Imagine the haggard shepherd, Amos, fresh off his journey from the Southern Kingdom (not six miles from Bethlehem). Imagine him stepping into the sanctuary in Bethel, where worship of God and country had been molded together in the shape of a bull. Imagine him dusting himself off and shutting the worship service down with breaking news from God.
Tracking along with the opening chapters of Amos, we can again imagine Amos on his way up to the capital, calling out the surrounding nations as they fight against the God of Creation, before leveling the charge against the divided kingdom of Judah and Israel (Amos 1 & 2). Then, when he arrives at the temple in Bethel, he calls out every family sitting there (3:1), the housewives living in luxury while they disregard others (4:1), the at-ease upper-echelon (6:1-3), the pastors, politicians, and entertainers (6:5) are all held responsible.
Not since Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy had a prophet reminded God’s people that the state and survival of the nation hinged on faithfulness to God. Prophets of old had spoken to the kings. Now, Amos is condemning not just the leaders, but the citizens of the Northern Kingdom.
Almost no citizen is spared other than the “poor and needy.”
The country had experienced leisure, luxury, and security, while profiting from loopholes and pushing aside the poor (5:12). Did they not remember these were the very same curses they had called down upon their heads? But now another voice cries out on behalf of God, in the middle of their worship: “I hate this! I refuse to take one more look at your so-called worship of Me. Stop this cacophony of singing and music. Instead, let justice—that mighty river—flow and flood like a continuous stream of righteousness” (5:21-24).
This is also the first time that a tremor is felt in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. No name is given, but dredging up the dreaded prophecy of Moses, Amos predicts exile. Another nation will come and take over their Northern Kingdom of Israel (6:14). The words had to have landed like a hammer on the congregation.
That’s when the priest in charge of Bethel, Amaziah, had enough. He stepped forward to put an end to this uneducated shepherd’s yapping. He knew the law was on his side. He hadn’t been listening; he hadn’t heard that God was not on his side, even if the government was. Looking at this disheveled fellow, he says, “Go back to where you came from, and ply your trade in the Southern Kingdom if you’re looking for food. This is the king’s property and this is God’s house, the temple of our kingdom” (Amos 7:10-14).
But Amos doesn’t back down, “I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. I was herding my sheep and keeping the sycamore trees when Yahweh snatched me away and sent me here. So listen up! You’ve told me to shut up. You want me to preach to someone else but not our own people. Well guess what? Disaster is coming on your family. Your land is going to be given away out from under you. And everyone in this land is going to be exiled away from it” (7:14-17).
Amos boldly reminded Israel that–just as Moses had warned–disaster would follow their sin. His words devastated and angered those choosing sin over God. Yet his message concludes with a hope that the exiles could savor after they watched his warnings of captivity come true. God would raise up a new city of David, a new people of His own, planting them Himself, never to be uprooted (9:11-15).
Watch: Bible Project video on Amos
Listen: Amos 3-7