In a dirge, God expresses His sorrow, because His people are incorrigible and He has to remove them from the land. When the bond with Him is broken, death has entered. In spite of that, there is still several times the call to seek Him and to live. Amos presents to the people their iniquities and places them in the light of the majesty of the LORD.
The complete blindness of the people is shown by the fact that they long for the day of the LORD. By their erroneous thinking they believe that that day will be judgment on their enemies and a blessing for them. In expressive language Amos makes this fatal mistake clear to them.
Amos also deprives them of the illusion that the LORD will appreciate their religious feasts. In harsh terms, the LORD makes His disgust clear. The cause of their idolatry lies at the very beginning of their history. He takes them back there. Then He shows that they have not changed since that time. Finally, their incorrigible behavior leads to the fact that they will all be led into exile.
1 A Dirge
1 Hear this word which I take up for you as a dirge, O house of Israel:
For the third time the call sounds: “Hear this word.” First, this call was addressed to all the people, when God sent His prophets to them (Amos 3:1). They did not listen to them. Then He called Filistea and Egypt to testify against the people. Then the call was addressed to Samaria, where there is an insatiable hunger for material prosperity (Amos 4:1). He is also directed against the abominable mixing of the service of the LORD with the service of the idols.
After these unsuccessful attempts to reach the hearts of the people through His word, God again makes His voice heard. Though still intended as a warning this time, the word now contains a dirge or a lamentation about the inevitable fall. God sings a lamentation through Amos. Jeremiah also lets hear a lamentation, but he stands on the ruins of Jerusalem. Amos stands among a people bathed in opulence, while for them the air is clean.
The word ‘dirge’ can also be translated as ‘corpse song’. It is a song about someone who has died (cf. 2Sam 1:17; 2Chr 35:25). The song is sung because the eye of the prophet sees the doom as already present and the popular existence of Israel has come to an end. Amos here is a real pessimist in the eyes of the fat people.
The “house of Israel” is the same as the house of Joseph (verse 6) and refers to the ten tribes.
2 She has fallen, she will not rise again—
The virgin Israel.
She [lies] neglected on her land;
There is none to raise her up.
The song is about the consequences of the Assyrian invasion, which will be deadly for Israel. Amos calls Israel “virgin” here, a much nicer name than “cows of Bashan” (Amos 4:1). God calls her here as such because He wanted her to be so, a virgin who would only be for Him, not tainted by her dealings with the surrounding peoples. But alas, she has fallen (cf. 2Sam 1:19,25). How that happened is written in the following verse.
With ‘virgin’ also the tragedy of an untimely death is depicted, something that happens in the blossom and beauty of life. The fact that she “has fallen … on her land” indicates that it was done by an enemy who invaded her land and killed her there. That she died does not mean that it is over and done with. God is omnipotent and will give life again in this people (Rom 11:11-15).
She is incapable of raising herself and there is no one who can or would help her. Her situation is hopeless.
3 Only a Remnant Is Left
3 For thus says the Lord GOD,
“The city which goes forth a thousand [strong]
Will have a hundred left,
And the one which goes forth a hundred [strong]
Will have ten left to the house of Israel.”
In this verse the explanation for the dirge is given. When the king of Assyria invades Israel with his armies, the cities will defend themselves. They will even pull out their cities to push back the intruder. But their attempts will have a dramatic development. Their audacity will allow the enemy to reduce their ranks so much that “to the house of Israel” only a handful, a tenth, will be left.
4 Seek Me That You May Live
4 For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel,
“Seek Me that you may live.
This word opposes the irony of Amos 4 (Amos 4:4). It is not about religion, but about God. The words “thus says the LORD to the house of Israel” sound here for the last time to Israel with an invitation to be saved. In verse 16 the judgment is announced. Three times the call to seek comes (verses 4,6,14). ‘To seek’ means to turn to God with confidence and boldness. The word “seek” is in the imperative. It is not about continuing the ordinary life, but finding and obtaining the true life.
Although in the Old Testament ‘life’ often means spiritual life, it does not seem to be the purpose here. Amos makes his call to seek God with the purpose that there will be a national restoration. After all, Israel is a fallen nation (verse 2). If they truly turn to the LORD with repentance for their deeds, there will be life for all their people. For only in God is life. Everything outside Him is dead. “He who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1Jn 5:12b). Similarly, the prodigal son was also dead because he lived outside of fellowship with his father (Lk 15:24,32; Rev 3:1b; Eph 2:1).
In order to live, man does not need religion, but a Savior. The cause of all misery is the wandering away from God. The blame always lies with man. God for His part has done everything and is doing everything to make man happy. But just as it has already happened in paradise, man is always so easily tempted to look at the attractive things around him. If he is carried away by this, it will result in death (Jam 1:14). Israel experienced this first hand in its history. But just as the voice of God came to Adam with the question: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9), the invitation comes to the people of Israel, and to every single person who has lost God: “Seek Me that you may live.”
When it is said that you must seek something, it means that you have lost it. You can lose a lot of things of value, even attach a reward for the finder, but if you have lost God, you have lost everything. The reward for those who find God is: life (Pro 8:35).
5 Another Warning
5 “But do not resort to Bethel
And do not come to Gilgal,
Nor cross over to Beersheba;
For Gilgal will certainly go into captivity
And Bethel will come to trouble.
Earlier Amos ironically called them to come to Bethel to sin (Amos 4:4). Now he abandons the irony and in bitter seriousness exhorts them not to go there. God is not really sought if He is not sought exclusively. He does not tolerate rivals.
According to their own experience, Amos’ call to seek God is forcing an open door. After all, they are looking for God, aren’t they? For that they go to Bethel, Gilgal and even all the way to Beersheba? We now know Bethel and Gilgal. Beersheba is known by the patriarchs. There we find Abraham (Gen 21:22-34) and also Isaac (Gen 26:24) and Jacob (Gen 46:1).
Imagine: God used to speak there with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then God must be present there in a special way. And look what they are willing to go through for it. Beersheba is situated all the way in the south of Judah. They even have to cross the border and then travel a long way. So going to Beersheba gets the character of a pilgrimage (cf. Amos 8:14).
In the judgment announcement only Gilgal and Bethel are mentioned. Beersheba is not mentioned because Israel, and not Judah, is the subject of preaching and judgment. Still God warns that they have to move away from the places where His judgment will come (cf. Rev 18:4). He who seeks perishable gods will perish with them.
6 Again: Seek and Live!
6 “Seek the LORD that you may live,
Or He will break forth like a fire, O house of Joseph,
And it will consume with none to quench [it] for Bethel,
It is unacceptable to think that you are seeking God and then be told that you are mistaken, that you are seeking wrong. It is to jump out of your skin that that farmer from Tekoa tells you that where you are, you cannot find the LORD because He is not there. Then you have fulfilled your religious obligations all these years for nothing so bravely. Surely that cannot be true, can it?
How difficult we too are, to be convinced that tradition has no guarantee whatsoever that we are ‘right’. The fact that the Lord used to work somewhere is no guarantee that we are in right place today.
The Lord Himself determines where He is and can be found. That is Jerusalem for Israel (Deu 12:5-12) and that is where the church comes together for us (Mt 18:20). The characteristics for the coming together of the church He indicates in His Word. He will consume a self-willed religion (Lev 10:1-5). “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29).
Everything can still go according to the rules, but if everything happens to become better ourselves, to feel good about it, then the Lord rejects it and nothing is left of it. His favor is not for sale with a fat cow. His favor cannot be obtained by performing religious acts like baptism and the Lord’s Supper or by giving money to charity.
All that matters is what our heart goes out to. Is that to Him or to ourselves? And we can camouflage this ‘ourselves’ very well. We do look for a place of worship, but it must be a pleasant place to be. The sermon should neither be too long nor too direct. Some bells and whistles to liven things up are most welcome. Nice also that tourist church. In the coolness of the evening, after a day of sunbathing on the beach, it’s nice to satisfy your spiritual feelings. We even are willing to drive half an hour for it! Whether God is happy with it? What a question. Of course He is. We don’t forget Him in our vacation, do we?
The question is not whether we forget Him or not, but whether He takes first place in all things. Too often He is the last item on our time budget. When we have time left and we have nothing else to do, we also visit a meeting during the week. And we give ourselves a pat on the back that we managed once again to visit a prayer meeting or Bible study of the church. That attitude, that mindset, is increasing hand over hand in our welfare society. We all become victims of it if we do not listen to the words of, among others, a prophet like Amos.
The “house of Joseph” is the ten tribes realm of Israel. Among the ten tribes, Ephraim, the son of Joseph, occupies the most important place. Hosea often speaks about Ephraim as an indication for the ten tribes realm.
The fire of which Amos speaks here is the fire of which he spoke earlier (Amos 1:4,7,10,12,14; 2:2). It represents the judgment of the imminent scattering. Once again, the people are confronted with the choice. If they seek the LORD, life will be their part with all the blessing and favor that goes with it; if they continue to practice their self-willed religion, the judgment will come on them with all the horror that comes with it. It is hard to imagine how spiritually blinded the people must be to choose the second option.
7 [For] those who turn justice into wormwood
And cast righteousness down to the earth.”
If God does not come first and He is not served as He wills, the neighbor will also not get what is due to him. He who does not recognize God’s rights does not recognize the rights of his fellow man. He who does not seek God, seeks himself and the other will always be the victim of that.
Wormwood is a shrub or bush with an unpleasant smell and a very bitter taste. It serves as an indication of what is unpleasant and grievous, with the thought of death and destruction (Rev 8:11). Proper justice, that of God, is sweet. If justice is distorted, it is bitter. It is dangerous and deadly for society.
“Cast … down to the earth” corresponds to our “trampling underfoot”. It is a stronger expression for ‘bending justice’. The justice is for them an unworthy and despised thing that is viewed with contempt.
8 God’s Majesty
8 He who made the Pleiades and Orion
And changes deep darkness into morning,
Who also darkens day [into] night,
Who calls for the waters of the sea
And pours them out on the surface of the earth,
The LORD is His name.
The connection between verse 7 and verse 8 is as follows. In verse 7 the actions of people are described. This is in stark contrast with Him to Whom they are accountable, namely the LORD the Almighty, as verse 8 describes Him. He is able to bring a sudden judgment about them.
From the twisted state of man, Amos’ gaze goes to the Almighty in His incorruptible majesty, who only needs to speak one word and man is no more. God’s actions are completely different from those of man. With Him everything runs via a fixed pattern. His actions are transparent and not crooked like those of man. You can rely on Him. Just look at nature and at His hand in history.
“The Pleiades” is a galaxy that consists of seven big stars and a large number of smaller ones. The Hebrew name for “Orion” means ‘strong’, ‘hero’, ‘giant’ and seems to indicate that it is a mighty constellation. Both names also occur in Job (Job 9:9; 38:31). In the ancient East these two constellations served to indicate the change of seasons.
God also took care of the alternation between day and night, a process that continues without anyone being able to stop it. This is also how it goes with the cycle of the rain, which is controlled by Him (Jer 14:22).
What happens in nature is an illustration of the judgmental action of the LORD and can be applied to our daily lives. He can change the deepest misery and sadness into joy and happiness. It can also change the bright day of prosperity into a night of woe and disaster. In “deep darkness” the horrors of the night (Job 24:17), especially those of death itself (Job 3:5,10) and of spiritual misery (Isa 9:1), are recognized.
The Almighty can change the deep darkness into the light of a new morning, and the deepest misery into happiness and salvation. He can also darken the bright day of happiness into the dark night of misfortune. He is also able to summon the waters of the sea – like once the deluge – and pour them out over the earth and annihilate the wicked. The words of this verse refer to the judicial acts of the Almighty in the world’s space.
F.B. Meyer sees in this verse an exuberant invitation from God to seek Him. He makes the following beautiful application of this verse:
‘God made the Pleiades, which introduces spring and from which the word goes: Seek Him when life is full of wonderful perspectives and promises, in days of love and joy. But He also made the Orion, the harbinger of the storm. This speaks of autumn, where the message sounds: Be sure to seek Him when the sky is covered with clouds and He forces you to get in the boat and brave the storm.’
He also changes “deep darkness into morning”. That is, He changes the shadow of death into the light of the dawning day. He gives relief in hopeless matters or illnesses. When that happens, we may seek Him to thank Him for that. We may also seek Him when He darkens day into night. When the waters overflow us and all the works of man are destroyed, we may flee to the Name of the LORD Who is a strong tower.
9 Nothing Can Withstand Him
9 It is He who flashes forth [with] destruction upon the strong,
So that destruction comes upon the fortress.
The judicial acts of the Almighty can not be defied by any strong man or fortress. No man, no matter how strong, or man’s work, no matter how powerful, can withstand the Divine Majesty. The fact that He “flashes forth”, shows the fastness and inimitability of the judgment He brings about to rebellious or defiant elements. By the judgment He clears the way for the handing out of blessings.
In the previous verse we have seen His sovereignty in creation. In this verse we see His sovereignty in the history of mankind in the overthrowing of the fortress, which is the military strength. Just as God allows the changes in nature to succeed each other in a cycle, so He does in a political or military sense.
10 Standing up for Justice
10 They hate him who reproves in the gate,
And they abhor him who speaks [with] integrity.
The city gate is the place where justice takes place (cf. verse 15; Deu 21:19; Jos 20:4; Rth 4:1). If there is a judge there who cannot be bribed, they will hate him. Or if there are judges who bend the law, they will hate those who speak with integrity, reliable witnesses. That hatred and abhorrence are not only cherished in the heart, but are openly expressed. Those who today stand up for the right of unborn life, mutilated life – the mentally and/or physically disabled – the demented elderly, the vulnerable in society, can count on the hatred of the elite.
Respect for life in a form that does not contribute to the growth of prosperity, which is rather a hindrance to it, has (almost) disappeared out of society. Whoever raises his voice and points out how God wants it, whoever dares to say how matters really stand, does not make himself popular.
It is not just about a difference of opinion, but about a fundamental hatred of everything that comes from God. It is a hatred like Ahab has toward the prophet Micah (1Kgs 22:8). Micah tells Ahab how God thinks about the situation, but Ahab does not want to hear that. Ahab does not want to listen to God and therefore he hates anyone who reminds him of God.
11 God’s Righteous Retribution
11 Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor
And exact a tribute of grain from them,
[Though] you have built houses of well-hewn stone,
Yet you will not live in them;
You have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine.
It does not stop at hating people who handle the law correctly and raise their voices against injustice. They show in their own actions that they themselves also violate the law (Isa 29:21). The little one or the poor one is trampled by depriving him of his right. Even what serves him as a livelihood is extorted from him. When unscrupulous people take the law into their hands, the law is twisted and justice becomes injustice. The socially weak suffer from this.
But God will take their lawsuit upon Himself. As punishment for their injustice, He will take their goods from them. With this He will act according to what He has told them (Deu 28:30).
The “well-hewn stone” is the beautiful stone with which they build. They have bought these stones with money that they obtained through their bribery, scandals and extortion. In this way they want to show how much they rely on their own power and prosperity (Isa 9:9). But they will not dwell in it, they will not know peace in it. Nothing will remain of their pleasant vineyards, which symbolize the joys of life. Their joy will turn into mourning.
12 I Know
12 For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great,
[You] who distress the righteous [and] accept bribes
And turn aside the poor in the gate.
God knows everything they have done wrong. The many transgressions and the many sins are indicated in their core. They are listed: oppression, bribery – with the money in your hand you have the right on your side – and bending the right to the detriment of the poor (Amos 2:7). The latter is diametrically opposed to what the law says (Exo 23:7; Deu 16:19). Amos points to several sins, not as if they were mere incidents. They are repeated sins. They have become a way of life.
As we sin more often, conscience will speak less and less. In the long run, sin is no longer sin, but an acquired right. We have then forgotten the original right. And if we have any idea that our actions cannot be allowed, we quickly forget much of what we have done. But God forgets nothing. For Him the perfect standard of the right remains, inflexible. He knows every deviation from it and will repay it righteously.
There is one Righteous, the Lord Jesus, Who has always lived by that perfect standard. His perfect life aroused the hatred of people who were condemned by what He said and did. He handled justice perfectly and denounced injustice. As the perfect Small One, the Poor One, He was trampled. It was precisely because of His testimony of the truth that He was killed. And precisely therein lies the salvation for everyone who acknowledges that God knows everything and shows this by repentance for his deeds. “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).
13 The Prudent Person Keeps Silent
13 Therefore at such a time the prudent person keeps silent, for it is an evil time.
Amos does not answer the question of whether the prudent person would do well to keep silent. He observes the fact. The prudent person can keep silent because otherwise he will take the hatred of the rich on his neck. He can also keep silent because he sees that nobody is listening anyway and that only the language of money speaks. He can keep silent because an appeal to the governors will be to no avail, corrupt, bribed as they are, so that no justice will be done to him anyway. The flow of evil can be so great that it is pointless to turn against it. If it is a time of spiritual corruption, when all talking and admonishing does not help, “a time” to be “silent” (Ecc 3:7) has arrived.
Silence can also refer to the attitude that the prudent person adopts when seeing God’s righteous punishment. He will not rebel against it, because he realizes that God allows His punishments to come because it is a time when evil reigns supreme. In that time the prudent person seeks refuge in the sanctuary. He does not protest, but trusts in God’s intervention.
Possibly with this ‘prudent person’ is meant a maskil. The name maskilim means ‘teachers’. This is a group of special men of God. They are men who in the end times will gain insight into the thoughts and ways of God in order to teach others (Dan 11:32b-33; 12:3,10).
14 God Is With His People
14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you,
Just as you have said!
Again, in between the judgments, we hear from Amos an exhortation to seek God. Not that he thinks it is of much benefit, for soon after he goes on with his punishments, convinced as he is that Israel is incorrigible. Still, he cannot resist pointing out the escape route every time.
The “good” is all that is good. Something is only good if it is in connection with God. He is the personification of the ‘good’. “No one is good except God alone” (Mk 10:18). The exhortation to seek “not evil” does not only mean that one does not focus on evil, but also rejects or escapes it. If God perceives this in His people, they will live and not be given up to the judgment of death. They will then be able to count on the presence of “the LORD God of hosts” in their midst. He will bless His people nationally and individually and also defend them and fight for them (cf. Deu 31:8; Jdg 6:12). Then they will be able to say in truth that God is with them.
Now they do say that God is with them, but that is only so in their imagination. It is a lip confession. They think as God’s chosen people they can simply claim God for themselves, without wondering if God can be with them. God can only be with those who are with Him (2Chr 15:2).
15 The Right Mind
15 Hate evil, love good,
And establish justice in the gate!
Perhaps the LORD God of hosts
May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
In verse 14 the emphasis is on the action, on what the people must do. In verse 15, the emphasis is on the mindset the people should have toward good and evil. What the people do with good and evil must come from the right mind. The forsaking of evil can also happen out of selfish motives. Hating evil therefore goes much further than just not doing it. For example, loving the good is on a higher plane than doing good. Doing good can also come from an impure source. Whoever does the good because he loves the good, proves that he is acting in connection with the source of the good, that is God.
Loving the good is first and foremost shown in establishing justice. Those who speak justice can only do so impartially, without pursuing their own advantage, if they are in connection with God, Who acts without regard for the person. The exercise of justice may not be a matter of arbitrariness, but it must be established according to Divine norms. Then the quarrels and oppressions will come to an end and there will be room for harmony and peace.
The word “perhaps” used by Amos is not an expression of doubt about the grace of God. It is the “perhaps” of the truly broken heart and defeated spirit, of someone who realizes that he has forfeited every right to forgiveness. It indicates that the measure of Israel’s sins is full and no salvation can be hoped for if God would act according to His righteousness.
Joseph is mentioned to indicate that the LORD will be with them as He was with Joseph if they will seek the good.
16 Therefore thus says the LORD God of hosts, the Lord,
“There is wailing in all the plazas,
And in all the streets they say, ‘Alas! Alas!’
They also call the farmer to mourning
And professional mourners to lamentation.
Here again looms before Amos’ spirit the future judgment that fits the reality of the moment. His hope for a conversion of Israel is unfortunately only short-lived. All exhortations to come to terms with God are in vain. “Therefore” He must go through the land judging. As a result, the air will be filled with mourning.
The mourning complaint is heard in the crying out: “Alas! Alas!” (cf. Jer 22:18). It will not only be heard in the city in all the plazas and in all the streets, but also in the countryside. Those who know lamentations could be hired to sing lamentations. In Scripture we come across lamentation women (Jer 9:17), lamentation men (Ecc 12:5) and men and women who sing lamentations (2Chr 35:25). That is not to say that they were all ‘professional lamentation singers’. They seem to be such people who can put a sad face on this occasion. They have no grief of their own, but they are only present to express the mourning of others.
17 The LORD Will Pass Through the Midst
17 “And in all the vineyards [there is] wailing,
Because I will pass through the midst of you,” says the LORD.
Even in the vineyards, a place of joy in the Bible, there is wailing. The causer of the lamentation is the LORD Himself, Who passes through their midst. It reminds us of what He did in the past, at the liberation of His people from Egypt. Then He went through the midst of Egypt (Exo 11:4). There came wailing out of the houses of the Egyptians for the death of all firstborn (Exo 12:29-30). He only passed by where the blood of the lamb was at the doorposts.
Here God goes through the midst of His own land to judge. This means that Israel has become equal to Egypt. Now, however, there is no blood of the lamb nor a sparing passing (Amos 7:8; 8:2), for Israel is no longer the people of the covenant. It is not ‘if’ I go through your midst, but “because” I go through your midst. It is not a human enemy that is destroying the land, no, the enemy is God Himself (cf. Joel 2:11).
18 The Day of the LORD
18 Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD,
For what purpose [will] the day of the LORD [be] to you?
It [will be] darkness and not light;
The “alas” (cf. Amos 6:1) is the result of the LORD going through the midst of Israel. In spite of everything the LORD announces, the people continue to believe that nothing will happen to them. For they know only too well that the day of the LORD brings doom to the Gentiles, not to them. They believe that on that day the LORD will act in their favor by defeating their enemies on the one hand and establishing them forever as His people on the other hand. They regard their election as the guarantee of that favor.
Their longing for that day shows that they have a hardened conscience. For these people, says Amos, that coming day will be a day of darkness. It does not occur to them that they are behaving like the Gentiles and therefore that day will be a day of judgment for them as well.
The “day of the LORD” refers to the period when the Lord Jesus will once again interfere directly with world affairs. That period begins when the church has been raptured. The events related to this day are described in the book of Revelation (Revelation 6-19). There we see how the judgments come about the godless world, the apostate Christianity and the unbelieving Israel. All are judged by the Man whom God has “appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Then man’s day has come to its end, the period in which man has acted according to his own will and in rebellion against God.
They say they are longing for the day of the Lord, but how can man long for that day when he lives without taking God into account? Longing for that day is only possible if we walk in obedience and holiness with God.
We can also make an application to today. We can talk about the situation in Christianity and then say: ‘Fortunately the Lord will come soon and then He will make everything right.’ But if we ourselves have not distanced ourselves from general unfaithfulness, His coming will also mean judgment or embarrassment for us. The day of the Lord is a day we can only long for if our consciences are free and if we walk in obedience and holiness.
It is a vain and brutal illusion to long for the day of the Lord, while we consciously find ourselves in the midst of what is contrary to Scripture. This seems to be the sin that Israel is guilty of here. The expectation of the future cherished by the people has a carnal character. This shows that one does not know oneself and is blind to one’s own misconduct and also does not know God in His holy indignation at the fact that this misconduct is found among His people. In all this they believe that God is with them (verse 14).
19 - 20 No Escape
19 As when a man flees from a lion
And a bear meets him,
Or goes home, leans his hand against the wall
And a snake bites him.
20 [Will] not the day of the LORD [be] darkness instead of light,
Even gloom with no brightness in it?
Amos vividly shows how there is no escaping judgment. He knows the pictures he uses from his life in the wilderness. When they think they are safe from the lion, the bear comes. They think they have escaped the bear and imagine themselves safe in a house. They sigh a sigh of relief and look for support against a wall, from which a snake emerges that bites them.
This contrasts sharply with their vision of the day of the LORD which they look forward to as a consolation and complete salvation. This false certainty will be their downfall. Nowhere they will be safe, judgment will overtake them. There is no hope, no ray of light, for those who do not repent.
21 God Disgusts Fake
21 “I hate, I reject your festivals,
Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.
It is as if, between this verse and the previous one, we hear the reproachful question from Amos’ contemporaries as to how he can make such terrible threats in their direction. Surely they are faithful sons of Israel who serve the LORD as meticulously as possible, aren’t they? They make sacrifices, have meetings, sing their songs.
Amos unmasks their outward appearance. Israel is so blind to their sinful state that they continue to keep religious feasts and gatherings in the assumption that God will be very happy with them. They live in the false confidence of being God’s chosen people, with whom it cannot go wrong, certainly not if they satisfy Him.
Many people have such an idea about God. They live for themselves, but sometimes they give God something in the form of a regular visit to church or meeting. After all, once a year at Christmas is also regular. Then He has nothing to grumble about.
God speaks here of “your festivals” and “your solemn assemblies”. These are their festivals and solemn assemblies and not “the LORD’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations” which He calls “My appointed times” (Lev 23:2). This is also how we read in the days of the Lord Jesus on earth about “the Passover” as “the feast of the Jews” (Jn 6:4). The feasts celebrated by the people were conceived by Jeroboam, the first king of the ten tribes realm (1Kgs 12:33). Afraid that his subjects would go to Jerusalem to serve God, he set up fake feasts to be held at the golden calves in Bethel and Dan. It all looks a bit like the feasts of the LORD prescribed by law, but in reality they are idol feasts.
God hates all such religious fuss. To Him it is nothing more than a form service. He sees through their hypocrisy and abhors it (cf. Isa 1:11-15). His people, who come to Him with great words, behave toward Him as one “who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning”, but “it will be reckoned a curse to him” (Pro 27:14). What the LORD desires is “truth in the innermost being” (Psa 51:6).
“No delight” is literally “not like the smell” has to do with what they believe to be a “fragrant smell”. God turns up His nose at it, He detests such feasts and assemblies.
22 God Does Not Look at Their Offerings
22 “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept [them];
And I will not [even] look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
There are three offerings: burnt offerings, grain offerings and peace offerings. These are the three voluntary offerings described in Leviticus 1-3. But where are the sin offerings? It is remarkable that these are not mentioned. The people are not aware of their sinful state. How lovely it is to celebrate together. God loves it when His children have fun. Do you think He always wants to be reminded of all those negative things? No sadness. Laughing and being happy, that’ s what it’s all about!
The peace offering of the fatlings is a meal offering, a community offering. Enjoying together all the good things God has given. We make songs that express our joy. And when you ask if God is also happy with it, that is asking for the known way. Of course He is. The service has to connect with our time. Well organized, smooth songs, powerful, especially short, sermon, cheerful people. Clap your hands, stamp your feet. Express your feelings. Feel happy.
Isn’t it up to Him to determine the form and content of the service? In practice, the roles are reversed. He gets more and more the role of Spectator instead of the Center about Whom everything revolves. The human being becomes more and more the center about whom everything revolves. God is not satisfied with that. He cannot do that, not for Himself and not for His people. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Rom 11:36). Where He is not the absolute Center, He cannot be. He turns away from such offerings, He does not want to see them.
For those who believe that God is satisfied with everything as long as it is sincerely done, this discovery is shocking. Certainly, the Father seeks worshippers, but He gives His conditions: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23-24). He wants to be worshiped in a spiritual way and in accordance with the way He has revealed Himself in His Word, which is the truth.
23 God Does Not Listen to Their Expressions of Joy
23 “Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
Besides the sacrifices, there is also the music, which enlivens the festivals. Here too the homemade worship service in Bethel resembles the true worship service in Jerusalem (1Chr 16:40). It is all surrogate. Because it is purely about entertainment and the right mind of the heart is lacking, God does not want to hear it. Just as with the offerings, which we now bring in a spiritual sense, so it is also with the music. We find no indications for the use of musical instruments in the New Testament meetings of the church. The more man and his experience become central, the louder the call for their use will become.
In itself, the use of musical instruments in church meetings is the introduction of something from Judaism into Christianity. We can read in His Word, especially in the letter to the Galatians, that God does not tolerate any mixture between Christianity and Judaism.
But even if we would be free of Judaism and sing our songs beautifully in four voices and without musical accompaniment, the question remains whether our hearts are really focused on the Father and the Son.
Someone once said: ‘On Sundays I am a Christian, but during the week I am a businessman.’ All kinds of variations on this are conceivable. God is not keen on such an attitude. Then on Sunday you can say thanksgiving in beautiful sentences, but He does not hear it. To Him it is “noise”, of which He says: ‘Take away from My presence!’
24 It Is About Justice and Righteousness
24 “But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
What God wants is justice and righteousness in dealing with one another as members of His people. Amos has already sharply denounced their wrongful actions and the trampling on righteousness. Their lives are imbued with it. They have wronged the law in wormwood and brought righteousness to the ground (verse 7). They are abundant in committing injustice. This has to change into a benevolent flow of justice and righteousness. Without this change, their entire outward worship has no value. Justice and righteousness must be allowed to run free, without anything to hold them back or set them aside.
Another view is that Amos here points to justice and righteousness that will strike Israel as a judgment of God because of the aforementioned things, and that nothing can stop this judgment. The judgment as an exercise of righteousness awaits Israel, and the world.
25 No Sacrifices
25 “Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel?
The prophet asks the question to indicate that they did not. It is possible that just as they neglected circumcision in the wilderness (Jos 5:5), they also neglected to sacrifice. It is plausible that they may have sacrificed quite a bit, but a lot was lacking in worship (cf. Isa 43:23).
By the way, it is questionable whether this verse is exclusively a reproach. It may be that the LORD means to say that, just as in the land now, it was not primarily about their sacrifices in the wilderness, but about their hearts (cf. Jer 7:22-23). Also in the wilderness, the sacrifices were not the main thing, but the doing of righteousness.
Amos compares the well-organized sacrificial service of his contemporaries with the sacrificial service during the forty-year wilderness journey. At that time sacrifices were almost not brought. The fact that God also remembers that time as a period in which the people followed Him (Jer 2:2; Hos 2:14), stems solely from His love and grace. In spite of their persistent idolatry, He has also seen expressions of love for Him. He does not forget these expressions. There are no such expressions in Amos’ days.
This verse can therefore also be seen as a ray of His grace that contrasts sharply with the situation in the midst of which Amos finds himself and which he denounces. Unrighteousness and violence prevail, the poor are oppressed, God’s Name is dishonored and terrible idolatry is committed.
26 Idolatry in the Wilderness
26 You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves.
When the LORD asks in the previous verse: “Did you present Me with sacrifices?”, that question echoes God’s exclusive right to sacrifice. He asks, as it were: ‘Have you sacrificed only to Me and to no one else?’ If God is not served completely and alone, He is not served at all. This principle is always valid. God never shares His honor with anyone or anything else. That is why it is hurtful to give honor to other gods together with a service to God.
The previous verse deals with Israel’s behavior in the wilderness. Maybe there is a thought of grace connected to that verse, in this verse it is unthinkable. Amos points to sheer idolatry. That Israel committed idolatry in the wilderness is clear through the history with the golden calf (Exo 32:1-6).
The service with the golden calf in Bethel in Amos’ time is only a renewal of the golden calf in the wilderness. The golden calf then and that in Bethel under Jeroboam II shows the spiritual bond that exists between the condition of the people in the time of Amos and their original position when they were brought out of Egypt by the grace and power of the LORD.
It did not stop with the golden calf. After the punishment for sin with the golden calf, they did not stop serving the idols. Amos speaks about how they surrendered all their history to idolatry. Stephen quotes these verses from Amos in his speech to the Council to prove this (Acts 7:39-43). The people boasted of a service to God, but the power of the quote is that they did not sacrifice to God, but to the idols. The people have always served the idols. Their origin is connected with the idols. Abraham’s family served the idols before God called Abraham (Jos 24:2). The people served them in Egypt (Jos 24:14) and also in the wilderness (Amos 5:25-27).
There is a clear reproach in this verse that Israel was guilty of idolatry early in its existence. Stubbornly, in ever new forms, they persisted in it.
In what Amos says here, there is another principle that contains an important lesson for us. The principle is that God, when He judges, always goes back to the first sin. The lesson is that it is important for an astray Christian to go back to the moment when he went outside of fellowship with God for the first time. The moment of the deviation must be sought and confessed. The root must be judged, not just the deed.
27 Into Exile
27 Therefore, I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.
In verse 25 we have a look back into the past, verse 26 places us in the practice of Amos’ days, while in verse 27 we have the future for our attention. The people have filled the land with their appalling idolatry because their hearts are filled with it. God will purify His land of idolatry by removing its workers out of it. They have imported the pagan idols, God will export the idolaters. They will be taken away with their idols, even beyond the country of Syria, of which Damascus is the capital.
“Beyond Damascus”, that is the road to Assyria. Stephen also says “beyond Babylon” (Acts 7:43) when he addresses the descendants of the returnees from the Babylonian exile, the remnant of the two tribes. They will be scattered beyond Babylon after the destruction of Jerusalem.
Thus it will surely happen, for He Who says this is “the LORD”, the God of the covenant. Because of the breaking of His covenant by His people He has the right to act in this way with His people. His Name is “God of hosts”. He also has the power to fulfill His purpose, whereby all heavenly and earthly hosts are available to Him.