God shows Amos the final vision of His coming judgment. Amos begins to proclaim his final words to the Israelites and assures them there is no hope of escaping what is coming for the sinners among the people.
This vision has very little introduction. Amos does not say that God showed him something and there is no question from God to Amos as to what he sees. Amos simply says, “I saw the Lord standing beside the altar…”
The vision itself is only of God speaking, no images of the future or objects with hidden meanings. God simply speaks as He stands by the altar and tells Amos what is coming. The time for illustrations and object lessons is apparently over – God now plainly spells out for Amos and the people that His judgment is coming and it will be complete and inescapable because He is sovereign.
God stands by the altar presumably in the temple at Bethel. He stands next to where the people think they experience His grace – where they offer sacrifices to atone for their sins and where they think they please God with their piety. However, He said in the vision of the plumb line that the sanctuaries of Israel will be laid waste because the people are far from Him (7:9) and earlier said He hates their worship and sacrifices (4:4-5, 5:21-24). So, God stands at what in reality has become the center of their disobedience, arrogance and selfishness (and consequently will become the epicenter of their destruction). From the altar He commands that the temple be brought down on the heads of the people so that the worshippers are destroyed. He then says the survivors are to be killed by the sword – there will be no refugees.
He commands that the temple be shaken from the capitals – the tops of the columns – to the thresholds – the bases of the columns (another allusion to an earthquake? – (1:1, 8:8)). He says that people can dig into Sheol (underworld) or ascend to heaven, they can hide on the summit of Mt. Carmel (the tallest mountain in Israel) or on the bottom of the sea – no matter where they go He will find them. All six pairings (capitals/thresholds – Sheol/heaven – mountain/sea) are meant to show the comprehensive nature of the judgment to come and the futility of trying to escape a sovereign God.
Note the similarity between verses 2-3 and Psalm 139:7-12. Both passages describe the omnipresence of God and His limitless power. The difference is that the Psalmist celebrates God’s sovereignty and finds security in it. For Amos’ listeners God’s sovereignty is something to fear. God’s nature is unchangeable and constant – yet its effect is hope for the righteous and terror for the sinner.
God says that even those who actually go into exile will be punished by the sword – God is not bound by the borders of Israel.
This section ends with chilling words: “And I will set My eyes against them for evil and not for good.” No matter what they do or where they go, their judgment is sure because God is now against them instead of for them. They will not be safe because the source of their protection is now the instigator of their judgment. He actively works to destroy them with the same sovereign power that He used to protect them. Their Savior is now their enemy. God will see to it personally that their evil is rewarded with evil.
Similar to 4:13 and 5:8-9, Amos inserts a portion of a hymn (possibly familiar to his listeners) to demonstrate that God certainly has the power to follow through on the predicted judgment. This portion of his proclamation reminds people that the God who judges them is not the little god they have in a box that only matters on worship days. He is NOT a golden calf so easily pleased with their insincere worship and placated by their self-centered displays of piety.
Who is God in fact? He is sovereign Yahweh. He touches the land and it melts and He causes it to rise up like the Nile (note the repetition of 8:8 in verse 5). He builds His upper chambers in the heavens and has founded His vaulted dome over the earth. He can call for the waters of the sea and pour them out on the face of the earth. Yahweh is His name.
He controls the land, the heavens, and the seas. There is no place of escape – nothing is beyond His control. He is truly omnipotent. Israel’s view of God is small and so their concern for obedience to His moral law is small. But God is not small – and the true God of the universe is the One who has set His eyes against them for evil.
Thought: Israel worships a small god
A small god does not leave his temple.
A small god does not concern himself with things that happen on non-worship days.
A small god does not notice the small everyday actions of his people.
A small god does not notice small sins.
A small god does not judge much; he primarily blesses and protects.
A small god answers ‘yes’ to the question, “Will you forgive me for this sin I am about to commit?”
A small god knows that sometimes his rules for justice and integrity do not work in the real world.
A small god needs very little prayer and praise.
A small god is not as concerned about the heart as he is about ceremony and religious observance.
A small god is fine with fitting into his people’s lives when time allows.
A small god understands there will be days when his people do not think about him much.
A small god understands he cannot be obeyed all the time.
A small god blesses his people strictly through prosperity and comfort.
A small god abides by the expectations of his people.
How big is our God? The most important determiner of our obedience and sanctification is our view of God. Small god = small concern for obedience and small view of eternity. Big God = big desire for conforming to the image of His Son. (See also – notes on 5:18-6:14)
God says some strange things in verse 7. He asks the Israelites two questions and compares them to the Ethiopians, the Philistines, and the Arameans. He effectively tells them they are just like these nations in His sight. How can this be? Are they not the covenant people? Has God not told them for centuries – since the time of Abraham – that they are His people and He is their God? Did He not remind them of this even in the earlier words of Amos (3:2)? Is He really saying that the single biggest redemptive event in their history – the Exodus (something God reminds His people of repeatedly – 2:10, 3:1) – is no bigger deal than when He brought the Philistines out of Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir (two of Israel’s biggest enemies)? These words must be shocking to Amos’ listeners (and a little confusing to his readers).
This is what He seems to mean. God effectively says that Israel lives as if He does not exist and obedience to His word is not important. Consequently, the redemption of the Exodus is obviously meaningless to them. If they do not care about living as God’s covenant people – and the covenant has its roots in the redemption from Egypt – then the Exodus is simply an historical event just like the exodus of the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir. They cannot – through their current conduct – treat their redemption as nothing but then turn around and point to it as evidence that they are God’s covenant people. The deliverance from Egypt cannot be nothing and everything.
Thought: Remember the point made in the notes on 3:1-2 – the cross is our Egypt. When we live as if the cross has no meaning in our lives, then the cross in fact HAS no meaning in our lives. Many martyrs have died for their beliefs throughout world history. If we live as if the redemption has no effect on our actions, then the cross is simply another example of martyrdom for us. We cannot live with no thought of the cross and then point to it as evidence that we are redeemed. The cross cannot be nothing and everything.
[This is also a warning to the one who says, “I walked the aisle 20 years ago and so I know I am saved” – even though there is nothing in his current life that points to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit or a progressive likeness to his Savior. An event in the past cannot be used as security when it has no effect on the present.]
In verse 8 God speaks plainly and finishes His point. Since they do not remember their redemption and since they do not obey and since they do not practice justice or mercy or integrity, the eyes of Yahweh are on them (and set against them – vs. 4) and He will destroy them from the face of the earth. They are the sinful kingdom and sinful kingdoms are destroyed. Their past glory – the Exodus – is of no use and they will be removed from the land. And as He pointed out earlier (vss. 1-4), there will be no escape.
Thankfully, God qualifies His words. He says that not all Israelites will be destroyed. He will judge the people but save the righteous. He will shake the nation and separate the righteous from the wicked as grain is separated in a sieve. He will not forget either the warnings or the promises of the covenant; true Israel will be saved. Though the people have broken the covenant, He cannot.
This clarifies the earlier words on escape. There will be no escape for those who are judged. But for those who are still God’s own – even in the midst of a corrupt nation – God will spare them. Not a kernel will fall to the ground. He is still their God and they His people.
The good will be shaken with the bad, however. The righteous will not be spared going through the domination of Assyria. God will save His people, but that does not mean they will escape all the hard times. A concept repeated throughout the Bible is that God’s people are ultimately saved but that does not mean they are always comfortable and oblivious to judgment around them.
Who is destroyed? All the sinners of My people will die by the sword. What characterizes the sinners? Those who say, “The calamity will not overtake or confront us.” The ones set for destruction are the very ones who do not worry about the judgment of God. They give no thought to God’s moral law and so give no thought to the ramifications of not obeying it (thus distinguishing them from the righteous – the righteous are also obviously sinners, but they have a concern for God’s law and a fear of His judgment). Judgment is for the pagan nations that do not know God. Judgment is for someone else. People heading for judgment are typically those who never think it applies to them.
Thoughts and Applications
- We serve a God who judges. He judges actions and thoughts and motives.
- His judgment is perfect and inescapable because He is omniscient and omnipotent.
- His judgment is awful and terrifying for those who face Him alone.
- Judgment IS coming. All injustices will be made right – all wrongs will be reversed – all unredeemed sin will be punished. And this is true even if we are too sophisticated to discuss it or preach it. The people of Amos’ time do not believe this and they will be destroyed as a result.
- We should be motivated to righteousness by thoughts of God’s judgment (I Cor 5:9-10). Even His children will stand before Him one day and give an account (Rom 14:10-12).
- Those who think about judgment typically have little to fear from it.
- Those who do not think about judgment typically are bound for it.
- The unsaved usually think judgment is for someone else (the really bad people) or is not imminent. There is always time to worry about it later. The Enemy makes sure that no one gets up and thinks that today might be the day he faces his Creator. Judged people are surprised people.
- Amos 1:1 through 9:10 is about people who live only for now with no thought of either ultimate rewards or ultimate judgment.
- Current circumstances are not indicative of future judgment. Remember that Amos’ listeners are experiencing more wealth and prosperity than at any time in the northern kingdom’s history. God oftentimes does not judge the wicked this side of eternity.
- People who are judged never think about living their lives in the sight of God. They do not stop and consider that God knows EVERYTHING and sees EVERYTHING and has power over EVERYTHING. They forget that not only does God see everything; He REMEMBERS everything (8:7). Nothing escapes His notice and nothing fades from memory and nothing becomes less offensive with time. We are never out of sight or out of mind. Time does NOT heal all wounds. God does not mellow with age.
- For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, and the greedy man curses and spurns the Lord. The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him. All his thoughts are, “There is no God.” He says to himself, “God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it.” Ps 10:3,4,11