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III. VISIONS THAT AMOS SAW CHS. 7-9
Amos next recorded five visions that he received from the Lord that described the results of the coming judgment of Israel, plus one historical incident (Amos 7:10-17). Throughout this section of the book two phrases stand out: "sovereign Yahweh" (Amos 7:1-2; Amos 7:4 [twice], 5-6; Amos 8:1; Amos 8:3; Amos 8:9; Amos 8:11; Amos 9:8) and "my people" (Amos 7:8; Amos 7:15; Amos 8:2; Amos 9:10). They are constant reminders that Yahweh has authority over all nations and individuals and that He still recognized Israel’s special covenant relationship with Himself. The whole section builds to a terrifying climax of inevitable judgment for Israel. Some scholars believe these visions formed Amos’ call. [Note: E.g., Ellison, p. 65.]
Sovereign Yahweh showed Amos a mass of locusts swarming in the springtime after the first harvest and before the second. The Lord was forming this swarm of locusts. Ideally the very first crops harvested in the spring went to feed the king’s household and animals (cf. 1 Kings 18:5). The crops that the people harvested later in the spring fed their animals and themselves. If anything happened to prevent that second harvesting, the people would have little to eat until the next harvest in the fall. The summer months were very dry and the Israelites had nothing to harvest during that season of the year.
Locusts swarming indicated that they were about to sweep through an area and destroy all the crops. There was no way to prevent this in Amos’ day. Locust invasions were a perennial threat, and they were a method of discipline that God had said He might use if His people proved unfaithful to His covenant with them (Deuteronomy 28:38; Deuteronomy 28:42; cf. Joel 1:1-7; Amos 4:9).
1. The swarming locusts 7:1-3
A. Three short visions of impending judgment 7:1-9
The three visions in this section are similar and may have followed one another in quick succession. The first two describe methods of divine judgment from which Amos persuaded God to turn aside, and the last one the method He would not abandon to judge Israel.
In his vision Amos saw the locusts strip the land of its vegetation. Then he prayed and asked the sovereign Lord to pardon Jacob (Israel) for its covenant unfaithfulness. Jacob was only a small nation and could not survive such a devastating judgment if the Lord allowed it to happen as Amos had seen in his vision.
Amos’ view of Israel as small and weak stands in contrast to that of Israel’s leaders who believed it was strong and invincible (cf. Amos 6:1-3; Amos 6:8; Amos 6:13; Amos 9:10). Israel occupied a large territory under Jeroboam II, second only in its history to what Solomon controlled, but it was still small in relation to the larger empires of the ancient Near East. Amos may have meant that Israel was small in the sense of helpless. God had promised to take care of Jacob when that patriarch encountered Yahweh at Bethel, now a center of apostate worship in Israel (cf. Genesis 28:10-22). Perhaps that is why Amos appealed to God with the name of Jacob (cf. Amos 3:13; Amos 6:8; Amos 7:5; Amos 8:7; Amos 9:8).
In response to Amos’ prayer, the Lord relented and said He would not bring a completely devastating judgment on Israel, at least then. He would be merciful and patient and would grant Israel more grace (cf. Exodus 32:14).
The prayers of righteous individuals, like Amos, can alter the events of history (cf. James 5:16-18). Some things that God intends to do are not firmly determined by Him; He is open to changing His mind about these things. However, He has decreed other things and no amount of praying will change His mind about those things (cf. Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11-12; Acts 1:11; Revelation 22:20). It is important, therefore, that we understand, from Scripture, what aspects of His will are fixed and which are negotiable. The same distinction between determined choices and optional choices is observable in human interpersonal relations. Good parents, for example, will not permit their children to do certain things no matter how much the children may beg, but they do allow their children to influence their decisions in other matters. [Note: For further discussion of this issue, see Thomas L. Constable, Talking to God: What the Bible Teaches about Prayer, pp. 149-52; idem, "What Prayer Will and Will Not Change," in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, pp. 99-113; John Munro, "Prayer to a Sovereign God," Interest 56:2 (February 1990):20-21; and Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "Does God ’Change His Mind’?" Bibliotheca Sacra 152:608 (October-December 1995):387-99.]
Sovereign Yahweh also showed Amos a vision of a great fire that was burning up everything. Like a great drought it consumed all the water and all the farmland (or people) in Israel (cf. Amos 1:9-10). What he saw may have been a scorching heat wave that resulted in a drought.
The "great deep" is a phrase that refers to subterranean waters that feed springs (cf. Genesis 1:2; Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:2; Genesis 49:25; Deuteronomy 8:7; Ezekiel 31:4). So intense was the fire that Amos saw that it dried up even these underground water reservoirs. Great heat with consequent drought was another of the punishments that the Lord warned of for covenant unfaithfulness (Deuteronomy 28:22).
2. The devouring fire 7:4-6
Amos prayed virtually the same prayer again asking the sovereign Lord not to send such a judgment because Jacob was small (cf. Amos 7:2). Again the Lord relented and determined that it would not come then (cf. Amos 7:3). He would not discipline Israel with a locust plague or with a raging "fire."
Amos saw a third vision. The Lord was standing beside a vertical wall with a plumb line in His hand. The wall was probably a city wall rather than the wall of a house. [Note: George Adam Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets Commonly Called the Minor, 1:114; Ellison, p. 66.] Niehaus believed Amos saw a wall of tin, symbolic of Assyria’s power, and the Lord standing above the wall judging it. [Note: Niehaus, p. 456. See also Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., pp. 397-98.] A plumb line was a string with a weight on the end. People used it, and still use it, to determine if a vertical structure is completely straight. God was testing something by a true standard; His judgment is not arbitrary.
3. The plumb line 7:7-9
The Lord asked the prophet what he saw, and Amos replied that he saw a plumb line. Then the Lord explained that He was about to test Israel as a builder uses a plumb line. The true standard by which He would judge Israel was undoubtedly the Mosaic Law, the covenant that He had given her by which God measured her uprightness (cf. Exodus 19:6). The Lord further announced that He would not spare the Israelites from His judgment any longer; Amos’ prayers for Israel would not turn away His punishment as earlier (Amos 7:3; Amos 7:6). The nation was so far out of plumb that God would tear it down.
The method of judgment God would use would not be locust invasion or fire but the sword. An enemy would invade Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 28:49-50). This enemy, as Yahweh’s agent, would destroy the outdoor high places on hilltops and the temple sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel where the people worshipped God and idols, namely, all their worship centers.
Amos probably used "Isaac" simply as a synonym for "Jacob" and "Israel." Another view follows.
"Amos seems to have in mind the special veneration for Isaac which members of the Northern Kingdom displayed in making pilgrimages south to Beersheba (cf. Amos 5:5; Amos 8:14), Isaac’s birthplace." [Note: Hubbard, p. 210.]
The "house of Jeroboam" probably refers to the dynasty of Jeroboam II, but it could refer to the nation of Israel as headed by Jeroboam I. Jeroboam II’s dynasty came to an end with the assassination of his son and successor Zechariah (2 Kings 15:8-10).
These three visions appear to have come to Amos in close succession. The final compiler of Amos’ prophecies, probably Amos himself, undoubtedly grouped them because of their similarity. They are obviously alike and together present a picture of judgment mercifully deferred twice but finally brought on Israel. They clarify the method of Israel’s punishment, namely, defeat by an enemy’s invading army, and they show that judgment would come after God’s patience with the nation had been exhausted.
Amaziah, who was one of the apostate priests who served at the Bethel sanctuary (cf. 1 Kings 12:26-33), felt that Amos was being unpatriotic in what he was prophesying. So Amaziah sent a message to King Jeroboam II charging Amos with conspiring against the king within the land. He felt that Israel could not afford to endure Amos’ prophesying any longer. Previously internal revolt against a king had sometimes followed a prophet’s pronouncements (cf. 1 Samuel 16:1-13; 1 Kings 11:29-39; 1 Kings 16:1-13; 1 Kings 19:15-17; 2 Kings 8:7-15; 2 Kings 9:1-28; 2 Kings 10:9).
1. The challenge 7:10-13
B. An intervening incident 7:10-17
The event described in this pericope evidently followed and grew out of the preceding visions that Amos announced (Amos 7:1-9). Certain key words occur in both sections of the book but not elsewhere in it: Isaac (Amos 7:9; Amos 7:16) and sanctuary (Amos 7:9-11). Also the historical incident is a concrete example of God’s plumb line in operation, but here it judged individuals. The prophet Amos passed the test, but one of the priests of Bethel, Amaziah, failed the test.
Amaziah reported that Amos was saying that the king would die by the sword and that the Israelites would definitely go into exile. While we have no record that Amos said these exact words, they do represent fairly the message that Amos was announcing (cf. Amos 7:8-9). By claiming that Amos was predicting Jeroboam’s death, the priest was personalizing the danger of Amos’ ministry to the king and was emotionally inciting him to take action against the prophet. Amaziah regarded Amos’ prophecies as simply the prophet’s own words. He had no respect for them as messages from Israel’s God but viewed them only as a challenge to the status quo.
Amaziah then approached Amos and told him to move back to Judah and to earn his living in his home country (cf. Amos 1:1). By referring to Amos as a seer (another term for a prophet, cf. 1 Samuel 9:9; 2 Samuel 24:11; Isaiah 29:10), Amaziah was probably disparaging the visions that Amos said he saw (Amos 7:1-9). [Note: See Stuart, p. 376; and E. Hammershaimb, The Book of Amos: A Commentary, p. 116.] By telling him to eat (earn) his bread in Judah, he was hinting that Amos needed to get a "legitimate" job rather than living off the contributions he received for prophesying (cf. Genesis 3:19; 2 Kings 4:8; Ezekiel 13:17-20; Micah 3:5; Micah 3:11). Amaziah told Amos to stop prophesying in Bethel (emphatic in the Hebrew text) because it was one of the king’s sanctuaries (places of worship) as well as one of the king’s residences (places of living). Bethel, of all places, was an inappropriate town in which Amos should utter messages of doom against Israel, from Amaziah’s perspective. Amos had become an embarrassment to the political and religious establishment in Israel.
Amos replied that he was not a prophet by his own choosing; he did not decide to pursue prophesying as a career. Neither had he become a prophet because his father had been one. In Amos’ culture it was common and expected for sons to follow in their father’s line of work, though this was not true of genuine prophets. It is possible that Amos meant that he was not the son of a prophet in the sense that he had not been trained in one of the schools of the prophets under the tutelage of a fatherly mentor (cf. 2 Kings 2:1-15; 2 Kings 4:1; 2 Kings 4:38; 2 Kings 5:22; 2 Kings 6:1-7; 2 Kings 9:1). [Note: B. Smith, p. 139, n. 56.] Rather Amos had previously earned his living in a totally unrelated occupation. He had been a herdsman and a nipper of sycamore figs. The term "herdsman" refers to someone who bred livestock, not just a shepherd who looked after animals. A nipper of sycamore figs was one who pierced sycamore figs so they would be edible.
"The fruit is infested with an insect (the Sycophaga crassipes), and till the ’eye’ or top has been punctured, so that the insects may escape, it is not eatable." [Note: W. R. Smith, cited in Samuel R. Driver, The Books of Joel and Amos, p. 212.]
"Or, the term may refer to the practice of slitting the sycamore-fig before it ripens-a process that ensures that it will turn sweet." [Note: Niehaus, p. 463. Cf. Wolff, p. 314.]
Thus Amos had a respectable agricultural business background before he moved to Israel to prophesy. He had not been a "professional" prophet like many of the false prophets. He had not always made his living by being a prophet but only functioned as a "called" prophet. Therefore, Amaziah should not think that Amos came to Israel to prophesy because that was the only work that he could do or to make money.
2. The response 7:14-17
Amos had come to Israel having been sent there by Yahweh to prophesy (cf, Numbers 18:6; 2 Samuel 7:8; Psalms 78:70). The Hebrew text repeated the words "the LORD" for emphasis. God had given him a definite commission, and Amos had left his former occupation to obey that divine calling (cf. Acts 5:27-29). Amos’ ministry and his location were God’s choosing.
Amos then announced a prophecy from the Lord for Amaziah. Because the priest had told the prophet to stop doing what Yahweh had commanded him to do (cf. Amos 2:12), Amaziah’s wife would become a harlot in Bethel. She would have to stoop to this to earn a living because she would have no husband or sons to support her. Her children would die by the sword. This may also imply the end of Amaziah’s family line. Amaziah’s land would become the property of others, presumably the Assyrians, and he himself would die in a foreign, pagan land. All these things would evidently happen when the foreign enemy destroyed Israel. Stifling the word of God proved disastrous for Amaziah, as it still does today. Finally, Amos repeated that Israel would indeed go into exile, the message that Amaziah had reported that Amos was preaching (cf. Amos 7:11).
Amaziah had told Amos to stop prophesying, namely, to stop preaching (Amos 7:16). "Preaching" is from a verbal root meaning "drip" (Heb. natap), as the heavens drip rain (Judges 5:4; cf. Amos 9:13). The idea is that Amos should stop raining down messages from heaven on his hearers. True prophets were people who spoke fervently for Yahweh. [Note: Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, p. 63.]
"Amaziah’s loyalty was to Jeroboam, who probably appointed him as priest at Bethel. Amos’s loyalty was to God, who sent him to prophesy against Israel. Conflict between Amaziah and Amos was inevitable since their loyalties were in conflict. Primary loyalty to God in their service to Israel would have eliminated conflict between the king, the priest, and the prophet. The answer to conflict among God’s people is always to place loyalty to God above all else." [Note: B. Smith, p. 136.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Amos 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26