Amos has a difficult message from God to proclaim to Israel. They prided themselves in being his chosen people; but they thought they were chosen for salvation, whereas God had chosen them for righteousness - they were saved from Egypt in order to show the world what life as God's people should be. In this they had utterly failed, and so they would be punished (3:2)
There follows a series of pictures, in which what is seen points to some other circumstance - a bird suddenly falling to the ground shows that there must be a trap there. Then comes the crunch point in 3:6 - disaster in a city points to God's judgement. The Israelites claim to be God's people; but if God is looking after them and disaster comes, God must have a hand in it. Amos is saying, 'Don't be surprised if I prophesy judgement - you have seen it before.' God does not judge without warning (3:7); and now, a warning is exactly what he is giving (3:8).
The rest of chapter 3 describes some of the judgement that is to come. In chapter 4 Amos begins by addressing the rich women - 'cows of Bashan' (v.1). That would not necessarily have been an insult; cows were highly valued, and those of Bashan above the rest. To call a woman today a 'Rolls-Royce' or 'Ferrari' would not always be insulting! But they would be punished for their heartless oppression of the poor; they would themselves become powerless captives (4:2,3).
Amos then turns to the religious people. Bethel and Gilgal were two of the holiest shrines in Israel. (They did not go to Jerusalem; at that time Jerusalem was in the neighbouring country of Judah, where Amos came from.) There would have been a call, 'Come to Bethel…'; but Amos shocked everyone by saying, 'Come to Bethel and sin.' All their worship ceremonies and sacrifices, which they were so proud of, counted as sin in God's eyes! Why? Because they had not returned to God in heart (4:6 onwards). Worship ceremonies can never create a relationship with God; they are only ever an expression of our relationship. If we are not right with God, our worship will stink! God wants us to be right with him; but that means we need to return from our waywardness. Sometimes disasters were God's messages to his people, a wake up call. But they went unheeded.
ISSUES AND QUESTIONS
1) Does God cause disasters?
2) Do we ever enjoy luxury at the expense of the poor? What would Amos say to us?
3) What makes worship acceptable to God?
IDEAS FOR MEETINGS
What is your favourite (or least favourite) proverb or saying?
Read slowly the words of Matt Redman's song, 'When the music fades'. (Click HERE for the words.) Then read Isaiah 1:10-20, and John 4:19-24. Then sing or listen to Matt Redman's song or a similar one.