A famine of hearing the word was to come upon the Israelites as a penalty for refusing to hear the word. Isaiah said essentially the same thing in Isaiah 28, where he tells how the people had refused to hear his prophecies in their own language.
The penalty was that God would speak to them in another tongue, a language which they did not understand.
Isaiah 28:11, 12 says,
11 Indeed, He will speak to this people through stammering lips and a foreign tongue. 12 He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,” and “Here is repose,” but they would not listen.
This passage was used by the Apostle Paul in his discussion of the spiritual gift of tongues (1 Cor. 14:21). He explains that because the carnal mind refuses to hear the word of God in plain language, God often sends the message in another tongue, which needs interpretation.
Hence, Paul says, “tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers.” Prophecy is for believers, Paul says, because they have ears to hear. Therefore, tongues should not be forbidden, but it is better to prophesy (in a known language).
When God speaks in an unknown tongue, there is an element of divine judgment in it, based upon the law in Deut. 28:49. In the personal application of this law, the carnal (soulish) mind cannot comprehend the things of God, because it cannot discern spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14).
For this reason, God’s judgment condemns the flesh and speaks to it in an unknown tongue. To understand the word being spoken, the carnal mind (soul) must submit to the spirit (inner “spiritual man”) to receive interpretation and instruction.
This teaches the soul to depend upon the spirit of man through whom the Holy Spirit works and speaks.
The purpose of the “famine,” then, is to cause the soul to hunger. The soul in tribulation is motivated to know how to be released and how to come into a place of “rest.” It is forced to acknowledge the supremacy of the spirit in order to hear the word of God.
In other words, Bible study without inspiration from the Holy Spirit coming through the spirit of man, has limited value and cannot bring anyone into God’s rest.
Fainting from Thirst
The famine causes even young people to faint. So we read in Amos 8:13,
13 In that day the beautiful virgins and the young men will faint from thirst.
God is always speaking. His voice speaks throughout the whole earth in the silent stars and constellations as well as countless other venues (Psalm 19:1, 2, 4). It is like being in the middle of an ocean where a man may lament, “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink!”
Yes, the water of the word is everywhere, but without the ability to hear, “the young men will faint from thirst.”
The Guilt of Samaria
Amos 8:14 says,
14 As for those who swear by the guilt of Samaria, who say, “As your god lives, O Dan,’ and ‘As the way of Beer-sheba lives,’ they will fall and not rise again.
The Hebrew word translated “guilt” is ashma. The guilt itself is represented by the main idol of Samaria, called Ashima, mentioned in 2 Kings 17:30. Some prefer to read this verse to say, “those who swear by Ashima of Samaria.”
While some swear by Ashima, others swear by the golden calf in the city of Dan, which Jeroboam built in 1 Kings 12:28, 29). Still others swear by “the way of Beer-sheba,” referring to the pilgrimages made to the pagan shrine in Beer-sheba.
All who swear allegiance by those idols “will fall and not rise again.” In other words, they will die of hunger and thirst with no one to give them a drink.
This does not mean they die with no hope of resurrection. All of the dead will arise in the general resurrection when summoned to the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11, 12).
Amos 9:1 says,
1 I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and He said, “Smite the capitals so that the thresholds will shake and break them on the heads of them all! Then I will slay the rest of them with the sword. They will not have a fugitive who will flee, or a refugee who will escape.”
This is the final vision in the series that began in chapter 7 and continued into chapter 8. This time, however, instead of seeing symbols such as locusts, fire, plumb line, and a basket of figs, Amos sees the Lord Himself.
This is one of the 134 places where the rabbinical commentators (the Sopherim) changed Yahweh to Adonai in the Hebrew text. Dr. Bullinger points out that the text actually reads eth Yahweh, or “Yahweh Himself,” which shows that the appearance of Yahweh in person differs from the symbols in the previous visions.
Amos sees the Lord “standing beside the altar.” What altar? Some say that he saw Yahweh standing by the altar in the temple in Jerusalem. The Geneva Bible, for instance, first translated in 1560 and revised in 1599 (a few years before the KJV), writes in its notes on this verse:
9:1 Which was at Jerusalem; for he appeared not in the idolatrous places of Israel.
The Geneva Bible was the first to be translated by a committee, rather than a single translator. It also contained notes and explanations, which often opposed the notion of “the divine right of kings.” This infuriated King James in England, causing him to produce a second translation without notes. We know it as the 1611 King James Bible.
It was the belief at the time that God would not go near an idolatrous altar. Hence, the translators concluded that Amos saw God standing beside the altar in Jerusalem.
Yet we know that God sent a prophet to prophesy judgment at the altar in Bethel (1 Kings 13:1, 2). Would God send a prophet to a place where He Himself would not go?
Certainly, God would not send anyone to a pagan altar for the purpose of worshiping there. Yet idolatrous places needed to hear the warning of impending judgment. The most natural reading of Amos 9:1 was that the Lord Himself showed up at the altar in Bethel to render His verdict against the golden calf, the altar, and the shrine as a whole. It does not seem likely that God issued His verdict from Jerusalem.
The divine verdict was to destroy the temple or shrine at Bethel. “Smite the capitals” (kaphtor, “capitals of a pillar”). Hence, the structure had pillars holding up a heavy roof. It was a large building.
The foundations too were to be shaken, “and break them on the heads of them all.” A capital is like a head on a pillar, so it is likely that Amos was comparing those capitals to the heads of the priests being judged at Bethel.
The worshipers themselves were also to be judged, for the Lord says, “Then I will slay the rest of them with the sword.” No one will escape. There will be no fugitives or refugees to escape the disaster. Since many Israelites were actually taken into captivity to Assyria, it is clear that not all of the Israelites were killed.
Hence, the prophecy in Amos 9:1 focused upon the priests ministering at the shine of the golden calf, along with the most faithful of those idolaters.
Amos 9:2 continues,
2 Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall My hand take them; and though they ascend to heaven, from there will I bring them down.
They cannot escape divine judgment by going under-ground (“into Sheol”), nor can they escape by ascending to heaven.
Neither can they hide somewhere on the surface of the earth or the bottom of the sea. Amos 9:3 says,
3 And though they hide on a summit of Carmel, I will search them out and take them from there; and though they conceal themselves from My sight on the floor of the sea, from there I will command the serpent and it will bite them.
God (through Amos) paints the word picture of sinners attempting unsuccessfully to avoid the judgment of God. Amos 9:4 puts the final brush to this painting:
4 And though they go into captivity before their enemies, from there I will command the sword that it slay them, and I will set My eyes against them for evil and not for good.
Sending Israel into captivity in Assyria was not the end of the matter. In fact, it was only the start of judgment, during which time, said God, “I will set My eyes against them for evil and not for good.”
The scope of these words should be understood not as a final condition but as a time of “evil” that would endure until the end of Israel’s “seven times” of judgment. All such judgment has an end, but this particular judgment was to be the longest that the nation had ever experienced.
Who is This Judge?
Amos 9:5, 6 says,
5 And the Lord God [Adonai Yahweh] of hosts, the One who touches the land so that it melts, and all who dwell in it mourn, and all of it rises up like the Nile of Egypt; 6 the One who builds His upper chambers in the heavens, and has founded His vaulted dome over the earth, He who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the face of the earth, The Lord [Yahweh] is His name.
First, we should recognize that the common use of the term, “The Lord,” is not a name but a title. The Jews did not want to speak His name for fear of taking His name in vain, and so they read Adonai, “Lord,” in its place.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this practice, especially since the prophets themselves often used the term in reference to Yahweh. Amos 9:5 (above) uses the term Adonai Yahweh, which could be translated as Lord Yahweh.
However, the NASB follows the example of other versions which inaccurately render it “Lord God.” It would be more accurate to translate it as Lord Yahweh, or, if they prefer, Lord Jehovah. Adonai Yahweh is one of Ezekiel’s favorite terms, beginning in Ezekiel 2:4.
Knowing the names and titles used of God throughout Scripture adds to our revelation of His nature. Hence, it is not helpful to mistranslate these names or to render them all as “Lord” or “Lord God.”
In Amos 9:5, 6 Adonai Yahweh Tsaba (Lord Yahweh of Hosts) is depicted in military terms, leading the hosts of heaven in battle as He judges the earth. The message shows the invincibility of God in fulfilling His decrees, and the uselessness of Israel’s attempt to avoid judgment.
Equal Justice for All
It appears that the idolatrous Israelites entertained the notion that they were exempt from divine judgment, that they were “chosen” and therefore privileged somehow. Whereas God might judge and even destroy other nations, He would never treat Israel in the same manner.
But Amos 9:7 says,
7 “Are you not as the sons of Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?” declares the Lord. “Have I not brought up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor [Crete] and the Arameans from Kir?
In other words, God’s law is impartial. It applies equally to all men, for the law judges all sin. God’s judgments are only modified by such factors as ignorance, for most of the nations were not present when the law was given, nor did they have anyone to teach them.
God held Israel more liable than the other nations. God did not give Israel a free pass or a license to sin. They had received the law at Horeb, where their forefathers had agreed to abide by the terms of that covenant. Yet they had forsaken God by refusing to conform to His nature as expressed in the law.
God declares that the Israelites were “as the sons of Ethiopia to Me.” In other words, the Israelites ought not to think of themselves as privileged people. As descendants of Abraham, they were chosen to be a blessing to all families (and nations) of the earth (Gen. 12:3). To be “chosen” means that they were to be ambassadors of the Kingdom. Paul expressed it best in 2 Cor. 5:20, saying
20 Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
To be chosen is to have a calling as an ambassador with “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18), designed to benefit all nations. Hence, the law of impartiality gives equal justice to all, whether they are Israelites or not, as we read in Num. 15:15, 16,
15 As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
Not only were the Israelites to give foreigners equal justice but they were also commanded to love them. So we read in Lev. 19:34,
34 The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
It is clear, then, that when Amos says that the Israelites were “as the sons of Ethiopia to Me,” He was setting forth His will and His nature inherent in His law. Yet God found it necessary to remind the Israelites of this, because they had cast aside His law and had thus rejected the Lawgiver, God Himself.
Because of their lawlessness, God said in Amos 9:8,
8 Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord.
God intended to destroy the house of Israel and send the survivors into a lengthy captivity. Though the nation itself was destroyed, there were individual people who survived. From then on, Israel as a nation ceased to exist. They became captives (and later citizens) of foreign nations.
Israel Sifted by God
Amos 9:9 says,
9 For behold, I am commanding, and I will shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve [kebarah], but not a kernel will fall to the ground.
The captives of Israel were to be “shaken in a sieve.” Today, a sieve is normally used to strain liquids to remove solid material. But a kebarah was obviously a woven basket that was used to separate chaff from dry grain.
God is the One doing the work of sifting, as he separates the chaff from the edible kernels of grain. This shaking took place as the Israelites wandered “among all nations.” The purpose of this work was to separate that which was edible from the chaff that was fit only for burning.
There are two ways to look at this. First, we can view this as a separation of good people from evil people. But on a more personal level, we can see it as God’s way of removing spiritual “chaff” from people in order to make them His people.
This second viewpoint is seen in a prophecy of the Holy Spirit, for John the Baptist said in Matt. 3:11, 12,
11 As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to “burn up the chaff.” In other words, it is to cleanse and purify, so that people may become good barley or wheat.
So we should view Amos 9:9 as a prophecy that God would send the Holy Spirit upon those Israelites as they wandered throughout the nations. This was fulfilled, of course, after the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and throughout history. Peter visited them and wrote to them later (1 Peter 1:1, 2, 2:9, 10). James also wrote his epistle “to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad” (James 1:1).
The Holy Spirit was promised to dispersed Israel, but this outpouring of the Holy Spirit was to benefit all nations, as Philip discovered in missionary trip to Samaria (Acts 8:15) and as Peter discovered at the house of Cornelius, the Roman centurion (Acts 10:45).
The Death of Israel
Amos 9:10 says,
9 All the sinners of My people will die by the sword, those who say, “The calamity will not overtake us or confront us.”
These “sinners” were not mere idolaters. They also had an attitude problem. They did not believe that God would judge them. But the “calamity” did overtake them, as Amos had warned. The judgment did come, and the nation was destroyed.
When God says, “all the sinners of My people will die by the sword,” it does not mean that all the sinners actually died in the war when Assyria invaded Israel. Many survivors were taken captive. Yet eventually, they all died without receiving the promises of God, much like their faithless forefathers under Moses had died in the wilderness.
The force of God’s statement is to let us know that none of them would live long enough to see the reinstatement of Israel as a nation. The captivity would be far too long.
Yet in spite of this national destruction, there would be many individuals who would survive (Hosea 1:10). More than that, these individuals were to be sifted and separated. The kernels (believers) would be sifted and purified further by the fire of the Holy Spirit after the day of Pentecost.
In other words, God intended to bring the gospel to those dispersed Israelites in captivity. Other ethnic groups would then join them in the family of God, as their ears were opened to hear the Word and respond with Abrahamic faith. In this manner, the household of faith was to increase until the divine plan is complete.