Amos was a shepherd of Tekoa (in Judah, slightly south of Bethlehem) who was called to prophesy primarily to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He lived about 800 years before Jesus, during the reigns of Uzziah (in Jerusalem) and Jeroboam the second (in Damascus), during a time of comparative prosperity when both Israel and Judah were “gorging” themselves on evil deeds. His sharp words of warning and impending judgement were not welcomed in Israel.
Eight times in chapters one and two Amos declares that “for three transgressions…yea for four…,”God would defer judgement against Israel, Judah, or one of six neighboring heathen nations. This expression should not be read as a declaration of God’s patience with sinners, but as a combining of the two numbers (3+4=7), signifying the filling up of His righteous wrath! In other words, with the number seven representing the concept of completeness (or totality), Amos was warning Israel (as well as his own people in Judah) that they are in the same spiritual condition as their heathen neighbors! God is declaring that it is time for them to face Him in judgement for the sins of their nations.
Note in chapter 1:13 that one of the charges made against the Ammonites involved the murder of preborn babies: Despite the modern idea that an “unwanted pregnancy” can be terminated with no consequences, this verse shows us that God values the life of the unborn just as He does the life of those outside the womb.
Chapter 3:3 presents a thought so profoundly simple that many people miss its implications entirely; “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” In the context, Amos is pointing out that the northern kingdom of Israel really had no claim left to any of God’s blessings because of their consistent refusal to walk in His ways! They re-fused to go the same direction as the Lord, and the result of their willfulness (in verse 11) was that God allowed them to be conquered and plundered by an adversary (the Assyrian Empire, in 721 B.C.) instead of protecting them. Verse 10 echoes the later words of Hosea (Hosea 4:6), in attributing their downfall to their own ignorance of God and His will. The warning of chapter 4:12 comes after God has done everything He can to draw them back from destruction; because they would not repent, now they must prepare to meet Him in judgement. Likewise, God shows us these lessons in order that we might avoid the mistakes and errors they made (Romans 15:4), but if we also refuse to repent, we shall stand condemned with them in the last day.
Amos presents a timeless prescription for spiritual preservation in chapter 5:14-15, when he challenges Israel to prefer good over evil and to uphold genuine justice in place of mere advantage. As we struggle to be children of God in a world which worships the devil’s values, we need to remind ourselves over and over that God has always challenged His people to “swim up-stream” in the world, to walk in the light of His word rather than the darkness of human “wisdom.”
The Lord’s words in chapter 5:21-23 may be the most cogent statement in all the bible with respect those who substitute their own worship desires for the Lord’s simple commands. Many appeal to the fact that “the bible doesn’t say not to________” but entirely miss the point that God has told us what pleases Him. (We could fill in this blank with any“worship activity” not mentioned in the scriptures –quarterly or annual communion observance; including a piano/organ/orchestra in our song service; adding “interpretive” or “liturgical” dance as worship, etc.). What did God say about worship that springs from self-centered desires? “I hate, I despise…I will not accept…I will not look upon…I will not listen.”
Amos 8:11-12 foretells one of the saddest situations that can exist in human experience: A desire to know God when He is no longer willing to be known by us. In the context, those seeking Him would not find Him because they were not looking where He said they could find Him.