Amos, it appears, ministered at a time when Israel was at the peak of its political and military power. Jeroboam, son of Joash (1:1) (known to historians as Jeroboam II), was one of Israel’s most capable military and political leaders. According to the biblical historian, he “restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.” He also “restored Damascus and Hamath to Judah in Israel” (2 Kings 14:23–29).
There could not have been a more unlikely time for Amos to prophesy judgement. The nation had never been more secure. It seemed unbelievable that this insecurity would be overturned. But that is precisely what Amos warned. “An adversary shall surround the land and bring down your defences from you, and your strongholds shall be plundered” (v. 11). As unbelievable as it seemed, Israel would fall.
But God did not want Israel, when the time came, to consider its fall an unhappy coincidence. It was important that they recognise his hand in it. To make this point, Amos issued a series of hypothetical, cause-and-effect questions (vv. 1–6). He proceeded to point out that prophets speak because God has spoken to them. In the same way that a lion only roars when it has prey and birds only fall into a snare if a trap has been set, prophets only speak when the Lord reveals his truth to them. The implication is clear: Since Amos was a prophet, and since he was speaking, the people could be sure that God had revealed truth to him and they should therefore believe it.
In the culture in which we live, people frequently respond in one of two extreme ways to the providences that befall them.
Some conclude that everything is the result of pure chance, that there is no God who causes what happens, and that scientific rationale will ultimately explain everything we experience. For them, it is foolish to look beyond what can be seen and touched. There is no cause beyond what we can explain and no meaning beyond what chance provides.
On the other extreme, there are those who effectively reject all form of scientific rationalism and look for supernatural causes under every rock. Some years ago, a parody news website claimed that evangelical scientists were denying the reality of gravity and instead promoting “intelligent falling,” claiming that things fall not because they are acted upon by gravitational force but because God actively pushes them down. The article was not intended to be taken seriously, but it did illustrate the tendency of some to overemphasise God’s supernatural act in every aspect of life.
Amos 3 brings these two extremes to a head. Israel would fall and, when that happened, the people must not overlook God’s action in allowing it. But God’s action did not negate the involvement of human actors and nature’s forces. Israel would fall to Assyria but God was the one at work. “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?”
In his philosophical argument for God’s existence, Thomas Aquinas spoke of God as the uncaused causer. Since things do not happen without a cause, there must be a cause behind all that happens. He reasoned that God was the first cause, who set all other processes of cause and effect into motion. That is the argument that Amos was forwarding in this text.
We should recognise that things don’t happen to us without God’s careful control and permission. We can therefore rest in his sovereignty. He loves and knows what is best for us. We can be confident that every strange providence, no matter how perplexing in the moment, is evidence of his sovereign work in our lives. We should therefore ask him to teach us the lessons that we need to learn in everything that he allows.
As you reflect on Amos 3 this morning, thank God that nothing falls outside his sovereign control and that, even in his hardest providences, he is at work to accomplish in us what he wants to accomplish.