Never Again Prophesy at Bethel

Sermon preached on Amos 7:10-17 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/31/2017 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Amos 7:10-17

“Never Again Prophesy at Bethel”

People don’t generally like to be confronted with critical feedback. If you tell someone they are sinning or simply just doing something unwise, it can often spark a big backlash. This is especially the case when the person is very proud or hard hearted. Humble people tend to be wise enough to consider such feedback. That being said, when someone gives such criticism to a person of power, like for example a government leader, there’s a good chance that person of power won’t even bother to respond, for various reasons. But sometimes people of power do respond to criticism. Just look at the news today and you can see what criticism government leaders respond to and what they choose not to respond to. And so, if that person of power actually does respond to your critical feedback, you know you have their attention! They may be concerned that if they don’t respond to such criticism, they might end up losing the very power and position that they have.

Well, I start with this for today, because Amos got a response from a person of power. Amos had been preaching especially against the worship of the people which would have been overseen by the high priest. And Amos had been preaching against the justice system which would have been overseen by the king. He had been very critical in his prophesying. Yet, you could imagine how such preaching could have simply been ignored by the leadership in Israel. They might have thought Amos was simply an insignificant voice, not worthy of even addressing. Yet, this passage shows something different. Amos got noticed. He got the attention of the high priest Amaziah. Amaziah is concerned with Amos’ words. He’s concerned as well for the king whom Amos’ had been speaking about. So, that’s what this passage about. It’s a series of communications between prophet, priest, and king.

Let’s begin then in our first point by seeing the communication from the priest to the king. That’s verses 10-11. The priest of Bethel, Amaziah, writes a letter of great concern to the king, King Jeroboam. He essentially accuses Amos of conspiracy. We can appreciate why the priest might have concern about Amos and why he’d want to alert the king, too. I’ve already mention the kinds of concerns Amos had been bringing. Verse 11 seems to be Amaziah’s summary of Amos’ prophesying. But most pertinent, I point you to the verse right before our passage for today. In context, verse 9 has what Amos had just preached. Verse 9, Amos prophesied, “The high places of Isaac shall be desolate, And the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste. I will rise with the sword against the house of Jeroboam.” Think about that. That puts the target on essentially both the priest and the king. Of all the high places in Israel, surely Bethel was the most prominent. Amaziah was the priest of that high place. And in terms of the king, Amos’ prophecy specifically predicted its destruction.

And so, Amaziah describes this as a conspiracy. I’m sure if you were Amaziah and you didn’t think anyone cared about Amos’ words, you wouldn’t be too concerned about Amos’ prophecy that spoke against priest and king. But presumably Amos’ words were gaining a serious audience, at least by some in Israel. Amaziah is surely concerned to stay in power. If people were to act on Amos’ words, he and/or the king could be in trouble. Amaziah sees this as a clear and present danger. So, he alerts the king. That being said, I find it noteworthy that Amaziah describes it as a conspiracy. That would suggest envy as well on Amaziah’s part. He has concern Amos is trying to engineer some revolt to surely put Amos in power. Israel’s history was not without plenty of precedent for such things, so you can understand that concern. That being said, nothing we know of Amos’ preaching would make us think that he is leading a conspiracy. His recorded prophecies don’t call for a coup by Israel. They do call for repentance. They do speak of how God will bring judgment upon their perverted system of worship and their unrighteous king. We can understand how in Amaziah’s mind that preaching translates into conspiracy. But that accusation does effectively impugn Amos’ motives. Was Amaziah genuinely misunderstanding Amos’ motives? Or is Amaziah simply out of hatred for Amos and his words mischaracterizing Amos when it suited him? I think of how in Jesus’ day the religious leaders changed how they described their accusation against Jesus when they brought him before Pilate. When it was just them, their Jewish court, they accused Jesus of blasphemy, which was a religious charge. But when they brought Jesus to Pilate, the accused him of treason, a political charge. Amaziah does something similar here. He doesn’t address Amos’ words from a religious perspective when he writes to the king. Amaziah essentially makes a political charge against Amos, a charge of conspiracy, which is a charge a treason as well.

Amaziah then goes on to tell the king that the land of Israel cannot bear Amos’s words. It’s not entirely clear what Amaziah means. Does he mean that the people have grown tired and weary with Amos’ preaching? That the people just don’t want to listen to his words of judgment any longer? Or does Amaziah mean that the nation isn’t going to be able withstand much more of this preaching? That Amos’ language is incendiary and if they don’t silence him now, there will be a revolt on their hands? It’s unclear which he meant here. But what is clear is that Amaziah himself doesn’t want to hear Amos’ words any longer.

So, this is message that the priest sent to the king. Next, let’s look at the what the priest says to the prophet. This is verses 12-13. Amaziah turns now to speak to Amos. Basically, Amaziah orders Amos to go back to Judah; that’s verse 12. Remember, that Amos had been a shepherd from Tekoa, which was from the southern kingdom of Judah, not the northern kingdom of Israel. Amaziah suggests he could do his prophesying work there, instead. That’s the idea with the reference to the eating of bread. It is Amaziah envisioning that for Amos, being a prophet is about a job. Amaziah tells him to go earn his daily bread in Judah, by being a prophet there, instead. The very words of Amaziah to Amos again seem to impugn Amos’ motives. They subtly seem to suggest that Amos is in it for the money. Amaziah says that if Amos wants to remain a prophet, that is fine, as long as you don’t do your prophesying here in Israel anymore.

That becomes all the clearer in verse 13. In verse 13, Amaziah explicitly commands Amos to never again prophesy at Bethel. His reason is that it’s the king’s sanctuary. The pew Bible also says that it’s the royal residence though I don’t think that’s the best translation. The Hebrew is literally that it’s the house of the kingdom. I think both terms refer to the same thing, that Bethel is the national temple. It’s the foremost official place of worship for the nation. This point is made, however, with a merging of king and priest language here. It
the kingly place of worship. I think of how Exodus 19:6 expressed the desire that Israel would be a kingdom of priests. 1 Peter 2:9 also speaks of a royal priesthood. There is this close connection of the priesthood and royalty at certain points in Scripture. Here Amaziah expresses that this was the case for them at Bethel. Unfortunately, that was in the context of perverted worship, for them at that time.

But I digress. Though Scripture paints a positive ideal for a close connection between the civil power and the religious power, what we see is unfortunately typical in such situations. Here we have a perverted civil-religious power coming against true religion. Without godly warrant, Amaziah tries to silence the prophet of God. And that’s the real issue here. Amaziah doesn’t want to hear God’s Word. God’s Word through Amos has offended him and threatened him, so he doesn’t want to hear it any more. He can’t bear those words any longer. That’s the real issue here for Amaziah. In his hard-heartedness and pride, he won’t consider Amos’ words. Notice that there doesn’t appear to be any discernment here by Amaziah to determine if Amos is actually speaking for God. That’s what you would think a priest of Israel should be concerned about. If someone claims to be a prophet of God, your concern shouldn’t be whether or not you like the message. The concern should be if the prophet is actually bringing a Word from the LORD. If so, then you need to heed that prophetic word.

Turning then in our last point, let’s see what the prophet says to the priest in response. This is verses 14-17. Put yourselves in Amos’ shoes now. How would you be tempted to respond if you were Amos. This priest is like the top religious power in the nation, and he’s just ordered you to stop proclaiming God’s Word. You could imagine the temptation would be to give in to Amaziah’s demands. You might want to run from the trouble. You might want to accept the offer that would allow you to flee in peace and thus save your life. You could see how tempting it would be to obey the priest out of the fear of man. Of course, you could also imagine how some people could even become enticed by the possibility for new profitable opportunities for prophesying in Judah. So, what would Amos do? How would he respond to these various temptations? Well, by the grace of God, Amos passes this test. He does not turn away even though persecution will likely follow. He will keep on bringing God’s Word. We see his defense right here in verses 14-15. And we see him continue bringing God’s Word right here in verses 16-17.

In terms of his defense, we see Amos say what has become a classic line, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet.” Instead, he mentions his past vocation as some sort of shepherd and farmer. The language used here to describe his jobs leads some to think that Amos was not a poor shepherd, but may have been financially well off. The sheepbreeder language might have referred to one who owned and bred many such livestock. The reference to being a tender of sycamore fruit may refer to a consultant who went around an cut the fruits at the right time to promote better ripening. These roles may have been more prestigious positions and may have represented Amos having wealth. It’s hard to be dogmatic here. But the bottom line is that in verse 14, Amos seems to be responding to Amaziah’s implied accusation; that his prophesying was about a job to make money; as if he was a professional prophet; just a prophet for profit. Amos categorically denies these accusations. The implication of his words is that he was never a professional prophet, and was more than content doing his regular earthly callings before.

So, why then does Amos preach and prophesy now? It’s what he says in verse 15. Because the LORD called him to do it. The LORD took him from his previous callings to be a prophet of the LORD. Amos hadn’t sought out such a job. The job sought him out! The LORD commanded him to go and speak his words, specifically to Israel. How could Amos obey Amaziah in light of this? Amos rightly realizes that when the command of men conflicts with the command of God, we must obey God over man.

And so, Amos doesn’t waste any time in bringing more prophecy from God, despite the command from Amaziah! In verses 16 and 17, the passage ends with Amos immediately violating Amaziah’s prohibition. In verse 16, Amos now in return summarizes Amaziah’s words, and then brings a prophecy specific about those words. Amaziah had been concerned with his own position as a priest in Bethel. And Amaziah had been concerned with Amos saying that Israel would be conquered and exiled from the land. The prophecy of verse 17 addresses both. For Amaziah, the prophetic word says that he would suffer complete loss when Israel faces judgment. His children will be slaughtered. He himself, supposedly a consecrated priest, will die in exile in an unclean, pagan land. His land in the Promised Land will be divided up and given to others as spoil. All this is likely why his wife would end up a prostitute, as she’s left all alone without husband, children, or land. What a terrible curse that Amos prophetically imprecates on Amaziah. But it wasn’t something he made up. It wasn’t Amos cursing Amaziah. It was God’s Word, God’s judgment, God’s decision. It was a divine curse; Amos was just the messenger.

And then almost in passing, the prophecy of judgment ends with an affirmation that Israel will indeed end up conquered and in exile. History tells us this came to pass. Amaziah didn’t need to worry about conspirators among Israel. He needed to be concerned with the reality of this judgment from God. Instead of persecuting Amos, he should have been thanking Amos for delivering the message. Then Amaziah should have led the people in repentance and fasting.

But of course, that would have been excessively hard for Amaziah, and certainly for King Jeroboam as well. Repentance for both of them would have been to recognize that both their priesthood and their kingdom were illegitimate. Amaziah would have needed to give up being a priest and get the people to go to Jerusalem and the Levitical priesthood for worship. Jeroboam would have had to renounce the crown and call the people to renew their allegiance to the son of David as the rightful king of God’s people. Amaziah and Jeroboam would have to give up their power if they were to repent. Sometimes repentance is just too hard for people; they think they will have to give up too much. But in light of the alternative mentioned here, then surely whatever sacrifice would be worth it. How many people won’t give up their life of sin today to turn to God in repentance. Yet, the unquenchable fires of hell should warn us to flee the coming wrath of God. God’s judgment is sobering and fearful.

Well, in this passage, we’ve heard from both the prophet and the priest. But what was the king’s response? Did King Jeroboam ever answer Amaziah’s message? We don’t know. The Bible doesn’t record this, so we just don’t know. But the Bible does summarize the life of King Jeroboam in 2 Kings 14 as someone who did evil in the sight of the LORD. If he did ever reply to Amaziah, he surely didn’t come to Amos’ defense.

But I’m hear today to point you to the king that did respond, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came as a legitimate king, who at the same time was also a prophet and a priest. And when Jesus came to this earth, he vindicated the prophets of old like Amos. He commended all those prophets who were persecuted by Israel when they brought God’s prophetic word to the people. Jesus also joined with these prophets of old when he did things like speak woe to the religious leaders among Israel who had perverted the true religion and righteousness among the people. And like the prophets of old, the religious leaders hated Jesus for speaking against them. They hated him, and they were envious of him, for how all the people flocked to him. They too were worried they’d lose their political power and position because of the effects of Jesus’ preaching.

And yet when Jesus came that first time, he didn’t come to bring judgment. Though he too spoke of curse, he didn’t usher in the curse like what Amos spoke of here for Amaziah. In fact, if that curse sounded horrible for Amaziah, Jesus came to bear an even worse curse. Jesus came in his first coming, not for judgment, but to take on the curse for God’s people. On the cross, Jesus became that curse. As he hung there, Jesus was cut off by God, forsaken by the Father, experiencing hell and shame.

Why should Jesus die like this? Why should he experience such curse? If Jesus came as a prophet who spoke truth, why should he experience such a curse? Well, because he also came as a true priest who came to offer up himself to cleanse his people from their sin. He did this in order to establish a kingdom of redeemed sinners. Jesus now is exalted as the righteous king of that kingdom. If you have come to Jesus in faith and repentance, then this atonement has been effective for you too. Know Jesus as your prophet, priest, and king, and you will know his salvation. In his prophetic office he reveals to you both law and gospel. As priest, he offered himself as an atonement for sin, and even now intercedes for his people as he sits at the right hand of God the father. And as king, he now rules over his people in righteousness, saving them from all his and our enemies. And ultimately as that king, he will plant us safely and securely into an eternal heavenly land where there will be no more pain or sorrow.

In conclusion, I leave us with this application. The New Testament shows that all Christians image Jesus in these offices. Jesus was a prophet, priest, and king, and we too are all prophets, priests, and kings in his name. Let us look to live out such offices in obedience to Christ. The challenge in that is Jesus told us that by doing so we will undoubtedly face the kinds of persecution that we find Amos facing in today’s passage. But Jesus says that when you do experience that for his sake, know that you are blessed and are in good company. The world might tell us to be quiet, but we, like the Apostles said in Acts, must obey God over man. Like Amaziah here, the world doesn’t have ears for Biblical truth that confronts people with their sin and God’s judgment. Isn’t it telling that the world is fine with the parts of the Bible that talk about love and joy and peace. But as soon as we start talking about sin and judgment and curse, they want to stop up their ears and tell us to stop speaking. And so, the world doesn’t want to hear God’s word. They will hate us for it. But don’t make it about us. Just be the messengers we are called to be.

For we know that when Christ our King comes again, then it will be for judgment. That will be his answer for all who continue to reject his word and his prophets. Then he will come to bring a final judgment and a final curse, even as he vindicates us before the world. Let us pray for grace to live properly as his prophets, priests, and kings; not for our gain or fame, but to his praise and glory. Amen.

Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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