After the Lord called Amos to leave his flock and become a prophet to the people living in the Northern Kingdom, he received five visions announcing the judgment that was coming upon Israel. In these visions, Amos saw God’s destruction of the land and of the people.
In two previous posts, I discussed Amos’ call and his first vision. To read these posts, click on the links below. In the present post I will discuss Amos’ second vision:
Thus the Lord GOD showed me: behold, the Lord GOD was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. Then I said, “ Lord GOD, cease, I beseech thee! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” The LORD repented concerning this; “his also shall not be,” said the Sovereign Lord (Amos7:4-7).
In the second vision, the Lord showed Amos a great fire which would be the instrument of his judgment of Israel. The great fire was the intensive heat of summer drying up “the great deep.” The Hebrew expression tehôm rabbāh refers to the primeval waters, the subterranean waters that were beneath the earth (see Genesis 7:11; Deuteronomy 33:13; Isaiah 51:10) and gave fertility to the land. What Amos saw was the coming of a devastating drought that would consume the land and threaten the very existence of Israel.
In this vision, the punishment coming upon Israel was much greater than the punishment announced in the first vision. The fire was devouring the great deep, causing the rivers and streams to dry up. Because of the drought, the flames spread throughout the land and the land was consumed.
Amos understood the severity of the judgment. Israel was under divine judgment and it deserved to suffer the dreadful consequences of its sin against God. The vision of the coming disaster prompted Amos to intercede once again on behalf of the nation. His plea was the same as before: “How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” (Amos 7:5).
In the first intercession on behalf of Israel, Amos prayed: “forgive” (Amos 7:2). In his second prayer for Israel, Amos only said: “please cease” (Amos 7:5). The Hebrew words behind Amos’ request means “to cease doing something.”
The vision of the devastating fire was so terrifying that Amos’ prayer on behalf of Israel did not ask for forgiveness but that God would refrain from sending the judgment. Hans Walter Wolff wrote: “Amos no longer dares to make a petition for forgiveness, a petition which as such was not granted earlier. Nonetheless, he does interject the plea that Yahweh should cease summoning the devastating rain of fire” (p. 299).
Faced with the severity of the punishment, Amos did not ask for forgiveness, as he had done before. Rather, he can only ask God to refrain from sending this dreadful punishment. Since forgiveness was not granted in his first appeal, Amos can only call on God to be merciful to his people and desist from sending the devastating fire.
The Repentance of God
The prayer of Amos stirred the compassion of God for his people. In response to Amos’ prayer, God revoked the punishment. God told Amos: “This also shall not be” (Amos 7:6). God’s response to Amos was identical to the response he gave when Amos prayed after the first vision.
This time, however, there is an addition of the words “this also.” These additional words reflect God’s willingness to heed the prophetic plea on behalf of Israel. These additional words also emphasize the effectiveness of Amos’ prayer and God’s willingness to change his mind when summoned in prayer.
In answer to Amos’ prayer, God retracted his decision to punish Israel. The Lord decided not to bring the judgment that he intended to bring against Israel because of Amos’ intercession. In the first vision when the Lord answered Amos’ prayer, the text mentioned only the divine name “the Lord” (Yahweh). But in the second vision, it is the “Sovereign Lord” (Adonai Yahweh) who speaks. This use of the special name of God was an affirmation or a guarantee that the judgment would not happen.
Twice, in response to Amos’ prayer on behalf of Israel, the writer said that the “Lord repented” (Amos 7:3, 6 KJV). The repentance of God allowed God to show clemency and avert the punishment he had announced against the nation. The repentance of God teaches us that God’s will is not set in cement, that the God of the Bible is not an uncaring, unfeeling God who does not sympathize with the suffering of his people. Rather, God’s willingness to change his mind regarding the judgment he was planning to bring against Israel shows that the God of the Bible is a God who cares and that he is concerned about the needs of his people.
Israel was deserving of the punishment God intended to bring upon the nation. The punishment that was coming reveals another character of God’s nature: his abhorrence of sin. The holy nature of God does not tolerate sin. God had decided to judge his people for their many sins and violations of the covenant. The only reason the punishment did not materialize was because Amos interceded for the people and asked God to be merciful.
In the end God heard the prayer of his prophet, turned his wrath against Israel into mercy in order to demonstrate his great love for Israel. The verb נָחַם (naham) means “to be sorry, repent, regret.” The King James Version translates the Hebrew word naham as “repent” thirty-eight times. Most of the occurrences refer to God’s repentance.
God’s repentance is different from human repentance. A study of the many passages in the Hebrew Bible where it is said that God repents shows that the repentance of God is an important aspect of God’s nature and of his behavior toward the human beings he has created. The Hebrew word for human repentance is shûb, a word meaning to turn from sin and return to God. When the Bible says that God repents, the Bible means that God relents or changes his mind when dealing with human beings.
So, once again Amos intervened on behalf of Israel and once again the Lord repented and canceled the judgment. The repentance of God is not mere figurative language, as some have asserted. Rather, God’s decision has been reversed because of Amos’ prayer. God’s decision to suspend the judgment gave the people a second opportunity to repent of their sins and change their ways.
But the decision was only temporary. The decision to pardon Israel and lift the judgment permanently would depend on the people and their willingness to repent and change their evil ways. God was willing to give Israel another opportunity to turn from their disobedience and wickedness. Now, it was up to Amos to proclaim God’s message to the people. In order for the judgment to be lifted, the people must be willing to repent from their rebellion and from their violation of the demands of the covenant.
If Israel failed to turn from their wickedness, God would reinstate his decision to bring the judgment upon the people and Israel would suffer the consequences of its disobedience. As we will see in our study of Amos’ third vision, the period of grace given to Israel failed to accomplish its purpose: Israel did not repent and the judgment against the nation was reinstated.
The greatest irony found in these visions of judgment is the fact that Amos was successful in changing the mind of God but he was unable to change the mind of the king and of the people. This is the reason the suspended judgment was reinstated. Since the messenger of God was ignored and his message was dismissed by the people, God had no other choice but to bring judgment upon a rebellious nation.
Posts on Amos’ Five Visions:
NOTE: For other studies on the Book of Amos, read my post Studies on Amos
Wolff, Hans Walter. Joel and Amos : A Commentary on the Books of the Prophets Joel and Amos. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1977.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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