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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

Amos 7

Verses 1-17

Chapter 7

Teaching By Symbols

The last division of the book contains a series of five visions, symbolically setting forth divine judgment, and embracing chapters 7 to 9, as noted in the Introduction.

In verses 1 to 9 of the present chapter, three of these visions are described; while the balance of the passage gives a most interesting and instructive bit of autobiography. In the first vision, the prophet was shown a plague of locusts (not merely grasshoppers), “in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth, after the king’s mowings.” In Palestine two crops a year were readily harvested. Under favorable conditions, “the latter growth, after the king’s mowings,” would have reference to the second crop, which would be depended on largely for the winter supplies of food and provender. But the seer beholds devouring locusts destroying every tender shoot, leading to the heartfelt prayer on the part of Amos, “O Lord God, forgive, I beseech Thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.” And the Lord hearkens to the intercession, and replies, “It shall not be.”

Undoubtedly a desolating scourge like an army sweeping all before it, leaving no remnant, was symbolized by the locusts. As in Moses’ day, the anger of the Lord was kindled, and would have destroyed the nation; but the intercession of the mediator interposed. God loves to be entreated. He delights to answer when He hears the cry of such as bear His needy people on their heart.

In the second vision (vers. 4-6), Amos beheld a devouring fire of such intensity that it licked up in its fury the waters of the great deep, “and did eat up a part.” It is again threatened judgment of the fiercest character, yet not making a full end. Once more the cry comes from the heart of the man of God, “0 Lord God, cease, I beseech Thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.” And again, in grace, the response is given, “This also shall not be, saith the Lord.”

It was the awfulness of overwhelming wrath without discrimination, falling on all alike, that appalled the prophet. Therefore in the next vision he is shown that which assures him that each one shall be dealt with according to his own iniquity.

The Lord stood upon a wall, to test its correctness by the plumb-line in His hand; and cried, “Amos, what seest thou?” The answer is given, “A plumb-line.” The Lord replies, “Behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of My people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more: and the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” (vers. 8, 9). It was a figure easily understood. No words are needed when a wall is tested by the plumber. If out of the perpendicular, it is at once manifest, to the confusion of the workman. God’s unerring word is such a plumb-line. Unmistakably it tests every soul, manifesting every departure therefrom, and calling down judgment on the violator of it. Throughout the whole land of Israel that Word was despised, while the people took their own ways, and asked not counsel of the Lord. Therefore none could rightfully complain when they were visited according to their ways. Every high place in the land was a silent testimony to the gainsaying and disobedience of the nation. Upon them all desolation would fall, in the day that the sword was to be drawn against the house of Jeroboam. It is, of course, the second of the name that is referred to -the monarch in whose reign Amos uttered his prophecies.

Amaziah, the apostate priest of the high place at Bethel, hearing these solemn words, rises in anger to denounce Amos as a traitor to the king. As head of the apostate ritualistic system, established and supported by Israel’s wayward kings, he would, if possible, get the pestilent preacher of the truth out of the way, because the craft was in danger if such utterances were permitted in the land. Therefore he sent to Jeroboam, saying, “Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land” (vers. 10, 11). It was unpalatable truth indeed that Amos had declared. But Amaziah seems to have reported Amos’ words incorrectly, either intentionally so, or his own guilty conscience leading him to misunderstand them. We have no record of Amos declaring that Jeroboam himself should die by the sword (which is manifestly not the case, see 2 Kings 14:23-29), but that the sword should be drawn against his house; which was fulfilled in the violent death of his son Zachariah (2 Kings 15:10).

We read of no reply on the part of the king. That energetic monarch may have considered the herdman-prophet and his predictions as beneath his notice; or he may have feared to touch one who evidently was sent of God. So the enraged prelate is left to deal with the intrusive preacher himself. He reasons with him, bidding him consider that he is trespassing in a parish that belongs to another! “O thou seer,” he says, “go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: but prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is the king’s court (or palace)” (vers. 12, 13). It is an oft-repeated complaint this, on the part of man-made priests and preachers, that Spirit-sent men of God must not fish in the waters which they claim, nor touch any of their flock. Looking on God’s heritage as their particular allotted portion, they cannot brook the untrammeled servant who comes with the plain word of the Lord, seeking not financial or other gain, but simply declaring the whole counsel of God. Being a hireling himself, Amaziah intimates that Amos is the same, when he urges him to go to Judah, and “there eat bread.” He cannot conceive of one going forth to proclaim God’s word who has not his eye on a good living. His own covetous heart led him to consider the office of high priest as a desirable means of livelihood, and he takes it for granted that Amos, in his way, is as much a professional man as himself.

Then too he arrogates to himself the right to be the supreme minister and spiritual adviser of the king and people at Bethel. It was what we today would call a cathedral city, and Amaziah was its ecclesiastical head. Away with this unlicensed interloper from the south.

Amos modestly and faithfully answers the haughty and indignant priest. “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son,” he replies. He was neither a professional seer, nor did he obtain his appointment through human hands, nor by descent. “But I was a herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit (the wild fig of Palestine): and the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto My people Israel” (vers. 14,15). Here were credentials that were as inexplicable to Amaziah as they have been to thousands of others since. Amos entered upon his ministry by the direct call of God. Like the New Testament apostle, it was “not from men, nor through man” (Galatians 1:1), but by divine appointment. In neither Testament do we ever read of one man empowering another to speak the word of the Lord. An Elijah may, at the command of God, anoint an Elisha; or a Paul may choose a Silas; but God alone gives the gift and accredits the servant.

But Amaziah is to hear more. As he impiously attempted to control divinely-given ministry, he must hear his own doom pronounced. “Now therefore hear thou the word of the Lord: Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac. Therefore thus saith the Lord; Thy wife shall be a harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land” (vers. 16, 17).

Plain words these; and though we have no record further, we cannot doubt that they were fulfilled to the letter. We read of no reply on the part of Amaziah. His conscience was on the prophet’s side; and that may have sealed his lips. How every word must have come back to him when, stripped of all his honors, he lifted his tear-dimmed eyes heavenward in the Assyrians’ land!

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Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Amos 7". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. 1914.