Amos, Missionary to Israel, Part 12
Issue No. 360
In Amos 7:1-3 God showed Amos a vision of locusts that were to come upon the land. Amos begged God to “please pardon!” and God then “repented,” or changed His mind, saying, “It shall not be.”
The Vision of Fire
God then showed Amos a second vision in Amos 7:4,
4 Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, the Lord God was calling to contend with them by fire, and it consumed the great deep and began to consume the farm land.
As with the first vision (about locusts), Amos understood that a fiery judgment would also destroy Israel, making it impossible (so he thought) for God to fulfill His New Covenant promise.
Amos saw the fire consume “the great deep,” which, in Gen. 7:11 and in Isaiah 51:10 referred to the ocean. When the ocean was consumed by this divine fire, it then began to destroy the land itself. The NASB calls it “farm land.” The Hebrew word is cheleq, from chalaq, an inheritance that has been apportioned to someone.
In other words, the fire of God threatened Israel’s land inheritance. Recall the threat that the locusts presented against the “vegetation” (i.e., that is, the people). The second vision was of a fire that threatened the inheritance of land that had been given to the tribes and families in the days of Joshua.
Amos was again horrified by this prospect and appealed for mercy once again in Amos 7:5, 6,
5 Then I said, “Lord God, please stop! How can Jacob stand, for he is small?” 6 The Lord changed His mind about this. “This too shall not be,” said the Lord God.
Once again God repented in order to show mercy.
The Plumb Line Vision
Amos 7:7-9 says,
7 Thus He showed me, and behold, the Lord was standing by a vertical wall, with a plumb line in His hand. 8 And the Lord said to me, “What do you see, Amos?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am about to put a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel. I will spare them no longer. 9 The high places of Isaac will be desolated and the sanctuaries of Israel laid waste. Then shall I rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
God had already relented on His judgment twice when Amos appealed for mercy. This time, however, He says, “I will spare them no longer.” The KJV reads, “I will not again pass by them any more.” The Hebrew word translated “pass by” is abar, a word used in Exodus 12:12, where God says, “I will pass through the land of Egypt.”
In Amos 7:8 it means that God will not pass by, or overlook, Israel’s sin any longer. Hence, the NASB says, “I will spare them no longer.” Intercession had delayed divine judgment twice already, but not a third time.
A plumb line was a rope or string attached to a weight at one end. Holding up the plumb line, a construction worker was able to tell if a wall or post was “true” (vertical) or if it leaned to one side. Thus, a plumb line was a prophetic symbol of truth and righteousness.
So we see that in this third vision God had used His plumb line of truth and righteousness to discover that the “wall” of Israel was not truly vertical. In other words, Israel lacked truth and righteousness. They believed lies, and so their faith was misplaced.
In verse 9 we read that “the high places of Isaac will be desolated and the sanctuaries of Israel laid waste.” These religious structures were “the wall” that God was checking. The sanctuary walls lacked truth, so they were about to be torn down.
Names of Israel
Here God refers to Israel by three different names: Isaac, Israel, and the house of Jeroboam. The name Isaac seems to be a mystery to most commentators, because they look unsuccessfully for some event in Isaac’s life that might foreshadow Israel’s. Most do not realize that other nations in the area referred to Israel by the name Saka, Sakka, or Sacae, a name derived from Isaac.
Saka and Sakka are found on the Behistun Rock in later years as the equivalent of Gimirri (or Gomri, Gomer). The House of Gomri (i.e., Omri) was the official Assyrian name for Israel found on the Black Obelisk of Shalmanezer.
Because Gomri, was shown on the Behistun Rock (the tomb of Darius the Persian) to be the equivalent of Saka and Sakka, it is evident that the Persians called Israel by those names, rather than by the name Israel.
These name changes are the main reason the tribes of Israel were lost until recent times.
The point is that when God refers to Israel by the name Isaac (or Isak), He was using one of the names that other nations called Israel. Perhaps the suggestion is that Israel would soon be exiled to those nations who called them by the name of Isaac.
The second name God uses in Amos 7:9 is Israel, which needs no explanation.
The third name is “the house of Jeroboam.” There were two kings of Israel named Jeroboam. The first king of Israel was Jeroboam I, whose reign began when the kingdom was divided after the death of Solomon. Rehoboam was the son of Solomon who continued to rule in Jerusalem over Judah. But the other tribes of Israel, with the exception of Benjamin, followed Jeroboam, revolting against the house of David. Jeroboam was the one who built the golden calves in Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:25-30) and started the whole slide into apostasy.
Jeroboam II lived more than a century later and was actually ruling Israel when Amos prophesied at Bethel. We know this because the high priest complained to King Jeroboam, accusing Amos of sedition (Amos 7:10).
No doubt Jeroboam I was the main reason for calling Israel “the house of Jeroboam.” The name suggested that the whole nation had followed him into apostasy and idolatry. In fact, God sent a prophet to Jeroboam himself as he worshiped at the altar in Bethel, foretelling the destruction of the house of Israel. We read in 1 Kings 13:34,
34 And this event became sin to the house of Jeroboam, even to blot it out and destroy it from off the face of the earth.
Yet the fact that another Jeroboam had become king in Israel seemed to bring events full circle. It was as if the time had come for a double witness to be spoken against Jeroboam.
Reaction from the Priest of Bethel
Amos 7:10, 11 says,
10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam (II), king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is unable to endure all his words. 11 For thus Amos says, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will surely go from its land into exile’.”
When governments become corrupt, truth is treated as sedition. This is the primary evidence that kings or other leaders have usurped God’s authority and rule as if there is no higher power above them.
As God’s spokesman, Amos had every right to speak the words of truth about God’s right to rule Israel. But usurpers do not like to be reprimanded for their rebellion and sin. So Amos had to flee for his life. Amos 7:12,13 says,
12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah, and there eat bread and there do your prophesying! 13 But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.”
Amos, the Foreigner
Amaziah called Amos a foreigner because he came from Judah. Judah and Israel were two separate nations at that time—and they are still distinct to this day. Most of the Israelites never returned from their captivity, and the governmental entity called Israel, embodied in the princes of the tribes, never returned, nor were they rejoined to the nation of Judah. Hence, the Israelites are not Jews, nor is the Jewish nation Israel in the sight of God.
The reunification of Judah and Israel, says Hosea 1:11, will take place when both nations submit to a single leader. That, of course, is a messianic prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. The nation that is today called Israel cannot fulfill the prophecies of the ten tribes, in spite of their claim upon the name. Although the Messiah was to come through Judah, the birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, as we read in 1 Chron. 5:1, 2. Jacob himself gave his name Israel to the sons of Joseph in Gen. 48:16.
Amos’ Response to the High Priest
Amos 7:14, 15 says,
14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs. 15 But the Lord took me from following the flock and the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel’.”
Though the book of Amos is categorized as one of the so-called “Minor Prophets,” he himself claimed that he was not a prophet. Hearing God’s voice and speaking it to others is a basic function of the prophetic office; however, that job is not limited to prophets, for all may prophesy in the general sense.
In fact, no one should speak their own words but should be conduits for God’s voice. Paul said in Gal. 2:20 that it “not I but Christ.” This calling is not just for prophets or apostles such as Paul. It is for everyone.
So even though Amos was not a prophet or the son of a prophet, he prophesied. He did the work that God called him to do and that was revealed to him. He spoke the words that God had given him. And he prophesied as well, for God had told him, “Go prophesy to My people Israel.”
As we have already shown, Amos was a missionary from Judah to Israel. Amos understood the word of God to mean that he was to travel north out of his own country to a foreign country known as Israel.
Amos 7:16, 17 continues,
16 “And now hear the word of the Lord: you are saying, ‘You shall not prophesy against Israel nor shall you speak against the house of Isaac.’ 17 Therefore, thus says the Lord, ‘Your wife will become a harlot in the city, your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword, your land will be parceled up by a measuring line, and you yourself will die upon unclean soil. Moreover, Israel will certainly go from its land into exile’.”
First, we see here that “Isaac” in Amos 7:9 is now said to be “the house of Isaac.” It is, of course, a reference to Israel. The house of Isaac is the Beth-Sak, as the Saka/Sacae were also called in history. If men had remembered this in later centuries, they might have been able to trace the migrations of the tribes of Israel, instead of losing them in Assyria.
Both Hosea and Amos actually provide us with the names which the nations were to call Israel after their deportation to Assyria. Hosea prophetically calls Israel Gomer by having him marry a harlot-bride by that name. Amos calls Israel the house of Isaac, revealing the name Beth-Sak as one of the names of Israel. Because God divorced Israel (Jer. 3:8; Hosea 2:2), Israel was stripped of her name and given alternate names during her captivity and exile.
Yet most of the prophets do not leave Israel in that condition. The prophets foretell a time of remarriage under a New Covenant, a time when all men from every nation may join Israel by adhering to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and His New Covenant.
The apostle Paul explains this further by defending the equal right of non-Jews. Paul tells us in Eph. 2:14 that the dividing wall between them had been abolished in Christ, for it was a wall that had been erected by the traditions of men and not by any law of Moses or instruction by any of the prophets, nor even by any of the prophets of the second temple era.
Amos tells Amaziah, the high priest, that because he had rejected the word of the Lord, both he and the entire nation would go into captivity. Special judgment would come upon the high priest’s family, though the fulfillment of those prophecies is lost in history.
Nonetheless, we know from history that the Israelites were taken to Assyria in waves, climaxing with the fall of Samaria, their capital city, in 721 B.C. The high priest himself was to “die upon unclean soil.” Presumably, this meant that he was to be taken into captivity to a foreign land, although technically, he and others had already desecrated the land of Israel through their idols. Israel as a whole sat on “unclean soil,” and no one, it seems, was raised up to cleanse the land by blood, according to the instructions in Deut. 21:4 and 7-9.
We have now studied the first three visions given to Amos in the seventh chapter of his book: the locusts, the fire, and the plumb line. We are now given a fourth vision in chapter 8, a vision which is set apart from the previous three. Amos 8:1-3 says,
1 Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, here was a basket of summer fruit. 2 And He said, “What do you see, Amos?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer. 3 The songs in the palace will turn to wailing in that day,” declares the Lord God. “Many will be the corpses; in every place they will cast them forth in silence.”
The vision was understood to mean that the fruit of Israel’s sin was ripe and the harvest time had come. The destruction of Israel was imminent insofar as God was concerned, but in earthly time, Israel still had about another century to remain in the land.
Amos was perhaps the earliest of the prophets during the divided kingdom. He prophesied in Bethel, as we saw from Amos 7:10, during the reign of Jeroboam II, who was succeeded by nine more kings of Israel. Jeroboam II came to the throne in Israel toward the end of Elisha’s ministry (2 Kings 13:13, 14, 20).
With no looming threat from Assyria, the high priest of Bethel fully believed that Amos was a false prophet. But God usually brings warning far in advance when the first seeds of destruction are sown.
The reason is simple. If the problem could be reversed before the seed had turned into a large tree, it would be easy to “nip it in the bud.” But the larger the tree, the more difficult it is to get rid of it. It is easier to dig up the seed than it is to chop down the tree later.
Unfortunately, because most men walk by sight and not by faith, they do not believe the prophetic warnings. The judgment is too far away to concern themselves with such things. Hence, they doom a later generation to a fate which they brought upon them by their negligence.
An Average Day in the Life of an Israelite
Life goes on as usual until disaster strikes. Amos 8:5, 6 says,
5 saying, “When will the new moon be over, so that we may buy grain, and the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market, to make the bushel [ephah] smaller and the shekel bigger, and to cheat with dishonest scales, 6 so as to buy the helpless for money and the needy for a pair of sandals, and that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?”
The people observed the new moon celebrations but their hearts were not into it, for they treated these as mere rituals. They were anxious to get on with their lives and considered new moons and sabbaths to be interruptions of commerce.
Their commerce was dishonest, violating the law of equal weights and measures. They made “the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger.” Their scales were dishonest as well.
The law says in Lev. 19:35, 36,
35 You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. 36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
If a man wanted to buy an ephah of wheat, the shop keeper would measure the sale with a smaller ephah to cheat the buyer. Buyers would add less valuable metal to their shekels to increase their weight and thereby cheat those who sold wheat to them.
Commerce thrives on honesty, but when men search for ways to cheat, the first thing they do is to degrade the standard of weights and measures. Today, of course, all the money systems of the world cheat everyone by a slow but constant erosion of the value of the money. This erosion is known as “inflation,” because prices seem to go up steadily. In actuality, the value of the money is deflated, and the result is that savings are constantly depleted through what is known as “the inflation tax.”
The cause of this is largely due to the fact that today’s money is not wealth but debt. Debt has been monetized. For every dollar a person holds, someone else owes a dollar. The only way for a dollar to be created and circulated is for someone to borrow it into existence at interest. Because of the interest on every such debt, there is always more debt than money in existence, making it impossible to ever pay back all of the debts.
That is why God’s law forbids usury, or interest on money—at least when doing commerce within one’s own country. Usury forces unjust weights and measures upon a currency in order to postpone the day of reckoning.
Hence, life in ancient Israel employed unjust weights and measures in one way, but today the whole world does it in a more refined manner so that most of the people do not realize that they are being robbed daily.
Amos says that Israel’s dishonest and unlawful ways of doing commerce also allowed human slavery, “to buy the helpless for money.” Apparently, slaves were so abundant in those days that “the needy” could be purchased or traded “for a pair of sandals.”
It may be that Amos was using an idiom to tell us that slaves were “a dime a dozen,” as we would say today. But certainly it shows how slavery was a normal part of life in the land of Israel in that time.
Finally, Amos condemns the people for selling chaff (“refuse”) instead of wheat—indigestible food.