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The Hebrew Prophet Amos: Prophetic Warnings for Our Time‏

“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”  (Matthew 24:12)

Yeshua (Jesus) prophesied that in the last days lawlessness and wickedness would increase and because of that people’s hearts would grow cold.

We live in a time that sets legal precedents for legitimizing sin, turning whole nations and cultures away from God’s most basic teachings.

Sadly, in many cases today, the concept of justice has been perverted in an attempt to defend the so-called rights of all groups against God’s commandments as set down in His Torah.

This is certainly a time in which the love of many is growing cold.

Roy Lichtenstein mural at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Roy Lichtenstein mural at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

The Hebrew prophet Amos, whose writings are included in the Tanakh’s (Old Testament) Trei Asar (The Twelve / minor prophets), also lived in such an age.

His warnings to Israel and the surrounding nations still ring true and carry the same urgency in our time.

Just as Israel, Judah and the surrounding nations were not able to escape the judgment that their actions brought against them, so the actions of Israel and the nations today are weighed in the balance.

Although Israel today is a sign and a wonder, even this tiny nation, which is such a blessing to the world, has also fallen into the trap of accepting “modern” values that deny the basic tenets set down by the Creator of the Universe.

Stained glass at the Alsatian Museum of Strasbourg (Photo by Ji Elle)

Stained glass at the Alsatian Museum of Strasbourg (Photo by Ji Elle)

Prosperity and Decadence in the Holy Land

The Bible states that Amos prophesied “two years before the earthquake,” which was roughly halfway through the eighth century BC.

Amos lived at the same time as the prophet Hosea.  Both were active during the reign of Jeroboam II, king of the 10 northern tribes of Israel, and Uzziah, king of Judah.

During the first half of the 8th century BC, Jeroboam was able to extend the borders of his nation, and his government prospered, receiving much tribute from his conquered territories.  Uzziah’s reign was marked by peace and prosperity as well.

But despite the success and material prosperity of the Northern Kingdom, moral decay ran rampant, and the hearts of many were cold.  The affluent of Israel were focused on themselves and not on caring for one another.  They were more concerned with acquiring wealth than with living righteously.

The Book of Amos describes an arrogant, hypocritical, immoral people who sold the needy, oppressed the poor, took advantage of the helpless, charged exorbitant rents, and gained profits dishonestly.  Even the prophets prophesied for money.

Israel had become a nation in which the life of the poor was considered cheap while the rich lounged about eating the best food, listening to music and getting drunk.  They thought only of themselves with little concern for the nation as a whole.

A map showing the influence of the Assyrian Empire during the 8th century BC. Amos likely prophesied in 762 BC, providing a 40-year window for repentance. The people did not listen, however, and Israel went into captivity in about 718 BC.

A map showing the influence of the Assyrian Empire during the 8th century BC. Amos likely prophesied in 762 BC, providing a 40-year window for repentance.  The people did not listen, however, and Israel went into captivity around 718 BC.

Although they kept the festivals and the Sabbath, they did so grudgingly and out of obligation.

Amos chastised the people who brought sacrifices and worshiped God without repenting:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.”  (Amos 5:21–23)

God is unmoved by our holy feasts and celebrations when they are practiced without turning to Him.

Each of us can examine ourselves in light of these verses; we need to check our hearts to make sure that our actions have not become routine repetitions of well-known praise songs and dances and our holy days just holidays.

Pre- Shabbat celebration on a street in Tzfat (Safed), a spiritual and artistic center in Israel.

Pre- Shabbat celebration on a street in Tzfat (Safed), a spiritual and artistic center in Israel.

The age of Amos was a time of corruption and the degeneration of moral values.

In the North, temples were built on high places containing every form of idol, including the Golden Calves that the first King Jeroboam had set up to draw the people away from the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

As these practices grew, the teachings of the Torah were increasingly treated with contempt.

One might see a parallel situation in the way that people today, both in Israel and abroad, have come to worship material pleasures, cultural icons and false religions, which largely disregard the morals and beliefs set down in the Torah.

God continually attempted to combat this trend by sending His prophets to the people with admonitions.  But their warnings, for the most part, went unheeded.

The Prophet Amos, by Gustave Dore

The Prophet Amos, by Gustave Dore

The Prophet Amos Values the Poor and Needy

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

To turn Israel back to Himself, Adonai uproots a shepherd-farmer from Judah and sends him to Israel.

Amos is a quiet and humble man who does not want to be associated with the professional prophets who served the kings at that time.

“Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.’”  (Amos 7:14)

Amos warns the northern tribes of Israel that they will be judged for their disregard of God’s Word and His laws, as well as for their sexual offenses and indifference to the needs of the poor — the evyonim (those in need).

We see this word used elsewhere in Scripture:

  • In Exodus 23:11, this same word refers to those who lack food.
  • In Isaiah 41:17, it refers to those who lack water.
  • In Job 31:19, it refers to those who are in need of clothing.
An impoverished Jewish man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

An impoverished Jewish man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

Amos tells Israel that the evyonim are being “crushed” (4:1) and over-taxed (5:11).

Amos also uses other terms for the poor and needy.  He speaks of the anavim (lowly ones) (8:4) — those who are afflicted and vulnerable. Isaiah (61:1) describes them as meek or humble.

Amos rails against the exploitation of the dallim (poor, have nots).

In his description of the gap between the rich and the poor in the Northern Kingdom, this word is used.  They are forced into debt through borrowing at exorbitant rates to hold on to their land, leading to debt slavery.

Those who prosper are said to have done so through the use of crooked, deceitful scales (ul’avet mozenei mirma) (8:5).  Bribes are used to subvert justice (5:12).

Amos encourages mishpat (correct judgment or being judged for one’s acts) and tzedakah (righteousness), emphasizing the requirement to act rightly and in accordance with God’s Word.

He warns the rich that they would not be able to enjoy their riches for much longer because judgment is coming upon Israel:

“Seek good, not evil, that you may live.  Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say He is.  Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.  Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.”  (5:14–15) 

A senior purchases food in a market in Israel.

A senior purchases food in a market in Israel.

Amos appears before the people as they are sacrificing to their Golden Calf at the special temple set up by King Jeroboam I and announces God’s intention to punish Israel.

This angers the crowd and Amaziah, the priest, incites the people against him.  But Jeroboam protects him.

Amaziah ridicules Amos, telling him to go to Judah where he would be more accepted as a prophet.  Amos replies that he is neither a prophet nor the son of one but a simple man sent by God to warn the people (7:10–15).

Nevertheless, Amos is forced to leave the Northern Kingdom and return to his home in Tekoa in the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

This expulsion prompts Amos to write down his message, the first of the prophets to do so.  (Jewish Encyclopedia)

The book of Amos

The book of Amos

God’s Judgment and Mercy for All

Amos predicts that God will ultimately sift the people of Israel “among all the nations, as grain is shaken in a sieve” (9:9) and only the righteous will survive.

Note that this sifting is not restricted to those living in Israel but also those “among all the nations.”

Amos also warns those who long for the Day of the Lord: “Why do you long for the day of the Lord?  That day will be darkness, not light.  It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear.”  (5:18–19)

While the Book of Amos is primarily a book of judgment, it ends with God’s mercy and the promise that the Jewish People will be returned to their land never to be rooted out again:

“‘They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.  They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.  I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,’ says the Lord your God.”  (9:14–15)

According to Israel Tourism, Israel has 25 commercial wineries and over 150 boutique wineries. Eighty-five percent of them were founded in the last decade. (Israel Tourism photo)

70 commercial wineries and over 250 boutique wineries in Israel produce
over 40 million bottles of wine a year.  (Israel Tourism photo)

So, on the one hand, we have Amos’ promise of the restoration of the Land of Israel, but on the other hand we have his warnings which are still relevant today — both for those living abroad as well as for those living in the Land.

Those days of prosperity, at least in the Northern Kingdom, made it possible for some to live extravagant lives while ignoring many of the great concepts and commandments of the Jewish Law that taught the people to practice justice and loving kindness.

We see the same situation in many nations today, and they are not immune to judgment.

Amos’ warnings extend beyond the borders of the Holy Land.

We know this is true because the Book of Amos describes God as having concern for the nations: “‘Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?’ declares the Lord.  ‘Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?’”  (9:7)

God is not only the God of Israel; He is also the God of the entire universe.

He cares for all people everywhere, and He sees the oppressed and needy wherever they are, not just in Israel.

Women pray at the Women's Section of the Western (Wailing) Wall.

Women pray at the Women’s Section of the Western (Wailing) Wall.

Amos reveals that there are dire consequence for failing to care for the poor, orphans, and widows.

When we ignore those in need, our pious displays become meaningless.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the needs of others, placing a priority on prayer services over serving Him in practical ways.  Both are essential.

If we are truly in relationship with Him, it will be expressed also in our relationships with each other and our attitudes toward those who have less than ourselves.

God desires justice and yet, today, despite humankind’s knowledge and advancements, injustice is everywhere.  So as Believers we have much to do.

In a world in which one child dies of malnutrition every six seconds, and refugees are fleeing for their safety, Amos’ prophecies have special relevance.

This Hebrew prophet points us to the place where worshiping Adonai and the formation of a caring, loving community intersect and result in appropriate outreach to the needy and the oppressed wherever they are found.

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