Message of Amos: Does God Care?
Affluence, exploitation and the profit motive were the most notable features of the society which Amos observed and in which he worked. The rich were affluent enough to have several houses apiece (3:15), to go in for rather pompously expensive furniture (6:4) and not to deny themselves any bodily satisfaction (3:12; 4:1; 6:6). On the other hand, the poor were really poor and were shamelessly exploited: they suffered from property rackets (2:6, 7), legal rackets (5:10, 12) and business rackets (8:5) and the defenseless man with no influence came of worst every time. When the poor could not contribute to the rich they were simply ignored and left to be broken. Money-making and personal covetousness ruled all: the men lived for their offices (8:5), the women lived for excitement (4:1), the rulers lived for frivolity (6:1-6).
When Amos turned his gaze upon the church, he found a religion which was very religious, which adored what was traditional but which had shaken free from God’s revelation. The religious centers were apparently packed, sacrifices were regularly offered, and the music was electrifying. But it had no basis outside the mind of man. It continued the counterfeit cult of Jeroboam who had set out nearly two centuries earlier to establish a viable alternative to Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:25 ff.), and, with this length of tradition behind it, by the time of Amos it all seemed to be a self-justifying enterprise. The shrines of Jeroboam at Bethel and Dan were still in full operation but abhorrent to God (5:21-32). The priest, Amaziah, was an establishment-minded cleric, but was supremely disinterested in any word from God (7:12, 16).
Standards had gone to pot. Authority and the rule of law were despised (5:10, 12), and national leadership, while reveling in the publicity of their position (6:1) was not facing the real issues (6:3) but seemed even to be contributing to the breakdown of law and order by allowing personal likes and dislikes to take primacy over caring for the nation (6:4-6). Public standards of morality were at a low ebb: Amos could speak of sexual indulgence (2:7), transgressions and sins (5:12) and commercial malpractice (8:5, 6) as matters on which he could not be proved wrong.
Looking at these things, Amos saw a society and a church on its last legs, but nobody else did. It was not only a time of affluence but also of political strength and national stability and expansion. Obviously, seeing things like this, Amos addressed himself to the church. They professed religion, they thought of themselves as walking with God, they held themselves to have quite a precise arrangement with God, they looked forward (5:18-20) to the day when He would in a unique way exert Himself to bring the whole world to His heel, for they were confident that on that day they would receive all the honors.
Anything sound familiar?
The message of Amos is a word to the church, and it touches on three central points. Motyer, in his commentary on Amos writes pointedly and plainly concerning these central matters in Amos:
“First, Amos insisted that privilege brings peril (3:2). The claim of the day clearly was that privilege brings security. They had been privileged to have direct dealings with God (2:9-11). At certain dates in the historical past God had shown that He was on their side. The particular stress of Amos is this: the nearer to God the closer the scrutiny and the more certain the judgment. Far from their privilege saving them , more will be required from those to whom more has been given; the greater the light the greater the risk. The church is not exempt from judgment; far from it, the judgment begins and rages most severely there.
“Secondly, past history cannot take the place of present spiritual and moral commitment. A stale testimony of what happened years ago is like a lesson in history. God looks for up-to-date commitment to Himself (5:6), to moral values (5:14, 15), to personal and social ethics (5:24).
“The third emphasis in Amos’ message to the church is that religious profession and religious practice are invalid – to be more precise, repulsive to God and therefore not just useless but also dangerous – unless verified by clear evidences. Throughout his book, Amos makes clear what the evidences of true religion are.” (J. A. Motyer, The Message of Amos, Bible Speaks Today Commentary)
Does God care about this situation? Does God care about me?
‘Does God care?’ is the next ‘Eternal Question’ for us to consider in our series on the 12 Minor Prophets of the OT. Join us this coming Lord’s Day as we focus on this eternal question.