that the judgement will happen.

B.3 Did the judgement happen?
Within three decades of Amos making this prophecy the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians (722BC); the population was deported and resettled elsewhere (2Kings 17:5, 6, 22, 23). Their temples, shrines and altars were destroyed by Josiah, King of Judah (640 – 609BC) (2Kings 23:15 – 20), even as Amos had predicted in 3:14.

In just under two centuries, the temple in Jerusalem was pillaged and destroyed by the Babylonians, and, except for the poor and the insignificant, the people of Judah were exiled to Babylon (2Kings 24:10 – 25:21; 2Chronicles 36:6,7, 15 - 21).

 

C. THE HOPE OF A REMNANT

But even as he stated the certainty of the judgement God also expressed a window of hope: ‘yet I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob’ – verse 8. While the ‘sinful kingdom’, Israel, will be destroyed, Israel was not all of Jacob’s descendants. There was also Judah. And although that nation was also sinful, and also incurred God’s judgement, yet God reserved a remnant. Beyond and before the Sinai covenant was the Abrahamic covenant that was ratified to both Isaac and Jacob. And that Abrahamic covenant required the continuance of Abraham’s descendants until the coming of that one descendant through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. And beyond and after the Sinai covenant was the Davidic covenant, which required the survival of a remnant out of which the promised Messiah, a descendant of David, would arise.

So the final words of Amos’ prophecy look beyond the judgement, beyond the destruction of Israel, beyond the exile of Judah, to a day of restoration.

Read 9:11 – 15. What does God say he will do?
Verse 11

Verse 12

Verse 13

Verse 14

Verse 15

 

There are various interpretations of these verses.

Some understand that they refer to the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian exile.

Some people think they refer to a different future restoration of Israel.

Other people believe that they are referring to the establishment of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, which includes believing Jews and believing Gentiles.

We are left with a question about which Bible scholars are quite divided. So let us try to narrow down the options.

Could it be the return of the exiles from Babylon?
Yes. But only in a very minimal way. The restoration described in verses 11 and 12 seems to be too extensive, and in verse 15 seems far too permanent, for what occurred at the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, and for their history in the following centuries.

The groups of Jews that returned from Babylon to Jerusalem (from 539BC onwards) were relatively few in number. They rebuilt the temple (very small, compared to Solomon’s temple) and the walls of Jerusalem. The actual area of land they occupied was not extensive. They were a province of Persia, and under the control of the Persians. They were sporadically attacked by those who lived in the land (some Gentiles imported there by the Assyrians when they destroyed the northern kingdom; some Jews left there by the Babylonians; some the result of marriages between these two groups). The returning exiles also had varying levels of commitment to God and his laws. [See Ezra, Nehemiah, Malachi].

After Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Middle East, including Persia, Israel was under the control of the Greeks (336 – 323BC). The influence of Greek culture further compromised the purity of the faith/religion of the Jews. After Alexander’s death, the Greek empire was divided among his generals, and the Jews found themselves on the disputed boundary between the territory controlled by the Ptolemies (based in Egypt) and the Selucids (occupying former Babylonia). From 323 to 200BC they were controlled by the Ptolemies, and from 200 to166 were under the Selucids. The temple was profaned in 167BC by the Selucid king Antiochus IV (Antiochus Epiphanes), who also banned Jewish religious practices.

As a result of this and other incidents a Jewish rebellion broke out under the leadership of Judas Maccabaeus. Using guerrilla warfare his rebellion was successful, up to a point; the Jews were again permitted to practise their religion; the temple was purified and rededicated in 167BC. However, the Selucids regained a degree of authority until 128BC. During much of this time Judas Maccabaeus and his descendants were recognized as leaders by some of the Jews. His brother, Jonathan, was recognized as Jewish high priest by the Selucid ruler. On his death, their brother Simon was recognized as diplomat, high priest and governor. On his death, his son, John Hyrcanus, succeeded his father, and began what has become known as the Hasmonaean dynasty.

But this created a two-fold tension. The Hasmonaeans, though from the tribe of Levi, were not a priestly family, according to the Law of Moses. Nor were they of the tribe of Judah, which the Law of Moses states holds the sceptre, and from whom David descended. Accordingly, this Hasmonaean dynasty of priest/kings was not acceptable to all of the Jews. It was brought to an end by the Romans in 63BC.

The Roman domination continued through the New Testament era. In AD70, following their desecration of the temple a few years earlier, and a Jewish rebellion that started as a result, the Romans marched through Galilee and Judea, subduing the Jews, then ransacked Jerusalem and burned and destroyed the temple.

For nineteen centuries the land was under the control of various foreign powers.

Although some elements in Amos 9:11 – 15 may apply, in a very temporary way, to the return from the Babylonian exile, the history of those returned Jews indicates that Amos is looking towards something far greater and more permanent than this history of the returned Jews.

David’s ‘fallen tent’ was not restored – whether it means his dynasty or the physical extent of the kingdom under his rule.

There was no possession of ‘all the nations’ evident, rather, various nations possessed them.

There was no remarkable prosperity.

Whatever was rebuilt was repeatedly subject to potential destruction.

The Israelites were again uprooted from the land.

Could Amos have been referring to a different future, permanent restoration of Israel?
Many people hold this view. Some believe Amos, and other prophets, were referring to modern Israel that was proclaimed as ‘the State of Israel’ in 1948. Some understand the astounding victory of this State of Israel in the ‘Six Day War’ in June 1967 as the beginning of this restoration.

But let us look more closely at this.

If ‘David’s fallen tent’ means his dynasty, is there a Davidic king in modern Israel? No.

If ‘David’s fallen tent’ means the geographical national boundaries that existed under David, does modern Israel have those boundaries? No.

Does modern Israel possess ‘Edom’ and ‘all the nations’ that bear God’s name? No. Edom, historically, was overtaken by Arabs. It is Arab nations today who challenge Israel’s borders, and with whom there is on-going conflict.

Does modern Israel enjoy the national productivity and prosperity Amos speaks of in agricultural terms (as commonly done in the Old Testament) in verse 13? Not really. Israel is a world leader in agricultural technologies as it seeks to address the problems of dry-land farming. However, recent statistics indicate that over 20% of Israelis live in poverty – making it one of the worst in developed nations.

Given that other prophetic anticipations of the restoration of Israel include the restoration of true religion and the leadership of the promised Messiah, does modern Israel fulfil these expectations? No. The Messiah is a king in David’s line. There is no such king. Although there are practising Jews, (about half the population) seeking to be faithful to God, they are not able to follow the prescribed rituals of their religion. There is no Temple. There is no altar. There is no Ark and no Atonement Cover. There are, therefore, no sacrifices. They still await the Messiah, having denied the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah.

Is this what Amos was speaking of? Again, like the return after the exile, some of what Amos says seems to fit only in a very minimal way.

Or is Amos painting part of a bigger picture?
The Bible persistently speaks of something far bigger than the restoration of a physical/political nation of Israel, and nation which, in the global scheme of things, is actually very, very small.

Right from the beginning of the Bible there is a forward-looking expectation of the coming of Jesus Christ and his eternal, trans-national kingdom.

We have seen this in the promise of the ‘seed of the woman’ by whom the evil one would be defeated. (Genesis 3:15).

We have seen it in the promise that through one of Abraham’s descendants all nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 22:17, 18).

We have seen it in the promise that David’s dynasty would be everlasting. [Yet we know from history that David’s dynasty came to an end in 587BC.]

We have seen also, that the Sinai Covenant, with its laws and its rituals, its tabernacle and its altar, points ahead to a greater, spiritual reality.

God has a grand purpose that transcends Israel, and in which Israel is not an end in itself, but a vehicle through which God reveals and accomplishes this purpose. In Isaiah 49:6 God says to his Servant (Jesus Christ):

‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.’

And in Isaiah 40:5, prophesying about John the Baptist preparing the way for the Lord:

‘And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.’

The restoration God has planned includes the remnant of Israel; but it also includes the Gentiles, the ends of the earth, as Amos 9:12 indicates.

So what is Amos saying here?

Amos points us to Christ, the Lion of Judah, the Root of Jesse, the Son of David, whose kingdom knows no end. Yes. He is the King of the Jews. But he does not sit on a physical throne in the physical Jerusalem.

Even now he is seated at the right hand of God, with all powers and authorities subject to him, and receiving the adulation not only of the angels but of people whom he has redeemed from every tribe and language and people and nation.

In Christ there is total spiritual blessedness, so rich, so lavish, blessings piled on top of each other, each overtaking the other, never coming to an end, always more than enough. No more spiritual hunger. No more spiritual thirst.

In Christ, that which was lost, is found. That which was in bondage is redeemed. That which was ruined is rebuilt. That which was hungry and thirsty is permanently satisfied. Is Israel included? Yes. If they believe in him. But so also are all who believe ... Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham ... right up to Zacchaeus ... right up to the thief on the cross ... right up to those of whom Paul said that ‘those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith’ (Galatians 3:9) ... right up to us who today believe.

Study these verses. What do they teach about God’s eternal purpose accomplished in Jesus Christ?
Genesis 49:8 – 12

 

Matthew 21:9; Revelation 5:5

Ephesians 1:19 – 23

 

Revelation 5:9 – 14; 7:9 – 12

 

Ephesians 1:3 – 8; John 4:10, 13, 14; 6:35

 

Let us not minimize Amos’ final prophecy to Israel. To do so would be to minimize God. To do so would be to make God’s purpose a far smaller thing than it is. To do so would be to make the same mistake as the Jews of Jesus’ day. They were focused on the smaller thing, the material thing, the physical thing – looking for someone to deliver their nation from the domination of Rome. They failed to see the bigger picture, the larger purpose of God. And in that failure they failed to see and to acknowledge the Messiah.

Let us remember Isaiah 49:6 quoted above, and not be focused on or trapped by the ‘too small a thing’.

For further comments on the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah and the restoration of Israel go to this page

https://www.godswordforyou.com/revelation/revelation-the-big-picture/988-the-eschatological-connection-old-testament.html

and this - https://www.godswordforyou.com/revelation/appendices/1049-2-the-restoration.html

 

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

 

 

What have you learned about God’s judgement?

 

 

Where do you fit in the pictures of God’s judgement and God’s redemption painted by Amos in this chapter?

 

 

 

What have you gained from studying Amos?

 

 

 

What relevance does the book of Amos have for your church and your country today?