Amos 5–6 The Mood of the Country.
Key Notes: Hate evil? Sin is fun. The soft life. Demanding justice; blowing the whistle. Stay away from the historic sites. Dilemmas of righteousness and justice.
Amos gives us enough detail in these chapters to get a rather good feel for Israel /Judah during the Silver Age. It was a soft and luxurious time.
5:1–3 These verses are a lament for Israel, like a young girl, doomed to fall and to rise no more, her cities losing 90% of their people.
5:4–17 In this section a similar plea is repeated four times, with diminishing focus, as if to say “I know you won’t seek me, but at least have enough sense to hate evil. “
"Seek me and live." 5:4
"Seek the Lord and live." 5:6
"Seek good and not evil that you may live." 5:14
"Hate evil and love good…it may be that the Lord...will be gracious to the remnant." 5:15
Why on earth would anyone not love good and hate evil?
Because goodness is not interesting. It’s not fun. It is stodgy and dull. Sin is fun.
Robbery is exciting. Think of the jewel thief. It is not the jewel but the thrill of the chase that spurs the thief.
An illicit love-affair is an all-consuming passion. Even godly people can be caught in it.
Watching pornography is a rush, I am told. Even pastors get caught in it.
Getting drunk is fun, as thousands of ccollege students can testify.
Getting high on cocaine or heroin is just that—a high.
Gambling is addictive, with a high they say is like a narcotic. People keep losing, but betting on the next time.
Sin is fun. People who do such things are not trying to get back at God. They are not seeking God. They are not thinking of anything but their pleasure. Of course they ignore the second side of the equation, the--“and live” part. They will feel the sting of their indulgences later. There is death in that pot of vice—lost jobs, lost families, lost children, lost lives.
We have to hate evil because evil hurts, maims and kills, sometimes very quickly. It is in the news daily—the drunk driver, the heroin overdose, the Internet enticements, the destructive loves.
Seeking the Lord enables us to recognize evil and avoid it. And, “At thy right hand are pleasures for ever more.” (Psa.16:11)
5:5 The prophet warns them not to go to Bethel, Gilgal or Beersheba. What do we know about these three cities?
*Abraham built an altar there and called on the Name of the Lord. Gen.13:3
*Jacob found God there and named it “House of God.” Gen.28:10–22; 31:13
God spoke to Jacob there on his way home and Jacob set up a pillar there. Gen.35:9–15
*Israel as a nation inquired of God there. Judg.20:18
*Jeroboam I made Bethel a center of false religion. IK.12:28–30
*Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land there and a set up pillar of 12 commemorative stones. Josh.4:19; Mic.6:5
*Joshua set out for Jericho on his conquest of Canaan from there. Josh.6:11,14
*Saul was crowned there. ISam.11:15. He later offered sacrifice there. ISam.13:8.
*"The eighth century prophets refer to Gilgal as a center of pilgimage and they castigate it for apostacy." (Int. Stand. Bibl. Encyclo. Vol. II, p.470.)
*Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech, the local chieftain who perceived that God was with him. The well there was called the “Well of Seven” (Beer sheba) for the seven lambs that were set apart for the covenant. Gen.21:30
*God met Isaac there. Gen.26:23
*Jacob met God there on his way to Egypt. Gen.46:1
*Archaelogy of the site has turned up evidence of religious activity. "The most astonishing discovery from the Israelit period thus far has been the ashlar stones of a dismantled altar. (Int. Stand. Bibl. Encyclo. Vol.I, p 450).
So these three places were memorials to the patriarchs, and to the beginnings of Israel’s life. It was logical for people to want to go back to their roots. We all feel that need. The prophet warns them against it because idolatry was promoted there, for certain in Bethel, and probably the other sites as well. The temptation is to offer sacrifices there as their ancestors had in these hallowed places. The shrines become sites for vague God worship, then idol worship. God said He would choose one place where worship should be given (Deut.12:11), in the tabernacle, and finally in Jerusalem.
5:8 God’s power in creation is spelled out here as in 4:13 to remind them that God’s power can destroy as well as create.
5:10–15 Justice was not being done. The poor were being muscled out of their goods. The powerful were guilty of bribery, persecuting good people, and denouncing their critics. Being a prophet, a whistle-blower, is an unpopular role. In bad times it is prudent not to say anything.
"Whistle-blower" is a nice word; there are others—snitch, fink,squealer. Whistle-blowers almost always lose their jobs, even when the evidence is overwhelming. Whether the insider is in the FBI, the laboratory of a famous researcher, or the local church, disturbing the status quo is dangerous. Being an insider makes the leak all the more offensive. It is viewed as an act of treachery. So the prophets were considered traitors and were punished accordingly.
Establish justice in the gate. The gate of the city was where municipal court was held.
Perhaps the Lord will be gracious to the Remnant—the godly who will be left after the Exile.
5:16–27 The distress will be great. Professional mourners will not be enough. Even the farmers will be called to join in. They hope that the Day of the Lord will be their salvation based on the idea that God will then judge their enemies and they will have peace. But the Day of the Lord will be judgment on Israel. There will be no escape, running from one threat, only to be caught by another.
The religious festivals are lavish: solemn assemblies, burnt offerings, cereal and peace offerings, the sound of singing and the melody of harps. God despises them all. Isa. 58 takes up the failure of fasting to move God when there is wide-spread injustice. The righting of wrongs is a most important aspect of fasting.
Justice is the demand. Justice and righteousness must flow like stream, and wash away the corruption.
In reality, Israel never abandoned idols when they left Egypt. (Deut.32:16; Ezek.20:8). Amos is quoted by Steven (Acts.7:42–3) in his indictment of First Century Judaism.
They will carry their idols into captivity.
6:1–8 It is tragic to relax and feel secure when destruction threatens. “The notable men of the first of the nations” are sure that Israel is better than Hamath (Syria), Calneh (Assyria) and Gath (Philistia). All of them had been defeated or matched by Israel.
So they lounge on very expensive couches, eat lamb and veal, sing lazy songs, invent musical instruments like David, drink wine by the liter, and oil themselves with the best ointments. Such revelry. They are oblivious to the ruin of their country. They will be the first into exile. God swears by Himself that Samaria will be delivered up.
6:9–14 If there are ten in a house, they will all die. If one is left to burn decaying bodies, he will try to avoid notice. If he mentions the name of the Lord, he will be killed too. Houses big and small will be smashed. They will be no more able to defend themselves than horses can run on rocks or an ox can plow the sea. They have won battles before but this time the land will be oppressed from end to end. Not just Israel; not just Judah. The whole country will be crushed.
It was a heady and prosperous time. They were complacent and secure. They were the head of the nations. The wine and oil flowed. Of course there was some corruption and oppression of the poor and some idols. But the festivals were full of people making sacrifice and singing God’s praises. The sacred shrines of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were well-attended. There was a lot of music and even creation of new musical instruments. They were doing as David did! What more could God want? Their prosperity must be proof that God was with them.
Marshmallow religion. We Christians also are very prone to offer God worship songs and prayers, a little money and a lot of applause but not obedience. Then our worship is worthless. What is worship? Worth-ship is what God is worth. What is God worth? Some of my money, but not my obedience!?
Justice was a big issue for Amos and it is a very important word now. If we consider the demands of righteousness as well as justice in our system, serious dilemmas emerge.
Justice demands freedom. Righteousness restrains freedom. What should we do?
Work is good for a single mother, but who will care for the child?
How can we have free expression and not tolerate smut?
Are we being unjust to deprive homosexual couples of marital privileges?
Are we being fair to the irreligious by trying to assert our beliefs in the culture?
Are we doing justice to the unborn?
Society must be transformed from the bottom up. A great revival will do that. The alternative is more suffering.