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Go to Bible: Amos 5
“a lamentation.” A lamentation is an expression of sorrow and mourning, usually for someone who has died, and it is often expressed in poetry, as we see here in the Hebrew text of Amos. God’s beloved children, the nation of Israel, has abandoned Him and will suffer destruction, and He is broken-hearted about it, but the people have chosen to reject Him and there are consequences for that.(top)
“The Virgin, Israel.” The Hebrew can be read as a genitive, “The virgin of Israel,” but in this idiom the virgin is Israel. Amos is portraying Israel as a young woman who, because of her sins and disobedeince is cut off from life, no more to rise. This is such a sad situation but common: people abandon God and suffer in this life and the next, and God’s heart is broken about it, and expresses his heart through the prophet Amos, who no doubt felt the same way God did. Thus the lamentation (cp. Amos 5:1). Although Amos speaks of Israel as already being cut off, it is a future event spoken of as if it were already accomplished.(top)
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“Bethel…Gilgal…Beer-sheba.” Three centers of pagan worship that had been established by Amos’ time. For Bethel and Gilgal, see commentary on Amos 4:4. Beer-sheba too had become a center of pagan worship (Amos 8:14). God is warning, as He does over and over, about the dangers of pagan worship. Yahweh alone is God and to worship anything but Him will only result in disaster, as is portrayed here: captivity and destruction. All of these cities were places where God had moved powerfully, and great men and women of God had been. The Devil loves to take such places and pervert the worship there so that it is directed to him instead of God, as if he could humiliate God. But also, it seems to be easier to get people to pervert godly worship and godly sites than to start over with brand new sites. Among all his other horrible attributes, the Devil is a parasite, building his perverted worship on the foundation God established for loving and godly worship.(top)
“no one to quench it in Bethel.” When the real battle comes between good and evil, between God and idol gods (or the Devil), godless people will discover that the idols they trusted for support are no help at all.(top)
“You who turn justice into wormwood.” “Wormwood” is the name of a perennial plant that bears yellow flowers and was used to flavor water even though it made the water bitter (Prov. 5:4; Lam. 3:15). Here in Amos 5:7, evil people turn good to evil. In this case, although they had the power to do good, evil people perverted justice and made people’s lives bitter. In contrast, God turns darkness to light (Amos 5:8). God’s people imitate God, and work to make people’s lives better.(top)
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“him who reproves at the gate.” The city elders sat at the gate of the city, and if one was honest and godly, he would try to stand for what was right and reprove the others, and was hated for it. [For more on the elders at the gate, see commentary on Ruth 4:11].(top)
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“a prudent person keeps silent.” There are times when the society around you is so evil that it is simply not wise to speak up against it. The wise and godly person prays for the right time and place to speak up to reprove and correct, or simply waits for God’s judgment. Other verses teach a similar lesson, cp. Proverbs 28:12, 28; Micah 7:5.(top)
“just as you have said he is.” The Israelites said God was with them, but He was not: their sin had driven Him away, as we see in Amos. The situation is common when people disobey God: some of the leaders knew God was not with them (it was quite obvious to anyone who knew the Law) but said He was with them in order to “comfort” the people so they could be misled; some of the people were self-deceived and wanted to believe God was with them even though no signs of His presence were around them; some of the people were ignorant and were simply deceived and led astray by what the leaders and false prophets said. But whether a liar, self-deceived, or led astray, the facts were that Israel had abandoned God and would suffer for it.(top)
“hate.” When God tells us to “hate” evil, that does not mean to have a “deep, enduring, intense emotion expressing animosity, anger, and hostility towards” it (Penguin Dictionary of Psychology definition of “hate”). He means we are to have nothing to do with evil, be disgusted and repulsed by it, and actively work to eradicate it. [For more on the large semantic range of “hate” and its use in the Bible, see commentary on Prov. 1:22, “hate”].(top)
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“in all the vineyards.” Vineyards were typically a place of rejoicing because wine and wine-vinegar were such an important part of ancient life, but now there will be no harvest and so there will be wailing.(top)
“Woe to you who desire the day of Yahweh.” The Day of Yahweh (“the Day of the LORD”) is the period of great tribulation that will come on the earth as a consequence for all the sins that have been committed. It is a time of great tribulation. Here in Amos 5:18, Yahweh is speaking to the arrogant and ignorant Jews in Israel (Amos 5:1, 4), who wrongly thought that the Day of Yahweh was a time of the destruction of their enemies and a time of deliverance and vindication for them. But as Amos 5 shows, Israel was as big or bigger a sinner than even the pagans, after all, the pagan nations did not have any guidance from God as to how to live and how to act in a way that pleased God, but by the time Amos wrote, Israel had the Law of Moses and quite a few of the books of the Old Testament, so the Jews in Israel had the Law of God but refused to obey it. To whom much is given, much will be required, and the house of God will be judged along with everyone else (1 Peter 4:17). Sadly, what happened in Israel over 2,700 years ago is happening today. The Bible is available to millions of people on earth who ignorantly and arrogantly ignore it, not realizing that their Judgment Day is coming.
[For more information on the Day of Yahweh, the Great Tribulation, see commentary on Isaiah 13:9 and Dan. 12:1. For more information on Jesus’ future kingdom that will be set up on earth after Armageddon, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For a basic timeline of End Times events, see commentary on Matt. 25:32].(top)
“and a bear met him.” The prophecies of the Great Tribulation (the Day of the Lord) make it clear that life will be very dangerous and most people on earth will die. This prophecy of fleeing one problem only to encounter another is similar to Isaiah 24:18. The disasters in the Day of the Lord are described in many of the Old Testament prophetic books (see commentary on Isaiah 13:9).(top)
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“I will not accept them.” Offerings and sacrifices were never designed to make a person with an evil heart acceptable in the sight of God, as if God would overlook evil and sin if the person offered sacrifices. Nor did God want people to just “go through the motions” of praying, sacrificing, and giving offerings. No one could procure God’s favor just by doing a sacrifice if their heart was not in the right place. Sacrifices and offerings were designed to show, in a very visible manner, the obedient and humble heart of the person who brought the offering. Animal sacrifices were also designed to show how horrible sin was and the cost required to forgive it, and to show that God indeed forgives or favors people who had an acceptable sacrifice or offering.
The Bible says that when a person is evil and unrepentant, the sacrifices, offerings, and prayers that he or she makes are simply rejected by God: “A sacrifice offered by the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with deceitful intent.” (Prov. 21:27). God’s favor is not for sale, nor is He some kind of vending machine that if you put prayers or offerings in, then you get grace and mercy out. It is very worldly, and very tempting, to treat these offerings as if they are gifts that buy God’s favor instead of being gifts that express love and thankfulness for God’s favor and forgiveness. They were meant to be done “after the fact.” The sinner was to repent and genuinely seek God’s favor before he offered the sacrifice so that the sacrifice would be acceptable to God. If the heart was evil and unrepentant, the sacrifice was not acceptable to God, and it did not procure any favor from God.
For much of the Old Testament, the system God lovingly put in place to support the priests was actually abused by many of them. The priests were allowed to eat part of many of the sacrifices offered by the people and thus could profit from the failure of the people. For example, the priests ate some of the grain offerings (Lev. 6:4-16, 18; 7:9-10), the sin offerings (Lev. 6:26, 29), the guilt offerings (Lev. 7:6), and the fellowship offerings (Lev. 7:28-34). Since they ate a portion of some of the sacrifices, unscrupulous priests had no incentive to really work with the people to help them overcome their weakness and sin; instead, they wanted to see sin continue. That some of the priests did not do their best to stop the sin in Israel but enjoyed eating the sin offering is no doubt why God accused them: “they feed on the sin of my people” (Hos. 4:8. “sin” can also be translated “sin offering”). Amazingly, in spite of their elevated status and the level of luxury they enjoyed because most people were not wealthy enough to eat meat regularly, many of the priests were still unthankful to God even though they were afforded this privilege (Mal. 1:7-14; see commentary on Malachi 1:7).
Although the drink offering accompanied many of the sacrifices, it was always to be poured out (Num. 28:7). One thing accomplished by that was the priests did not get drunk (some Christian denominations allow the priest to drink leftover wine from the Lord’s Supper and some of them do get drunk, which is a sin).
Many verses show that God does not accept the offerings or prayers of evil and unrepentant people (cp. Prov. 15:8; 21:27; 28:9; Isa. 1:11-15; 58:1-8; Jer. 6:20; 14:10-12; Hos. 5:5-6; Amos 5:21-23; Mal. 1:10; 2:13-14; James 4:6. Verses that specifically mention prayer include: Job 35:12-13; Prov. 15:29; Isa. 59:1-2; Ezek. 8:17-18; Micah 3:4; Zech. 7:12-13; James 4:3).
Also, although many kind and humble people follow their leaders into error, and most often God responds to the people’s heart and overlooks their error, that does not mean that God does not care about people’s error. God wants people to know the truth and obey it (1 Tim. 2:4). God expects people to get to know His will, which they will do if they read the Bible and make an effort to understand it. God says to the ignorant leaders and people, “For my people are fools, they do not know me. They are senseless children, and they have no understanding” (Jer. 4:22). In Jeremiah’s time the common people were following their leaders and worshiping idols, and although many of them did so out of ignorance, that did not mean God completely overlooked their sin. Today, many “common Christians” do much the same thing. They do not read their Bibles or seek to understand what is in it, and so they are led to do things that are contrary to the Bible, such as pray to dead saints.
[For more on God being more concerned with love and obedience than sacrifices, see commentary on Matt. 5:24. For more on God not speaking much about sacrifices when Israel came out of Egypt, see commentary on Jer. 7:22. For more on the lawsuit that God had with Israel because they broke the covenant they made with Him, see commentary on Hosea 4:1].(top)
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“beyond Damascus." Although Damascus, the capital of Syria to the immediate north of Israel, seemed to be the logical threat to Israel, God foresaw that Israel would not be destroyed and carried captive by the Syrians, but by the Assyrians. The nation of Assyria was north of Syria and certainly “beyond Damascus.”(top)