God shows Amos visions that graphically display the extent of His wrath against Israel. The two visions in this text are notable for Amos’ reaction and intercession on behalf of the people. Interestingly, this section of the book is as much about Amos as it is about Israel.
Chapter 7 appears to mark a change of venue from Samaria to Bethel (7:9-10; 8:3; 9:1).
God shows Amos a vision of destruction that He is planning for Israel. He shows Amos a vast swarm of locusts that comes on the land after the king’s mowing and just as the spring crop begins to sprout [two growing seasons in Israel – one extends from fall to spring, the other from winter to early summer – apparently the king takes his share from the first crop as a tax (makes sense in a time of unparalleled military success and national prosperity that this amount is significant) – the people then depend on the second crop for their livelihood – the locusts coming just as the second crop sprouts means no food for the people as there is no time to re-plant before the dry season in the summer – the timing is perfect to do the most damage]. The vision actually shows the extent of the destruction as the swarm consumes the vegetation of the land.
Amos sees the end of the vision and is horrified (with his agricultural background he knows full well the implications of what he sees). He reacts instantly and cries out, “Lord God, please pardon!” Note what he asks – he does not simply ask God to stop (as he will do with the next vision) – he specifically asks Him to forgive. He asks God to forgive the people and not punish them with such a horrific plague. This forgiveness would be an act of pure grace; the people have not repented or shown any sign of changing their ways. Note that Amos does not appeal to any action of the people to justify his request – he simply calls on God to act unilaterally and extend forgiveness.
He goes on to appeal to God based on how defenseless Israel is. He asks God, “How can Jacob stand, for he is small?” This is similar to 5:15 when Amos referred to Israel as the remnant of Joseph. Amos reminds God that the country is small and helpless in the face of His wrath and cannot survive so great a destruction. Interestingly, the people themselves think they are mighty and great – they are the distinguished men of the foremost of nations (6:1).
Amazingly, God relents. He says, “It shall not be.” The text actually says He changes His mind. He chooses to respond to Amos’ intercession and spare the country the great plague He planned for it.
God shows Amos a second vision of coming destruction. God calls for a great fire, a fire so intense that it actually consumes the great deep (meaning either the Mediterranean Sea or possibly the water table underground) and begins to destroy the farm land. [Note – just like in 6:14, these visions show very clearly that God is acting against Israel. He is not simply allowing bad things to happen, He is forming and calling bad things to punish the people. So far from being their protector as they think, God is actively aligned against them. Throughout the book God illustrates again and again the truth of what He said in 3:2 – “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all of your iniquities.”]
Amos again is horrified and reacts. He cries out, “Lord God, please stop!” Note he does not ask God to forgive this time – perhaps He knows it is not possible as God did not say He forgave them before but simply stopped the plague (and, presumably, if He forgave them He would not then send this plague). Amos again appeals to God based on Israel’s small size and helplessness – “How can Jacob stand, for he is small?”
Just as before, God relents (changes His mind). He says “This too shall not be.” For the second time He chooses to respond to Amos’ plea and spare the people of Israel.
THINGS TO NOTE AND APPLY
The character of Amos. Amos is from Judah, not Israel. Amos has prophesied many extremely tough things about the people and has not hesitated to tell them their land will be taken from them and they will be either killed or exiled. Later in this same chapter he will react very strongly and condemn the pagan high priest of the country in no uncertain terms (7:10-17). In his heart, however, he loves the people and does not want them completely destroyed. He not only is God’s messenger to the people but is the people’s advocate before God. He has not lost his compassion for Israel even as he has prophesied against it. It is not too much of a stretch to assume the people have not reacted well to his words (again see 7:10-13) but Amos still sees them as weak and helpless and worthy of protection. He is a true man of God in that he loves and obeys his Creator and as a result has a heart for those around him (even godless people antagonistic to him).
The mercy of God. God does not have to show these visions to Amos. That He does and that He knows how Amos will react shows that He does not want Israel to suffer His full wrath. Even in the midst of justifiably threatening to destroy a people in open rebellion against Him, He willingly chooses to respond to Amos’ pleas. He does this even though the people have not repented or shown any sign of changing their pagan ways. He even knows that they will in fact NOT change their ways or ever respond to Amos’ preaching. Not only has He patiently endured the people’s sin for hundreds of years, but now even as punishment is so clearly deserved He again extends His mercy a while longer. The horrific nature of the threatened punishment shows the magnitude of mercy the people enjoy. God longs to be merciful.
The sovereignty of God. God forms (the verb is the same used to describe a potter carefully forming a piece of pottery) the locust-swarm. God calls the fire. God proclaims, “It shall not be” and “This too shall not be.” Amos appeals directly to God to change the events – he does not doubt their origin. Amos knows without question that it is only God who can forgive and only God who can stop what God has called forth.
The terror of God. God shows Amos (and us) the extent of what it means to fall under His wrath. The people deserve the destruction He threatens and it is complete. If the locusts and/or the fire are left unchecked the people will be destroyed. God can form a locust swarm so large and vicious it can strip an entire country clean. He can call forth a fire so intense it actually consumes water. We cannot appreciate the depths of His mercy without understanding the horror of His wrath. We cannot glory in our salvation until we comprehend what we have been saved from. We, like the Israelites, deserve the locusts and the fire – every day. This should heighten our awareness and appreciation of the daily mercies we in fact receive.
The mystery of prayer. This passage is similar in some ways to Exodus 32 where Moses appeals to God to not destroy the people after they worship the golden calf. In both passages the Bible says that God changes His mind after the appeals of His chosen servants. This is hard to understand. How can a sovereign God who is not bound by space and time and who is omnipotent and omniscient change His mind? By definition it is impossible. Yet the Bible says it is what He does (three times in the two passages). Certainly to some extent this is anthropomorphic – human terms utilized to explain to finite minds something we cannot truly grasp. But we should not merely explain the whole thought away and not consider its broader implications. This is a picture of prayer that can teach and encourage us. Consider:
- God wants prayer. In Exodus 32 He tells Moses what He is going to do before doing it. In this passage He shows Amos His intent through visions before acting. In both cases He does not owe an explanation to anyone. He gives the warnings because He wants Moses and Amos to intercede.
- God acts in response to prayer. God is sovereign and omnipotent and omniscient. Yet God chooses to act in response to prayer by His children. We do not fully understand why, but it certainly has to do with His desire for relationship and His love of our pursuit. God knows our lives are best when they are typified by pursuing Him and knowing Him. These come about through prayer, and the motivation for prayer comes from its effectiveness. It also brings Him glory to act when we most clearly see His actions. Responding to prayer rather than acting unilaterally heightens our awareness of His intervention in our lives. This causes us to glorify Him more fully as a result. How wonderful is it that prayer affects the actions of our Creator? How awful does this truth make our times of prayerlessness?
- We do not have to understand prayer. Does this text make perfect sense? Is it easy to understand? Does it make sense that God tells Moses He is going to destroy the Israelites and Moses talks Him out of it? We do not have to have all the answers to appreciate and practice the privilege of prayer. We do not have to fully explain prayer before we can take advantage of it.
- It is okay to engage in simple prayer. Note Amos’ prayers – “Lord God, please pardon! How can Jacob stand, for he is small?” “Lord God, please stop! How can Jacob stand, for he is small?” Even Moses’ prayer in Exodus 32 is only a few verses long. Peter cried out “Lord, save me!” when he sank in the water and Jesus saved him from drowning (Matt 14:30). Jesus said in Matthew 6 that God knows what we need before we ask Him and we do not need to use many words or specific formulas. We simply need to pray and we need to pray simply.
- Intercessory prayer is effective prayer. All three prayers highlighted here are for the sake of others. Amos and Moses do not pray for themselves at all in these verses – they pray for the people of Israel. In all three cases God hears them. We are called to esteem others more highly than ourselves and to love others as we love ourselves. If this is true of us, how better to show it than to regularly pray for others? We should be enormously encouraged that we can pray freely for whomever we wish and God hears us. We should also be enormously motivated to regularly do it.