Preaching from Amos

John O. Strange  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 9 - Fall 1966

Since the message of the Bible is timeless, yet always timely, biblical preaching may be relevant preaching. It is the task of the preacher in every generation to relate the message of the Bible to his time. This is not an easy task. It requires both an understanding of the biblical revelation and an understanding of the particular present in which the preacher lives. Continual study of the Bible is necessary if one is to interpret rightly the word of truth. Continual study of the contemporary historical situation is necessary if one is to make an effective presentation and application of the truth.

In commenting upon the relevancy of the messages of the prophets, R. B. Y. Scott has written:

The application to life of what we learn from the prophets requires ever new decisions as conditions change and experience grows. One cannot simply summarize and catalogue their insights, and consider them disposed of when their relevance to one set of circumstances has been suggested. The dynamic of their message is not so easily exhausted, nor can its intrinsic authority be claimed for all that seems to follow from the attempt to apply it at one particular point. What really counts is a first-hand knowledge of the prophetic records, the recognition of their formative influence in our religious tradition, and their potential power over men’s minds today. Finally, we need the capacity constantly to discern afresh their relevance to the human situation of this and every age.[1]R. B. Y. Scott, The Relevance of the Prophets (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947), pp. 204, 205.

Preaching from Amos will afford the preacher with a challenging opportunity and a staggering responsibility to proclaim some old truths in relation to new situations. The purpose of this brief article is to make suggestions concerning sermons which may be preached from the Book of Amos. No attempt is made to present a sermon or sermons. It is hoped that the article may be of assistance to busy pastors as they prepare their own sermons.

 

The Plan of the Book

In preparation for preaching from any book of the Bible, a thorough study of the book itself is essential. The nine chapters of the Book of Amos may be read easily at one sitting. They should be read and re-read until one has familiarized himself with the plan of the book. For those who have had the privilege of studying the Hebrew language, the use of the Hebrew Bible with the aid of the English versions will greatly enhance the study. The Hebrew in the Book of Amos is remarkably pure.[2]See S. R. Driver, The Books of Joel and Amos (“The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges”; Cambridge: The University Press, 1897), pp. 115-16.

Some scholars have been inclined to speak of two books of Amos. The point of division has been made between chapters 6 and 7. John D. W. Watts, following Artur Weiser, though not in full agreement with him, supports this view. He has commented:

It is correct to think of “two books of Amos.” But they do not represent simply two literary forms, as Weiser suggested. The Bethel story tells us why there had to be two books. Amos’ ministry in the Northern Kingdom was interrupted before God had finished speaking his message concerning Israel. The visions, words, and biographical section of the last three chapters were gathered by adherents, friends, or fellow prophets at some southern sanctuary. This might well be called a “Book of Visions” for they form its distinctive feature. But this book contains “words” and biography as well.

The “words” found in chapters I-VI, on the other hand, were spoken in the North, were remembered, repeated, and copied down there. They must have found their way into the South along with other refugees and finally been united with the other Book of Amos to form our present book.[3]John D. W. Watts, Vision and Prophecy in Amos (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968), p. 50.

Vision and word are vital elements in the prophet’s ministry. The plan of the book and the relationship of its materials may be seen in the following general outline:

Title -The Origin of the Book (Chapter 1:1).

I. The Prologue—The Approaching Judgment (Chapters 1:2-2:16).

II. Discourses of Warning and Exhortation (Chapters 3:1- 6:14).

III. Five Visions Picturing the Execution of the Judgment with Interludes (Chapters 7:1-9:15).[4]For a detailed outline of which this general outline is a part, see Frederick Carl Eiselen, The Minor Prophets (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1907), pp. 203-05.

These three major divisions will be employed in presenting some preaching values from Amos. As the preacher studies the contents of the book, he should avail himself of the best linguistic aids, commentaries, theologies of the Old Testament, and periodicals. A helpful bibliography will accompany the articles in this issue of Southwestern Journal of Theology.

 

Preaching Values

“Jehovah will roar from Zion” (1:2).[5]Scriptural quotations are from The American Standard Version (1901) unless otherwise indicated. Thus begins the fir.st section of the Book of Amos (Chapters 1 and 2). In rapid succession the prophet from Tekoa proclaimed judgment upon Israel’s neighbors. His message rang with a note of authority: “Thus saith Jehovah” (1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6). The six non-Israelitish nations surrounding Israel were guilty of atrocities and barbarisms in warfare. Their sins were acts which all men recognized as being wrong. Judah was guilty of rejecting Yahweh’s law (2:4-5).

Israel was guilty of selling “the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes” (2:6). Yahweh’s name was profaned in immoral conduct by a father and his son beside heathen altars (2:7-8). The grace of redemption from Egypt and the mercies of the wilderness experience were forgotten (2:10). The Nazirites and the prophets were reproached (2:11-12). Amos, therefore, preached judgment upon an irresponsible people.

The main teaching of this section is that judgment comes upon nations that are morally irresponsible. Amos was the first Hebrew prophet to preach “that there is such a thing as international morality.”[6]George L. Robinson, The Twelve Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, Reprint, 1957), p. 53. George L. Robinson has stated that this section teaches “the fundamental principles of Biblical sociology, namely, (1) the universal sovereignty of God; (2) the sin of inhumanity; and (3) the moral responsibility of all mankind.”[7]IBid. A good title for a sermon on this section might be “The Moral Responsibility of Nations.”

In the second section (Chapters 3-6 ) there are three discourses beginning with “Hear this word” ( 3: 1; 4: 1; 5:1) . The first discourse teaches that the place of privilege demands a corresponding responsibility. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities” (3:2). Perhaps no better title can be found than “Privilege and Responsibility.”[8]See Sidney Lovett, The Book of Amos: Exposition (“The Interpreter’s Bible,” Vol. VI; New York: Abingdon Press, 1956), p. 793. Our nation has been signally blessed of God; in a very real sense, we are a privileged people. But if we are only concerned with ourselves and forget the world’s hungry people, our selfishness will ultimately destroy us. Southern Baptists are a privileged people, but are we really a responsible people?

This section contains many preaching values. At the present time when there is a decrease in the number of young men committing themselves to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, a sermon could be preached from chapter 3:3-8 with the title “Why a Man Preaches.”

In an era when so many events are taking place in our own beloved nation that hinder missionaries in other lands, attention needs to be given to the words of Amos when he said:

Publish ye in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold what great tumults are therein, and what oppressions in the midst thereof. For they know not to do right, saith Jehovah, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: an adversary there shall be even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be plundered (3:9-11).

Even heathen nations would be shocked by the sins of Israel. Nations today do not have to assemble upon the mountains to see the sins of America. They receive the news of our tumults and oppressions as soon as they happen. Capitalizing upon a popular song, one could entitle his sermon “The Eyes of the Nations are upon You.” Can it be said of us: “For they know not to do right” (3:10)?

Chapters 3-6 develop the main thesis stated in 2:6-16; Amos’ messages indicted every segment of society: princes, priests, merchants, and women.[9]Raymond Calkins, The Modern Message of the Minor Prophets (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947), p. 20. Chapter 3 closes with a special word of judgment upon the rich (3:15). Chapter 4 begins with this shocking denunciation of the first ladies of Samaria:

Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, that oppress the poor, that crush the needy, that say to their lords, Bring, and let us drink (4:1).

No civilization can be measured apart from its women.[10]George Adam Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets (New York: Harper & Brothers, Revised Edition, 1928) I, 149. One might preach a sermon entitled “Kine of Bashan.” Many in­ justices of our society may be attributed to the demands that thoughtless, selfish wives make of their husbands. This is a searching thought.[11]R. F. Horton, ed., The Minor Prophets (“The Century Bible”; Edinburgh: T. C. and E. C. Jack, n.d.), I, 142.

With a bit of sarcasm Amos admonished:
Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes every three days; and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill-offerings and publish them: for this pleaseth you (4:4-5).

It is a sin to go to the place of worship and to come away with lives unchanged. Such religion pleases men only; it does not please God. “When it is a Sin to go to Church” or “Religion that Pleases Men” may be suitable titles for preaching from these verses. George Adam Smith entitled his chapter on this section “The False Peace of Ritual.”[12]Smith, p. 157.

Many sermons have been preached upon the text “Prepare to meet thy God” (4:12). This is a call to prepare to meet God in judgment. “The words cannot be interpreted as an exhortation to repentance, except in the sense in which every prediction of disaster was in itself an exhortation to repentance.”[13]Eiselen, p. 251. Also see William Rainey Harper, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea (“The International Critical Commentary”; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1905), p. 104. To Amos, all experiences of adversity constituted a call to repentance. All of these calls had gone unheeded; so the nation was to meet God in judgment. Why not entitle a sermon “Unheeded Calls to Repentance”?

Certainly one would want to preach on “The God of Amos.” The prophets were not concerned about theology per se. “Their God was primarily a subject of experience rather than an object of thought.”[14]Scott, p. 104. Yet, a theology is implicit in the utterances of a prophet. “The Lord Jehovah” was Amos’ favorite title for deity; this title occurs nineteen times in the book.[15]A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Doctrine of the Prophets (London: Macmillan and Co., 1892), p. 106. For the occurrences of this title, see Amos 1:8; 3:7, 8, 11; 4, (2), 5; 5:3; 6:8; 7:1, 2, 4, (2), 5, 6; 8:1, 3, 9, 11; and 9:8. One author’s summary of Amos’ teaching concerning God is as follows:

(1) He is a person . . . . (2) He is all powerful . . . . (3) The omnipresence of Jehovah is at least implied in chapters i and ii . . . . (4) The same passage [ix:2ff] implies the divine omniscience . . . . (5) Another very important element in the theology of Amos is his conception of Jehovah as an ethical being. Righteousness is the chief attribute of Jehovah. . . . (6) There is evidence that the prophet conceived Jehovah to be a merciful God.[16]Eiselen, pp. 206-08.

“The Meaning of Worship” is suggested by chapter 5:4-9, 14, 15. Religious services were never more popular, but Amos saw that something was lacking. People could go to places of worship and then depart to “turn justice to wormwood, and cast down righteousness to the earth” (5:7). It was not enough to come to the “house of God” (Bethel). The prophet exhorted men to come to God himself.[17]In the space age when men are seeking to go to the moon and to the stars, this message of Amos is peculiarly relevant: “Seek him that maketh the Pleiades and Orion…” (5:8). He said:

For thus saith Jehovah unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live; but seek not Bethel . . . . Seek Jehovah and ye shall live (5:4, 5a, 6a). Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live; and so Jehovah, the God of hosts, will be with you, as ye say. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the gate: it may be that Jehovah, the God of hosts, will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph (5:14, 15).

Amos called for a worship of God in which the dispositions of men were changed. When men truly worship God, something of his righteousness and justice will be seen in the everyday lives of the worshipers. Many of the social and moral problems of our nation are complicated, because religious people are involved-people who “go to Bethel.” There can never be justice between man and man, until men truly worship God.

There is a significant teaching of the day of the Lord in the Book of Amos (5:18-20). When have you heard a sermon on “The Day of the Lord”? In the Old Testament the day of the Lord was always imminent. The day of the Lord came upon Samaria in 722 B.C. The day of the Lord came upon Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The two emphases in the teaching of the prophets concerning the day of the Lord were judgment and salvation. The people to whom Amos preached longed for the day of the Lord. They thought it would be a day of judgment upon their enemies and a day of salvation for them. They were unaware that they had become enemies of God. The day of the Lord was a day of judgment upon sin. There was no escaping in that day (5:19; 9:1-6). Salvation could only come to those who took refuge in the Lord; to all others, it would be a day of “darkness, and not light” (5:20).

One of the great texts in the Old Testament is Amos 5:24. The text is prefaced by this denunciation of ceremonial worship:

I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Yea, though you offer me your burnt-offerings and meal-offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace­ offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols (5:21-23).

John Edgar McFadyen entitled his book on Amos, A Cry for Justice.[18]John Edgar McFayden, A Cry for Justice: A Study in Amos (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912). “But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (5:24). McFadyen has aptly written:

These are immortal words; they express in imperishable form the essence of religion, the simple demands of God upon men. The justice, the righteousness for which Amos here pleads is, as we have abundantly seen, a social thing: it is tender regard for the poor, hatred of the evil conditions that have dwarfed their lives (v. 15); it is the spirit which yearns and works for the removal of those conditions; it is, in a word, respect for personality, fair play as between man and man. Let justice, in that sense, run through society, unimpeded by avarice or selfishness or cruelty, let it roll on without let or hindrance like the waves of the sea; let it roll on unintermittently, all the year round, whatever be the political weather; let it roll on “like a perennial stream,” which even in the fiercest heat of summer never dries up. This is the true service of God-that, and not a gorgeous ritualistic display; that, and not meal-offerings and fat beasts.[19]Ibid., pp. 67-68.

“At Ease in Zion and Secure in Samaria” is a suitable title for chapter 6. Other appropriate titles for sermons from verses in this chapter might be: “The Sin of Procrastination” (6:3), “The Cult of the Unconcerned” (6:6b), and “Inescapable Moral Law” (6:12).

Amos vividly portrayed the revelry of the inhabitants of the aristocratic palaces. They ate the best food. They indulged in drink and sang idle songs. What a modern scene! “But they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (6:6b).

The final section of the book (Chapters 7-9) contains a series of visions. The third vision is a vision of a plumbline (7:7-9). “God’s Plumbline” or “When God Inspects the Building” are appropriate titles for a sermon on these verses.

The first two visions indicate the mercy of God extended in answer to the prophet’s intercession. The third vision indicates the judgment of God. “Only that nation can stand on a firm foundation whose whole life from top to bottom is true and straight according to the plumbline test of justice and righteousness.”[20]Calkins, p. 27. When the righteous God placed his plumbline by the house of Israel, the house was falling under the weight of its own unrighteousness. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel; I will not again pass by them any more” (7:8b).

The fourth vision (8:1-3) also depicts judgment. In verse 2 there is a play on words in the Hebrew. The verse may be translated as follows: “And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of end fruit. Then said Jehovah unto me, The end is come” (8:2).

“The End of a Nation!” What were the causes of the downfall of the nation? The poor were oppressed; there was a reckless disregard for persons (8:4, 6). Greedy, dishonest merchants could hardly wait until the end of the sabbath to put into practice their evil deeds. They even sold the chaff with the wheat (8:5-6).

Another suggestive text concerning the judgment that befalls an unrighteous nation is as follows: “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord Jehovah, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (8:9). A possible interpretation of this verse is that it is figurative language describing judgment coming just when the nation was at the height of its power.[21]An eclipse of the sun took place in 763 B.C. The memory of this eclipse probably inspired the figurative language. See Smith, p. 191. “Darkness at Noon-Day!” In a sense our nation is in the noon-day of her existence. The proverb is still true: “Righteousness exalts a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Will some historian have to record concerning our country: “Her sun went down at noon”?

Amos condemned Israel’s pride with these words: Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith Jehovah. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir (9:7)?

The Lord is not a respecter of persons but of character.[22]Eiselen, p. 282. “Degenerate Israel is no more in Jehovah’s eyes than these despised Kushites.”[23]Driver, p. 219. The people of the Northern Kingdom were beset by a false confidence. Because they were a chosen nation, they felt that they were better than other people. This text is “the ultimate denial of the idea of favored races, of the superiority in God’s sight of one race, one people over another.”[24]Calkins, p. 26. There is a need in every generation for an Amos to proclaim this truth.

The book closes with a message of hope. Restoration under the Davidic line is portrayed in the latter part of chapter 9.[25]This passage (9:8-15) is considered by some scholars to be an addition to the book of Amos. For a discussion of the authenticity of the passage, see Driver, pp. 119-124 and Smith, pp. 199-205. “Brighter Days Ahead” or “The God Who Restores” would be fitting sermon titles. Remarkably fascinating are these verses:

For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all the nations, like as grain is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least kernel fall upon the earth. All of the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, The evil shall not overtake nor meet us. In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up its ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old (9:9-11).

“Yet shall not the least kernel fall upon the earth” (9:9b). In the shaking of the sieve of judgment, no solid grain (literally pebble) would fall to the ground. All of the nation, righteous and unrighteous, would be involved in the sifting process. The godless chaff would perish, but the righteous kernel among the exiles would be preserved for God’s own use.[26]Eiselen, p. 283.

The account of Amos’ encounter with Amaziah appears as a historical interlude between the third and fourth visions (7:10-17). In this passage there is a good example of what happens when there is a state religion. Amaziah felt that his own status was threatened by the presence of Amos. He took refuge under the umbrella of the state. He charged Amos with conspiracy against the king. Jeroboam apparently was indifferent to both Amaziah and Amos; so, Amaziah ordered Amos to leave. A sermon on “Church-State Relations” could well include this passage.

The call experience of Amos is reflected in the following reply to Amaziah:

Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore-trees: and Jehovah took me from following the flock, and Jehovah said unto me, Go prophesy unto my people Israel (7:14-15).

The latter part of verse 15 may be translated: “Go, be a prophet unto my people Israel.” Amos was not disclaiming that he was a prophet. He was rather disclaiming that he was a prophet by choice. He was not preaching because he chose to be a prophet by profession, nor was he preaching because his father was a prophet. He chose to be a herdsman and a pincher of sycamores. He preached out of a sense of mission. In a time when there is a tendency to minimize the call experience of the preacher, this passage could be the basis for a sermon on “Called to Preach.”

Preaching from the Book of Amos should inspire preachers to a new faith and courage. No generation of preachers ever lived who were confronted with a greater challenge to proclaim the truth. A watered-down message will not suffice. The gospel must be proclaimed with all of its prophetic emphasis.

Surely the Lord Jehovah will do nothing, except he reveal his secret unto his servants the prophets. The lion hath roared; who will not fear? The Lord Jehovah hath spoken; who can but prophesy (3:7-8)?

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