Am 8:1 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: a basket of ripe fruit.
A basket of ripe fruit – represents the idea that the people are ripe for judgement, cf. v2. Their wickedness is fully matured; they cannot last any longer; they are about to be picked. As they hung on the the trees and bushes during the warm, comfortable months of spring and summer, no thought was given to their final end.
To what extent does this describe our society today?
Am 8:2 “What do you see, Amos?” he asked. “A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered. Then the LORD said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.”
“A basket of ripe fruit…the time is ripe” – The significance of the basket of ripe fruit is underscored by a play on words between ‘ripe fruit’ (Heb. ‘qayis’) and ‘the end’ (Heb. ‘qes’). Just as ripe fruit will not keep, neither will God delay his judgement any longer.
“I will spare them no longer” – It is as though God is saying, ‘I have appealed, exhorted, rebuked, pleaded, but all to no avail. Instead of repenting, you have grown hardened in your sin I have had enough. I will be patient no longer.’ ‘The great reason why sinners defer their repentance de die in diem – from day to day, is because they think God thus defers his judgments, and there is no song wherewith they so effectually sing themselves asleep as that, my Lord delays his coming; and therefore God, by his prophets, frequently represents to Israel the day of his wrath not only as just and certain, but as very near and hastening on apace; so he does in these verses.’ (M. Henry) Cf. 2 Pet 3:3.
Am 8:3 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies-flung everywhere! Silence!”
Here is a scene of sorrow and death.
“The songs in the temple will turn to wailing” – Their religion will not save them. With their outward prosperity they thought they sat under God’s favour, and they sang his praise lustily. But they were like the people of Sodom, who thought they were at peace when in fact destructon was looming, Gen 19. They were like the people in the time of Noah, who lived luxuriously while God’s judgement drew ever nearer, Mt 24.
‘Note, Mourning will follow sinful mirth, yea, and sacred mirth too, it if be not sincere. And, when God’s judgments are abroad, they will soon turn the greatest joy into the greatest heaviness, the temple-songs, which used to sound so pleasantly, not only into sighs and groans, but into loud howlings, which sound dismally. They shall come to the temple, and, finding that in ruins, there they shall howl most bitterly.’ (M. Henry)
‘Will the songs that I now sing become “howlings” in the day of visitation (V3) or will they swell into the “new song” which the people of God sing before the eternal throne?’ (See Rev 5:9-10) (Beeley)
Many, many bodies – flung everywhere! Silence! – A picture of utter devastation. The thronging market-place becomes a grave-yeard. The scene is littered with corpses, and a silent pall hangs over all.
Am 8:4 Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land,
8:4-10 The Oppression of the Poor. Notice, in these verses, how sin has become systematic and institutionalised; how it has become mixed with religious observance of complete hypocrisy, and how it has become callous and oppressive. The sins here are not occasional lapses, but deep-seated habits of attitude and behaviour. The rich and powerful are castigated for their oppression of the poor. They are impatient with the restraints imposed by the Sabbaths and holy days, and long to get back to their dishonest commerce.
The Old Testament prophets regularly denounced the rich for amassing great estates and exploiting the widows and the poor. (Isa 3:15 10:2 Jer 7:6 22:3 Am 2:6 4:1 5:11-12 8:4-6 Hab 2:9-13) See also Pr 14:31.
Both Old and New Testaments show that God has a bias towards the poor. As Christians, we have a responsibility to meet human need. Cf. Dt 15; Ps 35:10; Pr 19:17; Lk 4:18; Jas 2:5-7.
Am 8:5 saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”-skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales,
We meet these people at worship
They did their duty so far as outward religious observance was concerned, but their hearts were elswhere. Cf. Isa 29:13 Mt 15:8 Mk 7:6. They had a form of godliness, but denied the power of it, 2 Tim 3:5. They were weary of Sabbath days, and longed for market-days. They dragged their bodies along to public worship, but left their thoughts and hearts at work.
The New Moon – A holiday was held at the beginning of each month, cf. 2 Kings 4:23 Ho 2:11 Isa 1:13 Eze 46:3.
The Sabbath – Jer 17:19-27 depicts busy commercial activity on the Sabbath, and calls Judah back to an observance of God’s law, Ex 20:8-11. Lay down, say the prophets, the means of gainful employment on this one day in seven. This call has relevance in today’s consumerist society; we too should systematically make time for rest and worship, even at the risk of personal advancement or financial gain. ‘This is the character of many who are called Christians. The sabbath day and sabbath work are a burden to carnal hearts. It will either be profaned or be accounted a dull day. But can we spend our time better than in communion with God? When employed in religious services, they were thinking of marketings. They were weary of holy duties, because their worldly business stood still the while. Those are strangers to God, and enemies to themselves, who love market days better than sabbath days, who would rather be selling corn than worshipping God.’ (MHCC)
How do we spend the Lord’s day? It may not be spent in dishonest dealing, but our hearts may be more focussed on worldly business and on the things of God.
We meet these people at work
‘Observe them in their conversations, and you will see they have no regard to man; and this commonly follows upon the former; those that have lost the savour of piety will not long retain the sense of common honesty. They neither do justly nor love mercy.’ (M. Henry)
Skimping…boosting…cheating – Even while engaged in religious duties their thoughts and hearts were set on dishonest gain. Cf. Eze 33:31. Nowadays, of course, we have many controls over trading standards, yet in how many ways does such impiety and dishonest dealing persist?
The measure – lit. ‘the ephah’, an exact measure for grain, cf. Dt. 25:14; Pr. 20:10. Boosting the price – lit. ‘making the shekel great’. They were cheating both ways, giving short weight and demanding high prices.
Cheating with dishonest scales – See Deut 25:13-15 Pr 20:10.
Am 8:6 buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
A debtor would ordinarily offer some personal property as security on a loan. Where there was no security to forfeit a debtor could be sold into slavery (Ex 22:3 2 Kings 4:1 Am 2:6, etc.)
A pair of sandals – shoes functioned as legal symbols in some transactions. (cf. Ru 4:7-8 1 Sam 12:3 Am 2:6)
Selling even the sweepings with the wheat – In addition to their other ploys of dishonesty and exploitation, they sell to the poor wheat mixed with dust and rubbish. In other words, they sell worthless, reject, and adulterated goods. We need to ask in what ways today market forces are allowed to hold sway unrestrained by conscience or a sense of fair dealing.
Just as God hates injustice and oppression, so he loves honesty and mercy. In what ways can we exercise and exhibit these qualities in our lives?
Am 8:7 The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.”
‘When the poor are injured they will cry unto God, and he will hear their cry, and reckon with those that are injurious to them, for, they being his receivers, he takes the wrongs done to them as done to himself, Ex 22:23,24.’ (M. Henry)
The Lord has sworn – This shows the certainty and solemnity of the judgment which follows. Although in his forbearance the Lord may have stayed his hand for a long time, judgement when it comes will be swift and certain.
“I will never forget” – Terrible words! The rich man goes home, and forgets all about the unjustice he has done to the poor man. Sinners are apt to take comfort in vain thoughts: ‘God has not noticed; he does not care; he will not remember’. But God does not forget. The passing of time does not dull his memory. The Lord’s remembrance of these things will issue in the catastrophe described in the following verse.
Ray Beeley notes the following things that God will not forget:-
1. He will not forget the sins of the Impenitent, Am 8:7.
2. He does not forget the cry of the afflicted, Ps 9:12.
3. He does not forget ‘his own’, Isa 49:15.
4. He will not remember the sins of the saved, Jer 31:34.
5. He will remember his covenant, Eze 16:60.
Am 8:8 “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.”
In the pictures of earthquake (this verse) and eclipse (next verse), the principles idea is of unexpected calamity and utter confusion. Cf. Lk 21:34. The imagery may be drawn from an earthquake which occurred in June 763 BC.
The regular rhythm of the Nile was familiar to the Hebrews, cf. Isa 23:10 Am 9:5.
Am 8:9 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”
“I will make the sun go down at noon…” – This could be a reference to a solar eclipse (partial in Israel), which took place on 15th June, 763 BC. At any rate, the confusion created by such a spectacular and unusual event is used by Amos the represent the judgment meted out by the Lord. Cf. Jer 15:9 Eze 32:7-10 Mt 27:45.
Verses 8f. remind us of the fragility and insecurity of our lives. This contrasts sharply with the changelessness of God, Heb 1:11-12. Nothing can disturb his throne, Psa 2.
Am 8:10 I will turn your religious feasts 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.
In the day of ease, people may sit comfortably. But the day of trouble will reveal what they truly are inside.
Am 8:11 “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.”
Now another kind of catastrophe is predicted – a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Those who had the word of God, but refused to listen to it, will find it taken away from them.
‘When Amos prophesied, and for a considerable time after, they had great plenty of prophets, abundant opportunities of hearing the word of God, in season and out of season; they had precept upon precept and line upon line; prophecy was their daily bread; and it is probable that they surfeited upon it, as Israel on the manna, and therefore God threatens that hereafter he will deprive them of this privilege.’ (M. Henry)
What a disaster, for a nation to have no divine law to regulate it life, to hear no call to repentance, to know none of the divine promises to encourage and sustain it. This leads to a national life which is both unrestrained and hopeless. It is a situation which is echoed in Paul’s phrase, ‘God gave them over’, Rom 1:24,26.
We tend to think of ‘the words of the Lord’ as being equivalent to the Scriptures. This is not wrong. However, we may have the Scriptures, but still be deaf to God’s words, because in ignoring the illumitation of the Holy Spirit, his gracious influences have themselves been withdrawn. There shall be ‘no vision’, 1 Sam 3:1. ‘They shall have the written word, Bibles to read, but no ministers to explain and apply it to them, the water in the well, but nothing to draw with.’ (M. Henry)
If I am given something valuable and useful, and I fail to use it, then it would be no wonder if the owner took it away from me. The word of God is like a sword, a hammer, a fire, and a mirror: all these things are meant to be used, and used properly.
The famine spoken of here may have its fulfilment in the Exile, in the period after Malachi, when the voice of prophecy was silent for several centuries. Or, it may refer to the blindess which has in part afflicted Israel. Or again, it may refer more generally to those periods of spiritual declension which afflict nations at various times.
Am 8:12 Men 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.
Men will stagger…searching for the word of the Lord – They will search everywhere, but not be able to find it, cf. Mt 25:10-13. They realise what they have lost, but it is too late, cf. Eze 7:26.
Let us be solemnly reminded not to neglect the word of God, 2 Cor 6:2 Heb 2:1-3.
Am 8:13 “In that day”the lovely young women and strong young men will faint because of thirst.
Even the young and the strong will fail, cf. Isa 40:30-31.
Am 8:14 They who swear by the shame of Samaria, or say, ‘As surely as your god lives, O Dan’, or, ‘As surely as the god of Beersheba lives’-they will fall, never to rise again.”
The shame of Samaria – It has been suggested that the reference in this verse is to golden calves which were situated at Dan in the North and at Bethel (near Samaria) in the South of the Northern Kingdom.
Beersheba was a chief shrine in the South of Judah.
‘When the word of God is not believed, people will believe anything and the cults will grab the young, taking them by the hand in order to take them by the throat, till they fall and cannot rise again.’ (NBC)