The demise of Israel is drawing near as Amos reveals what the Lord said to him in the vision of the basket of summer fruit, a picture that the summer is about to come to an end.
We may ask ourselves why such a large number of scripture passages are taken up with describing the downfall of Israel, not only in the Book of Amos, but also in others of the Minor Prophets. In addition, other books focus on the later downfall of Judah. Here are two possible reasons.
First, the large number of passages reveals the horrendous nature of the sins of God’s people. They had been selected by God to be his people and he had rescued them from bondage in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land, a land where they would know his blessing and worship him according to his will. Instead of doing so, they had rebelled again and again against him and eventually he sent them into exile for their sins. The fact that the Lord tells us these details repeatedly informs us that sin is a real danger to our spiritual prospects if we tolerate it and practice it.
Second, the severity of the punishment – exile – reminds us of the material with which God began his work of restoration. We might imagine that the punishment was so severe that no recovery was possible. Yet recovery did come, and while the restoration mainly involved the people of Judah there were also descendants from the former northern kingdom of Israel who came back with them. Times of divine judgement are obviously serious times, but they are not always times for despair. Instead they can be signs of better days ahead.
In this chapter, the Lord once again highlights the sins of his people. In verses 4 and 5, he focuses (a) on the sin of manipulating the cost of food so that the poor could not afford to buy any and (b) despising the Sabbath day because it prevented them from making more profit. They may not have thought too much about their behaviour, but the Lord assessed it as serious enough for them to be sent into exile. And after all, it is his assessment that really matters.
So despite their religious practices, they would be punished. One aspect of their punishment is detailed in verses 11 and 12 – a famine of the Word of God. The Lord would remove it, which meant that whatever they tried they would not be able to find it. And they would discover that their idols had no ability to help them (vv. 13-14).
Sometimes, we are reminded of our society’s abandonment of God’s Word and its standards. Perhaps the reality is that God has withdrawn it because it was being ignored or manipulated to suit people’s own purposes. And when God does this, we are in real trouble, and is that not where we are today?