Can I Get a Witness?

When we are tempted to think that the ways of God with men are unjust and disproportionate to either our evil or our strength, Amos 7 should not be far from our minds. This revelation shown Amos seems to be a separate manifestation, delivered at a distinct time from those that have gone before, of the judgment to come. Most of the prophecies were probably delivered at Bethel at the shrine. From the response of Amaziah reported in verse 10 and 13, it is certain that this one was given there.

I.  In the first six verses of this chapter, the Lord shows Amos two judgments, one of locusts and the other of fire. 7:1-6

A. The devastation  accomplished by both methods was thorough. Amos saw the intensity and thoroughness of what God was proposing, and though he had seen their idolatry and promised them under divine inspiration that thorough judgment was to come, when God showed him the immensity of the wrath involved, he shrunk from it.

B. The strength of Jacob was too little to withstand the scheme of judgment. Amos objected, “How can Jacob stand? He is so small!" This is plea based on the weakness of Israel not on the perfect justice of God.

C. On the basis of Amos’s plea pointing to Jacob’s weakness, the Lord relented. On the second vision of judgments by fire, and the second objection by Amos, “The LORD relented concerning this: "This also shall not be," said the Lord GOD.

D. Both judgments surely were just, but God allowed the appeal on the basis of Amos’s realization that this judgment would utterly ruin Israel. Should the devastation of the locusts come there would be no food for man or beast and agonizing hunger would lead to, death, cruelty, economic despair, and a host of other insuperable problems generated by that one disaster. The vision of fire was a more direct judgment from the hand of God himself, a display of wrath flowing from the God who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28, 29). This was terrifying and Amos could not bear the thought of fellow sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob having to deal with an almighty vengeance. When viewed, therefore, only from the standpoint of what a terror this would be from a human standpoint, God relented, in essence, saying,, Yes, if one sees how completely unequal human power is to the calamities that are at my disposal and immediately within my authority, then any person certainly would shrink back from it. There is, however, another viewpoint from which the entire situation needs to be seen.”

II. Verses 7-9. God does not begin with a judgment in this vision, but with a plumb line—an unaltering measure of the conformity of an object to the natural absolutes that govern the world. Any builder knows that a wall out of plumb cannot be remedied by changing plumb, but by changing the wall.

A.  God has relented twice, and now shows Amos a plumb line. This plumb line is set in the midst of the people Israel. God does not measure his holiness or the certainty of his law by the willingness of his creatures to obey, but by its intrinsic goodness. The law that arises from his goodness must be honored and obeyed, yes, loved, and violations of it must be punished with perfect equity.

B.  Amos has no retort, for the lesson of the plumb line is self-evident. When the plumb line was set in the midst of Israel the grotesque lack of alignment with it completely eliminated any plea from Amos. Amos was quite ready to plead for wicked Israel when he observed the suffering and agony generated by the punishment; but when he saw the character, the justice, the holiness, the clarity, and the goodness of the law against which they had sinned, his objections from the reality of suffering ceased. He was even emboldened in his pronouncement of God’s righteous anger against Israel. God would never pass by them again. Their destruction was entirely just and consistent with the character of God.

C. God pronounces a thorough judgment against the house of Jeroboam. “the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword." Their sacrifices, their worship, and their royal house are all an expression of unrelieved rebellion.

III. Amaziah, a priest at Bethel, opposed Amos – Verses10-13 – The earlier words of Amos that they people should seek God and not Bethel (5:5) and that Bethel “shall come to nothing,” and his proclamation that God would not accept their burnt offerings and their grain offerings, were now multiplied in intensity by Amos’s newly impressed clarity on the utter justice and holiness of God. Amaziah is bewildered and personally feels the verbal blasts of the divine argument against Israel. He wants relief—just as Amos called upon God for relief from his execution of judgment on Israel.

A. Amaziah was a priest according to the mandate of the king and had no warrant in the mosaic legislation for his position. He was not a descendant of Levi, nor did he serve in Jerusalem. Both his position and his sacrifices were unwarranted and veered far from the plumb line of divine revelation.

B. Amaziah reported Amos and his prophecy to Jeroboam. Amaziah represented Amos’s work as if it were a political conspiracy against Jeroboam and Israel. He viewed the words of Amos as a careful calculation to arouse a sufficient number of Israelites to join arms and rebel. This was an attempt on the part of the southern kingdom to disrupt the security and prosperity of the north, as Amaziah reported it.

C. Amaziah tells Amos to go back to Judah and live and do his work there.

1. On the basis of having reported him to the king, Amaziah advises Amos to “flee away to the land of Judah.” He must make haste for now Jeroboam is going to be in hot pursuit of him.

2. Why should he put himself in danger when in Judah he can sustain himself with bread and he can do his bit of prophesying to his own countrymen. Is that not what we all want, Amaziah implied, just food enough to eat and some occupation that seems meaningful.

3. Your work here, however, is illegitimate and intrusive. The king has established this place of worship and this sanctuary provides religious unity for the nation. God do your bothersome pastime in your own land and leave us alone. "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, “but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom."

IV.  Amos answered Amaziah concerning himself– Verses 14, 15

A. Amos is not a “professional” prophet – He was not there because he had run out of prophetic work to do in Judah. He personally had no intention to prophesy anywhere and was occupied in another line of work entirely. He was a shepherd and a horticulturist. He did not come to Bethel merely to look for a place to labor.

B. Amos was sent from God specifically to prophesy against Israel. For no other reason did Amos go to Israel, than to give prophetic warning to them—perhaps to be their means for their repentance. God sent him and God instructed him.

V. “Amos prophesies against Amaziah – verses 16, 17

A. Amaziah’s word is directly opposed to Yahweh’s instruction to Amos. God said, “Prophesy to my people Israel.” Amaziah said, “Do not prophesy against Israel.” Now who is to be believed and obeyed? This sounds much like the contradiction of Satan, “You shall not surely die.”

B. Amaziah will experience a peculiarly personal judgment from God in addition to the judgment already pronounced against Israel

1. His wife would become a prostitute in the city, that is, the city in which Amaziah served as a priest.

2. His children would die by the sword

3. His land, which must have been substantial, would be divided into equal portions for the possession of others

4. He would go into exile into Assyria and there would die. It was an “unclean” land, filled with non-covenant, uncircumcised people, who obeyed none of the laws of Moses, but Amaziah himself was unholy both in office and in person.

5. In spite of Amaziah’s protest that Amos should prophesy elsewhere, Israel would go into exile.

VI.  Thought about Application

A. ‘Amos’s shrinking from the judgment that he saw is a type of Christ in the garden exploring a possible way of redemption apart from his enduring of wrath. The reality of divine wrath surely must overwhelm any human consciousness, if even Jesus in his human contemplation looks to the Father for another possibility.

B. The plumb line as a symbol of the perfect equity, holiness, righteousness, beauty, and natural inviolability of God’s law stopped all objection from Amos and should do the same for us. If we considered what a great thing sin is, we could have no objection to any measure of discipline he sends his people to give them greater conformity to his character, nor would we find objections to the biblical doctrine of hell, eternal punishment without any intermittence of mercy, to be as considerable and rational as sometimes they seem. God’s judgment on Israel was just and right, and every part of his retribution to Amaziah, though accomplished through means of human perversity, were just.

C. When Amos renewed his courage to prophesy even with the threat of action against him by Jeroboam and against the force of Amaziah’s objection, he is a type of Christ in his unalterable commitment to his Father’s will in shouldering the cross in the epitome of human cruelty and the certainty of the full measure of divine wrath for his sheep. He did not say finally, “O Lord, relent; How can I stand? I am so small.” Instead he said, “Abba Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Thus for redemption he embraced the fullness of his Father’s just wrath, and believers can sing to Jesus with Toplady.

Complete atonement thou hast made,

And to the utmost farthing paid

What’er they people owed..

Nor can his wrath on me take place,

When covered in they righteousness,

And sprinkled with thy blood.

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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