The Ancient Prophecies of Amos: Applicable to the 21st Century?

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The Ancient Prophecies of Amos

Applicable to the 21st Century?

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Nearly three millennia ago in the eighth century B.C., the Hebrew prophet Amos wrote a highly significant book indicting the amoral and immoral behavior of Israel and Judah along with that of some surrounding Mideastern nations. Seldom read or heeded today, how do the warning words of Amos impact our world of the 21st century?

Amos begins his prophecy by articulating God's anger against Syria, Gaza, Ammon and Moab—Mideastern nations that anciently bordered Israel and Judah—and whose descendants remain in that general area even today. Several times he uses the phraseology, "For three sins [transgressions of God's law, 1 John 3:4]...even for four" in establishing the basic reasons for the divine displeasure with them.

Amos out of step?

But the focus of this prophetic book soon shifts primarily to the 10-tribe northern nation of Israel and secondarily to the southern country of Judah. At the general time of his prophecy, Amos appeared to be out of step with the times in prophesying disaster for the house of Israel. Both nations were enjoying relative prosperity and power under the governments of the time. One scholarly book observed: "Seldom was a prophet so out of step with his times." But was he really?

God is the epitome of long-suffering, ever waiting for sinners to repent. But at the time of Amos’ writing, His patience was rapidly running out.

Historical hindsight shows us that roughly 30 years after Amos' prophecy the Assyrians took the northern tribes into captivity (721 to 718 B.C.). At that time Israel ceased to function as a sovereign nation. Clearly Amos had been a great patriot in warning the house of Israel to cease and desist from its ungodly lifestyle and to begin a serious campaign of commandment-keeping.

"But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream," was the way God eloquently expressed His divine wishes (Amos 5:24, New International Version throughout). But subsequent events sadly proved that the house of Israel paid little attention either to Amos or to the contemporary Hebrew prophet Hosea, also divinely sent to warn the country.

God held ancient Israel responsible

When God chooses a nation for a sacred responsibility, He holds it specifically accountable for its national conduct. "Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel—against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt [referring to the Exodus]" (Amos 3:1). This prophecy also includes the southern house of Judah, which later went into national captivity at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon well over 100 years after the demise of the house of Israel.

But why was our Creator so concerned about Israel's bad behavior? God had said: "You only have I chosen of all the families [nations] of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins. Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" (Amos 3:2-3). The house of Israel was clearly out of step with God—foolishly going in a completely different direction, a path that could only lead to further untold sufferings and misery.

Blatant injustices in the courts, careless disregard for citizens living in poverty and sheer complacency were some of Israel's primary transgressions. Real patriotism was in very short supply. God indicted the elite and the intelligentsia with the words: "You do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph" (Amos 6:6). They did not comprehend the signs of that time, nor understand the massive problems the house of Israel (which "Joseph" symbolized) was drifting into.

Running out of patience?

If Christians are told to develop patience, God is the epitome of long-suffering, ever waiting for sinners to repent. But at the time of Amos' writing, His patience with the house of Israel was rapidly running out. God had said: "I will spare them no longer" (Amos 7:8). And after showing Amos a basket of mature summer fruit He sternly stated: "The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer" (Amos 8:2).

Remember that our Creator had given humankind 120 years to repent before bringing the Flood on the earth. By nature God is slow to anger and reluctant to punish His people. To Him real repentance is a far better option. He takes no joy in punishment. Yet at the end of the day His strong sense of divine justice will prevail.

Nonetheless, it was many years after Amos' prophecy before the northern nation of Israel (Samaria) was actually taken into captivity by Assyria. God had generously given the country time and space to repent.

Yet He had warned them well in advance: "For the LORD God Almighty declares, 'I will stir up a nation against you, O house of Israel'" (Amos 6:14).

Many of our readers will already understand that the United States and Britain stand identified today as the house of Joseph or the house of Israel. These two nations are the primary descendants of the lost 10 tribes to inherit the identity of Israel in the end time.

Prophecies yet to be fulfilled

Bible prophecy can be dual in nature. That is, prophetic statements sometimes have more than one fulfillment.

So the prophecies of Amos can easily be dual, foretelling not only God's judgment on the ancient house of Israel, but also His hand of discipline on the modern descendants today. And in principle, the spiritual lessons drawn from the book of Amos apply across the board in today's pulsating world.

Further, Jesus Christ's Olivet Prophecy tells us something very significant about events just preceding the time of His second coming. "For this is the time of punishment [vengeance, KJV] in fulfillment of all that has been written [in the Old Testament prophecies]" (Luke 21:22, emphasis added).

Armed with these crucial biblical keys, we are better able to evaluate world and national conditions afflicting our modern times today.

National afflictions of Joseph

The peoples of Britain are among the primary descendants of the patriarch Joseph. Several national trends are far from favorable. For instance, in the words of Yasmin Brown, feature columnist for The Independent, "Even we on the Left are shamed by the verbal corruption infecting the nation's bloodstream" (reprinted by the Daily Mail, July 17, 2003).

A survey published by Mediawatch UK, which reviews television programs, discovered that in the first six months of this year the "F" word was used more than 1,400 times in TV films shown on British television. Also, "there were more than 1,000 other swear words—all used gratuitously." And according to Ms. Brown, "The general population too, is being given a visual junk diet of soaps, smut and soft porn" on TV, in addition to all the vulgar language.

She asks: "How can we stand by and let the greatest, most versatile language in the world trash itself, degenerating into a pile of offensive sounds?" A very good question!

On another front, a recent Citizen Adult Survey based on some 12,000 citizens in over 100 local authority areas (funded by the Economic and Social Research group) concluded that "only two thirds of people believe that the law should be obeyed as a matter of course" (The Times, Aug. 28, 2003). One third of British citizens believe that, in some circumstances, it is perfectly all right to avoid paying taxes.

On yet another level, the British government's chief inspector of schools has stated that "five-year-olds have led disrupted and disheveled lives" (The Sunday Telegraph, Aug. 31, 2003). According to this high official, "Verbal and behavioral skills of the nation's five-year-olds were at an all-time low." Small children seem to have great difficulty sitting still, have little sense of danger, can't fasten buttons, etc.

School officials are attributing this sad set of circumstances to a lack of parental discipline, both parents working out of the home and the almost universal use of TV as a babysitter. (Obviously there are many exceptions, but the numbers are great enough to cause the British government's chief inspector of schools to make this comment in a well-respected major national newspaper.)

Finally in Britain, according to a recent report called Getting There: Reducing Crime on Public Transport, "Crime on public transport is scaring people away from traveling on trains and buses . . . [the] Survey finds that one in three people are too frightened of crime to use [these] services" (The Sunday Telegraph, Aug. 31, 2003).

Just related to this reporter

The above examples are just a few of many similar news clippings that I have collected in a very short time. Of course, other articles will tell you that Britain is a great place to live—and it is! I am a very satisfied resident!

Yet consider my favorite village in all of England. It is a great place to relax over a cup of coffee and a snack. It offers everything that a journalist like me could possibly wish for: nonsmoking coffee shops, the best small bookstore I have ever run across, a newsstand that sells several American newspapers as well as domestic editions, a very good public library, a Bible college with an excellent in-house bookshop—all within easy walking distance of each other.

And yet the proprietor of my favorite coffee shop personally related the following to me. He lives upstairs above his shop and I have known him for several years. Just within the past five days of this writing, one local pub was closed down and its license temporarily revoked for failing to control violent customers, my favorite bookshop was broken into and robbed of 10 days' income, many shop windows have been damaged, etc. I cannot even recall all the incidents he related. The night before he told me of this sad crime spree, he couldn't get to sleep until 3:30 a.m. because of the dreadful noise teenagers were making in front of his shop in the early morning hours.

How much is too much? This is not to pick on Britain exclusively, because manifold similar problems and difficulties are replicated daily in most other nations of our Western world.

The question we must all ask ourselves is this: When will God repeat to Himself about us what He said anciently about the house of Israel through the pen of the prophet Amos—"I will spare them no longer"?

One may conclude that Sept. 11, 2001, was a divine warning to the United States and the Western world in general. The divine protective shield was at least partially withdrawn. On that fateful day, the enemies of America inflicted a grievous national wound (psychological, as well as physical) on the greatest country in the world.

USA Today recently reported that the American crime rate is the "lowest in 30 years" (Aug. 25, 2003, Atlantic Edition). Only the murder rate and the rate of forcible rapes showed an increase, disturbing facts in themselves. Yet one sincerely hopes that the significant drop in several categories of crime reflect that at least some American citizens have reexamined their lives for the better in response to the twin tragedies that befell New York City and Washington, D.C., on 9/11.

Still many serious problems remain in the United States. For instance, the sex industry continues to grind out thousands of porn films, videos and CDs annually—readily available for paying customers of many well-known hotels across America. Sadly, these pornographic films are exported all over the world making the United States a primary source of moral pollution, along with several nations on the European continent.

How much is too much? Once our Creator delayed the punishment of an ancient people, remarking that "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." Sadly, the Amorites continued their lethal, lawless way of life and they eventually became the object of God's anger. He acted!

Yet God's mercy and patience is still beyond our human understanding. When will His almost inexhaustible patience finally run out? He grieves over our national sins and longs for His people to repent.

Although the Bible does not enable us to calculate the time of the end, it nonetheless provides the discerning reader with an invaluable insight into when the general season begins.