In the first two visions (locusts and fire, 7:1-6) Amos interceded and Yahweh relented: “This will not happen.” Then Yahweh shows Amos a third vision (Amos 7:7-9). This time Amos does not intercede (as far as the text reveals) and Yahweh is resolute in judgment. Yahweh will destroy the idolatrous sanctuaries of Israel and put the sword to the house (dynasty) of Jeroboam II.
Amos sees Yahweh measuring a wall with a plumb line. This is a tool that measures how straight a wall has been built. It is a line to which a weight is attached. As the weight is lowered to the ground from the top of the wall, one can measure how well-built the wall is. Does it lean? Will it stand? Is it perpendicular?
In the vision Yahweh is measuring Israel’s justice and righteousnes, their devotion and covenant loyalty, by a standard. Israel is not what it was designed to be. We may assume that the Torah is the standard and righteousness is the desired outcome. Instead of justice, Yaweh finds injustice among the people. The wall is not standing straight and strong. Instead, it is faltering and leaning. The wall was not properly built and Israel was nothing like it was supposed to be.
The effect is that the wall must be torn down as it is unsuitable; Israel does not represent God to the nations but has become like the nations. Consequently, God will no longer bear with their injustices. God has decided to act. In particular, God will destory the north’s religious sanctuaries (high places) and raise the sword of Yahweh against the royal dynasty of Jeroboam II. Nevertheless, even within the divine judgment is the divine acknowledge that Israel yet remains “my people.” The covenant language remains and the covenant is excecuted according to the cursings promised in the covenant (Deuteronomy).
The message is so final and disturbing that Amos’s visionary reports are interrupted (even interpreted) by a dialogue between the priest (Amaziah) of one of these religious sanctuaries (Bethel) and Amos the prophet (7:10-17). It is not so much, actually, an interruption as a comment on the seriousness and determination of Yahweh to carry out the word of Amos. The prophet emphasizes the gravity of the prophetic warning by reporting the dialogue between an idolatrous priest and the Yahwehist prophet. The final word of the prophet reiterates the announced word of Yahweh from the vision (compare 7:9 with 7:17).
The dialogue also alerts us to the opposition Amos faced as a Yahwehist prophet in the northern kingdom. Amaziah reports the message of Amos to king Jeroboam II (Amos 7:10-11) and then forbids Amos–presumably on the authority of the king–to prophesy again (Amos 7:12-13). Amos responds with a prophecy (Amos 7:14-17).
Prophet, priest, and king–all of whom should represent Yahweh before the nations–are found in conflict with each other. The priest attempts to preserve his unique role at Bethel. The king supports, presumably, the priest as it is the “king’s sanctuary” against which Amos prophesies. The prophet reaffirms his message against the sancutary despite its royal and priestly support. Prophet, priest, and king are engaged in a religious contest for the hearts of God’s people.
Amaziah, the priest, appeals to the highest court, that is, to king Jeroboam II. Reporting Amos’s message in terms of the death of Jeroboam II and Israel’s exile in a distant land (removed from their own land of promise), he describes Amos as a political conspirator. Amos intends, according to Amazriah, to overthrow the royal authority and implement a different religious program that would unseat both priest and king.
Amos attacks the religious and political heart of Israel–Bethel. This was the worship center that was situated on the southern border of Israel next to Judah (the southern kingdom). It was a political act as well as a religioius one since the sancturay was an alternative worship site to Jerusalem (which was also a religioius and political center). Bethel’s political function was to unite the northern kingdom religiously and prevent a return to Yahweh at the temple in Jerusalem. Amaziah describes Bethel as the “temple of the kingdom.” To prophesy against Bethel was to prophesy against the religio-political state of Israel. Amaziah saw the threat, reported him, and presumably on the authority of Jeroboam commanded him to cease and desist.
Amos is ordered out of the country and back to Judah. He should pursue his prophetic career (and earn his money [bread]) there; A maziah presumes that Amos is a career prophet seeking monetary gain. He is forbideen to prophesy in Bethel ever again. Amos is neither one of the king’s priests nor the king’s prophets. He is not welcome in Israel.
Amos never wanted to be a prophet. In Judah he was neither a prophet nor training to be a prophet (the probable meaning of “prophet’s son”). He did not go to prophet seminary. Instead, he was a shepherd and a migrant worker. He was not part a royal prophetic tradition in Judah nor was he an urban royal counselor (as other prophets were like Isaiah later). Instead, he was a simple believer who was called to speak a word of prophecy to Israel. We might imagine that he may have even been reluctant to prophesy as others were (e.g., Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah).
In so many words Amos said, “Yahweh told me to prophesy to Israel and that is what I am here to do.” Like Luther later, he can do nothing else–he must speak the word of the Lord. “Therefore,” Amos says, “I will tell you what Yahweh has said.” Amos must speak; he cannot remain silent.
Amos has a word for Amaziah specifically. His children will “fall by the sword,” he will go into exile with Israel and die in a distant land, and his spouse will (we may presume) join him in exile where she will serve as a prostitute. His familly–his joy and future–will be decimated. His descendants will have no future as even his land is divided and given to others. In essence, Amaziah, as a priest in Israel, represents Israel as a whole. What will happen to him will happen to Israel. His future is Israel’s future as Israel will go into exile. The land grant–one of the great blessings promised to Abraham’s descendents–is rescinded. The hope of Israel evaportes as it has no future without land.
Amos does not back down from his message. He will not stop preaching the message Yahweh gave him. Royal and priestly opposition do not deter him even though he is but a shepherd from the backwater town of Tekoa.
Amos was a lone voice, it seems, at the Bethel sanctuary. He faced tremendous religious and political pressures. The dominant culture opposed him and yet he steadfastly proclaimed the word of the Lord. Perhaps such is our task as well.
May we ever be so faithful!