Abraham’s posterity were called to be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). And yet, at the time of Amos, they were hardly acting like a “chosen people.” They were not only ignoring the words of the prophets, and breaking their vertical covenant with God, but they were oppressing the needy, and breaking their horizontal covenant to care for their fellow man. Despite these actions, they continued to offer sacrifices and to participate in the outward rituals of worship. The Lord hates hypocrisy and “empty devotion,” and sent a herdsman named Amos to call them to repentance.
Amos’s Call to the Ministry
Although there was a school of the prophets at that time, Amos was a simple man, a farmer, who was called to this ministry. He gives a first-person description of his call. “I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit. Then the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel’” (Amos 7:14-15). Just as Jesus called common fishermen to be his disciples, God is using an untrained shepherd to do great things.
Amos was from Tekoa, a city about ten miles from Jerusalem. When he served as a prophet, the kingdom of Israel had been divided into two nations for more than 150 years. The southern kingdom was known as Judah, and the northern kingdom was still known as Israel. During the period of the divided monarchy, the southern kingdom of Judah saw a succession of kings, some godly and some ungodly, Uzziah being one of the better kings of Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel saw nothing but a series of wicked kings. Jeroboam, the son of Joash, was one of the better kings among these wicked men—especially in a political and military sense—but he was still an ungodly man (see 2 Kings 14:23-29). For most of its history, the northern kingdom of Israel had struggled against Syria—her neighbor to the north. But around the year 800 BC, the Assyrian Empire defeated Syria and neutralized the power that had hindered Israel’s expansion and prosperity. With Syria in check, Israel enjoyed great prosperity during the reign of Jeroboam II. He reigned for a long period of time and extended the boundaries of the Northern Kingdom. Amos was primarily a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel (800 – 750 BC) during the reign of Jeroboam II, although he spoke to many nations. [i]
Amos’s Message to the Nations
“The LORD roars from Zion” (Amos 1:2). Amos ”roared” a message of judgment, first against the gentile nations, and then against Judah and Israel. The Northern Kingdom of Israel, in direct disobedience to God, established rival centers of worship in Dan, Bethel, and Gilgal. When Amos said that “the LORD utters his voice from Jerusalem,” he reminded all of Israel where the center of true worship was.
The nations surrounding Israel and Judah were also guilty of great sins, and Amos prophesied against them, warning them of the consequences that would befall them if they continued in their ways. “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment.” This phrase will introduce God’s announcement of judgment against each nation. It wasn’t counting the number of sins Damascus had committed, but it had the meaning that they had committed sin upon sin upon sin. Something like, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times.”
Rather than go through each nation’s fate, when I taught these chapters to Old Testament Institute students, I used a visual aid to get my point across. I cut out eight 4″ squares of paper and labeled them: SYRIA, PHILISTIA, PHONECIA, EDOM, AMMON, MOAB, and JUDAH. I had burned the edges of each one of these nation-papers, and had completely burned the eighth paper and put its ashes in a small, clear bottle and labeled it ISRAEL. Showing the students the seven small squares of paper, I asked, “Supposing a prophet showed you these papers, what might they signify?” What might the ashes in the bottle labeled ISRAEL signify in comparison to the other pieces? As we located each of these nations on a map, we talked about how each had been punished.[ii]
Judah’s sin was that she had despised and disobeyed the law of the Lord. It is remarkable to see the same judgment formula applied against Judah, the people of God, as was applied against the previous six Gentile nations. God had blessed his people with his law and his commandments, and he expected them to honor and obey his word. Because Judah sinned like the other nations, she would be judged like the other nations, with fire against her city and palaces. This promise of future “fire” could also be interpreted in a in a spiritual way to describe the purifying work of God in his children.
God’s Judgment of Israel
The northern tribes of Israel had piled sin upon sin upon sin, just as the previous Gentile nations had done. Because they had been given God’s law and his commandments, they were held to a higher level of accountability than God required of the six Gentile nations previously mentioned in Amos. “Where much is given, much is required” (Doctrine and Covenant 82:3, 10). Therefore, their punishment was greater because they knew better.
Amos saw the injustice of the rich against the poor, and how the rich took cruel advantage of the poor, and sold them for “silver,” or “a pair of sandals.” God also saw this injustice and promised judgment. Worse than “turning aside the meek,” Amos reported that “a man and his father will go in unto the same maid” (Isaiah 2:7). In their idol feasts, young women prostituted themselves publicly in honor of Astarte, and this probably refers to a father and his son using the same ritual prostitute.[iii] Amos saw the sexual immorality and perversion of his day, and how standards that were once accepted were then disregarded.
Poor people in the ancient Near East sleep in their day clothes. Those who could not pay their debts pledged their cloaks, but according to the law of Moses, they had to be returned to them at night to keep them from freezing to death. (see Amos 2:8) These creditors, undeterred by their supposed nearness to their god, treated the needy man’s clothes as if they belonged to themselves. Also, at their sacrificial banquets, they drank wine obtained from unjust fines. While they imagined themselves to be worshipping the God of Israel, he disclaimed them—they were really worshipping an idol of their own imagination.
How could Israel forget so quickly the God who had “destroyed the Amorite before [them], and led [them] forty years through the wilderness?” (Amos 2:9-10). Israel was guilty of the sin of INGRATITUDE for God’s great watchful care and provoked his judgments. He had “raised up their sons for prophets and their young men for Nazarites,” and yet they had given “the Nazarites wine to drink,” and told the prophets not to prophesy. (Amos 2:12) It was exceedingly base to tempt a Nazarite to break his vow, because he demonstrated his self-control by renouncing pleasant things.
The rest of the book of Amos contains a prophecy about Israel’s future. Amos expressed his words of rebuke by using a powerful metaphor. For example, he did not record the Lord merely saying to his people, “You are a burden to me,” but rather, “Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves” (Amos 2:13). God regarded the people of Israel as a weary burden, not as a joy. It is the difference between the pleasure a parent feels in dealing with an obedient child and the drudgery he or she feels in dealing with a stubborn and rebellious child.
Whenever justice is perverted—any time the rich receive preferential treatment, or the poor are oppressed—it burdens God, and he promises to set it right. Whenever people use legal but unethical means to manipulate situations and make money from others in questionable ways, it burdens God, and he promises to set it right. Whenever people unfairly profit at the expense of the unfortunate, it burdens God, and he promises to set it right. [iv]
The verse can be understood another way: As the ground reels under the weight of the cart, so shall they reel under God’s heavy hand. One way the judgment of God would express itself against Israel was that they would find themselves unable to succeed in ways where they previously thought they were strong. “The mighty shall not deliver himself. . . Neither shall he that handleth the bow deliver himself. Neither shall he that rideth the horse deliver himself. . . He that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, saith the Lord” (Amos 2:14-16).
Therefore, God’s judgment was unavoidable. He tells the children of Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). Israel’s rejection and disregard of God were all the more inexcusable in light of God’s great deliverance. When he brought Israel up from the land of Egypt, he proved his covenant love for them, his hesed. God made a clear connection between the great privilege of Israel (“you only have I known”) and the great responsibility this privilege brings (“therefore I will punish you”). If Israel thought that their standing as a chosen nation before God made them immune from the consequences of iniquity, they were tragically mistaken. In the divine economy, the measure of our privilege is the measure of our responsibility. Where much is given, much is required, not just expected. Therefore if we fail to fulfill that responsibility, God will not pass over our sins, but rather will visit all our iniquities upon us. We can’t help but wonder how God views the Latter-day Saints as a whole. What percentage of members who know better are failing in their responsibilities?
At this point, I would ask my students, “ Now can you see why the bottle of ashes a good symbol for what was prophesied for Israel?”
The Logic of God’s Judgment
In the next section, Amos connects six statements that are obviously true. These six statements of the obvious lead into a seventh statement, each one reinforcing this final point. They are similar to questions like these, Do you answer the telephone when it doesn’t ring? Do you buy cat food if you don’t have a cat? Amos 3:3-6 can be understood as a series of questions to which the answer is an obvious NO. Note that the last question in verse 5 means, “Would a trap spring shut for nothing at all?”
Amos 3:7 reads, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” What does this verse have to do with the preceding questions? The seven obvious questions lead up to the Lord’s conclusion, which is also obvious—the Lord will always reveal his will to his prophets before he does anything here on earth.
What did Amos say about prophets that is also obvious? Amos added two more questions in verse 8 which have obvious answers. “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8) A prophet delivers the message the Lord gives him, just as plainly as a lion’s roar inspires fear. Perhaps Amos’s unspoken question was this—”Will people who fear the lion know enough to fear the Lord’s judgments?” Israel refused to listen and repent and would have to pay the consequences.
The Lord said that the people of his church should receive the word of the prophet “as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:5). God makes no distinction between the validity of the words of his prophets and his own words. “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38).
The Divine Council
There is much more in this verse than first meets the eye. The word in Amos 3:7 is not secrets, it is the singular—secret. The word “secret” in this verse is the Hebrew word, sôd. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance gives us this definition for (sôd): assembly, counsel, inward, secret counsel. Amos 3:7 is talking about a secret council, or in this case, a heavenly council.
We can see other places where the scriptures refer to this heavenly council, such as Jeremiah 23:18, 22: “Who hath stood in the counsel (sôd) of the Lord and hath perceived and heard his word,” “if they would have stood in my counsel (sôd), and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way.” Here the Lord is specifically telling us that we can recognize a true prophet because he has stood in the Heavenly Council, the sôd. If they did not, they have no “power of attorney”— they do not represent God. Jeremiah is dealing with false prophets, and he uses this criteria to determine whether a man who is pretending to be a prophet is a true prophet or not—whether or not he stood in God’s heavenly council.
We, as English speakers, are sometimes thrown because of the spelling of the word counsel here. Counsel means to give advice. It is not spelled council, which means a group of people meeting together to collaborate. This issue is easily solved if we look back at the Hebrew word sôd. When the King James translators rendered this word, they used the word counsel, which at that time was just an alternate spelling of council. Today, there is a very distinct difference between the two words.
This premortal council convened to discuss the plan of salvation, along with the possibility of sin, the reality of moral agency, and the necessity of the Atonement. The Lord showed Abraham the “intelligences that were organized before the world was,” and the “noble and great ones” and God stood in the midst of them and said “these I will make my rulers” (see Abraham3:22-23).
The prophet Isaiah gives a description of being in this Heavenly Council, although he doesn’t specifically use the word sôd when he describes his calling in Isaiah 6. As the account opens, Isaiah sees the Lord sitting upon his throne, surrounded by seraphim who are all praising him. Overwhelmed by a consciousness of his personal sins and those of his people, Isaiah anticipates destruction, for he knows that no unclean thing can enter the presence of God. He is then involved in a cleansing ritual, and his sins are forgiven.
All of this is preparatory to his being able to hear the voice of the Lord of Hosts as he asks the celestial council, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah, whose purged lips now enable him to speak even in this most august circle, volunteers, “Here am I; send me.” In so speaking he is obviously echoing, in both spirit and words, the response of the Son of Man to a similar invitation in the heavenly councils of the premortal world (see Abraham 3:27). Isaiah’s offer to serve and represent the Lord and his council is accepted. He is then instructed in that which he is to say.[v]
Another prophet who experienced and recorded a vision of this type was Ezekiel. If we combine the descriptions given in chapters 1 and 10, Ezekiel saw the Lord sitting upon a throne surrounded by heavenly beings. He also heard a voice, from which he obtained the words he was to teach.
Through inspiration, Joseph Smith revised Genesis 1, introducing the concept of gods organizing the world. In essence, it expresses this idea—“In the beginning, the head of the gods called a council of the gods. They came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it.” (see Abraham 4:1)
Pearl of Great Price Central adds this insight:
One thing that differentiates the Book of Abraham’s account of the Creation from the biblical account in Genesis is that the Book of Abraham mentions plural “Gods” as the agents carrying out the Creation. “And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth” (Abraham 4:1). These Gods are mentioned thirty-two times in Abraham 4 and sixteen times in Abraham 5. Significantly, these Gods are said to have taken “counsel” amongst themselves during the Creation (Abraham 4:26; 5:2–3, 5).
This language of the Gods taking counsel amongst themselves in Abraham 4–5 appears to be a natural continuation of the description of the premortal council in heaven in Abraham 3:22–28. One of these “rulers” in the pre-mortal council who was “like unto God” is depicted as saying, “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (vv. 24–25). In this manner the council of Gods in Abraham 3 counseled with each other during the Creation in Abraham 4–5.
One of the greatest Old Testament texts alluding to the heavenly council is Psalm 82:1. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible reads, “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.”
Joseph Smith declared that: “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was.” [vi] What Amos is telling us is that the Lord does not act independently of the heavenly council where all prophets are instructed and ordained. Knowing this, it is no wonder that newly called apostles feel so overwhelmed.
“And Yet Ye Have Not Returned unto Me”
God is extremely displeased with Israel’s fixation on the luxuries of life and their disregard of the poor. Though they put on the appearance of worshipping him, they are hypocrites. (see Amos 4:1-3) Amos is not a trained prophet, and as a herdsman and farmer, he uses images familiar to him. When he wants to convey the indulgence of the women of Israel, he calls them “fat cows,” who have grown plump by oppressing the less fortunate. [vii] Through their continual demands for luxuries, they have driven their husbands to greater injustices in order to provide them. These shallow women are only concerned about their own needs and the pursuit of pleasure. God sees this, and promises to hold them accountable.
Although they think themselves far removed from danger, they will be dragged out “like fish” from the water with “fishhooks.” God told unrepentant Israel that they would be conquered by the Assyrians and led into exile. As the Assyrians led their captives to other locations hundreds of miles away, they strung them together through a system of strings and fishhooks pierced through their lower lip. In this humiliating manner, they would be led into exile through the broken walls of their conquered cities.[viii]
God tells Israel that these consequences will come upon them because of their “vain sacrifices.” Sarcastically, Amos says, “Come to Bethel and transgress, at Gilgal multiply transgression” (Amos 4:4). Because the kings of Israel did not want their people to go to the southern kingdom of Judah and sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem, they set up rival centers of worship in cities like Bethel and Gilgal. They offered sacrifices at these places, supposedly to the LORD, but because the offering wasn’t made in obedience to God, it was regarded as a transgression. In addition, there was a tithe that was to be brought every three years, but Amos says. Even if you were to bring your tithes every three days it would avail you nothing, as it would only be an outward show.[ix]
In Amos 4:6-11, Amos tries to counsel the people that they can solve their problems by returning to the commandments and counsels of the Lord, but they refuse to do so. But the prophet does not always make such direct statements. He reinforces his message with metaphorical illustrations, which are often more memorable and vivid than literal words. You might want to underline the refrain “and yet ye have not returned unto me,” which is repeated five times in these verses. Notice that the Lord has attempted to get Israel’s attention in various ways.
1) a famine (cleanness of teeth) An Arab shows how long it has been since he has had a meal by clicking his thumbnail upon his upper front teeth. (v. 6)
2) drought (verses 7-8)
3) calamities (v. 9)
4) war (v. 10)
5) disasters (v. 11)
Amos urges the people to “prepare to meet thy God, O Israel” (Amos 4:12). To do this, they must acknowledge the laws they have broken, and prepare to be examined by a God who knows their thoughts and the intent of their hearts
“Seek the Lord, and ye shall live.”
The Lord wants to be a personal God to his faithful, obedient children. It is not too late for Israel to repent. Although Israel is ripe for judgment, the key to survival is to seek the Lord. Amos invites them to “seek good, and not evil, that they may live,” and if they did so, “the Lord God of hosts will be gracious” (Amos 5:4,14-15). The cure for Israel’s sin is to “seek good,” reform their corrupt courts, and “establish justice at the gate.” Judicial decisions for each community were taken at the gate of the city, where the heads of families and other elders assembled to hear witnesses, settle disputes, decide controversies, and dispense justice. The space on the inner side of the gate, together with rooms or alcoves in the gate area itself, were used as courtrooms. [x]
Failure to do so, however, would result in a situation like that of a man running from a lion only to meet a bear (see verse 19). Neither would various sacrificial offerings help unless true repentance followed. Ironically, the “day of the Lord” would be a dark day for unrepentant Israel. There would be no place to go to escape judgment. It would be so widespread that Amos says they will need to hire professional mourners, and that there will be a shortage of them, so they will have to hire “farmers to mourning,” another reference to his occupation.
Why does the Lord say that he will not recognize their burnt offerings anymore? (see Amos 5:21-24) Isaiah also asks this question of the people of his time. He tells them to “put away the evil of your doings” and “cease to do evil” at the same time they are regularly making offerings to him. He will not recognize them because their actions speak louder than their words. They are pretending to be righteous while they oppress the poor. (see Isaiah 1:11-17)
How is wearing a disguise like what Israel was doing? What is a “hypocrite”? The Greek word hupokrises means the playing of a part on a stage—an actor, a pretender, or one who plays a role. What is the opposite of a hypocrite? One who is genuine, and sincere. The Latin origin of the word sincere explains this graphically. In Latin, sine cera means “without wax.” Many sculptors worked with marble to create statues, but one misplaced chip of the chisel would ruin many hours of work on a good piece of marble. Often artisans would fill in nicks with wax, which could not be discerned by the naked eye. A statue that was free of nicks filled in with wax was signed on the bottom sine cera. What you saw was what you got.
How does hypocrisy prevent spiritual growth? Until someone is willing to admit that his or her thoughts and actions do not measure up, no repentance or growth can occur. Hypocrisy also causes others to stumble because they see people who do not practice what they preach. Friends and children are put off by someone’s walk that does not match their talk. It makes them suspicious about the value of religion if virtue is not reflected in someone’s everyday conduct.
Joseph Smith said it this way:
All the religious world is boasting of its righteousness. . . The devil flatters us that we are very righteous while we are feeding on the faults of others. . . It is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind and retard our progress by filling us with self-righteousness. The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls—to take them on our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our back. . . [xi]
How can we overcome this tendency to self-righteousness? When we immerse ourselves in the scriptures, the spirit helps us see where our hearts and motives are impure. The Holy Ghost will prick our hearts to know when we need to purify our intentions, and center ourselves in Christ. How does the Lord feel about those who pretend to be the disciples of Christ but in reality are not, and in secret make offerings to the false gods which they have made for themselves? Those who “pray in the streets to be seen of men have their reward,” but the Lord who sees good things done in secret will “reward thee openly.” To those who professed to have done “many wonderful works,” and yet have [“work[ed] iniquity,” the Lord will say, “I never knew you.”(see Matthew 6:1-6; 7:21-27)
The Five Visions of Amos
The Lord showed Amos five visions in chapters 7 to 9. The first was a vision of locusts in Amos 7:1-3. Late in the harvest, Amos saw a swarm of locusts coming to devour the crops of Israel. It came after the “king’s mowings,” meaning that the royal court had already taken their taxes, leaving the Israelites with nothing at all. Upon seeing this vision, Amos’s heart was moved with pity, and he prays that God will remember his covenant with Jacob, despite his “frailty,” and the Lord hearkens to the prophet’s plea and relents. Next, Amos is shown a vision of a great consuming fire upon the land of Israel in verses 4-6. Again, he pleads for mercy and the Lord relents.
In his third vision, Amos is shown a plumb line, which is used to see if a vertical wall is built straight up and down, not leaning one way or the other. God held this measure against Israel, to see if they were “straight” against his standard. Because Israel was chronically “crooked” against the plumb line of God, Israel and her leadership would be met with the sword of judgment.
Next, Amos is shown a basket or summer fruit in Amos 8:1-3. This was fruit that was ripe, and would not keep for long. Just as the time is short for ripe summer fruit, so the time was short for Israel. In the original Hebrew, the prophet’s point was far more emphatic because he used a play on words that is difficult to communicate in English. The connection between the vision of ripe fruit, qayis, and Israel’s end, qes, was in the word-play based on the similar sounds between “summer fruit” and “end.” How was Israel like a basket of ripe fruit? They were ripening in iniquity because of their unjust treatment of the poor and needy.
Consider the list of sins described in Amos 8:4-6—the injustice of making money at the expense of the vulnerable and weak. False weights were being used in order to fleece the poor. Money was not coined, but had to be weighed at every business transaction. They couldn’t celebrate the special Sabbaths and New Moon festivals set apart by God with sincere hearts, because their hearts were set on making money, not on worship. Originally the New Moon festival was even more important than the Sabbath. The people were asking, “When will the Sabbath end so that we can start selling again? Then we can overcharge, use false measures, and cheat our customers. We can sell worthless wheat at a high price. We’ll find a poor man who can’t pay his debts, and can’t even buy a pair of sandals, and buy him for a slave.” [xii] Amos describes the extent of the judgment that will come to pass as so severe it would be like “mourning for an only son” (Amos 8:10).
The final vision of Amos is of a desolate sanctuary (see Amos 9:1-4). “I saw the Lord standing by the altar” of the temple, executing judgment on the unrepentant. He uses poetic and powerful words to describe the total destruction of the temple. God commands, “Strike the doorposts, that the posts may shake.” These are the structurally strongest parts of the house, and when they are broken, no part of the house can stand.
“Behold, the eyes of the Lord are on the sinful kingdom” Amos 9:8). How striking—and terrible—to hear Israel called “the sinful kingdom.” Although they are his “chosen people,” God wants to impress upon Israel that they cannot presume upon his mercy—thinking they are above the law and refusing to humble themselves. The Lord promises he will “sift the house of Israel among many nations” (Amos 9:9). God will use Israel’s exile among the nations to sift His people—not to destroy them, but to purify them. After the chaff is swept away, the Lord promises to “raise up the tabernacle of David, . . . and build it as in the days of old” (Amos 9:11). The covenant people had strayed from the Lord, Amos testified, but they would not be cast off forever. They will be joined by “all of the Gentiles which are called by my name” (Amos 9:12).
James, the brother of Jesus, quoted Amos 9:11-12 at the Council of Jerusalem. He used this passage to demonstrate that God promised to reach the Gentiles and to bring them into his kingdom under the Messiah. (See Acts 15:17.)
In due time, Amos’s prophecies were fulfilled, soon by the Assyrians, and then later by other conquerors. The kingdom of Israel was destroyed and taken captive within a few years after Amos warned that it would happen. The Israelites were exiled “beyond Damascus,” as he had said. (Amos 5:27) Amos presented a merciful God who ultimately promises hope and restoration after disciplinary punishment and repentance. Amos is certainly not alone among the prophets in foreseeing reinstatement and restoration for Israel.
A Famine of Hearing the Word of the Lord
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12). Here again, we see an example of “prophetic dualism.” Amos predicted a famine for the word of the Lord, which famine first occurred during the period of apostasy in Israel and Judah. Because of the hardness of their hearts, “there were no prophets in Israel” from 400 B.C. until the ministry of John the Baptist, which began in 30 A.D. Amos’s prophecy was also fulfilled at a later time. After Christ established his church on earth, it too eventually fell into apostasy after the death of the apostles. Again revelation ceased, and there was a great famine for the word of God, this time lasting for over a thousand years. Doctrine and Covenants 123:12-13 gives evidence of this spiritual famine:
For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it—Therefore, . . . we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness [which are] truly manifest from heaven.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland quoted Mother Theresa of Calcutta as saying that “as severe and wrenching as physical hunger was in our day—something she spent virtually her entire life trying to alleviate—nevertheless, she believed that the absence of spiritual strength, the paucity of spiritual nutrition, was an even more terrible hunger in the modern world.”[xiii] He spoke about an article he read where the author suggested that “the souls of men and women were dying, so to speak, from lack of spiritual nourishment in our time.” He quoted this prophecy from Amos and said, “As the world slouches toward the 21st century, many long for something, sometimes cry out for something, but too often scarcely know for what.” Despite favorable economic conditions, “the human heart is still anxious and often filled with great stress.” With no strong moral foundation, “too many lives are buckling when the storms come and the winds blow.” He cited “legions,” who in a terrifying way are bored with the commitments they have made as spouses and parents and their responsibilities towards them. “Still others, roaring full speed down the dead-end road of hedonism, shout that they will indeed live by bread alone, and the more of it the better. We have it on good word, indeed we have it from the Word Himself, that bread alone—even a lot of it—is not enough.”[xiv]
This lack of spiritual nourishment is one of the dangers of our day. Elder Holland continued, “In our contemporary success and sophistication we too may walk away from the vitally crucial bread of eternal life; we may actually choose to be spiritually malnourished, willfully indulging in a kind of spiritual anorexia.” He emphasized the danger of being too caught up in the “thick of thin things,” and that many are becoming wearied by the pace of life in the fast lane. He testified, “I declare that God has through His Only Begotten Son lifted the famine of which Amos spoke. I testify that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life and a Well of Living Water springing up unto eternal life.”[xv]
I love his conclusion:
When we hunger and thirst, . . . He will prepare a veritable feast before us, a table spread even in the presence of our enemies—contemporary enemies—which might include fear or family worries, sickness or personal sorrow of a hundred different kinds. . . I pray this morning that all who are hungering and thirsting, and sometimes wandering, will hear this invitation from Him who is the Bread of Life, the Fountain of Living Water, the Good Shepherd of us all, the Son of God: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, … and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Truly He does fill “the hungry with good things.[xvi]
Although we may all experience spiritual hunger and thirst, there is no need for us to “wander from sea to sea” looking for something to satisfy our desires. We know that the Lord has given us the “meat” of the gospel through beautiful doctrines that will fill us to overflowing. We are so blessed to have an abundance of the word of the Lord.
“Saviors on Mount Zion”
Obadiah wrote of “saviors on mount Zion” (Obadiah 1:21). President Gordon B. Hinckley gave one possible interpretation of this phrase, connecting it to temple and family history work.
[In the temple] we literally become saviors on Mount Zion. What does this mean? Just as our Redeemer gave His life as a vicarious sacrifice for all men, and in so doing became our Savior, even so we, in a small measure, when we engage in proxy work in the temple, become as saviors to those on the other side who have no means of advancing unless something is done in their behalf by those on earth.[xvii]
In reading his remarks, I was impressed by another benefit of doing vicarious work for the dead in the temples of the Lord. In our world today, we are faced with many challenges to “overcome the world,” as President Nelson has counseled us to do. Amos gave counsel to the “fat cows” of his days who had lived only for their own pleasures. When I look at the self-centeredness of our world today, it reminds me of this lifestyle. President Hinckley’s words strike me as an apropos antidote for all of us “fat cows.”
In this noisy, bustling, competitive world, what a privilege it is to have a sacred house where we may experience the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of the Lord. The element of selfishness crowds in upon us constantly. We need to overcome it, and there is no better way than to go to the house of the Lord and there serve in a vicarious relationship in behalf of those who are beyond the veil of death. What a remarkable thing this is. In most cases, we do not know those for whom we work. We expect no thanks. We have no assurance that they will accept that which we offer. But we go, and in that process we attain to a state that comes of no other effort.
To me, this sounds like a wonderful recipe for finding “rest from the intensity, uncertainty and anguish of this world by overcoming the world through your covenants with God.”[xviii]
We are indeed blessed to know how to “overcome the world” through a living prophet who stood in the Heavenly Council with the noble and great ones. Unlike many in the world, we know the purpose of our lives here on earth. In that council, we learned of our Father in Heaven’s plan of salvation and of his desire for us to become like him and share his glory. We learned that God loves all of his children and desires to bring them all into his covenant, including those on the other side of the veil. Through the restoration of the gospel, the “famine of the word of the Lord” has ended, and we are blessed with living prophets who receive ongoing revelation to help us “overcome the world” and find rest.
Gaza was a city of the Philistines on the coast. Because they came against God’s people to deliver them up to Edom, God promised to bring judgment against Gaza and the other cities of the Philistines. The crime is not that soldiers were enslaved after being taken in battle, which was the standard practice, but that the Philistines used their temporary supremacy to enslave whole populations – soldiers and civilians, men and women, adults and children, young and old – for commercial profit. Gaza did not even need the slaves. She merely sold them to Edom for more money.[ii] Therefore, the Lord said he would send fire upon the wall of Gaza, and her remnants would perish.
Tyre of Lebanon sinned against the children of Israel, just as the Philistines did, and was warned that the city wall would be burned, and its city defeated.
The people of Edom descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob. The Lord spoke to these people as a brother to the people of God, and promised judgments against them because they attacked Judah. Edom held onto anger and wrath when they should have put it away long before.
Ammon, Israel’s neighbor to the west, attacked the city of Gilead as well as Syria, “that they might enlarge their territory.” They “ripped open the women with child in Gilead,” and thus sinned against future Israelites, and were promised judgments against them.
Moab was a southern neighbor to Judah, sinned against a past hero of the Edomite by desecrating his remains. God promised judgment against Moab because of their cruelty to Edom. (see Amos 2:1-3)
[ii] Syria (Damascus) was attacked by Assyria (because King Ahaz of Judah paid them to) and its people taken captive to Kir.
[v] Joseph Fielding McConkie. “Premortal Existence, Foreordinations, and Heavenly Councils,” Religious studies Center, BYU, Apocryphal Writings and the Latter-day Saints, 1986, 174-98.
[vi] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 365.
[x] See Enduring Word Bible Commentary on this verse, available at https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-5/
[xi] Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 123-4
[xii] When Nephi saw the iniquity of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan who were destroyed by the children of Israel, and later of the Jews, he said, “This people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity . . . they have become wicked, yea, nearly unto ripeness, for I know that the day must surely come that they must be destroyed, save a few only, who shall be led away into captivity” (1 Nephi 17:35, 43).
[xiii] Jeffrey R. Holland, “He Hath Filled the Hungry with Good Things,” October 1997 General Conference.
[xvii] Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign or Liahona, November 2004, 105.
[xviii] President Russell M. Nelson, October 2022 General Conference