Fallen Virgin Israel
God commissioned Amos to pronounce words of indictment and judgment against the northern Kingdom of Israel for all the transgressions of idolatry and injustice perpetrated in the land, warning them to repent or experience the mighty day of YHWH at the hands of the Assyrians (Amos 1:1-4:13). Amos persisted with this message in Amos 5:1-27.
Amos took up a lamentation over Israel: virgin Israel has fallen and will not rise again (Amos 5:1-2). Amos then envisioned a horrific future for Israel: reverse decimation, with only a tenth of the population remaining (Amos 5:3). We cannot begin to imagine that kind of death and destruction!
Such a terrible fate for Israel was not inevitable: they could seek YHWH and live, but they could not do so through visiting Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba (Amos 5:4-5). These were places where altars had been built and idols fashioned in the name of YHWH, and they represent the religious centers for Israel at the time (1 Kings 12:25-33, Hosea 4:15, Amos 4:4). These places would be devastated; YHWH was not pleased with the offerings and religious service made in them. YHWH would not be found in them; if they did not seek Him, He would cause them to be devoured (Amos 5:6).
Amos indicted the Israelites for their oppression: they turned justice into wormwood, a kind of poison, and brought righteousness down to earth (and this is not a good thing; it has been degraded; Amos 5:7). They ought to seek YHWH who made the stars in the sky and caused day and night to come in their cycles, and who would bring down the mighty suddenly, without notice (Amos 5:8-9).
Amos set forth the ground of YHWH’s judgment: the Israelites despised those who would speak righteousness, have trampled the poor, and extracted resources from others unjustly (Amos 5:10-11). From their profit they have built nice houses, yet they would not live in them; they planted exquisite vineyards, yet they would not enjoy them (Amos 5:11). Israel’s sins were abundant in oppressing the poor man; wise and discerning people knew it was a time to remain quiet, for it was an evil time (Amos 5:12-13). Despite all of this, if Israel would turn and seek God, hate evil, love good, and do what is right, YHWH would preserve the remnant of Israel (Amos 5:14-15). And yet, sadly, it would not be: great mourning and lamentation would be heard in the land after YHWH had passed through it (Amos 5:16-17).
Some in Israel apparently sought the Day of YHWH, thinking of it as some great thing for them; Amos worked diligently to disabuse Israel of the notion: the Day of YHWH is darkness and not light (Amos 5:18). The Day of YHWH is compared to a man fleeing from a lion but coming upon a bear, fleeing into his house only to be bit by a snake: it is a day of inescapable tragedy; darkness, not light (Amos 5:19-20). You do not want to have to endure a day of YHWH; it is unspeakably horrific.
Amos would again stun his audience: YHWH hated their feasts and assemblies; He would not accept their sacrifices and offerings; He did not want to hear the sounds of their instruments anymore (Amos 5:21-23). Amos was not condemning the idea of feasts, assemblies, and instruments in the service in the Temple; the problem was the people’s hypocritical service, willing to go through religious rituals but not embodying YHWH’s primary purposes in the Law. For this reason Amos then encouraged Israel to have justice roll down as water and righteousness like a mighty stream (Amos 5:24): a justly famous verse, in context emphasizing YHWH’s concern for living justly and righteously. Amos then asked if Israel brought offerings during their days in the Wilderness (Amos 5:25). Israel would take their statues of the idols they had made, Sikkuth and Kiyyun, and God would exile them beyond Damascus (Amos 5:26-27). Amos’ question in Amos 5:25 was rhetorical, seeming to be no, and yet there are examples of offerings given in Leviticus and Numbers. Perhaps the offerings made were daily offerings made by Levites but not brought by the people, which is Amos’ point. Disputes exist regarding Amos 5:26, since Sikkuth and Kiyyun are not otherwise attested: regardless, Amos condemned the idolatry of the people and pronounced YHWH’s condemnation of them and exile to Assyria.
By this point many might think Amos is a broken record, saying the same thing in various ways. Amos’ message remains consistent throughout; such is the nature of the work of the prophets. Yet Amos’ messages in Amos 5:1-27 have resonated from then until now. People, now as then, look for what seems to be the easiest way to placate the gnawing guilt they feel regarding their spiritual lives. It is easier to keep one’s vision down and go through rote exercises and rituals than it is to look up and pursue the God of righteousness and justice. We understand the idea of an evil time in which it seems better to stay quiet than to raise up one’s voice and be denounced and despised. Many have been greatly inspired by the call to have justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream, but who proves as willing to leave their comfort zone to practice such pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27)?
Israel thought all was well; in truth, it was an evil time. Judgment was coming, and virgin Israel would fall, be devastated, and would never rise again. God sees iniquity, immorality, injustice, and oppression. He will judge, and it will not be pleasant. The Day of YHWH will come against all unrighteousness, and God’s wrath will be satisfied. This is not a fate or a day anyone should want to see. May we all repent, seek God, uphold justice and righteousness, and obtain the resurrection in Christ Jesus!
Ethan R. Longhenry