Project Augustine

 

1/14/09

 

“Yet you have not returned to Me.”   –  Amos 4  (NASB)

 

In Amos Chapter 4, God lists the things He has caused to happen to His people (famine, lack of rain, plagues, destruction by invasion) and He says that the people have not “returned” to Him.  Does God cause (not just allow) bad things to happen to His people in order to get them to turn back to Him. Would the original writer have understood this to be the case? Does God do this to us today?

 

 Exegesis

 

Overview

 

  • Amos lived during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah (779 – 740 B.C.) and Jeroboam II, king of Samaria (783 – 743 B.C.).
    • They both reigned concurrently for 36 years (779 – 743 B.C.)
  • Amos was a sheep raiser of Tekoa, a village in the southern kingdom of Judah. In addition to breeding sheep, he pierced (or pinched) sycamore figs.
    • Amos’ ministry can be placed within the period, 760 B.C.
    • He wasn’t a professional prophet. Amaziah the priest contemptuously reminded Amos of this in 7: 12.
    • He was a southerner you preached against northern Israel.
    • Traditionally he was counted among the poor and exploited classes of society, however, since the 1950s many scholars have argued the exact opposite saying that he was from the upper echelons of Israelite society. (Longman III & Dillard, p. 424)
      • If so, it would be rather intriguing since he would be delivering his indictments to those of his own social class.
      • In the final analysis however, it is unclear whether he was among the wealthier members of Israelite society. (ibid.)

 

Historical, Political, and Social Conditions

  • Over 40 years before Amos’ ministry, Assyria had crushed Syria. This permitted Jeroboam II to extend his frontiers ( 2 Kings 14: 25), and to build up a lucrative trade which created a powerful merchant class in Samaria.  Unfortunately the wealth that came to Samaria was not evenly distributed among the people.  It remained in the hands of the merchant princes, who spent the new-found riches on improving their own living standards (Amos 3: 10, 12, 15; 6: 4), and completely neglected the peasant class which had been the backbone of Samaria’s economy.  (New Bible Dictionary, p. 32)
  • Two classes had developed: rich and poor (Amos 5: 10, 15; 6: 4).
    • The rich had summer and winter palaces crammed with ivory-inlaid art and furniture (3: 15), great vineyards for choice wines, and precious oils for hygiene and perfume.
    • Justice was a commodity to be purchased, even in the towns that housed the sacred shrines, such as Bethel and Gilgal, but where Yahweh was no longer present (5: 4).
      • God had come to despise their rituals (vv. 21 – 24). (Lasor, Hubbard, Bush, p. 245)
    • Symptoms of a morally sick society began to declare themselves in Samaria. In Amos’ day, oppression of the poor by the rich was common (2: 6), and heartless indifference among the wealthy towards the affliction of the hungry (6: 3 – 6).  Justice went to the highest bidder (2: 6; 8: 6).  (Ibid.)

 

The State of Religion

  • Naturally the social conditions in Samaria affected religious habits.
    • Religion was being perverted even though it was not neglected. At the national shrines (5: 5) ritual was being maintained (4: 4) but it went hand in hand with godlessness and immorality.  Far from pleasing Yahweh it invited his judgment.  God was not to be found at the national shrines because he could not accept the worship there (5: 21 – 23); the true preoccupations of the people were with other gods (8: 14).  In addition, this rich ceremonial and the costly sacrifices were being offered at the expense of the poor (2: 8; 5: 11).   (New Bible Dictionary, p. 32)
  • The Israelites were serving another god who could not help them (8: 14) and their religion desperately needed reform (3: 14; 7 : 9; 9: 1 – 4). God abhorred the “pride (self-sufficiency) of Jacob” (6: 1 – 8) and planned to unmask its absurdity (6: 9 – 14).
    • Israel must come to see God for who he truly is. (Lasor, Hubbard, Bush, p. 245)

 

Exegesis of Amos 4

  • God, through Amos, is charging the present ruling class of Israel (in the North) for being self-indulgent, social carelessness, and religious failure. (NBC, p. 798)
  • In verse 1, he directly addresses the upper-class women of Samaria by sarcastically calling them cows that regularly grazed in the rich uplands of Bashan.
    1. Specifically, they oppress the poor and their incessant demands for luxuries drove their husbands to greater injustices. Their demand “Bring us some drinks” creates a vivid picture of their indolence. (Expositor’s CD-ROM: Amos)
  • In verse 2, it seems as if God’s holiness has been offended by their specific social offenses.
    1. Amos warns them that God swears that the Assyrians will make them prisoners of war; their custom was to lead prisoners away with a rope fastened to a hook that pierced the nose or lower lip.
      1. See also 2 Kings 19: 28; 2 Chronicles 33: 11; Ezekiel 19: 4, 9; Habakkuk 1: 15
    2. Captive to indulgence, they will really become captives to the Assyrians. (NBC, p. 799)
  • In verse 5, God charges them of loving the forms and rituals of religion but didn’t love what God loves- namely goodness, mercy, kindness,
    1. Bethel was the chief religious sanctuary of the northern kingdom. It once housed the ark of the covenant and was one of the locations in the circuit followed by Samuel in his work as judge (1 Sam 7:16). Shortly after the division of the two kingdoms, Bethel was established as a sanctuary by Jeroboam I to provide an alternative center to Jerusalem.
      1. In the time of Amos, Bethel was known as “the king’s sanctuary” (7:13). It thus may have been the scene of royal as well as religious pomp.
    2. The cultic worship practiced at Bethel in Amos’s time combined concepts common to Canaanite religion, resulting in a syncretistic Yahwism devoid of real allegiance to the covenant of the Lord. Certainly, elements of Yahwistic religion were observed there (4:4-5; 5:21-23). But the idolatrous influences had left their mark: external allegiance to cultic requirements fulfilled one’s obligation to God. The heart, indeed, the very life of Yahwism, had been destroyed; and the covenantal obligation of a heart response to God and a caring love for one’s fellow man were forgotten. (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM)
    3. They just went through the “motions” in their religious practices and lives
      1. The basis was self-pleasing and self-praise: “what you love to do.” (v. 5)
      2. Little did these worshipers know that as they participated in the cult to maintain their relationship to Yahweh, they were in rebellion against him.
    4. The real offense weren’t their crimes, rebellions, or offending God’s holiness, but more so for harboring unrepentant hearts.
  • Verses 6 – 11 express one of the most fundamental aspects of prophetic thought, the immanence of God in history. Amos related a series of events from Israel’s past that he interpreted as God’s intervention on her behalf. Terrible as these catastrophes were, they were designed by a loving God to alert Israel to her sin and to the certainty of judgment; yet the nation did not return to him (v.11). This section vividly illustrates God’s permissive will that brings suffering so that his own may be brought closer to him (Heb 12:6). (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM)
    1. This section describes how in the past God had used natural disasters to discipline and warn His people, but those lessons had been forgotten.
      1. See Deut 28: 22, 39 – 40, 42, 48, 56 – 57
    2. Specific acts of God against them because “you have not returned to Me.” – This is the recurring theme after each act.
      1. The catastrophes mentioned are difficult to identify historically. They were neither necessarily recent nor specific. They reflect God’s continuing activity in history on Israel’s behalf. (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM)
        • Limited bread/food to them – famine (verse 6)
        • Lack of rain three months before harvest that would prevent grain development – selective rainfall (verse 7)
        • “Smote you with scorching wind and mildew”- blight (verse 9a)
        • Caterpillars (or locusts) devoured their crops (verse 9b)
          • See Leviticus 26: 25
        • Sent a plague like He did in Egypt (verse 10a)
        • Warfare and military defeat caused their young men to die (verse 10b)
        • He will overthrow them like He did Sodom and Gomorrah- natural disaster (verse 11)
          • Exemplified total destruction, God’s judgment on those cities.
  • These verses teach that in all the varied circumstances in life the LORD is the cause and that his purpose in every act of affliction is to bring his people right back to himself. (NBC, p. 799)
    • Furthermore, the specific aim of the divine acts was repentance, but the principle is that in every experience of life the LORD is directly at work to bring us close to himself. (ibid)
  • Things which are ordinarily attributed to chance, natural causes or human folly are all the direct acts of God aiming to produce what he wishes to see in his people. (NBC, p. 800)
    • Verse 12 – “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel.”
    • Idea of “meeting God” harkens back to Exodus 19: 17 where both grace and law were combined in one revelation. (NBC, p. 800)
      1. Like Moses, Amos sets before his people life and death: the choice is theirs (free will)
    • These weren’t simply natural disasters; they were direct acts of God for a specific purpose
      1. Through these acts God wanted Israel to return back to Him in true worship.
        • It is a message of hope and grace in the midst of all this impending doom and judgment upon them
        • Even in these harsh ways, this is God’s way of drawing near to his rebellious people
      2. What God wants is a personal nearness to himself couched in whatever terms are appropriate to the circumstances; repentance if sin has been involved, fleeing to him for comfort, etc. Without relationship there is no religion.  (NBC, p. 800)
        • Repentance is a critical element in relating with God.
      3. Amos presents two options to the people on how to meet God
        1. If they come to him in repentance they will encounter his sovereign grace
        2. If they continue on with their religious practices without a repentant heart they will expose themselves to all the terrors of his law and the fading of light in the darkness of judgment. (ibid)
          • Namely through the form of the invading Assyrian Empire
        3. However, in this verse, it seems as if the people had already made their choice. They did not turn to God when he chastised them (vv.6-11), and now Amos held out no hope for their full-scale repentance. The words seem nothing more than an imperative for the people to get ready for the national calamity about to befall them. (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM)
  • In verse 13, God reaffirms his sovereignty over all of creation in this hymn-like structure in the narrative that concludes this part of God’s judgment.
    1. He is in command of all things visible (mountains), invisible (wind), and the human mind (“reveals his thoughts to man”).
    2. He causes things to change, turning “dawn to darkness”
      1. Might also be a metaphor about bringing hope where there was no hope before
    3. Since he dominates the entire earth (“treads the high places”) he can do whatever he pleases

 

Heremeneutics

 

Does God cause (not just allow) bad things to happen to His people in order to get them to turn back to Him. Would the original writer have understood this to be the case? Does God do this to us today?

 

This section throws light on the chastisement of the Lord. Chastisement is that aspect of his dealing with his children in which he uses punishment to bring them back to him. This was emphasized by Elihu in the Book of Job (33:19-33). It is found in Proverbs (3:11; cf. Heb 12:5-11). Of course, suffering does not always have this purpose. There are many reasons why God disciplines his people. (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM)

 

The point of vv.6-11 is that the Israelites had become spiritually hardened. Because Amos did not want his hearers to forget this, he stated five times, “Yet you have not returned to me” (vv.6, 8, 9, 10, 11).  (ibid.)   Therefore, according to our text God does both cause and allow bad things to happen to His people for the specific purpose of wanting them to repent and come back to Him.  Amos (or the original writer) would have understood this to be the case since one of the main goals in his overall message was the supreme sovereignty of God (as seen clearly in v. 13).   He wants there to be a record of why they have come under the influence of the Assyrians and God’s displeasure.

 

Every believer can take comfort in the fact that, while sometimes it seems that God does not interfere in human affairs, the world is never out of his control. His sovereignty extends to every aspect of human experience.  This chapter in Amos implies the right of the Creator to judge his people and points to the divine judgment that is so vital a part of Amos’s prophecy.  (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM)

 

In today’s context, though as Christians we have been saved by grace through faith, we still harbor sinful tendencies.  There will be times, because of various issues and circumstances in life, where we might stray away from God and become complacent in many aspects of life.  Like the Israelites, we might just “go through the motions” when coming to church while in reality our minds and hearts might be far away from God and doing the things he wants us to do.  In our sinfulness we might become comfortable and smug in our own comfort zones that makes us blind to the bigger issues that might be around us, like being active in service, reaching out to the poor, participating in social justice, helping the sufferings of other people, and doing God’s will as stated in Amos 5: 14 – “Seek good and not evil, that you may live… Hate evil, love good, And establish justice in the gate!”

 

Since God has chosen us as he did with Israel we bear a certain responsibility or standard of moral accountability above that of any other persons (or nations).  A standard, yet often neglected, Old Testament truth that still applies even to this day is that election by God carries with its freedoms the responsibility of the elect to live according to the revealed will of God.  (Lasor, Hubbard, Bush, p. 252)

 

As Hebrews 12: 10 – 11 states, God has to discipline us in order to show that He loves us for the specific purpose of developing a (Christ-like) fruit of righteousness in us and showing to us that He loves us and that we belong to Him now as a son or daughter in his kingdom.  Furthermore, James states that we react joyfully during times of trials that God sends to us because that “testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let that endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect  and complete, lacking in nothing.”  (James 1: 3 – 4)  Many Christians, myself included, will attest that it was during the trying times of life that they were driven to a deeper relationship with God.  In these difficult times, we seemingly, naturally draw closer to God through our questions, confusion, anger, and pain and God meets us there (as Amos 4: 12 somewhat states in a way).  How we react and our attitudes during these times will have a significant overall impact on how we view God, ourselves, the world, and life itself.  This is the gift and risk/burden of free will and free choice that God has given to us.

 

When it comes to maturing and developing us, God doesn’t comfort us into a transformed life, but often wrestles us into a transformed life.   Oftentimes, it will take times of suffering and pain, that God will place in our lives, to shake us out of our own self-inflicted tendencies of spiritual, personal, and social apathy and bring about a true heart of repentance and worship of the Lord.  Yet at the same time we must be wise and discerning at whether or not a time of suffering is from God or from the consequences of our own personal mistakes and actions.  There are also things that go on in life that might be way beyond our control like natural disaster, diseases, accidents, even death, etc. that might befall on us that might not necessarily be the hand of God in our lives to bring about repentance.  Those things we many never come to know or understand fully, though we are able and given the freedom to ponder such things; but such things may simply lie within the mystery and boundaries of God’s mind.

 

 


 

  1. New Bible Dictionary: 3rd Edition, I. Howard Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, D.J. Wiseman, editors, Intervarsity Press, England, 1996
  2. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, G. J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, R.T. France, editors, Intervarsity Press, 1994
  3. Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM:Amos/Exposition of Amos/III. The Prophetic Oracles (1:3-6:14)/B. Oracles of Judgment Against Israel (2:6-6:14)/4, Book Version: 4.0.2
  4. An Introduction to the Old Testament: 2nd Edition, Tremper Longman III & Raymond B. Dillard, Zondervan, 2006

 

 

 

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