Many a sermon has been preached on Amos 6:1: ‘Woe to those who are at ease in Zion.’ It is a text that has many applications. When Amos used it, he was referring to the self-confidence of the rulers of Israel who imagined that their kingdom would not be defeated. He points out to them that the Assyrians had already destroyed kingdoms that were more powerful than Israel. Yet the rulers of Israel persisted in pretending that the Assyrians would not attack them, which was a foolish assumption. And along with failing to deal with this very real threat, they used their power to rule cruelly over their people. In addition to self-confidence, they practiced unrighteousness (vv. 1-3).
Amos also repeats his condemnation of those who spent the time in luxurious living. In verses 4-6, the prophet lists several features of their lifestyles and his description reads very like the hedonist lifestyles of today. In their luxury they forgot about those whose lives were not so privileged. Their selfishness removed sorrow from their hearts, that is, they had no sympathy for those in need. It is easy for us to spiritualise such verses and in doing so not to feel the impact they should have on our lifestyles. The fact is, God does notice what we use our assets for and what we spend our money on.
The ruling class who lived in luxury in Israel liked to be thought of as first. In God’s judgement they would have a priority they would not appreciate or enjoy – they would be the first to go into exile. When that happened, their life-long party would be over (v. 7).
In case they could not get the point and realize truly what the Lord thought of their lifestyles, Amos spells it out in verse 8 in very explicit language: the Lord abhorred the pride of Jacob and hated their strongholds (a description of their capital city of Samaria) and had sworn to deliver them up to the invading Assyrians (v. 8). We can imagine how unpopular his message would be, and perhaps we wonder in what frame of heart Amos delivered it. No doubt, he was filled with sorrow at what Israel had descended into.
When the invasion came, it would sweep all before it (vv. 9-10). Amos uses the illustration of a house in which residents have died. When someone comes to bury them, he will ask a survivor if there are any others. The survivor will say that there are none. One of them will then say that they cannot even mention the name of the Lord. How sad to find themselves in a situation in which they cannot even pray!
In verses 11-14, Amos repeats his message that, despite the self-confidence of the Israelite leaders, the expanding empire of Assyria will destroy the nation of Israel because of her sins. It may have been the case that the Assyrians were making plans at that moment to invade Israel. Whether they were or not, the plans were already made in heaven.
What is the message for us? To answer that question, we need to ask more. On what are we depending? Are we living in luxury (a relative question because it depends on who we are comparing ourselves to)? Are we indifferent to the poor or even supporting those who manipulate them? All such questions lead to another one: do we pay attention to all that God says in his Word?