God will never forget
Sunday school lesson for the week of June 28, 2015
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson scripture: Amos 8:1-6, 9-10
Before specifically dealing with today’s lesson, I want to make a quick summary of Amos’s major thoughts. Although his addresses point out considerable diversity of interests, Amos was in reality a man of one major idea. He had gained a vision of justice and righteousness. He was the prophet of righteousness.
According to scholars, there are four major contributions of Amos: a righteous God, a just society, an ethical religion (worship must have an ethical dimension), and judgment. And Amos’s fifth contribution consisted in initiating processes of thought which would eventually put an end to the generally accepted belief in national deities. As other gods did not care for justice, Yahweh was forced to cross the border of his own domain (Israel) and punish the sins of other nations. Yahweh, because of his righteousness, began to triumph over the other gods. Amos came to believe that Yahweh was a God who was using all nations as instruments to carry out his great purposes. And from Amos’s thought here, it was only a short step to the monotheism of Second Isaiah.
With this brief summary and the other three lessons from Amos in mind, we are ready to move on to chapter 8. The focus of Amos 8 is entirely on judgment. Appearing in the middle of a series of visions about the downfall of Israel that began in chapter 7 and finished in chapter 9, Amos 8 begins with a vision that predicts Israel’s “end” (8:1-3). Next, Amos gives us the reason why the end must come (8:4-6). Then Amos concludes chapter 8 with three sayings that describe the effects of God’s judgment (8:7-9. 9-10, 11-14). As scholars assert, together these sections of Amos 8 make clear that the end of God’s people will be the result of their disobedience and sinfulness.
After giving Amos the vision of Israel’s catastrophic end, God asks Amos what he sees. Amos responds, “a basket of summer fruit.” Scholars tell us that in Hebrew the term for this late fruit is “gayits.” God then states, “The end had come.” The word “end” in Hebrew is “gets,” a word related to the term for summer fruit that has a similar sound. The time of punishing to correct and of passing over sin is at an end. The next event of God’s dealings with Israel will bring them to an end of death and destruction. And the joyful songs of Israel once enjoyed in worship will now become songs of mourning.
Now, the reason for Israel’s end is the injustice of God’s people in relation to the poor (8:7-8). The particular issue Amos identifies here is that those who are dishonest practice their dishonesty right after worship. Oh, these people observe the Sabbath and other holy festivals alright (“new moon” in verse 5), but worship has no effect on their lives. After worship, they immediately continue their practice of cheating their customers.
So, how do they cheat the poor? They cheat them be by way of dishonest weights and measures. The “ephah” was a unit of measure for grain. As scholars inform us, the merchants Amos speaks against declare their plans to “make the ephah small” (8:5). That is, they will give less than the buyer thinks he/she is getting. In addition, these merchants will exact more pay for their goods than is fair. The picture Amos paints is of people who are interested only in the profits. They do not consider the welfare of other human beings or their customers at all.
Amos further indicts these Israelites by saying that they sell “the needy for a pair of sandals” (8;6), a charge Amos made has made previously. They also “sell garbage as a grain” (8:6). It is the final sign that the only concern of these Israelites was for personal gain with no concern for the expense of others.
The Lord swears to act against what the merchants are doing. Scholars suggest that perhaps “pride of Jacob” is another name for the Lord, the One who rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. God's action against Israel will cause the land to shake. And like the fluctuating Nile River which has no explanation, Israel’s punishment will come without warning.
The day of judgment for Israel will be marked by two things: darkness and mourning. The saying “on that day” is an announcement of doom. The light God gave as a gift to creation in the beginning (Genesis 1:3) will be taken away. And this condition of darkness will occur as Israel’s celebrations are being changed to occasions of mourning. Rather than Israel enjoying its festivals and surface worship, now Israel will sing songs of lament. Wearing sackcloth and shaving one’s head were similar signs of grief. That day’s grief will be like the intense grief of losing a child and the snuffing out of all hope.
Amos 8: 11-14
Scholars inform us that the final sign that describes “the end” of Israel (8:2) refers to the effects and results of God’s punishment. Namely, God will be at such a self-imposed distance from Israel that they will not receive God’s word. Consequently, in their desperate need Israel will seek God’s answers in every corner of the land, swear oaths from Dan to Beersheba, but the famine will continue. As a matter of fact, the famine will continue until the strongest faint and the fall of the nation is final. The thirst (v. 13) is the absence of any divine response to their desperate appeals in their lament and songs of mourning. No one will be able to explain God’s actions to them or offer any hope for the future. The effect of all this will be equal to that of famine. As the scholars point out, the truth that “one does not live by bread alone” becomes very obvious here. Without the Word of God there is no hope for restoration or future.
The End Has Come
By noticing Amos’s four visions we can understand why God’s judgment on Israel is absolutely justified. Amos 7;1-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 8:1-3 all report that “the Lord God showed” Amos something related to the disaster that was coming for Israel. But as the visions progress from one to another, it becomes more and more clear that Israel cannot escape the coming disaster because Israel failed to heed God’s warnings to change its evil ways.
In the first two visions, Amos tells us what he saw (a swarm of locusts that will devour the crops, a fire that will eat up the land). Amos then begs God not to let it happen. In both cases (7:1, 4) God has mercy on Israel and stays his hand.
In the third vision. God asks Amos a question: “Amos, what do you see?” (7:8) Amos sees a plumb line which will determine if Israel is meeting God’s requirements. God will make this decision about Israel by putting Amos in the midst of Israel to test them (see Amos 7:10-17). The message Amos preaches is received with stubborn resistance rather than repentance. In fact, the priest of Bethel sends Amos away and tells him never to prophesy again in Israel. So the rejection of Amos at Bethel makes clear that God’s charges of injustice have fallen on deaf ears.
But as scholars attest, this sequence of visions reveals something marvelous about how God works with rebellious creatures. God is gracious and gives them every opportunity for change. Thus, God responds to Amos’s plea for mercy by not destroying Israel. In addition, God sends messengers to deliver the call to repentance in languages that people can understand. Amos was that messenger.
But when all else fails, God sends judgment. In Amos 8:3, the curtain falls and the final word comes. Once again, God asks Amos what he sees. Amos answers, “a basket of fruit.” As stated earlier, the sound of the word for summer fruit is related to the word “end.” Just as the fruit is the last of the season, so also Israel has reached the end of its fruitfulness.
Never on Sunday
Amos’s indictment of Israel takes on a new twist here. At this point, Amos relates Israel’s injustice against the poor to the observance of the Sabbath or lack of such observance. We are told that the wealthy and powerful people who are oppressing the poor do observe the Sabbath, but they only recognize the letter of the law and not the spirit. Amos states that these people simply cannot wait for the day of rest to be over so they can return to the marketplace to take advantage of people. These folks are very adapt at the outward observances of the law – they abide by every requirement, such as not opening their businesses on the Sabbath. But they miss completely what the day is meant to produce. That is, that God has given all wealth to humanity and all those who have it must be kind and gracious to those who have not received as much.
Scholars tell us that the institution of the Sabbath was intended as a deterrent against the kind of injustice Amos rails against. If humans could remember God's reign by observing the Sabbath, they might also remember that they do not own other people.
Creation Will Revolt
We are told that the day of destruction has two noticeable images: the image of mourning, as at a funeral, and the image of the cosmos responding. To read about the more familiar image, see Amos 5:16-17.
The second image is of the nonhuman world responding to Israel’s situation by the sun ceasing to light the earth. Verse 9 reads, “On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”
It is believed that Amos has more in mind here than some natural phenomenon when he describes the absence of light on the day of judgment. Whatever else is meant, Amos is suggesting that the Israelites are in spiritual darkness, as he had pointed out.
But the judgment Amos pronounces at least suggests that creation itself is working against the Israelites. Scholars remind us that God sent plagues on the Egyptians in Exodus 7-12. The nonhuman world acted against Pharaoh and his people, Water turned to blood, flies swarmed over everything and locusts destroyed the crops. And the last plague before the death of the firstborn was darkness. And we are told that this darkness goes back to the beginning when God created the light out of the chaotic darkness. Amos is pointing out that on that day of judgment for Israel the darkness and disorder will return because of Israel’s sins.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.