by Francis Foulkes ©


'They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. Therefore because you trample upon the poor and take from him exactions of wheat, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: "In all the squares there shall be wailing; and in all the streets they shall say, "Alas! Alas!' They shall call the farmers to mourning and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation, and in all vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through the midst of you." says the Lord.' (5:10-17)

As in so many parts of the book of Amos, we find three things in these verses: (a) what the people were doing. (b) What God called them to do, and (c) what God would do, if they did not change the way that they were living.

a. What the people were doing

Bribery spoils the life of any nation. When money becomes more important than anything else, the rich become more and more powerful, and life becomes harder and harder for the poor. A person must pay a bribe to get a job, to get medical help, to get justice in a court, or he pays to get off when he has broken the law. In the days of Amos the main trouble was that there was bribery in the courts, and although those who offer a bribe under such circumstances are in the wrong, those who 'take a bribe' are always most to be blamed. Verses 10, 12 and 15 in our passage speak of what happened 'in the gate', and the 'gate' was the place in the city where people met to trade, but also where the courts were held. There the judges took bribes, and they 'turned aside the needy' from what was his right. The poor man could not obtain justice (compare Habakkuk 1:4). So the innocent suffered, and the rich and powerful did just whatever they wanted to do. They 'trampled upon the poor' who had no hope of improving their conditions of living (compare 2:6-7 and 8:4-6). They had to pay 'exactions of wheat' to the landowners, high rents which left them a very small amount with which to feed their own families. When a man was an honest witness in the court and spoke the truth, or when someone like Amos 'reproved' the unjust judges 'in the gate' (verse 10), he was hated and persecuted. Such great difficulties were put in the way of the bribe-scorner or of any spokesman for the truth that it was said in those days 'he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time'. Amos did not mean that one ought to be silent, but rather that it was easier to say nothing than to speak out against obvious wrongs. The person who wanted to get on in his business and be popular in the country would keep his mouth shut about the wrong things going on about him. Today's English Version translates the verse, 'Keeping quiet in such evil times is the smart thing to do!'

b. What God called them to do

The word of the Lord to those who were rich and powerful was quite plain: 'I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins'. They might think that no one who had any power over them saw or cared what they were doing. They might think that they could go on taking bribes and becoming richer and more powerful and that no one could stop them. But the word of God to them was, 'I know'. He told them very simply and clearly what they must do, if they wanted to avoid His judgment falling on them. 'Seek good, and not evil, that you may live'. We have read how they were called to seek the Lord' (verse 6). They had made two great mistakes. They thought that it was enough to seek the sanctuaries, Bethel, Gilgal and Beer-sheba (verse 5). They were told that they must seek the living God Himself and not just places of worship. Then they thought that they could seek God without its making any difference to their lives. So they were told that seeking God must mean that they 'seek good and not evil', they must 'hate evil, and love good'. Then and only then would they truly live'; and 'the Lord, the God of hosts' would 'be with' them to bless them as they boasted. In particular, God called them to 'establish justice in the gate' - in other words, to give just judgment in the courts, and not allow justice to be corrupted by bribes or by the desire to gain the favour of the rich. If they did, they could then hope that 'the Lord, the God of hosts' would 'be gracious to the remnant of Joseph' - but not otherwise (compare Zephaniah 2:3).

c. What God would do

The alternatives were thus made very plain. If they continued in the way of bribery and corruption, they certainly could not continue to prosper. While the poor could only build houses in rough, unhewn stone, the rich built their fine houses out of hewn stone - but the Lord's word was that they would not continue to live in them and enjoy them. They planted lovely vineyards that they might have plenty of wine from them (see 4:1 and 6:6) - but the Lord's word was that they would not 'drink their wine' (compare Micah 6:15 and Zephaniah 1:13). In those very vineyards instead of there being the joy of gathering the grapes at vintage time and letting the wine flow, there would be 'wailing' (verse 17). They would hire the professional mourners 'skilled in lamentation and have even the ordinary farmers called in to add to the mourning. In the country, and 'in all the squares' of the cities and 'in all the streets', there would be wailing. And why? Because the Lord would come in judgment. 'I will pass through the midst of you,' was the Lord's warning. The nation that builds its life on corruption and on the oppression of the poor must fall. History has shown this time and time again. Rome was a great empire, but when its public life became corrupt and when there was a breakdown of family life and a collapse of social standards, that great empire became weak and fell to the forces of people whom they despised as 'barbarians'. The living God still rules in the nations of the world. Only 'righteousness exalts a nation' (Proverbs 14:34). Where a people refuse to turn from its sin, then that people will fall. That was God's word to Israel time and time again through Amos, and through Amos it comes to us and to our nations today.


'He has showed you, 0 man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?'(Micah 6:8)

For further thought and study. 1. It says of the people of Israel at this time that they hated correction and despised those who spoke the truth (verse 10). Consider what is said in Proverbs 13:18, 15:5, 10, 31-33 and 27:5-6 about the attitude of wise and foolish people to correction.

2. Alongside of the thought of God's knowing all about the sins of Israel in verse 12 consider the meaning and force of the words 'I know' that are repeated a number of times in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3.

Notes. 1. The person who is said to be hated in verse 10 may be 'a man that brings a wrong-doer to court' (New English Bible), 'the honest witness in the court' (Phillips), or 'him who makes protest against evil in the public place' (Basic English). Each of these translations gives a rather different idea, but it makes no great difference to the meaning.

2. Some who have studied this book carefully have thought that verses 14-15 break in on the argument that goes before and that is taken up in verses 16-17 with the declaration of God's judgment. It is possible that they were added later, but they emphasise so much the things that Amos says in other places, that we can well understand his speaking in this way. It is hard to be sure what it meant by 'the remnant of Joseph'. The idea may be that even in the time of Amos Israel had only a 'remnant', a small part, of the strength and the greatness that they had before; or it may be that 'a remnant' would be saved when the majority of the people came under God's judgment (a kind of teaching that we find especially in Isaiah).

3. In Exodus 12:12-13 we are told that when the Lord 'passed over' Israel and did not bring them under judgment (that salvation commemorated in the Passover festival), He said, 'I will pass through the land of Egypt'. He did this and acted in judgment against them. When, in verse 17, we have these words, 'I will pass through the midst of you', it may have been an intended reminder of what He did to Egypt.