Now we come to the 5th chapter of Amos, which is a really pivotal piece of this book. The problem is that we A) don’t speak Hebrew, so we miss some of his “puns,” and B) don’t immediately recognize many of the allusions he makes. That's a good case for getting a good study Bible with some notes, especially the NIV Study Bible.
Verses one thru seventeen are written in the form of a lament. When someone died, it was common for the family to hire professional mourners, and this is like a dirge they'd sing at a funeral—in this case, Israel's.
Verses 4-6 are really central to the entire book. The Lord’s plea to his wayward people could be summed up in four words: “Seek me and live.” In fact, this could really sum up his main message to fallen humanity.
If I mentioned “Washington D.C.,” then that brings up history and images in your mind. You might think of the White House, or the Supreme Court. If I mention the name “Philadelphia,” you might think about the Colonial history associated with the city. But if you were completely ignorant of American history and politics, then those names would mean little or nothing to you.
That’s why we need some background here, so that we can understand how Amos’s message would resonate with his first listeners. He references three separate religious centers which held a lot of profound meaning for his first audience: Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba.
As we mentioned before, Bethel was the location of Jacob’s dream. This was where the Lord first met Jacob, and Jacob’s life was forever transformed after that. The Lord promised to care for Jacob, and 20 years later he returned to that spot and—acknowledging that the Lord had kept his part of the bargain—recommitted himself to serving the God of his father and grandfather.
What did Bethel mean to Amos’s hearers? It was the place where the Lord met and transformed the life of Jacob, and it was there that his descendants celebrated their inheritance of his blessings and promises.
And the Lord was still transforming, as expressed in creation. He brings out the stars in their constellations as they dance across the sky. He turns midnight into dawn and then back again. He pulls water out of the oceans and seas, pours them over land and transforms dry land into fertile ground.
Well, the people were transforming too. They'd gone from bad to worse. They were transforming justice into bitterness and were casting righteousness down to the ground. They were oppressing the poor through heavy taxes on straw and grain, things which the less-fortunate depended on for life. They were turning good men into silent ones out of fear.
And here was Amos’s word to them: The Lord was going to do some final transforming of his own. If they didn’t turn back to him and start treating people with justice, he was going to transform their lavish mansions into ruins, their lush vineyards into dust bowls, and their cities into wastelands.
When the Lord intervenes in your life, it changes you. But sometimes we forget about what he did for us. The wonder at his grace and the marvel at his wonders fade over time. And I firmly believe this: There's no stagnation, no standing still in our relationship with him. We’re either progressing or falling back.
Lord Jesus, you’re calling me to seek you, and I’m answering. I want to be changed by you, not conformed to the pattern of this world. Please renew my mind and mold me into your likeness. Please give me a holy dissatisfaction about where I am. Onward and upward!