There’s a glimmer of hope buried in chapter 5, a call to repentance, but ultimately Amos doesn’t appear optimistic that they will respond accordingly.
He opens with “Hear this word…”, a familiar phrase that opened chapter 3 and showed up twice in chapter 4. The lament is dire, Israel has fallen and what God has raised as pure and undefiled is forsaken with no one to rescue her. I’m hesitant on the context of v.3, it seems like it is predicting the remnant that will stay (not be exiled) but it could also just be a poetic picture of the impact of God’s judgment upon them.
Then the hope: Seek God and live. But there’s a clarification here – you actually have to seek God. He again brings up the falseness of the worship at Gilgal, Beersheba, and Bethel. God is not fooled by the show and will not accept this shallow worship that is just for men. He will not stand for the disregard of justice and their refusal to pursue righteousness. This is the God who made the stars, controls darkness, the day, the night, the water and the surface of the earth — the Lord is his name! (Again, when you know who you’re dealing with, it simply makes no sense to think He can be fooled or bought off by formulaic fake worship.)
Starting in v.10, Amos lays out again his case of their unrighteousness using the city gate as a backdrop. There were gates in the walls that guarded cities that were closed for protection in times of war. In times of peace, they were generally open and men would gather at the gates and conduct business, settle disputes, things of that nature. In this context, we see that these men anger at people trying to do right business or speak truth because it calls them out for trampling the poor. In response, they will not get to enjoy that which was built upon the backs of the poor. They will be taken from their houses and will not get to enjoy their wine. The took bribes, favored the rich, rejected the needy – this is an indictment on how far they have fallen, their refusal to do what is right.
Yet if they seek good, they will live and God will be with them. (What mercy is this? These people suck. And…we suck. What mercy indeed.) They do still have to change their ways (repent, establish justice at the gate) and God may be gracious.
But…it doesn’t look like that is going to happen because we’re back to the wailing in the streets and the crying farmers and a strange call out to those who are good at lamenting because it needs to be done and you might as well have your best fellas on the job. As opposed to the presence of God being a positive, it is surrounded by wailing. Pretty strong contrasts here.
In blindness, God’s people seem to have been calling for the Day of the Lord. My guess is that they thought they were calling for God to come and judge their enemies and that they would be exalted. Consistent with the opening of Amos, though, God is equitable in his justice and those calling for God to make his presence known in his people are calling ultimately for their own judgment and punishment. That’s why Amos is talking about this wailing and such as God passes through their midst. It will be a dark time, not a joyous time. It is a time when they thought they would be safe (hey, I escaped a lion) only to find out they weren’t safe at all (dang, I ran into this bear).
v. 21 – 24 are just brutal. God hates their crappy, soulless, lying worship. Their feasts, their gatherings, it all sucks. He rejects their offerings, every one of them, doesn’t even want to see them. He doesn’t want to hear their songs, calls them noise. What does he want? Justice. Righteousness. (Notice how it echoes v.7 in this chapter. Don’t miss the poetic nature of Amos, for a fire and brimstone kind of a guy he has a real talent for language.)
And the chapter ends with a very bold and specific proclamation – you will be exiled beyond Damascus, you and your images of these false Mesopotamian gods. Because, again, don’t forget who you are dealing with.
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