God's prophets seldom if ever had an easy time of it. Sometimes I think of Nathan, who had the duty to inform David that what he had done with Bathsheba was sin. Because David was the king, he could have said one word and there would have been one less prophet! Asa was one of the first kings of either kingdom to imprison a prophet (Hanani, see 2 Chron. 16:10); Elijah hid by the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:3-5); and Jeremiah spoke of Uriah, a contemporary who prophesied against Jerusalem, fled to Egypt, was extradited back to Jerusalem, and then executed (see Jer. 26:20-23).

In spite of the risks, some men answered God's call and gave His message to His people regardless of the cost. Amos was one such prophet, one of the first bivocational prophets! He had a regular job or two and may not have had much of a professional ministry. He downplayed what we could call human credentials, insisting that God called him and told him to prophesy. We could use a lot of men such as Amos in the church today, men who will urge God's own people to repentance!

Today's Text
"Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, 'Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is unable to endure all his words. For thus Amos says, "Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will certainly go from its land into exile."' Then Amaziah said to Amos, 'Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah and there eat bread and there do your prophesying! 'But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.' Then Amos replied to Amaziah, 'I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs. 'But the Lord took me from following the flock and the Lord said to me, "Go prophesy to My people Israel." Now hear the word of the Lord: you are saying, "You shall not prophesy against Israel nor shall you speak against the house of Isaac." Therefore, thus says the LORD, "Your wife will become a harlot in the city, your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword, your land will be parceled up by a measuring line and you yourself will die upon unclean soil. Moreover, Israel will certainly go from its land into exile"'" (Amos 7:10-17).

The Words of Amaziah, the Priest of Bethel
We need to remember some of what had happened at Bethel before this encounter. Abraham had built an altar to the Lord near there (Gen. 12:8), and Jacob had two significant encounters at Bethel (Gen. 28 and 35). Bethel is mentioned several times in Joshua, Judges and in connection with Saul and David in the books of Samuel. All these and perhaps other encounters were good, in that the Israelites were at least, on the surface, trying to do God's will.
Sadly, there were other mentions of Bethel that reflect the rebellion of the northern tribes of Israel, Jeroboam first led the northern tribes into rebellion against the southern tribes (see 1 Kings 12) and then built a pair of golden calves for worship in defiance of the first commandment, as well as the second. He put one of them in Dan, far to the north, and the other he put in Bethel. It seems the worship of that idol was kept up from Jeroboam's day until the day the northerners were carried away captive, perhaps longer.

Jeroboam had begun the calf worship but soon started ordaining priests (1 Kings 12:31). We're not told in Scripture what the duties for these priests were, but it's easy to guess they were a copy or imitation of either the true worship of the God of all Israel, or perhaps some of the pagan cultures around (and there were plenty!), or perhaps a combination of both. We don't know.

We do know Amaziah was the priest of Bethel when Amos arrived. We don't know how many of Amos' messages Amaziah had heard, but he apparently had listened to enough of them that he wanted to smear Amos. Take a look at the two messages from Amaziah, some of the few recorded words of an apostate Israelite in the Bible.

First, he tried to make Amos look bad by misquoting him and then by telling outright lies to the king! Verses 10 and 11 give a summary of the charge Amaziah brought against Amos. Nowhere in chapter 7 do we read that Amos made these predictions against Jeroboam or anyone else by name. In addition, nowhere do we read that Amos was preaching rebellion against the king or trying to set up a conspiracy or any other such thing. Perhaps this proves that conspiracy theories are really nothing new at all!

Then, whether Jeroboam applied any pressure to get Amos, Amaziah tried what we might call the direct approach. Verses 12 and 13 give us the message which Amaziah brought directly to Amos. When priest meets prophet, something's bound to happen, and more so when one of them is an apostate such as Amaziah. Think about it: Any prophet or preacher sometimes has to wonder when he brings God's message and receives no response at all. We do not read anywhere in the Book of Amos that anyone responded to the messages Amos preached except here by Amaziah!

Imagine the scene: Amos preaching somewhere in Bethel (we aren't told where within the city) and receives a silent response. Doesn't that remind us somewhat of Elijah and the people at Mount Carmel when he challenged the 450 false prophets of Baal to the test (see 1 Kings 18), and the response was, "the people did not answer him a word" (1 Kings 18:21). Now Amaziah, perhaps dressed in priestly garments, maybe with some sidekicks to encourage Amos to leave! What did he say?

The first thing was an insult to Amos' ministry. Amaziah didn't call him a prophet, but rather a seer. In one sense, that was correct, as Amos had been relating visions God had shown him. Also, some prophets were seers and vice versa. We read of Samuel who was called a prophet, as well as a seer (1 Sam. 9); Nathan and Gad of David's time, both of whom were called seers, and a few others. However, Amaziah never called Amos a prophet. Have you ever wondered why?

Next, Amaziah gave Amos a rather clear invitation to leave Bethel! He said, in effect, "Get out of our town, go back home, and do your eating and preaching there," meaning the message Amos brought wasn't something he wanted to hear.

Finally, Amaziah gave what was the prime reason. Verse 13 says, "Don't prophesy at Bethel because it's the king's residence and the king's sanctuary," as if that was a compelling reason to stop preaching! After all, it was the first king, the first Jeroboam, who had done his part to lead the 10 northern tribes into idol worship; now, this second Jeroboam was following in the first king's footsteps. It's ironic Bethel means "house of God," but now the king was living there. It's also sad that Bethel was where Jacob met the Lord, twice, but now his descendants had abandoned the very God he worshiped.

Confronted with this response, what was Amos going to do?

The Words of Amos, the Herdman from Tekoa
Amos didn't mince words when Amaziah came calling. He first explained his calling and mission succinctly. People of few words seem not to say much unless they have something to say, which was the case here.

Maybe you find it interesting that in some cases, preachers will try to impress listeners with his or her credentials. That was not the case here: Amos neither said he was a prophet (few of God's prophets called themselves prophets) nor the son of a prophet. We could look at the last phrase from a couple of different angles. Amos didn't give his father's name, whereas some did, so he wasn't claiming to be a prophet because of his heritage. Another view is that he wasn't one of the sons of the prophets, that is students of a religious school, one of those being in Bethel (2 Kings 2:3). Amos was one of those rare men of God who heard God's message, delivered the message, and left the results to God Himself. I repeat: Amos didn't claim any honor or special privilege from bringing God's message. He did it, and that was all; that was enough.

Amos didn't shrink, however, from answering God's call. We read in verse 15, "But the Lord took me from following the flock and the Lord said to me, 'Go prophesy to My people Israel." What a contrast: Amaziah, the apostate, priest of the false system in Bethel, telling Amos to go back home, and the word of the Lord telling Amos to "Prophesy to My people Israel!" Aren't we glad Amos listened and obeyed?

Now for the final message to Amaziah, Amos gave it point blank and unvarnished. This is one thing many preachers are reluctant to do, namely to deliver a message of doom and judgment directly to another person.

This message in verses 16 and 17 speak directly to Amaziah's attempt to get Amos out of town—or at least silenced. God told Amos to say Amaziah would lose his land, his children and his wife. We don't know how old these people were, but let's assume they were in their 20s or 30s. Amaziah and his wife apparently were mature enough to have several children at this time. This final prophecy was that Amaziah would die in an unclean (i.e., foreign) land, his children would be executed, and his wife would be left in the city to live as a harlot. Amos previously had spoken of judgment to come (see chapter 4, for example). Here, he narrows the focus down to Amaziah and his family.

Amos did what he was told and called to do: Bring God's message to God's people. God still considered the 10 northern tribes to be part of the nation of Israel and wanted them to return to Him. We do not read of any results or any response except from Amaziah himself. Amos knew he was not a professional prophet or a child of a prophet, but God took him and gave him a mission. Amos did it, regardless of what he may have endured.

When you and I receive our calling from God to bring His message to someone, I hope we have the courage and the willingness to do it. Oh, that our Lord would raise up many prophets such as Amos to deliver the message God wants someone to receive!

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