Reading the Book of Amos is a disturbing experience, because as we read, we are faced with the awesome demands a righteous God makes on the lives of His people. We are also presented with the consequences, if we do not follow the commands that God makes upon our lives.
In Part v of this series [April 2004], we noted the parallels between the church of Laodicea and the children of Israel with whom Amos dealt. In the message to the church of Laodicea, we know that, if it does not come into line with God’s position, He is going to spew it out. (Revelation 3:16.) In Amos, we are told the process that the church will go through. It is all revealed to us there. It is not a welcome message; it is not a comforting message, and if we have not been perturbed and disturbed by it, we probably have not yet grasped the message of Amos.
In reality, I think all of us have that little mechanism built into us where we tune things out. If you have ever had dogs, you know how they can exercise tuning you out when they want to. They will filter out all the whistles, all the shouts, and all the screams that are supposed to make them come to you or to mind. But it is uncanny how they can hear the rattling of their dish when food is being poured into it. They may be at the other end of the house or out in the field, but they can hear that food being poured into the dish, and they know that it is time to eat. Human beings are a lot like that as well!
We all have our sophisticated ways of tuning out what we do not want to hear. We find this technique, often called selective hearing, operational in the lives of husbands and wives. We tune out what we do not want to hear.
If we human beings can find ways of avoiding messages from each other, we certainly can do that with God. But God tells us over and over again, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22. He speaks to us out of heaven with all the authority of our Creator and as the One Who has the right to rule and to control our lives. But we bristle when God wants to control our lives for us. If what He wants us to do does not meet our selective hearing, there is a tendency for us to tune Him out.
This is what was happening in Israel of old. They also had selective hearing. They did not want to hear that God had the right to rule over them or that He had the right to expect them to respond. For the most part, sinful human beings do not want to be ruled over; they want to rule. If you do not think this is true, then I do not think you have heard the message that has been presented in the Book of Amos.
As we study the prophets of old, there is a tendency to filter out the messages that they delivered, because we do not want to face the truth that their messages have applications to us today. We especially hold this view pertaining to the Old Testament. And even though we, as Seventh-day Adventists, like to console ourselves that we are Bible Christians, when we come to a commanding passage in the Old Testament, we like to say that it applied to the people in that day. If there is something in the New Testament with which we do not want to come into harmony, we say that that instruction was given 2,000 years ago.
And then we look at the messages and instructions given in the Spirit of Prophecy, written just over 100 years ago. There are those today who allege that Ellen White was a creature of her day and time—that her writings do not really apply to us. There are even some people who want to rewrite her writings and update the English. I have never had any problem reading what she has to say. It is very clear to me. But there is always the desire to tinker with something that we do not want to hear. Amos 7 gives an account of this.
Vision of Disaster
“Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me; and, behold, he formed grasshoppers in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and, lo, [it was] the latter growth after the king’s mowings. And it came to pass, [that] when they had made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he [is] small. The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord.” Verses 1–3.
Here is described a vision of judgment given to Amos. It was a vision of a natural disaster about to occur. The latter crop is referred to in verse 1. The first crop, or the first mowing, was given to the king as a tax, and the people had to depend upon the second mowing to not only feed themselves but also their animals and to have enough left over for the next year.
There is always more in the first mowing than there is in the second mowing, so you can imagine what was left—only enough for the people to just get by. But in this vision, Amos saw grasshoppers come in and begin to eat things down so that nothing was left. When Amos saw this, he, like Moses, began to intercede on behalf of Israel to God, so this would not take place. And the Bible says that God changed this disaster. He let it pass. He said, “It shall not be.”
Then Amos is given another vision.
“Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me: and, behold, the Lord God called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and did eat up a part. Then said I, O Lord God, cease, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he [is] small. The Lord repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord God.” Verses 4–6.
Now, if the grasshoppers were a picture of a natural disaster, fire would seem to be something supernatural. If you have ever been through an area where a forest fire has burned, you know how devastating it is. All the vegetation has been destroyed, and it takes many years for restoration to take place.
That was the vision God gave to Amos—a warning of the devastation that was to come upon Israel as a judgment. And Amos said, “Lord, please, spare them; they are so small.” And the Lord said, “Alright, this is not going to happen.”
I wonder how many times intercessory prayer, prayer that we may never even know about, has spared us. Here was Israel, doing things that they thought God had no idea of, and the only reason they were spared judgment was because of God’s prophet. They did not even like Amos, but he was interceding on their behalf.
I am sure that we all have stories we could tell, either about parents or grandparents, who have interceded on our behalf. We will never really know or understand how many times intercessory prayer has preserved us until we enter into the kingdom of heaven.
But then a third vision is given.
“Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall [made] by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumb-line. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more: And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Verses 7–9.
A plumbline is a very basic tool of masonry or carpentry. It is used to build a wall so that the wall is plumb, that is, exactly vertical or true. The wall referred to in verse 7 had been established using a plumbline. It was set vertically straight by a plumbline.
Amos, in vision, saw the Lord standing like a construction foreman or a surveyor with a plumbline in His hand. He was checking the wall to see if it was still straight, if it was still bearing the load all right, and if it was still correctly aligned. He was looking to see that there was no hint of bulges or overhanging tilts or cracks or something that would cause the wall to go over.
What is the meaning of this vision? It is saying that the Lord brought Israel into being. He promised to save them; His laws were there to guide them. They were supposed to be in a covenant relationship with God and with His Law, and because of that, it was now necessary for God to take a plumb-line in His hand and to measure that wall to see if it was still straight.
God periodically comes by every one who has entered into a covenant relationship with Him and uses the plumbline to see if we are still straight and upright. It is not an arbitrary assessment; it is a highly precise and discriminating act, and we need to learn from Amos that this is how God works with His people. When we have agreed to be obedient to God’s Law and when we have been baptized to wash away our past sins, God uses the plumbline to continue measuring us.
Right to Measure
The two visions that Amos saw about disaster—the grasshoppers and the fire—have given way to a vision of something far more familiar in small scale, something almost domestic—the building of a wall with a plumbline. No disaster was involved in that. Grasshoppers coming through the field are disastrous. A fire sweeping through and consuming everything is disastrous. But using a plumbline to measure a wall is not disastrous. Everybody knows that a leaning wall cannot stand. A leaning wall has to be demolished and rebuilt.
The first two of these three visions equaled the equivalent of hell. This is the destruction; this is the wasting that is going to take place when judgment comes. The third vision of the plumbline is asking how are you going to measure up? Amos does not make any comment against this vision of judgment. He does not fall down on his knees and begin to pray, “Lord, spare Jacob.” The disasters of grasshoppers and fire had been canceled out in answer to the prayers of Amos. But Amos does not make any appeal against the use of the plumbline, because there is nothing harsh or capricious or arbitrary about God measuring His people. He has the right to do that.
Amos knew that. He knew what was going on, and if he should pray that God would overlook this fact—“Lord, do not measure Your people”—he would be a false prophet, because the words of the prophet deal with measuring.
Like Moses and others, he knew that this was God’s right and that it was helpful for His people. But Amos also knew that judgment would come, because he knew what was taking place in Israel.
The Bible never lets us escape from the fact that there is a judgment coming, and we are held morally accountable. As we see this fact being brought about in the Book of Amos, it should sober us in our thinking. This is why the apostle tells us that we are to be sober. (1 Peter 1:13; 4:7.) It should sober our thinking, because we live in a universe where good and evil matter. A lot of people do not think that evil matters. A lot of people do not think that good matters. But in God’s universe, good and evil matter, and where and on what side we place ourselves does matter.
“Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land. Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it [is] the king’s chapel, and it [is] the king’s court.” Verses 10–13.
Apparently, Amos had been telling what was going on around the countryside. That is not always the best or the most enviable posi-tion in which to be found. There was an encounter with the High Priest of the county, and this man went to the king and told him that Amos was conspiring against him.
Church and State Integration
Let us ask some questions here:
First of all, who was this man Amaziah? He was the priest of Bethel; he held a religious position. One of the things we need to understand is that for Israel the church and the state were very integrated. The priest and the king were to work together. The church controlled the state; religious ideas were to overrule any civil ideas of the government.
If we were to translate this into a setting of spiritual understanding today, we would see that the priest of Bethel would be like the Secretary of the Northern Conference of Israel, and the king would represent the conference president.
The priest dealt with the sanctuary; the king dealt with the business administration of God’s people. The king ruled God’s people; the priest dealt with the sacrifices of the temple. They worked very closely together.
Here was Amaziah, a priest, trying to pull rank on Amos, who was God’s prophet. Amos, if you please, was a self-supporting minister in God’s cause, and Amaziah was attempting to control how his ministry was run. This offers the opportunity for many parallels, but I will suggest only one. The priest of the order and organization was trying to dictate how independent ministries were to work and to operate! Indeed there is nothing new under the sun!
Attempt to Prejudice the Hearer
Amaziah was passing on information designed to prejudice the king from even entertaining the message that Amos had for him. He was building a case against Amos and his message so the king would not even consider whether or not the words that Amos spoke were true.
How many times have we heard about those kinds of things happening today? They happen so often on a religious level. If someone has a position to defend, many times they will go to any length to defend that position, even to the extent of misrepresenting the facts. They resort to bribery or falsehood or whatever meets the need at the moment.
Amaziah misrepresented Amos and then turned on him, and in so many words, he told Amos, “You are out of your league up here. This is religious headquarters. It is not the right place for a small-town preacher like you. Anyway, you belong in the south. They will enjoy your prophecy down there. Go back there, if you want to make a living.”
The expression in verse 12, “go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there,” implies that Amos was only doing the work of God for money. “You are only up here causing all this trouble, operating this independent ministry for the money that you get out of it.” Of course, that is always the issue with religious headquarters who think that they have a corner on the market of the self-supporting minister.
As mentioned before, religion and politics were mixed together in this setting, and for a prophet to predict the imminent fall of the nation and the death of the monarch, as Amos did in verse 9, would have been seen as terribly demoralizing and politically treacherous. So Amaziah took it upon himself to deal with this prophet by using misrepresentation and belittlement. Amos was not welcome. No wonder the land could not bear Amos’ words. No wonder the established religious leader tried to silence him. It was the natural response of the human heart. Amaziah felt he was just doing his duty. We need to understand that those conditions have not really changed at all today.
Chosen of God
Notice Amos’ response: “Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I [was] no prophet, neither [was] I a prophet’s son; but I [was] an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: And the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.” Verses 14, 15.
If we examine Amos’ reference to his occupation as a shepherd and a tender of sycomore trees, it appears that he was answering Amaziah’s criticism of prophesying for money by saying that he had no need of the prophet’s stipend, and he was not doing the work for the money. Amos made it clear that his background was entirely secular, that he was dedicated to the Lord and that the Lord had chosen him and had sent him.
God had chosen him because He could not find anyone else—not even from the ranks of the religious orders or from the king’s court or from the sanctuary—who could be used to carry His message. He sought one who was tending sheep and said, “I want you.”
Amos then became a type of the Great Shepherd, the One who comes to us bringing the message of gospel and truth. God chose a holy man. The Bible says, “Holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.” 11 Peter 1:21. You do not have to be a priest; you do not have to be a king to carry God’s message of salvation. All you have to be is one who is dedicated wholly and completely to God, and He can use you in His cause.
“Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I [was] no prophet.” A lot of people asked Ellen White if she was a prophet. She always responded that she did not claim to be a prophet but a messenger of the Lord. The same feeling probably welled up in Amos when he was asked this. He said, “I am no prophet, neither am I a prophet’s son.” This is where the phrase comes from that we use so many times—“I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but I can tell you, from what I see, that . . . .”
Work of Lay People
It is interesting to note that God called an Israelite to preach to Israelites. That is the method God uses to get His message across. If the professional rank and file are not going to do His will in completing the work He has called them to do, then He is going to raise up lay people to accomplish His purpose. When that happens, a scorning of the work that the lay people accomplish is going to take place. We need to be ready for that. If the message cannot be refuted from the writings of Inspiration, then you better watch out, because God has declared that His word will not return to Him void. You need to be aware, however, that there is always going to be opposition to the preaching of the truth.
Amaziah had said, in effect, that there was no salary for Amos, no career future. But Amos replied, “I am not a career man. I am a called man. The Lord took me from tending the flock, and He told me to go prophesy to His people, Israel.”
This is where spiritual gifts come into play. If God calls you to do a work for Him, He will equip you to accomplish the work. God calls individuals to ministry.
I believe that one of the failures that took place in Israel regarding the sanctuary was that those who were working in the sanctuary did not have a calling. They had a birthright. How many preachers’ kids do you know who have gone into ministry that did not have the same dedication as the father? The reason probably is that they did not have the calling to ministry. The father may have had the calling to ministry. The father may have encouraged the son to follow in his footsteps in ministry, but if that child did not have the call of God to go into ministry, it would be better that he work the plow than to try to fulfill a calling for which he has not been equipped. If God calls you to ministry, He will equip you for that ministry. He will give you the gift that is necessary for you to accomplish His ministry.
Service or Career Choice
There was a vast difference between Amos and Amaziah. This difference still divides those in full-time, Christian service today. The decision to serve God in full-time service can never be simply a career choice. I have colleagues who have selected ministry as a career choice, rather than being called of God. This was not the case with Amos. Amos did not decide one day that he was tired of following sheep from hillside to hillside and then choose to change professions and begin preaching. He did not think to himself that with such a change he would not have to get up so early in the morning to tend the sheep or worry about those who were out on the hillside in the bad weather. He did not consider that all he would need to do is preach on Sabbath morning and be done for the rest of the week. A lot of people believe that of a preacher. I do not think that very many of them have followed a preacher throughout the weekly routine to see just what he does.
Amos was not trying to focus attention on any sacrifice that
he was making to do God’s will. Rather, he was admitting his own lack of qualifications for the job. In effect, he was agreeing with Ama-ziah that he was out of his league as a country boy in the king’s sanctuary at Bethel. In other words, this messenger was utterly insignificant. What mattered is the fact that the Lord had sent him. He had a message from God, and Amos was driven by the message that he had received.
It was not his qualification for the job that put him where he was; it was God. All we need is a heart to obey God. That is all Amos had. We each need to pray for a heart to obey God, and if we are listening to the Word of God and trying to obey it, God can and will use us. When the occasion arose to defend the cause of God, all Amos needed was the word from God, and he was ready to go; he packed his suitcases and was ready.
“The Lord took me,” he said, “as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.”
“Now therefore hear thou the word of the Lord: Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not [thy word] against the house of Isaac. Therefore thus saith the Lord; Thy wife shall be an harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land.” Amos 7:16, 17.
That was Amos’ response to Amaziah. He was told not to prophesy again at Bethel. So what does Amos do in response? He immediately goes and prophesies against Israel at Bethel.
The location was important. Amaziah had not forbidden Amos to preach. He had not said, “Do not preach those things at all anywhere.” He just said, “Do not point out the wrongs that are being done at Bethel.” Why? Because that was the king’s chapel.
The offense of preaching often is found in where God’s message is delivered. Nobody minds the preaching of the Three Angels’ Messages, as long as the judgment is not part of the matter. “You can preach that all you want, but do not include us; do not point out what we are doing that is wrong! Tell all the people you want that they are going to hell, but do not tell us at headquarters that we are going to hell or that we are in danger of judgment.” This is basically what Amos was being told—“Go into someone else’s district; do not come into my district.”
Not My Backyard
A good friend of mine, a retired minister—independent minister now—was on an airplane in the Northwest. Little did he know, as he boarded the plane, that already seated in the plane was the local conference president. The conference president did not reveal himself to this man until after the plane landed at its destination. My friend got off first. The conference president followed him down the concourse and, coming up behind him, ran into him to the extent that it almost knocked him off his feet. When he recovered his composure, the conference president said to him, “What are you doing in my district?” My friend gave an excellent response: “I did not know it was your district. I thought it was God’s district.”
For Amos to speak in Jerusalem, where he was from, the things that God had told him to speak in Bethel would not have accomplished the purpose that God intended. God called him to preach in Bethel. His words, in verse 17, concerning Amaziah, his wife, his children, his land, and where he himself would end up would cause little or no problem if preached in Jerusalem. But speaking those things in the back yard where the priest lived was going to cause some problems. It would not be appreciated.
God had not just given Amos a message; He had given him a destination for that message. God said, “Go and prophesy to my people Israel.”
Sometimes it is very difficult to deal with religious issues in the way that we should. It is not easy to speak out, pointing out areas where evil is taking place, but when God gives the message and calls us to go with that message, do you realize that we would be lost eternally if we did not carry out that message?
Ellen White would lament many times; she would weep before the Lord that she did not want to deliver the messages that God gave to her. She did not want to hurt people’s feelings with the messages that she had to carry. But she carried them anyway. She spoke them anyway. (See Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, 60, 61.) We will never understand the anguish that she went through in having to do it.
In the instruction Paul gave to Timothy, the young man who would follow in his footsteps, he said, “Rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering.” 11 Timothy 4:2. That was where Amos’ personal experience was found. He told Amaziah that he must be obedient to what God had called him to do and that there was a vast difference between the word of man and the Word of the Lord.
Difference in the Word
Perhaps in Amos’ day it was at times difficult to distinguish the difference, particularly when some prophets spoke falsely in the name of the Lord, but that is not the case today. Why is that not the case today? Because, as 11 Peter 1:19 says, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.” We now have the written Word of God, and that becomes the basis and the foundation of everything that we are to be and everything that we are to do. There is no doubt today about what God has said. We do not have to say, “Well, I heard this prophet, and I heard that prophet, and I heard another prophet, and I cannot figure it out.” No, we go to the Word, and there we find what is the truth. We can be sure that word, that message from God, always remains the same.
How are we to deal with situations like this? We see in this much more than just ourselves. We have before us the setting of prophet and priest, a setting where there is the confronting of the unwelcome, unsettling, unchanging Word of God. How are we to relate to that? How are we to cope with the voice of God when it applies to our situation?
Remember, we do not want to fall into the trap of filtering. When the Word comes, do not tune it out—examine it. Even though it may be cutting across our grain, do not filter it out. Do not become angry with the one who gives the message. Study it out; see if it is the truth. If you want to be angry with someone because it is the truth, be angry with the Lord, but do not be angry with the one who spoke the Word of the Lord. Does that sound reasonable? God can deal with anger. The message is the word of truth, so do not filter out what God is trying to get across. We will be in the same danger as Israel of old, if we do.
Do not try to fudge things or sort out things and put them into categories that we can get around. Take them as they come. If we will take God at His Word and apply God’s Word into our lives, it will not be long before Jesus can come. I am looking forward to that. I am longing for that day. I am getting tired of the things that I see going on in the world. I want it brought to an end. I want the Lord to come soon, and I know that you do, too. But we need to make sure that we are following as closely as we can what God has revealed to us in His Word.