by Francis Foulkes ©


'Do two walk together, unless they have made an appointment? Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey? Does a young lion cry out from his den, if he has taken nothing? Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it? Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing? Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does evil befall a city, unless the Lord has done it? Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?' (3:3-8)

As we read these verses we need to think of Amos out in the wilderness where he kept his sheep. He knew everything that happened in that lonely place, and he knew that nothing happened without a cause. To everything there was a reason. Two people met and went walking together. It would never be by chance, as one might meet a friend in the street in a city without having planned it; in the wilderness it must be that the two had planned to meet. There was the roar of the lion in the forest, and a reason behind it. The hunting lion is silent till he leaps on his prey. The shepherd knew what had happened when he heard that roar. There was the sound of the young lion in his den. The shepherd knew that he had taken his prey and he would 'growl' (New English Bible) over it till he had devoured it completely. The shepherd saw a bird flying and suddenly fall to the ground; he knew that it had been caught by a hunter. He saw a snare spring up from the ground and knew that there was a bird in it fluttering and struggling to get free. Then, 'nearer to the point that the prophet is making, there is the sound of the alarm trumpet in the city. The people would be afraid; they would know it was the warning that the enemy was near and threatening them (compare Jeremiah 6:1 and Hosea 5:8).

Amos saw all these things happening. He knew that behind what happened in each case there was a cause. So there were three things that specially concerned him as the messenger of God, as a man who could read the 'signs of the times' in which he lived.

a. God's judgments

First, he said, 'Does evil befall a city, unless the Lord has done it?' Amos in his shepherd life in the wilderness knew God as Lord of nature. Everything happened in nature as God ordered it, day and night, sun and moon, rain and wind, and the changing seasons. So also he was the God of history, in control of what happened among the nations. Amos knew what God had done with Israel from the days when they were slaves in Egypt, and he believed that God had been active in the affairs of other nations as well. So he knew that when evil came on a city, when it suffered invasion and defeat, the hand of God was at work. Most people when they think of warfare between two countries, see the power of each and the human reasons for one being defeated by the other. The man of God sees the working out of God's purposes, in judgment or in bringing a people back to Himself. Things do not happen just by chance. Nor are there just human reasons behind what happens among the nations of the world today. The personal God, who is Lord of all nations and Lord of history, is working out His purpose. We should remember this when we read or listen to the news of the world. We may not understand all that God is doing, but He who is Lord of all is at work. It does not mean that it is the most sinful nation that suffers most in war; nor does it mean that because God works out His purpose through wars, He desires wars to happen and so men who cause war are excused. No, men must answer to God for causing war and doing violence to their fellow-men; but God is never taken by surprise and He is always working out His purpose. Therefore the prophet can say 'Does evil befall a city, unless the Lord has done it?'

b. God's warnings

God allows evil to come on a nation that has rejected His ways, but He does not let it happen without warning. Amos knew that, because he was a prophet. He knew that history was not just the acts of God left without explanation. God was always giving warnings, always explaining by His messengers what He was doing. 'Surely the Lord does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets.' Those who live close to God are able to understand what God is doing. He shows His secrets to them, so that they may tell them to all who are willing to hear. God is always wanting to bring men close enough to Him so that He can show His ways to them. He does not want to hide Himself, but rather reveal Himself and what He is doing. We have a great example of this in the book of Genesis from the time when He was about to bring judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah for all their sins. God said, 'Shall I hide from Abraham the thing which I am about to do?' (Genesis 18:17.) He showed to Abraham what He would do, because Abraham was a man who walked closely with God. We see the same thing with Moses and Elijah and Elisha, and after the time of Amos with Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

What of our situation to-day? God still gives us those who are His messengers and preachers of His word, `prophets' who forth-tell and may sometimes fore-tell the future. But our position is different in that we have the Bible to teach us and the Holy Spirit to guide us. Nor can we expect God to show us beforehand the details of what will happen to us personally or to our country. 'We walk by faith, not by sight' (2 Corinthians 5:7). We know the certainty, though not the time, of one great future event. Our Lord Jesus Christ will come again in glory and set up His kingdom. Even before that time we know that there is no real prosperity or blessing for the individual or the nation that turns away from God; but peace and inner satisfaction, even though with suffering, are for those who turn to Him and walk in His ways.

c. God's prophets

The last word of Amos here is a very personal one. He is not content to speak about evil befalling a city, and about prophets in general. It was more personal to him than that, because God had called him to be a prophet. His mind went back to the shepherd life of the wilderness for a moment. The lion roared. Any animal or any man near by would tremble in fear. Far more mighty than the roar of the lion was the voice of God, the Creator of all. (See 1:2 and notes.) 'The lion has roared, who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?' All down the centuries those who have answered the call of God to be His messengers have felt like that. God has spoken and given His word to pass on, His message to deliver; they cannot be silent. This is how Jeremiah felt. It was very hard for him to be a prophet; he suffered so much at the hands of his own people, that he felt that he must give up. But he said, 'If I say, "I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name," there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.' (See Jeremiah 20:7-12.) The early apostles were the same. They said, `We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.' (Acts 4:20.) It should be the same with us. The late Bishop Azariah of Dornakal in South India used to call on those who confessed their faith in Christ in confirmation to put their hands on their heads and solemnly say the words of Paul, 'Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel'. (1 Corinthians 9:16)


Lord God, mighty God and Father, when You speak to me, help me to obey; when You call me to serve You, help me to obey,- when You prompt me to speak for You, help me to obey, by the power of Your Holy Spirit. AMEN.

For further thought and study. 1. With verse 7 consider also the fact that unless the messenger of God has received his message from God he cannot know the truth that he should preach. See what Jeremiah 23:16-32 says about the difference between true prophets and false prophets.

2. How should we try to understand what God is doing when we think of the troubles and disasters and wars taking place in the world today? Does Luke 13:1-5 help to answer this? Should Christians warn people today as the prophets did in their days? See Acts 10:42 and 17:30-31.

Notes. 1. In verse 3 it is possible that all that is intended is that such an event as two people walking together in the desert does not happen without a cause. It may be, however, that behind it is the thought that God and His servant, Amos, go together, and speaks to His servant (as verse 7 says). Or it may be that the prophet is saying that God and Israel were intended to walk together, but now they were not agreed, and so the Lord walked no more with Israel. He could only speak against them (as verse 1 says).

2. We should notice that all the signs mentioned in verses 3-6 are things that speak of trouble and disaster, for the animal which the lion catches, for the bird, for the city; and so the message of Amos is mostly a message of trouble and disaster. When also he saw in the times in which he lived the rise of the great Assyrian empire, he may have felt that by the Assyrians God would bring disaster on Israel.

3. It has sometimes been suggested that verse 7 is like a little note added between verse 6 and verse 8; but it is probably right rather to see it as an important step in the argument: (a) God causes disaster to come on His people, (b) He does not do such a thing without giving warning through His prophets, (c) He speaks to servants and they know they must speak His message.