By Justin Borger with assistance from Generous Giving staff
Amos was a shepherd called by God to deliver a message of woe during a time of prosperity. Both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah enjoyed economic stability in Amos’ day, but their economic vitality was polluted by moral decay. It was a time of wickedness when the people’s sin sprawled over the full gamut of human depravity: complacency (6:1-7), pride (6:8), extravagant living (6:4), abuse of power (6:1), economic rackets (8:5), human trafficking (2:6), sexual immorality (2:7) and brutality (1:13); social injustice and oppression were rampant. In response to the people’s sin, Amos announced a sweeping indictment of God’s people and used some of the most ferocious imagery in Scripture to get his point across. Amos’ prophesy centered on what scholar J.A. Motyer has called “a ceaseless concern for the needy,” and his message can be summarized by his cry: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like and ever-flowing stream” (5:24).
Our study of Amos consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of Amos’ goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, we trust that our resources will prove especially useful for pastors, teachers, counselors, deacons and other leaders interested in teaching and obeying the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study Notes
Amos 1:1 (Key Passage) — Amos’ Call: Amos, a shepherd by vocation, was called by God to serve as his prophet. This required Amos to change his lifestyle, embracing a calling that came without personal gain and pretty much guaranteed rejection, failure, and even personal danger. Are we willing to accept God’s call even when it leads us away from our own plans, ambitions and personal preferences? (See also Amos 7:14-15.) See Amos theme essay Privilege and Responsibility.
Amos 1:2 (Key Passage) — The LORD Roars: The metaphor of the LORD’s roar exemplifies the tone and theme of the book: God’s ferocious anger toward social and economic injustices and atrocities committed by Amos’ generation. Notice that the effect of God’s roar (i.e. his displeasure) is a withered and dried up land. Even though God upholds creation (Hebrews 1:3), he also is able to remove his sustaining hand whenever he chooses; notice the reference to the “pastures of the shepherds,” which are said to “dry up”. Amos himself was a shepherd who depended on pastures for his own livelihood. The effects of sin brought trouble to Amos even though he was an obedient servant of God. This goes to show how broad sin’s effects are, bringing trouble that spreads like an ever-growing ripple. See Amos theme essay Social Sin.
Amos 1:3-4 — The imagery here is suggestive of human cruelty and brutality, man’s aggression toward his fellow man. God promises that such cruelty will be met by his own unbridled “wrath”. Amos speaks about divine retribution in unblushing terms that should unsettle us, especially when we consider the great similarity that exists between the sins of Amos’ generation and our own (e.g. hedonism, social decadence, materialism, disregard for the poor and oppressed, etc.). See Amos theme essay Oppression and God’s Anger.
Amos 1:5 — The one who holds the scepter should beware: God’s wrath is ordained especially for those who are given authority (i.e. “the scepter”) and abuse it. Scripture consistently teaches that those who possess “above average” power likewise will be judged by an “above average” standard. Where are our ambitions leading us? People who enjoy “being in charge” or being successful and influential must count the cost of such high responsibility and stewardship (James 3:1, Luke 16:19-31). See Amos theme essay Privilege and Responsibility.
Amos 1:6-9 — Some sins are not individual by nature. God is particularly displeased with the social sins of communities which enslave or oppress other communities or people groups. God promises repeatedly that such acts of social and structural sin are to be dealt with by a consuming fire. Are there groups in our own culture that have been particularly oppressed or forgotten (e.g., unborn babies, homeless and minorities)? Part of stewardship is being a responsible member of a community. We must be sensitive to the corporate sins of our own society and the subcultures of which we are members. See Amos theme essay Social Sin.
Amos 1:11 — The increasing heinousness of the atrocities are met by increasing degrees of wrath and divine retribution. Not all sins are equally heinous; those who would dare to commit atrocities such as murdering one’s kindred and selling whole communities into slavery should be gripped by fear and repent immediately. See Amos theme essay Oppression and God’s Anger.
Amos 1:13-15 (Key Passage) — Crimes of Oppression: Escalating atrocities are met with escalating threats of divine retribution. The climax of the barbarity in Amos 1 comes with Ammon’s crime of ripping open the wombs of pregnant women in order to extend its national wealth and influence. Precisely how this act of violence extended the perpetrator’s assets is not explained; however, we should notice that the crime was motivated by greed. Before pointing at these brutal crimes of antiquity in hypocrisy, we should examine our own contemporary culture and the ways in which we “rip open the wombs of pregnant women” in order to extend our own financial borders. Today in America, children are aborted on a daily basis simply because allowing them to live would bring a financial burden to individuals and society as a whole. This is especially true in poor and underprivileged communities. So, before judging the culture of Amos’ day, we must repent for our own sins and work to enact change. Scholar A.J. Motyer points out in his commentary, The Day of the Lion, that Amos falls within a longstanding Old Testament prophetic tradition of speaking out on behalf of the weak and the oppressed (e.g., 1 Kings 21:17-9; Isaiah 1:17, 23; Jeremiah 7:6; 22:16). In the ancient world a simple mindset of survival was dominant. The message of Amos is one that is unique in its own time because he spoke as a social advocate for the weak. See Amos theme essays Oppression and God’s Anger and Social Sin.
Amos 2:4-5 (Key Passage) — Rejecting the Law: The focus of God’s judgment turns to Judah, which has rejected God’s law and become enamored with pagan deities. This form of disobedience is common among nominal Christians in our own day; that is, social Christians who know God’s word but are easily distracted by what the world has to offer in place of God’s truth (e.g., materialism, pornography, self-promotion). Judah’s rejection of God’s law was a slap in the face of the God who so uniquely blessed them with the revelation of his will. Many of the nations that had come under judgment in the book of Amos had not been given the privilege of having the Law. Judah’s rejection of God’s gift was an act of radical ingratitude. Do we cherish God’s word and our exposure to the gospel? See Amos theme essay Privilege and Responsibility.
Amos 2:6 — Amos prosecutes the sins of Israel’s social decay, which have been expressed through oppression of the righteous and the needy. These crimes are unmistakably economic in nature. However, they go far beyond mere inequalities because they involve the theft of actual people (slavery), not just goods or commodities (robbery).
Amos 2:7-8 — Adding insult to injury, Israel’s sin comes to a climax through their pride, sexual immorality and Idolatry Is Worthless. Amos says that they “trample on the heads of the poor” and “Father and son use the same girl.” Scripture is clear in teaching that the sins of the heart such as greed, lust and covetousness always lead to more and more heinous forms of sin (e.g. James 4:1-3). Hatred begets murder, lust begets adultery, and greed begets robbery. When our hearts are troubled with greed, we must remember that if greed is allowed to imbed itself, it will inevitably express itself in even more grotesque outward ways just as Israel’s sin did. See Amos theme essay Extravagance.
Amos 2:9 — God is no respecter of persons, and in comparison with his own divine stature, all men are puny. Judgment is brought on the Amorites in spite of their strength because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34). As easy as it is to forget, human strength is never the cause of success; rather, God’s gracious providence is the source of all blessing.
Amos 2:14-16 — Amos lists a series of human strengths and abilities which are impressive to man but are vain in opposing God’s judgment. Human strength is not the source of human success; rather, God’s gracious providence is the cause of all blessing.
Amos 4:6-13 (Key Passage) — Empty Stomachs: A series of statements is made about various needs that are brought about by God himself (e.g., empty stomachs, lack of bread, lack of rain). However, these needs that God allows to fall upon the people should be seen as discipline rather than judgment. The purpose behind them is benevolent. The lack of rain, bread and other goods are meant to drive the people to God as their provider, yet this does not happen. These verses teach us that when we don’t have something which we need, our response should be to run immediately to God in humble dependence and (when necessary) repentance. If we fail to do this, judgment will be all that is left for us.
Amos 5:11 — God is able to withhold the fruit of our labors if we are dishonest in the work that we do.
Amos 5:16-20 — When corruption takes root within the governmental or structural sector of a society, widespread suffering inevitably follows. When we forsake justice and mercy, God’s very presence becomes a curse rather than a blessing, for he cannot tolerate wickedness. Social stewardship calls for us to consider the way our actions affect the community. See Amos theme essay Social Sin.
Amos 6:1-7 (Key Passage) — Woe to the Complacent: In the first half of chapter 6, Amos contrasts the sanguine attitudes and practices of the rich with the dire misfortune of the oppressed. Rather than mourning with those who mourn and weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15), the affluent of Amos’ day engaged in brazen acts of extravagance which contributed to the deprivation of the poor. As scholar J.A. Motyer points out in his commentary The Day of the Lion, “It was a shrewd thrust for Amos to describe the nation as Joseph—the lad who wailed his heart out in a deep pit while his brothers sat down to eat (Genesis 37:23-25; 42:21).” Ignoring the suffering of those around us is incompatible with, and ultimately a denial of, the gospel itself, as 1 John 3:16-19 points out. It is impossible to follow Christ’s example if we do not seek to improve the situation of the most miserable person(s) among us. Amos 6:7 teaches us that if we fail to take pity on others, God will not take pity on us (i.e., “Your feasting and lounging will end”; see Luke 16:19-31).
Amos 6:8 (Key Passage) — The LORD Abhors Pride: Pride is what made the devil the devil, pride motivated Eve to eat the apple in the beginning, and pride continues to distort our relationships with God, other people and creation (Genesis 11:3-4). In our own contemporary culture pride often is rooted in our financial accomplishments and personal prowess. Of course, pride can also result from over-emphasizing our sacrifices and our giving as well. Biblical stewardship includes the way we relate psychologically to what we have been given by God. If we identify who we are with what we have, we become easy prey for the sin of pride and other forms of idolatry. For this reason stewards should regard their accomplishments and possessions as gifts that are to be held in trust. Finally, when the difficulty of swallowing our pride presents itself, we must claim God’s promise that, though he opposes the proud, he will give grace to the humble (James 4:6). See Amos theme essays Extravagance and Privilege and Responsibility.
Amos 7:7-9 — Although God relents for a time, his judgment finally comes. We must not confuse earthly success and prosperity with proof of God's approval.
Amos 7:10-13 (Key Passage) — Prophetic Unpopularity: Like other prophets before him, Amos delivered a message that was unpopular and offensive (Jeremiah 6:10; Acts 7:52). Stewards of God’s word must not compromise or soften the severity of the message with which they have been entrusted, even when delivering that message becomes a personal liability. The gospel is offensive to the ears of this world because it begins with a call for repentance and the assumption of human guilt before a holy God.
Amos 8:5 (Key Passage) — Truth and Religiosity: The first half of this verse describes a people who participate in outward rituals while remaining totally preoccupied by the desire for wealth and pleasure, even to the point of pursuing it through dishonest gain. The outward works of the law are meaningless if our hearts go unchanged. God cares about our affections; he desires lordship over the things that we love. The second half of this verse shows that God hates all forms of dishonesty, even when subtly perpetrated. The sin of dishonesty is aggravated when it is committed against those who are in need. See Amos theme essay True and False Religion.
Amos 8:6 — This verse shows how skewed the people’s values had become. The poor and needy are sold as merchandise, and even the smallest opportunity to make a profit is feverishly pursued. Why do we spend money on things that are intrinsically worthless or on things that we don’t need? Doubtless such expenditures are encouraged by our culture and the modern-day market, which often manipulate us into believing we really need the “the next new thing”. See Amos theme essay Extravagance.
Amos 8:8-9 (Key Passage) — Effects of Sin: The effects of sin extend well beyond the individual sinners themselves, even to the created order (e.g., “Will not the land tremble for this … ?”). Whether these references to the effects of sin on the environment are literal or metaphorical, what is clear is that the effects of sin cannot be quarantined or limited to individuals alone. As stewards, we must have a realistic view of the devastation that can come from even the smallest sin of the heart. Stewards must remember that because they live in a community, their personal choices have corporate and even cosmic consequences. See Amos theme essay Social Sin.
Amos 8:11-12 (Key Passage) — Famine of the Word: In Amos 4:6-8 we heard of a famine that strikes the land and is meant as discipline. Now in Amos 8:11-12, Amos tells of a day of even greater deprivation and judgment, a famine not of food and water but of hearing the words of the LORD (see also Amos 2:4-5). In Psalm 119:105, David wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and light for my path.” When the light from that lamp is hidden, the result is aimless confusion (Amos 8:12). Stewardship means hearing and obeying the words of the master; however, hearing these words is a privilege we cannot take for granted. Truly, God's word is worth more than silver or gold. The value of hearing and understanding (so that we may obey) God's word cannot be calculated in dollars and cents. When we give up our valuable time for church and Bible study, fund trained teachers of the Bible, or pay for books and teaching for ourselves and for others, we are trading something temporary for something of abiding, infinite value. See Amos theme essay Privilege and Responsibility.
Amos 9:7 — Israel mistook God’s grace for their own goodness. But Israel’s wickedness is no different from the wickedness of the other nations, making Israel accountable to the same justice. In his commentary The Day of the Lion, scholar J.A. Motyer suggests that the people were living in a spiritual dream world, forgetful of God’s holiness and sin’s reward. One sure way not to receive God’s grace is to take it for granted. See Amos theme essay Privilege and Responsibility.