Have you ever actually heard a lion roar? I don’t mean on TV or in movies. I mean the live version. I can’t say I have, growing up the suburbs of Dallas. But while I was in the army stationed in Saudi Arabia, I distinctly remember being on guard duty and hearing coyotes or some other type of howling canines in the distance. That was close enough for my taste, thank you very much. When I read in a Bible study on Amos that a lion’s roar was just about the most frightening sound to farmers and shepherds (like Amos), I believe it.
First off, I can’t help noticing the poignancy of verse 2. Out of all the families on earth, he chose Israel to be his representatives to everyone else. When they heard the term “chosen people,” they only thought in terms of privileges and benefits. But mostly the Lord chose them for special responsibilities.
By the way, the word “chosen” is term of intimacy, literally: When Moses described Adam’s sexual relationship with his wife, he used the same word, which is translated as “knew” in the more literal versions. In Psalm 1:6 the same word in Hebrew it’s translated as “watches over,” in the sense of “protects.” This is what the Lord initiated with Israel, and it’s what he always wanted: an incredibly intimate relationship.
And because of this relationship he had with them, he would hold them to a higher standard than with the other nations. This makes sense, right? If you’re a parent, you’re going to care a lot more about your child’s behavior than the neighbor’s kids. You care about the child’s welfare, and you also might care about the family name.
Then the Lord asks a series of rhetorical questions, and the answer to each of these is “No.” Let’s take a closer look.
Verse 3 has one of the most profound principles of life. If two people are going to walk together, they have to agree on the path and the pace. The Lord and Israel had made a covenant to walk together, but one of these parties was veering off the path. If this continued, the Lord and the people would eventually have to part company.
Verses 4 to 6 present three images: a roaring lion, a snapping trap, and a sounding trumpet. Each of these things have one thing in common: They warn or inform someone of something. The second half of verse 6 asks a final question, one which might trouble modern listeners but would be easily understood by people of that time. The idea that the Lord himself might destroy any city might be hard for us to swallow, much less the notion that apparently no city falls unless the Lord initiates and effects it. But he’s the sovereign Lord of all things, and he raises up kings and casts them down for his own purposes. He wiped out an entire generation of humanity in Noah’s day. He’s in control over everything seen and unseen.
Why would he follow up vss. 4-6 with verse 7, the one in which he says he never does anything without revealing it to his prophets? Remember, the purpose of a prophet was not to predict the future in order to satisfy someone’s idle curiosity but to call sinful people back to the Lord. When the Lord sent prophets like Amos to warn of judgment to come, that was mercy, not harshness.
I think verse 8 could be summarized thus: “Don’t blame the messenger!” Amos wasn’t out doing this for his health or to get rich. He wasn’t making this stuff up; if he had, he certainly would’ve come up with a more palatable message, like the “prophets” in kings’ courts tended to do. What would we think of a doctor who knows that his patient is dying of cancer but avoids the topic because of concern about upsetting them? In the same way, this shepherd had heard the Lion roaring, and he had the responsibility to warn others about it.
I can see lots of good applications here. To me, the one that really hits home is verse 3. If I sense that the Lord is distant, is it because he and I are starting to part ways? Or maybe I just need to adjust my pace, not stepping in front or lagging behind. Whatever the cause, it calls for Spirit examination.
Holy Spirit, I want to walk not further ahead nor lag behind, and I certainly don’t want to start veering off our path together. When I need a course correction, no matter how radical or painful, let it come.