Court Is in Session!

As noted, Amos was written when prosperity was at its height (under Jeroboam II) and any call to repentance in light of a certain judgment would fall on unconcerned minds oblivious to the anger of God over injustice and perversion in worship (see 9:10). Amos’s vision of searing judgment would be seen as irrelevant, irrational, alarmist, and the construction of fanatical enthusiasm. Amos has some of the most picturesque images in the message of judgment found in Scripture: “Cows of Bashan,” (4:1), “cleanness of teeth” (4:6), “a brand plucked out of the burning” (4:11), “He who made the Pleiades and Orion, . . . the Lord is his name” (5:8), “establish justice in the gate” (5:15), “I hate your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” (5:21), “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24), “Woe to these who are at ease in Zion” (6:1), “the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line” (7:7), and others. It is a book designed to warn the complacent of the coming of the Day of the Lord in withering judgment, and to assure those that think this judgment means the end of God’s covenant with the people that, though they are unfaithful, he will remain true to his promises (9:11-15). Stephen, in Acts 7:42, 43 quoted Amos 5:25-27 showing how God had turned away from the people for their unfaithfulness.

I. A Lamentation and a call to Seek the Lord – 5:1-17

A.  Amos said that Israel is “Fallen, no more to rise” She is “forsaken on her land, with none to raise her up.” He warns of the magnitude of the devastation by saying that “The city that went out a thousand shall have a hundred left, and that which went out a hundred shall have ten left.” This is not a complete extinguishing of the nation but the reduction of it to a mere remnant through whom he will execute his promises to David.

B. With the assumption that God’s threatenings could produce repentance as it did to Nineveh during Jonah’s time,  Amos speaks God’s exhortation, “Seek me and live” They should not seek safety in any other quarter or suppose their present perverted and false worship will avert this judgment. They turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth.” Their only hope is in his present, earnest, but short-lived invitation, “Seek the Lord and live.”

C. A failure to repent will lead to a withering blast of the heat of divine wrath. Yahweh will “break out like fire in the house of Joseph” and none can stop its devouring righteous rage against Bethel, one of Israel’s centers of worship. Amos probably delivered most of these messages at Bethel, the residence of their golden calf.

D. No place as strong enough to save from the God that created the stars, established the rhythm of day and night, brings about the cycle of nature in producing rain (8). The one that creates and upholds can most easily destroy. (9).

E. A Catalogue of charges against Israel (5:10-13)

1.  Verse 10 – Fundamental to their evil action is their hatred of honest reproof. The few among them that reprimand the dishonest ways of the rich and the leaders are hated, their admonitions and warnings ignored, and their presence resented. Look at what Amaziah said to Amos in 7:12, 13. For the same reason Ahab hated Micaiah and had him thrown in prison on meager rations (1 Kings 22:13-28) Loving lies that give personal pleasure while hating the truth that calls for holiness is bedrock reality for fallen man.  So wrote Paul in Romans 1:25, “because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”

2. Verse 11 –  Their conduct, their goal, their judgment

The evil-rich luxuriate on the misery and oppression of the poor.

By their cruel gain, they intend to make life more lovely for themselves: “you have built houses of hewn stone, . . .
you have planted pleasant vineyards”

God will take away those things they view as certain and stable pleasures, for there seems to be no viable opposition to their measures of personal gain. God, however, has other plans, as a manifestation that even in this world, he will show himself to be a God of justice: “but you shall not dwell in them; . . . but you shall not drink their wine.” See 2 Peter 2:9 “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials; and to keep the unrighteous under punishment” James borrowed a warning from these prophets when he preached, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you dept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” James 5:4, 5

3. Verses 12, 13 – The oppressive and unjust had gained an upper hand in Israel so that the remnant that were grieved at this state of affairs found either little heart to do anything or no reason to expect success by any protest.  

The nation had multiplied transgressions, Not only were they many, they were great. “For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins.”

The evil, aggressive and bold in their show of power and self-interest, gained judgments through bribery against those that were not guilty of wrong-doing.

The needy who went to the place where they should expect help (“the gate”), but they are turned aside. Their case is not heard; their needs are not met, when there should be provisions made for them in this prosperous time in the nation.

“Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time.” There are two possible ways to see this verse.

Amos as a prophet does not have this option for God has sent him for this very purpose. But do the righteous in the land have an obligation to speak out and remonstrate against this evil in the land? Would their protests be casting pearls before swine? Would they also be made an offender for a word and find their protest merely a path to personal destruction without helping the oppressed. Is Ephraim so joined to his idols that that the prudent have legitimately concluded, “Let him alone?” If so, they know that they also will be swept up in the coming judgment. Matthew Henry takes this position, noting “Let grave lessons and counsels be kept for better men and better times. And there is a time to keep silence as well as a time to speak.  . . . Wise and good men thought it in vain to speak to them and were afraid of having any thing to do with them.”

That interpretation does not seem accurate to me, for the next verse is an admonition to “Seek good and not evil.” Who can lead in this but those that know the good and can seek to establish justice, building up to verse 24, with the powerful command, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Perhaps Amos is constructing his language with an edge of sarcasm, saying that the good have chosen “prudence” as their modus operandi instead of truth and justice. Perhaps he is saying that even those that do not openly commit injustice have submitted their conduct to a personal standard of prudence instead of a revealed standard of truth.

F. Verses 14, 15 – These verses call Israel to true repentance, a reversal of their present practice of evil to do that which is good. If they do, it may be that the Lord will look upon them with favor and will bring about a prosperity built on justice rather than dishonest gain. Or if full restoration does not result, perhaps those that have sought to “establish justice in the gate” will find that they are preserved, the remnant of Joseph will find a gracious God.

G.  Verses 16, 17 – As it stands, however, apart from a thorough and cordial repentance, Israel stands on the brink of a classless judgment. Though society presently has a variety of levels of prosperity and the helpless without voice themselves or any that will speak for them, when God passes through their midst, there will be no place or level that is not called upon to wail and lament and mourn and cry, “Alas! Alas!”

II. The Lord’s Strong Complaint against Israel – 5:18-27

A. What is the Day of the Lord?  – verses 18-20

1. The prophet out the utter insensitivity to their evil in not dreading the Day of the Lord in their moral and spiritual condition. They still consider themselves so impermeable to judgment, that they believe even Yahweh is subject to their back and call. What can the day of the Lord be but a time of visitation of more pleasure and favor? They were sadly mistake, and instead of a grin the mention of the day of the Lord should bring a face of absolute fright, for “it is darkness and not light.”

2. There will be no escape, If one is tantalized with possible exclusion from judgment by his escape of the first wave of judgment, another will soon follow on its heels. “as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him.” Nothing will relieve the misery of that day of judgment. “Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”

B. What is True Worship? verses 21-24 – All their pretension at religion, God hates; God’s indictment against them is that they have flaunted their aggressive self-interest in the face of both tables of the Law, summarized in the two great commandments, love of God with all the heart, mind, soul and strength, and love of neighbor as oneself.

1. Even if the people would offer God sacrifices according to his requirements, he would not receive them. God said that he hates religion that is designed only to impress one’s heart with a sense of satisfaction in self-righteousness. All their sacrifices are vain without a “broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.” (Psalm 51:16, 17) If such a spirit prevailed then God would “take delight in right sacrifices, and burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings.” (Psalm 51:19)

2.  Their displays of active worship in song and instrument – David had said, Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp . . . with strings and pipe” and relished the scene of his people singing for joy and letting the “high praises of God be in their throats.” (Psalm 149, 150). But Amos quoted the Lord as saying, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” Again, when no fear of God is before their eyes, such displays are not worship but only a damnable presumption, unmatched by any holiness of life, love of God, and servanthood toward neighbor.

3. verse 24 – God calls for justice and righteousness as a deluge of rightmindedness toward God and his law, proper regard for and personal submission to a revealed standard that operates independent of their stubborn, selfish desires. Their love of God and his truth would immediately result in the love of righteousness and justice for one’s neighbor. Paul saw this ultimately expressed in the condescension of Christ; and followers of Christ would “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant” than themselves. Their own personal interests would not absorb them, but the interests of others.

C. Have they ever truly worshipped?

1.  Even in the wilderness wanderings, the people had their idols with them and their sacrifices according to the commands given to Aaron were always polluted by the people’s division of heart.

2. They do the same now, having made places for the worship of the heavens, adopting a star as embodying their view of the power of the heaven fulfilling the warning of Deuteronomy 4:19.

3. For this idolatry and all the implications of lifestyle that flow from it, they will be sent into exile. So pronouncing judgment on their gods for he is “the God of Hosts.” They worship his creatures, for the host of heaven are his and he made them; they will be taken into captivity by armies of a heathen nation for the host, armies of earth are his. “Those that retain an affection for false gods cannot expect the favor of the true God.” [Matthew Henry]

III. God pronounces judgment on those that revel in luxury and ignore injustice and spoof the coming judgment – 6:1-7

A.  They indulge in sensuality – Look at the description of the lifestyle they embrace while others suffer” they are “at ease,” they “feel secure,” they “lie on beds of ivory,” they “stretch themselves out on their couches,” they eat, the “lambs” and the “calves” [making epicures of themselves with the tenderest of morsels while abusing the flocks and herds], They sing idle songs and fancy that they are imitating David in his exuberance for finding more voices and sounds to celebrate the beauty and perfection of God. They “drink wine in bowls” and “anoint themselves with the finest oils.” They do not do any of these things in celebration of the abundant goodness of God with thanksgiving to him and mercy toward their neighbors, but in a spirit, repulsive to God, of pleasure-madness for a soft and undisturbed life.

B. They overestimate their safety and strength – They seem to believe that Samaria as their city of stronghold, their mountain, and the place from which their worship was developed will protect them in the same way that they thought Zion, Jerusalem, as home of the temple would protect Judah. See their false confidence set forth in 6:13. But God calls on them to see that other nations and their major cities had greater power and more territory than Samaria, and yet were brought down by other nations under the providential arrangements of the Lord of hosts (6:2). At the same time that they “bring near the seat of violence” they “put far away the day of disaster.” (6:3)

C.  They ignore their worthiness of judgment – Verse 8 establishes this in no uncertain terms. Note the force of the vow and the moral outrage contained in the language: “I abhor, . . . hate, . . . I will deliver up.” Their actions have resulted in things as unnatural as horses running on rocks since they “have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (12)

D. they do not grieve over the spiritual and moral condition of Joseph. Their frolic of extravagance covers a corruption that has eaten away any human kindness and natural affection. They are not grieved over the hardships that many experience and they have lost all sense of the holiness of God. Should Isaiah’s vision n the temple occur here, there would be a great lamentation and cry of their undoneness and their uncleanness. They would with one mighty chorus wail “Woe is me.”

E. Their self-confidence and false security will be blasted by Yahweh Elohim – The most egregiously guilty pleasure seekers will be “the first of those who go into exile,” and all their days of revelry “shall pass away.” God himself will “raise up against you a nation” to oppress them throughout their territory. No place will be secure from the thoroughness of this disastrous attack (14).


When the Lord Jesus Christ died for his people, he would find no place to shield him from the wrath of God. None could come to defend him. All the rage, wrath, and hatred due us for our sins fell on him as our substitute. Not that the Son in himself was hated or in himself was worthy of the rage of his father, but only as he was the sacrifice for the sins of his people and as he endured such for their just redemption did he come to be exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. This case and verdict against Israel show us the severity of divine retribution. This was temporal. Multiply it infinitely for the eternal and we will see at what expense did redemption come when “He spared not his own son.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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