Our reading today is the judgment against Israel spoken by Amos the prophet (chapters 3-6). There are three indictments, each beginning with “Hear this word” (3:1, 4:1, 5:1), and then there are three “woes” pronounced (5:18, 6:1, 6:4). First, God speaks against the whole nation – the “whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt” (3:1). God is again reminding them why they have anything at all (see 2:10). Because they were chosen by God, their punishment is well deserved (v. 2). In verses 3-8, God uses a series of rhetorical questions, all of which have the obvious answer of “no.” The point is from verses 6b-8. God declares disaster through His prophets, and it will come to pass. This is what He is doing to Israel.
God then proclaims Israel’s wickedness as if to the whole world, in particular, Israel’s greatest historical enemies: Egypt and the Philistines (v. 9). In other words, because Israel was chosen, their sin is greater than those who have always been enemies of God! So God pronounces judgment: another enemy will be raised up to overthrow Israel (v. 11 – it will be Assyria). But what love and grace God shows in verse 12! He will preserve a remnant. This is one of the most amazing images in all of Scripture. God likens Himself to a shepherd who loses a sheep to a lion, but wrestles with the lion to rescue two of the sheep’s legs, or even a piece of its ear! This is the heart of a shepherd, and this is the heart of God.
But God will punish Israel for her sins. The altars of Bethel (where Jeroboam built the High Place and placed one of the Golden Calves – see 1 Kings 12:29) will be thrown down. And Israel’s ignorant and lavish living will come to an end (v. 15). All of the worldly treasures will be destroyed because the hearts of Israel were there.
Chapter 4 begins with an indictment of the “cows of Bashan” (4:1). This is a derogatory way to call them enemies of God (see Ps 22:12). God is telling them they work for the powers of darkness. Bashan, remember, is where Caesarea Philippi is in the New Testament, at the very gates of hell, where Christ declared war on the powers of darkness (see Matthew 16). The people of Israel were more concerned with worshiping false gods (demons) and lavish living than they were with justice. Therefore, God will send them into exile (vv. 2-3). Note that they will be cast into (more likely) Hermon. The mountain in Bashan where Ancient Near East writings claim the fallen angels descended from to fulfill their lusts (see Gen 6:1-4).
God then (sarcastically) calls them to come to Bethel and worship as they had been (vv. 4-5). God tells them, He tried to chasten them through famine (v. 6 – see 2 Kings 6:25) and through the holding back of the rain (vv. 7-8 – see 1 Kings 17:1). God did these things to call Israel back to Him. But they would not repent. God punished them with plagues like those in Egypt (v. 10), which was part of the curse for disobedience (see Deut 28:60). He chastened them like He punished Sodom and Gomorrah, but they would not repent (v. 11 – see a similar judgment pronounced by Christ against Israel in Matt 11:23-24). So Israel is about to “meet their maker,” as it were (v. 12-13). They would know God as judge.
Chapter 5 is another indictment against all of Israel in the form of lamentation (5:1). Israel is forsaken (v. 2). God will strike the overwhelming majority of them (v. 3). Yet, God through Amos calls Israel to repentance (vv. 4-6) by abandoning their idols and doing justice (v. 7-15). Yet God knows He will have to punish them (vv. 16-17).
Verse 18 is the first woe pronounced. Woe to Israel for desiring the day of the Lord. Verses 18-20 points to Israel’s grave misunderstanding of God and His salvation. They believed that since they were the physical offspring of Israel, that “the day of the Lord” (final judgment) would be good for them (see Matt 3:9). But what they considered light is actually darkness for them. They think they’re safe from the lion, only to be killed by the bear. They are safe at home, and are bitten by a snake.
Why will the day of the Lord be judgment for Israel? Because they embraced outward, mechanical religion, and not true religion (vv. 21-23). True religion is doing justice (v. 24). God points them back to the wilderness wanderings and asks if sacrifices and offerings were the point of His salvation (v. 25). Clearly, based on the disobedience of that generation, it was not. So because Israel worships false gods (Sikkuth and Kiyyun were Babylonian deities), they will go into exile (vv. 26-27).
Chapter 6 begins with the second woe. God pronounces woe on Israel for feeling comfortable in the land (that God gave them! – 6:1). In verses 2-3, it is believed that these cites were already under Assyrian control (which would explain why Gath, the fifth capitol city of the Philistines, is absent in 1:6-8). God is saying to Israel: it happened to them, it can happen to you.
Verse 4 begins the third woe. God pronounces woe on those living lavishly in Israel (vv. 4-6). They will be the first people punished (v. 7)! In verse 8, God swears by Himself (see Heb 6:13) that He will humble Israel because He hates her pride. There will be no escape from judgment (v. 9), and they will know God will not answer their prayers for mercy (v. 10). God will destroy Israel (v. 11) for their lack of justice (v. 12). They rejoice in “Lo-debar” (v. 13), literally, “nothing.” What they value is worthless. They believe they are too powerful to fall. God will prove them wrong (v. 14).