Amos, this layman from Tekoa who lived in isolation, was a seer. The very Hebrew word for “prophet” means “seer.” This rural, rustic, bucolic, sheep-keeping, sycamore-fruit-pitching layman from Tekoa, as unlikely of a person as you could find, had a vision. He saw what others could not see.
If we pray intensely, it is because we feel deeply, and if we feel deeply it is because we see clearly. What did he see? He had a vision. That vision was one of agricultural disaster in an agrarian land.
Amos 7:1–3 says, 1 This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. 2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, “O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 3 The Lord relented concerning this: “It shall not be,” said the Lord.
Again, look at verse 1, “This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, he was forming locusts…” Literally, the Hebrew means “the larval form of a locust.” The first verse goes on to say, “…when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings.”
What did he see? His seeing didn’t exclude the auditory. He also heard it. Like a great swarm of locusts coming. There he was with the sheep bleeding, sycamore trees growing, and Amos sees what others could not see. We see the coming of a locust invasion.
You and I cannot imagine what a disaster that was.[i] When he saw them in a larval stage, he saw the insipient beginning of what was going to happen unless God intervened. That is, every leaf stripped from every tree. That means every grain stripped from every stalk. Every piece of fruit stripped from every vine. In that agricultural nation in would have been a disaster.
We read some modern descriptions of them in 1865, 1870, 1890, 1892, 1904, and most of all in 1915 there was such a locust plague in the Holy Land. In 1915, when reading accounts of it, the plague was heard before it was seen.[ii] The people heard it coming, and then they saw it like an eclipse of the sun. Those who wrote about the 1915 locust plague said it blackened the sky like it was an eclipse, like it was midnight. They said everywhere they looked they saw the excrement of locusts and every man between 16 and 60 was commanded to pick-up a dozen pounds of locust eggs every and throw them into the sea to try to avert the disaster. It was a calamity.
Amos, who was able to see what others could not see, saw a potential future for the nation. He saw a locust plague, but then he looked again, and he had another vision.
Amos 7:4–6, 4 This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, the Lord God was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5 Then I said, “O Lord God, please cease! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 6 The Lord relented concerning this: “This also shall not be,” said the Lord God.
This sheep-keeping Tekoan saw a fire. It may have been a natural fire. It may have been a brush fire. Spontaneous combustion. That fire was just devouring, like a panzer division, the scrub brush on the desert floor around Tekoa.[iii]
It may have been supernatural fire. That is what is suggested because it devoured the great deep. This fire reached down into the subterranean sources of water that fed the springs that nurtured Israel, and he saw a doubling of the disaster because after the entire agricultural crop had been destroyed, it would’ve been oblivion for all of the water to disappear. He saw that potential future.
This leads me to ask you as Christians, do you see anything differently from how others see things? How do you look at things? Do you see with a sense of “me-ism”? This indifference typifies many in the generations living today. Do you look at things with scorn in the face of possible disintegration? Do you look at things with nearsightedness by saying, “As long as my family and I are OK, I’m not going to worry about it.”
Do you look at things like Ruth Bell Graham, who quipped one time what has been taken more seriously in recent years and that is, “If God doesn’t judge America, He owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.”[iv] Why should we think that we are an exception?
Robert Bellah, a secular writer, using four researchers, said that our nation is in the grip of an individualistic ethic, a selfish lifestyle that is eroding community, and will end our destiny.[v] If you think not, look at some decisions made by our country’s leadership: In 1973, the Supreme Court decided abortion was legal; in 1989 prayer before high school ball games was illegal; and in 2012 President Obama said gay marriage should be legalized. If anything, we are to see what others cannot see.
We need to recognize that if we are to be like Amos, and pray for our nation, that we must see things others do not see even when they’re not pleasant.
[i] J. Daniel Hays and Tremper Longman III, The Message of the Prophets: A Survey of the Prophetic and Apocalyptic Books of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 278.
[ii] John D. Whiting, “Jerusalem’s Locust Plague,” National Geographic (1915): 511–50, esp. p. 529, describes the locust plague of 1915 in Palestine and observes that the locusts gnawed off the small limbs of the fig trees, resembling “white candles on a dried up Christmas tree.” George Adam Smith also details descriptively a swarm of locusts he personally saw in the Midle East, The Book of the Twelve Prophets (New York: Armstrong and Son, 1903), 398–99.
[iii] For more info on panzer divisions, see Steve Kane, The First SS Panzer Division in the Battle of the Bulge (Bennington, VT: Merriam Press, 2008).
[iv] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Commentary: The Complete Old Testament in One Volume (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook Publishers, 2007), 1310.
[v] Robert N. Bellah, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 201.