God shows Amos a fourth vision to illustrate the ultimate consequences of Israel’s sin. As a result, Amos proclaims to Israel why judgment is coming and what it entails.
God shows Amos a basket of summer fruit and tells him it signifies that the end is near for Israel. Just like in the third vision (7:8), God says, “I will spare them no longer” (“I will no longer pass over him”). The summer fruit represents that Israel’s time is now up – their sin has reached the point where it is ripe for harvest – and the possibility for salvation is over.
What is missed in the English translation is the wordplay between the vision and its explanation. The Hebrew words for summer fruit and end are almost identical in spelling and sound alike (the NIV does not use the word end but instead reads “The time is ripe…”). Thus God shows that Israel is in effect a “basket of end.”
The end (that day – also verses 9 & 13 = presumably the same day of the Lord as in 5:18-20) will change the songs of the palace (or possibly the temple) into wailing and howling and many people will die. The extent of the death and destruction will result in corpses piled up everywhere – too many to bury and not enough people left to bury them. The people who survive and witness the carnage will be shocked and silent at the sight of something so tragic and beyond belief.
Amos now explains to his listeners some of the reasons the judgment in the vision is coming.
He describes the Israelites as those who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land. They have such disregard for the poor and the powerless that they effectively do away with them. More than just ignoring them, they actively prey upon them and threaten their existence.
How do they do this? They cheat and steal. They take advantage of their position as merchants to steal money from those who are in no position to challenge them. They use dishonest scales and measures so as to pay less for what they buy and charge more for what they sell. They also mix in refuse with the wheat they sell so as to cheat their buyers even more (not only over-stating the quantity of wheat with false balances/measures, but mixing in floor sweepings to inflate the quantity even further). They manipulate the economy and the rules of commerce such that they profit in every transaction and the weak and needy always lose.
Their cheating leads to the poor becoming even poorer and falling into debt. The merchants then loan to the needy and refuse to have mercy on those who cannot pay. They are willing to sell someone into slavery even for the price of a pair of sandals (a poor man cannot afford a pair of sandals – another sign of how out of whack the economy is – and so goes into debt – when the debt is not paid he is sold into slavery). People are seen only as pieces in commerce – items to be bought and sold and manipulated for profit.
The merchants’ actions are completely opposite of both the letter and spirit of the law. Remember that the law makes allowances for the poor with the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee. Both are meant to keep anyone from becoming permanently (generationally) poor. Also, the law does not allow for interest on loans between Israelites and sets strict guidelines for security pledged by the borrower. The command to allow gleaning is another way to care for the needy. Moreover, God communicated clearly in the law His hatred of false balances and measures – these are strictly forbidden (Deut 25:13-15, Prov 20:10, 16:11).
The oppression of the powerless is not just a side effect of the actions of the wealthy and powerful. The wealthy and powerful love taking advantage of the weak. They think about their business deals and hate being away from the market. They daydream about their schemes even during times of worship. As a matter of fact, they hate that the Sabbath and the new moons – periods of worship – mean that the marketplace is closed and the opportunities for profit are interrupted.
This is another example of their insincere piety. They observe the Sabbath and the festivals and the feasts. They do all the things outwardly the law requires. But God knows their hearts. Their true worship is not for God’s benefit (4:4-5) and their true god is not Yahweh. What do they think about during worship? Ways to make money. Where does their mind go when nothing occupies it? Thoughts about commerce and money. How do they value others? By how much money they can make off of them. Consequently, what is their true god? MONEY.
[If we applied the same standards to ourselves, what would they point to as our true god?]
As a result of their unjust behavior and their hypocrisy God swears by the pride of Jacob that He will never forget any of their deeds. These are perhaps the scariest words in the Bible. The Omniscient One swears – and He cannot break His word – that He will never forget ANY of their actions. Note that this is beyond human comprehension. All of us remember certain things from our past, but none of us remembers everything. No one can remember all the bad things either he or those around him have done throughout their lives. This is why we never have a full picture of our wickedness (and why it is a merciful God who gives us limited memories). But God can remember everything – every thought, every word, every act – and nothing escapes His notice and nothing is forgotten or overlooked. And here God makes sure the Israelites know that for them He chooses to remember it ALL. Their condemnation is complete. They may not practice justice but He does – and before His court their every deed will be brought forth as evidence against them.
Thought: This is a picture of judgment without a Redeemer. This is what the sinner faces on the Great Day. EVERY sin uncovered. EVERY evil thought brought to light. EVERY careless word exposed. God will remember it ALL. Amos’ words should make us cry out in thanksgiving to our heavenly Father. Do we truly appreciate our standing in Christ? As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Ps 103:12). In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us (Eph 1:7-8).
Note – God judges them primarily because of their mistreatment of the poor and helpless. God knows that those who claim His name but have no concern for those in need are hypocrites and liars. No one who understands his place before God and appreciates His redemption is unjust or unmerciful. It is why Jesus said that the treatment of the needy will be proof of redemption at the judgment (Matt 25:31-46). We should be sobered by the eternal ramifications of our treatment of others – especially the less fortunate.
After explaining why the judgment is coming Amos now explains some of its details. The land will erupt and become unstable and the sun will go down at noon (possibly an earthquake – 1:1 – and an eclipse?). Festivals and songs (which God hates – 5:21-24) will turn into mourning and lamentation. People will stop celebrating and instead mourn in sackcloth with shaved heads. The end will be like a bitter day and the mourning like that for an only son (the death of an only son means the family name dies out).
Note the terms in these verses. EVERYONE in the land will mourn. ALL of the land will rise up like the Nile. ALL songs will turn into lamentation. God will bring sackcloth on EVERYONE’S loins – baldness on EVERY head. There will be no escape from the coming wrath of God.
Another facet of God’s judgment on the land will be His absence. The coming day will be characterized by a famine for hearing the words of the Lord. The people in their distress will finally turn to God and expect Him to respond and to guide – but He will be silent and hidden. They will search throughout the land desperately seeking a word from Yahweh – but they will get nothing.
Contrast this condition with Amaziah’s words in 7:12-13. The people want Amos to be silent and go back to Judah rather than tell them the words of Yahweh. But a time is coming when they will desperately crave God’s words and God will be silent. Their punishment will exactly fit their crime – they hate the true words of God so no words will be available. They will get exactly what they want – and too late find that it is the worst judgment possible.
It is interesting to compare these verses with 4:6-11. God told the Israelites in Chapter 4 that He repeatedly sent very difficult trials and plagues and punishments upon them so they would return to Him – but none worked. Now He tells them the ultimate judgment is coming and part of that judgment will be no word from Him at all. Chapter 4 is a picture of God’s (tough) grace at work among His people. Verses 11 and 12 of this chapter are a picture of God’s wrath. Worse than the trials God sends into our lives is His absence. When God decides that His actions in our lives are no longer effective we are damned. Thus a Christian should not expect or desire a lifetime of comfort. Never envy the ease and prosperity of the wicked; it may simply be a sign of God’s absence from their lives (Ps 73).
Even the best and strongest of the land – the beautiful virgins and the young men – will fall as a result of judgment. Those who have sworn by the pagan deities or by the corrupted worship of Yahweh will fall and find that their gods and beliefs are worthless.
Amos 8 is a picture of what happens to the sinner who forgets that he lives his life within sight of God. It describes the judgment that awaits the one who thinks that God does not notice his true motives or the details of his “secular” life and dealings. It shows the danger of complacency even in the Christian’s life and what can happen when we are consumed by the rewards of this world to the exclusion of justice and honesty. We read in this text God’s very clear concern for the disenfranchised of the world and the dire consequences awaiting those who treat them unjustly.
For a completely opposite picture, compare Amos 8 with Psalm 112. Psalm 112 is a picture of the righteous man – both what characterizes him and how God blesses him. The contrast between the two texts could not be starker.
The man of Psalm 112 is characterized by three things: he fears the Lord (vs. 1) – he greatly delights in God’s commandments (vs. 2) – and he is just and generous toward others (vss. 4,5,9).
As a result, the following is true:
- His descendants will be mighty on earth (vs. 2) – contrast 8:13
- Light arises in darkness for him (vs. 4) – contrast 8:9
- He will never be shaken and will be remembered forever (vs. 6) – contrast 8:14
- He will not fear evil tidings because he is steadfast in his trust in the Lord (vs. 7) – contrast 8:10
- He will not fear but will look with satisfaction on his adversaries (vs. 8) – contrast 8:3
- His influence and reputation will be exalted (vs. 9) – contrast 8:7
The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied with his (Proverbs 14:14).