If God’s judgment is inevitable when covenant is broken and sin abounds, it does not necessarily mean that judgment is God’s final word. -Bruce Birch
Lesson Focus Life and hope are always the last words despite the ruin that may come to our lives because of our own unfaithfulness.
Lesson Outcomes Through this lesson, students should:
Understand that our sinfulness brings about judgment.
Understand that judgment is not the final outcome.
Understand that, for God’s people, life and hope are always the last words.
Catching up on the Story With an air of finality, Amos announces the inevitable end of the northern nation of Israel. Like a wall built out of plumb, Israel must be taken down. Israel is like a basket of ripe fruit that will soon turn rancid in the summer heat. They are here today, but tomorrow will be no more. The destruction of Israel will not come by locust or fire but by the sword. Opposing nations, led by the hand of God, will be the agent of Israel’s undoing. While Israel’s destruction will be final and will not come back as a nation, death and destruction are not the last words.
The Text The book of Amos closes out with words of life and hope. What makes these words so striking is not necessarily that they are words of life and hope, but that they do not mitigate the punishment or destruction that Israel was to face. Verses 11-15 are not a call for repentance, nor are they conditional, “if…then…” Rather, they exhibit God’s stance throughout the bible: life and restoration always have the final say.
Verse 11 begins with “On that day…” which leaves in some doubt when that day will take place. Some day in the future, things will change. The destruction that has been so rampant will be reversed. Here we hear the voice of God. Each “I” in the passage speaks to God’s initiative, God’s unfettered work. On that day, God declares that God will rise up or restore David’s fallen booth. “A booth is a frame structure covered by branches that were used in the observance of the Festival of Booths (or Tabernacles) to remember the booths that afforded shelter during the time Israel was in the wilderness.” (Birch, 256).
The image here is of God rebuilding God’s people after their punishment has run its course. David, of course, was from Bethlehem in the south and was king in Jerusalem, which is also in the south. So, it might be easy to think that Amos is only talking about the southern nation of Judah. Verse 12, however, “all the nations who are called by my name,” helps us see that this picture of restoration and rebuilding includes the whole nation of Israel, north, and south. No, the northern nation of Israel will never come back in a political sense. It is finished. God is working to restore and will restore the people who have been called by his name.
The passage moves on with verse 13. Again, we get a time marker, but an ambiguous one. “The time is surely coming….” What will happen when that time comes? The picture that follows is one of abundance and fruitfulness. Usually there is a good six months between the harvest of one season of crops and the planting of another. This has to do with the cycle of rains in Israel. The picture painted for us is that there will be no annual drought; the water will flow so that the person plowing will follow fast on the heels of the one who gathers the grain at harvest. The grape harvest will be so plentiful that the new sweet wine will drip from the mountains, causing rivers of wine to flow. This will not be because of anything anyone has done. This miraculous abundance will come to be only because God has made it happen.
With the abundance of food comes the restoration of cities ruined by conquest. New vineyards will be planted. The planting of a new vineyard is a labor and time-intensive process. It could take as many as seven years before a new vineyard could produce grapes. The picture here is of peace. Those constantly concerned with safety and where their next meal will come from do not have time to plant new vineyards.
The final verse of the book gives us a picture of God’s renewed commitment and covenant with his people. God will once again plant his people like a crop planted in fertile land. They shall remain and send down roots so that they might grow tall. God’s promise here is that they will never again be plucked up from the land they have been given.
Despite all of the doom and gloom that we find in Amos, the book concludes with words of life and hope. We know that the northern nation of Israel never returns as it was. Even the southern nation of Judah, which will be largely destroyed and taken into exile, will not return to its former glory. The picture of hope that we find here is not one of restoring a nation to its political dominance. The image we have here is restoring God’s covenant with his people. Despite their continual and habitual unfaithfulness, God does not leave Israel to rot and decay forever. Instead, God takes them again as a seed and replants them so that he might provide once again for their needs.
So What? The last words are always life and hope. The final word is life because God is continually working to move us from death to life, even when we seem bent on our own destruction! The last word is hope because no matter how far gone we are, no matter how much we have suffered, no matter how much we have been destroyed, God remains ready to replant us so that we might grow again.
In light of the entire book of Amos, what’s vital for us to understand is that this picture of hope and life, of replanting, comes after the destruction has already taken place. The words of life and hope that Amos speaks do not spare us from the consequences of our continued unfaithfulness. To use again the image of the wall that was out of plumb, the only choice for God when confronted with the out of plumb Israel was to take down the wall so that a fresh start could be given.
I think the image of disciplining a child can help illustrate what God is doing here. Those of us who are parents understand that we must meet the disobedience of our children with consequences of some kind. That may take the shape of punishment we hand out to them, taking away the keys to the car, or some other privilege. Or, it may take the form of having to deal with the natural consequences of an action. Our move as parents is always a move toward the restoration of relationship that enables the child to continue to experience the fullness of life once the punishment has run its course. The kind of picture of life and hope that we find at the end of Amos can only happen for those who have moved through disobedience to punishment and sometimes destruction. God’s move is always toward restoration.
Discussion Questions Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Take some time to review Amos. What are some of the prevalent themes through the course of the book? How has God spoken to you through this book?
What is the dominant reason for Israel’s destruction?
The northern nation of Israel never gets restored in the same way as Judah does. Why then do we have this picture of restoration at the end of Amos?
What does it mean when it says in verse 13 that “the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps?”
Throughout the bible, we get the picture of God as always working toward restoration and healing but often only after there has been punishment or destruction. How have you seen this pattern in your own life or the life of others?
Is it possible to say with confidence that on the other side of punishment is always restoration? Why or why not? Can you think of a time when punishment may not followed by restoration?
Works Cited Birch, Bruce C. Hosea, Joel, and Amos, Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.