The Sovereign LORD Will Judge the Unjust

The Sovereign LORD Will Judge the Unjust

As we saw last week, the nation of Israel under the reign of Jeroboam II, wasn’t living according to the ways that their Sovereign LORD had revealed to them. Therefore God sent them Amos, a man who had formerly been a shepherd, to proclaim his Word to his people. In the previous chapter the LORD had shown Amos how Israel had fallen short of God’s Word—how they weren’t plumb with the Law God had disclosed to them. For God’s nation had turned to worship the gods of other nations in high places and sanctuaries of their own creating. For their lack of fidelity to the LORD they would now be punished.

This week the focus is to show how Israel had neglected not only the LORD but had also abused the poor and needy around them. Whereas the law the LORD had given had ever emphasized love for him[1] and love for others[2] as its two highest principles, God’s people were tragically neglecting both. For by their behavior they were demonstrating their hatred and indifference towards the Sovereign LORD; and by their behavior they were demonstrating their hatred and indifference towards their neighbor, especially those who were most in need. The time had arrived for God step in. He would no longer tolerate either behavior.

Now as the LORD used a plumb line as an object lesson last week, this week we see him using a basket of fruit to bring his point home. As our passage opens, Amos begins by stating, “This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me:” In using these words Amos once again was making clear that what he was sharing wasn’t his idea but the LORD’s. He was passing along what God had disclosed to him. Amos was but a conduit for delivering God’s Word to his people. And what the LORD showed him was “a basket of ripe fruit”—or your translation might say “summer fruit.”[3] And as was true with the plumb line, after receiving this revelation we again have recorded a call and response as the LORD asked Amos, verse 2, “What do you see, Amos?”—and Amos responded that he saw a basket of ripe fruit.

Now a basket of fruit seems innocuous enough—as did a plumb line last week. Therefore the meaning of this disclosure once again needs to be provided by the LORD. The interpretation is his, not Amos.’ For in and of itself we might consider a basket of ripe fruit to be an object of beauty—a feast for the eyes and the nose and the taste buds—for ripe (or summer) fruit is fruit that is ready to be harvested and eaten. Yet the LORD’s interpretation focuses not on the fruit in and of itself but on its readiness. The fact that this basket of fruit is ripe indicates that the time of God’s patience, during which he waited for his people to repent, is now over. As stated by Amos at the end of verse 2, “Then the Lord said to me, ‘The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.’” And if you’ll recall these are precisely the words the LORD stated when he showed Amos the plumb line: “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.”[4] By way of his prophet, God was letting his people know that the time of judgment was upon them. They had worn down the patience of the Sovereign LORD, the most patient Person the world could ever know.

In what follows, we’re provided with a description not only of what the LORD’s judgment will be but also of why this judgment is coming. Starting in verse 3 we read, “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!” Now these “songs in the temple” weren’t songs to the LORD but to other gods. They were a part of pagan practices. It is for this reason that God’s judgment falls upon them.[5] And in the presence of God’s judgment, silence was the only appropriate response for God’s judgments are always true and worthy for he is always true and worthy. God’s judgments leave nothing more to be said.

Next the reasons for this judgment, for this wailing and flinging of bodies everywhere, begin to be enumerated starting in verse 4: “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land,…” Right here we see a key problem in how Israel was living. They were abusing the poor and needy and the Sovereign LORD was not pleased for he ever cares for and shows compassion to those who are in need. To take but a brief sampling from both the Old and New Testaments:

22 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, 23 for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.[6]

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.[7]

12 For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. 13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.[8]

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them. The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.[9]

17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.[10]

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’”[11]

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.[12]

20 Looking at his disciples, [Jesus] said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.[13]

You get the idea—and again, this is but a sampling. As we’ve noted, the people had violated God’s clear teaching as recorded in Leviticus: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”[14] To trample the needy was not a way of loving their neighbor as themselves; to do away with the poor of the land was not a way of loving their neighbor as themselves. And in the end this trampling of the needy and doing away with the poor would become the very judgment the northern kingdom would undergo at the hand of the Assyrians.

What follows beginning in verse 5 are some of the specific ways in which the people had disobeyed this basic precept from the LORD. Whereas typically the New Moon was a time of celebrating and making various offerings[15] instead they were eager for the New Moon to be over that they might sell grain; similarly, rather than looking forward to a day of Sabbath, a time of looking to God who as Creator had rested on the seventh day[16] and as their LORD sought to redeem them,[17] instead they were eager for the Sabbath to be ended that they might “market wheat, [skimp] on the measure, boost the price, and [cheat] with dishonest scales.” These festivals should have been viewed as opportunities to help the poor and needy, but instead they had become opportunities to take advantage of the poor for personal gain. These practices were the exact opposite of what the LORD had disclosed in his Word. As stated in the book of Leviticus, the LORD had clearly told his people, “35 Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. 36 Use honest scales and honest weights…. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.”[18]

And if these dishonest practices weren’t bad enough, the people were using their money to enslave those who had no money. As stated in verse 6, they bought “the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.” Now this wasn’t the first time the LORD had addressed them on this matter. Earlier in chapter 2 of Amos we read,

This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.

This was evil behavior taken to an extraordinary degree; this was evil behavior that cried out to be judged.

And though the people may have thought that they were getting away with taking advantage of those who were least able to care for themselves, they were, in fact, getting away with nothing for the Sovereign LORD who is present everywhere; the Sovereign LORD who sees all and knows all; knew exactly what they had done. As stated in verse 7, “The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: ‘I will never forget anything they have done.’”

Starting with verse 8, the Sovereign LORD disclosed what would take place as a result of the people’s heartless and despicable behavior: “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt.” The judgment to come was as inevitable as the yearly rising and sinking of the Nile River in Egypt. There would be no escaping it. On the Day of the LORD this judgment will play out in the world of nature as well. As stated beginning in verse 9: “‘In that day,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.’” The Sovereign LORD who is LORD over heaven and earth; the Sovereign LORD who is LORD over nature, will use the created order to display his disgust and displeasure over his people’s behavior. He will make the very sun they worshipped turn dark.[19] For those who should have felt sorrow and regret for their behavior; who should have mourned and repented of their evil behavior, were instead celebrating religious festivals of their own making; those who should have been grieving on account of their evil were instead singing. Therefore the Sovereign LORD would give them cause to repent—to wear sackcloth and shave their heads and to deeply mourn; to mourn as much as they would were they to lose an only son. These words call to mind Jesus’ later words in his Sermon on the Plain from the Gospel of Luke: “24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” The problem of course isn’t with being rich—or well fed—or laughing; the problem is when those who are rich, well fed, and laughing and have others speaking well of them because of the power and prestige that wealth can bring, look only to their own interests while taking advantage of those who are poor.

But Amos’ prophecy of judgment wasn’t over yet. As stated beginning in verse 11, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. 12 People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.’” Because of Israel’s constant rejection of the LORD and his Word, they were about to get what they thought they wanted. The LORD would stop speaking to them. He was about to send a famine far worse than an extreme scarcity of food. He would send them a drought far worse than a shortage of water. Not for the first time, this scarcity and drought was to come in the form of God no longer sending his prophets to communicate his will. A few hundred years after the northern kingdom was taken captive by Assyria this occurred in a profound way for between the events at the close of the Old Testament prophecies and the beginning of their fulfillment during the New Testament period, God’s people experienced such a drought of silence when for approximately 400 years God ceased to speak to his people; he ceased to send them his prophets. Yet despite his people’s continual disobedience, God never broke his promise to redeem them for after this long period of silence, Jesus Christ, eternal God who is also God’s Son and Messiah, arrived in the form of a baby in a manger.

Brothers and sisters, the Sovereign LORD will judge the unjust. This message from Amos ought to serve as an encouragement to us. Though since the time of the Fall humanity has given in to its most base desires and instincts, a unique part of our reality is that with satellites and drones and the internet and ease of travel, we have unprecedented access and exposure in seeing the outworking of fallen behavior in sex trafficking—murders—rapes—wars—taunting and provoking by world leaders—and neglect of the poor and those in desperate need. I don’t believe human nature has gotten worse since the time of the Fall—keep in mind that one of the first outcomes of the Fall recorded in Scripture when is when one brother, Cain, killed another, Abel, and then lied to God about having done so.[20] But what has changed is that we now can have a front seat to witnessing these behaviors brought to us not only by news outlets but also by private phones and body cams. And being subjected to all of this “news,” to all of this horrific behavior on the part of our fellow bearers of God’s image can be overwhelming. And yet….

The Sovereign LORD will judge the unjust. Despite humanity’s fallenness—or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that because of humanity’s fallenness, God has ever reached out to his fallen image-bearers. In ancient times he did so by means of his prophets. God’s prophets were servants, like Amos, whom he used to bring his Word. And though this Word was often one of judgment we need to keep in mind that the purpose of prophesy in Scripture isn’t simply to state what God will do but also that those who hear his Word might repent; might turn from their ways and return to the God who made and loves them. The tragedy is that so often when people heard God’s Word, they chose to neglect that Word and continued in their evil ways. And so the promised judgment came upon Israel. Because they continued to do what was right in their own eyes instead of doing what was right in the eyes of their Sovereign LORD.

Yet the Sovereign LORD will judge the unjust. If we heed God’s Word, if we take to heart his teaching and admonition that to obey is better than sacrifice,[21] then we’ve nothing to fear. In the book of Romans as he encourages believers to be subject to the governing authorities, Paul notes that “rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.”[22] And this is the spirit in which we ought to read Amos’ prophecies. Throughout the book of Amos, his favorite way of referring to God is as the “Sovereign LORD” sometimes translated as the Lord GOD.[23] Therein lies our hope for the fact that God is Sovereign reminds us that he possesses supreme and ultimate power. He is a King whose royal rule is according to his goodness and justice and compassion. He relies on no other in the way that he rules. As is the case with earthly rulers, we need not fear such a God if we’re seeking to live according to his ways. As we’ve seen God’s judgment upon his people wasn’t without cause. For Israel had not only turned away from him and sought to serve other gods but was also acting abominably in the ways they were treating those who were poor and in need. Though they had the means of helping those who were less fortunate, they had decided instead to increase their wealth at the expense of those who were poor. And their deeds had not gone unnoticed by God. Therefore the time of warning had ended; the time of judgment had arrived.

The Sovereign LORD will judge the unjust. Therefore we’re exhorted throughout Scripture to live lives that are in keeping with who God is. If I can turn to Paul again, he exhorts Christ’s followers,

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[24] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[25] 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.[26]

Isn’t this a message we all need to hear? We’re called throughout Scripture to remember that God sees all; he knows all; and he will one day make all things right. On the Day of the LORD, God will judge all evil and sin justly. He will bring about his shalom, his peace, in re-establishing the order and beauty he ever intended for his good creation. I love how Julian of Norwich stated this thought: “…but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” God calls us not to give in to our fallen nature but to yield to our LORD and his ways. We are to realize and embrace, unlike Cain, that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper. As God keeps us in his care and embrace, so we are called to keep one another. The Sovereign LORD will judge the unjust. And so let us live like him. Let us heed that wonderful exhortation stated earlier in Amos,  “…let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”[27]

Let us pray.

[1] Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

[2] Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

[3] ESV, RSV, KJV.

[4] Amos 7:8.

[5] For a similar judgment for a similar reason, see Ezekiel 9:7, 9–10:Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city…. He answered me, “The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land; the Lord does not see.’ 10 So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.”

[6] Proverb 22:22–23:

[7] Proverb 14:31:

[8] Psalm 72:12–14:

[9] Psalm 11:4–7:

[10] Isaiah 1:17:

[11] Zechariah 7:8–10:

[12] Luke 6:20–21:

[13] 1 John 3:17:

[14] Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

[15] Numbers 28:11–15: 11 ‘On the first of every month, present to the Lord a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. 12 With each bull there is to be a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with oil; with the ram, a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with oil; 13 and with each lamb, a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with oil. This is for a burnt offering, a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the Lord. 14 With each bull there is to be a drink offering of half a hin of wine; with the ram, a third of a hin; and with each lamb, a quarter of a hin. This is the monthly burnt offering to be made at each new moon during the year. 15 Besides the regular burnt offering with its drink offering, one male goat is to be presented to the Lord as a sin offering.”

[16] Exodus 20:8–11: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

[17] Deuteronomy 5:12–15: 12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

[18] Leviticus 19:35–36. See also Proverb 20:10: Differing weights and differing measures— the Lord detests them both.; Deuteronomy 25:13–14: 13 Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. 14 Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. 15 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 16 For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

[19] Notice how Josiah, one of Israel’s good kings, dealt with this worship of nature in 2 Kings 23:5, 11: He did away with the idolatrous priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem—those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts…. 11 He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melek. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.

[20] Genesis 4:8–9: Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

[21] 1 Samuel 15:22.

[22] Romans 13:3.

[23] ESV, RSV, KJV

[24] Deuteronomy 32:35: It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.

[25] Proverb 25:21–22: 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

[26] Romans 12:17–21.

[27] Amos 5:24.