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Friday, January 27, 2017

Amos, the Background

Introduction

What appeals enough to consider studying an Old Testament prophet? What use is studying such a writing? If you are one of those who believes history repeats itself that alone would make studying an Old Testament prophet’s writings important. If you consider today’s political and economic climate disconcerting, then what occurred to ancient Israel would interest you.

Whatever the appeal, the study of Amos’ prophecies from Yahweh God is important even today. From considering the political climate, the economic standards, and the apathy toward and disobedience to God’s laws, we can note similarities of that day to ours today. When studying this small book of prophecies given by God to Amos, we will realize how much of what the people of Israel were doing is similar to how people today live. From this, we should note the judgment due us from God, and repent and renew a right relationship with Him.

In the study of Amos, we will learn about the political climate of Israel and its neighbors. We will understand how the people strayed from the laws and precepts of Yahweh God and how that continued from hundreds of years of disobedience to His laws and precepts. Besides these, recognition of the religious climate of the times will occur. Finally, we will understand who Amos was and possibly why God chose him to prophesy to His people, the northern kingdom called Israel.

Brief History of Israel

Before the Divided Kingdom

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Almost 500 years before the kingdom of Israel split into northern and southern kingdoms, God sent a man, Moses, to rescue His chosen people, the Israelites, from the Egyptian Pharaoh’s bondage. He promised and provided for them a great land flowing with milk and honey. Over time, the twelve tribes of Israel wanted a king like the surrounding nations. God sent His prophet, Samuel, to anoint the man, Saul, to be king over His people though having a human king over His people was against His will. Saul became king over the Israelites in 1050 BCE then David and his son, Solomon, succeeded him in 1010 BCE and 970 BCE, respectively.

Each of these kings, though allowed and chosen by God, sinned against Him. Saul did not repent and God removed him and his descendants from the throne. David repented and his son, Solomon, succeeded him. God gave Solomon the gift of wisdom. During the time of his reign, Solomon considered his wisdom greater than God’s and disobeyed His laws and commandments. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines from Israel and other countries. He erected altars for the gods of his wives and they and Solomon worshiped at those altars. The gods they worshiped were Ashtoreth, Milcom, Chemosh, and Molech (1 Kings 11:1-11). Solomon angered God because he turned away from worshiping Him, Yahweh the One true God. God told Solomon twice he should not turn away from Him and worship other gods, but he did not repent and return to Him as his only God. Because of this, God’s judgment on Solomon was that He would tear the kingdom from him and his descendants and would give it to his servant. He said his son’s kingdom would consist of one tribe and his servant’s kingdom would contain ten tribes of Israel. The judgment would occur during Solomon’s son’s reign (1 Kings 11:12-13).

The Dividing of the Kingdom

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After Solomon’s death, Rehoboam, his son, went to Shechem of Israel, north of Jerusalem, for the people to crown him king of the Israelites (1 Kings 12:1). Before his ascension to the throne, the people of the northern tribes asked him if he would give them as heavy a yoke to carry as his father, Solomon. Rehoboam consulted his advisors and said he would continue what his father started. Through Rehoboam’s decision to keep a heavy yoke on the Israelites, God established His word to Solomon about giving his servant part of his kingdom (1 Kings 12:15).

Who was this servant to whom God would give ten tribes of Israel? Jeroboam was his name. Solomon put Jeroboam in charge of the forced labor. On his journey outside the walls of Jerusalem, Ahijah, the prophet of God, found Jeroboam on the road, cut his cloak into twelve pieces, which represented the twelve tribes of Israel, and told him to take ten pieces for himself. He explained to Jeroboam God’s judgment on Solomon and that the ten pieces of cloth he chose represented the ten tribes of Israel over whom he would rule as king (1 Kings 11:29-39). Ahijah explained to Jeroboam this came as God’s judgment of Solomon. He continued by saying if he would listen to the LORD and obey His statutes and commandments, then He would build a strong house and give him and his descendants the northern tribes of Israel as their kingdom (1 Kings 11:37-38). Jeroboam rebelled against Solomon (1 Kings 11:26-27, 40). Solomon wanted to kill him so Jeroboam left Jerusalem and went to Egypt for safety.

Based on Rehoboam’s decision, the people of the northern tribes chose Jeroboam to be their king. The tribes of Israel except Judah, of which Benjamin was a part, made up the northern kingdom of Israel. Judah with Benjamin made up the southern kingdom of Judah. (1 Kings 12)

The Northern Kingdom–Israel


Israel had nineteen kings during their 210 years of independence from Judah before the Assyrian empire overtook them. Each of the kings following Jeroboam I did not follow the LORD God. They were evil in the sight of the LORD. The Bible notes they "walked in the ways of Jeroboam." What did Jeroboam I do?

Jeroboam I began his reign as king of the northern tribes in 931 BCE. His reign ended in 910 BCE. For his twenty-two years, he caused the people of Israel to worship manmade gods. Jeroboam I influenced them into idolatry. He made two golden calves for the Israelites to worship so they would not go to Jerusalem to worship and experience the influence of the people of Judah (1 Kings 12:27-28). Jeroboam I put one calf in the southern half of Israel in Bethel and one in the northern half in Dan. (Remember, Bethel was the place Jacob began his relationship with Yahweh when he saw the staircase descending from heaven. Bethel means “house of God”. (Genesis 28:19)) Jeroboam I made temples in high places, in Bethel and Dan, and appointed priests from among the people (1 Kings 12:30-31). He established the feasts of these houses of worship. God warned Jeroboam I not to lead the people to worship idols, but he persisted (1 Kings 13:1-2). The people of Israel knew this idolatry as the sin of the house of Jeroboam. The writers of the Old Testament wrote it in the history of the kings like that, too. God told Jeroboam I He would blot out his house and destroy it from the face of the earth (1 Kings 13:11-34) because of leading His people to sin against Him.

The succeeding eighteen kings followed the way of Jeroboam I. Only one king provoked the LORD to anger more than Jeroboam I. That king was Ahab, who reigned from 874 BCE to 853 BCE (1 Kings 16:30-33). The king who reigned in Israel during the ministry of Amos was the sixth king after Ahab and the thirteenth king of Israel, Jeroboam II.

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Jeroboam II, son of Jehoash, reigned over Israel from 793-753 BCE (2 Kings 14:23). The Bible records Jeroboam II did evil in the sight of the LORD and did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam I. During Jeroboam II’s reign, he restored the boundaries of Israel by rescuing Damascus and Hamath from Aram. Aram was later called Syria (2 Kings 14:25, 28). God saw the affliction of His people in Aram and sent Jeroboam II to free them and take back the former lands of Israel (2 Kings 14:26-27). Jeroboam II stole God’s glory by taking the glory for reclaiming the former lands of Israel. Besides reclaiming the lands of Israel from Aram, Jeroboam II led the people of Israel to continue their idolatry, luxurious living, immorality, corruption, and oppression of the poor. They did evil in the sight of the LORD and did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam I.

The Prophets to Israel

From king Jeroboam I to king Jehoash, Jeroboam II’s father, God sent five prophets-Ahijah, Elijah, Micaiah, Elisha, and Jonah. He sent them to call the people of Israel back to Him. From the beginning of the reign of Jeroboam II until the Assyrians captured Israel, about 72 years, God sent two more prophets to Israel, Amos and Hosea. Before Amos’ ministry, the people of Israel sometimes repented and returned to worshiping Yahweh when the earlier prophets proclaimed God’s prophecies. Still, they returned to worshiping idols eventually.

The two final prophets-Amos and Hosea, who ministered to Israel before their captivity, came from the two different kingdoms of the Israelites. Amos lived in the southern kingdom and Hosea in the northern kingdom. They were contemporaries and came with two points of view to give the same call to repent and return to God or receive His judgment for turning away from Him.

Amos prophesied for God during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam II, king of Israel (2 Kings 14:21). That means his ministry occurred between 796 and 753 BCE. In Amos 1:1, Amos said he prophesied two years before the earthquake which scientists calculate was about 750 BCE (http://www.icr.org/article/scientific-scriptural-impact-amos-earthquake/). Zechariah 14:5 speaks of this earthquake, too. So Amos’ ministry most likely occurred between 760 and 750 BCE.

Who was Amos? Amos’ name means “burden”. He says in chapter one verse one he was from Tekoa. Tekoa is in Judah near Hebron in the hill country. It was a town king Rehoboam built. Amos said he was a sheepherder in 1:1. In Amos 7:14, he stated he was a grower of sycamore figs, too. Amos was a physical laborer, but one who understood what it meant to take care of things. He knew living beings needed to a leader. Amos understood the role of a shepherd, and his ministry as a prophet for the great Shepherd was familiar. He called God’s sheep to return to him, just as he expected his sheep to follow him. Amos knew sheep needed a shepherd who would go after his sheep should their own mind continue to lead them astray from safety and truth. God calling Amos to prophesy to Israel used his understanding of being a shepherd. It rang strongly in Amos because he was a faithful follower of Yahweh and wanted his Israelite brothers and sisters to return to the one true God.

In visions, God showed Amos the truth about Israel and told him what to say-repent and return, or God’s judgment will come upon them. Amos either knew of Israel’s rebelliousness against God or learned of it in visions from God.  About two hundred years before Amos’ time of ministry, Israel’s idolatry occurred, so he probably knew of that sin. Through God’s enlightenment of him in visions he learned of Israel’s other sins. He spoke of them throughout the book. The sins he noted are-

·         Taking God’s glory – (2 Kings 14:23)
·         Giving self the glory; pride – Amos 6:8, 13; 7:9
·         Break fellowship with God – Amos 1:6 (Joel 2:12)
·         Not obedient in relationship with God; unrighteous; no offering or sacrifices to God – Amos 4:6, 5:7, 5:26
·         Un-compassionate – Amos 1:11
·         Sold the just and right. Chose riches over God and His laws. Unjust. – Amos 5:7, 12; 8:5-6
·         Sold the needy. Riches over compassion. Enslaved the poor. – Amos 5:3, 12; 8:5-6
·         Oppressed the poor. Crushed the needy – Amos 4:11; 5:11
·         Unjust fines. Bribery – Amos 5:12
·         Sexual immorality – Amos 2:7
·         Desire for pleasure and luxurious living greater than their desire for God. Made their desires into their gods. – Amos 5:26; 6:4
·         Drunkenness
·         Idolatry – Amos 3:14; 6:8; 7:9
·         Loans – took man’s clothes as promissory – (Deuteronomy 23:19; 24:12)
·         Defiled God’s consecrated people (Nazarite and prophets) – Amos 2:12
·         Un-compassionate about Israel and the abominations happening in Jerusalem – Amos 6:6 (Ezekiel 9:4)

The Israelites had lived in the Promised Land for almost 650 years when God called Amos to prophesy to the northern tribes. This list of sins against God that Amos brought before the people appears staggering in their enormity. How would Israel consider them? Would they hear, repent, and return to their relationship with Yahweh?

General Outline of Amos

God did with Amos something he seldom did. Before prophesying against the Israelites, God told him to prophesy against the surrounding nations. For over one chapter, Amos prophesied against Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. These nations had been enemies of the Israelites for hundreds of years. With each prophecy against these nations, God’s judgment drew physically closer to the northern kingdom of Israel.

Before God’s judgment of Israel occurred, He drew closest to Israel by proclaiming His judgment and call to repentance of Judah. That prophecy would cause Israel to draw in a breath in anticipation in what judgment God would bring on them. The final prophecy Amos spoke was against Israel. The first seven prophecies, when plotted on a map, drew around and closer to Israel. It let Israel know God will judge their enemies, but they were not without reproach either. God demands judgment and righteousness from His people, too. In the first six prophecies, the sins of the nations were short and succinct. For Israel, God listed their sins to them. He wanted them to know He saw everything they did. The Israelites had broken relationship with Him for hundreds of years and now judgment would come. Though it might seem to tarry, God’s judgment would come upon them.

Conclusion

As people of the twenty-first century, we may not consider these actions of Israel, as noted by God through Amos, sins. We may consider ourselves more evolved and advanced from that time 2800 years ago. Yet, we can learn from the prophecies of Amos. We can learn again of the God Who created each of us and calls us to a righteous love relationship with Him. We can recognize Who God is again and return to a right relationship with Him that affects our actions and obedience each day.
Amos’ time is like our own today. Political turmoil and unrest continues today. Many people live luxurious and lavish lifestyles and do not care for the needy. They trample the needs of people to get what they want. Other people are corrupt and take bribes to be agents of influence benefitting certain people and taking away from other people. Each of these actions shows we have made things and positions our gods. We have become idolaters of our desires. The blessings God initially gave us have become our gods and jailors because they mean more to us than God, the One who blesses.

Join me and others as we study the book of Amos, understand God’s words of judgment against Israel, and decide for ourselves how we will let the lessons of this small book of prophecy from God affect our lives.
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