It would be nice if we knew our bibles better. It would be nice if we knew the minor prophets better. God’s word is so good. God has said things to us that we need to see, things that seem unable to be fulfilled, things that only are fulfilled in Jesus.
Take the book of Amos as an example. This book promises some strong judgment from God on Israel, particularly the northern kingdom. Israel was in rebellion against God ever since their breaking away from Judah around 930 BC. They worshipped idols. They took up with foreign gods of other nations. And they participated in all sorts of evil practices. Israel was a nightmare where justice was concerned. The rich abused the poor and the weak. No judges would give the weak a fair hearing, they would only bow to the powerful. Immorality and injustice were rampant. And God let Israel know that he would be bringing justice to this nation soon.
“Fallen, no more to rise,
is the virgin Israel;
forsaken on her land,
with none to raise her up.”
Look at the strength and absolute nature of those words. Israel is falling, never to rise again. They have been so wicked that their power is broken. And, in truth, soon after the days of Amos, the northern kingdom went into exile under the Assyrian Empire, and they never rose to power again.
What then? Has God simply cut off that people? Is that the end of the story? If it were, it would have been just. But God has something bigger and more interesting in mind.
Amos ends with a tone of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. But that light looks almost contrary to what he had said earlier. How could it happen?
11 “In that day I will raise up
the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins
and rebuild it as in the days of old,
12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations who are called by my name,”
declares the Lord who does this.
13 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.
Here is the promise, and it is magnificent. God says, just as things look hopeless for all Israel, that he will restore the fallen booth of David. He will restore the household, the kingship, the dynasty of David. How? How can God do that? How can God restore David’s dynasty while the northern kingdom is exiled and not rising to her former glory according to 5:2?
Readers for centuries would have wondered as well about when in the world this promise was to be fulfilled. After all, though the northern kingdom was exiled around 722 BC, the southern went into exile in Babylon, returned to the land, but never found herself out from under the thumb of some empire or another. The people of Judah were ruled by Babylon, Persia, and Greece. They were oppressed in the conflict between Egypt and Syria. And then, to make matters worse, the nation was clearly under the rule of the Roman Empire.
So, what about this restoration? How would it come? Verse 12 tells us that the restoration will include gentile nations. Verses 13-15 talk of a prosperity to come that will be supernatural. How?
New Testament readers who have paid attention to Amos know. The answer is Jesus. Jesus came, arriving in the line of David. Jesus is the Messiah, the promised king from God. Jesus is the one to establish the restoration of the fallen booth of David. But, as is so often the case, he does so in ways that others might have a hard time grasping.
Jesus came and established his kingdom in a way that none expected. He did not come to set up a physical throne or to overthrow the nasty Romans. Instead, Jesus established the kingdom of God based on promised eternal salvation. Jesus saves all who come to him by God’s grace through faith alone. Jesus welcomes Jews and gentiles into the family of god, into the true Israel of God, without distinction of ethnicity, class, background, or anything else.
Is that a proper interpretation of Amos? In Acts 15, we see that the church indeed saw it this way, and it was recorded for us under the inspiration of God.
Acts 15:13-20 – 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
16 “ ‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.
Note that, at the Jerusalem counsel, when the question arose as to whether or not gentiles could be welcomed into the church without first submitting to Jewish ceremonial law, James cited Amos 9:11-ff. God used James to teach us that the restoring of the fallen house of David was done as Jesus, the Son of David, conquered death and built the kingdom of God by saving a people from every nation. Yes, the gentiles are part of this kingdom. IN fact, Paul later reminds us that in Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is only in Christ or not in Christ.
And once we see that Jesus is the fulfillment of what Amos said, all the rest falls into place. How is there no recovery for the sinful northern kingdom as we saw in 5:2? How will there, at the same time, be this restoration of a kingdom as promised in 9:11? How will we see those who are planting the next crop chasing those who are still harvesting the abundance from the last crop around the fields? How will we see the promised supernatural and physical blessing of God? It is all in Christ. Jesus builds God’s kingdom. Jesus saves Jews and gentiles. Jesus saves people descended even from the exiled northern kingdom, even if we do not know who they are. And Jesus will return. And Jesus will reign. And Jesus will undo the curse of sin over the earth. And when Jesus does this all, we will see all fulfilled.
Christians, there is great hope in the prophecy of Amos. We need to know it. We need to love it. We need to let it make us tell people about Jesus. And we need to find our hope in the present kingdom of Christ along with the promise of his coming.