by Francis Foulkes ©


'For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: "Seek me and live; but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beer-sheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to naught." Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel. O you who turn justice to wormwood, and cast down righteousness to the earth! He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name, who makes destruction flash forth against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress' (5:4-9)

'Seek' is the key word in these verses. When we seek for something that is lost, we do everything in our power to find it. Many of the people of Israel, like Amos himself, were shepherds, and if they had lost a sheep they would do anything in their power to seek it and bring it back to the safety of the fold. Some people have lost touch with one whom they love very much, and they will do anything to seek him out and find him. We also use the word 'seek' for some great aim and purpose that we have in life. It is challenging to ask ourselves what, or whom, we seek most in our lives. It was this kind of question with which Amos challenged Israel.

a. They were seeking the sanctuaries

In 4:4-5 we read how keen many of the people of Israel were about their religion. They went to the famous sanctuaries of Bethel and Gilgal, famous because of what God had done there in years past. They offered many sacrifices. They brought their tithes. They made their freewill offerings so that everyone could see how religious they were. 'For so you love to do', the Lord said to them. But God made plain through the message of Amos that He had no pleasure in what they were doing. It was only multiplying their sins, because their hearts were far from God, and while they worshipped in the sanctuaries, they were oppressing the poor and corrupting justice (2:6-8 and 8:4-6). So now Amos challenges them about what they were really seeking, and says directly to them, 'Do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beer-sheba'. (Amos has not mentioned Beer-sheba before, but it was in the south of Judah, a place famous from the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as we see from Genesis 21:33, 26:23-25 and 46:1-5. So the people of Israel 'crossed over' their frontiers to go on pilgrimage to this place where God had met with their forefathers. Just as the prophet has said in 3: 14, the judgment of God when it comes will fall first on Bethel and its altars, so he says here, 'Gilgal shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to naught'.

b. They were called to seek the Lord

It is not a holy place, even a place where God has met with men in the past, that men should seek, but the holy God Himself. Going to a place of worship has no meaning or value, unless we seek God. It is He who matters - that we should know Him, love Him, serve Him, and do His will. 'Seek Me' said the Lord through Amos. 'Seek the Lord,' said the prophet, and if there was one message that to his dying day Amos would have wanted more than any other to bring to the people, it would have been just that, 'Seek the Lord'. 'Seek the Lord'. If there was one message that the Lord wanted to get through to the people, it was this, 'Seek Me', 'Seek Me and live'. Not His holy places, not His great gifts, but Himself, we are to seek. Real life is found only in seeking and knowing Him. Life otherwise is not truly worthwhile; it has no real meaning and it will soon come to an end. As Augustine put it, God has made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him. We may go to the place of worship and yet not have God. We may have God's gifts, we may have money, power, importance, but without God we have no real life. How wonderful it is that we do not need to depend on going on pilgrimage to a special place of worship, that our life does not really depend on the riches or power that we have, but that wherever we are we can seek God Himself and find Him! We can live each day knowing that He is with us, that He is guiding us, and giving us strength and awe need. 'Seek the Lord and live' is the word of Amos that still comes to us.

c. The result, if men do not seek the Lord

Amos made it very clear that if men sought the Lord, they would find true life. He also made it very clear what would happen if they did not seek the Lord. They might try to avoid Him and they might reject His will, but they could not avoid Him for ever. They would have to answer to Him for what they were doing. Justice is intended to be a blessing to any land, keeping its life pure, and preventing wrong and violence; but the kind of justice that the magistrates were giving in Israel's courts was like 'wormwood', a very bitter plant. Instead of upholding what was just, they 'cast down righteousness to the earth'. If they continued in this way, then they must face the fire of judgment as much as each of the nations of whom Amos spoke in 1:3-2:5. 'Seek the Lord . . .' he said, 'lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel'. When a man refuses to seek the Lord and turn to Him, he must know who it is whom he is rejecting. The Lord is God of all, and Judge of all. He is the One who made the mighty stars in their constellations, 'the Pleiades and Orion'. He is the One who controls day and night. He pours the waters of the sea on the earth. He does these things in an ordered way for man's blessing; but He is able also to cause darkness and flood and other disasters, and if He chooses He can 'make destruction flash forth against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress'. Man may sometimes seem so strong. Those who oppress the poor and weak may seem so mighty. But there is One who is Judge over all, 'the Lord is His name', and when He acts in judgment, as Amos has said before, 'the strong shall not retain his strength, nor shall the mighty save his life' (2:14).


'If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land' (2 Chronicles 7:14)

For further thought and study. 1. Consider other passages in the Bible which, like these verses, speak of the vital importance and the blessings of seeking the Lord, such as Deuteronomy 4:29, Psalm 34:4, Isaiah 55:6, Matthew 6:33 and 7:7.

2. Consider also the place in the Bible of the wonderful truth that God seeks for us, that we may turn to Him and find Him to be our Saviour and Lord; for example see Matthew 18:10-14, Luke 15:1-24 and 19:1-10.

Notes. 1. The name of 'Joseph' is used here in verse 6 as it is in 5:15 and 6:6 and 'the house of Joseph' seems to be used like the name Ephraim for the northern kingdom of Israel.

2. Some who have studied the book of Amos very carefully have thought that the wonderful description of the God of creation here (as also those in 4:13 and 9:6) did not originally stand here, but may have been added to the book later. This may be so, although there is no difficulty in thinking of the way that Amos the shepherd out under the stars at night would have thought of the great Creator God, and spoken of Him as the mighty Judge of all, to whom Israel must give account. In any case we can thank God that we have these verses; however they came to be here, with the reminder that they bring to us of the greatness of the God before whom we stand. The variation in the translation of these verses in different versions shows the difficulty of being sure of the exact meaning. In verse 9 the New English Bible understands a reference to other stars, like those referred to in verse 8, but this is not as likely as that the verse speaks of God's mighty judgment coming on those whom the world thinks of as strong. The darkening of the day into night, and the pouring out of the waters of the sea on the face of the earth may mean God's acts of judgment, or they may simply mean that He is the Creator God, who is responsible for the ordering of night and day, sea and land, rain and river.