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Amos: Missionary to Israel

Amos was a missionary from Judah to Israel, giving them a final warning to repent before divine judgment was to destroy the nation. They refused, and two years later the nation was struck by a massive earthquake that destroyed their defenses and allowed the Assyrians to conquer them easily.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 17

A Funeral Dirge for Israel

Foreseeing the death of the nation, Amos 5:1, 2 says,

1 Hear this word which I take up for you as a dirge, O house of Israel. 2 She has fallen, she will not rise again—the virgin Israel. She lies neglected on her land; there is none to raise her up.

This funeral dirge (qinah) is a song of lamentation. Ferrar Fenton renders it as a 2-line lament in this way:

Listen to this message that I bring to you—

The Lament for the House of Israel

Israel’s daughter has fallen and cannot arise!

She lies stretched on the ground without help!

Such laments or dirges were meant to be chanted or sung at a funeral. The prophet thus foresees the inevitable fall of Israel. Israel will then be as a dead woman who is unable to do anything for herself. She “has fallen and cannot arise.”

This is not a permanent condition, of course. Ezekiel’s vision of Israel in the valley of dry bones shows clearly that God has the ability to raise Israel from the dead, and He retains the right to do so. When God asked the prophet, “Can these bones live?” the prophet responded, “O Lord God, Thou knowest” (Ezekiel 37:3).

Men may be unsure, but God knows.

Israel’s Promise

Again, keep in mind that both Amos and Ezekiel were prophesying about “the house of Israel,” not the house of Judah. The so-called “lost tribes” were the house of Israel. Amos was a missionary to Israel from Judah.

Hence, Israel did not return to the old land to re-form a new nation. Their fate was different from that of Judah, which went to Babylon and then returned after 70 years. When teachers confuse Israel with Judah, they tend to misapply Amos’ prophecies to the remnant of Judah (Jews), instead of to Israel. Even more confusing, they often think that the Jews are Israelites, causing them to think that the modern Jewish nation of “Israel” fulfilled these prophecies in 1948. Nothing can be farther from the truth. “Israel” is a Jewish state, not the reestablishment of the ancient house of Israel.

First of all, the Israelites were deported to Assyria, where they were known in the Assyrian records as Gamira, or Ghomri, Gomer, or Khumri. (See the Black Obelisk of Shalmanezer.) The Persians called them Sakka. (See the Behistun Rock, where they are listed among the nations ruled by Darius the Great.)

While in captivity, the Israelites became known by other names, and so in time they ceased to call themselves by the name Israel. But in no way was this a hindrance to God in fulfilling His word.

National Resurrection

Even so, the promise of resurrection from the dead does not mean that they were to be raised in the same bodies which had died earlier. Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:44, “it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” There is an inherent change that takes place in this national and personal resurrection.

Paul says further in 1 Cor. 15:43 that “it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.” When applied nationally, we see that Israel was “sown in dishonor,” being in a state of legal dishonor insofar as the divine court viewed her. But to be “raised in glory” requires a relationship with Jesus Christ through the New Covenant promise of God.

Hence, it is clear that not all are “raised in glory” at the same time. In fact, the majority are raised in dishonor at the Great White Throne judgment. It is only after every knee bows and every tongue confesses Jesus as Lord that they become eligible for glory. But John tells us in Rev. 20 that they will have to experience the fire of God (“lake of fire”) for a season before all of creation is set free into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).

The New Testament makes it clear that genealogy does not qualify anyone for a resurrection to immortal life. One must qualify by becoming a son of God, first by being begotten by the Holy Spirit, then by growing spiritually during “pregnancy” to a place of maturity, and finally by being fully birthed as manifested sons of God.

The bottom line is that true Israelites are not just those who have a genealogical link to the man called Jacob. Jacob was his earthly name, and so his descendants are actually Jacobites. One can only become an Israelite in the highest sense by following Jacob’s example. He became an Israelite when he was much older after the angelic revelation of God’s sovereignty. He was not born an Israelite. So it is also with us.

Jacob was a believer all of his life; but he received the name Israel only after becoming an overcomer.

Therefore, the promise given to Israel through Amos and other prophets is fulfilled in a very specific manner that is outlined in the New Testament. This shows that the nation that was formerly called Israel is not the Israel that will be raised from the dead. A fundamental change takes place from “natural” to “spiritual,” not only with individuals but also with the nation as a collective body.

For this reason too, the modern state of “Israel” is not the fulfillment of the prophecies of national resurrection. That nation is carnal, and it still rejects Jesus as the Christ. It claims to be “chosen” as a matter of racial status, which, at best, is the equivalent of Jacob claiming to be an Israelite without the revelation of the nature of God.

The fulfillment of prophecy has already begun in us as individuals, but it is by no means complete until the overcomers are fully like Jesus in His post-resurrection body. When we are given the linen (spiritual) garments, allowing us to move freely between heaven and earth, then it can be said that we have received our birthright as God has promised.

The Remnant of Israel

Amos 5:3 says,

3 For thus says the Lord God, “The city which goes forth a thousand strong will have a hundred left, and the one which goes forth a hundred strong will have ten left to the house of Israel.”

This is God’s interpretation of the funeral dirge that is given in the previous verses. God speaks of a remnant, using the metaphor of survivors of a battle. The resurrection will include only a remnant, not the entire nation.

When we study the first resurrection in Rev. 20:4-6, we understand that this is a very limited resurrection that includes only the overcomers. The Old Testament prophets called them “the remnant.”

For example, a remnant of Judah returned after the Babylonian captivity to rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 2:64). As for Israel, Isaiah prophesied that “a remnant will return” (Isaiah 10:21). The prophet even named one of his sons She’ar-jashub, “the remnant will return” (Isaiah 7:3). This is one of Isaiah’s main themes in his book. It is consistent with Amos 5:3, although Amos does not give us any significant details. What Amos acknowledges, Isaiah explains in greater detail.

How and Where to Seek God

Amos 5:4-7 continues,

4 For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel, “Seek Me that you may live. 5 But do not resort to Bethel, and do not come to Gilgal, nor cross over to Beersheba; for Gilgal will certainly go into captivity, and Bethel will come to trouble. 6 Seek the Lord that you may live, lest He break forth like a fire, O house of Joseph, and it consume with none to quench it for Bethel, 7 for those who turn justice into wormwood and cast righteousness down to the earth.”

God’s message to the people was to abandon the holy places of worship, which had been corrupted and were full of idolatry. Holiness is not in a shrine, nor is the ground perpetually holy on account of its founders. Bethel was made holy by Jacob-Israel, Gilgal by Samuel, and Beersheba by Abraham. These became unholy in later years.

When men desecrate once-holy places, God moves on and gives no further thought or credence to the old places. If the people go to holy places to seek God from unholy priests who teach lawlessness and practice idolatry, it is not likely that they will find God there.

Men need to understand that seeking God is not about going to some shrine (or church/altar), where He supposedly hears men’s prayers. It is about seeking God personally. Amos says, “Seek the Lord that you may live.” He does not tell them to seek the Lord in a shrine at a certain holy place that is built upon holy ground.

The Fire of God

Divine judgment is pictured as a fire, because God appeared to Israel only in the likeness of fire (Deut. 4:36). God is a consuming fire that leaves no trace of anything that is not of God.

It is interesting that the warning says, “lest He break forth like a fire, O house of Joseph.” Here Israel is called the “house of Joseph,” the ruling house of Israel. Joseph was the birthright holder (1 Chron. 5:1, 2). More specifically, in Gen. 48:20 the fruitfulness mandate of the birthright was given to Ephraim, the “double portion of fruit.”

God calls Israel “the house of Joseph” to show that the fire of divine judgment was going to affect the tribe that held the birthright. Ephraim was not exempt from judgment when they failed to render to God the required fruit—that is, the sons of God.

Bethel, which had rejected the word of the Lord preached to them through Amos (7:12, 13), stood on the boundary between Ephraim and Benjamin. It seems that God held the tribe of Ephraim most accountable for this rejection.

The divine fire consumes “those who turn justice into wormwood.” The Hebrew word translated “wormwood” is lahanaw, which is actually opium. (See my book, The Laws of Wormwood and Dung.) Jer. 9:15 equates it with mayim rosh, “poppy juice,” which was opium.

Opium (mistranslated “wormwood”) was a metaphor for the lawlessness of Sodom (Deut. 32:32). Just as opium masked pain but did not cure the underlying problem, so also did the idolatrous priests of Bethel give words of comfort to mask the pain of sin and its results without resolving the underlying problem of sin.

Hence, the priests of Bethel “turn justice into opium.” Their so-called justice does not satisfy the terms of biblical justice. In biblical law justice is not satisfied until all victims have been recompensed for their losses and the sinners have found full forgiveness. But judicial opium leaves the victims holding losses, and it leaves the sinners with a permanent record of sin, never truly being forgiven.

Opium does not solve the problem nor heal the disease.

The Creator of Constellations

Amos 5:8, 9 says,

8 He who made the Pleiades and Orion and changes deep darkness into morning, who also darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord [Yahweh] is His name. 9 It is He who flashes forth with destruction upon the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress.

Here Amos tells us that Yahweh is the Creator. Both the Pleiades and Orion are part of Taurus, the constellation that prophesies of Christ’s coming in judgment.

The Pleiades (Heb., Kiymah, “cluster, heap”) is a cluster of seven main stars called The Seven Sisters. They sit on the back of Taurus, the bull. Orion is Kesil in Hebrew, “a strong one.” God created all of the stars and constellations and then named them prophetically. Psalm 147:4 says,

4 He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them.

Hence, the names did not arise out of the imagination of pagans but were revealed to inspired men by the Creator Himself, so that they would understand the outline of Kingdom history and the Messiah’s earthly and heavenly natures, His two comings, and even the distinction between the church and the overcomers.

Amos mentions the Pleiades and Orion, because the Pleiades represents the congregation, or church, and Orion prophesies of Christ, who is strong enough to deliver her. A bright star of the Pleiades is Al Cyone, “The Center,” and its Hebrew name is Succoth, “Booths, Tabernacles.” This star was considered to be the center of the universe, therefore the throne of God in the midst of the seven churches. This is also like the center lamp on the lampstand in the temple.

Orion (Heb., Kesil) is pictured as a mighty hunter with a giant club raised in his right hand in the act of striking. His left foot crushes the head of the enemy. Bright stars in the constellation of Orion are:

1. Betelgeuz, “the coming of the Branch” (Mal. 3:2)
2. Rigel, “the foot of him that crushes” (Gen. 3:15)
3. Bellatrix, “swiftly destroying” (1 Thess. 5:2, 3)
4. Al Nitak, “the wounded one” (Isaiah 53:5)

Christ is here pictured as One who had been wounded (at the cross), but now comes swiftly in judgment, to crush the serpent’s head under His foot. Amos 5:9 says that He comes “with destruction upon the strong.” Christ is stronger than the strong, having the power to overcome all opposition.

Amos warns Israel that Yahweh will come swiftly to execute judgment upon the nation and upon its religious high places, appealing to the prophecy written in the stars of heaven. In those days everyone knew the names of the constellations and the most prominent stars. Even illiterate people understood their meaning, because the stories and prophecies were written pictorially.

An Evil Time

Amos 5:10 says,

10 They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks with integrity.

The people in Amos’ day believed that they had the right to sin. They did not feel bound to their covenant with God, by which God had formed them into a nation. Any judge (i.e., “in the gate” where the courts were located) who reproved them or who had integrity was hated and abhorred.

It is the same today. Not much has changed, for at the time of this writing we too live in an evil time.

One of the terms of the covenant that God made with Israel is found in Deut. 16:18-20, which says,

18 You shall appoint for yourselves judges and officers in all your towns … and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

Amos 5:11 continues,

11 Therefore, because you impose heavy rent [bashas, “tread down, trample”] on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them, though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, yet you will not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine.

Treading upon the poor involves much more than making them pay “heavy rent.” The most important issue in the law was prohibiting interest on money. Exodus 22:25 says,

25 If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.

Oppression usually implied charging interest on loans.

God’s treatment of the poor is seen in the biblical welfare system, a system that does not violate principles of justice. The modern welfare system robs from those who own property or who have earned money in order to give it to those who are poor or needy. God’s law forbids such a (forced) practice, saying in Lev. 19:15,

15 You shall do no injustice in the judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.

The authority and responsibility to help the poor was not given to judges or government officials but to the people themselves. So Deut.15:7-10 says,

7 If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks… 10 You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.

When the people themselves fail to do this, it is easy for corrupt politicians to give this responsibility to government agencies. Not only is this costly, due to the number of people who must be hired to do the work, but (as we see today) it soon becomes overrun with fraud and theft.

It is clear, then, that when Amos rebuked Israel for trampling upon the poor, he was not referring to government welfare laws or policies. He was rebuking all of the people, especially those who lived in upper-class “houses of well-hewn stone.”

The judgment of God is that soon they would no longer live in their own houses, nor drink the wine from their own vineyards. This comes from the Law of Tribulation in Deut. 28:30, “you shall build a house, but you shall not live in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not use its fruit.” Instead, others were to lay claim to their property.

Verse 33 goes on to tell us,

33 A people whom you do not know shall eat up the produce of your ground and all your labors, and you shall never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually.

Amos concludes by saying in Amos 5:12, 13,

12 For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes, and turn aside the poor in the gate. 13 Therefore, at such a time the prudent person keeps silent, for it is an evil time.

In the days of Moses, he warned Israel that if they violated the law continually, and if they refused to repent, God reserved the right to bring judgment upon the nation. Israel agreed to these terms, saying, “Amen” (Deut. 27:26).

By the time of Amos, Israel had persisted in violating the terms of the covenant for many centuries, interrupted by a few short-lived revivals and sporadic repentance. The history of Israel was largely a history of an ungodly, rebellious people heading toward disaster of their own making.

The deceptive call to lawlessness was too great, the lure of immorality (“sexual freedom”) was too irresistible, and the revelation of the law was forgotten.

It was “an evil time,” and the people had no ears to hear the words that God spoke through Amos. Hence, the nation rushed headlong into judgment.