Learning from Amos

I am often amazed at how regularly I find myself ­referencing the prophet Amos. This simple shepherd prophet brought a tremendous message to Israel that still ­touches us today. It has a great application for us as a nation and as individuals.

Amos is repeatedly called “God’s angry prophet.” His name means “burden or heavy.” It is possible that Amos had one of the greatest burdens of any of the prophets—warning a prosperous self-righteous nation. Israel’s prosperity was extravagant for its time. Not only did the rich have summer and winter houses but they were decorated with ornate fixtures such as ivory (Amos 3:14–15). They laid on couches and beds made of ivory, eating lambs and calves, and drank bowls full of wine (Amos 6:4–6). They were not only rich—they took great pride in their riches.

This prosperity only fueled the pride of Israel. They were already “God chosen.” Now they were God’s chosen and extremely blessed. Surely God’s people who enjoyed this lifestyle had to be justified and right with God? So sure were the Israelites that they welcomed the day of the Lord. Amos speaks to the people of Israel concerning their confidence in waiting for the day of the Lord:

Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! To what end is it for you? The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? Even very dark, and no brightness in it? —Amos 5:18–20

While Israel was prospering, they were doing so ­because of their transgressions. The rich of the culture were ­corrupt and involved in bribery, abusing those who spoke for God, and taking advantage of the rich (Amos 5:8–12). So great were their sins that God refused to ­accept their worship (Amos 5:21–24). The day of the Lord should have been feared by Israel—not welcomed!

Israel’s history is recorded with the intention of ­teaching valuable lessons to today’s culture and society (Rom. 15:4). Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned is that one’s prosperity is no guarantee of his righteousness. We live in the most prosperous society that has ever ­existed. If we are not careful, we can become arrogant and proud because of our lifestyle.

There is a more microscopic lesson to those of us who are Christians. Israel had a double-layered logic for their confidence. Not only were they rich, they were also God’s “chosen people.” If we aren’t careful, we can do the same today. Christians view themselves as “God’s chosen people” just like Israel. And rightfully so. But we should learn the lesson Israel failed to learn. We are only God’s chosen people when we act like God’s chosen people. When we act otherwise, we lose that distinction.

Learn from Israel! The day of the Lord could bring us darkness instead of brightness. Let this be a warning to us to be prepared to meet our God.