We see in this eighth chapter of Amos, the medium, message, and motif of God’s revelation.
Amos 8:1–2 says, “This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. 2 And he said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them.
Already, Amos had seen the fresh vision of locusts, and God relented of national judgment. Amos had seen that contending of God by fire, and once again when Amos cried out to God for Him to cease, God once again relented of the disaster He said He would do to them. Then, in the third vision, God showed Amos the plumb line, the vision of finality. In this vision of summer fruit (the fourth of Amos’ visions) is but an application of that vision of God’s plumb line laid down beside God’s people to show they are out of square with God’s purposes.
The time is the fall harvest festival when the fruit was safely gathered together.[i] The air is filled with festive ballads. It was the new-year time, the time of beginnings, not the end. The time of renewal, not of ruins. But in the midst of the howling of the ballads and the revelry of the celebration, Amos who stands by quietly ignored fastens his x-ray vision on one basket of the fruit. Caught up in the charisma of prophetic insight, he hears the word of Jehovah.
In Amos 8:2a the Lord says, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” And suddenly that basket of ripened fruit becomes the common thing that is the vehicle of Jehovah’s revelation. Just like Moses’ rod that became the rod of God, just like Elijah’s mantle that became the mantle of power, that basket of ripe fruit, as common as it was, becomes the vehicle for God’s Word about the fate of a nation.
You see, a prophet is not someone who sees unusual things so much as someone who sees more deeply into very ordinary things. The medium of revelation was a basket of ripe fruit, but what was its message? The message was “No exit. This is a terminal generation.”
There is here in the Hebrew language a subtle play on words. The Hebrew word for “ripened fruit”, “כְּל֣וּב קָ֑יִץ” is a word pronounced “qāyiṣ.”[ii] And the Hebrew word for “the end” is a word pronounced “qēṣ”.[iii] What Amos heard can be reproduced in English by saying this, “What do you see, Amos?” “I see a basket of plumbs.” “That’s right, Amos. You see a basket of plumbs. And Israel will plummet toward its end.”
In the assonance of that homonym, that sound-a-like word, Amos saw in that basket of fruit a word about the end. When everyone else at the harvest festival said it is the beginning, it is the burden of Amos who said it was the end. When everyone else was saying it was a time of renewal, it was the burden of Amos to say it was the time of ruin.
Like those who are partying on the upper-deck of a luxury liner, after a fatal leak has sprung beneath the water line, Amos’ generation was in no mood. But Amos, more than any other prophet in the Old Testament, spoke a word about “no exit” to an affluent generation who said, “Hurry up with the benediction.” This message came by the motif of ripened fruit. The motif is a sudden reversal of their society.
Amos 8:3 says, The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” declares the Lord God. “So many dead bodies!” “They are thrown everywhere!” “Silence!”
This is a motif of reversal. The songstresses of the temple, who sang at national holidays, whose festival ballads were ringing in the ears of the holiday celebrants in Bethel were prized as a treasure by the king as much as his gold or his silver. The songs of the songstresses were to be reversed to the sadness of funeral dirges.
Whether it is life rampant, Amos brought the message of death pervasive. “Hush” he said. When a society becomes thoroughly secular and irreversibly materialistic, it is already under God’s terminal judgment. All Amos could say to those folks who were trying to hurry up the benediction was “hush.”
Max Lucado wrote a book entitled God’s Story, Your Story: When His Becomes Yours.[iv] In his book, he writes:
“But then the flies come out. People die, earthquakes rumble, and nations rage. Families collapse, and children die of hunger. Dictators snort and treat people like, well, like pigs. And this world stinks. And we have a choice. We can pretend this life is all God intended. Or . . . We can come to our senses. We can follow the example of the prodigal son. ‘I will set out and go back to my father’” (Luke 15:18).
Amos told the Israelites there was no exit from God’s judgment, but they continued to say, “Hurry up and end your sermon!” There was clear reason for the judgment of God and it was found in the twin sisters of Amos: social injustice and shallow religion.
Amos 8:4 says, “Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end.” That is Amos’ resounding general indictment. The urban affluence had been built upon a disregard of the disadvantaged. Those, who at one time had been slaves themselves, were new affluent and put their feet on the necks of others, were to become slaves once again.
This was the indictment of Amos to those who said of that generation, “Hurry up with the benediction.” There is nothing wrong with affluence. If you hear Amos saying that affluence is bad, then you do not hear his message. Amos does not say affluence is bad; he says affluence is dangerous. It is a matter that is spiritually precarious.
At the zenith of the power of ancient Sparta, the city state in the Greek Peloponnesus, the Spartans sent to the oracle at Delphi and asked the priest who was there to give an oracle, “What can hurt the Spartans?” The oracle said, “Only the prosperity of the Spartans will make the Spartans vulnerable.”[v]
Amos spoke to a generation under the judgment of God with an affluence that in and of itself was not sin, but had become a transgression because it was built upon heaping indignities and injustices upon the disadvantaged who always, in the Old Testament, were the objects of Yahweh’s special care.
What about the vision? Well, I said that Amos was given x-ray vision to get inside the heads of the worshipers. While they were not talking about suits, and hair styles, etc., they were talking about something else.
Amos quotes them in verse 5a. Sitting there with their eyes darting, their feet fidgeting, their thumbs twirling, and their minds calculating. “When will the new moon be over…” During the hour of worship, what fills their minds? Their illegal schemes.
Amos 8:5b says, “that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances.” They’re asking how they can make the ephah small. The ephah was a measure of volume, about 18 gallons, with which wheat was measured. They were calculating how they could rip people off from what was theirs. So, they occupy their hour of worship.
They also ask how to make the shekel great. They not only robbed via volume, but also robbed via currency. They asked how they could rip people off both coming and going.
As if that were not enough, they began asking if they could “deal deceitfully with false balances.” Then, to make their scheming even worse during the worship service, they asked in verse 6, “that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?” Not only will we sell it at deceitful volume and deceitful weight, but how can we take the wheat that has been trampled into the ground until there is no kernel left? Then, we can pawn off the poorest wheat on the poorest of people. This is how they occupied themselves during the hour of worship.
Amos probes their society deeply and sees their religious shallowness evidences of social injustice. There is an odd and peculiar statement in the Pentateuch. Exodus 20:2 says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” God brought them out of Egypt and they went into places of worship to figure out how they could develop scams instead of worship God. Redemption and ethics must go together, but that was not so for the Israelites.
What is the reaction of God who listens to these fidgety false worshipers thinking “Hurry up with the benediction”? It is His oath in verse 7: “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: ‘Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.’” This is a word of sarcasm. You swear by that which will not change. Jehovah found something that didn’t seem to be changing: the arrogant pride of affluent Israel.
It has become so certain that He swears by it. Three times in this book, Jehovah takes an oath concerning the destiny of His people.
If God swears our nation will endure, then we will, but if God swears we will not endure due to national arrogance, try as we will, glory will have departed.
[i] Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 2007), 86.
[ii] F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 983. S. V., “כְּל֣וּב קָ֑יִץ”.
[iii] Smith and Page, 143.
[iv] Max Lucado, God’s Story, Your Story: When His Becomes Yours (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 72.
[v] H. Michell, Sparta (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 109.