Amos sees a third vision and has a verbal confrontation with the high priest of Bethel.
God shows Amos a third vision after the two visions of destruction. Unlike the first two, this vision does not show the future but shows God’s reason for the coming judgment.
Amos sees God standing by a wall holding a plumb line (this could also be translated as God standing by a tin wall holding tin in His hand – this is considered the more accurate translation by some modern commentators – since no one understands what this means, however, it probably makes sense to stay with the original translation of a plumb line). After asking Amos what he sees, God tells him that He is about to place a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel. The illustration shows that when measured by the straight line of His law and covenant, the people are crooked and beyond saving. Just like a wall out of plumb that must be destroyed and rebuilt, the people can no longer be allowed to stand.
Note that God refers to Israel as My people Israel. Even in the midst of telling Amos that judgment is coming, God points out that the Israelites are in fact His covenant people. He has not forgotten the covenant even though they have. Because they are His covenant people He cannot allow them to continue in their sin and forsake the covenant. In the future, however, He will tell Amos that He will restore His people (9:11-15); consequently, there is hope in this phrase even in the midst of a vision of coming destruction.
God says that because the Israelites are out of plumb He will spare them no longer. This can also be translated, “I will no longer pass over him.” This is similar to God’s words in 5:17 where He said He will pass through the midst of you. In both cases the meaning seems to relate to Egypt. He will not pass over the people and save them; He will pass through the people and punish them. The time of forbearance and mercy and possible repentance is over – only judgment remains.
God says as part of His destruction of the crooked wall of Israel the high places, the sanctuaries, and the family of the king will all be destroyed. The foremost objects of His wrath will be the religious areas and the name and family of the king. The two main institutions of society and the main pillars of security will be destroyed. The people will be left with no way to relate to God (not that they do now in their man-centered worship) without their temples and no political security without a king.
Per II Kings 15:8-12, Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam II, will reign only six months after ascending to the throne. He will be assassinated by Shallum who will take the throne in his place. Thus, the house of Jehu (and Jeroboam II) will be wiped out only six months after Jeroboam II’s death. The prophecy of Amos will come true not long after he sees this vision.
Note that unlike the first two visions in 7:1-6, Amos does not appeal to God to have mercy on Israel. He does not respond to God’s words at all. He knows God is correct and that judgment is justified. In the other visions he did not appeal to God based on the actions of the people – he appealed to God’s compassion on a people who could not survive the wrath prepared for them. Here he knows there is nothing to say because the people are beyond saving and the coming wrath is entirely appropriate (and not as drastic).
As if to prove how out of plumb the nation is, Amaziah, apparently the high priest of Bethel (the main worship site in the country), responds to Amos. Whether this is a direct response to Amos recounting the third vision or just a response to all of Amos’ prophecies is hard to tell. Regardless, Amaziah decides he has had enough and something must be done about the prophet from the south.
Amaziah sends word to the king (Amaziah is likely a powerful man in the kingdom – appointed by the king as high priest – in his role he has direct access to the king) that Amos has prophesied death for him and exile for the country. This is largely true although technically Amos prophesied against the king’s house – not directly against the king himself (and as noted above, Jeroboam will not be killed by the sword – his son will). Amaziah says Amos has conspired against the king (effectively labeling him an enemy of the state) and the land is unable to endure all his words. Apparently Amos’ preaching is starting to have an effect on the people (although not enough to bring repentance).
After sending word to the king, Amaziah directs his words to Amos personally. He tells Amos to flee back to Judah (implying that persecution will be coming – probably after the king gets Amaziah’s message). He calls him a seer and tells him to prophesy and make money back in his home country (implying that Amos is a professional prophet who is in Israel for the money). He ends by telling Amos no longer to prophesy in Bethel for it is a sacred place where the king worships (and was established by the first king of the northern kingdom – Jeroboam I) and has a house.
Interestingly, Amaziah does not say Amos is a false prophet or question the validity of his words. He does not say Amos is not speaking the words of God. He simply says the words must stop because they threaten the country and the king (and his own position). Amaziah likely has no concept of what it means to truly speak the words of God or to worry about God’s judgment. To him, the question is the effect of Amos’ words on the people; the truth of the words or what they say about the people’s standing before Yahweh are not considered. The high priest of the country cares only about political ramifications. The out-of-plumb wall most certainly cannot be saved.
Amos responds to Amaziah in no uncertain terms. If Amaziah’s intent was to silence Amos through fear and intimidation he is about to see he has failed in a big way. Amos tells him that he is not a professional prophet or the son of a prophet. He most certainly is NOT in this for the money. As a matter of fact, he is simply a shepherd and a keeper of the sycamore figs (literally, he is a “nipper” of the figs – the figs must be gashed to ripen). God called him to go to My people Israel (note a repeat of what He said in the third vision) and thus Amos had no choice but to obey (not that Amaziah would understand what it means to obey the word of Yahweh).
Amos does not stop after his explanation of why he prophesies in Israel. He now responds to Amaziah personally. He tells Amaziah that because he has tried to silence the word of God (something Amaziah likely has no concept he has done, but in so doing he has continued the tradition of Israel recounted in 2:11-12), his wife will become a harlot, his sons and daughters will die by the sword, his land will be parceled up and given to someone else, and he himself will die on unclean soil (the worst way to die for a priest). And just to emphasize again that what Amos has been saying is true – Israel will certainly go from its land into exile.
With the last statement in verse 17, Amos shows that he knows the people ultimately will not repent. As the third vision attests, the time for mercy is over and judgment is sure. The people will not be spared and they WILL go into exile.
The book does not record Amaziah’s response. It would be difficult to respond to something as brutal as what Amos tells him. It may be that Amaziah does not respond at all – or possibly that Amos simply leaves Bethel after finishing his prophecy. We can assume that Amaziah is sobered (and probably enraged) by such scathing words from someone he thought he could intimidate.
Amos’ words to Amaziah are extremely harsh, but they continue the trend of the book wherein God saves His harshest judgments for the people’s religion. Here He specially condemns the highest representative of their counterfeit religion who wants to silence the word of God while continuing to lead the country in its pagan pursuits. Amaziah’s heart is so corrupt that he wants to silence the words of the very God he claims to serve as the people’s representative. God hates their religious rites and festivals and worship (5:21-24) – it makes sense that He hates their false high priest too.
Amaziah illustrates the danger of pursuing religious office for pride and prestige. Pleasing Yahweh for Amaziah consists in keeping the rites of the hybrid religion Jeroboam formed. Sacrifices, tithes, keeping the shrine at Bethel operating – these ensure Yahweh’s pleasure and protection. Insisting on justice in the land and obeying God’s moral law are not important. Enjoy the fruits and power of the office and silence anything that might threaten its sustainability – including the words of God. Consequently, a special punishment is handed down for him and his family. Just like God’s chosen people will be punished because they ARE God’s chosen people (3:2), so will Amaziah be punished more severely because of the office he purports to hold. Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1).
Amos exemplifies the boldness of a man living inside the will of God. Amos KNOWS he speaks the words of God. He does not have to apologize for his proclamations or fear their ramifications. The fear of man is gone because he is so full of the fear of God. He tells Amaziah that he has no choice but to prophesy because God chose him and told him to go. Amaziah’s veiled threats and his power to persecute have no effect on Amos. Remember that Amos is a simple farmer from the south and Amaziah is probably one of the most powerful men in the north. But to Amos, the question is simple – do I fear a powerful man in the administration of King Jeroboam II or do I fear the Creator and Sustainer of the universe? If we struggle with the fear of man it is because we struggle with the fear of God.