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The End Is Near -- An Introduction to Amos (focus on Amos 2:4-16)

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

God will not let anyone escape the consequences of oppression.


Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Amos 2:4-16

This week, we are introduced to Amos (and the other Minor Prophets related to the fall of Samaria). They had the thankless task of telling a people that God was about to judge them for their many sins. And nobody listened. This week, the focus is on their sins of oppression and exploitation.

I will not relent from punishing Israel for three crimes, even four (2:6)


Getting Started: Things to Think About

Here are four ideas for an opening discussion, designed to introduce this quarter with the minor prophets. Each can be adapted for the interests of different groups. They can also be set aside for another week -- just substitute Amos for whichever prophet we're studying that week.


How Many Works Is Faith Supposed to Have?

David Lambert (FBC Pastor) just preached a message on James 2:14-16, highlighted by the famous

20 Senseless person! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless?

And he led us to the very biblical conclusions that

  • Christians don't have a faith based on works

  • Christians don't have faith in their works

  • Christians have a faith that works

So, you might start this week's lesson with the very leading (or mis-leading 😎) question "how many works does it take to demonstrate that you have a real faith?" Or to look at this another way, we read Jesus' warning, "Matt 7:20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit." We know that we bear some good fruit and some bad fruit -- how much good fruit do we need to bear so we'll be recognized as a true follower of Jesus and not a "wolf in sheep's clothing"?


I think that's the kind of question that could start all kinds of discussion (and lead to all kinds of trouble if you let it go too long) -- perfect for what the minor prophets were trying to stir up. Now in truth, the people Amos was preaching to had basically zero evidence of good works in their lives, so that's how you transition into the Christian perspective on this matter:

  1. Be concerned with yourself, not with other people's works. That will keep you from the trap of legalism, and it will keep you from judging other's hearts.

  2. Evaluate your heart before you evaluate your works. Anybody can do good things; anybody can do bad things. You know if you are living your life as a follower of Jesus or not. Your works follow your heart.

  3. If there is minimal evidence of a relationship with Jesus Christ in your life, spend some serious time in prayer and soul-searching. Talk to a pastor or Sunday School leader.

[Note: if you truly believe you are a follower of Jesus, but your lifestyle doesn't show it, that's where the spiritual disciplines come in. Like any other behavior in our life, sometimes we have to train ourselves to do what we know to be right. If following Jesus were easy, then those admirable Christians we know wouldn't stand out so much.]


The Consequence Police

If you see that first topic opening more questions than you have time for, you might consider its opposite: not "are you taking your good deeds seriously enough?" but "are you taking your sins seriously enough?".


We've used several variations of this topic in the past. We all love it when the "bad guy" has to face the consequences for his actions. But how do we feel when those consequences come to someone we care about (or to ourselves)? Like, you take a strong stance against cheating and then find out your sibling cheated. Or, you raise a big stink about taking a performance-enhancing drug and then it comes out that you took something similar.


Sometimes, it reveals a blind spot or a real lack of self-awareness. That's what's going to happen in our passage in Amos -- Amos said that the neighboring kingdoms were all going to be punished for their wicked deeds, and the Israelites said "YEAH!" And then Amos said, "And you've been doing those things, too."


Ideally, we get to the place where we humbly understand that all sin comes with consequences -- even our own, or of the people we care about. We might still ask for grace, but we don't run away from the consequences. I read the harrowing headline on Monday morning that Matt Chandler (one of my favorite Christian personalities) was taking a leave of absence from his pastorate for a moral lapse. What he told his church was that he had a messaging relationship with a woman that the elders deemed too "familiar", even though Chandler's wife was aware of the messages. Well, he has preached about guarding against even a hint of impropriety in marriage, and this relationship crossed that line, so he accepted the consequences (not the least of which was the public embarrassment his family would face). Assuming those are the facts, I would say that Chandler had the right response when confronted with sin in his own life -- "I was wrong, and I accept the consequences."


But Chandler lives far away; it's easy to be academic about someone we don't actually know. What if it happens to you? How would you respond if confronted with sin in your life?


Being the Bearer of an Unbelieved Warning

You see a theme with these discussion ideas. We're kicking off a quarter that's all about God's prophets confronting people with their sin, and those people tuning the prophets out.

Have you ever been the bearer of a warning that people wouldn't believe? That's what's happening with Amos. The Israelites simply don't believe him. They don't believe that the things he says will happen will happen. It's a common trope in movies -- "there's no way that will happen" "you're being too nervous" "who let this crackpot in here?". Perhaps you might start with your favorite example from a movie or book, something like where the hubris of the antagonist causes him/her to ignore the warning, and they lose in some catastrophic fashion.


You'll want to be cautious how serious you let this get, but we've probably all given warnings that were ignored. Things like:

  • "Hey, you might want to think twice about that crypto investment"

  • "Didn't your doctor tell you you shouldn't be eating stuff like that?"

  • "I don't think such-and-such is as good a friend as you think"

  • "That tree leaning over your house isn't looking so good"

The more convinced you become about the seriousness of your warning, the less seriously they take it. How does that make you feel? (And worse, how does it affect your relationship if the warning comes true?)


That's going to be the life of Amos and the other prophets we study this quarter:

7:12 Then [King] Amaziah said to Amos, “Go away, you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. Earn your living and give your prophecies there, 13 but don’t ever prophesy at Bethel again, for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.”

[And then this is going to be the big question in the background of everything we study this quarter: does not believing a warning make it go away?]


-Or- When You Encountered a Street Preacher

Here's one last idea: the street preacher. I encountered several when I was at Texas A&M.

These guys get a bad rap. And judging from some of the videos I've seen, some of them are definitely preaching nonsense and non-truth in a non-loving way. But for those who are simply saying "the end is near, and you need to repent", are they wrong?


The topic is "what's your reaction when you see or read about a street preacher?" And then say, "Amos was basically called to be the most extreme version of that -- walk up to complete strangers and tell them that the "end" was coming, and they needed to repent. Based on your reaction to a street preacher, how do you think you would have reacted to Amos?"

 

This Week's Big Idea: Introducing Amos, Jonah, Hosea, and Micah

These are the four "Minor Prophets" most closely connected with the time period we just studied in 1/2 Kings, so I'm sure that's why they chose to put them in this quarter.


And yes, I'm getting some "oh no not three more months of this" vibes from group leaders who are connected with this blog. Maybe that includes you! Here's a quick list of talking points for you (or anyone) who is pessimistic about this quarter:

  • The fall of Samaria and Jerusalem is one of the most important sequences in Jewish history, demonstrating that God is serious about consequences. Spending 6 months learning the "what" and the "why" of it is valuable. (And remember, we spend 6 months studying an individual Gospel!)

  • This quarter includes two of my very favorite books in Jonah and Micah, so I'm looking forward to those weeks (and you should too 😎).

  • In order to condense these four not-short books into one quarter, they have had to skip a lot of material. (Let's be honest -- I would expect to hear more grumbling if we spent an entire quarter with Amos.) But that means we have a lot to work with if you want to bring in other passages to help explain the point of the book.

Every book of the Bible is worth knowing and understanding, so that means spending time in each of those books. I just hope we'll spend enough time in these books to learn and appreciate what God is communicating to us through them.


The World of These Prophets

Amos, Hosea, and Micah give us dates to work with. Jonah does not. (For reasons we will talk about when we get there, we are going to ride with a prevailing theory that he was sent to Nineveh during the reign of Jeroboam II, a little before the time of Amos).

Amos and Hosea were sent to Israel (the northern kingdom); Micah was sent to Judah (the southern kingdom); Jonah was sent to Assyria.


The situation is each is closely connected. When we covered 2 Kings 7, I mentioned that the year 800 BC (the top of the timeline) marked the ultimate rise of the Assyrians over the Syrians (Arameans). You might remember that Damascus had been putting a lot of military pressure on Samaria, so when they had to turn their attention to defending themselves against Assyria, that gave relief to Samaria. Both Jehoash and Jeroboam II (kings in Samaria) were able to consolidate territory and power, taking back everything they had lost in the previous generations and exerting influence over Jerusalem (even plundering the temple!).


I used some of the passages we will study in Amos and Hosea when I did my big-picture lesson on the fall of Samaria a few weeks ago.

Here's what I said in that post:

"Amos preached during the height of Jeroboam II, when Israel experienced its greatest wealth (and not coincidentally its greatest corruption)."


Amos's accusations:

  • "The wealthy shamelessly took advantage of the poor

  • The wives were just as complicit as the men

  • The people cared more about comfort than conviction"


"[Hosea] preached during 7 kings (!), more than any other prophet. With all of the assassinations and fleeting alliances, Israel was thrown into extreme political and social chaos, each wealthy family looking out for its own best interest."


Hosea's accusations:

  • "The land was filled not just with immorality but crime

  • The priests were no better than the people

  • Everyone had abandoned the religion of the covenant

  • The leaders looked to other countries rather than God for help

  • The economy was dominated by extortion and dishonesty"


It was a terrible social situation. The rich got richer (often at the expense of the poor), and the powerful abused their power to gain more power.


Focus on Amos

Amos was from Judah (Tekoa, a city about ten miles south of Jerusalem). This would make his especially unpopular in Israel, where God would send him. Tekoa was a fortified border town (2 Chr 11:5-12), meaning Amos probably had regular dealings with soldiers, which may be how he was so naturally aware of the wider military context of Israel's neighbors. That also probably meant that Tekoa had a school, which might be how Amos became so learned.


[Aside on how God speaks through prophets: yes, God could simply dictate words to the prophet to say, and there are times when He does. But with the prophetic books, we also see a lot of personality and individuality. That's how each prophet has such a unique feel. God gave the prophecy, but He allowed the prophet to communicate it.]


[Bonus aside: either Amos or one of Amos's followers "kept notes" on what Amos said and eventually compiled them into this book. Think about it -- if you heard that a prophet had been called, wouldn't you be interested in following him around and listening to what he had to say? That's how Jesus' Gospels were written.]


Anyway, Amos is great. He's a manager of shepherds and orchards. He doesn't have time for your nonsense. The word he uses of himself (1:1, translated "shepherd") is actually very rare. In nearby countries, the word is used of the person who manages the shepherds. He also calls himself a caretaker of sycamore fig trees (7:14) -- it's quite possible that he had arranged access to the orchard fields to graze his flocks in exchange for protecting the orchards (how else do you end up with sheep and figs?). Importantly, he wasn't a part of the "guild of prophets" that served the royals (7:14) -- he was an outsider (so he didn't know the "proper" way to do things) who was called by God (so he didn't care about your propriety).


In 1:1, we learn that everything in this book took place "two years before the earthquake" during the reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam:

  • Uzziah (Judah) -- co-king 792-767 BC, king 767-740 BC

  • Jeroboam (Israel) -- co-king 793-782 BC, king 782-753 BC

There are references to a big earthquake that happened sometime before 750 BC, so it's safe to conclude that Amos prophesied sometime between 767 and 753 BC. Amos himself mentioned an earthquake 4 times (4:13, 8:8, 9:1, 9:5), so it's also safe to conclude that the people of Israel worried that the earthquake might mean that Amos was right. Remember that the death of Jeroboam sparked the spiral that ended with Israel's destruction and exile.


Here's the outline of Amos as given in a book I love, The Prophets as Preachers:

  1. Judgments on the Nations 1:1-2:16

    1. Oracles against the nations 1:1-2:3

    2. Oracles against Judah and Israel 2:4-16

  2. Verification of God's Judgment on Israel 3:1-6:14

    1. Behind every result is a cause 3:1-8

    2. Confirmation of Israel's punishment 3:9-4:3

    3. Israel is unwilling to return to God 4:4-13

    4. A lament over Israel, the dead nation 5:1-17

    5. Woe oracle concerning false hopes 5:18-27

    6. Woe oracle concerning false security 6:1-14

  3. Visions and Exhortations of the End 7:1-9:15

    1. Compassion instead of judgment 7:1-6

    2. Destruction, not forgiveness 7:7-17

    3. Wailing at the end, not forgiveness 8:1-14

    4. No sinner can escape God's judgment 9:1-10

    5. Epilogue: restoration after judgment 9:11-15

[Note: that 3.a. might seem confusing -- in a section about judgment, what's this about compassion? The message is that even in His judgment, God has shown compassion. If that doesn't frighten sinners, I don't know what will.]


Amos is the quintessential "street preacher". He shows up with no credentials, no connections, and no invitation and barks out "God sent me to you to tell you that He is about to destroy your kingdom."


How's that gonna go over?


When you read the entire book, you realize that it's a very tightly argued, well-supported, carefully developed tour de force of truth and consequences. This is no crackpot. This is a man with a supernatural awareness of what's going on. Perhaps he really has been called by God?


Where We Are in Amos

You can see from the outline that we've skipped the first section. It's a doozy! In it, Amos goes after the surrounding kingdoms of Syria (Damascus), Philistia (Gaza), Phoenicia (Tyre), Edom, Ammon, and Moab. This would have given Amos a favorable hearing. The Israelites hated those kingdoms.


Additionally, Amos focused on the terrible things that those kingdoms had done to the Jews (when Amos talks about communities being taken captive, he's implying communities of Jews).


So, Amos would immediately have made his hearers "like" him by talking about the sins of their neighbors and the punishment they would face because of it. And then, in this week's passage, Amos takes it to the next level by talking about Israel's hated neighbor, Judah.


A big point to make sure everyone takes away from the context: God will hold all peoples to account for their sin. There are no excuses for oppression or exploitation. God cares about the weak and powerless in every nation. He truly is God of the whole world.

 

Part 1 of Part 1: Wrongs Reviewed (Amos 2:4-5)

4 The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Judah for three crimes, even four, because they have rejected the instruction of the Lord and have not kept his statutes. The lies that their ancestors followed have led them astray. 5 Therefore, I will send fire against Judah, and it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem.

I'm splitting this part in two because verses 4-5 are totally independent.


Amos is using a structure called a "war oracle" -- the offending party has committed such-and-such violation of a treaty/covenant, and therefore they will be punished/destroyed. Commanders would use this style to convince his troops of their cause.


The "three/four" language is poetic; Amos isn't talking about a literal list of four crimes. Some say that Amos chose 3 and 4 because they add up to 7, meaning that the kingdoms have reached the fulness of their sin.


By talking about Judah's punishment, Amos would have really fired up his Israelite audience (who hated Judah and wanted Judah to be miserable). But note that his condemnations are rather vague -- they have not followed the Lord but rather the lies that have infected Jerusalem for generations. We didn't talk a whole lot about this era of Judah when we went through 1/2 Kings. You can read 2 Kings 14-15 (or 2 Chron 25-26) for more. Amaziah was a decent king who foolishly fought against Jehoahaz (who had been consolidating power for Israel), lost utterly, and was eventually assassinated by his own people. His son Azariah (Uzziah) succeeded him. He was an okay king. He built up Judah's army and took back territory his father had lost, but he contracted leprosy after a particularly egregious sin, so his son Jothan did most of the work in his final years.


God was not turning a blind eye to the sins of Jerusalem. But that wasn't really Amos's message. For that, we go on to the next verses:

 

Part 2 of Part 1: Wrongs Reviewed (Amos 2:6-8)

6 The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Israel for three crimes, even four, because they sell a righteous person for silver and a needy person for a pair of sandals. 7 They trample the heads of the poor on the dust of the ground and obstruct the path of the needy. A man and his father have sexual relations with the same girl, profaning my holy name. 8 They stretch out beside every altar on garments taken as collateral, and in the house of their God they drink wine obtained through fines.

Remember how I said that the "three/four" language was poetic? Well, Israel is the exception -- Amos lists four sins and more. Israel is worse than everyone around them.


Now the rug gets pulled from underneath Amos's audience. Not only will God also punish the Israelites for their sin, but Amos goes into such detail as to make God's condemnation inarguable.


These are the verses I mentioned a few weeks ago in demonstrating that the wealthy and powerful in Samaria were taking advantage of the poor and powerless. If someone could not pay for their cheap pair of sandals, the owner would simply throw them into prison or make them a slave. The image of trampling the poor into dust is about humiliation -- the wealthy don't even respect the poor as human. The reference to "a man and his father" is somewhat debatable. The way CSB is going with it is that they are both taking sexual advantage of a household servant. However, that verb is not elsewhere used for sexual activity, so it might be an exploitation that isn't sexual (but no less demeaning). "Garments taken as collateral" would refer to an unjust seizure, and "wine obtained through fines" would refer to unjust taxation.


In other words, the wealthy are using every tool they have to exploit the poor.


This could obviously set off a firestorm of discussion, as there are a lot of topics happening right now in our country where accusations such as these are being made. For example, the student loan forgiveness bill qualifies (if you read the arguments in detail), as does availability of the COVID vaccine, recent changes to the tax code, and the rising cost of rent. You're probably not going to like this, but I don't think hashing out those debates in your small group will really help. Let them come up, but transition out with this: "Amos was confronting his hearers with what they were doing. What are we doing to help or hurt those with less money and power than we have?" That's a soul-searching question. I truly believe that each one of us can contribute to making our community a better place to live for everyone -- but even that's not really the point of this week's passage. The point is that the Israelites did not want to help anyone but themselves, and so God would punish them for their selfishness. [What role is Lucy playing in this comic strip?]


If you want to give your group a challenge, make it open-ended, like "this week, look for ways that you (in your job/neighborhood/school) can use your influence to make things better, even in a small way".


The big picture is that the Israelites had stopped caring about the poor and powerless. Do you still care?

 

Part 2: History Relived (Amos 2:9-11)

9 Yet I destroyed the Amorite as Israel advanced; his height was like the cedars, and he was as sturdy as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. 10 And I brought you from the land of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness in order to possess the land of the Amorite. 11 I raised up some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as Nazirites. Is this not the case, Israelites? This is the Lord’s declaration.

The point of this passage is simply "I gave you this land from the wicked pagans who lived here before you, and now you're behaving worse than they did!"


Here's a reminder about the Amorites: they were one of the peoples who lived in the Promised Land that God drove out for the Israelites:

Gen 15:18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I give this land to your offspring, from the Brook of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River: 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hethites, Perizzites, Rephaim, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”

But God paid special attention to the Amorites. He said this right before:

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions. 15 But you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

In other words, God would rather let His people spent 400 years as slaves than destroy the Amorites before they truly had a chance to repent. (And yes, God might be saying "Amorite" as representative of all of the native peoples.) They did not repent, and so God drove them out.


Then God points out the Nazirites. We haven't spent a lot of time with that group, so you may have to explain.


The word Nazirite means "devoted to God" and came to refer to two groups of people:

  1. Jews who took a vow of devotion for a certain time

  2. Children who were declared "nazirite" by their parents

Both Samson and Samuel were of the second category. Paul took a Nazirite vow (Acts 18:18), and perhaps so did John the Baptist (Luke 1:15-17).


God explained their vows in Numbers 6:

  • No haircuts

  • No alcohol

  • No touching dead bodies

God speaks as if the presence of Nazirites was a gift from Him. But Nazirites are only explicitly mentioned in the Bible in Numbers 6, Judges 13 (the story of Samson), and here in Amos 2. That's it. So, we don't have an explicit answer for the question I'm about to ask -- you'll have to think like a child of God:


Why do you think God saw Nazirites as a gift from Him?


And then the follow-up question, though we don't have "Nazirites" today, how do we identify people (especially young people) who are devoted to following Jesus with their whole heart?


This is where things might get a little fuzzy. If you're honest with the Bible, every follower of Jesus Christ should be a type of "Nazirite". What did Jesus say? "If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." (Matt 16:24) But, we all have known Christians who take that commitment more seriously than others, so to speak. So, what's the value of having a really sold-out, committed follower of Jesus Christ in your church?


The next verse reveals what the Israelites thought of its value.

 

Part 3: Judgment Reckoned (Amos 2:12-16)

12 But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets, “Do not prophesy.” 13 Look, I am about to crush you in your place as a wagon crushes when full of grain. 14 Escape will fail the swift, the strong one will not maintain his strength, and the warrior will not save his life. 15 The archer will not stand his ground, the one who is swift of foot will not save himself, and the one riding a horse will not save his life. 16 Even the most courageous of the warriors will flee naked on that day— this is the Lord’s declaration.

And it's not flattering. Essentially, the Israelites' reaction to the Nazirites (and the prophets) was "don't bother us with your biblical truth or your spiritual devotion".


Yikes!


And uh oh -- do we perhaps demonstrate that attitude ourselves sometimes?


And in this, I'm not thinking of the more liberal elements of Christianity who try to ignore us when we talk about biblical truth as related to topics like abortion, sexuality, and church leadership. That's a given. I'm thinking about us. When we make jokes about someone being too serious about being a Christian. Or when we don't support a church member who is excited about an evangelistic project. Or when we tell a young Christian that certain behaviors aren't really that big of a deal. Let's seriously consider ways that we might do the modern equivalent of demeaning a Nazirite and then seriously consider how we can stop. I wonder if this is somewhat Jesus had in mind when He said,

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matt 18:6)

Anyway, back to the passage. By making the Nazirite drink wine, the Israelites were basically cutting off their vows. Nazirites would set a period of time for their vows, and violating those vows would stop the clock. It was petty and childish behavior on the Israelites' part. (It's possible that Amos is using this accusation figuratively, but that wouldn't change the meaning.)


And what would happen as a result? Destruction. The "loaded wagon" image is pretty rough, but effective. The Israelite army will be steamrolled like a weed in a cart path.


We talked about the fall of Samaria last quarter, so you can decide how many details you need to bring back up. It basically happened like Amos said. And this would have unbelievable to Amos's hearers -- in the time Amos was preaching, Jeroboam had built up a strong standing army, strong enough to out-muscle all of his neighbors.


But they had never seen anything like what was being built in [Nineveh -- sorry, I accidentally said Babylon in the first draft].

The point is that their destruction will be utter and final.


You don't have to spend a whole lot of time on that part of the passage. We will talk about the fall of Samaria again (more than once). Instead, cast it forward. The phrase "on that day" should make us think about the final "that day" at the end of human history as we know it -- "The Day of the Lord".


The way judgment was passed on the Israelites is not how it will be passed at the Last Judgment. Make sure everyone in your group understands the difference. Who will be judged "guilty" at the Last Judgment, and who will not?


(And if you aren't in one of our Bible study groups and don't know the answer to that question, please contact our church. We would be happy to talk about that with you.)

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