by Francis Foulkes ©


"I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me," says the Lord. "And I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain upon one city, and send no rain upon another city; one field would be rained upon, and the field on which it did not rain withered. so two or three cities wandered to one city to drink water, and were not satisfied; yet you did not return to me," says the Lord. "I smote you with blight and mildew; I laid waste your gardens and your vineyards; your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me," says the Lord. "I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men with the sword; I carried away your horses; and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me," says the Lord. "I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me," says the Lord. "Therefore thus I will do to you, 0 Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, 0 Israel!" "For lo, he who forms the mountains, and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought; who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!" (4:6-13)

God is a loving God, but He is also righteous and holy. His righteousness and His love are really one and the same thing. Because He is loving and righteous, He will not allow evil to go unpunished for ever, nor people to go on suffering because of the pride and violence of men. God is patient with the proud and violent, very patient with all of us in our sins. But one day we all must meet Him as our Judge. That day may come suddenly, but it will not come without warning. God's warnings come to us every day if we have ears to hear them. Amos told Israel of five ways in which God had been warning them - but they had not listened.

a. Famine

Most frequently people's teeth are dean because they have just cleaned them! Sometimes they are clean because they have had nothing to eat. Here 'cleanness of teeth' and 'lack of bread' mean the same thing; Phillips' translation speaks of their 'hungry mouths'. God allowed famine to come to Israel so that they might learn that He alone is the Giver of all. He it is who provides men with everything by which they live - He, and not other gods, nor the land itself, nor the rich land owner, nor the farmer. This was a lesson that they had to learn (compare Hosea 2:4-9 and Haggai 1: 3-11). This was a warning, but it had not been taken. "Yet you did not return to me,' said the Lord.

b. Drought

They were without rain when they needed it most. In Palestine there is the 'former rain' usually in October, and the 'latter rain' nearer to the harvest in April and May. But January and February came and there had been no solid downpour. It was still as it usually is just before the October rain; there was rain in one place and not in another. It continued like that. One farm flourished and another withered, and the hand of God was behind this. The people from some cities had to 'stagger' to another to get water to drink, and then they were not satisfied for long. There was a lesson for them to learn, if they would learn it; there was a warning to take. God is the Giver even of the water by which men live and without which we die. God wants to give in abundance but it does not serve His highest purposes if men have an abundant harvest and abundance of material things, and do not live the life they are intended to enjoy in fellowship with Him. So God may give drought that men may learn this lesson (compare 1 Kings 17:1, Jeremiah 3:1-3 and 14:1-6). But Israel did not learn. They did not take warning. 'Yet you did not return to me,' said the Lord.

c. Failure of crops

There are times when all seems to go well with the farmer. The sun and the rain come just as he needs them. He is free from any attack of animal or insect or disease on his crops. At other times all seems to go wrong. It was like that for Israel in the days of which Amos speaks. There was 'blight and mildew'. The first of these words speaks of the scorching of the crops by the fiercely hot sirocco wind; the second speaks of a disease that made the plants turn yellow and give no grain. Furthermore, gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees were attacked by plagues of locusts such as are all too well known in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East (compare Joel 1:4). Why did God allow these things to happen? Because they were more sinful than other men? Not necessarily so, but as a lesson to them, to teach them to depend on God; and as a warning to people who thought that they could be prosperous just by their own efforts. This warning too was unheeded. 'Yet you did not return to me,' said the Lord.

d. Plague

There are times when the health of a person or a family or a nation is good. At other times sickness comes, or an epidemic of some serious disease may strike a whole nation. Amos speaks of such disease striking Israel, of a kind that he could only compare with the plagues of Egypt before the Exodus (or the kind of plagues that sometimes spread from the Nile valley in Egypt). We know in fact of serious plagues in Assyria near to the time of Amos and these may have affected many lands. Israel suffered. Many died (compare 2 Samuel 24:15 and Jeremiah 29:17-19). It affected the horses of the country too. The numbers of the people who perished were so great that, as in the great plague of London in 1665, they could not keep up with burying the dead, and the stench of corrupting bodies was unbearable. It was a time for turning to the Lord in humility and earnest prayer. But they did not turn to God and they did not pray. Again the Lord had to say, 'Yet you did not return to me'.

e. Earthquake

Then there was earthquake, or perhaps volcanic eruption. It made people think of what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abraham (Genesis 19). The whole land seemed very near to tragedy, utter and complete. The people were saved only 'as a brand plucked out of the burning' or, as Moffatt translates it, 'like charred sticks snatched from the fire'. What time was there like this when weak man should have turned back to Almighty God, when sinful man should have turned in repentance to his Saviour and his Judge? But again the same thing had to be said by the Lord, 'Yet you did not return to me'.

We should notice that these verses do not say that all these things were God's judgments and punishments of Israel. Famine or drought, storm or earthquake, sickness or financial failure, strikes or civil wars, problems in our work or our home, as they come on us, may not be direct judgments of God on us - though in some cases they may be. Suffering is not necessarily the direct result of sin; and it is certainly not true that the one who has to suffer most is the worst sinner. But one thing is true beyond all doubt. God wants to use all these difficult circumstances that come on us to bring us closer to Him, to depend on Him completely. They may come sometimes, as Hebrews 12:5-11 puts it, as God's chastening, or 'discipline', because He loves us and He wants us to live as His children (see also Job 5:17-18). They may be His warnings, if we are wandering away from Him or if we are Irving to live without Him. Through them He is saying, 'Come to Me, come back to Me, before it is too late, before your life is ruined, your home is ruined, your land is ruined. Come back to Me, before the evening of life comes - weakness, old age, illness, death.' If we, like Israel, refuse to hear and take warning, then there is one word more that God will speak: 'Prepare to meet your God'. Not just famine and drought and disaster to face, but God Himself. This truth stands. We can know God as our Saviour and our Almighty Friend, or we must meet Him as our Judge. He is Lord and Creator of all, the One `who forms the mountains and creates the wind'. He knows the inner secrets of all our hearts and 'declares to man what is in his thought' , even his thought that he has felt that no one at all can know (compare Psalm 139:2-3). All the earth is under His control. He made the light, but is able to take it away and 'make the morning darkness'. The prophet pictures Him striding on the hilltops, treading `on the heights of the earth - the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name'. 'Prepare to meet your God!' is the prophet's tremendous challenge.


'Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.' (Isaiah 55:6-7.) `Behold now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation.' (2 Corinthians 6-2)

For further thought and study. 1. What do Leviticus 26:14-39 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68 say about the results of turning away from God? Notice that a number of the things spoken of in these chapters are the same as the words of Amos here.

2. What things are there that happen to us in our personal life, our home life and in the life of our nation through which God is wanting to speak to us to bring us, to depend more closely on Him and not to turn aside from Him?

Notes. 1. It is not quite certain whether in verse 10 the 'sword' is to be taken literally, and that it means that there was an enemy invasion as well as plague (compare Jeremiah 14:12), or whether it is another way of saying that many would die by the plague, as if by the sword of an enemy brought against them.

2. Some people have thought that verse 13 has been added later to the original words of Amos because of the words used and the thoughts expressed. This is possible, but it does not seem necessarily so. In any case it stands very appropriately at the end of this chapter, as a reminder to us that the Lord whom we must all prepare to meet is He who is Lord and Creator of heaven and earth, and He knows every thought of our hearts.