Life was pretty good in eighth century Israel. Trade was up. The economy flourished. The people worshiped God. There was peace throughout the land.
Although everything seemed alright in the Northern Kingdom, it was far from right.
It was into this setting of weal or prosperity that God sent Amos, a foreign shepherd and fig farmer, to deliver His message of woe.
Amos’ pronouncements are recorded in the book of Amos, a nine chapter book that is easy to overlook.
Yet it is that book of the Bible that Rich Hamlin, the pastor at Evangelical Reformed Church in Tacoma, Wash., decided to write a book about.
He recently released, Prepare to Meet Your God: Expository Sermons on Amos, an intriguing compilation of expository sermons on Amos.
Recently, I spoke with Pastor Hamlin about his book and the Prophet Amos. The transcript of our conversation is below.
Amos is only nine chapters long. How could you write a whole book on only nine chapters?
The book originated from an expository preaching series on Amos in 2011. Even though Amos has but nine chapters (sounding like a preacher here) it would have been easy to sit on Amos for more than the nine weeks and then the book would have been even longer
Amos was from Tekoa. Where do you think that actually was? Does it matter?
Tekoa was a village five miles south of Bethlehem. The location matters in that Amos was perceived as an outsider by the false priests serving the kingdom of Israel at the time. Tekoa was in the kingdom of Judah and was not apostate as Israel was at the time.
Amos was a shepherd from a distant land, how can anything he said be relevant in today's world?
It is true Amos spoke long ago—some 2,800 hundred years ago; but when he spoke, he did so as a prophet of God and therefore as the Word of God. His oracles make up one of the 66 canonical books. We must understand context and where we are redemptively, but Amos’ words, as I desired to show in the book, have much for us today. Israel’s sins are our sins.
Does the fact that Amos wasn't a professional prophet mean anything for those who aren't called to "traditional" forms of ministry?
The Reformation rightly spoke of the “priesthood of all believers” and that the line we like to draw between sacred and secular work is much thinner than we recognize. The Christian is engaged in holy work no matter the vocation. Amos spent his typical day with sheep and figs; but in this case was given God’s specific word to proclaim to his northern kin. He would have been disobedient to not proclaim. I am convinced God gives all of us more opportunities to speak His Word (Bible) and Gospel more than we do.
Do you see parallels between Amos and modern society? If so, what?
As I point out in the book, the resemblance of eighth century BC Israel to our own day is staggering. At the time, Israel was mostly well to do, economically, militarily, and otherwise. Everything was going “great”, they would say; including their worship. But a closer look revealed a “church” and a faith that was a compartmentalized part of their life. To be blunt, they did what they wanted to do—in worship and in their lives. Hypocrisy was rampant. I see parallels to 21st century America.
Occupy Wall Street. Too big to fail. The fiscal cliff. Redistribution of wealth. Real or imagined, the idea that some people are too rich and may be getting rich at the expense of others is a theme that is pervasive in modern society. In Amos' time, the rich in Israel were actually oppressing the poor for gain. What insight does Amos give modern people regarding this issue? Is there a right course of action?
Amos certainly points out the oppression of the poor by the well-to-do. In fact, most preaching from Amos centers on this issue. But we would be missing the main point of the book if we focus on issues of justice and even the social gospel. In the time of Amos, God was mad at the rich and the poor. The chief issue was Israel’s abysmal relationship with their Lord. One indicator of their poor spiritual health was the mistreatment of the poor; but the poor weren’t worshiping or living their faith, either. When our vertical relationship (with God) is right, our horizontal relationships (with people) are much more likely to be right, as well.
We live in a pluralistic society, similar in some ways to the one in which Amos lived. What insight does Amos give the believer about living in such a society?
I would challenge the premise a bit. They lived in a theocracy. God’s law was to govern their civil affairs. If you mean by pluralistic society that their worship had become syncretistic in many ways, I would agree. There were several “gods” in Israel in the eighth century BC. Amos wanted God’s people to repent of their hypocritical ways and for their worship of God to be a priority; one that would spill over into every area of their life. The sad thing is they would not listen to God’s prophet and within 25 years, the consequences of disobedience would be felt as Assyria would swoop in.
One of the major themes of Amos is God's omnipotence. Do you think this idea of an all-powerful, sovereign God has been lost on some Christian circles? If so, what are they missing out on by omitting this idea?
I would agree. There is a large segment of the church that doesn’t even know what God’s sovereignty means—let alone believes it. In many circles God is pitted against Satan as if they were equals; God wishes He could do more but sometimes He is thwarted. It would be good if Isaiah 46:11 was preached from every pulpit next Sunday: “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” When God isn’t sovereign, everything is up for grabs—not a lot of peace there.
The first time we see a mention of "The Day of the Lord" is in Amos. For the Israelites, "The Day of the Lord" played out with the Babylonian captivity. Is another "Day of the Lord" coming? How is "The Day of the Lord" idea relevant to modern man?
The “day of the Lord” in Scripture is an oft-used phrase designating the coming judgment of God. The “day of the Lord” for Israel in the eighth century BC was the ruthless Assyrian invasion. In the 6th century BC, the “day of the Lord” for Judah was the Babylonian captivity. There were also “day of the Lord” moments even in Genesis, the Flood and the destruction of Sodom, for instance. Peter later tells us events such as these (2 Peter 2:6) is a reminder of the great and final “day of the Lord”—the return of Jesus and the coming judgment. The church needs to hear about the “day of the Lord”—there will be one.
Though Amos speaks about divine judgment, there is also restoration after repentance. Is this a message we need to hear?
A testimony to the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of our God is that He always has His remnant and His people will be saved. God and His plan always wins! The book of Amos may not be a “happy” book, but it ends with victory—for God and for His people.
Anything you want to add that I didn't ask?
The book of Amos shows us that when we don’t pay attention to God, things don’t end so well. The question always comes back to us: Will we listen?
Prepare to Meet Your God: Expository Sermons on Amos is available at Amazon.
This article was originally published here.