A Famine of the Word of YHWH
YHWH had persistently encouraged Israel to repent of their idolatry, their oppression of the poor, and their faithlessness toward Him through Amos of Tekoa (Amos 1:1-8:3). Israel believed they were entering a new golden age; they were actually enjoying a last moment of glory before their end would come. YHWH would now bring to an end His word to Israel through Amos: imminent judgment for the rebellious, a famine of His Word, and yet hope for restoration in the future (Amos 8:4-9:15).
Judgment and disaster were again foretold for those who committed oppression and injustice in the land: those who swallow the needy, bring failure to the poor of the land, yearning for the new moon and Sabbath observances to end so as to be able to yet again use corrupt weights, cheating the poor, giving them stalks as opposed to the real wheat (Amos 8:4-6). Amos has indicted the wealthy for their oppression of the poor man times before (Amos 2:6-7, 4:1, 5:7-17); this time he seemed to focus on the merchant class and their exploitation of the disadvantaged through false weights and inferior foodstuff, abominations in the sight of YHWH (Leviticus 19:36, Deuteronomy 25:13-16). We should not imagine that anyone would really be so bold as to think or say such things, but the rhetorical force of the message remains compelling, for whatever the merchants intended, such was the functional result. YHWH would remember these works, and the land would tremble on account of them: Amos compares the land to the Euphrates River or the Nile in its flood and the “River of Egypt,” either the Nile, in which case the comparison is precisely parallel with the Euphrates or redundant, or the wadi on the border between Egypt and Philistia called the “River of Egypt,” which would flood during the rains and then fully dry out; the latter is likely in view, and well describes the tumult the land would experience (Amos 8:8). In apocalyptic language Amos described the day which would come: the sun would go down at noon, the land would be enveloped in darkness, and all Israel’s feasts would be turned into mourning (Amos 8:9-10). The merchants might not think much of their extortion and deceit, but YHWH took it very seriously, and would rise up in judgment against them.
Amos then warned about a famine which would come into the land: not a famine of food or drink, but a famine of the Word of YHWH (Amos 8:11). The people would travel across the land to hear the word of YHWH, but would not find it (Amos 8:12-13). Those who called upon the idolatrous golden calves would fall and never rise again (Amos 8:14). Israel had come to depend on the prophetic message of God to know what to do; they would find themselves like Saul, unable to hear from YHWH, and their doom would be sealed (cf. 1 Samuel 28:1-25).
Amos was then granted another vision: he saw the Lord beside the altar (ostensibly in Bethel; Amos 7:10ff), who commanded for its capitals to be struck so that its thresholds would shake, and the temple would fall on those within it, and none would escape (Amos 9:1). God would pull them up from Sheol and down from heaven; if they climb Carmel, the highest mountain, or go down into the depths of the sea, YHWH would find them and seize them: if they were taken captive, the sword would come for them, for YHWH’s eyes would be upon them for evil and not for good (Amos 9:2-4). Amos again spoke of YHWH causing the land to rise and fall as the (Nile? Euphrates?) River, and the River of Egypt; He has made the heavens and its chambers; He caused the waters of the ocean to rise and rain on the land; YHWH is His name (Amos 9:5-6). Tempest and judgment were coming; none would be spared.
Israel had prided itself on its election as the people of YHWH, Creator of heaven and earth. And yet YHWH asked them: are they not as the Cushites to Him? YHWH brought Israel out of Egypt; did He not also bring the Philistines out of Caphtor (= Greece), or the Arameans from Kir (Amos 9:7)? YHWH saw Israel as a sinful kingdom, and it would be judged; yet God would not make a full end of the house of Jacob (Amos 9:8). Truly Israel would be sifted like grain in a sieve among the nations, and all the sinful people who believed themselves safe and secure from disaster would die (Amos 9:9-10). Israel’s election did not justify their transgressions; all the nations were in YHWH’s hands, and He would not preserve the sinful and unjust.
And yet Amos extended a glimmer of hope for Israel; YHWH would not make a full end of Jacob. In that day, in a later time, YHWH would raise up the tent of David which would have fallen and would rebuild it to possess the remnant of Edom and those called by YHWH’s name (Amos 9:11-12). In the days of John Hyrcanus the Edomites would be compelled to serve the God of Israel and become as Israelites, although as Idumeans they would be seen as half-breeds by the Jews (cf. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 13.9.1). In the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, “Edom” is rendered “men” (edom vs. adam, with the same consonantal spelling); on this basis James the brother of the Lord understood how God had raised the House of David up again in Jesus, and called all the Gentiles to Him in Christ (Acts 15:13-19).
Amos’ prophecies ended on a hopeful note: YHWH would bring back Israel out of its captivity, and they would rebuild their cities, vineyards, orchards, and fields, enjoy prosperous harvests, and would remain planted in their land (Amos 9:13-15). This prosperity would prove elusive for Israel according to the flesh, but found abundantly in the spiritual riches with which God has blessed spiritual Israel in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
And so Amos proved faithful; he proclaimed the message of YHWH to Israel. History would abundantly vindicate Amos: within a generation the Kingdom of Israel would be decimated, and then fully destroyed, by the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:27-31, 17:1-23). Its people would be dead or exiled; few would ever return. YHWH is a God faithful to His covenant, both in terms of its blessings, but also in upholding the consequences of persistent rebellion. Yes, God has now raised up the tent of David again in Jesus of Nazareth, who reigns for the rest of the age as the Risen Lord (Acts 2:36); God is faithful to His covenant in Christ, and will redeem those who trust in Jesus, but wrath is stored up for those who do not know Him or obey His Gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). May we soberly consider the example of Israel in the days of Amos, and not fall by the same pattern of disobedience, but in humility seek justice and righteousness in the ways of Jesus of Nazareth and obtain the resurrection of life!
Ethan R. Longhenry