SS Lesson for 03/01/2020
Devotional Scripture: Ps 97:1-12
The lessons in the first unit are drawn from the writings of Amos, Micah, Habakkuk, and Malachi. These four books make up one-third of the 12 Old Testament books that we call the Minor Prophets. The word minor has nothing to do with their degree of importance. The term highlights the length of these 12 books; all are much shorter than the majority of books described as major (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel). Lamentation's inclusion in the major writings reflects the fact that the book was written by the major prophet Jeremiah. The prophet Amos is unique among the writing prophets in two ways. First, he is a prophet who had another occupation to which he returned after delivering his prophecies (see Amos 1:1; 7:14, 15). Second, Amos was from the southern kingdom of Judah but was commanded by the Lord to speak His message in the northern kingdom of Israel (1:1). We do not need to imagine the reception that this outsider got when he prophesied against Israel (2:6-16; 7:10-17). Though he prophesied against several nations (1:3-2:5), Amos had the most to say about the sins of Israel. Amos began his ministry around 760 BC. By then, God's people had been divided for approximately 170 years. Amos 1:1 mentions the two kings who were in power at the time of his ministry: Uzziah of Judah (also called Azariah; 785-734 BC; 2 Kings 15:1-3; 2 Chronicles 26:1-5) and Jeroboam (II) of Israel (786-746 BC; 2 Kings 14:23, 24). In Israel, an apathy toward God's laws had set in among the majority of the people. Life was good for them; the nation was prospering, and nations that often posed a threat to them (such as Assyria and Egypt) were weak and ineffective. What could this prophet possibly have to say to them? Why had he traveled from Judah to disturb their life of ease? In the verses immediately preceding the start of our lesson text, Amos clearly revealed the cause of his ministry. At seemingly every turn, Israel chose evil over good (Amos 5:7-15). The prophet accused them of mistreating the poor (5:11). He then highlighted the people's numerous other sins (5:12-15): they punished those who sought justice, they accepted bribes, and they discriminated against the poor in lawsuits. With these admonitions still ringing in the air, Amos delivered the word of the Lord found in today's lesson text.
But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream
In this fourth message Amos declared that because of Israel’s religious hypocrisy “the day of the Lord” would be a day of exile rather than exaltation. Repentant individuals, however, could escape this disaster.
5:18. Woe (hôy; cf. 6:1) was ordinarily the wail of grief over the dead (cf. 1 Kings 13:30 [“Oh”]; Jer. 22:18; 34:5 [“Alas”]). Pronounced over the living, “woe” was a prediction of death (cf. Amos 6:1; Isa. 5:8-24; 10:1-4; Micah 2:1-5; see Amos 5:1) or an interjection of distress in the face of present or coming calamity (cf. Isa. 3:9; and 6:5). The “woe” was addressed to those who were eagerly longing for the day of the Lord. Their earnest desire, Amos warned, was ill-founded, for that day would be a day of darkness, not light (cf. Amos 5:20). In Israel’s thinking, “the day of the Lord” was to be the time of God’s culminating vengeance against her enemies, the day when their mighty Sovereign would fight on their behalf (Isa. 34:1-3, 8; Jer. 46:10). On that day, she thought, He would turn His wrath on the wicked nations, punishing with disaster and death those who had threatened His people (Zeph. 3:8; Zech. 14:1-3). On that day Israel would be permanently secured from danger, and exalted among all nations of the earth (Isa. 24:21-23; Joel 3). Amos’ hearers eagerly anticipated that day. They did not realize, however, that its horrors would fall, not only on the nations, but also on them. Israel mistakenly believed that their Sovereign was “with” her (see Amos 5:14), and that on His day of conquest He would eradicate her enemies. The truth, Amos declared, was that Israel herself had become God’s enemy. Her continual sins against His covenant had made her one of the adversaries. “The day of the Lord,” therefore, would not be the expected day of happiness. It would be instead the Suzerain’s day of vengeance against the rebels within His kingdom (cf. 8:9-10; 9:1-10).
5:19. Their experience on that day would be like that of a man running from a lion who then meets a bear. Somehow eluding this second threat, he managed to flee to his house where he rested his hand on the wall in exhaustion and relief. But there, in the supposed safety of his home, a poisonous snake bit him. Similarly Israel would find no haven from God’s judgment.
5:20. The day of the Lord, Amos repeated (cf. v. 18), would be a day of darkness, not light (Joel 2:1-2, 10-11; Zeph. 1:14-15), a day of pitch-dark gloom, without a ray of brightness or hint of hope. The Old Testament prophets spoke of another brighter “day of the Lord,” a day after the exile, when a chastened and impoverished remnant returned to the land, a day when God will restore His people’s fortunes and turn their hearts toward Him (Jer. 30:8-11; Hosea 2:16-23; Amos 9:11-15; Micah 4:6-7; Zeph. 3:11-20).
5:21-22. God’s burning anger was directed mostly against Israel’s religious hypocrisy. He hated, He despised (the repetition indicates vehemence and passion) their religious feasts—the three pilgrimage festivals of Unleavened Bread, Harvest (Weeks), and Ingathering (Tabernacles) which were celebrated annually at the sanctuary (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:18-24; Lev. 23; Deut. 16:1-17). He could not stand (lit., “smell”) the offerings of their assemblies. Though they continually brought Him burnt offerings (Lev. 1) and grain offerings (Lev. 2), He would not accept them as legitimate sacrifices. Though they brought choice fellowship offerings (Lev. 3), He would have no regard for or awareness of them. He loathed every part of their religious worship (see Amos 4:4-5). In verses 23-24 the verbs “away” and “let... roll” are singular, whereas in verses 21-22 the pronouns “your” and “you” are plural. This indicates a shift from national accusation (vv. 21-22) to individual invitation (vv. 23-24).
5:23. God appealed to individuals to take away the burdensome noise of their praise songs. He would not listen to the accompanying music of their harps. Having shut His nostrils (as noted in v. 21b, “stand” means “smell”), He would also stop His ears.
5:24. Instead of ritual and performance, God wanted a relentless commitment to justice and righteousness (see v. 7). He wanted a passionate concern for the rights of the poor, a concern that would roll on like an ever-flowing river... like a never-failing stream that did not run dry. God wanted a day-to-day life of surging integrity and goodness. Only this outer evidence of inner righteousness could offer the Israelites the possibility of survival in the day of the Lord (cf. vv. 6, 14-15).
5:25. God returned to His denunciation of Israel’s religious hypocrisy by reminding them that their sacrifices and rituals had been an affront to Him throughout their history. From the very beginning their worship had been falsely directed. It was often not to Him, but to a golden calf, to the sun, moon, and stars, and to Molech and other false gods that many of them brought sacrifices and offerings during their 40 years in the desert (cf. Stephen’s reference to Amos 5:25-27 in Acts 7:39-43).
5:26. Since then their worship had further degenerated as they began to honor “heavenly bodies” (Acts 7:42; 2 Kings 21:3-5; 23:4-5; Jer. 8:2; 19:13; Zeph. 1:5), in violation of their covenant Law (Deut. 4:19; 17:3). They lifted up the shrine of their false deity (their king), raised the pedestal on which their idols perched, and held high the star symbol of their god. The words “shrine” and “pedestal” could be translated as “Sakkuth” and “Kaiwan” (cf. niv marg.), foreign deities associated with the starry heavens, especially the Planet Saturn.
5:27. Because of this idolatry and hypocrisy in their worship, God said He would send Israel into exile beyond Damascus, toward the direction of Assyria (cf. 4:3). The horror of “exile” was more than the ruin of defeat and the shame of capture. For Israel, it meant being removed from the land of promise, the land of God’s presence. Exile, in effect, was excommunication. Yet this was the judgment of their sovereign Lord, the mighty Suzerain whose covenant they had spurned (see 3:13).
18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! For what good is the day of the Lord to you? It will be darkness, and not light.
19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion, And a bear met him! Or as though he went into the house, Leaned his hand on the wall, And a serpent bit him!
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?
5 The Lord, the Lord Almighty, has a day of tumult and trampling and terror in the Valley of Vision, a day of battering down walls and of crying out to the mountains.
10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.
7 Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited. 8 On the day of the Lord's sacrifice I will punish the princes and the king's sons and all those clad in foreign clothes. 9 On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.
2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
16 as you hold out the word of life — in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."
12 They have lied about the Lord; they said, "He will do nothing! No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine.
we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.
5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
21 "I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies.
22 Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.
23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.
24 But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.
27 "'If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. 29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. 30 I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. 31 I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings.
12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?
15 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. 16 "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.'
27 The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable — how much more so when brought with evil intent!
19 Hear, O earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law. 20 What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me."
12 I wrote for them the many things of my law, but they regarded them as something alien. 13 They offer sacrifices given to me and they eat the meat, but the Lord is not pleased with them. Now he will remember their wickedness and punish their sins:
11 Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god. 12 As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord cut him off from the tents of Jacob—even though he brings offerings to the Lord Almighty.
5 You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. 6 You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. 7 Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.
3 "In that day," declares the Sovereign Lord, "the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies — flung everywhere! Silence!" 4 Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land,
6 buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. 7 The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done. 8 "Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt. 9 "In that day," declares the Sovereign Lord, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10 I will turn your religious feasts into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.
6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
7 You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground
3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.
The prophet began his message by crying, "Alas" (Hebrews, hoy, woe, oh). This word announced coming doom, another funeral lament (cf. Amos 5:1). Many Israelites in Amos" day were looking forward to a coming day of the Lord. Former prophets had spoken of a day in which Yahweh would conquer His enemies and the enemies of His people and establish His sovereign rule over the world (e.g, Deuteronomy 33:2-3; Joel 3:18-21, and perhaps Isaiah 24:21-23; Isaiah 34:1-3; Isaiah 34:8). The Israelites knew that this was going to be a time of great divine blessing, but Amos informed them that it would also be a time of divine chastisement. It would be a time of darkness rather than light (cf. Jeremiah 46:10; Joel 3:1-17; Zephaniah 3:8; Zechariah 14:1-3). God would judge His people before He blessed them.
The fourth message on unacceptable worship (5:18-27)
This lament also has a chiastic structure. It centers on a call for individual repentance.
A A description of inevitable judgment Amos 5:18-20
B An accusation of religious hypocrisy Amos 5:21-22
C A call for individual repentance Amos 5:23-24
B" An accusation of religious hypocrisy Amos 5:25-26
A" A description of inevitable judgment Amos 5:27
The coming day of the Lord would mean inescapable tragedy for Israel. The Israelites may have thought they had escaped one enemy, but they would have to face another. They might think they were secure and safe in their homeland, but deadly judgment would overtake them in that comfortable environment. There would be no safe haven from God’s coming judgment, even though they frequented the temple.
Rhetorically Amos stated that the coming day of the Lord would be a day characterized by darkness and gloom (despair) rather than by bright light (joy; cf. Joel 2:1-2; Joel 2:10-11; Zephaniah 1:14-15).
A brighter day of the Lord was also coming (cf. Amos 9:11-15; Jeremiah 30:8-11; Hosea 2:16-23; Micah 4:6-7; Zephaniah 3:11-20), but first a dark one would appear. The Israelites wanted to hasten the good day of the Lord, but they wanted to forget about the bad one. This prophecy found fulfillment when the Assyrians overran Israel and took most of the people into exile in722 B.C. The later Tribulation period for Israel, which will precede her millennial day of blessing, will be similar to what Amos predicted here, but I think it was not what God was foretelling here.
The Israelites enjoyed participating in the religious festivals and assemblies in which they professed to worship Yahweh. God had commanded the Israelites to observe several feasts and one fast each year, and these are probably the festivals in view. The feasts were Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost (also called Harvest or Weeks), Trumpets, and Tabernacles (also called Booths or Ingathering). The fast was the Day of Atonement. The first four feasts took place in the spring, and the last two and the Day of Atonement were fall festivals. It is not certain, however, how faithfully the apostate residents of the Northern Kingdom observed these special days. Yahweh hated the Israelites" worship assemblies, however, because the people were not worshipping Him from their hearts (cf. Amos 5:15; Isaiah 1:13-14). They were only going through the motions of worship. The repetition of "I hate," "I reject," and "Nor do I delight," stresses how much He detested this type of worship. Notice also, "I will not accept," "I will not look," and "I will not listen," in Amos 5:22-23.
"The presence of the poor and oppressed ... witnessed to their failure to please God. The neglected widow and the poor child in dirty rags were theological statements condemning the attitudes of the oppressors. Amos viewed the sacrifices as objects of God’s hatred because they furthered the spiritual ignorance of the people by giving them a false sense of security." [Note: Niehaus, p431.]
An accusation of religious hypocrisy (5:21-22)
Burnt and grain (meal) offerings were voluntary and expressed the worshipper’s personal dedication to Yahweh and the dedication of his or her works to the Lord (Leviticus 1-2). Peace offerings were also voluntary and expressed appreciation for the fellowship that God had made possible for His redeemed people with Himself and with one another (Leviticus 3). All three of these offerings were sweet-smelling to the Lord and were primarily offerings of worship rather than offerings to secure atonement for sins committed. These three offerings also represent all the worship offerings in another sense. The burnt offering was totally consumed on the altar. The grain offering was partly burned up and partly eaten by the offerer. And the offerer, the priest, and God shared the peace offering. God said He would not accept (lit. smell) or take any notice of any of these offerings, which represent all the others (cf. Amos 4:4-5). In Amos 5:21-22 of the Hebrew text the plural pronouns "you" and "your" appear indicating that God was addressing the whole nation.
In Amos 5:23-24 the singular pronoun "your" appears indicating that the call is for individuals to repent. God told His people to take away the songs that they sang when they worshipped Him because they were only so much noise in His ears. He would not even listen to the musical accompaniment. He would shut His ears as well as His nostrils (Amos 5:21, vivid anthropomorphisms).
"Today people will pay high prices for tickets to "Christian concerts," yet they won’t attend a free Bible study class or Bible conference in their own church. Christian music is big business today, but we wonder how much of it really glorifies the Lord. What we think is music may be nothing but noise to the Lord." [Note: Wiersbe, p354.]
A call for individual repentance (5:23-24)
Instead of feasts and fasts, instead of offerings and sacrifices, instead of singing and playing musical instruments, the Lord said He wanted justice and righteousness (cf. Amos 5:7). Instead of a constant stream of blood flowing from sacrifices, and an endless torrent of verbal and ritual praise from His people, He wanted these ethical qualities to flow without ceasing from them. The Israelites were inundating Him with rivers of religiosity, but He wanted rivers of righteousness.
"Only when the personal concern of the law is incorporated into their social structure and "rightness" characterizes their dealings with others will their worship be acceptable. A token practice of justice and righteousness will not do." [Note: McComiskey, p316.]
This is the key verse in the book since it expresses so clearly what God wanted from His people. It is a clear statement of the importance of moral and ethical righteousness over mere ritual worship.
"With Hosea 6:6 and Micah 6:8 this text stands as one of the great themes in prophetic literature with regard to the nature of sacrifices and true religion. God is not pleased by acts of pomp and grandeur but by wholehearted devotion and complete loyalty." [Note: Smith, p115.]
The Lord now returned to explain further what He did not want (Amos 5:21-23). With another rhetorical question (cf. Amos 5:20) the Lord asked if His people really worshipped Him with their animal sacrifices and grain offerings when they were in the wilderness for40 years. Animal sacrifices and grain offerings represent the totality of Israel’s Levitical offerings. As He clarified in the next verse, they had not. Their hypocritical worship was not something new; it had marked them from the beginning of their nation (e.g, the golden calf incident, Exodus 32).
"Today, there are those who are more in love with the church than with Christ, people who are more preoccupied with choir robes and candle holders [and with worship styles and worship teams?] than with an encounter with the living God. Can we imagine that the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever will wink at this misdirected love?" [Note: Niehaus, p433.]
(Adapted from URL:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/amos-5.html)
Diet Eman was a young Christian girl growing up in Holland when Adolf Hitler invaded the country and began his horrible persecution of the Jews there. Eman, along with some fellow Christians, determined to do something about this injustice and became part of an underground movement to rescue the Jews in Holland. But Eman also tells the story of a rail line that was used by the Nazis during World War II to transport boxcars jammed with Jews and others whom the Nazis considered “undesirables.” Many times the trains were sidetracked for hours while the people inside begged for food, water, and mercy. There were no bathroom facilities for the journey, which could last four days or longer. Along the train's route was a small church located close enough to the rail line to hear the cries coming from within the boxcars. The church people attending services were deeply disturbed by these “distractions,” so they began singing more loudly so they would not have to hear them. We are likely not in a setting where a train filled with suffering people is traveling by the place where we worship. However, our place of worship may well be in a community where many people are hurting and in need. It is certainly located in a community that needs righteousness to be practiced daily. We cannot allow ourselves to think that we have somehow fulfilled our Christian duty by simply attending worship services and then returning to our routines while ignoring the needs of those around us. Feast days and burnt offerings are not part of our worship observances, but do we offend the Lord today with our closed eyes and deaf ears to the hurts of those around us? Christians should consider Jesus' call to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) as a call to practice the kind of lifestyle encouraged by the prophets. Righteousness cannot be practiced in isolation from other people; it requires contact with the world, a world that is often characterized by injustice and unrighteousness. To be salt and light is to have a noticeable impact on our surroundings, and that is what followers of Jesus have always been called to do. Without these practices, we too may see the day of the Lord not as a day of celebration but as a day of judgment to our great shame.
Misunderstandings - In the days of the prophet Amos, the people expressed a longing for the "day of the Lord." The people mistakenly thought the day of the Lord meant an end to their troubles. However, this occasion meant disaster, not victory. The day of the Lord for the northern kingdom of Israel would mean destruction by the Assyrian army because of God's judgment on the people's sins. Amos issued a stern warning about the hypocrisy of the Israelites, specifically their religious practices and routines with no genuine heart engagement.
False Worship - The Israelites still observed holy days, faithfully brought offerings, and sang worship songs before the Lord. However, the smell coming from the sacrifices failed to be a pleasant aroma in God's nostrils. The insincere songs, the musical instruments playing praise, the hymns with no heart proved to be merely an upsetting noise to God. The congregation mingled paganism with their belief in the living God. Amos expressed God's heart in his message. What the Lord desires, he told the people, is plenty of justice done in the land. Let it roll, overflow, like rushing water, unstoppable and with great force. It was a call for the people to repent, cease their superficial worship.
The Same Call Today - Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted Amos in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. He challenged those listening to "let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream" (Amos 5:24, KJV). He encouraged his fellow citizens to treat all people as brothers and sisters. American history is stained with accounts about merciless slavery, discriminatory Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and other cruel, racist atrocities. Sadly, some of those calling themselves Christians attempted to point to Scripture as a basis for these kinds of actions. King and other leaders called for the purging of this hypocrisy. God's justice and righteousness are needed to cleanse the nation of its double standards.