Let’s play a game called opposites. It’s a simple word game, but it is sometimes associated with psychological testing. Here is how it works. One person says a word. Then the other person responds as quickly as possible with a word that has the opposite meaning.
For example, if I said "fast," most likely the first word that comes to mind is "slow." If I said "open," most people would quickly respond with "closed."
Now, to yourself: White… Short…. Amos… Amaziah.
There are two very different people in our text. They’re not as obvious as black and white and short and tall. And most people don’t know much about Amos, and even less about Amaziah. On the surface these two men appear similar. Both are Jews. Both claim to men of God. Amaziah was the priest at Bethel, and Amos was a prophet of the Lord. Their names even sound alike. Amos and Amaziah.
But a closer look reveals that Amos and Amaziah are not so similar. They are from different countries. They have different agendas. They serve different masters. It is not a stretch to say that they are opposites. By the way, even though they has similar sounding names, Amos means “burden bearer” and Amaziah means “Yahweh is Almighty.” These opposites do not attract. They don’t get along. These two men are enemies. Our text is a conversation between these two men, a war of words between Amos and Amaziah. These six verses are the battleground, and the truth of God is at stake. These words, this battle remind us that the Battle For Truth at the House of God Rages On. Let’s talk about the accusations of Amaziah and the authority of Amos.
1. Again, Amaziah was a priest at Bethel. That’s a little confusing because we know that God established his temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the place where Solomon built God’s temple. The temple was the place where the priests offered sacrifices on the altar. So, why did Amaziah serve as a priest at Bethel, some ten miles to the north?
After King Solomon died, Israel was divided in two. The northern ten tribes rebelled against the house of David and formed their own government. The problem was that Jerusalem and the temple were in the southern territory. The rebel king in the north, a man by the name of Jereboam, didn’t want his people going to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, so he set up an alternative worship site for them at Bethel.
The Hebrew word, "Bethel," means "house of God," but what went on at Bethel was anything but God-pleasing. Jereboam set up a golden calf at Bethel to blend the worship of the true God with the idolatry of Israel’s neighbors.
250 years later when Amos arrived on the scene things had not changed. Or we could say that things had gotten worse. God’s assessment of his people in Amos 2:6,7: "They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name" Israel enjoyed a wonderful time of peace and prosperity, but beneath the surface the nation was in spiritual and moral decay. God’s patience with Israel was wearing thin, and he sent Amos to Bethel to warn the people of the Lord’s impending wrath.
Because life was good for the people of Israel, life was also good for Amaziah, the priest at Bethel. The one thing Amaziah did not need was Amos making trouble in his own backyard, so he attacked Amos. He sent word to the king, saying: "Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words"
Amaziah claimed that Amos was inciting a rebellion against Jereboam II ( the king who shared his name with the first king of Israel, the one who set up the golden calf at Bethel). Amaziah’s charge was a half-truth. Amos did predict that Israel would be destroyed, but he was not a part of any conspiracy against the king himself.
Amaziah, however, was not interested in the truth. He wasn’t afraid to twist the facts to get rid of Amos, and his next attack shows that he was willing to get personal. He told Amos: "Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there" (12).
Amaziah assumed that Amos was a prophet for hire, not a prophet from God. He assumed that Amos prophesied to feed his own belly, not to feed other people’s souls. Did Amaziah make these assumptions because this was the kind of spiritual leader he was? In one way Amaziah was right: If Amos wanted to preach about the destruction of Israel, he would probably receive a much warmer reception (and a better a pay-day) in Judah, Israel’s rival to the south.
Amaziah’s third and final accusation allows us to look inside his heart. He told Amos: "Do not prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom" (13). "Amos, Bethel is Israel’s most sacred place. Bethel is the seat of the kingdom. Don’t preach here anymore…or else." Amaziah did not serve God. He served the king, and anyone who opposed the king or the kingdom had to be destroyed.
God’s Word and God’s people are attacked just as viciously today as Amaziah attacked Amos. God’s Word is dismissed as irrelevant. Negative labels are put on God’s people: Simplistic, naïve, intolerant, unloving. Jesus told us that we should actually expect this kind of treatment because people are by nature hostile to God and his Word.
What’s very disturbing for us Christians is that this battle rages within the house of God. Pastors proclaim that the Bible is filled with errors. Churches believe that the mission of the church is to feed stomachs, not souls.
How do we feel when on the receiving end of these attacks? Discouraged, distressed, depressed? How about encouraged? How about excited? How about blessed? That might sound strange, but Jesus says that very thing in Matthew 5: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me" (11).
Christians don’t rejoice because they have to suffer. Christians don’t get excited when their convictions put them in an unpopular minority. But when we are persecuted, when the truth of God’s Word comes under attack, these attacks are evidence that God’s Word is at work. And that does give us a reason to rejoice. The same assurance of God’s presence gave Amos the strength to stand up to Amaziah, to stand up for the truth of God, and to speak with authority.
2. Amos had a difficult call from God. Amos was from Tekoa, a small village in Judah, but he prophesied at Bethel in the north. Judah and Israel were not on good terms. But the greatest challenge Amos had to face was that his message was pure law. He condemned Israel’s leaders for their wickedness. He predicted that Israel’s cities would be destroyed. He prophesied that Israel’s people would be carried into captivity.
It would be like a Confederate preacher on tour in the North during the Civil War. Picture him proclaiming with a southern drawl: "New York & Boston will be burned. Washington D.C. will fall. Your sons will die in battle. And the Union will be destroyed." If a Southerner ever tried to talk like that in the North during the Civil War, how popular would he have been? How long do you think he would have survived?
On top of this, Amos had been a sycamore fig farmer. To aid the ripening process, Amos would take a sharp point in put a hole in the bottom of the fig. Red juice would run out of the bottom of the fig and that red juice would stain his hands. Everyone knew Amos was a fig farmer, a poor occupation, just by looking at his hands. And he was ministering to a group of rich people who would not want to humble themselves before a poor fig farmer. A tough call from God, indeed. How would Amos survive?
That might sound unrealistic. But that is exactly what Amos did. Amos was able to stand up to Amaziah. How was he able to do this? He was able to stand up to Amaziah because he had a greater authority standing behind him.
Amos said to Amaziah: "I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees" Amos was the first to admit he wasn’t anything special. He was a shepherd/farmer. He was much like Jesus’ disciples, all ordinary men. Ordinary men called to do great things.
Amos went on: "But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’" Amos was able to speak with authority because of his calling. He wasn’t a prophet by trade. He wasn’t a prophet for hire. He was a prophet of God because he had been called by God.
The same God who called Amos also commissioned him. The Lord said to Amos: "Go, prophesy to my people Israel." Amos didn’t work close to home where his life would be most comfortable. Amos did not go where his ministry would be the easiest. He went where God led him. Wherever God led Amos, he could speak with authority because he knew he was where God wanted him to be.
God called Amos. He told him what to do. God commissioned Amos. He told him where to go. Finally, God guided the content of his message. He told him what to say. When Amos prophesied, he did not say to Israel: "You wicked people! Listen to what I have to say." Because God was speaking through him, Amos could look Amaziah right in the eye and say: "This is what the Lord says."
It is clear that the battle still rages on for truth in the house of God. We are reminded today that we have been entrusted with that word today. “You are a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
There will be judgment. It’s called hell. In love we warn of the dangers of sin. In love we follow every word of the Lord. Jesus once prayed to his Father, “Your word is truth.” When we keep the truth to ourselves, are we not like Amaziah? When we don’t stand for every teaching in the Bible, are we not like Amaziah? When we decide we don’t like something the Bible teaches, and put up with those teachings because, for the most part we like the church, aren’t we putting ourselves above God? How serious is God about the battle over the truth? “I will destroy this kingdom from the earth,” he said about Israel, the Northern Kingdom. And to reject his invitation to seek him and live, “The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem.”
But just as serious is the Lord about his mercy, even in judgment. There will be a remnant, “I will destroy this kingdom from the earth—yet I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord. (9:8) The Messiah will come and his kingdom will extend to the ends of the earth. His rule is one of peace, joy, and contentment in the hearts of his people because the Messiah came to pay for all sin. His Father thundered his anger against Jesus. The enemies against Jesus and his church are great. Yet, the people of God enjoy forgiveness of sins in Jesus. God’s people enjoy the status of being sons and daughters in the kingdom. The people of God have the comfort of knowing his help in every trouble, the confidence to pray, the joy of worship, the privilege of serving him, assurance he will help us keep the faith, help against every temptation, victory over death and eternal life.
Then use that knowledge to speak with the same authority as Amos. We can speak with confidence because that is what God has called us to do. We can speak with boldness because God has placed us where he wants us to be. We can speak with authority because God’s Word reveals what we are to say. And when we do that, we can stand up next to Amos and say: "This is what the Lord says." Amen.