Today I conclude my study of Amos’ five visions by discussing his fifth vision. As I have shown in preceding studies, in the four previous visions, the Lord showed Amos what he was about to do: bring judgment upon Israel. In the fifth vision, Amos actually sees the Lord executing the judgment he had promised to bring upon the Northern Kingdom.
This is the vision Amos saw:
I saw the LORD standing beside the altar, and he said: Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, and shatter them on the heads of all the people; and those who are left I will kill with the sword; not one of them shall flee away, not one of them shall escape (Amos 9:1).
As in the previous visions, Amos saw God. However, this time the Lord did not ask Amos what he was seeing. Rather, the Lord showed Amos what he was about to do: bring his judgment upon the wickedness of his people. The judgment against Israel had already been threatened in the first four visions and now God was about to bring a judgment from which none would escape. The fifth vision does not provide a reason for the judgment. The reason God does not specify why he is judging his people is because Amos had already proclaimed God’s charges against them. The apostasy of Israel was the reason for God’s judgment.
The judgment upon Israel will begin against the temple located in Bethel and against the people gathered in the temple for worship because it was there that the wickedness of the nation had its beginning. The executioner of the judgment is not mentioned, but probably it was a heavenly messenger as in Ezekiel 9:1,7. In Ezekiel’s vision, the Lord had selected six messengers to be the “executioners of the city” and God’s judgment would begin with the defilement of the temple.
By striking the capitals of the temple, that is, the foundation pillars of the temple, the blow would assure that the whole building would fall to the ground. Before it fell, the building would shake and eventually it would break into pieces and fall on the heads of the people who would be assembled for worship. Few would escape the destruction. Those who escaped the catastrophe would die by the sword.
Faced with the reality of God’s judgment, some people would try to escape the judgment, but soon they would discover that their attempt to evade the hand of God would in vain. Verses 2-4 shows that God is present everywhere and there is no hiding place from which the sinful people can escape from the hand of God.
God, who is present everywhere will send his hand, find the people who try to hide, and bring them to be judged. Those who try to climb the heights in defiance of God will be brought down. Those who seek to hide themselves in the depths of Sheol, God will find them and will bring them up. Those who try to climb to the top of Mount Carmel, God will bring them down. Even those who try to hide in the bottom of the sea, God will send a sea serpent to bite them. There will be no escape from God’s judgment.
People cannot hide themselves from God because God is present everywhere. David experienced the reality of God’s presence. In one of his psalms, David wrote: “Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (Psalm 139:7-8).
Amos’ vision concludes with these words from God: “I will fix my eyes on them for harm and not for good” (Amos 9:4). The psalmist said that “the eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous (Psalm 34:15). When God sets his eyes upon the righteous, he does so to do them good. It is when God’s eyes are set upon his friends that people are blessed and filled with hope for the future. But what happens to people when the eyes of God, who is the source of all good, are set on them not for good but for evil? This means that God’s eyes are on them in order to bring judgment on them and not help them.
The fifth vision of Amos paints the frightful consequences of sin and the awesome power of God’s judgment. In his vision Amos sees God as being present everywhere and there is no place from which people can hide themselves from the reach of his hands.
But even with the threat of divine judgment, a judgment from which there would be no escape, the grace of God is seen. In the fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy, when the Northern Kingdom was destroyed in 722 B.C., what God threatened to do against Israel, God did not do. Amos indeed saw the coming of the Day of the Lord, a day when God would bring his judgment against his own people, but even in wrath, God’s mercy prevailed because the annihilating judgment predicted by Amos did not occur as he had prophesied.
Maybe the final judgment awaits for a future fulfillment, the day when the Lord comes back, not only to judge Israel but all the nations of the world.
Other Studies on Amos
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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