Sermon preached on Amos 1:1-2 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 8/13/2017 in Novato, CA.
“Words of Amos”
We start a new book series today. We will be going through the minor prophet Amos. Why did I pick this book? Well, for starters, it’s good to have a well-rounded diet of different kinds of books in Scripture and we haven’t done a minor prophet in a while. As for Amos, as I reflect on the book’s message it reminds me a little of Marin County. Israel had grown affluent and prosperous at this time but sadly they had not been following the Lord. Their great sin had gotten to such a point that God’s hand of judgment was about to fall upon them. Yet, God didn’t just cast them off. He sent Amos to call them back to himself. Amos comes calling them to repent and return to the Lord and to the covenant they have with him. And so, as we expand our Scriptural diet with a minor prophet, I trust it will be edifying in general. But I also hope we can especially see some connections with the environment we live in and find various specific applications along the way. And of course, the best part of studying through this and any minor prophet, is we get to see the letter in light of the coming of Jesus Christ. That opens up many exciting applications for us and I look forward to helping us to see those along the way.
So let’s begin then in verse 1. Let me read it again. Verse 1, “The words of Amos, who was among the sheepbreeders of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” This gives us lots of introductory material about this book. First, we learn who the author is. It is a prophet named Amos. Verse 1 tells us that this book contains the words of this Amos, though as we’ll see these words are also God’s words. As a prophet, he will be a spokesman on God’s behalf. And yet though he is serving as a prophet in this book, we see here that he had an occupation before that. He was a sheepbreeder. Some translations simply say shepherd. This description has made people assume Amos was not part of the wealthy class, which has a certain relevance since Amos will speak against the way many wealthy people were living at that time. Yet, the word used here for shepherd is not the common word for shepherd. Arguably it can refer to one who owns herds of animals, someone who in fact might employ many shepherds. For example, in 2 Kings 3:4, a king of Moab is referenced there and also called a sheepherder with this same Hebrew word. That King of Moab is mentioned there as having a humongous herd of animals. Thus, there is an argument that Amos was actually quite wealth himself. Yet, as interesting as this would be if we could say in this kind of book if he was wealthy or poor, we just don’t have enough information to be dogmatic in that regard.
Another detail that we learn about Amos is that he was from a town called Tekoa. This was a smaller town a little south of Bethlehem. This is not a very commonly referenced town in the Bible, though you might remember a reference from when we studied through 2 Samuel. In 2 Samuel 14, Joab was trying to encourage King David to bring back his estranged son Absalom, and Joab employed a woman from Tekoa to tell a parable to David.
But I digress. The location of where Amos is from actually becomes more interesting when we recognize who was the recipient of Amos’ ministry. Verse 1 says that Amos’ prophetic ministry is “concerning Israel”. It says he “saw” things concerning Israel. When you see that word “saw” think a “seer”. A prophet “sees” certain things from the Lord about a certain people. This prophet was receiving revelation concerning Israel and he was delivering that to them. Let me connect the dots here for you. As we’ll recognize further in a moment, this is the time when God’s people had split into two nations. The northern kingdom was called Israel and the southern kingdom was called Judah. And so, since Amos was from Tekoa, that meant he was from the southern kingdom. And yet God has given him a ministry for the northern kingdom. God raised up a prophet from the southern kingdom of Judah to minister to the northern kingdom of Israel. In the midst of a nation split in two, God chooses a prophet from the other side to reach out to Israel. And so this is what we know of Amos. He calls this shepherd of some sort from just south of Bethlehem to go after these lost sheep of Israel.
I would like to say something further about the recipients of Amos’ ministry. Yes, initially and most immediately the recipients were that northern kingdom of Israel. And yet, if you look at verse 1, then you realize that the book was written down at a minimum two years after the fact, possibly many years after the fact. It mentioned that this was written two years before the earthquake. There was evidently some large earthquake in the area around that time. Zechariah 14:5 also references this earthquake and archeologists have also found evidence of it. And so for the book to say that this took place two years before the earthquake, means that the earthquake had already taken place. Thus, these events were written down at least two years after they happened, if not more. Why is that important? It means that they were written down for posterity. It means that the people of God realized that these words would be able to teach something to future generations. That means that though the initial recipient was the northern kingdom of Israel, other recipients at other times would now be able to benefit from these words as well. For example, after the northern kingdom of Israel would later be destroyed in 721 BC by the Assyrians. That northern kingdom didn’t ultimately heed the prophets call and were destroyed as God threatened. If you then live in the sourthern kingdom after the fact and are reading Amos, you should take it to heart. When you then get similar prophets coming to you and warning you to repent lest judgment falls upon you, you should remember Amos and how his words came true to Israel. So, then we see how Amos’ words still had a message to God’s people even after their original recipients were no longer around. So too, this book has been preserved by God for us. We now become the recipient of Amos’ words in these latter days. They have a message for us then too.
The last thing to notice in verse 1 is to observe the setting and time. We already have begun to do this. We already stated that it was during the time when God’s people had split into two kingdoms, north and south. But verse 1 gives us more specifics by situating his ministry during the time of two specific kings. In terms of the southern kingdom, Amos is serving during King Uzziah’s reign over Judah. King Uzziah was a descendant of David and thus the rightful king and heir over God’s people. This king is said in Scripture to have done what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Though, King Uzziah did have the one tarnish on his record where he tried to give an offering in the temple, even though he wasn’t a priest and God struck him with leprosy. Otherwise, Scripture paints King Uzziah positively. It is interesting too Uzziah is listed first even though Amos’ ministry was addressed to the northern kingdom. Maybe this was a subtle reminder that the ultimate king of God’s people is to come from this line of David in Judah.
The text then tells us that Amos ministered as well when the norther kingdom of Israel was ruled by Jeroboam, son of Joash. This Jeroboam is sometimes referred to as Jeroboam II to distinguish him from the first Jeroboam that reigned at the start of the northern kingdom. He was the 14th king of the northern kingdom, and six kings after King Ahab if that helps you situate it in your mind. This would have been around 775 BC. Sadly, like all the northern kings, this Jeroboam did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, per 2 Kings 14:24. Yet, what is interesting is that in 2 Kings 14 we see that this was nonetheless a time of great prosperity for the northern kingdom. For example, 2 Kings 14:25-26, speaking of this King Jeroboam, says this, “He restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher. For the LORD saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter; and whether bond or free, there was no helper for Israel.” It goes on to talk about how God used this Jeroboam to save Israel by his hand. That’s language reminiscent to how God raised up judges in the past as deliverers for the people.
And so, let me connect the dots here. As I said in the introduction, this was a time of great prosperity for Israel. They expanded their borders back to previous heights. Archeological evidence also confirms the Biblical account of this prosperity. Yet, despite the outward successes and military victories, their leadership was wicked. The king did evil in the sight of God. One of the examples of that wickedness was the northern kingdom of Israel had setup alternative locations to worship God. God’s people were supposed to go to Jerusalem where the temple was to offer sacrifices to God. But instead they setup idols at Bethel and Dan and told the people to worship the LORD there instead. This King Jeroboam continued this wicked practice, as one example of his sin. And so, this is the setting and context for Amos’ ministry to the northern kingdom of Israel.
So then, in verse 2 we come to the opening words of Amos. It’s a roar from the LORD! Verse 2, “The LORD roars from Zion, and utters His voice from Jerusalem; The pastures of the shepherds mourn, And the top of Carmel withers.” This is language that is meant to get your attention. And it also is language that declares judgment is coming. Amos begins as a covenant lawyer to declare that the covenant curses are at hand. The language of a roar here is how you would describe a lion’s roar, though it could also be used to describe the roar of a storm. Similarly, the language of God uttering his voice has also been used to describe thunder. So, likely that’s the imagery coming across here. The boom of God’s voice likened to thunder and lightning. Yet, in ironic fashion look at the result. Drying up and withering. When it mentions the pastures “mourning” that word for mourning has an alternative meaning of “drying up” which in context seems more likely what is meant by the Hebrew. God speaks like the thunder of a storm but the ironic result is a drought. Both the lowlands of the pastures and the heights of Mt. Carmel will find themselves withered and dried up. Remember that drought was one of God’s threatened covenant curses that would come upon the people if they broke the covenant. Interestingly, back in King Ahab’s day after three years of such a drought, there was still evidently a good deal of water way up on the heights of Mt. Carmel. Remember, that’s where the faceoff between Elijah and the prophets of Baal took place, and they poured lots of buckets of water on Elijah’s offering yet God still consumed it with fire from heaven. But this time Amos speaks of even high up Mt. Carmel withering at the voice of God’s judgment.
And so the prophecy begins here with words of alert from the prophet. The people need to remember the Lord and his covenant. And I appreciate that in verse 2 there is a location given as the source of God’s words. Yes, Amos had come from Tekoa. But these words of God come from Jerusalem. From Mt. Zion. This implies a rebuke. God’s word was not coming from Bethel or Dan in their counterfeit locations of worship. Yet, at the same time, I find encouragement here too. Though the northern kingdom had separated and started their own country, they were still God’s people. They were still part of the covenant. That’s why the God of the covenant who was headquartered essentially in Zion would still call out to them. God in his covenant love for them would still speak to them. The fact that he would still send them covenant lawyers aka prophets shows they were still part of the covenant. How then would they receive these words of the prophets? For those that reject the prophet these become words of prophetic judgment. But for those who would heed the prophet’s words, they become a loving warning. They become a fatherly chastening to a remnant that God would preserve even among this rebellious people.
In our last point for today I want us to begin to see Christ in all this. Yes, today’s message in verse 2 is a threat of judgment. There will be an awful lot of that in this book. So, from a big picture, how can we see Christ in Amos? I want to point out the big picture today and I want you to keep this in mind as we keep going through this book. Yes, the book is largely a book of judgment upon Israel. But look at the way the book ends. Turn to the last chapter, chapter 9. Starting at verse 11 is a promise that when all is said and done, God would save a remnant of his people. He would do that even by raising up a descendant of King David who would rebuild his fallen people. This descendant of David would regather the Israelites who had been exiled in punishment for their waywardness. God would plant them in the land and restore them. Well, in case it’s not obvious to you, that’s talking about Jesus. In fact, Acts 15:14-17 declares that this prophecy from Amos has now been fulfilled in Jesus.
Actually, Acts takes it a step further. See how Amos 9:12 references the Gentiles. In Acts, it says that this is a prophecy from the Old Testament of how God would bring in Gentiles into his new covenant through the Messiah. Do you see the point? As we study this book and see all the judgment mentioned, there is the hope in it all that God would yet preserve and save a remnant from his people. They would be brought to the Christ and be saved. But not only that, but even this book says that he will also then bring in some Gentiles to Christ and they too would be saved along with the remnant of Israelites. This has begun now with the coming of Jesus Christ. This continues now with the gospel proclamation to both Jew and Gentile today. That’s the silver lining in this book that has so much judgment in it. It’s the gospel hope and grace that is in the backdrop of this book. Keep that in mind as we study this book.
Yet we don’t have to go to the end of Amos to begin to see a glimpse of this hope here and now. It’s right here even in verses 1 and 2. God sends a shepherd from south of Bethlehem to call back wayward Israel to himself. If the message was only of a certain judgment, there’d be no need to send a prophet. God could just bring the judgment. But no, God sends a representative of his covenant to warn his wayward people. He warns them so that so that they have opportunity to hear and repent. That they might be reclaimed and saved. And that reminds us of another shepherd that could come out of the area of Bethlehem. That shepherd who is our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came as the good shepherd to call the lost sheep of Israel back to himself. And Jesus continues that call to the gentiles now as well. Jesus called sinners to repentance. But he also gave the gospel that there could be forgiveness of sins through a new covenant inaugurated in his blood. That old covenant was broken in disobedience. But Jesus came bearing the curses of sin so that all who put their faith in him would be saved and a part of this new covenant. That’s the shepherd-prophet we now have. He’s also the glorious king-priest that was promised so long ago. See Jesus in the text, even in the book of Amos. See yourself in the text, even in the book of Amos. Repent of your sins and believe in Jesus and be saved!
In conclusion, see the double natured aspect of God’s words. These words of Amos come both as a warning but also an encouragement. They warn us when we need to see the sin in our life and need to repent. They warn us of the ultimate outcome of those who persist in their rebellion against God. But they also encourage us. See the work of God as shepherd. He is the one who gathers up a remnant unto himself. If you are in Christ by faith, you are part of that remnant. Recognize how he acts as shepherd to gather you to himself. These words are part of his shepherding. Be shepherded by God’s words even as we study through the book of Amos. Be encouraged that we have such a concerned shepherd who makes the way for us to be saved. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.