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At their presence the people are in anguish.
They run like mighty men;
They climb the wall like men of war;
And they break not their ranks; neither doth one thrust another; they march every one in his path; they burst through the weapons and break not off their course.
They leap upon the city;
They run upon the wall;
They climb up unto the houses;
They enter in at the windows like a thief.
The earth quaketh before them;
The heavens tremble;
The sun and the moon are darkened,
Now the habit of mind with all the Hebrew prophets was to attribute all the activities of nature directly to the will and act of God. They did not, as we are accustomed to do, talk of the reign of law, and personify the forces of nature. They had "the mind that looks beyond"; they thought of "God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own."
In this they were wiser than we, and more reverent. They were not childish or superstitious more than we, but simpler and more direct.
Here was a great calamity, greater than we easily imagine, for it meant actual famine for all, and starvation for many. The prophet appealed to their religious instincts when he called the people to repentance and prayer.
Even now, in our age of hard materialistic temper, when great calamities befall us, we turn somewhat shamefacedly to
call on God for help.
So the prophet exhorts the people to turn to God, not in empty, formal sacrifice, as though God might be bribed to mercy, but "Turn ye unto me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts, not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God; for he is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy, and repenteth him of evil." And the prophet adds, "Who knoweth whether he will not turn and leave a blessing behind."
The response of the people is not recorded, but it seems to be taken for granted, for from the end of the prophet's call for repentance the record goes on immediately to a second discourse -XI:18-in which we have the gracious response of God:
"Then was the Lord jealous for his land, and had pity on his people."
"Fear not, O land, be glad and rejoice; for the Lord hath done great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field; for the pastures of the wilderness do spring; for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength.
"Be glad, then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God."
On this gracious revelation of God's good will, the prophet founded a great sermon, in which he predicts increasing blessing and more abundant favor. "And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions; and also upon my servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit."
There is the intimation of great changes, tumult and disasters "The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great day of the Lord come."
But the purpose of God shall go grandly on to its fulfillment.
The nations shall be called to battle, and God shall judge the earth; kings and empires shall fall and be forgotten, but the covenant of God shall stand, and his gracious redemption shall be accomplished.
This prophetic discourse is couched in forceful words and impressive imagery.
"Proclaim ye this among the nations. Prepare war; stir up the mighty men. Let them come up."
"Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, 'I am strong'."
"Let the nations bestir themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, for there will I sit to judge all nations.”
Come tread ye
"Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. for the wine press is full and the vats overflow; edness is great.
for their wick
"But the Lord will be a refuge unto his people, and a stronghold to the children of Israel."
"Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. But Judah shall abide forever and Jerusalem from generation to generation. And I will cleanse their blood which I have not cleansed; for the Lord dwelleth in Zion."
LL that we know of the prophet Amos is what he tells us in his book. He says of himself, "I was no prophet neither was I one of the sons of the prophets; but I was a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees; and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said unto me, 'Go prophesy unto my people Israel'."
This means that he was not trained in the school of the prophets, nor was one of the recognized profession, but, as we might say, a layman called of God to this special office.
It is an illustration and example of that remarkable feature of the old dispensation which recognized the prophetic office as independent of the organized church or state-a special and immediate commission of God-a gift and calling of divine grace.
It is also an instructive illustration of the method of God's Spirit. The message he had to deliver was from God, but the style and form of its deliverance are the prophet's own. He is no mere amanuensis writing records, no mere voice uttering sounds, but a seer, a man with a vision, inspired and illuminated, but speaking that which was his own conviction and the impulse of his own spiritual life.
We find his message in the words and figures of speech appropriate to his circumstances and habits of thought.
It is the voice of the herdsman, the vision of a man of the open fields and the simple life. It has that directness and concreteness that comes from habitual contact with the concrete realities of daily life. It is homely, familiar, plain.
The book is entitled, "The Words of Amos which he saw concerning Israel." It consists of a series of brief oracles and visions, without any very obvious order or sequence, dealing with the evils of his time and the punishments impending.
We do not know how, nor to what audience these were delivered, but they seem as though they were the briefs or texts from which he may have preached at much greater length.
They may be conveniently divided into three groups, as follows:
I. Chapters I-II. A series of short oracles directed against the sins of various nations, and predicting their punishment.
II. Chapters III-VI. A series of oracles directed against Israel, denouncing their offenses against good morals and their religious indifference, and warning the nation of impending doom.
III. Chapters VII-IX Five visions or parables portraying the corruption of church and state, and the certainty of God's judgment.
In the first section the prophet brings severe indictments against the neighboring nations, and still more severe against Judah and Israel. Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab are all charged with gross cruelty, with repeated and pitiless aggression against their neighbors. Because of these offenses, they are denounced as doomed to destruction-"For three transgressions and for four"—that is, because their cruelty is repeated and habitual-"I will not turn away the punishment thereof."
It is to be remarked that judgment is pronounced against these nations not on account of their religious error or false worship, but because of their gross offenses against the obvious and ordinary laws of morality-sins which the dullest sense of decency and manliness could not but recognize and protest against.
But the indictment brought against Judah and Israel includes