The theme of Amos is the universal justice of God. The Israelites clearly expected a “day of the Lord” when all their enemies would be judged (Amos 1:2–2:5). What they were not prepared for was that the judgment of that day would fall on them as well (Amos 2:6–9:10). Far from enjoying favored status, they would be held more accountable than their neighbors.
- The Lord (Yahweh) is the Creator of the universe; therefore his ethical norms are universal, and all people are subject to judgment in light of them.
- Justice and righteousness in the treatment of other people are the key evidences of a right relationship to the Lord.
- Religious ritual in the absence of just and righteous treatment of others is disgusting to God.
- Israel’s covenant with the Lord did not guarantee special protection for them when they broke the covenant. Rather, it meant that they would be held to a higher standard of obedience and would be subject to more scrutiny in judgment.
- Thus, the “day of the Lord” would not be a time of miraculous deliverance for unrepentant Israel. Rather, it would be a time of terrible destruction.
- Yet a faithful remnant would be preserved and would someday see a day of glorious restoration and blessing.
From c. 780–745 B.C. the Assyrian Empire was unable to continue the pressure it had put on the nations of the Canaanite coast during the previous century. At this same time, both Judah and Israel were blessed with fairly stable governments. As a result of these two factors, the two nations were experiencing a time of wealth and prosperity unparalleled since the day of Solomon. This was especially true for the northern kingdom, Israel. Judah tended to be more isolated from the world at large and possessed less arable land than did Israel. Thus, when opportunities for amassing wealth and the trappings of prosperity presented themselves, Israel was in a better position to capitalize on those opportunities.
As has tended to be true throughout history, the Israelites took this wealth and prosperity to be unmistakable signs of the blessing of God. Thus, they were reinforced in their belief that “the day of the Lord” would soon dawn in which God would subdue their enemies under their feet and make them the rulers of the world. But in fact, their present wealth and power was not evidence of the blessing of God. As Amos conclusively showed, they were actually under the curse of God because of their egregious breaches of their covenant with him. Much of their wealth had been amassed at the expense of the poor, whom the rich and powerful were systematically oppressing. Their worship of God was little more than attempts at magical manipulation of him, much like the religion of their pagan neighbors. It is no accident that Amos delivered his messages at Bethel, where Jeroboam’s namesake (Jeroboam I) had set up a golden calf for Israel to worship in 930 B.C. at the very outset of the northern kingdom.
Thus, what the Israelites saw as the beginning of a new “Golden Age” was really the last flush of a terminal illness. And it was Amos’s unhappy task to disabuse them of their foolish expectations. Not only was Israel not going to become ruler of the world, within just a few years they would not exist as a nation at all, and would continue to exist as a people only by the unmerited grace of God (Amos 9:11–15). “The day of the Lord,” far from being a day of light, was going to be a day of darkness.
As it turned out, Amos was profoundly correct. Though no human could have predicted it, God knew that Assyria was not entering its final decline but was only “catching its breath” before its explosion into its final century of greatness. In 745 B.C. Tiglath-pileser III would ascend the throne of Assyria, and hardly more than 20 years later, in 722, the northern kingdom of Israel would cease to exist.
History of Salvation Summary
God “knew” Israel (Amos 3:2) out of “all the families of the earth,” and instituted it to be a place where righteousness and justice, in both the private and public spheres, would be on display for all mankind. The northern kingdom of Israel had rejected that calling and abused that privilege, and so God would punish them all the more severely for their unfaithfulness. And yet even this terrible judgment did not eclipse all hope: there would still come an heir of David, in whom alone Israel and Judah, and indeed all the world, would find peace and blessing.
Taken from the ESV® Study Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2008 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For more information on how to cite this material, see permissions information here.