This lesson’s central question is: “How does one worship a just God?” What qualities must be present in the lives of people who desire to worship our just Lord?
God expects his people to practice justice daily. Moses taught extensively about justice, but Amos was inspired to feature it in his preaching. God’s people must practice justice as God practices justice. Those who satisfy this requirement may approach the Lord in worship. This point still holds true today because God has not changed.
The problem was that the crown of the Northern Kingdom had set up a national religious system to rival Jerusalem. It dismissed the teachings of Hebrew Scripture and the worship system that focused on the temple in Jerusalem. Many true worshippers of the Lord remained in the north, but the new national religion substituted an idol god for the living God. The idol, Baal, had no high level character traits and therefore no demands for high ethical living.
A great discussion topic is the importance of high-level character traits in God (see Exodus 34:6-7). Another discussion topic is the importance of imitating God’s character traits (see Ephesians 5:1-2).
Amos’ second message spans chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 famously opens with taunting words. The focus is on Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom. Samaria, like Jerusalem, and all other royal capitals, was a pricey and exclusive city. Only the wealthy and their servants lived there. A tremendous gap existed between the relative few who were affluent and the vast majority who struggled to make ends meet. The wealthy frequently got rich by exploiting the poor and buying justice.
In 4:1, Amos compares Samaria’s affluent women to the cows who grazed in the rich meadows of Bashan. Amos’ prophetic message was aimed at all the wealthy in Samaria, though he focuses his first salvo at wealthy women (compare with Matthew 3:7). Obesity was a status symbol of the wealthy. This verse makes clear that these women became wealthy, and therefore, obese, by oppressing the poor. Amos states that God’s judgment has come upon Samaria (that is, the northern kingdom) because of its rampant lack of justice.
Amos’ message alternates with confrontation and declaration of pending judgment. Verse 4:1 carries the first confrontation and verses 2-3 present the first declaration of judgment. Hooks describe what we refer to as rings, placed in the ears or noses of livestock to lead them. Amos continued his livestock imagery to declare the Samarians would be forcibly led like livestock through war-savaged city walls. Thus their lifestyle would be judged by the just One.
In verses 4-5, Amos mockingly encouraged his listeners to go to Bethel or Gilgal and sin. These were the leading religious centers in southern Israel (northern kingdom). Israelites had worshipped at these sites for centuries. For those uncomfortable with the use of mockery in biblical texts, note that 5:5 carries the direct message.
Verses 4-5 speak of sacrifices, tithes, thank offerings and freewill offerings. The image is of extravagantly covering all religious obligations and options. Such worshippers know they have plenty to spend to satisfy their god and abundantly more to keep for themselves. Their god should be happy with them. They have lavishly shared their wealth with him. If they were thinking of the Lord while going through these motions, they misestimated him. He is wise to the true condition of their hearts.
Verses 4:6-13 describe how the Lord repeatedly used natural maladies and social strife to reveal His displeasure with Israel. Amos’ message comes after a long line of confrontational trouble from the Lord.
Verses 5:1-3 communicate that judgment will only increase for Israel. It would be better to seek the Lord (vv. 4 and 6). Verse 6 is the central verse of Amos, declaring that the Lord will receive those who truly seek him. Seeking the Lord refers to the determination to know the Lord and his ways. Seeking the Lord implies repentance and commitment to the Lord. Therefore life is promised to those who seek him. On paper, at least, a right relationship with the Lord is stated easily. It begins with seeking God. In real life, it is as hard as removing whatever keeps a person from truly seeking him.
The grandiose religious performance of the Israelites (see 4:4-5) does not equate to seeking the Lord. Hosea 6:6 thunders the Lord’s preference in this matter. Psalm 40:6-8 teaches God desires a willing heart, not external sacrifices. Amos warns today’s plush circumstances will not last long. Judgment is coming. Therefore seek the Lord while there is yet time.
The remainder of chapter 5 states the Creator detects the lack of justice in Israel. Amos cites specific examples and declares in verse 12 that the Lord knows the extent of Israel’s sins and offences.
Verses 5:14-15 describe the external actions of those who know the Lord. They seek good, not evil, and will receive mercy. Contrast these actions with the religious actions the Samarians practiced in 4:4-5. Religious performance for the Lord’s people must focus on ethical behavior, not adherence to the sacrificial system.
Amos’ message ends with the Bible’s most famous declaration regarding justice in verse 24. God ever will bring justice to human life. It is the basis for confronting humanity’s inhumanity toward humans. Though justice suffers in many places, the just and judging Lord never will let justice fail.