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Israel's Prosperity and Pride; Opposition of Amaziah the Priest (Amos 6-7) February 25

As chapter 6 begins, those of Zion (i.e., Jerusalem) and Samaria, the capitals of Judah and Israel, are warned together. The wealthy of both lands were overcome with pride in their possessions and indifference to the issues that really count (6: 6)—caring "nothing for the affliction of their fellow Israelites, though it was their transgressions that had caused it" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verses 4-6). Increasingly, it is becoming the same today. Amos told his audience to look at certain foreign cities. "It was the boast of Israel's elite that no other nation was greater than they were. Their boast came back upon their own heads, for just as Calneh [the capital of a small kingdom in northern Syria], Hamath [an important central Syrian city north of Damascus], and Gath [one of the five main Philistine cities] were subjected to Assyrian rule, so Israel would be subjugated by the Assyrians" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 2).

The paraphrase of verse 3 in the New Living Translation makes the situation very plain: "You push away every thought of coming disaster, but your actions only bring the day of judgment closer."

Of the references to Lo Debar and Karnaim, the Nelson Study Bible states, "Israel's pride in its military strength would be its downfall. Lo Debar was a city east of the Jordan that Israel regained from Syria when Assyria crippled the strength of Damascus. Karnaim, a city east of the Jordan near the farthest limits of Israelite possession, was also regained when Assyria weakened Syria. God's punishment of Israel would fit its sin of pride. As the Israelites reckoned that they had extended their borders by their own military strength, God would allow them to be harassed and defeated from border to border" (note on verses 13-14)—ironically, by the very same enemy that previously enabled their growth.

In chapter 7, God showed Amos three visions.

Locusts (7:1-3): They were to come after the king's reaping. The king apparently took the first harvest of hay as a tax. If the locusts came after that, the people would have nothing. This could utterly destroy the Israelites, a fact that induced Amos to pray for them. "One function of the prophet was to serve as intercessor for the people before God. Amos prayed that the vision decreed in heaven might be halted before it was accomplished on earth. The basis of Amos's petition lay in the true assessment of Israel's position. They were not large and strong, as they thought; rather they were small and weak. In response to Amos's intercession, and out of His own love for Israel God stayed His decree" (note on verses 2-3).

Fire (verses 4-6): This is an all-consuming fire that was to dry up all water—even the springs from underground—thus destroying the land beyond hope. Again Amos prays—and again God relents. Thus, we again see God willing to change His mind—just as He did when Moses interceded for the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 32:9-14; Numbers 14:11-20).

Plumb line (verses 7-9): "The plumb line is a simple but basic builder's tool. A weight attached to a line was held against a wall to measure its vertical trueness.... When God measured the morality of Israel's society, it was shown to be so far from true that the whole construction had to be torn down" (Bible Reader's Companion, caption of illustration for verses 7-9). "Unlike the first two visions, God did not give Amos opportunity to intercede, nor did He relent. These judgments would be executed. The plumb line of God's revelation in the law had been set in the midst of...Israel for many generations. Now God would stretch a plumb line to demonstrate how 'crooked' the people's observance of His commands had been" (Nelson, note on verses 7-9).

God proclaims through Amos that He will bring "the sword against the house of Jeroboam" (verse 9). "Jeroboam may refer to Jeroboam I, the first king of Israel, who instituted idolatry in the northern kingdom (see 1 Kin. 12:25-33), or to Jeroboam II, the monarch during the time of these prophecies [given through Amos]. If it is Jeroboam I, then the house of Jeroboam is a metaphor for the nation. If it is Jeroboam II, then the prophecy specifically concerns the royal household" (note on Amos 7:7-9). If it was a prophecy against the ruling king, then it was not specifically about him but about, as it says, his dynasty, since we know that Jeroboam II did not die by the sword but that his son Zechariah was assassinated just six months after taking the throne (see 2 Kings 15:8-10). It seems more likely, however, that Jeroboam I was in mind as a metaphor for rebellious Israel in general since the destruction mentioned did not come in the days of Jeroboam II or his son. Moreover, the prophecy of destruction is probably dual, mainly concerning that of the end time.

Amos' message upset Amaziah. He was the priest of Bethel and would not have taken kindly to Amos' prophecies against the worship center he presided over (Amos 7:9; 5:5-6). As Amos' name meant "Burden" or "Burden-Bearer," it is interesting to note that, though using a different Hebrew word, Amaziah complained to King Jeroboam, "The land is not able to bear all of his words" (7:10). Insidiously, Amaziah twisted the prophet's words. Amos never said that Jeroboam II himself would die by the sword, as Amaziah reported (verse 11). Worse still, Amaziah imputed motives to Amos that he didn't have—claiming Amos was behind a conspiracy against the king (verse 10). We should let this be a lesson for us. When seeing what others do or listening to what they say, it's very easy to let our imaginations take over from fact, imagining what the motive might be, often on the basis of our evaluation of the other person's character. But to act on this assumption as if it were fact puts us on dangerous ground spiritually.

Amaziah then addressed Amos. He seemed to recognize him as a "seer" (verse 12), a term used even of Samuel (1 Samuel 9:9, 19), but ignored Amos' message except for its "seditious" elements. As a national official, Amaziah ordered Amos out of the country (Amos 7:12). The inviolability of Bethel, in his eyes, lay in its royal sanction (verse 13). Thus, this religious leader chose loyalty to the king over loyalty to God. And, of course, for Amaziah to submit to God's true religion would have meant that he could no longer have been priest of Bethel—with all of the power and prestige of this position. No doubt, this played a part in his rejection of God's servant.

Amos responded to Amaziah by telling him that it was the great God who had called him to prophesy. And now Amaziah's own family would suffer the consequences of his sins.

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