Amos 5:14-20 Weal or Woe?

It is interesting that three times in the midst of his proclamation of certain judgment (woe), Amos includes the admonition to seek God or seek good, promising the outcome of life (weal) (Amos 5:4,6,14-15). This incites the question: Was it possible for anyone to still seek God amidst the inevitable death of the nation of Israel ? Commentators are divided in their answer to this question. Some see 5:14-15 as a parallel to the free offer of the Gospel – an invitation to life, even amidst apostasy. On the other hand, J. A. Motyer (The Message of Amos © 1974 from IVP’s “The Bible Speaks Today” series) believes that Amos is probing people that are entrenched in a hopeless position. He writes:

“[Amos] does not batter; he seeks to insert a ‘may be,’ in the hope that it will grow into a ‘cannot be.’ If this conflicts with a traditional picture of Amos, incessantly roaring like one of his own lion metaphors, it just goes to show how much of our impression of the Bible men is dependent on the tone of voice in which we read their words. Certainly Amos was the prophet who feared no man; but this does not mean that he went round shaking his fist in people’s faces or behaving in a needlessly provocative manner.”

We have found Amos to be a man who is not bound to a particular preaching technique. First, he has gained his audience’s favor by revealing the sins of the surrounding nations (ch. 1); then he dealt directly with the specific sins of God’s people (ch. 2); he uses the reason of a lawyer, asking a series of pointed rhetorical questions (ch. 3); he uses sarcasm (4:1-5), earnest warning (4:6-12), weeping (ch. 5), and as Motyer points out, he holds out an ‘unattainable hope;’ all in order that he might pierce the hardened and self-assured (but wrongly assured) hearts of the people of God.

Amos did not fit into anyone’s box; he was different from every notion of what a prophet ought to be. Just when he gained his audience’s approval by preaching against their enemies, he turns against his audience; when they got used to his provocative questions, he turned to sarcasm. In the midst of emboldened preaching, he begins to weep; the only thing sure about the style of Amos’ preaching, was that his approach could not be figured out; he was a perplexing figure. While Amos was not bound to technique, one thing was consistent – he preached the truth of God. Amos would have rejoiced to see God’s people repent and turn to Him, but though they did not, it did not discourage him. If anyone felt the resistance of his hearers to his message, it was Amos. Godon Keddie observes, “certainly if he had tied his encouragement and persistence in the ministry to statistical success, he might soon have joined the ranks of ‘burnt out’ ministers, who can take the frustration of an apparent lack of positive response no longer!” (The LORD is His Name: The message of Amos EP © 1986). Amos’ passion for God’s glory and hope of seeing the purpose of His grace fulfilled, were not diminished despite the collective unwillingness of his audience to listen, an audience that had been feeding itself on false hope and false religion.

Read this entire oracle of Amos (chapter 5). Take note of how the words flow from misery to hope and back again. Notice the repetition of the name of God in verses 14-16. What do you think the purpose of the Holy Spirit is in this oracle? Does it present a genuine hope or is the prospect it presents for life foreboding? Find the final, “therefore,” and ask, what is it there for? What picture does this paint for Israel ? What is the God of host’s final verdict?

Listen to this message:

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