Hear this, O ye that would swallow up the needy, and cause the poor of the land to fail, saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell grain? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and dealing falsely with balances of deceit; that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes, and sell the refuse of the wheat? Jehovah hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works. Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? yea, it shall rise up wholly like the River; and it shall be troubled and sink again, like the River of Egypt. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord Jehovah, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day. And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning for an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day.
In these verses Amos pictures the Israelites of his day as they observe their religious feasts and the sabbath. As has been noted before, the people are very religious. The sabbath was the important day in their religious life. That day was not neglected. They closed their places of business and went to their places of worship. This was done in obedience to the law of God…no work, no business on the sabbath. They respected this law and would not have thought of violating it by conducting their business on the day which God had chosen for himself. Outwardly the law was kept.
The prophet, however, does not only look upon the outward observance of the holy days, but he is also interested in their thoughts as they are engaged in worship. Have they also closed their minds to the affairs of the world of business as they closed their shop doors the previous evening? Is the mind now centered on the word of the living God? Is this the day on which they will be strengthened spiritually to cope with the world about them on the following days?
Their thoughts do not wander while they are worshipping; they are fixed on the world of business! While they sing lustily:
My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of Jehovah;
My heart and flesh cry out unto the living God—they think: When will this new moon or this sabbath be past! This day must be kept, but how irksome, how tedious! There is no profit in this day. They can scarcely wait for the end of the day of rest.
While they are worshipping their thoughts are with their business. While they are worshipping they are devising corrupt business practices! Here in Cod’s house they are making plans to make more money. They desire to get busy again to display and to sell their grain. By their evil business tactics they swallow up the needy and cause the poor of the land to fail. How do they do this? The prophet makes it very clear. They use a small measure (ephah) to measure out the grain to the buyer. He is not getting full measure. Besides this, they use a heavy shekel. The buyers came with their silver, but this silver was weighed against a shekel which was too heavy. To put it in today’s terms, they used a bushel which was too small, so that the buyer did not get a bushel; and they obtained more money than a bushel was worth. Even the product which they sell is inferior. They sell the refuse of the wheat. This is the wheat of inferior quality. Even this they sell at an exorbitant price.
If this practice continues for any length of time, the poor and needy are swallowed up. This practice brings its victims to poverty. Finally, the poor will have insufficient money to buy the necessities of life. He will then have to sell himself. Thus the poor are bought for silver. For the price of a pair of shoes the needy will have to sell themselves. Where corrupt economic practices are found the whole social structure will ultimately he ruined.
All these things they contemplate while they are engaged in worship! The sabbath is no delight to them, but rather a burden. Externally they are religious—religious customs and traditions are honored—but inwardly they rebel. No, they would not think of keeping their business places open for business on the sabbath, but all their thoughts and desires are behind the closed doors of their shops. This is formalism at its worst!
What is the divine reaction to all this? Jehovah swears by the excellency of Jacob, therefore by himself, that he will never forget any of their works. When he forgives, he forgets; but his memory can also be very long. He will not overlook this sin. It is grievous.
Will not the land tremble and its inhabitants mourn for this grievous sin? Isn’t this sinning beyond all limits? Has anyone ever heard anything like it? Now the prophet reveals the nature of the punishment for this sin. The evil that is coming will be like an earthquake. The ground underfoot will rise and sink like the waters of the Nile river when it overHows its banks and becomes a tremendously large body of water. Like the waves on such a body of water, so shall the ground be on which they stand.
Not only will the earth shake under their feet, but the heavens above will also show their displeasure. The sun win go down at noon. The earth will become dark during the clear day. This will be totally unnatural. Men will quake with fear. The ground beneath gives no stability and the skies above are dark when they should be light.
Their feasts will be changed into mourning. These feasts, which they formerly considered to be boring, will be turned into times of mourning. Their songs will be changed into lamentations. They sang these songs with their lips but not with their hearts. These same songs will become bitter lamentations. In keeping with the time of mourning and the singing of lamentations, they will be dressed in sackcloth. They will shave their heads as an expression of their grief. Their worship had been unreal. Their grief will be real. It will be like the mourning for an only son. There is no greater grief. Where there is mourning for an only son the believer may even then .find comfort. Not so in lsrael. The end is as a bitter day. There is no comfort. The mourning continues without end.
The people had often longed for the day of Jehovah to come. This is what that day will be like for them (vss. 9, 10). Why? Because they had sinned more grievously than the heathen. The heathen doesn’t worship the true God. Israel worshipped the true God falsely. Its worship is exacting because they worship him who sees the heart. Men can sin deeply while worshipping. “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God.” It is so easy “to bring the sacrifice of fools.” This Israel did. Its punishment would be severe.
Question for discussion:
1. Is it humanly possible to keep our thoughts from wandering during an entire service of worship? If not, is this sin?
2. How and when should we prepare for worship?
3. How can the sabbath be a delight to us?
4. The Apostle James teaches us that the love of money is a root of all evil. How is this revealed in this passage?
5. Does the fact that Jehovah will never forget their works mean that forgiveness has become impossible?
6. Did all these evils spoken of actually come upon Israel?