“You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” - Amos 3:2 (ESV)

 Amos is a prophet during the days of Uzziah and Jeroboam, so a couple of generations away from the destruction of Judah by Babylon. The text brings charges against Judah for her sin and explains that she will be punished and humiliated. It says that all those who are proud and self-secure will be humiliated and brought low. The text is concerned to warn the people and to call them to repentance. But it is also concerned to share God's perspective and show Israel to be in the wrong. We are not in Jerusalem, but we serve and know the same God who has made his judgments known, and we also stand in danger of judgment and condemnation if we do not turn toward God through Christ.

The Big Idea of Amos

I have taught that the big idea of Amos is the following: Yahweh Will Destroy Judah for Her Sin. By the time of Amos’ ministry, Yahweh is resolved in his purpose regarding Judah. As one reads the prophets, it is striking how full their messages are of the warnings of Yahweh.


An Outline of Amos

Chapters 1-2: Yahweh's Charges

Amos opens with an introduction followed by a series of charges from Yahweh against various nations. We learn that Amos kept sheep in Tekoa in the days of King Uzzah of Judah and King Jeroboam of Israel. Yahweh is introduced as roaring from Jerusalem, following which he gives a formulaic condemnation of Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, and Israel. By formulaic, I mean that there is a refrain for each nation that begins, “For three transgressions of [nation], and for four, I will not revoke the punishment.” Interestingly, the charges against Israel are the longest by far, roughly triple or quadruple the number of words spoken to other nations. 

Chapters 3-6: Yahweh's Warning

In chapter three, Yahweh warns Israel that judgment is coming. In chapter four, Yahweh rebukes Israel for their hypocrisy and wickedness despite all the curses he poured on them. No matter how strongly he treated them, they did not relent but were steadfast in their sin. Therefore, the time has come for them to meet their God (Amos 4:12). In chapter five, Yahweh laments Israel’s fate and calls once again for the people to seek him and live. He warns them that they should not desire the day of Yahweh since it is a day of darkness and not of light. He rejects their supposed worship as odious since they pervert justice even as they offer it. In chapter six, Yahweh pronounces woes upon those who prosper in Israel. They live in luxury rather than in lamentation for the evil in the land. Yahweh warns again that a nation is coming that will overcome them completely.

 Chapters 7-9: Yahweh's Judgement

In chapter seven, Amos has several visions depicting Yahweh’s power and judgment over Israel. Amos cries out several times for mercy, and Yahweh concedes somewhat. However, we read by the end that the Israelite king, Amaziah, has commanded Amos not to prophesy. Amos responds with a prophecy of doom against Amaziah and the people of Israel. In chapter eight, Yahweh describes the devastation he will bring upon Israel via visions to Amos, along with an explanation. Amos concludes in chapter nine with a promise that the people of Israel cannot hide where Yahweh will not find them. Yahweh promises to dash their confidence. However, Amos ends with a striking promise of flourishing and prosperity for the people that will never end.

Benefits of Amos

Amos follows a common pattern in God’s dealings with his people. The remarks on the people’s sin are stark and harsh. The promise of judgment is certain and devastating. And yet there is hope despite Yahweh’s clear condemnation of the people’s persistence. On a cursory reading of Amos, the part that might seem the most out of place is the end, where Yahweh promises restoration and flourishing for the people. How can God do this?

 And yet, this pattern in the Old Testament prepares us for what we learn about the gospel in the New Testament. The message goes out to the whole world that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). We all deserve condemnation for our sins (Eph. 2:1-3). But God has provided a way in himself that paves the way to be saved.

 As we read Amos, God’s hatred of sin and the destruction it causes are clear. As I read it, the people’s unfaithfulness strikes me. How can the people not see what they are doing? But on the heels of this thought follows a pang of conviction: am I really any different? I dare say I am not. Going our own way rather than Yahweh’s is all too simple and common. We can so easily frame our disobedience as necessary somehow. Yahweh’s repeated warnings to the people should not tell me that they are the most stubborn of all the peoples of the earth. As I consider my own heart, it seems more likely to be true that people are more stubborn than I had previously imagined.

As I reflect on Amos, perhaps we should follow a similar pattern to what we read in Amos itself. There is judgment that is necessary and good for sin. There is warning. There is conviction. There is a sense of desperation and lostness. What can be done? And yet, because of God and God alone, there is hope. For we who live today, surely no response to Amos is more fitting than the strong desire not to fit the profile of the people described within it. Yet the answer is not found in pulling ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps but in humbling ourselves before God and casting ourselves upon his mercy. May he have mercy on all of us.

On Amos and Living for God Through Christ