The Prophet Who Was Told, "Get Out of Town!"
by Jonathan S Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
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. As David was king, he could have only 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 Chronicles 16:10). Elijah hid by the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:3-5), and Jeremiah spoke of Uriah, a contemporary of his who prophesied against Jerusalem. Uriah fled to Egypt, was brought back to Jerusalem, and then was executed (see Jeremiah 26:20-23).
In spite of the risks, some men did answer God’s call and gave His message to His people regardless of the cost. Amos was one such prophet, one of the first “bi-vocational” 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 only that God took him and told him to prophesy. We could use a lot of men like Amos in the Church today, who will urge God’s own people back to repentance!
The text is from the seventh chapter of Amos, in the New American Standard Version:
Amos 7:10-17, NASB 10 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. 11 "For thus Amos says, 'Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will certainly go from its land into exile.'" 12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, "Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah and there eat bread and there do your prophesying! 13 "But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence." 14 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. 15 "But the LORD took me from following the flock and the LORD said to me, 'Go prophesy to My people Israel.' 16 "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.' 17 "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.'"
I. 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).
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. 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, and even longer.
Jeroboam alone 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 we do know that 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 words of an apostate Israelite recorded 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, perhaps, of the “charge” which Amaziah brought against Amos. Now, 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. I suppose this proves that “conspiracy theories” are really nothing new at all!
Then, whether or not Jeroboam the king applied any “pressure”, 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 was bound to happen, and it’s even more so when one of them is an apostate like 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 whole Book of Amos that anyone responded to the messages that Amos preached, except here, by Amaziah!
Imagine the scene: Amos is preaching somewhere in Bethel and receives an absolutely silent response. Doesn’t that remind us of Elijah and the people at Mount Carmel when he challenged the 450 false prophets of Baal to the test (see 1 Kings 18 for that story), and the response was, “ . . .the people did not answer him a word (1 Kings 18:21)” Now comes Amaziah, perhaps dressed in priestly garments, maybe with some “helpers” (thugs?) to “encourage” Amos to leave! What did he say?
The first thing was an insult to Amos’ ministry, such as it was. Amaziah didn’t even call him a prophet, but rather a “seer” In one sense, that was correct, as Amos had been relating visions which God had shown to him. Too, some prophets were seers and vice versa. We read of Samuel who was called a prophet, as well as a seer (see 1 Samuel 9); Nathan and Gad of David’s time, both of whom were called seers, and a few others. But 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, it seems, that the message Amos brought wasn’t something he wanted to hear.
Finally, Amaziah gave 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, which had done his part to lead the ten northern tribes into idol worship and now, this second Jeroboam was following in the first king’s footsteps. It’s ironic, that 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?
II. The words of Amos, the herdsman from Tekoa
Amos didn’t mince any words when Amaziah came calling. He first explained his calling and his mission very succinctly. People of few words tend not to say much, unless they have something to say—and that was certainly the case here.
Maybe you find it interesting that in some cases, a preacher will try to impress you or me or whomever in in the audience is with his (or her) credentials, or lack of same. Not the case here: Amos said he wasn’t a prophet (very few of God’s prophets called themselves prophets, by the way) nor was he the son of a prophet. We could look at that last phrase from a couple of different angles. Amos didn’t give his father’s name, whereas some did (and others didn’t), so he wasn’t claiming to be a prophet because his dad was! Another view is that he wasn’t one of the “sons of the prophets”, the students at a “Bible school”, one of those being in Bethel itself (2 Kings 2:3)! Amos was, we might say, one of those rare men of God who head God’s message, delivered the message, and left the results to God Himself. I repeat that Amos didn’t claim any honor or special privilege from bringing God’s message—he did it and that was all.
And 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 then obeyed?
Now for the final message to Amaziah, Amos gave it point blank and unvarnished. This is one thing that many preachers are, perhaps, 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, perhaps, silenced, at least. God told Amos to say Amaziah would lose his land, his children, and even his wife. We don’t know the age of these people but, let’s say Amaziah and his wife were apparently mature enough to have several children by 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 had previously spoken of judgment to come (see chapter 4, for example) and here, he narrows the focus down to Amaziah and his family.
Amos did what he was told, and called, to do: to bring God’s message to God’s people. God still considered the ten 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, nor 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. O that our Lord would raise up many prophets like Amos, who deliver the message God wants someone to receive!
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. http://www.lockman.org