Amos is a sheepherder and keeper of figs from Tekoa, a city just south of Jerusalem in Judah, sent by God to prophesy against Israel. Though he lives in the Southern Kingdom, he is sent to speak against the North. The words he speaks come from visions that God has sent to him.
He speaks when Uzziah is king of Judah (came to the throne as co-regent when his father was taken hostage in 790 BC, sole ruler after his father’s death in 767 until stricken with leprosy in 750) and Jeroboam II is king of Israel (793-753). The text mentions that Amos prophesies two years before the earthquake (see Zechariah 14:5). The timing of this earthquake is uncertain, but some archeological evidence points to a devastating earthquake around 760 BC. If this is correct, Amos’ prophecy probably takes place somewhere between the time Uzziah ascends to the throne in 767 and the possible earthquake year of 760. This means that it is approximately 40 to 45 years before Assyria destroys Samaria in 722.
Verse 2 sets the tone for the whole book and summarizes Amos’ message to sinful Israel. His very first word is Yahweh – the covenant-keeping God, the God of Israel, the God who delivered the nation from Egypt, the God who chose Israel as His people and promised them, “I am Yahweh, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am Yahweh your God who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am Yahweh” (Exodus 6:6-8). To an Israelite, the name Yahweh is synonymous with covenant and privilege (chosen people) and protection.
God told Moses that Yahweh is His name forever and His memorial name to all generations of Israel (Exodus 3:15). Yahweh is the source of both salvation and judgment – He rescues His chosen people and punishes His enemies. He saves and judges based on His holiness and justice and mercy. Yahweh was the fire in the bush who made Moses remove his sandals because he was on holy ground (Exodus 3:5). Yahweh was a consuming fire on Sinai and threatened anyone who touched the mountain with death because of His holiness (Exodus 19:16-25). Yahweh is the name for God used only by Israel.
The covenant-keeping God cannot violate His Word. He promised Israel that He would punish it if the people did not keep the covenant. He promised that He would remove them from the land and make their cities and temples desolate if they did not obey (Leviticus 26:14-39). He can be merciful and longsuffering and patient, and can extend His mercies to generations who do not obey Him, but He ultimately MUST keep His promises. He who promised to judge is now ready to fulfill His Word.
Yahweh roars from Zion. This is not meant to be a passive picture. The roar is that of a lion ready to pounce and eat. Israel is in danger of complete destruction at the hands of its God. Yahweh is now the hunter instead of the protector. The nation that is prosperous and peaceful and militarily successful is in mortal danger of being ripped apart by a ravenous lion that is already roaring and ready to destroy.
The roar comes from Zion, the voice from Jerusalem. God’s true home is in the temple at Jerusalem. Israel may worship at Dan and Bethel and Gilgal, but God is not in any of those places – His presence is in Jerusalem and His roar and voice come from there (this is likely not a popular sentiment with the people Amos prophesies to – they have been worshiping in their cities and in their way for almost 10 generations). Jerusalem is where His altar is, where the Mercy Seat is, where sacrifices are offered as atonement for sins. It is where sins are punished by fire on the altar and mercy is given as a result. Jerusalem is the perfect picture of Yahweh as the source of both salvation and judgment.
When Yahweh roars, all people and all things and all lands are affected (see also Joel 3:16 where Joel uses similar language to depict God’s judgment on all the earth, but salvation and protection for His people). Israel will feel His wrath from the grazing lands in the valleys to the summit of Mount Carmel (where annual rainfall of 28 inches and its location on the coast of the Mediterranean make it one of the lushest areas of the country – for it to dry up would mean catastrophic drought) – no area and no person will be spared. Beyond Israel, Amos is about to pronounce judgment on all the nations surrounding Israel. Yahweh is the judge of the whole earth – and He is preparing to attack and destroy not just Israel but all of its neighbors too.
Think how this sounds to the Israelite mind. Yahweh is Israel’s God. Yahweh is Israel’s protector. Yahweh MUST be pleased with Israel because He has extended its borders and given it prosperity and peace and victory over its enemies. Yahweh roars from Zion? Yahweh is ready to pounce from Judah and destroy Israel? Amos’ words do not correlate with the current landscape – all is good, all is peaceful, the land is fruitful and the religious ceremonies are flourishing. Israel has not thrived like this for almost 200 years (the Northern Kingdom on its own has NEVER thrived like this). Yahweh does not pounce on His chosen people.
In actuality, the Israelites have done exactly what God warned them not to do back when they wandered in the wilderness. He told them not to become full of themselves and forget God in their prosperity (Deuteronomy 8:11-20). He told them that if they loved wealth and comfort more than Him He would destroy them.
Israel is not ready for Amos and ultimately will not believe him. They are sure of their place as God’s chosen people and of the effectiveness of their religious practices. Amos’ message is meant to jolt them from their lethargy and hypocrisy – meant to show them that election without obedience (faith without works) does not exist.
The people of God had fallen asleep in the comfort of the privileges of salvation and needed to be jolted into the awareness that the only assured certainty of the possession of those privileges was the evidence of a life committed without reserve to being holy as their Savior God is holy. (J.A. Motyer. The Message of Amos. The Bible Speaks Today; p 25)
Thoughts and Applications
- Amos speaks to people who think they are safely under God’s protection as His chosen people and consequently have nothing to fear because God has promised them an eternal inheritance in the land. Yet it is this very God who is about to judge them and destroy them. They know nothing of the fear of God and it ultimately will lead to their destruction. How real is the fear of God in our lives? We are not under His wrath if we are His – but do we examine ourselves regularly in fear and trembling to make sure we ARE His (Phil 2:12)? Do we ever think of our God as one who roars?
- Do we grasp how much our God hates sin? Do we understand that in the midst of the love and grace of the cross is God’s wrath poured out in graphic and horrible fashion? He roared from Zion because of the sin of His people. The very sin that we take lightly and assume will be forgiven is the sin that caused Him to attack His people as a ravenous lion. The wrath of a sin-hating God ought to be part of the permanent consciousness of the Christian, for God never hates sin more than when He sees it defiling the life of His people. (J.A. Motyer. The Message of Amos. The Bible Speaks Today; p 28)
- Do we fear falling away? Do we have a healthy fear of the deceitfulness of our hearts? Do we make our calling sure and examine the fruit in our lives to make sure we are His? Or do we just assume everything will be OK because we go to church and live inside Christian circles and “got saved” at some point in the past, even though there is no evidence of communion with God in our lives and our love of the world far outweighs our love of God? A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit (Matt 7:18). Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things (bear fruit), you will never stumble (II Peter 1:10). Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven (Matt 7:21).
- The Fatherhood of God, the supreme privilege of our redeemed position, is also the ground of perpetual fear. More than in any other matter, the message of Amos has abiding relevance at this point – to force us to make our calling and election sure, to remind us that it is one thing to claim God’s promises but another to inherit them, and to teach, 760 years before a greater than Amos used the words, that many will call out ‘Lord, Lord’ only to hear the words in reply, ‘Depart from me you evil-doers.’ (J.A. Motyer. The Message of Amos. The Bible Speaks Today; p 28)
- Do we truly appreciate the gospel? Does the picture of our God as a roaring lion ready to pounce and destroy make us appreciate even more our Savior who saves us from His wrath? Amos says Yahweh roars from Zion. Zion is the place of God’s presence and God’s justice – but it is also the place of redemption and atonement and mercy. The wrath of God is poured out on the fire of the altar, but the atonement of God is effective for those who come to the altar and give their sins to Him. Amos is primarily a message of judgment, but it comes from the place of mercy that is available to all.