We are coming now to a place in this book where Amos begins hitting his stride. His central condemnation here is directed at that corruption of worship which results in the idolatry of opulent violence. The prophet here takes his stand against monsters who sleep on satin sheets, apes dressed in purple.
“Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying . . .”
OVERVIEW OF THE STRUCTURE:
We have three distinct oracles coming from Amos, introduced the same kind of way (in 3:1, 4:1, and 5:1). This particular prophecy is structured (not surprisingly) in a seven-fold chiasm, one that reveals to us the central point toward which Amos is driving.
a God will punish Israel for her sins. Note the word hear (3:1-2);
b Disaster announced by the prophets is coming. Note the lion (3:3-8);
c Foreign fortresses called to assemble as a witness (3:9);
d Israel does not know how to do what is right (3:10);
c’ Israel’s fortress will be demolished (3:11);
b’ Coming of nearly total disaster. Note the lion (3:12);
a’ God will punish Israel for her sins. Note the word hear (3:13-15).
OVERVIEW OF THE TEXT:
This is an indictment of Israel, a nation that does not know how to obey, and which will inevitably suffer judgment as a result. Note that he establishes his “thesis statement” differently than we do, but it is clear enough for all that. God had delivered Israel from the land of Egypt (v. 1), and His electing love had rested upon them (v. 2). They would therefore be judged for their ungrateful iniquities (v. 2). Amos then presents a series of rhetorical questions, the answer to which is always no. He is defending himself against the charge that his denunciation are just so much babble chatter. Can two walk together unless they are agreed (v. 3)? No. So God and his prophets are agreed. Do lions roar when they haven’t taken prey (v. 4)? No. So God will not roar without prey. Do birds tumble when there has been no trap set (vv. 5) No. So Israel will tumble into God’s trap. Will the warning trumpet sound without the people trembling (v. 6)? No. So they will tremble at God’s judgment. Can a disaster happen to a city by chance or fortune (v. 6). No. Neither will it happen that way to Samaria.
And with His chosen people, God does not sneak up on them. He reveals what He is going to do through His prophets (vv. 7-8). God then summons a couple pagan nations—every bit as bad as Israel—to witness the riots and tumults in Samaria, and the oppressed people there (v. 9). And here is the central point—Israel is so clearly wicked that even these pagans can see it, and their sin is this: they store up violence and theft in palaces (v. 10). God then promises that judgment will come on those palaces (v. 11). As a shepherd proves that a predator took one of the flock by bringing back a scrap of the carcase, so we will discover Israel in a few scraps of renowned luxury funiture from Damascus (v. 12). Hear the word of God (v. 13), when God visits this judgment upon them, it will land squarely on the false altars of Bethel, the root and source of all the evils (v. 14). The furniture that will be shattered will include the shrine furniture. God will then come and strike their ostentatious wealth—the winter house and the lake cabin, the houses made out of ivory, and multiple (or great) houses will be destroyed (v. 15).
So what are Americans to do with this? What are American Christians to do with this? Taking one thing with another, we are the wealthiest people who have ever lived. Is simple wealth the problem here? The answer is obviously no, but as we meditate on this let us take care not to rush to the comfort. But first the no. Abraham andDavid were rich. Job was rich. John Mark was rich. Zacchaeus gave away half of everything, and was still rich afterwards. The Bible contains very clear instructions to rich Christians (1 Tim. 6:17-19), presupposing that they will continue to remain such. God promises wealth as a blessing for obedience (Dt. 8: 7-18). Wealth is one of God’s means for establishing the covenant (Dt. 8:18). Clearly, those whose “zero-sum game”mentality makes them and their envious, stingy hearts say that “more for you” automatically means robbery from someone else do not understand the wealth and kindness of God. We may safely leave them to gnaw on their bones.
BUT NOT RUSHING TO FALSE COMFORT:
So God does not mind His people having money. He does mind money having His people. But usually, as soon as something like that is said, a collective sigh of relief goes up, and we all move on to the next subject. But remember that we are in the book of Amos. Is there anything for us to learn here? Obviously, yes, there is, and it has to be said that unless we in America repent our wealth is going to be destroyed, right along with us. Why? To answer that question, we have to ask what the wealth of Israel goes with in this chapter.
First, in the worship of our churches, very wealthy churches, “altars at Bethel” abound. Our worship is corrupt and wealth won’t fix that. Second, like Israel we are ungrateful for our Christian heritage. We are a wealthy nation, formerly Christian, that refuses to be a Christian nation again. How does such glaring inratitude not invite judgment? Third, in the Church today we answer all Amos’ rhetorical questions the wrong way. We deny that we can respond intelligently to the historical chastisements of God (e.g. 9-11). Fourth, like Israel we pretend that we are vindicated because others are worse. Yes, they are, and God still invites them to watch and chortle. Fifth, Amos notes the presence of “tumults,” the “oppressed,” “violence,” and “robbery,” and all within Israel’s own midst. We have the same kind of problems in our midst. And last, when wealth becomes a god, men glory in an ostentatious display of that god’s “majesty.” The point is not the mere existence of high-end items, which is inescapable, but rather the vaunting, which is not necessary.
FOR INSTANCE . . .
Let us return to that fifth point for a moment. What does inflation do to those on fixed incomes? It steals from them. What has the nanny state done to the black family in America? It has taken a wrecking ball to it. Where are you most likely to find palaces made out of “ivory” in our nation? At the receiving end of a tax-funded pipeline of some sort. What do our tariffs, price supports, and food donations do to Third World farmers? Keeps them at or below subsistence level. And the fact that a veneer is placed on top of such things provides no excuse.