Woe to Those at Ease in Zion!
Over and over again Amos has attempted to impress upon the Israelites of the northern Kingdom of Israel their dire condition if they do not repent of their sinfulness: YHWH was about to come in judgment, and the results would not be pretty (Amos 1:1-5:27). Israel was not listening; nevertheless, directed by God, Amos persisted.
Amos pronounced woe to those at ease in Zion and secure and comfortable in Samaria: they were trusting in their foreign policy measures, as if by such intrigues they could remain stable (Amos 6:1). They claimed a special status, yet Amos asked them to consider other neighboring kingdoms like Calneh (likely the same as Calno in Isaiah 10:9, referring to Kulniah in modern-day Syria), Hamath, and Gath of the Philistines, for in substance neither Israel nor Judah were really any better than they (Amos 6:2). At the time Amos spoke all of these places still stood; they all would be conquered by the Assyrians and be swept away. Israel’s pretenses to greatness would not save them.
Amos then indicted the Israelites (and likely the Judahites as well) for their ostentatious wealth and frivolity: they imagined the day of reckoning to be far off, and gained through violence (Amos 6:3). They wasted their time in leisure, living with fancy furniture, eating choice meats, making up songs and instruments, drinking wine, cleansing themselves with oil, and in all of this do not mourn the affliction which caused distress to the house of Joseph (Amos 6:4-6). The day would be coming in which their songs would end and they would be the first to be sent away into exile (Amos 6:7). Amos thus powerfully indicted the people for squandering great wealth and time in leisure without regard for their fellow Israelites and the distress which was about to overcome them all.
Amos’ judgments did not become more pleasant for Israel. YHWH has sworn by Himself (since there is none greater, Hebrews 6:13, and heightening the solemnity) how He hated the pride and strongholds of Jacob, and it would be delivered up (Amos 6:8). Amos then envisioned the result of the disaster: a household of ten men would have none left, and the relative who would come to bury the dead would ask if any were alive, and one in the innermost part of the house would answer no, and encourage silence, not speaking the name of YHWH for all the terror and dread which had come upon them (Amos 6:9-10). YHWH has commanded, and all the houses, great and small, would be razed (Amos 6:11).
Some translational confusion exists regarding Amos 6:12-14, whether certain words should be treated as place-names or translated into substantive words, but the point remains understandable regardless. Israel has presumed that it is able to maintain power by its own strength, or perhaps the Israelite army has proven successful and has gained victory in Lo-debar and Karnaim (Amos 6:13). To this end Amos asked if horses run on rocks, or if one plows rocks or the sea with oxen, which of course is ludicrous; and yet Israel has turned justice to gall and righteousness to wormwood, both forms of poison, and yet think their strength will save them (Amos 6:12). No: YHWH would lift up a nation (which would be Assyria), and Israel and Judah would be afflicted from its northern to southern extremes (Amos 6:14).
Amos’ chastisement of Israel and Judah in Amos 6:1-14 is consistent with the tenor of his message throughout and entirely appropriate to the situation in the latter days of Jeroboam (II) of Israel. At the time Israel was prosperous; at the time things seemed to be improving. At the time one could understand why Israel felt safe and secure. They ate, drank, sang, danced, and played, and gave no thought to the destruction coming upon them. It all seemed remote; prophets had been prophesying doom and gloom for years. Such all seemed plausible until it was no longer tenable, and devastation came far more suddenly than they could have imagined on their own. Within a generation the northern Kingdom of Israel would cease as a going concern; all the horrors Amos prophesied came to pass.
The Hebrews author spoke of Christians as having come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, in Christ (Hebrews 12:22). To this end Christians today do well to heed the warning of Amos and be aware of the danger of growing at ease in Zion. We are constantly barraged with marketing and messaging to encourage us to live enjoyable lives in leisure: our entertainment is full of those who maintain fancy furniture, eating choice foods, drinking, cavorting, and living in the moment, and give no thought to the prospect of an evil day to come, a day of reckoning and judgment. We are encouraged to consume greatly; do we give thought to the distress which may be coming upon the people of God or the land in which we live?
Jesus and Paul encouraged Christians to live in vigilance in Matthew 25:1-13, Romans 13:11-14, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 for good reason. Those going on to destruction distract themselves with intoxicating passions and desires of the flesh; those who pursue eternal life will remain sober, as in the day, always prepared for the return of the Lord Jesus.
Amos’ warnings remain prescient: the people of God are easily deceived into living for the moment and trusting in their own strength and ingenuity. They may have every reason to think that things will continue on as they always have. But then previously unimaginable disasters may come about, and nothing could ever be the same. Yet just as God warned Israel through Amos about what would come to pass, even though it was beyond their imagination, so in Christ we have been warned about what God will bring to pass in Jesus, even though it remains beyond the imagination of many. There is no time or room to be at ease in Zion; may we always be prepared for the return of the Lord Jesus, and share in the resurrection of life in Him!
Ethan R. Longhenry