Amos, Missionary to Israel, Part 11
Issue No. 359
The first half of Amos 6 makes it clear that judgment was coming to the house of Israel, not only for their sin but also for their arrogance in thinking that they had the right to sin. For this reason, God swore an oath in Amos 6:8 to “deliver up the city and all it contains” to a foreign nation.
When God swears an oath, there is then nothing that can stop it. Intercession might still postpone judgment, but in the end, God must fulfill His oath.
Amos 6:9, 10 continues,
9 And it will be, if ten men are left in one house, they will die. 10 Then one’s uncle, or his undertaker, will lift him up to carry out his bones from the house, and he will say to the one who is in the innermost part of the house, “Is anyone else with you?” And that one will say, “No one.” Then he will answer, “Keep quiet. For the name of the Lord is not to be mentioned.”
This is somewhat difficult to understand today, since we are unfamiliar with the culture of the day. In the laws of tribulation found in Deut. 28, we read that if Israel persisted in disobedience, God would raise up a foreign nation to conquer them and bring them into exile (Deut. 28:49-52).
If they survived that but continued in sin, “then the Lord will bring extraordinary plagues on you… and He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt” (Deut. 28:59, 60). The suggestion is that divine judgment continues and increases as long as the sin continues.
So also, Amos 5:19 speaks of a man fleeing from a lion only to be met by a bear—or if he is able to get home safe and sound, he is bitten by a snake.
So also in Amos 6:9, we read that “if ten men are left [survive] in one house, they will die.” Perhaps they were able to survive the war, but still they will die.
This is really a continuation of Amos 5:3, which says,
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 other words, Israel would start out with a thousand and then be reduced to a hundred. The hundred would then be reduced to ten. Finally, in Amos 6:9 we find that even those ten survivors would also die.
In Amos 6:10 the “undertaker” (NASB) would then be called to bury the dead. The Hebrew word is saraf, “one who burns.” The KJV renders it “he that burneth him.” This is not a reference to cremation but to one who burns incense (or spices) to honor the dead. Other references to this practice are found in Jer. 34:5; 2 Chron. 16:14; 21:19.
If the undertaker found a woman or child survivor, he would tell him or her to “Keep quiet. For the name of the Lord is not to be mentioned,” or invoked. In those days the people thought that to invoke the name of the Lord (Yahweh) might bring divine judgment. This faulty view was based upon their stress on God’s holiness. They thought that if someone pronounced His name incorrectly or in the wrong context that God would become angry with them. In fact, this was why rabbis began to read “Lord” in place of Yahweh.
If they had understood the fatherhood of God, and if they had understood that Yahweh was a God of love, they would not have fallen into such religious misunderstanding. We know that Yahweh is certainly our Lord and King, but He is much more than that. His desire and intent is that we have a personal relationship with Him as His children. To know Him only as a Lord, King, Creator, or even as Judge is to remain in a mere servant relationship with God.
Smashing the Two Houses
Amos 6:11 says,
11 For behold, the Lord is going to command that the great house be smashed to pieces and the small house to fragments.
While one might think of these two houses as individual houses within the nation, it is more likely that Amos was referring to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. These were the two houses, one “great” (or large), because it consisted of ten tribes, and the other “small,” because it consisted of just two territorial tribes.
This is one of the few places where Amos includes Judah in the prophecies of divine judgment. Being a missionary to Israel, his main message was about Israel, not Judah.
Israel’s Actions are Unreasonable
Amos 6:12 says,
12 Do horses run on rocks? Or does one plow them [horses] with oxen? Yet you have turned justice into poison [rosh, “head,” referring to the “head” of poppies], and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood [lahanah, “opium”].
Horses know better than to run on stoney ground. Men know not to yoke a horse with an ox. These are reasonable things. Yet the governments of Israel and Judah had turned justice into poppy plants, from which opium is produced.
Israel had despised the law of God and had turned to their own laws (traditions of men). The laws of men, when they contradict the laws of God, are unjust, and they often give men the right to sin or punish those who do righteousness. To true believers (such as Amos) such practices were illogical, unreasonable, and contrary to nature itself.
Amos sees Israel’s government and judicial system as being as logical as a man high on opium. Moses calls poppies “the vine of Sodom” (Deut. 32:31-33). In other words, Sodom was a drug trafficking center, growing poppies for opium.
The prophet Jeremiah enlarged upon this idea and used such drug addiction as a metaphor for the condition of false prophets, whose prophecies are spiritually connected to Sodom. In Jer. 23:14, 15, he speaks of false prophets:
14 Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing… All of them have become to Me like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets, “Behold, I am going to feed them wormwood [opium] and make them drink poisonous water [poppy juice], for from the prophets of Jerusalem pollution has gone forth into all the land.”
The (false) prophets of Jerusalem comforted the people in their lawlessness, insisting that God would never allow His people to be destroyed. Their opium-laced message was stated in Jer. 6:14,
14 And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, “Peace, peace,” but there is no peace.
The “peace” that the false prophets were dispensing was the euphoric feeling of opium, not the “balm of Gilead” (Jer. 8:22). The essential oil of the balsam tree had natural healing power, and the method of extracting it was a trade secret in the land of Gilead. The prophet uses balsam oil as a metaphor for the healing power of the word of the Lord.
Both Jeremiah and Amos tell Israel that their judicial system makes as much sense as math to an opioid addict. To follow Jerusalem’s prophets was to live in Sodom. For this reason in Rev. 11:8 John says that Jerusalem is “Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.” Those who reject the word of the Lord and the Mediator of the New Covenant are opioid addicts, spiritually speaking.
Rejecting Jesus as the Messiah was unreasonable and illogical, given the fact that He fulfilled all the prophecies of Scripture that had been attributed to the coming Messiah. But the chief priests know that if He were accepted as the Messiah, they would lose their positions of power, for He would cleanse the corrupt temple and cast them out.
Two Towns as Metaphors
Amos 6:13 says,
13 You who rejoice in Lo-debar, and say, “have we not by our own strength taken Karnaim for ourselves?”
Lo-debar and Karnaim were cities whose names Amos used as a springboard for his prophetic word. Lo-debar was a city in Gilead on the east side of the Jordan River. It is mentioned in 2 Sam. 17:24. Its name means “without pasture.” Amos was inferring that the Israelites were being illogical by rejoicing in a place without pasture.
The second city was Karnaim, which means “two horns.” The KJV renders this “horns.” Whether or not this was meant to speak of a town or just horns of power, the meaning is clear. Horns speak universally of power. Crowns have horns on them. Many helmets were adorned with horns to convey power and strength.
In Amos 6:13 (above), he puts words in the mouth of Israel to convey their thoughts and motives, asking, “have we not by our own strength taken two horns for ourselves?” He is saying that Israel was depending upon its own strength and power to defend themselves against the coming storm raised up by God Himself.
The overall message is that Israel was without pasture, because the prophets were dispensing poppies instead of the true food (word) of God; and then when threatened with divine judgment, they were depending upon their military strength to defend themselves against God.
Amos concludes in Amos 6:14,
14 “For behold, I am going to raise up a nation against you, O house of Israel,” declares the Lord God of hosts, “and they will afflict you from the entrance of Hamath to the brook of the Arabah.”
This type of judgment was forecasted in the law of tribulation in Deut. 28:36, saying,
36 The Lord will bring you and your king, whom you shall set over you, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone.
Again, the law says in Deut. 28:49,
49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand.
This is the divine judgment against a disobedient people who set aside the laws of God in favor of their own. Israel’s failure still affects us today, and human nature, being at enmity with the divine nature, is still inclined to put away God’s law. The day will come, however, when men will repent and will turn to Him. They will accept the fact that God’s law is an expression of His character (when viewed through the unveiled eyes of the New Covenant) and will come into agreement with Him.
Chapter 7 brings us to Amos’ visions in regard to Israel’s condition and the judgment that God contemplated bringing upon the nation. There are three visions back to back from Amos 7:1-9, followed by an account of the Bethel priests’ opposition and threats. Then there is one more vision in the Amos 8:1-14 before the final conclusion of judgment and restoration in chapter 9.
The Locust Vision
Amos 7:1 says,
1 Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, He was forming a locust-swarm when the spring crop began to sprout. And behold, the spring crop was after the king’s mowing.
This pictures the locusts in the larvae stage, while they are still developing. Amos says that God was forming them to bring judgment upon Israel.
As for the setting of the vision itself, the locusts were pictured in the spring “after the king’s mowing.” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says of this,
“The king’s mowings. The first cuttlings of grass were set aside to feed the king’s horses, before the people harvested the main crop.”
When the locusts came out of the ground, they began to devour all the vegetation. Locust invasions were common in those days and today as well. Amos 7:2 says,
2 And it came about, when it [the locust-swarm] had finished eating the vegetation of the land, that I said, “Lord God, please pardon! How can Jacob stand, for he is small?”
Amos was alarmed, for he understood that the locusts represented an invading army and that the people of Israel were “the vegetation of the land.” He also knew that the promise of God was to restore “Jacob,” but if all of the people were consumed by divine judgment, “how can Jacob stand”? That is, how could Jacob stand up again?
Then we read in Amos 7:3,
3 The Lord changed His mind [“repented,” KJV] about this. “It shall not be,” said the Lord.
In Mal. 3:6 God says, “I change not.” Heb. 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.” Even Balaam, the classic false prophet, prophesied in Num. 23:19,
19 God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
Such expressions do not mean literally that God repents of wrong-doing. But He certainly has been known to change His course of action. We understand that any change was preplanned from the beginning, so it is not the same as a man changing his mind.
When man began to degenerate morally and spiritually, God said in Gen. 6:7, “I am sorry that I have made them.” It literally reads, “I repent for even making them.”
God Repents of Seeking Destroy Israel
In the time of Moses, God threatened to destroy the whole nation of Israel and to rebuild it through Moses and his family (Num. 14:12). Moses reminded Him of His New Covenant promise to bring Israel into the land. What would the neighbors say?
Moses knew that God could not and would not do this, because He had already sworn an oath to Israel to bring them into the land. If Israel failed, it would show that God was unable to fulfill His oath. Moses told God in Num. 14:15, 16,
15 Now if Thou dost slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Thy fame will say, 16 Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.
Moses understood that God had sworn an oath to do it, putting all the responsibility upon Himself to see to it that it was accomplished. Such is the nature of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant in Exodus 19:8 was man’s vow to God, which put the responsibility upon men. But other covenants were simply God’s promise, vow, or oath to men.
Hence, Moses appealed to God’s New Covenant oath, and God then changed his mind so completely that He revealed the ultimate scope of His oath. Num. 14:21 says,
21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
In other words, not only will I bring Israel into this land, but in the end the whole earth will be filled with the glory of God. In other words, all mankind will come into the Kingdom. That is the scope of God’s oath, and this is consistent with the covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:16) and Moses (Deut. 29:10-15).
God was testing Moses himself in this exchange. But Moses already had the revelation of the New Covenant and how God makes promises and oaths that He must keep. So here God gave Moses the opportunity to appeal to the New Covenant in order to fulfill the divine plan.
By the will of God, as defined in the law (Rom. 2:18), God might have destroyed Israel. But by the plan of God, He had made an oath to save them, and this made God responsible to do whatever it took to fulfill His oath.
God did so, although this was not without judgment. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness, and their children entered the land under Joshua after God made a second covenant with them in the plains of Moab (Deut. 29:1). This second covenant was another expression of the New Covenant, for it was another oath taken by God Himself (Deut. 29:12).
God Repents of Making Saul King of Israel
God again seemed to repent in 1 Sam. 15:35,
35 And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.
Of course, we know that God gave Saul to Israel as their king as judgment against those who demanded an earthly king to rule over them. God was not taken by surprise when Saul usurped the throne for himself. His rebellious actions were part of the divine judgment upon the nation.
So we must understand that when God repents, or changes His mind, or seems to have regrets, He is not acting as men do. God is still God, and He knows the end from the beginning. Our sovereign God drew up the plan before He created the universe, and that plan included good times and bad. It also included times when He would go in one direction, only to change course later.
God Repents of Seeking to Destroy Nineveh
In the story of Jonah we read of another time when God seemed to change His mind. God had told Jonah to preach the message to Nineveh, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4).
The people of Nineveh believed that God might change His mind if they repented. They said in Jonah 3:9,
9 Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?
No one at that time understood that Jonah was called to reveal (by his life and work) the divine plan for the restoration of all things. So it had to appear as if Nineveh would be judged and destroyed. And indeed, the judgment of the law would have destroyed Nineveh.
But God had another plan that was based on His New Covenant oath to save the whole earth and all mankind. So He worked in the hearts of the people to cause them to repent, so that the results of God’s oath might be revealed in them.
It was not unusual for God to change His mind. But we must understand that even if His will changes according to men’s repentance, His plan does not change. His plan fully encompasses His will. If God changes, you can be sure that He planned to change His mind from the beginning.
Such is the nature of our unchanging God.