Amos ended his remarks in Chapter 4 with a hymn recounting the power of God. He now switches to a dirge to describe the death that awaits Israel. His hearers are likely jarred by the change in tone. Amos begins to chant as if he is in a funeral procession mourning the death of a loved one. He chants and mourns as if Israel is already dead.
Note the chiastic structure of this text:
Call to seek God (4-6)
Hymn to Yahweh (8-9)
Call to seek God (14-15)
[Aside – do not lose track while studying it just how beautifully the Bible is written. Here is a text recounting hard theological truths and strong statements of judgment, yet it is written very deliberately in poetic form. The Creator of all beauty has revealed Himself in a book that contains wonderful and diverse forms of writing.]
The opening lament is in verses 2-3 (Note – inherent in lament is love. You do not lament the death of someone you do not love. In the midst of this condemnation it should not be lost that God takes no joy in punishing His people. He laments their destruction and mourns their removal from the land. He knows the depths of His love and the abundance of blessings they are giving up). Amos describes Israel as the virgin Israel – vulnerable with a life of love and promise ahead of her that will now never be lived. She is the maiden daughter of God who has forsaken her future. She lies neglected on her land and there is none to raise her up. Even Yahweh, her protector and provider, deserted her and was not there to restore her. She will not rise again for her land was overrun and she faced her enemies alone.
Thought: Inherent in discipline is the disappointment of the one administering the punishment. God is disappointed when we sin because He knows so much more than we the wonderful communion and fellowship we give up as a result. He mourns our sin because He loves us and wants what is best for us.
His heart is filled with nothing but love for me, and He longs for me to repent and confess my sins to Him, so that He might show me the gracious and forgiving love that has been in His heart all along.
God does see my sins, and He is grieved by my sins. His grief comes partly from the fact that in my moments of sin, I am not receiving the fullness of His love for me. (Milton Vincent. A Gospel Primer for Christians; 64 [vss. 36, 39])
What happened to Israel? Her armies were decimated. The forces which went forth a thousand-strong or a hundred-strong returned with 90% of their men destroyed. The terror Amos predicted (and that God promised if they did not uphold His covenant in Deut. 28:62) in 2:13-16 took place and the land lies desolate.
Notice how Amos in this text not only prophesies events but prophesies about the status of things after his prophecies are fulfilled.
The lament over, Amos resumes his condemnation. He tells them the only way to live is to seek God. This does not appear to be an offer of hope so much as an explanation of what they are NOT doing. It directly contrasts with their religious pursuits at Bethel and Gilgal (noted before in 4:4-5) and Beersheba. [Apparently the people of the north make pilgrimages to Beersheba – a city in the far south of Judah – likely because of its history as a place where God met the patriarchs. See Gen 21:22-33 for the naming of Beersheba by Abraham – it is a place signified by the words, “God is with you in all that you do.” See also Gen 26:23-25 where God renewed the covenant with Isaac. In Genesis 46:1-4 Jacob met God in Beersheba on his way to Egypt to be reunited with Joseph. God promised Jacob that He would go with him to Egypt and someday bring his descendants back to Canaan. In all cases Beersheba is a place associated with the promised presence of God with Israel. This explains the pilgrimages. The people celebrate their status as God’s chosen people with their visits.]
Note what God says – “The OPPOSITE of your worship in Bethel and Gilgal and Beersheba is to seek Me.” God has already pointed out that they truly only seek themselves in their worship (4:4-5) – so to seek Him they must go somewhere other than to their religious centers. Moreover, Gilgal and Bethel will go into exile and be destroyed just like the rest of the nation – there is no safety in the places of worship.
Amos uses wordplay to describe the fates of Gilgal and Bethel (notice the chiastic structure in verse 5: Bethel – Gilgal – Beersheba – Gilgal – Bethel). Gilgal was the first campsite in the Promised Land and the place that launched the triumphal campaign through Canaan under Joshua. Gilgal, the city of triumph, will go into captivity (the Hebrew words for captivity have “G” and “L” in their root so the sounds and look are similar to “Gilgal” – Amos uses a pun to make his point). Bethel, the house of God, will become iniquity.
Amos repeats again that their only hope is to seek the Lord. This time he says it in the third person – not as if God Himself says it. He again contrasts it with going to Bethel or Gilgal.
The consequence of not seeking Him is that He will break forth like fire upon the house of Joseph (Joseph was the father of Ephraim and Manasseh – the two main tribes in the north). The fire will not be quenched – just like the virgin will not rise again – and will destroy Bethel.
God will destroy those who turn justice into wormwood and cast righteousness down to the earth (they take what is sweet and make it bitter and take what is good and throw it to the ground like trash). He again points to their unjust acts against the weak and the poor. They hate justice and they hate righteousness. The only things that matter are wealth and reputation and comfort.
This hymn to Yahweh is the center point of the passage. Amos again (as in 4:12-13) makes sure the people know that the God who will break on them like fire is NOT the God they worship at Bethel and Gilgal. God made the stars, He can change darkness to light and light to darkness, He can bring rain (or perhaps floods), and He can destroy the strong and their fortresses. Yahweh is who can do this. This adds to what Amos already said about God in 4:13 – that He forms mountains and creates the wind. All that Amos predicts can happen because God can do all things.
Amos further elaborates on his accusations in verse 7. Israel hates justice (the gate of the city is where judicial decisions are made). Israel hates integrity. Israel takes advantage of the poor – by imposing heavy rent, exacting tribute, and withholding justice (remember that control of the trade routes has enriched some but impoverished others – the impoverished are now beholden to the wealthy for land and provision). Israel makes life hard for the righteous (apparently there ARE people trying to live rightly before God but they are persecuted for their beliefs and principles – likely because they get in the way of the unscrupulous behaviors that bring profits).
The times are so evil that the righteous prudently keep their mouths shut so as not to invite the wrath of those who are in power.
As He did in 3:11, God tells them that they will not long enjoy the fruits of injustice. The beautiful and costly houses built with the money taken from the poor will be empty. The pleasant vineyards will produce wine no one will drink. The Israelites will be poor and homeless just like those they oppress.
Amos repeats the idea of verse 4 – if the people will seek God (or in this case, seek good) they will live. As before this may contain two meanings. God may in fact forgive the people if they repent even at this late hour (much like He did with the Ninevites after Jonah preached). But even more, this points to all they are not doing and just how much will have to change for them to be restored. Their doom is sure and they will not repent – but God here clearly shows them what repentance looks like.
They must hate evil and love good (the opposite of how they now live). They must establish justice in the gate (the opposite of what He has just said they do now). They have to completely turn around from the direction they are now heading. In short, they must repent.
If they do (and they will not), THEN the sovereign God will be with them. He will truly be with them as they only claim He is right now. They are in fact horribly mistaken in their current belief that God is with them; but their belief COULD match reality if they repent.
Thought: Another admonition to the Christian – make your calling sure. Examine yourself and make sure you are in the faith. The Israelites apparently have no idea that they are far from God. They assure each other that God is with them when God is actually AGAINST them. Nothing blinds us like sin. Nothing fools us more than complacency. Pray for cold reality and open eyes in our walk with God.
He ends this section with partial hope. Perhaps the Lord God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. The remnant may refer to the people who survive the coming destruction, but more likely is Amos’ way of pointing out that Israel is small in comparison to the world at large. He does not promise that their repentance WILL bring salvation, but he tells them it is their only hope.
Thought: God knows they will not repent, but He is so merciful and loving that we can be sure He longs for them to. Even after recounting all they are doing and saying they are beyond repentance (2:6), this text gives the impression that God still lovingly desires for them to turn back. He must be true to His glory and justice and so will punish them, but He still loves them and wants them to be His people again. Our Father loves His own with a love beyond comprehension.
Amos reprises the lament (again speaking as if it has already happened). The result of having its armies devastated and land overrun is mourning. All are affected by the destruction. No one is immune – all have lost family members. There is wailing in the plazas, the streets, and the vineyards. Since the death is so great they call the farmers in from the fields to mourn and hire professional mourners. The needs for mourning outstrip the number of mourners available.
And why are they mourning? “Because I shall pass through the midst of you,” says the Lord. He will not pass OVER as He did the Israelites in Egypt. He will pass THROUGH as He did the Egyptians in Egypt. Prepare to meet your God, O Israel.
They have made their choice. If they repent and seek good the Lord God of hosts will be with them. But since they continue to live as they do, the Lord God of hosts will pass through them.