10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, “‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” 12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” 14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. 15 But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. “You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’ 17 Therefore thus says the Lord: “‘Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’”
In the fourth/fifth century, the church father John Chrysostom initially had a good relationship with Empress Eudoxia, the wife of the Emperor Arcadius. In time, the relationship between the powerful woman and the fiery preacher would deteriorate. John would preach against excesses and ostentation in feminine dress. He condemned and preached against obscene displays of wealth. He did not participate in the high life of the royal family. He would also thunder from the pulpit against the erection of a statue of Eudoxia near the cathedral. This, as you might imagine, did not make Eudoxia happy and she moved against him. There is a fascinating painting of Chrysostom the preacher locking horns with the Empress: she stands elevated above him as he addresses her from his pulpit.
Legend has it that this is how the exchange went when Eudoxia threatened to banish John Chrysostom.
“You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house,” said John.
“But I will kill you,” the empress said.
“No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.”
“I will take away your treasures,” said Eudoxia.
“No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.”
“But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left,” Eudoxia responded.
“No, you cannot,” said John, “for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you. For there is nothing you can do to harm me.”
The phrase “speaking truth to power” comes to mind here. Chrysostom had to set aside all fear and determine whether or not he would speak the truth regardless of what it would cost him.
Amos had to make the same decision.
So do you and I!
The devil hates God’s truth and he will move and mobilize others against it.
For seven chapters, Amos has been thundering (primarily) against the northern kingdom of Israel. This kind of preaching was certainly bound to get the attention of the authorities…and it did. Watch:
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words.”
Let us note the political dynamics here. Bethel was a sacred site in Israel’s history, but Jeroboam, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, had made it a cultic site in an effort to dissuade the people of Israel from going to Jerusalem in Judah. As such, Bethel had become a sign of an earthly king’s arrogance. And there he had installed a priest, Amaziah.
Now if there is one thing I know, it is that preachers do not like preachers encroaching on what they consider to be their territory. And Amos was not merely encroaching. He was, in fact, driving a bulldozer through Bethel and the whole fake/plastic/hypocritical religious system that allowed the haughty powerful of Israel to assuage their religious consciences while simultaneously treating people terribly.
So Amaziah the priest takes note of Amos the prophet. Being a shrewd politician himself, Amaziah couches his complaint to the king in terms of (a) concern for the king’s well-being and (b) concern for the land and the people. He paints Amos as seditious and a dangerous rabble-rouser. Note how Amaziah quotes Amos.
11 For thus Amos has said, “‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’”
It is the case that Amaziah either lies about what Amos actually said or, at least, makes it more pointed for his own nefarious purposes. What Amos actually said in Amos 7:9 was:
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.
What Amaziah reports him as saying was, “Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel go into exile.”
Granted, what Amaziah reported is likely the upshot of what Amos meant, but he clearly makes it more concentrated on the individual Jeroboam whereas Amos’ words seem to have a more collective tone to them (i.e., “the house of Jeroboam”). Regardless, Robert Alter is correct when he writes, “Amaziah steps up the actual words of Amos’s prophecy (verse 9), putting in his mouth an explicit prediction of the death of Jeroboam and of Israel’s exile.”
See here the union of church and state! See here religious nationalism! Beware the unholy marriage of religion and politics!
Then, Amaziah turns to rebuke and rid himself of this pesky prophet, Amos.
12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
This wording is telling. First, there is an implicit questioning of Amos’ motives for prophesying in the words “flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there.” That “eat bread there,” in our context, could be rendered, “Go make your living among your own people.” He was insinuating that Amos was doing what he was doing for personal gain: bread. It is, I hasten to add, hard to imagine how Amaziah would think that Amos’ preaching was going to help him prosper in Israel! He was clearly not trying to make friends!
Notice as well how Amaziah describes Bethel: “for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Not the temple of God. Not a sacred place for the worship of God. No, Amaziah is a thoroughly political priest and his concerns are bathed in political intrigue. He cannot even speak of the sacred site without the language of “king” and “kingdom.”
In reality, what is happening here is not even primarily political. It is thoroughly spiritual. What is happening here is the devil is moving against the prophet of God to silence him. Why? Because the devil hates God’s truth and he will move and mobilize others against it.
Church, this was true for Amos. It is also true for you and for me. Speak the truth of God in a fallen world order and the devil will indeed mobilize against you. And he will use both individuals and structures to attack. In his opposition to Amos, the devil utilized the religious establishment and the political establishment. Let us not miss this either: it was the dominant religious institution that took most offense at God’s word. Make no mistake: if you speak the truth of God’s word, there will be many within the church who take the greatest offense!
Paul understood this religious dynamic, which is why, in Ephesians 6, he said:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
Beware, Christian…but be courageous and clear and bold and strong! Remember, there are spiritual currents beneath the political maneuverings of our day. The devil hates the truth, and he will move all those under his sway to hate it and the one who speaks it.
The great heroes in the struggle against the devil are not the talented and the gifted but rather the humble and the called.
So Amos the prophet is rebuked and challenged by Amaziah the priest. What will Amos do?
14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs.”
There are two points to Amos’ reply:
- I am a common man, not a professional clergyman.
- But God called me to do this, so I am going to do it.
To the first point, Amos casts off any pretensions and says that he “was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son.” What does he mean by saying that he was not the son of a prophet? This is actually a somewhat technical term, as Robert Alter points out:
The expression “son of a prophet” refers to the disciples who constituted the following of…a prophet. What he is invoking is the phenomenon registered in Samuel and Kings of career prophets surrounded by their disciples (who are called “sons of the prophet”) and who cultivated ecstatic states, often with the aid of musical instruments. Amos, by contrast, is a simple herdsman and farmer driven to prophesy by a call from God.
In other words, Amos is saying that he was in no way connected to the prophetic scene. He was not even in the bleachers. He was just a guy! In fact, he “was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs.” This too communicates his lack of professional credentials and his humility. Even the detail of him being “a dresser of sycamore figs” communicates this. The IVP Bible Background Commentary notes that “[s]ince the [sycamore fig] is inferior to that of the common fig (Ficus carica L.), the poor principally consume it.” So Amos lived among common people and he did a very common job. He was not among the elites. He was not part of the club.
But God called him! God called him!
15 But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
And Amos, the common man, loved and feared his God, so he obeyed and he prophesied!
Ah, church: The great heroes in the struggle against the devil are not the talented and the gifted but rather the humble and the called. God has a habit in scripture of calling the unlikely, the looked-down-upon, the did-not-see-that-coming! God revels in taking the lowly and using them mightily! And when Christ Himself comes, He comes lowly.
Amos’ strength was not in his giftings but in the God who called him! So he thundered with power because his God is a powerful God!
Do not tremble before the mighty…you have a mighty God!
Do not kowtow before the strong…you have a strong God!
Do not hesitate before the credentialed…your God’s resume silences them all!
Consider the earlier Methodist evangelist, Peter Cartwright.
Peter Cartwright was one of those courageous preachers. One Sunday, President Andrew Jackson visited the church. Somebody alerted Pastor Cartwright and asked him not to say anything out of line. When he stood to preach, he said, “I understand Andrew Jackson is here. Somebody asked me to guard my remarks. Well, Andrew Jackson will go to hell if he doesn’t repent.” People were shocked, but later, as the President shook hands with the preacher he said, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you, I could whip the world.”
There it is! You might be praised by the powerful, as Cartwright was by Andrew Jackson. You might be hated by the powerful, as Amos was by Jeroboam and Amaziah. None of that matters.
What matters is this: God has called His church to speak truth to the world. Do it! Speak truth! Speak it in love and speak it in power…but speak it! If God has called you to it, then you are eminently qualified!
To be a child of God is to be willing to offend in love instead of placating in fear.
And sometimes speaking means causing offense. Amos had every earthly reason to fear for his life. He was in a most precarious situation. So what does he do in the face of this threat from Amaziah? Does he dial it down? Does he adjust his message? No. A thousand times no! Instead:
16 “Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. “You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’ 17 Therefore thus says the Lord: “‘Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’”
Well. That happened, as they say! My goodness!
- Your wife shall be a prostitute.
- You children will be killed.
- Your land will be divided.
- You will die.
- Israel will be exiled.
There is a time to be winsome and strategic (without compromising the truth). There is a time to blow a battle horn from the heights. This was that time! When the chips are down and eternity is at stake and the world stands on the precipice, they do not need something cute, they need the undiluted, raw, bitter truth!
This dynamic happens more than once in scripture, by the way. Consider the episode of Jeremiah and Pashhur the priest from Jeremiah 20.
1 Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. 2 Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. 3 The next day, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The Lord does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side. 4 For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. He shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword. 5 Moreover, I will give all the wealth of the city, all its gains, all its prized belongings, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah into the hand of their enemies, who shall plunder them and seize them and carry them to Babylon. 6 And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely.”
There it is! And, again, in Acts 4, the religious leaders move against Peter and John to silence them.
18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
And that is exactly the point, church: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Translation: You do what you think you have got to do, but we are going to do what we have got to do…and that is obey God.
There is a powerful phrase there: “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” We could not stop bearing witness if we tried! We have seen something too beautiful…too terrifying…to amazing…to be silent! We have seen the Lord God and we will not be silent!
Church, you have a choice: silence with your own safety in view or boldness with the glory of God in view.
What is God calling you to say or to do that you are afraid to do? Name it! Give it to God! And say it and do it!
Do you feel unqualified? Good! We all are! But do you dare to believe that the God who called you can do through you what He has called you to do? Yes? Then go with God and do it!
Look beside you there, Christian: Jesus the King is with you! You do not stand alone! You will never stand alone!
 In a very interesting post at Pioneer Library, the question of the authenticity of this exchange is researched: https://olddeadguys.com/2017/11/12/chrysostoms-reply-to-eudoxia/
 Alter, Robert. The Hebrew Bible. Vol. 2 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019), p.1273n11.
 Alter, Robert, The Hebrew Bible, p.1274n14.
 Walton, John H., Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p.773.