As we study the Book of Amos, we need to pray for God’s eyesalve to look not only at what was transpiring in the past but to also see what is happening in the time in which we live.
Too often we find ourselves reading God’s Word for an immediate answer to some problem or difficulty that we might have at the time—a solution that will answer the questions for the here and now. But this is not really the way to study God’s Word. Ellen White tells us that the prophets wrote more for our day than for the day in which they themselves lived, so our study of Amos is timely. (See Selected Messages, Book 3, 338, 339.)
Reading the contents of Amos 8 is like reading the obituary at the funeral of a friend, because we realize the finality of the deceased one’s life. Amos 8 is a sad chapter. What makes it even sadder is that the same dire consequences and circumstances will fall upon God’s people at the end of time as fell upon God’s people, Israel, in the Northern kingdom. Those who have had the benefit and the privileges of knowing the Three Angels’ Messages will, we are told, leave by the millions. We boast today, in Seventh-day Adventism, a membership of over 12 million, but one day, millions of these members will leave. Many, we are told by the Pen of Inspiration, will leave this truth and join the ranks of the opposition. (See The Great Controversy, 608; Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists, 195, 196.)
The story does not end there. “Standard after standard was left to trail in the dust as company after company from the Lord’s army joined the foe and tribe after tribe from the ranks of the enemy united with the commandment-keeping people of God.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 41. We are told that “the broken ranks will be filled up by those represented by Christ as coming in at the eleventh hour.” Last Day Events, 182.
The circumstances in the Northern kingdom were bleak, and it was into this situation that Amos came. He was not a citizen of Israel. He had come from the Southern kingdom of Judah. When he arrived, Amos began to deliver to the nations around Israel the message he had been given, declaring that it would not be long until the wrath of God would fall upon them.
The people of Israel, upon hearing Amos’ message, said, “Amen, brother, preach on. Preach it like it is.” He was naming the sins of the other countries and declaring that they and even the Southern kingdom, where he was from, would receive punishment. None of this got Amos in trouble. I suspect this part of his preaching brought a lot of applause and praise.
Amos saved Israel, the Northern kingdom, for his last message. When he began to preach, “You people of Israel, your sins are as bad as or worse than the rest; God is going to destroy you,” he was no longer the popular preacher that he had been. The people then told him to mind his own business and to go back to where he had come from!
In our previous studies, we have learned that God uses theme devices as He inspires His prophets to bring His word to us. As we endeavor to study the Word of God, we must understand God’s theme devices, or we are going to get off track in our interpretation of God’s Word. God uses theme devices for learning, so we will remember the lessons that are taught and will stay on track.
When Amos began his book, with the pronouncements of judgments on Israel and Judah as well as the surrounding nations, the theme device was, for three transgressions and for four. (See Amos 1.) Amos used this theme device to get their attention. The reasons were given as to why the judgments were coming. Then again, in chapters 7 and 8, this theme device surfaces in all of its full-blown glory.
God repented of the first two of four visions of judgment. God was willing to overlook, for the greater benefit of the nation, their first two follies. That tells us something about God: He is willing, through His mercy, to overlook many of our faults, but we should never presume that because He does not punish us immediately, we can take advantage of that mercy by continuing to sin. If we do, we will find that God will ultimately bring judgment instead of mercy upon us.
God was willing to overlook things—for three transgressions and for four,—but the third and the fourth visions of judgment are very soon to kick in.
God has laws of operation that govern everything He does, including how He presents His messages to His people. If we are going to stay on track, we must understand how these laws operate. Let us study this further.
The fourth vision of Amos tells of the final judgment of Israel. As we read the words of this Old Testament prophet, we cannot escape the depicted concept of judgment. Judgment is not a comfortable topic. It is the very opposite of being comfortable. We are so disturbed by the topic that we often deny that God is bringing judgment upon a land or upon His people. We miss the point that God has for us, because we do not want to discuss judgment. Judgment denotes the idea that something really dreadful is going to take place, and the human psyche cannot cope with it.
We all remember 9/11—the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, New York, and on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001. This generation will probably never forget 9/11. We may forget a lot of things, but that date is going to stay with us. When we saw the pictures on television showing the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center burning and then collapsing, we could not believe that such a horrendous thing was taking place. We were in a state of disbelief that something like this could happen on American soil. Of all the words that have been spoken regarding 9/11, I do not remember hearing anything said that this was a judgment of God. Thousands of lives were lost; hundreds of millions of dollars in damage was done. Could it have been a judgment from God? I believe so, because Ellen White tells us that such terrible disasters are indeed judgments of God upon the land. (See Manuscript Releases, vol. 11, 1.)
Most people’s minds will not allow them to process that kind of thought. Many people are in a state of shock, because some things are so awful they cannot cope with them. It is no surprise that many minds find it difficult to grasp the reality of the judgment of God, but it is important that we do think about it. The Bible makes sure that we do, because without judgment, all systems of human morality collapse. People want to do away with punishment. They manipulate laws so that punishment becomes less and less because of this concept of judgment in their minds. They do not want to deal with judgment. They do not want to deal with harshness, because they know that at some point in time—if indeed there is a God—they are going to have to face the judgment themselves. They somehow think that if they are merciful, then God will be merciful to them in their sin.
In a way, this was the case with the High Priest, Amaziah. (See Amos 7:10–13.) He did not want to face the fact that judgment would come. As a result, he tried to silence Amos. This story is particularly intriguing, because it tells of an attempt by a religious official to stifle the preaching of a prophet whose message was unpleasant, embarrassing, and even threatening to the religious and governmental establishment.
From a purely human point of view, Amaziah’s actions were reasonable. He wanted to silence Amos. He viewed him as a prophet who was not authorized to be in the Northern kingdom. He did not appreciate being told that they were not following God. The reality of it is, however, that when you try to silence a prophet of God, you are, in fact, trying to silence God.
We know that this is not something new. There is nothing new under the sun! In the New Testament, we see this phenomenon was raised up again and again. Those whose fathers had killed the prophets also thought that they could silence John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, and the other prophets. Sadly, they had failed to learn this lesson outlined in Amos. They thought that it applied to someone else, not to them. In reality, is not that the tendency of human beings today?
History tells us that religion always tries to have peace and harmony prevail above the truth that God demands justice and faithfulness. I have heard people say, “When we hear the governments in the Middle East crying peace and safety, that is then the sign of the end.” No, that is not the sign of the end.
The sign of the end is when religious pressure becomes so great that it forces all religious groups into a uniformity—not a unity, but into a uniformity—where there are no longer the variances that now exist. That is the peace and safety that needs to be carefully watched, because it has always been the plan and purpose of religion to bring peace and harmony into the lives of those who are following their religion.
This God is going to judge, and ignorance is not bliss. Refusal to consider the reality of God’s wrath against evil amounts to willingness to condone evil. The truth, today, is that people do not consider what is right or wrong. They do, however, consider how they feel about something.
How we feel, most of the time, is wrong, because we base our feelings, for the most part, upon our sinful natures. The sad story is that Amaziah, who wanted to protect his king and countrymen from hearing the predictions of their doom, would inevitably be unable to escape the effects of that doom himself. Amos’ message did not come from some manifestation of his own will but was a direct message from God. Amaziah, along with his fellow Israelites, was destined to experience the penalty of ignoring and opposing the message.
Consider now this vision of the summer fruit in Amos 8: “Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit. And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit. Then said the Lord unto me, The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more.” Verses 1, 2.
God asked Amos, “What do you see?”
Amos replied, “A basket of summer fruit.” The vision of summer fruit brings the message that it is over for Israel.
One of the things that my wife, Judy, and I like is tree-ripened, summer fruit. There is nothing quite like it. When we go to the grocery store, the fruit we buy there has been picked green and shipped across the country. It looks good, but it has little taste, and we often wish we had never bought it. There is nothing like tree-ripened, sweet, summer fruit.
What God is presenting to Amos in this vision of summer fruit is the idea that summer fruit does not last long. It is ripe. When we obtain tree-ripened, summer fruit, we had better eat it or preserve it immediately, or it will turn to mush. God is communicating the fact that the time is ripe. Their cup is full. They have presumed upon the mercy of God long enough.
“What did you see, Amos?”
“I saw some summer fruit. It was ripe, and it was ready to have some-thing done with it.”
God said, “You are right. It has to have something done with it. It has to be dealt with.”
After the plumbline of Amos 7, and then the rejection of God’s Word by the priest, Amaziah, the end of the line has come for God’s people—the summer fruit. God is not going to spare them any longer.
Picture of Disaster
Amos 8:3 depicts the awful picture of disaster: “And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord God: [there shall be] many dead bodies in every place; they shall cast [them] forth with silence.”
They were singing these songs at the temple in Bethel—a temple that was in a state of high apostasy, and had been from its very beginning. They would find that even though they received pleasure in the past from their songs, they now would be turned to howlings, to songs of lamentation. Dead bodies were going to be everywhere.
This is why I say that Amos 8 is such a sad chapter. It is like attending a funeral, because there is death and carnage and disaster in every place. God says, “I want you to pay close attention, because this is a type of the disaster that is going to take place at the end of the world.”
Often we have the idea that the disaster at the end of the world will be terrible because of so much bloodshed, but that is not the disaster with which we need to be concerned. The disaster at the end of the world is the fact that God’s people—those who have professed God—are going to be the ones slaughtered.
The world will get what it has coming, but God’s people have made a profession. They have said, “All that the Lord has said, we will do.” (Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7.) They have the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish this, if they will. The tragedy, the disaster, is not that the world is going to be destroyed; the tragedy is that those who have taken the name of the Lord upon their lips are going to be destroyed.
Amos 8:3 is not talking about the dead bodies of the surrounding nations. It is referring to those who are at the temple singing the songs and worshiping. There will be many dead bodies.
“Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; [yea,] and sell the refuse of the wheat? The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works. Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? and it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and it shall be cast out and drowned, as [by] the flood of Egypt. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day: And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only [son], and the end thereof as a bitter day.” Verses 4–10.
The new moon heralded the coming of the new month, and it was a time to come before the Lord. The people of Israel had watchmen set to watch for the new moon. When the new moon came, they blew the trumpet, announcing that a new month was on its way.
We read in Isaiah 66 that the Lord is going to come, and He is going to create new heavens and a new earth. “And it shall come to pass, [that] from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord.” Verse 23. Somehow most of us have a tendency to zero in on this Sabbath promise to the neglect of the new moon promise. I would like to suggest to you that the new moon spoken of in this text is going to be just as much a reality in the new earth as will the Sabbath issue, because it is qualified by saying that the Lord is going to create new heavens and a new earth.
How do we as Seventh-day Adventists relate to the new moon concept? In Amos, the people were saying, “Get this new moon thing out of the way so that we can sell our corn. Get the Sabbath over with so we can sell our wheat.”
What about the new moon? Does it have significance for us? It most certainly does. Do you remember what is going to take place in the new earth concerning the tree of life? We are going to eat the fruit of that tree, how often? Every month. (See Revelation 22:2.) Isaiah’s prophetic vision reveals that he saw God’s people coming once a month to worship before the Lord and to partake of the fruit that will continue to sustain immortality. They will come Sabbath by Sabbath as well.
The Burden of Sabbath
The people of the Northern kingdom could not wait for the new moon to be gone. They could not wait for the Sabbath to be over. They would say, “Jeremiah, go out and look at the sundial in the garden. See how long the shadow is. Is the sun down yet?” What did they have on their minds? They wanted to get going with the worldly things of their lives. They had forgotten about God. The Sabbath was a burden.
There are Seventh-day Adventists today in the same situation. If they are keeping the Sabbath, it is a burden. They want it to be gone, so they can do their own things. They do not consider the Sabbath to be a time of spiritual blessing and refreshing. They cannot wait for the sun to go down.
There are others who make no pretense about the Sabbath at all. They just do their own things anyway. Maybe they are refrained a little bit. I remember hearing a teacher in one of the church’s academies stating that their family would go window-shopping on Sabbath. This teacher thought that as long as they did not buy anything, they were not breaking the Sabbath. Then, when the sun went down, they were ready to go into the stores to buy the items they had seen on Sabbath. They were “cultural Adventists.” Although they had grown up in the system, they had never really understood what a blessing the Sabbath day is.
God Sees It All
In Amos 8:7, the Lord says, “I will never forget anything that they have done.” God sees it all. God sees not only what takes place on the surface, but He is also able to look into the heart when you are keeping your eye on your watch, thinking that that action is not breaking the Sabbath. God knows that down in your heart you are hoping that you can make it to the store just before the sun goes down, so you will be ready to purchase when the clock strikes. Is that Sabbath keeping? Not at all. God says, “I see it all.”
Not only does God see our Sabbath-keeping, but also He sees every financial deal with which we are involved. He sees every greedy acquisition, every religious act, and every critical thought. Nothing is forgotten. God writes it all down, and our only hope is to come to a point in our lives where nothing matters but our God and the vindication of His character by our own. That is our only hope.
As we come to the close of this chapter, I would suggest to you that there is a hint in the final verses of how judgment might have been averted.
In verse 11, we read: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread . . . .” No, there was not going to be a famine of bread, because Israel was at the height of its prosperity, but they were at the bottom spiritually.
You know, there will come a time, when the Spirit is being poured out on God’s people, that there will be some sitting in the pews who will not even realize what is happening. Some will receive the Spirit and others will not, but from all appearances, the difference will not be discerned.
But there is coming a famine in the land, “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”
That is a sad thing to think about, is it not? We pride ourselves in regard to all of the Bibles we have in the United States, but the day is going to come when there is going to be a famine in the land. That famine will not focus on whether or not you have a Bible. It is going to be more profound than that.
Many people think that if they have the Bible and if they have memorized verses, they are going to be okay. I am sorry to say that they are not going to be okay. When this famine strikes, it is going to be more profound than that. It is going to be so profound that they will not know how to apply the verses they have memorized, unless their hearts have been changed.
“And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find [it]. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst. They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy god, O Dan, liveth: and, The manner of Beersheba liveth; even they shall fall, and never rise up again.” Verses 12–14.
One of the attributes of judgment is the fact that God withdraws His Spirit. When God withdraws His Spirit, that which you think you have a good handle on, you have no handle on at all. That can be part of judgment, and that is what is described in these last verses. The people are running everywhere, trying to find out what they should do, but they are not able to find it. They take their Bibles down from the shelves, open and leaf through them, but cannot find an answer that satisfies the need of their hearts. They have not paid attention to God’s Word. That is what was wrong in verse 5 when the described religious services were taking place. Instead of treasuring up those things that God had for them, they were wishing the Sabbath hours away.
How can we apply the lessons in this chapter of Amos to our lives? Part of what makes up God’s judgment is the withdrawing of His Word from His people and the withdrawing of the Holy Spirit so that the Word cannot be understood. It is only the Holy Spirit that guides into all truth. (John 16:13.) A famine of hearing the words of the Lord—what a warning to Seventh-day Adventists today!
Each Sabbath day, across the world, thousands of congregations meet. I wonder what takes place in those church services each Sabbath. I wonder what the Spirit of the Lord sees—not only from a pulpit point of view but also from a congregational point of view. Does He see His Word exalted? Does He see the moving of His Holy Spirit upon the congregations, or is the Spirit grieved away? Are the services frivolous, a time-passer to get people through the hours of the Sabbath day?
The Seventh-day Adventist Church was founded upon the Word of God, and it is the Word that needs to be preached today. It is the Word that needs to be followed, if we are ever going to get out of this world alive.
Mark it down. Amos 8:11 will be fulfilled to Adventists as well as those of other denominations. That day is going to come when there will be a famine in the land—a famine for the Word of God.
Ellen White talks about this day, and she places it near the end of time when judgment is going to fall. “Those who had not prized God’s Word were hurrying to and fro, wandering from sea to sea, and from the north to the east, to seek the Word of the Lord. Said the angel, ‘They shall not find it. There is a famine in the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the Lord. What would they not give for one word of approval from God! but no, they must hunger and thirst on. Day after day have they slighted salvation, prizing earthly riches and earthly pleasure higher than any heavenly treasure or inducement. They have rejected Jesus and despised His saints. The filthy must remain filthy forever.’ ” Early Writings, 281, 282.
I am convinced, in my own mind, that the fulfillment of Revelation, when it says that they have no rest day and night, applies here. (Revelation 14:11.) Searching, wondering, wondering, searching—no rest day or night. What we see in these verses and in this quotation is another example of the parable of the ten virgins. (Matthew 25.)
Remember, the Bible says that five of the virgins were wise and five were foolish. Do you know why it uses five and five? Why did Jesus not say there were four and six or three and seven? Why five and five? The reason five and five is used is because it is an equal number on each side, which means there is an equal chance for you to be in one group or the other. You are not in a lop-sided situation where there were two wise virgins and eight foolish. With those numbers, it would be difficult to get into the wise group, but you have an equal chance. The choice rests with you. So the five wise and the five foolish are presented before us.
The parable tells us that all ten virgins fell into the Laodicean condition. They all slumbered and slept, and when the cry was given, the five wise virgins trimmed their lamps and went in to the wedding, but the five foolish went out and began to search for oil. Oil represents the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the guide to God’s Word. It guides us into all truth.
They could not find any Holy Spirit; they could not find any Word. There was a famine in the land, as far as they were concerned. They went out, and they searched and searched.
What would they do? They would come up to someone and ask, “I know that you have an experience with the Lord. Can you please tell me what I need to know so that I can make it into the wedding feast? I am confused; I do not know. Please help me.” This is the plea they give. This is the plea for the oil to put in their lamps—a searching for truth. They knew they needed to have this oil so they could be saved.
While they hesitated, while they looked, while they searched, while they inquired, the door was closed, and it was all over—just like the story Amos relates in chapter 8. The idea is left with us that we need to make hay while the sun shines. We need to make our search now. We need to make our application now. You see, it was never God’s plan that Israel should suffer the fate that they suffered. His plan was perfect.
It is not His plan that we should suffer a similar fate, and we do not have to. Remember the five wise virgins and the five foolish. We have an equal chance to be in either group, if we learn the lessons.
A Land for Us
As this article is written, there is a war going on in Israel. They are fighting over a piece of real estate that has no blessing in it whatsoever. But God has a land for us. It is right now a land that we can see only by faith, but it is a real land nonetheless. If we are faithful, one day God is going to usher us into that land.
We need to make sure that we are learning the lessons that God has for us, because if we do, we will be classed with the five wise virgins and will be invited to go in to the wedding feast. God is going to say, “Come thou, blessed of the kingdom, enter into the joys that the Lord has prepared for thee.”
I am looking forward to hearing that pronouncement, and I know that you are, too. Let us spend time with the Lord and learn the lessons that He has for us in His Word. Do not just read it through on the surface. Dig down a little deeper, and we will be blessed as a result of our efforts.
Pastor Mike Baugher is Associate Speaker for Steps to Life Ministry. He may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.