Authors: Francine Rivers
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Copyright © 2006 by Francine Rivers. All rights reserved.
“Seek and Find” section written by Peggy Lynch.
Cover illustration copyright © 2006 by Philip Howe. All rights reserved.
Designed by Luke Daab
Cover design by Luke Daab
Edited by Kathryn S. Olson
Scripture quotations are taken from theHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Rivers, Francine, 1947-
The prophet / Francine Rivers.
p. cm. — (Sons of Encouragement ; 4)
ISBN-13: 978-0-8423-8268-7 (hc)
ISBN-10: 0-8423-8268-2 (hc)
1. Amos (Biblical prophet)—Fiction. 2. Bible O.T.—History of Biblical events—Fiction. 3. Religious fiction. I. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4143-3226-0 (ePub); ISBN 978-1-4143-1795-3 (Kindle); ISBN 978-1-4143-8645-4 (Apple)
Build: 2013-02-27 15:59:29
To men of faith who serve
in the shadow of others.ContentsAcknowledgmentsIntroductionChapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixEpilogueSeek and FindAbout the AuthorAcknowledgments
FROMthe beginning of my writing career, my husband, Rick, has blessed me continually with his encouragement. Without him, I might not have had the courage to send in the first manuscript that began my journey as a writer. He listens to my ideas, makes space for me in his office at Rivers Aviation, brews great coffee, and edits the final draft. He even builds me a fire on cold mornings. I delight in his company!
The Lord has also blessed me with encouraging friends. I want to mention two in particular: Peggy Lynch and Pastor Rick Hahn. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve called Peggy or Pastor Rick to ask where a Scripture passage is and/or to check my understanding of God’s Word. Both of these friends have loved Jesus since childhood, have a passion for God’s Word, and are gifted teachers. Each has played an important part in bringing my husband and me to Jesus, and each continues to teach and encourage us in our walk with the Lord today. May the Lord bless you both for your kindness!
I offer special thanks to Peter Parsons for his great love of Amos. He was the first to encourage me to write this prophet’s story. May this rendering of the prophet’s story be all you hoped it would be, Peter.
I want to thank my editor, Kathy Olson, and Ron Beers for their continued support and encouragement. I greatly appreciate their willingness to work with me to strengthen each story. There are so many people at Tyndale who have encouraged and prayed for me over the years. From the beginning of our relationship, I have felt part of the team.
And I want to thank all those who have prayed for me over the years and through the course of this particular project. When I’m assailed by doubts, which often happens, I remember you are praying. May the Lord bless each of you for your tender hearts.
May Jesus Christ be glorified in this story that came from His Word. Let this story fire your interest in studying the biblical book of Amos. And may each reader be encouraged to love the Lord with heart, mind, soul, and strength. Jesus is life abundant and everlasting. Take up your cross and follow him with rejoicing.Introduction
This is the fourth of five novellas on biblical men of faith who served in the shadows of others. These were Eastern men who lived in ancient times, and yet their stories apply to our lives and the difficult issues we face in our world today. They were on the edge. They had courage. They took risks. They did the unexpected. They lived daring lives, and sometimes they made mistakes—big mistakes. These men were not perfect, and yet God in His infinite mercy used them in His perfect plan to reveal Himself to the world.
We live in desperate, troubled times when millions seek answers. These men point the way. The lessons we can learn from them are as applicable today as when they lived thousands of years ago.
These are historical men who actually lived. Their stories, as I have told them, are based on biblical accounts. For the facts we know about the life of Amos, see the biblical book that bears his name.
This book is also a work of historical fiction. The outline of the story is provided by the Bible, and I have started with the information provided for us there. Building on that foundation, I have created action, dialogue, internal motivations, and in some cases, additional characters that I feel are consistent with the biblical record. I have attempted to remain true to the scriptural message in all points, adding only what is necessary to aid in our understanding of that message.
At the end of each novella, we have included a briefstudy section. The ultimate authority on people of the Bible is the Bible itself. I encourage you to read it for greater understanding. And I pray that as you read the Bible, you will become aware of the continuity, the consistency, and the confirmation of God’s plan for the ages—a plan that includes you.
They were coming.
They moved swiftly, keeping low to the ground, silent streaks of black in the fading light. Amos didn’t have to see them or hear them to know the enemy was closing in. He felt it, through instinct honed by years of living in the wilderness. Three sheep were missing—the same stubborn dam who so frequently troubled him, and her twin lambs. He must act quickly.
Calling to his flock, he watched them race toward him. They sensed his urgency and followed him into the fold. He closed the gate behind them and secured it. Assured of their safety, he was free now to go after the lost ones.
He ran, and the stones in his pouch rattled. He took one out and fitted it to his sling.
A lamb bleated, and he raced toward the frightened sound. The foolish dam remained intent upon having her own way. Rather than stay in the green pastures to which he led her, she continued to choose brambles and brush.
Amos saw the wolves. He raised his arm, the sling emitting a high-pitched whir before he released the stone. With a yelp of pain, the pack leader went down heavily, but quickly regained his feet.
Amos came on. Snarling, the wolf advanced in a low crouch, hackles raised. The others circled, teeth bared, determined. The dam did not move, frozen in fear, while her helpless lambs bleated in confusion and fear. When one ran, a wolf leapt at it. Before it could sink its jaws into the young throat, Amos sent another stone flying. It struck hard and true. The wolf dropped, a stone embedded in its skull.
Most of the others fled, but the alpha remained to challenge. Amos hurled his club, and struck it hard in the hip. With another cry of pain, the wolf limped into the brush and disappeared.
The lamb lay still. Amos lifted it tenderly, examining it. No wounds, but it was limp in his arms. Shock and fear had killed it.
He sighed heavily. How many times had this dam led others into danger? How many times had he rescued her, only to have to hunt her down again? He cared deeply for all his sheep, even this dam who habitually caused trouble. But he could not allow her to go on leading others into the jaws of predators.
The other twin bleated pitifully. The dam paid little attention. Safe now, she moved stiff-necked, ruminating as she gazed once at Amos before heading toward the brush. Shaking his head, Amos placed the dead lamb on the ground, unsheathed his knife, and went after her.
When the deed was done, Amos felt only sorrow. If only she had stayed close to him, he would not have found it necessary to end her life for the sake of the others.
He carried the surviving twin back to the fold.
Another dam accepted the lamb. Having finished nursing, the lamb cavorted with others. He was old enough to nibble tender shoots of grass. Amos leaned on his staff and watched the lambs play. He laughed at their antics. All seemed well.
A bleat of distress drew his attention. One of the rams had cast himself in a low spot. He lay in a hollow, feet in the air.
“Easy there, old man.” Twice, the ram kicked Amos. Taking strong hold, Amos heaved him over and lifted him.
The ram couldn’t walk.
“Hold on.” Amos held him firm between his knees. He massaged the animal until the circulation returned to its legs. “Go ahead.” He gave the ram a push.
The ram stumbled once and then walked stiff-legged, head up, ignoring Amos.
“Next time, find a flat place to rest.”
Amos turned from the ram and made a quick count of the flock. His mouth tightened.
The lamb was missing again.
Amos called to his sheep and led them to the shade of the sycamore trees. They would settle quickly there in the heat of the afternoon. He scanned the area, hoping the lamb would come scampering back.
A buzzard made a wide circle overhead. It wouldn’t be long until another joined it. There was no time to waste. Leaving the ninety-nine others, Amos headed west. Staff in hand, he wove his way among the rocks and brambles, searching, hoping he would find the lamb before a predator did. The wolf pack had kept its distance, but there were lions in these hills.
Coming to a rise, Amos spotted the lamb standing near some bushes. As he approached, he saw its wool had snagged in a thornbush. One hard tug, and the lamb could have freed itself, but it was not in his nature to do so. Instead, the animal would stand still until rescue came—or a predator, eager to make a meal of him.
Amos stood grimly, considering what to do. Less than a week ago, he had been forced to kill the lamb’s mother. He had known for months he might have to dispatch her, but held off doing so because she was perfectly proportioned with well-set, alert eyes and was one of the strongest sheep in his flock. But her stubborn habits had endangered the entire flock. Half a dozen times he had rescued her and her offspring. He had hoped to give the lambs more time to be fully weaned and on their own. Now, it seemed he had waited too long, for the lamb had learned his mother’s bad habits.
“It’s this or death, little one.” Amos took a stone from his pouch, weighing it in his hand. Too heavy and it would kill the lamb; too light and it would not serve to discipline him. Amos swung his sling and released the stone, striking the lamb in a front leg, just above the knee. With a startled bleat of pain, the lamb went down.
Tears burning, Amos went to the wounded lamb and knelt. “I am here, little one. I would rather wound you myself than see you come to greater harm.” He knew after a gentle examination that the leg was broken, but not shattered. It would heal. “You belong with the flock, not out here on your own where death will find you.” He worked quickly, binding the leg and tugging the lamb free of the brambles. “I know I hurt you, but better you suffer an injury that will heal than become dinner for a prowling lion.” He ran his hand gently over the lamb’s head. “You will learn to stay close to me where you’re safe.” He cupped the lamb’s head and breathed into its face. “No struggling or you will cause yourself more pain.” He gently lifted the lamb onto his shoulders and carried him back to the flock.
The goats grazed in the hot sun, but the sheep still rested in the shade, ruminating. Amos sat on a flat rock that gave him a full view of the pasture. Lifting the lamb from his shoulders, he held it close. “You will learn to trust me and not think you can find better forage on your own. I will lead you to green pastures and still waters.” He took a few grains of wheat from the scrip he wore at his waist and shared his food with the lamb. “Sometimes I must wound in order to protect.” He smiled as the lamb ate from his hand. “You will get used to my voice and come when I call.” He rubbed the notch in the lamb’s ear. “You bear my mark, little one. You are mine. Let me take care of you.”
Amos looked out over the others. They were content. There was still plenty of grass. One more night here, he decided. Tomorrow he would move the flock to new pastures. Too long in one pasture, and the sheep grew restless and would not lie down. They would begin to compete for space. Too many days in one field and the flies and gnats would begin to pester. Conditions must be just right for his sheep to be at peace.
Later in the afternoon, the sheep rose from their rest and grazed again. Two dams pushed at each other. Amos carried the lamb with him as he separated them with his staff. “There’s forage enough for both of you.” He stood between them until they settled. His presence soothed them, and they lowered their heads to graze.
From Jerusalem to the high country, Amos knew every pasture as well as he knew his family’s inheritance in Tekoa. He worked part of each year in the sycamore groves near Jericho in order to pay for grazing rights. Incising sycamore figs to force ripening was tedious work, but he wanted only the best pasturage for his flock. During the winter months when the sheep were sheltered in Tekoa, he went out to clear reeds, deepen or enlarge water holes, and repair old or build new sheepfolds.
A dam jumped, startled by a rabbit that leapt from a patch of grass and bounded off. She started to run, but Amos caught her with the crook of his staff before she could spread panic.
He spoke softly and put his hand on her to soothe her. “I am with you. No need to fear.” He carried the lamb with him wherever he went and placed it on the ground where it could sleep on its side in the shade. He fed it wheat and barley and the best grass.
The old ram was cast again. He left the lamb near the quietest dam and went to attend to the old codger. The animal had found another hollow in which to rest. As the ram slept, his body had rolled onto its side. Bleating angrily, the ram kicked as Amos approached, and succeeded only in rolling onto his back, legs in the air.
Amos shook his head and laughed. “A pity you don’t learn, old man.”
Belly exposed, the ram was helpless. Amos bent to the task of righting the animal and setting it back on its feet. He held it firmly between his knees until he was certain the ram had feeling in his legs.
“You always find the low spots, don’t you?” He massaged the legs and gave the ram a push. “Back you go. Find a flat spot in the shade this time.”
The ram walked away with wounded dignity, stiff-legged, head in the air. He soon found a good patch of grass.
Retrieving the lamb, Amos carried it around on his shoulders. He felt great peace out here in the open, away from Jerusalem, away from the marketplace and corrupt priests. But he missed his family. Sometimes he could almost hear his father’s voice:“We tend the Temple flocks, my son. It is a great honor to work for the priests.”
As a youngster, how Amos had reveled in that! Until he learned the truth about his family’s relationship with the priest Heled. He sighed. Nearly twenty years had passed, but his disillusionment was as fresh as ever.
When Amos was a child, it had been a common occurrence for Joram, a servant of Heled, to come to Amos’s family’s home and take several blemished lambs, leaving perfect ones to replace them. When Amos asked his father where the blemished lambs were taken, he said, “To Jerusalem.”
“But why does he bring us the same number of lambs he takes away?” Amos had wondered. He could make no sense of it, and his father’s answers never satisfied him.
Then, during a visit to Jerusalem for a festival one year, the year he was eleven, he had watched everything that went on around the stalls his older brothers managed, and what he saw greatly disturbed him.
“Father, aren’t these the lambs Joram took a week ago?”
“But doesn’t God require lambs without blemish for sacrifice? That one has a damaged hoof, and the other over there has a spot inside its ear. I can show you.”
“Be quiet, Amos!”
Confused, Amos held his tongue. He watched a priest examine a lamb. Amos went closer and saw for himself the animal was perfect, but the priest shook his head and pointed to the stalls. Frowning, the man carried the lamb he had brought for sacrifice to Amos’s brother. Bani put it in a pen and then caught the lamb with the blemish inside its ear and handed it over. The man argued, but Bani waved him off. When the man returned to the priest, the new lamb was accepted, but not before the man paid a fine for the exchange.
“Did you see that, Father? The priest—”
“Stop staring! Do you want to cause trouble?”
“But the lamb that man originally brought is better than the one Bani gave him. God will not be pleased.”
“Heled rejected the man’s sacrifice. That’s all you need to know.”
“But why? What was wrong with it?”
His father gripped Amos’s shoulders and stared into his face. “Never question what the priests decide! Never! Do you understand?”
Amos winced at the pain. He did not understand, but he knew better than to ask more questions now. His father let go of him. As he straightened, Amos saw Heled scowling at him. He motioned to Amos’s father.
“I must speak with Heled. Wait here.”
Amos watched them. Heled did all the talking, and his father kept his eyes downcast and nodded and nodded.
Ahiam grabbed Amos and spun him around. “Father told you not to stare, didn’t he? Go get feed for the lambs.”
Amos ran to do his brother’s bidding.
When he came back, his father took him aside. “Remember, priests are servants of the Lord, Amos. They see imperfection where we do not and their decisions are law. If you question their judgment, they will say you question God Himself. They would bar you from the synagogue and Temple. And then what would happen? No one would have anything to do with you. You would become an outcast with no way to make a living. You would have to sell yourself into slavery.”
Amos hung his head and blinked back tears.
His father squeezed his shoulder. “I know you don’t understand what’s happening here.” He sighed. “Sometimes I wish I didn’t. But you must trust me, Amos. Say nothing about the lambs, good or bad. And don’t watch what Heled does. It bothers him. The priests are very powerful and must be treated with great respect. We are only hirelings paid to tend the Temple flocks. That’s all. Perhaps someday we will have sheep of our own and be free again. . . .”
After that day, Amos had begun to observe everything that went on around the folds of Tekoa, in Jerusalem, and around the Temple.
Discolorations on a lamb would disappear under the care of his brothers.
“We’re miracle workers!” Ahiam laughed, but when Amos surreptitiously examined one, he found the wool stiff with white stuff that rubbed off on his fingers.
“Father will have your hide,” Amos told Bani.
Ahiam overheard and knocked him on his backside. “Father knows, you little runt.”
The next time Joram came, Amos realized the priest’s servant deliberately chose weaker lambs. As soon as Amos found his father alone, he reported what he had observed.
His father gazed out over the fields. “One lamb is much like any other.”
“But that’s not true, Father. You’ve told me yourself how every lamb is different, and—”
“We’ll talk about it later, Amos. We have too much work to do right now.”
Butlaternever came, and every time Amos went with his father to Jerusalem, he was afraid God would do something horrible when one of those blemished lambs was offered as a sacrifice.
“What’s wrong with your brother?” Heled scowled as he spoke to Ahiam.
“Nothing. Nothing is wrong with him. He’s just quiet, that’s all.”
“Quiet . . . and all eyes and ears.”
Ahiam slapped Amos hard on the back. When he gripped Amos, his fingers dug in deep and shook him as he grinned down, eyes black. “He’s not used to city life yet.”
“Get him used to it!” Heled walked away and then called back over his shoulder. “Or keep him away from Jerusalem altogether.”
Ahiam glowered at him. “Make yourself useful. Add feed to the bins if you have to hang around here. Do something other thanwatch.”
Amos worked in silence, head down, afraid. He kept to himself and kept busy for the rest of the day. He said so little, his family grew concerned when they gathered for the Passover meal.
“What’s wrong, little brother? Aren’t you feeling well?”
“He’s upset about the lambs,” Ahiam said grimly. “You’d better tell him, Father.”
“Why not? He’s old enough to understand.” Ahiam’s expression was grim. “I think he’s figured out most of it on his own.”
Amos wasn’t hungry. He felt like an outcast, and fought tears. But he had to know, and so he asked again. “Why does Joram take the weak lambs and leave the good ones?”
His father bowed his head.
Chin jutting, Ahiam answered. “Why slaughter a perfect lamb when one bearing a spot will do just as well?”
Ahiam’s wife, Levona, hung her head as she turned the spitted lamb over the fire. “What a waste to kill a prized ram that could reproduce itself ten times over!”
For a moment, the only sound in the room was the pop and hiss of fat as it dripped into the burning coals.
No one would meet Amos’s eyes. “Is our lamb perfect?”
“Of course, it’s perfect!” Bani burst out. “Do you think we’d offer anything less?”
“But what about those others? the weak ones from our flock?” Amos turned to his father, then to Bani and Ahiam. “The Law says only perfect lambs are acceptable as Temple sacrifices. But Joram brought the weak ones from Tekoa, and they are the ones you exchanged today.” Amos’s heart beat heavily as the tension built.
Levona kept her eyes on the roasting lamb. Mishala, Bani’s wife, placed the bitter herbs on the table. Bani looked at their father, expression pained.
Ahiam banged his fists on the table, making everyone jump. “Tell him, Father, or I will!”
“Who decides if the Law has been fulfilled, Amos?”
“And who speaks for God?”
“Yes!” Ahiam glared. “The priests! The priests decide which lamb is fit and which isn’t.”
His father sighed. “You saw who sent those people to our pens, Amos.”
“The priests. But is this the way it’s supposed to be?”
“It is the way it is.” His father sounded worn down, defeated.
Fear filled Amos. “What will the Lord do? Is He satisfied?”
Ahiam poured wine. “What sign do we see that the Lord is not pleased with what is given to Him? The priests get richer each year. We are close to paying off all our family debts. The nation prospers. The Lord must be satisfied.”
Bani grimaced as he ate the bitter herbs. “You have been taught as we all have, Amos—riches are the reward of righteousness.”
God said He would bless those who obeyed His commands, making sure those who loved Him would have lives of abundance. Amos’s father had taught him that meant a fine home, flocks and herds, orchards of fruit trees, olive trees, a vineyard, and lots of children. The priests had all of these things and more, and his father and brothers were working hard toward the same end. Should he question things he didn’t understand?
Confused, disheartened, he fought against the thoughts that raced through his mind.
When his father stood, Amos did also. Tunics girded, sandals on their feet, they ate the Passover meal standing in memory of God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt.
Where is God now?Amos wondered.
“I’m not hungry.”
His father dipped unleavened bread into the salt water that represented the tears the Hebrews shed while slaves in Egypt. Everyone ate in silence. When the meal was over, Amos’s father, Ahiam, and Bani sat while Levona and Mishala cleared the table and the children went into another room to play.
Ahiam glared at nothing, a muscle twitching in his cheek. Bani sat with head down.
Amos’s father cleared his throat and turned to Amos. “It is time you understand what we do. You must know the whole story to understand.”
Amos’s heart began to beat loudly.
“Your great-grandfather fell into debt. It was a time of war, and the priests levied higher fines on guilt and sin offerings to raise money for the army. Grandfather paid what he could, but each year, the interest increased and debt grew rather than diminished. When he died, my father continued to pay on the debt. By then, we owed so much that there was no hope of ever paying it off. When my father died, the debt fell to me. Heled came to me in Tekoa and offered me a way to pay off our family disgrace. Because I did not want it to fall upon your brothers or you or any of your children, I agreed.”
Ahiam’s eyes darkened. “If Father had not agreed, we would all be slaves. Do you understand now, little brother?”
“There is no reason to take your anger out on him, Ahiam.” His father put a hand on Amos’s shoulder. “Heled hired us to tend the flocks of lambs that were brought as gifts for God.”
Amos’s stomach churned. “So the priests take the perfect lambs intended for God and give them to us to tend, and they give the weaker ones to people to sacrifice at the Temple.”
His father’s hand fell away. No one spoke.
“Yes,” Ahiam said finally. “Yes, that’s exactly what we do. Because we have no choice.”
It was all becoming clear to Amos. He shuddered as he thought aloud. “So the priests keep the perfect lambs. They will produce valuable wool year after year. Then they force the people to buy imperfect lambs to sacrifice, so they make money that way too.” He looked up at his father. “And on top of all that, they make the people pay a fine for the exchange!” Why weren’t his father and brothers as outraged as he was?
Bani leaned his arms on the table and clasped his hands. “We have our inheritance back, Amos, the land that God gave our fathers who came across the Jordan River.”
“The debt is almost clear,” his father added quietly. “By the time you are sixteen, it will be paid off.”
Ahiam stood and turned his back.
Bani glanced up at Ahiam and then spoke softly. “They are priests, Amos. We dare not question them. Do you understand?”
“We serve the Lord!” Ahiam said loudly. “We tend the Temple flocks. There is honor in that.”
Honor?Amos hung his head.We’re stealing from God.Tears burned his eyes.
Their father rose and left the room.
Bani sighed. “Father had no choice. None of us have a choice.”
“We’re not the only ones,” Ahiam said. He met Amos’s eyes, face hard. “It’s been done for as long as I can remember.”
“Do all the priests do the same thing?”
“Not all,” Bani said.
Ahiam snorted. “But you don’t hear them saying anything against those who do. God gave the tribe of Judah the scepter, but he gave the Levites the priesthood. And that’s where the real power is. They can interpret the Law any way they want. They even add to it on a daily basis. They use it to squeeze the people for as much as they want. Better we stand with them than against them.”
“When you’re a little older, you’ll be free of all this, Amos.” Their father had come back into the room. “By the time you’re a man, we will be done with it.”
“We live better now than we did before our agreement with Heled,” Ahiam said, but his eyes were dark with bitterness.
Anger grew inside Amos. “It’s not right what the priests did to you, Father. It’s not right!”
“No, it isn’t. But we adjust to the way things are, my son. And they have been this way for a long, long time.”
Shaken, Amos was left to wonder whether God was truly holy. Was He truly just? If so, why did He allow these things to go on in His own Temple? Why would a righteous, holy God reward corrupt, scheming men who misused His Name?
The revelations of that night had sowed seeds of anger that sent shoots of bitterness into Amos’s heart. From that day on, Amos hated the required visits to Jerusalem. He paid no more attention to the priests and what they said, focusing instead on visiting his brothers, their wives and children. He gave the offerings required by Law only because they were necessary for business. Amos always chose the best lamb and sought out a priest who examined the animal properly. He did it to save the fine, rather than to please God.
In his mind, it was a small rebellion, a way of getting back at Heled without risking retaliation against his father.
These days, he didn’t think about God anymore. With all he had seen around the Temple pens, he believed God had forgotten about them, and all the rituals were to profit men rather than to honor a silent monarch who reigned so far up in the heavens. Did God see? Did God hear? Did He care what went on in His own Temple?
Amos’s father had not lived long enough to see the family debt paid off. Long after he was buried, Bani and Ahiam continued to work for the priests at the stalls in Jerusalem. Years of habit, convenience, and prosperity choked honesty. Amos remained among the shepherds of Tekoa, tending his flock of goats and sheep.
He felt at peace in the hills and dales of Judah, alone with his sheep. Each year, he had grown less able to tolerate the busy streets of Jerusalem—the chattering crowds, shouting street vendors, and arguing scribes. Relieved when his obligations were completed, he would eagerly depart the confines of those great walls, returning to the open fields where the sun blazed and the wind blew, where he could breathe fresh air again.
Life was not easy, but it was simple without the intrigues, coercion, or pressures he knew his brothers lived with on a daily basis. They had spent so many years in the stalls, tending corralled animals and dealing with Heled and others like him, that they knew no other way to live. They had become merchants, accustomed to trade, and did not see the result of their labors in the same way Amos did. They did not stand in the Temple, full of questions, angry and anguished.
Amos hated seeing humble men with barely enough to live on cheated by priests who grew richer each year. Men came to pray and instead found themselves preyed upon. Maybe God didn’t know what went on in His Temple. Maybe He didn’t care.
“You hardly speak, little brother. You have lived too long with your sheep. You’ve forgotten how to be among men.”
“I have nothing to say.”Nothing anyone would want to hear.
Amos had earned enough from his flock to plant a few olive trees and a vineyard. In time he had hired servants. They received a share of the crops as payment for overseeing the vineyard, the olive trees, and the small fields of wheat and barley.
Amos did not have a wife, nor any desire to find one. He was too busy working near Jericho for grazing rights, tending his growing flock, and pruning and incising the fruit of his sycamore trees. He kept what he needed and sold the rest as cattle fodder. At least, he was free now. Free of Heled’s hold, free to make his own choices. He knew better, though, than to show disrespect—lest a fine be created to enslave him again.
As his flock had grown, Amos asked Bani and Ahiam to send their sons to help. “Within a few years, each will have a small flock of his own. What they do with it will be up to them.” But it was an opportunity to break free.
Bani sent Ithai, and Ahiam sent Elkanan, and Amos taught them all he knew about tending a flock. When he felt they were ready to be sent out alone, he gave them each a ram and ten ewes with which to start.
“Whatever increase comes shall be yours.” Maybe they would take to the life as he did and not follow in the ways of their fathers.
He knew little of what happened in the kingdom while he tended his flock, but when he made his pilgrimages to Jerusalem, his brothers told him what they had heard during the months he had been in distant pastures.
Judah was prospering under King Uzziah’s rule, though relations with the ten tribes of Israel were still hostile. The tribes that had broken away from Solomon’s foolish son continued to worship the golden calves in Bethel and Dan. Jeroboam II now ruled, and Samaria had become a great city a mere two-day journey from Jerusalem. King Jeroboam had taken back lost lands and cities from Lebo-hamath to the Dead Sea, expanding Israel’s boundaries to those from the time of King David and King Solomon. In a bold move to gain more power, he captured Gilead, Lo-debar, and Karnaim, all important fortress cities along the King’s Highway, thus controlling the major trade route from the Tigris-Euphrates river valley to the Gulf of Aqaba and Egypt. Trade now flourished with the safe passage of caravans from Gabal and Syria to the north and Egypt and Arabia to the south.
From boyhood, Amos had witnessed King Uzziah’s work going on throughout Judah. The king mended Judah’s defenses, reorganized and better equipped his army, built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate and the Valley Gate, and fortified the buttresses. He had also built towers in the wilderness to keep watch over the Philistines and Edomites. Work crews made cisterns so that there would be water wherever the army moved. When Uzziah went to war against the Philistines, he triumphed and tore down the walls of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. Slaves now bent to the task of rebuilding fortress cities that would guard the trade route called the Way of the Sea.
Amos’s home, Tekoa, was only seven miles from Jerusalem, but far enough away for him to turn his mind to his own endeavors. Amos saw the changes in Jerusalem and in the countryside as he moved his flock from one pasture to another, but he spent little time contemplating the ways of kings and nations. What use in leaning on his own understanding when he had none? Why trouble his mind with matters over which he had no control? Could he change anything that happened in Judah, let alone Assyria or Egypt or Israel, for that matter? No! While his brothers praised Uzziah or fretted over the threat of enemies, Amos concentrated on his sheep. He brought tithes and offerings to the priests, visited briefly with his brothers and their families, and then returned to Tekoa, then out into the pasturelands with his flock. He felt at home there.
Out in the open with his sheep, he felt free, even though he knew that freedom could be easily stripped from him. Out in the open Amos could believe in God. In Jerusalem, seeing and hearing the priests living any way they chose while claiming to represent God, Amos grew disheartened. Why study the Law when the priests could add to it any day they pleased? And then there were the traditions to add an even greater burden! He preferred a few select psalms written by David, a king who had grown up as a shepherd. David had understood the pleasures of walking over the land, tending his sheep, sleeping under stars scattered across the night sky.
Sometimes, when the sheep were restless or disturbed, Amos would play his zamoora, the reed flute he’d made, or sing psalms to comfort them.
Each time he ventured inside the walls of Jerusalem, he tucked away his uneasy faith, lest a priestly heel crush it. Private, protected, precious, he kept it hidden.
And it grew in ways he did not expect.
“Come, sheep!” Amos called as he headed for the fold he had made last year. The sheep came in a rush, clustering and following close behind him. He opened the gate and used his rod to separate the goats into another area, then checked each sheep carefully for injury or hint of illness.
He stretched out across the entrance while the sheep slept safely in the fold. Amos would awaken at the slightest change. He knew the sound of every insect species and listened for predators. When a wolf howled from a distant hilltop, he sat up. A lamb bleated. “Be still. I am here.”
Rising, he kept his eyes on the wolves running in the moonlight. When they ventured closer, he used his sling to send a well-aimed stone flying at the leader. The wolf retreated with a yelp. The pack followed, disappearing over the hill. The sheep rose and moved around, nervous, trembling.
Entering the fold, Amos lifted his wounded lamb to protect it from further injury. He held it close in his arms, stroking its head and kneading its soft ears as he spoke softly to the others. “Rest now, sheep. You’ve nothing to fear. I will never leave you.”
He stood for a long time in their midst, waiting for them to settle and sleep like the lamb in his arms. His presence calmed them. One by one, they lay down again. He set the lamb down and went back to the narrow gate, making himself a barrier against anything that might threaten his flock. Amos closed his eyes then and slept, staff and club close at hand.
Rising with the dawn, Amos opened the gate. As each lamb passed under his rod, he stopped it and examined it. Parting the wool, he checked the skin for scabbing and ran his hands over the animal to feel for any signs of trouble. He rubbed a mixture of oil, sulfur, and tar around the eyes and nose to keep the flies away. One limped, and Amos removed a rock embedded in its hoof. Straightening, he tapped the animal with his staff and watched it bound out into the field. One tried to sneak past him. He hooked the crook of his staff around its neck and turned it back. “One day you’ll learn to stand and wait.”
When the last sheep was examined and tended, he lifted the wounded lamb to his shoulders, closed the gate, and went out with his flock. He led them to new green pastures. Amused, Amos watched them kick up their hooves and spread out to graze. The sheep loved finding thick tufts of grass. The lambs frolicked while the dams and rams grazed.
Leaning on his staff, Amos kept watch, finding pleasure in the contentment of his flock.
Spring came, bringing with it swarms of nasal gnats hatching in vast numbers near the streams and water holes. Amos rubbed oil over the sheep’s faces to repel the insects. But even with that remedy, the sheep shook their heads and stamped their feet, bothered by the constant buzzing. When one bolted, others followed. Amos usually managed to stop them before they tangled themselves in the brush.
He led his flock to the more arid pastures near Tekoa, knowing the best place, for he had spent a long, cold winter month clearing rocks, tearing out brush and roots so that more grass could grow. Rich grazing away from the torment of flies renewed the strength of the tired sheep, and there were trees enough to provide shade from the heat of the day.
The lamb’s leg had healed. After so many weeks of being carried and tended, the animal had bonded to Amos. It grazed close to him and followed wherever he went. When he sat, the lamb rested in his shadow and ruminated.
The water holes dried in the heat of summer, but the sheep had enough water by grazing at dawn hours when the grass was drenched with dew. The ewes produced plenty of milk to fatten the lambs.
Amos led the flock into Tekoa for shearing. The heavy wool had become so thick, the weight of it could make an animal unable to get up from the soft ground they so often sought out for rest. Cast sheep were easy prey. Though the sheep hated being sheared, they bounded away with renewed vigor when the work was done. Amos handed over the thick bundles of lanolin-scented wool to workers who would remove the burrs and debris, wash the wool, and prepare it for sale.
Amos let the sheep into the fields he had planted with grains and legumes. The animals feasted for a week, and then he led them out again to cooler pastures higher in the mountains. He knew every gully, ravine, and cave between Tekoa and the mountain meadows where he kept the flock for the rest of summer. When he found lion spoor, he put himself between the flock and the brush where the beast might hide.
Girding his loins so he could move more quickly, Amos filled his pouch with stones. A lion was the most cunning of animals—patient, watchful, seizing the perfect opportunity for a kill. Staff in hand, Amos kept close watch on the brush where one might be lying in wait. Sheep had no defense. They could not run like a gazelle, nor had they teeth or claws to fight back. Attacked, they often became so frightened and confused they scattered or, worse, stood still. He had seen sheep freeze at the roar of a lion, but run in terror when startled by a rabbit.
Listening to every bird sound, watching every movement of grass, Amos stood guard over his flock. If one of his sheep strayed even a short distance, he called. If it didn’t turn back, he used the crook of his staff or threw his club.
Quail burst into the air on the opposite side of the flock. A spine-tingling roar brought Amos around.
Half the sheep scattered; the rest stood, feet planted, too terrified to move as a lioness burst from the high grass and headed straight for one of the lambs.
Amos used sling and stone to stop her. The rock struck the lioness, and she went down heavily amid bleating, scattering sheep. Dazed only, she sprang to her feet. Amos ran at her, club in hand. Crouching, she roared in fierce frustration. When she charged him, he clubbed her. She raked her claws across his right arm as she fell. He drew his knife and ran at her, but she gained her feet, scrambled back, and clawed at him. When he did not back off, she roared in defiance and disappeared into the brush.
Panting, heart pounding, Amos sheathed his knife and retrieved his club before he checked his wounds. He stanched the blood flow quickly while keeping his eye on the bushes. The lioness would return at any opportunity. “Come, sheep!”
The flock raced to him. Rams, ewes, and lambs clustered close as he led them to safety. He kept looking for signs of the lioness. If he had one of his nephews with him, he would have tracked and killed her. But alone, he would not leave his flock unprotected with a lion so close.
The sheep quickly forgot the danger and spread out to graze. Amos tended his wounds while keeping watch, walking around them to keep them close together. The lamb followed at his heels. A domineering ewe butted another away from the best grass, and stood her ground, defending her spot. When a lamb came too close, the ewe lowered her head and charged.
Amos tapped her with his staff. “There’s grass enough for all.”
Looking disgruntled, she ruminated for a few minutes, but lowered her head again when the lamb came close. Amos tapped her harder. Startled, she bleated, moved to one side, and lowered her head again. This time, Amos thrashed her. When the discipline was done, the ewe walked away with stiff-legged pride to another patch of grass. Shaking his head, Amos kept an eye on her.
Bumping and shoving tended to cause the others to grow nervous and then irritable. When discontent set in, appetites waned, and the entire flock suffered. A bullying ewe could cause more trouble to a flock than a lion.
As the end of summer approached, Amos led his sheep to the most distant pastures in the lowlands. He had paid for grazing rights with long hard hours, days, and weeks of incising the sycamore fruit. Now his animals benefited from his labors, growing fat and content.
Nights became cold. Nasal flies and insects disappeared. Leaves turned crimson and gold. Amos built fires to keep warm at night.
The rams came into rut. Necks swelling, they strutted like proud monarchs among a harem. To prevent them from injuring one another, Amos rubbed their heads with thick grease before releasing them into the pasture. They ran, banged heads, and glanced off each other. Often they stumbled and landed in a heap. Confused, dazed, they would rise, looking almost embarrassed as they stood. All those rams could think about were the ewes! And it wasn’t long before they charged again. Stubborn, they tried to lock horns, and Amos had to get between them with his club.
The days grew colder, nights longer. Amos led the flock back toward Tekoa where the sheep would spend the winter in corrals. Though he moved the flock each day, he gave them time to lie down in green pastures and rest. He led them through the valleys, keeping them away from the shadows where predators lay in wait. He anointed each sheep’s head with oil and treated every wound, most having been inflicted upon one another.
The first sight of Tekoa always filled Amos with mixed emotions. It was refreshing to come home after long months of solitude. His time of living off the land came to an end, and he looked forward to enjoying his sisters-in-law’s hot meals. But in Tekoa, he would have to tend to business, meet with other herders, deal with the market in Jerusalem as well as the corrupt priests who controlled it, and face his brothers, who complained and fretted and yet never changed their ways. He would rather spend his days tending sheep and his nights beneath the star-studded canopy of the heavens than live in the confines of a house. But even a house was preferable to the chaos and cacophony of the crowded markets near the Temple.
Amos comforted himself by making plans.
As soon as the animals were wintered and tended by trustworthy servants, and the business dealings and religious obligations over, he would go back out and survey the route for next year. He would spend a month plowing and planting the pasture near Tekoa, then move on to work in the sycamore groves in Jericho. He would pull poisonous plants, remove debris from water holes, repair folds, and hunt down and kill that troublesome lioness.
Come spring, the route would be ready for his flock.
“Ithai and Elkanan left eight days ago,” Eliakim told Amos. “Their lambs have already been taken to Jerusalem.”
Amos trusted Eliakim, his servant, over his own family members.
“Who bought them?”
“Joram. He said he would return tomorrow in the hope you would be here.”
Amos despised Joram. He was as corrupt as his master, Heled. “Did he cheat us again?”
Though Eliakim said nothing more, Amos knew he had stood by as an advisor and probably saved Amos’s young nephews their profits. Had they bothered to reward Eliakim? Amos would see to it that his servant never lacked for anything. “Where are Ithai and Elkanan now?”
“They returned to Jerusalem, saying they would be back after the new moon festival.”
“Was Joram pleased when he left?”
That meant trouble had been averted. This time.
Separating the best lambs as they entered the sheepfold, Amos cut out those that had the slightest blemish. He would keep them in other pens until later.
Joram arrived two days later, eager to conduct more business. “What do you have for me?”
Amos showed him.
“These are better than the ones I’ve brought you.”
“These are the best I have.” Amos named his price.
Joram’s brows rose. “We exchange lambs. We don’t pay for them.”
“I know. But I made it clear to you things would change when our debts were paid in full.”
“Your nephews are less exacting.”
“You’re not dealing with my nephews.”
Joram scowled at him and walked to the pen that held the blemished lambs. “What about these?” He pointed. “I’ll take that one, and the other over there.”
Both had blemishes that could easily be covered. “I’ve already sold them,” Amos lied.
Joram turned, eyes dark. “Heled will not be pleased about this, Amos.”
Amos tried not to show how much that news pleased him.
“You know we have had a congenial arrangement for years.”
Joram raised his brows. “It has benefited all of us, has it not?”
To say it hadn’t would be to declare war on the priests who had used his father and brothers for years. Amos knew he must tread carefully or risk having sin and guilt offerings levied against him for any infraction that wretched priest could find—or invent. Even with family debts cleared, the priest thought he owned them.
Deciding not to press his luck, Amos forced a cool smile and spoke cautiously. “The arrangement stands, Joram. You can have the lambs I showed you.” If Joram refused, Amos would be free to offer his lambs to other priests in Jerusalem, priests who examined animals as though the eye of God were upon them.
“I didn’t come to trade perfect lambs for other perfect lambs.”
“It does seem a waste of time.”
Joram’s chin jutted out. “So you think you are more righteous than Heled?”
“Me? Only God is higher than Heled. I merely wish to offer you what the Lord requires for sacrifice: unblemished lambs. Why should you complain?”
“And you are an expert on the Law? You? A shepherd?” He sneered.
Heart drumming, Amos stood still, hoping his anger did not show.Do You see, God? Do You even care about Your people?
Dark eyes narrowed at Amos’s silence. “Heled has given you every advantage, Amos, and you abuse his kindness. If not for his generosity, your family would still be in debt.”
Amos understood the threat, and spoke through clenched teeth. “We paid our debt in full, at a rate higher than the Law demands.”
Joram’s lips whitened. “You could find yourself in debt again. Easily.”
Fear coursed through Amos’s body. Joram stalked him like a lion, and all Amos could do was stand defenseless. One word of indignation or rebellion and Joram would pounce, setting the teeth of his threat into motion. He could pull Amos down. The priests had done it before. They could do it again.
Amos raged inwardly while showing nothing on the outside.So this is the way it is. The way it will always be. Freedom earned can be ripped away. This is how You would have it! Power in the hands of a few who do what they want when they want. And poor men who want to do what is right suffer. The guild of priests decides what’s right and wrong. These purveyors of Your Law! They can twist it and use it any way they want. They ignore what they don’t like and add what will give them profits. And they keep adding and adding until the weight of their regulations crushes us! And we are told You are a just God.
Joram smiled, smug. “I will overlook your small show of defiance, Amos. You have served us well—and profited from our relationship, I might remind you. Bring whatever you have to offer us. The other lambs will be ready for you, and the usual stipend for your labors.” He slapped Amos on the shoulder.
The wound the lion had inflicted had not yet fully healed and Amos winced. The sharp pain made something snap inside him. “I have nothing for you, Joram.” The lambs might not be blemished, but he would be marked by sin for being a party to stealing from men like himself who had worked hard and done what they thought right only to suffer for it.
Joram grew frustrated. “We need to add to the Temple pens! I’ve brought you perfect lambs.”
An indictment of himself and the priest he served. Not that Joram cared. Not that he need care. He was safe, in favor, a Levite born to be a priest, or to serve one. He could play the game any way he chose for the rest of his life and never worry about where he would find his next meal or if he would have to sell himself into slavery to pay an unfair debt levied by a lying priest.
“Go ahead.” Amos gestured grandly toward the walled fields surrounding his few acres of land. There were other sheep owners in Tekoa. Perhaps one of them would enjoy the arrangement Joram would offer. Let them add their sheep to the Temple flocks. “Talk to the owners over there and there and there.” Thousands of sheep grazed in the pastures of Tekoa. Most belonged to the priests and the king. “These sheep belong to me, Joram. I have built this flock from the portion I earned. And I’ve already made plans for them.”
“What’s wrong with you, Amos? After all these years . . .”
Because he didn’t know, he lied. “I guess I feel the eyes of the Lord upon me.”
Joram’s face went deep red. “Oh, you think you’re that important. Well, someone’s eye is on you. Mine!” Cursing him, Joram turned on his sandaled heel and strode away.
Amos sat and buried his head in his hands.Will You allow them to strip me of all I’ve worked for, Lord? Is that Your justice and mercy?
The next morning, Amos headed for Jerusalem. He carried extra provisions for the poor, and one perfect lamb on his shoulders while driving six goats along the road ahead of him. Beggars sat before the gate, calling out for alms. Some were tricksters who had found an easy way to make a living, but others, in truth, were in dire need.
A crippled man hobbled toward him. “Good Amos. Have you anything for a poor old man?”
“A blessing upon you, Phineas. How is your wife? your daughters?” Amos gave him a pouch of grain and sycamore figs.
“Well. A blessing upon you for asking, Amos. Has it been a good year for you?”
Phineas had once been a shepherd. A boar had wrecked one leg and almost taken his life. Now, he was relegated to begging to survive. “I had to put down a dam. She kept leading others astray.”
“I had a few of those in my time.”
Amos had placed a few shekels in the bag as well, knowing Phineas would find them later and squeeze them for all the good they could provide. “May the Lord bless and multiply this gift, and make it last a month.”
“And a greater blessing upon you, my friend. May the Lord our God smile upon you for your kindness.”
Amos had seen no evidence that God smiled on anyone but the priests who stole from poor men like this one. He gave other gifts to the poor he recognized, then entered the city.
The goats brought a good price in the market. From there, he took the lamb to the Temple, where he sought out a priest who didn’t know him. The lamb was deemed acceptable.One honest priest,Amos thought cynically. His obligations complete, he went to see his brothers.
As Amos left the Temple, he put a shekel in the plate of a blind man.
The man felt the coin eagerly and grinned. “Thank you for your kindness.”
“Consider yourself blessed that you do not have to witness what goes on inside this place,” Amos said as he walked away.
“We’ve been waiting for you.” Bani glared, face flushed with anger. “You were supposed to bring us more lambs!”
Clearly, Joram had assumed he would think things over and capitulate. “I don’t have any lambs to bring.”
“What do you mean, you have no lambs?” Ahiam stared.
“I’m building my flock. The wool will—”
“Wool?” Bani came to the fence. “Why did you do that? There’s more money in—”
“Have you seen the crowds?” Ahiam glared. “There’s money to be made. And we need more lambs!”
“Crowds need to eat. I sold a half-dozen goats in the market.”
Ahiam grabbed Amos’s robe. “Joram said you insulted him. I didn’t believe him. Now, I’m wondering!”
“Don’t wonder.” Amos tried to jerk free. “I offered him the best of the flock, and he refused.”
Ahiam let go of him. “What’s the matter with you, Amos? What’s happened?”
“We removed the yoke, Ahiam, but you and Bani have become accustomed to it!” He stormed away.
Though his brothers called out to him, he didn’t turn back. He wanted to get away from the stalls, away from the Temple, and out of the city. He gave offerings because it was expected, because his father had done it before him, and his father before that back to the time of Moses.
But what did it all mean?
He had heard the stories from the time he was a boy, but now he found himself wondering if God really existed. Maybe the priests taught their lessons merely to exert control over the people.
“God is righteous!”
“God is just!”
“God is holy!”
Amos wanted to shout,Then why don’t I see it in Your Temple? Why is there so little evidence of righteousness, justice, holiness among the priests who serve in Your name?
“Look around you, Amos!” his brothers would say. “See how God blesses Judah. See how He blesses us.”
Amos sneered as he strode through the city streets, heading for the Sheep Gate. What about the nations around Judah? What about Israel? They bowed down to idols and prospered even more, no longer bothering to come to Jerusalem to worship. Jeroboam’s golden calf still stood in Bethel and another in Dan, and what had God done about that? Nothing! The apostates grew richer and more powerful each year.
Amos could make no sense of it.
Lying beneath a canopy of stars, it was not difficult to believe God existed. But here, in Jerusalem—God’s holy city—the animal pens, the courts, the Temple were all putrid with the stench of sin. The priests levied fines for infractions written the day before. They laid down law after law until not even a camel could carry all their scrolls!
If You are sovereign, why doesn’t justice reign? Why are the humble crushed by the proud, the poor impoverished by the rich? Why are those who hold the power never held accountable for anything? Why don’t You keep Your word?
Tears almost blinding him, Amos pressed his way through the crowd. “Let me through! Let me out!” All he wanted was to escape, to get away from this place that filled him with such confusion and anguish. Only seven miles to walk and he would be in Tekoa.
Dusk gave way to night, but the moon lighted his way. When he reached town, he didn’t go to his house, but to the walled pasture.
Eliakim stood guard. He turned to Amos in surprise. “I didn’t expect you back for a few days.”
“I finished my business there.” He wished he never had to go back, but the Law required . . .
Amos heard a familiar bleat. He put his hand on Eliakim’s shoulder. “The Lord bless you, Eliakim.”
“And you, my lord.”
Opening the gate, Amos entered the fold. The lamb he had wounded came to him. Hunkering down, he smiled and rubbed its face. “Rest now. I’m here.”
Weary, he stretched out on the ground outside the latched gate. He put his hands behind his head and looked up at the stars. He would leave in the morning and head back out to go over his route. He needed to dig another water hole and stack more rocks for the fold on the mountain. After that, he would work in the sycamore groves to expand his grazing rights near Jericho.
The next morning, he refilled his leather scrip with grain, raisins, and almonds and set out.
And then God spoke to him, shattering all the plans Amos had made.TWO
Amos had never heard the Voice before, but the marrow of his bones and the blood that ran in his veins recognized it. His body shook as God whispered:
The air he inhaled tingled in his lungs, as though he had been dead and now suddenly came to life. Throwing himself on his face, Amos covered his head with his hands.
Elohim. El Elyon. El Roi.
Power and majesty. Aboveall gods. King of all creation.
A quickening lit Amos’s soul. He was in God’s presence, surrounded by Him, immersed in His Spirit, imbued by Him. Even as Amos tried to flatten himself on the earth, he was fully exposed. God knew everything about him, from first thought to final terror.
Adoni. Qedosh Yisrael. El Olam.
Head over all.Holy One of Israel. Everlasting God.
Amos cried out in fear and pleaded for his life, his voice muffled against the grass-covered earth. He had fled Jerusalem in anger and despair, doubting God even existed, let alone saw or cared what happened in His Holy City. He had even cast blame upon the Lord for the sins men committed against one another. And now this! Surely God would kill him.
Yahweh Tsidkenu. Yahweh Shammah. Attiq Yomin.
Righteous God. Present always. Ancient of Days, Ruler of all, Judge of the nations.
“No more. I am a dead man.”
Amos wept, the dry heart within him fluttering and drowning in the flood of revelation.
Amos felt lifted by unseen hands. He saw the Temple on Mount Zion. There was a sound like a lion’s roar, but it wasn’t like any lion Amos had ever heard as he guarded his sheep in the wilderness. This roar was filled with wrath. The sound grew louder, making the hair rise on the back of his neck and his blood go cold. Even the land felt the sound, for the ground rippled and rose and fell like a blanket shaken clean. Though people screamed and ran, they could not escape judgment.
Thunder crashed from Jerusalem, and came down like a wave filling the fields, valleys, plains. The sky turned bronze. The lush pastures of Mount Carmel withered and died. Streams dried. Water holes evaporated, their basins cracking, leaving nothing but dust. Sheep, cattle, goats lay dead, carrion birds picking at their drying carcasses. Confused, trembling with fear, Amos found himself in the midst of it; the unrelenting sun beat down on his head. Wilting to the ground, he panted like a deer thirsting for water.
And the Word came to him, blessings and curses written down generations ago, long forgotten. His mind drank in living water.
Opening his eyes, Amos found himself on his knees. Raising his head, he looked around. Everything was as it had been; the rich pasture, the water hole, his pack just where he had dropped it. Bowing his head to the ground, he sobbed in relief.
Had it been a dream? A thought turned sour in his mind? The Voice! He had not imagined the Voice. Or had he?
Weak-kneed, Amos rose and went to the stream. Hunkering down, he cupped his hands and splashed water over his face. Maybe he had a fever.
I have given you a vision of what is to come.
“But why? Why me? What good would showing a poor shepherd do? Is it in my power to change anything? No!”
Amos rubbed his eyes, wishing he could rub away the images that still flickered in his mind. He heard the echo of the lion’s roar and the screams in his head. Sinking back on his heels, he waited until his heart slowed its wild beat and his breathing calmed. On shaking legs, he went back to the water hole. Work would make him feel better. Work would fill his mind. He spent the last hours of daylight cutting and pulling reeds that might spread and choke the water hole. His sheep must have good water to drink. Cool, still waters were best, for the ripples of a stream frightened them.
The more determined he was not to think about the vision, the more his mind turned back to it. Again and again, over and over, it held his mind captive.
When the sun cast spears of color in the west, he set up his camp and sat in the doorway of his small tent. He had not eaten since early morning. Though he had little appetite, he forced himself to eat a small barley cake, a few dates, and sycamore figs.
A wolf howled.
Brush rustled close by.
Wind whispered softly. Night fell away in a blaze of light. And Amos knew. . . . “No, Lord, please . . .” He groaned as he felt hands lifting him again. Weariness fell away and his entire being awakened, absorbing everything around him.
Horror filled him. “No, Lord. Please. I know what happened there. . . .”
He stood in the midst of people running. They screamed and scattered as the Aramean army advanced. Warriors swung their swords, making no distinction between men, women, and children. They came like sledges, scraping over the wounded, crushing them beneath their feet. The ground drank Israel’s blood.
Amos covered his face. “Stop them! Lord, stop them!” He could hear screams of terror, cries of pain, and moans of the dying. Sobbing, Amos covered his ears. A man raised his hand in a plea for mercy just as a soldier lopped his arm off, then hacked him down with glee. Amos longed to grab a sword and fight back, but he could not move. He could only see, hear, smell. . . .
Carnage, everywhere, carnage.
Ben-hadad of Damascus, King of Aram, shouted commands. “Kill the vermin! Kill them all!”
Warriors beat down the people of Gilead like stalks of wheat—cut, threshed, and blown to the wind.
When the attack ended, brutal laughter echoed across the devastated land. Ben-hadad rode over the body of a child, his fist raised in triumph, as though defying the God of heaven and earth.
Bodies bloated in the sun. Flies buzzed. Maggots squirmed. The smell of death filled Amos’s nostrils. “My people. My people . . .”
Sobbing, he dropped to his knees and wretched violently. When the wave of sickness passed, he raised his head slowly, exhausted.
All was peaceful. Above him stars shone brightly against the canopy of night.
Anger swelled. “Why didn’t You save them? They were Your people!” He raised his arms and cried out. “Why do You show me these things?”
The people of Damascus have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!
Relief flooded him, and then exultation. The Lord would avenge those who had been butchered in Gilead. Amos jumped up and spread his arms wide. “Yes, Lord, yes! Let them feel the edge of the sword.” He cried out as he saw a consuming fire come down from heaven, blackening the walls of a huge fortress, devouring the mighty gates of a great city. “Yes! Lay waste to them as they did in Gilead.” He cheered, ecstatic. “Terrifythem! Shatterthemlike earthenware.”
Men battled in a great valley. Blades crashed, horns sounded, chariot wheels broke, spilling warriors into the fray. Horses reared and screamed, trampling their masters as the king who had threshed Gilead fell by the sword. The Aramean king lay dying, eyes staring up at heaven as he uttered a last curse against God.
Screams of pain rent the air as conquerors drove hooks through the noses of the survivors, looped ropes through the rings, tying the captives together. Amos watched the Arameans be led away like cattle, a long line of them being dragged away to Kir. “Yes, Lord! So be it. Let them reap what they have sown.”
Did you enjoy this vision, My child?
“Yes, Lord, yes!” How long had he and others longed to do unto them as they had done unto the people of Gilead?
His mind and heart drank in the vision of vengeance without thought of where it might lead, or if it was pleasing to God. Nor did he think at all about the stillness that surrounded him after he made his confession. He thought about the last vision. And thought about it. Savoring it.
Let it be soon, Lord. Let it be soon.
Amos awakened to rain pattering softly. He lay faceup like the dead king, staring into the darkness. The cool drops soothed his burning face. The rain stopped. Amos spread his fingers against the ground and found it dry. Groaning, he sat up and felt his face. It was dry and hot.
A fever. Nothing more.
Pushing himself up, he held his head. His stomach ached with emptiness. How long had he been unconscious? How long since he had eaten? He saw his scrip where he had dropped it. Taking it up, he pinched off a piece of barley bread. After a mouthful, he retied the scrip to his sash. Parched, he went down on his hands and knees and drank like a sheep from the stream.
He wanted to get away from this place of dreams.
Grabbing his pack, his staff, and his club, he took the route toward Jericho. He would look over the pastures between here and the sycamore groves, and make certain there were no poisonous plants or . . .
His mind wandered.
He had heard stories of Jonah, who had not been able to run from God. There were stories of how the prophet had boarded a ship to Tarshish only to be tossed overboard during a storm, then swallowed by a huge fish, and finally vomited onto the beach. “Go to Nineveh,” God had told Jonah. It didn’t matter how far Jonah ran or how deep in the hull of a ship he might hide, God knew where he was and what He wanted him to do. Relentless. God is relentless. Bani said Jonah still lived outside the walled city, waiting for destruction to come.
Amos shook his head. Why did he think about that now? Rumors, probably. A story his brother had heard from traveling merchants. Nothing more.
Please let it be nothing more.
Reaching the next pasture, Amos surveyed the grasses. Walking the field, he pulled up poisonous weeds and bundled them. Stacking the bundles on rocky soil, he set them on fire. As he watched the smoke rise, he heard a whisper:
I will remove the evil from the land.
Amos pressed his hands over his ears. “It’s just the wind. The wind in the grass.” After a long moment, he drew his hands away tentatively and heard nothing but the crackling fire.
When the flames died down and only embers remained, Amos scooped dirt over them so that no sparks could float into the good grass that remained. He moved on the next morning.
Even as he tried to concentrate on work, the weeds, and water holes, his thoughts kept circling back to the Voice that came from without and within. Part of him waited for the Lord to speak again. Dreading it. Longing for it. He prayed he would hear it again and yet feared he would. When God spoke to a man, it was to send the poor fool on a mission or a long journey or to his death! His heart warred within him. Amos worked harder, faster. He forgot to eat until his stomach was gripped with pain.
He moved on again. When he reached the next pasture, he sat beneath a terebinth tree and did nothing. The sky grew dark before he got up and entered the sheepfold he had built two years before. A snake slithered hissing from the wall, startling him. Angry, he used his staff to break into its hiding place, loop it with the crook, and drop it to the ground where he killed it with his club. Even with its head crushed, the body writhed.
Moments later came the words:
I am the Lord your God.
Clutching his head, he wailed. “Why do You speak to me, Lord? I am a sinful man! I give You offerings to avoid trouble, not to praise Your Name. I despise Your priests. I can’t wait to get out of Your Holy City. I can’t stand being around Your people. I . . . I . . .”
Words of confession spilled from his lips. Doubt had consumed him since he was a boy, doubts that had grown into contempt for God’s servants. Hadn’t he thirsted for revenge after seeing his father weep over debts owed and the only manner in which he could repay them? The priests served God, didn’t they? If they represented God, then God must be to blame.
“All my life, I’ve been made part of schemes and thievery. When I wanted to do right, I caused trouble for my brothers and their families.” He saw a bigger truth now. It came to him like a lamp in a dark cave, showing the secret sins he failed to see in himself. “The trouble I caused had nothing to do with me striving for righteousness. It came from hate! I wanted to cut the bonds that held my family captive to the priests, not because they were wrong but because my pride rebelled. I have hated them. And I have hated You because of what they do in Your Name.”
Sobbing, he confessed every sin he remembered and knew there were a thousand more he wouldn’t even know.
“I am a sinful man, Lord. A sinful man deserving of death.” Eyes tightly closed, he bowed his head to the ground.
Do not fear. I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. You are Mine.
Amos waited. His muscles slowly relaxed. His stomach stopped churning. He waited a long time before he raised his head enough to see around him, and even longer yet before he dared stand. He closed his eyes in gratitude. “Holy is the Lord, and abounding in mercy.”
When he lay down again, he slept the rest of the night without dreams.
Amos did not hear the Voice again until he was working in the sycamore groves. Others worked around him, talking, laughing, but not hearing. Grasping a fig, he made a small cut. He felt the air grow warm around him. Everything went still. Sounds faded.
The people of Gaza have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!
Amos saw the Philistines leading whole villages of Israelites away from their burning homes. Using whips, they forced the people to march to Edom, where they sold them as slaves.
Indignation choked him. “Our brothers make profit on our misery!” Edomites were descendants of Jacob’s brother, Esau. “Should one brother purchase another as a slave, Lord?” He hated the Edomites as much as he hated the Philistines, and so was vaguely disappointed when he saw fire descended only on the walls of Gaza and not Edom as well. An invading army from the north slaughtered everyone in Gaza and then marched on to Ashkelon. Ekron was the last to fall and lay ruined like Gath.
The last few survivors of the nation that had often oppressed Israel fell, dissolved into dust, and blew away in the wind, leaving only an echo of Philistia’s grandeur.
“So be it, Lord!” Amos rejoiced. “So be it.”
He blinked, swayed slightly on the ladder, and grasped hold of a sycamore branch to keep from falling. “What?”
“What?What,you say? What’s the matter with you, my friend?” Jashobeam, the owner of the grove, stood staring up at him, arms akimbo.
“Nothing? You’ve been shouting.”
Other workers stared at him.
“I was having a vision.”
“Oh, a vision.” Jashobeam threw back his head and laughed loudly. He waved his hands as he called out to the others. “Amos was having a vision!”
Some laughed. Some leaned out from beneath branches to grin at him.
Jashobeam put his hands on his hips and looked up at him. “Perhaps you need to come down and rest in the shade awhile. Too much heat, I would say. Go have a long cool drink of water with a little wine.”
Face burning, Amos ducked his head. “I’m fine.” Clenching his teeth, he grasped another sycamore fig and made the small slice.
“A vision.” Jashobeam shook his head. “If you have another, try not to shout about it. You distract my workers.” Jashobeam walked away.
Amos was on his way home to Tekoa when the Lord spoke to him again.
The people of Tyre have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!
Dropping to his knees, Amos threw himself onto his face.
Israelites stood in the court of the Phoenician king. The heads of state signed documents, swearing a treaty of brotherhood and friendship between Phoenicia and Israel. But then Phoenicians raided, and took whole villages captive to Edom, selling them as slaves.
Amos slammed his fists on the ground. “They tricked us. They broke their word!”
God’s wrath descended in a spear of flame that set the great city of Tyre on fire. The mighty fortresses crumbled in the inferno.
There was no respite for Amos this time as a fourth vision came. Edomites with raised swords chased down their Israelite brothers. Every face was like Esau’s, filled with bitterness and hatred against his brother Jacob, with generation after generation of them raised on the story of how the younger brother had bought the elder’s birthright with a bowl of lentil soup and stripped Esau of his blessing. They sought every opportunity to inflict pain and suffering on Jacob’s descendants. They savored revenge like a sweet dessert, not knowing it would turn their souls sour with poison.
Wailing to heaven, Amos gripped his head. “Stop, Lord. I don’t want to see any more.”
The Edomites caught up with and cut down the fleeing Israelite men. With cries of jubilance and triumph, they stabbed and slashed them, giving free rein to years of pent-up jealousy and rage.
So I will send down fire on Teman, and the fortresses of Bozrah will be destroyed.
Amos watched punishment come upon Esau’s sons. The horror of it made him collapse. He spread his arms, clutching the grass, his cheek pressed against soft earth.
He wandered for days, unsure what to do. “Why do You show me these things, Lord? What am I to do with this knowledge? Tell me!”
The Lord did not answer.
Distraught, burdened by the images of destruction, Amos headed again for Tekoa. He climbed the mountain road from Jericho and took shelter for the night in a small cave. He could look out over the Sea of Salt. To the north were the mountains of Ammon. To the south was Moab.
The people of Ammon have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!
Terror gripped Amos as he dwelt within the vision. All his senses awakened. He smelled the smoke of Gilead, the burning flesh. He tasted ash in his mouth. Ammonite warriors attacked Gilead. Lungs straining, he ran with the fleeing Israelites. Gilead burned, but even this destruction did not satisfy the Ammonites, who sought to wipe out the race by knocking pregnant women to the ground. As the women screamed for mercy, the warriors ripped their clothing and cut their bellies open with their swords to kill their unborn children.
Amos screamed. “Why do You stand idly by? Why are You silent? Don’t You see Your enemies killing Your people?” Tears poured down his cheeks as he raged. “Do to them what You did to Egypt and the Midianites. Crush their pride. Destroy them!”
See what I will do.
Fire descended on Rabbah, blazing through the fortresses until they crumbled. Battle cries rose like a whirlwind in a mighty storm and the Ammonites fell, thousands of them, until only a remnant remained. When the battle ended, the king and his princes were fitted in yokes and led away to slavery.
“Yes, Lord!” Amos raised his hands. “Let all the nations see You are supreme over all the earth!”
Another vision came in the wake of Ammon’s destruction.
Moabites opened the graves of Edom’s kings and piled up the bones to burn. When the fires grew cold, workers scraped and swept the lime ashes into vats, where they pounded what remained to dust that they used to make plaster. Amos watched in horror and disgust as the Moabites coated their houses with the bones of Edom’s kings.
“Not even in death are their victims shown mercy!” Amos shouted.
Before his eyes, an army attacked Moab. Foreign warriors shouted. Rams’ horns blew. Flames reached into the sky as Kerioth burned while the people of Moab fell in the noise of battle. Neither their king nor their princes survived the slaughter. Those who had taken the bones of the dead from tombs would never rest in one.
The enemies of Israel would fall. Those who thought they held power would become powerless. God would avenge those who had been skinned alive, those who had been executed, their heads stacked as trophies before the Aramean city gates. No more would Philistia profit on slave trade. No more would Phoenicia break treaties of peace and take whole villages captive into slavery. No more would Edom grow rich on revenge. All of them would die, having drunk the poison of lust and hatred, from Damascus to Ammon and Moab, begun by Lot’s incestuous daughters. All of them would be crushed like scorpions beneath the heel of God’s anger.
A deep satisfaction had filled Amos at the thought of their destruction. Exhausted, Amos curled on his side in the shallow cave, comforted.When, Lord? When will it happen?
Soon, he hoped. He would relish the sight of it.
Amos arose in the morning and offered a prayer of thanksgiving. It was the first he had said—and meant—in years. “Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”
Caravans wound their way up the Benjamin Mountains. Men pulled at roped donkeys laden with packs. As Amos walked up the mountain road, uneasiness filled him. When he reached the Mount of Olives, he stopped and stared, troubled in his soul. He thought again of the corruption he saw every time he went to Jerusalem. Priests like Heled profited off stealing from God. Had Amos not cut his share and built his flock from those same lambs? He shuddered at his guilt. What choice had those priests given his father? Frustrated by helplessness, he tried to make excuses. None sufficed. Words spoken long ago, when he was a child attending classes, came back to him. Burning words that rent his conscience:
“Hear, O Israel. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”
Love had not motivated his rebellion against Heled, nor had righteousness or any desire to worship the Lord. He had not loved God. He had blamed the Lord for the trouble men caused and the contract under which his family lived. Each time he went to the Temple, he did so grudgingly and offered only what was required to keep in good standing with the authorities.
Uzziah might be king, but all too often it was the priests who ruled the lives of common people like himself and his brothers.
The Lord is God!
But even now, as he stood looking up at King David’s Zion, Amos knew idols still pocked Judah’s landscape, and pagan altars still remained despite King Uzziah’s attempt to destroy the foreign gods that had dwelt in the hearts of King Solomon’s wives and concubines. How could a wise man be so foolish as to build pagan temples and altars? Amos saw the remnants of those gods as he moved his flocks. Sometimes he had been tempted to follow the processions up those hills so that he could spread himself beneath the leafy branches and enjoy the sensual pleasures offered there. It had not been fear of the Lord that kept him away, but fear of leaving his flock untended.
You must not have any other god but Me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind.
Sin was everywhere. It was in the nations surrounding Judah and Israel. It was in Israel and Judah.
It was inhim.
Not once have I sought out one of the few priests known to serve in fear of the Lord! I have held my anger close, embracing it, fanning my hatred against all Your priests. I have rebelled against You.
You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
Amos cringed. Yes, Heled and others like him were guilty, but Amos’s family had entered into a contract that dishonored God as well. How many times had they used God’s name to seal a bargain?
“Stand aside!” Someone shoved him from behind.
Amos moved out of the way, seeing everything differently.
Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Did the gates of Jerusalem not stand open for trade every day of the week? The markets of the great city never rested. Amos watched the beehive of activity as merchants bore their wares into Jerusalem past elders holding court in the gate.
Other commandments came in a rush:
Honor your father and mother. You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor. You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
Amos closed his eyes. Though he had never broken these commandments in deed, he knew he had broken every one of them in thought.
He had loved his father, but had been bitterly disappointed in him. Not once after he had learned the truth had he believed anything his father said.
And how many times had he lusted for revenge against Heled? He had even thought of ways to kill him, savoring the thought in his mind. If he could have found a way to kill the priest and escape, he might have done it!
From the time he was born until two years ago, he had been a thief, a party to the priests who testified falsely against those who brought perfect offerings to the Lord, only to have them rejected.
As for the sin of coveting, had he not coveted the priests’ power, freedom, and wealth? He had not so much wanted it for himself as he had wanted to see it ripped from the hands that had grasped it and held on at such cost to the people.
Amos saw what God wanted him to see and stood mortified by the sins of the people, sins he himself had committed on a daily basis.
And when God spoke, His next words were no surprise.
The people of Judah have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They have rejected the instruction of the Lord, refusing to obey His decrees. They have been led astray by the same lies that deceived their ancestors.
The hair on the back of Amos’s neck prickled. He dropped to his knees and covered his face. He rocked forward, covering his head with his hands. “No, Lord, please, don’t show me.” He drew his knees up under him. “Have mercy on us.”
But the images came upon him relentlessly, melting his heart and filling him with a sorrow and compassion he had never felt before when looking upon his own people. The compassion he’d felt until now only for his defenseless sheep. He wept.
“You there. You’re blocking us.” Hauled up, he was pitched aside and fell heavily. “Stay off the road!”
Heavy wheels crunched the rocks. Oxen blew out their breath. The voices of a thousand people mingled as Amos sat in the dust, his head in his hands.
“To what end, Lord? To what end will You destroy the people You chose?”
From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory, so that the rest of humanity, including the Gentiles—all those I have called to be Mine—might seek Me.
“What are you doing back so soon?” Bani rose from his money table. When he came close, he frowned. “What’s happened? Is Ithai well?”
“I have not seen Ithai or Elkanan in months. Remember, they had finished their business with Joram before I returned with my flock. They came here to Jerusalem before I did.”
Ahiam closed the gate of a stall, a lamb in his arms. “The boys went home to Tekoa not long after the new moon festival.”
Amos looked at his two brothers. “The Lord spoke to me. I have seen visions.”
Ahiam laughed. “Go sleep off the wine over there.” He walked away with the lamb.
“You’ve probably had a fever.” Bani searched Amos’s face. “You do look ill.”
“I have seen the destruction of Jerusalem.”
“You’re mad. With Uzziah on the throne?” Bani shook his head. “Jerusalem is secure, and our borders are protected.”
“But I’m telling you the truth! I saw—”
“Fever-induced dreams, Amos.” Bani gripped his arm. “That’s all. Besides, why would God speak to you, a shepherd? You’re not a member of the priests’ guild. You’re not a Levite. When God speaks, He talks to one of the trained prophets or priests. Go over there. Sit. You look tired.” He led Amos to the bench beneath the canopy where their tables were set up for business.
Amos saw the open box with its neat rows of coins and shuddered.
Bani slapped him on the back. “Have some wine, little brother. Eat something. Forget about whatever you thought you saw. You’ll feel better.” Bani poured him a cup of wine and offered him bread and dates. “You spend too much time alone with that flock of yours, little brother. You always have.”
The hum of conversations merged with the bleating sheep until the sounds seemed the same. Amos clutched his head.Am I going mad that men are beginning to sound like sheep, or sheep are beginning to sound like men?
Ahiam returned. “Heled is not pleased to see you, Amos. Joram gave him a bad report when he returned from Tekoa, and Heled hasn’t forgotten.”
Amos raised his head. “If you don’t end your dealings with that thief of a priest, you and your family will suffer for it.”
Ahiam’s face hardened. “Live your life, Amos, and leave mine in peace.” He gave a hard laugh. “If we took your advice, we’d all be living in the hills, half starved and seeing visions.”
“Leave him alone, Ahiam.”
“He makes trouble for us. Even when he can keep his mouth shut, he allows his contempt to show. Look at him!” Ahiam leaned toward Amos. “You look like a beggar.”
“He’s given both our sons a start on flocks of their own.”
“A lot of good it will do them if he keeps on as he has. Everything we’veallworked for, for over two generations, will be gone!” He glared at Amos. “It happened before. Remember what Father told you. It can happen again. Don’t think it can’t.” He jerked his head. “You forget who holds the power around here.”
Amos rose, shaking with rage. “God holds the power!”
Chin jutting, Ahiam came close enough to stand nose to nose with Amos. “AndHegave it tothemto use astheywill.”
Amos stood his ground. “The people of Judah have sinned—”
“All of a sudden, you’re the judge?” Ahiam gave him a hard shove. “Go home. Prophesy to your sheep.”
“Listen to me,” Amos cried out in desperation.
“If you made any sense, I might.” Ahiam glanced back over his shoulder. “Send him home.” He nodded to Bani. “We’ve got a business to run here.” Turning his back on them, he walked toward a customer looking over the lambs. Smiling, he spread his arms in greeting.
Bani drew Amos aside and spoke quietly. “Go back to my house. A few nights’ rest in a good bed and some of my wife’s cooking and you’ll be yourself again.”
Amos knew he would never be the same again. Everywhere he looked, he saw things differently than he had before the Voice had spoken to him.
Dream or no dream, his life had changed forever.
Amos left the Temple Mount and its stalls of sacrificial animals, passing tables where money changers stacked shekels and half shekels. He went down to the market square where bellowing camels with tasseled harnesses stood laden with huge packs of merchandise. The animals were lined up behind owners who displayed their wares on woven rugs. The scents of dung and spices mingled while vendors shouted their wares, competing with one another as possible customers wandered the bazaar. Shekels clinked and money boxes slammed shut. Donkeys burdened with bundles were pulled along by hard-faced men, cursing and making threats if others did not make room.
Bludgeoned by sound, Amos sought quieter streets. He wandered along narrow alleys lined with booths. Vendors haggled with customers over prices while competitors called enticements to steal patrons away.
“Good shepherd!” one called to Amos. “Come, come! You need a new pair of sandals. Those look worn through. I will give you a good price.”
“I will give you a better price.”
“He’s a thief. Don’t listen to him. I have better—”
“Here! Come look at what I have to offer.”
The narrow street widened, and Amos stopped to watch stonemasons working on a new house, a foreman shouting instructions to his crew. A few doors down, a carpenter worked on a cart. Wheels of all sizes lined the wall of his shop. Another man planed a table while his wife showed a bench to a woman with three children.
On another street, metalworkers pounded ingots into utensils while coppersmiths pounded trays. A goldsmith displayed earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and cylinders ready for engraving into family seals. Weavers sold cloths and rugs on another street, while the next was lined with bakers. Amos’s stomach clenched with hunger, but he didn’t stop. He had no money with which to buy. Distracted, he took dried grain from his scrip to ease the ache in his belly.
He wandered into the valley of cheese makers and back up to the canopied stalls with baskets of barley and wheat, jars of oil and jugs of wine, bins of olives and baskets of early figs. Combs of golden honey dripped into bowls, while nearby another merchant called out balm for sale.
Rug merchants and basket weavers called out to him as he passed. A tentmaker haggled with a customer.
Jerusalem was, indeed, a city of wealth and commerce. The people seemed to want for nothing. What they lacked had little to do with the body and everything to do with the heart and soul. All their strength was spent on what they could hold in their hands.
Pausing, Amos listened to a young man play a lyre for a customer while his father attached strings to a kinnor. The customer pointed to a beautifully carved ten-string nebel displayed alongside a row of bone pipes. The boy picked it up and began to play it. At a signal, the boy handed the instrument to his father. He allowed the customer to hold it, pluck the strings, and stroke the carved wood. Amos picked up some reed pipes and admired them. The lust to own would seal the bargain. He put them down quickly and walked away.
Amos went through a gate and down a pathway. Weary, he sat in the shade of a mustard plant and leaned against a wall. Hyssop grew from between the stones. Across from him was the Mount of Olives. It was quiet here, quiet enough to think, though pondering what he had just seen was the last thing he wanted to do. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes.
“I see sin, Lord.” Enticing, tempting, seeming to delight and bring satisfaction. “I see it. I see!”
Pride promised pleasure and security, but would bring despair and death instead.
Amos walked home in the moonlight. He went to the fold and entered by the narrow gate, walking quietly among the animals, checking each one. When the sun rose, he would let them out into the south pasture. Soon, it would be time to lead them away from Tekoa. One of the lambs heard his voice and came to him quickly, pressing against his leg. Amos hunkered down. “Yes, I’m home, little one.” He rubbed the lamb’s face.
Go prophesy to My people Israel.
Confused, Amos stood. “Israel?” He spread his hands, looking up at the sky.
“The northern kingdom, Lord? Samaria?”
Go to Bethel.
Why would God send him to speak to the ten tribes who had broken away from Solomon’s son Rehoboam? Hadn’t they followed after Jeroboam the son of Nebat, foreman of Solomon’s workforce? Why not call one from among the ten rebellious tribes to prophesy to their breakaway nation?
“I told my brothers I had seen visions, Lord. They didn’t believe me! They thought I was drunk or suffered delirium.”
The lamb bleated. The flock sensed his turbulent emotions and moved, restless, nervous.
“Shhhhh. It’s all right, sheep.” Amos lifted the lamb. He moved slowly among his animals, speaking softly, soothing their fears. He set the lamb down and moved to the gate. Drawing his reed pipe from his belt, he played whatever sweet melody came to mind. The sheep settled again.
Amos looked up at the stars. Before the visions began, he had believed that God didn’t notice him or what he did or thought. Now, he realized God saw and knew everything. Still, Amos didn’t understand why God would call a poor shepherd—a simple, ordinary man—to speak the Word of the Lord.
My love is unfailing and everlasting. I will be with you wherever you go.
You love me, and yet You send me north with a message of destruction.Even as he wanted to question, Amos knew why. God had filled him with understanding, and was sending him to call His lambs back from destruction.
Had God ever given a prophet a message the people wanted to hear? a message they welcomed and celebrated? Perhaps Israel would listen this time. Even to a shepherd. Why wouldn’t they, when the visions God had given him showed the destruction of enemies that surrounded them? They would celebrate just as he had, before he understood that the sins of Judah were not hidden from God’s clear and holy gaze. Wealthy, powerful Israel would gloat even more over the judgment upon the nations, and probably gloat over the destruction of their Judean brothers as well, for then, Samaria would become the city on the mountain.
Or would it?
Solomon’s foreman had crowned himself King Jeroboam the First, with dreams of a dynasty to follow. To carry that out, he had abolished the Levitical priesthood and established his own. He had turned the people away from Jerusalem by setting up golden calves for them to worship in Bethel and Dan!
They do all these things, Lord, and yet,Judahis to be destroyed? How can I say these things? How can I leave my own people and go to them? Judah! What of Judah?
You will be My prophet in Israel. My Spirit will come upon you, and you will speak the Word of the Lord.
Amos felt the weight of his calling, and went down on his hands and knees to plead with God. “I’m not a city dweller, Lord. You know that. I’m a shepherd. A man of flocks and fields. I hate going to Jerusalem and now you want me to go to Bethel, a place even more corrupt? I’ve done everything I could to stay away from cities. I can’t bear being around so many people. And the noise, the confusion is unbearable to me. I’m just a shepherd.”
I am your Shepherd, Amos. Will you obey Me?
Though the words came softly and full of tenderness, Amos knew the course of his life lay in the answer. “I am not worthy.”
I have called you by name. You are mine.
“But, Lord, You need someone who will make them listen. You need a powerful speaker. You need someone who knows the Law. You need someone who will know how to persuade them to do what You want.” He bowed his head, ashamed. “You need someone who loves them, Lord. And I don’t care what happens to them!”
I don’t need anyone, My child. I want you. Go to Bethel, Amos. My grace is all you need. I will tell you when to speak and what to say.
Grieving, Amos hung his head. “What about my sheep, Lord? How can I entrust them to hirelings?” He looked up, gulping sobs. “My sheep.” Tears ran down his cheeks. “No one loves them as I do.”
A quiet breeze blew softly through the winter grass, and God whispered:
Feed My sheep.
Amos slept fitfully at the gate of the sheepfold, wakening before dawn. He sat on the wall and gazed at his animals. He knew the traits and personalities of every one of them. He had saved one from a ledge, another from the attack of a lion, another from floodwaters of a wadi. Some stayed close, never venturing far from the flock, while others were prone to wander. Some learned quickly, while others seem destined to get themselves into trouble with every new pasture. His heart ached because he loved them.
“Feed My sheep,”the Lord had said last night as dusk came upon the land.
“Forgive me, Lord, but I care more for these animals than I have ever cared for people. Men take care of themselves. They do what they want. Sheep are helpless without a shepherd.”
Even as he said the words aloud, he wondered if they were true. He saw things differently this morning. Maybe it was the visions of destruction that haunted his thoughts.
“Feed My sheep.”
Were men like sheep? He had always thought of them as wolves or lions or bears . . . especially priests who could make life miserable if they so chose, and even tear it apart. But what of the common people, men and women like him who wanted to do what was right, but often ended up doing what was expedient? He had been taught never to argue with a priest, but his heart had often raged within him.
He turned toward the north, thinking of Bethel. This city of the northern kingdom was not that far away—only eleven miles—but it seemed a distant country. His journeys had kept him in the pastures of Judah and Benjamin’s territory, always circling him back home to Tekoa. Bethel was the last place he wanted to go. But he would have no peace until he obeyed the Lord.
In the cool of the morning, Amos spotted Elkanan and Ithai as they led their flocks out to pasture. Amos remained on the wall of his fold, watching his nephews with the flocks he had started for them. What he saw pleased him. Stepping down, Amos opened the gate and led his sheep out. Elkanan and Ithai saw him and raised their hands in greeting. Amos headed toward them.
Elkanan greeted him warmly. “Uncle!”
As soon as Elkanan withdrew, Ithai embraced him as well. “You spend less time in Jerusalem each year.” Ithai laughed.
Jerusalem. Sorrow gripped Amos as the vision came flooding back.Jerusalem!How long had he despaired at what he saw there. Never had he felt such a wave of sorrow as he did now with dark wrenching memories of the future.
He stayed with his nephews for the rest of the day, listening to their stories of predators thwarted, sick lambs tended, wandering sheep found, sheepfolds expanded to accommodate more animals. Amos understood. Rather than go out alone with their flocks, they had stayed together, sharing the burden of tending the sheep.
His moment came to speak. “I have been called away.”
Elkanan glanced at him. “Away? When? Where?”
“Before sunrise tomorrow.” He leaned heavily on his staff and swallowed the lump in his throat. “Add my flock to yours and tend them as I would.”
Elkanan looked at the sheep and then at Amos. “Should we stay here in Tekoa until you return, Uncle?”
“No. Take them to fresh pastures. The pastures of Jericho are open to you. If Jashobeam questions you, tell him these are my sheep. I paid for grazing rights by working in his sycamore groves. If I have not returned by the time you come back here to winter the flocks, take only thebestlambs to Jerusalem.”
His pulse raced suddenly, as he remembered the Lord roaring like a lion inside his head. “Whatever you do, do it as the Lord would have you do it. Do what is right, no matter what others do. Run from evil.”
Elkanan stared. “What’s happened, Uncle?”
“The Lord has shown me what will happen to us if we don’t repent and turn back to Him.”
A flood of questions came from his nephews. Amos found solace that they did not suggest he rest. They did not tell him to eat something so that he would feel like himself again. “Sin brings death, my sons. Do what is right. Convince your fathers of this. God sees what men do. He knows their hearts. Do what is right and live.”
“We will tell them, Uncle.”
They seemed troubled. Even if they could be convinced, would Ahiam and Bani listen? Amos doubted it. Bani might consider turning away from the business practices that had made him prosper, but not for long. Ahiam would wear him down and turn him back to worshiping profits. Amos remembered how his father’s conscience had suffered. But Ahiam and Bani had lived most of their lives in the shadow of the Temple among corrupt priests that saw nothing wrong with what they did. Now, they equated their increasing wealth to God’s blessing on what they did.
“Uncle? Why are you crying?”
Amos struggled against the emotions overwhelming him, and tried to keep his voice steady. “I must go to Bethel.” He headed across the field.
“Bethel! But, Uncle . . . how long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know.”A few weeks, Lord? A month? A year?
Maybe it was better not to know.THREE
Amos camped in the hills near Bethel. He could see lamplight on the wall and knew soldiers were stationed in the watchtowers.
Bethel! After stealing Esau’s birthright, Jacob had fled and stopped to rest here, using a stone for a pillow. In his vision, he saw a ladder to heaven with angels going up and down, and God had made a covenant with him. No wonder Jeroboam I had claimed this city to start his new religion. Even having been delivered from Egypt, the Israelites had quickly returned to the pagan worship of their oppressors while Moses was on top of Mount Sinai receiving the Law of God. Jeroboam had seduced the ten northern tribes with the same god—a golden calf. And the people wanted convenience. Why walk eleven miles to Jerusalem to worship the true God three times a year, when there was another god right here in Bethel? Jeroboam had known the people well. He gave them what they wanted: empty idols made by human hands and the illusion of control over their own lives.
Jeroboam, a goat leading the sheep to slaughter. He knew what places meant the most to the people and claimed them. Another golden calf resided in Gilgal where the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River after forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Gilgal, the place where the people of Israel had reconsecrated themselves to God and celebrated the first Passover in Canaan; the place where they had eaten the first fruit of the land after forty years of manna. And now it, too, stood defiled by pagan worship. Even Beersheba, where God first made promises of blessing to Abraham, then Isaac, and finally Jacob, was now a major place of worship for Jeroboam’s unholy religion.
Amos slept uneasily and awakened in darkness. He rose and went down the hill to the road and followed it up to the gates of Bethel where he waited until morning. Merchants arrived with their goods, ignoring the beggars who approached them. Some of the poor had little more than a tunic to keep them warm. When the gates were opened, Amos tensely moved among the crowds making their way to the center of the city where Jeroboam’s temple stood, housing the golden calf.
The mount was an anthill of activity with pilgrims carrying their offerings up and into the temple. Neophyte priests dressed in fine linen ephods stood greeting them as they entered. Not one Levite stood among them, for Jeroboam I had abolished the rightful priesthood and established his own. All a man needed to become a priest was one young bull and seven rams! And who with the means would not pay it when all the benefits of priesthood could so enrich a man and his family? Power, wealth, and prestige came with the post, and the ability to strip the people of whatever they decided was a “proper offering” to stay in the good graces of Jeroboam’s false and capricious gods.
Having driven even the faithful Levites from the northern cities, no one remained to teach people the truth.
“Alms for the blind . . . ,” a man whined at the bottom of the steps, a small woven basket in his hand. He held it out at the sound of people passing. “Alms for the blind. Have pity on me.”
Amos paused to look into his face. The man’s eyes were opaque, his face brown and lined from years in the sun. He was clothed in rags, and his gnarled hands revealed that blindness was not his only infirmity. Amos had brought only a few shekels with him. He took one from his pouch and leaned down. “May the Lord have compassion on you.” Amos placed the coin in the basket.
The man’s fingers fumbled over the coin as he declared his thanks.
As Amos went up the steps, he watched priests take gifts of money and tuck them into their personal purses. One put his hand out as Amos came level with him. Amos looked at him in contempt.
The priest stiffened. “Those who do not give to god cannot expect blessing.”
“I will not receive a blessing from your god.” Amos started to walk by.
“Indeed not if you are so ungracious and ungrateful. You will have a curse on your head. . . .”
Pausing, Amos turned and gazed deeply into the man’s eyes. “Woe to you, false priest. You already live under a curse of your own making.” Turning his back on him, Amos walked into the temple.
He moved with the others, watchful, taking in everything. Were men so eager to be fleeced? Amos went as far as the inner corridor and stood aside. Leaning on his staff, he watched and listened to men and women murmuring incoherently as they moved forward, intent upon seeing the golden calf in which they placed their hope. Some carried small woven prayer rugs that they unrolled and knelt upon in comfort. They raised their hands and bowed in adoration before the horned altar. They sang songs of praise. Priests waved incense burners. The streaks of cloying gray smoke made a cloud over the worshipers held there by a fog of lies.
And there stood their god in all its glory. Did these people really believe that bloodless empty statue could answer prayers?
So it seemed.
These Israelite brothers no longer knew the difference between righteousness and blasphemy. How was it possible to put such ardent faith in that great hunk of hollow gold, molded and shaped by a man? That calf couldn’t help itself, let alone do anything for them! Men without God put their trust in a spider’s web, not even knowing they had been captured and bound. Everything these people counted upon to keep them safe would fall, pulling them down with it.
Musicians strummed lyres and kinnors. Priests chanted.
A woman rushed tearfully to her husband, displaying a talisman sold to her by a priest. “He says we will have a child. . . .”
A man, sallow and gaunt, had paid for a spell to be cast so that he would be healed of his troubles.
Amos followed a father and son out of the temple. “I’ve already put in my request, Son. You will be well pleased with the one I have chosen. Since it is your birthday, you will go first, and I will wait my turn.”
When they went into another building next door, Amos followed. As he entered the door, he heard laughter. Men and women lounged in a room off to his right. Someone strummed a lyre.
A girl dressed in finery, her dark eyes made up with Egyptian kohl, rose to greet him. Her smile did not reach her eyes. “Come with me.” Bells tinkled as she walked.
Amos didn’t move. “What is this place?”
She turned and stared at him. “The temple brothel.” When her expression became curious, it was the first sign of life in her face. “Do you prefer boys?”
She shrugged. “Some do.”
Amos left the house quickly. He crossed the courtyard and stood in the shadows of a temple wall. A vision came back: the screams of the dying, the smoke, bodies sprawled in the streets. Leaning heavily on his staff, he bowed his head.Now, Lord? Do I speak now?
God did not answer.
Amos sat on the temple steps and waited. All around him, people hurried to sin, laughing as they went. The wealthy pushed past the impoverished. If they paused at all, it was to mock rather than show pity.
How had Israel sunk to this? Did it go back to the days of Solomon when that great king of supposed wisdom had allowed his wives and concubines to turn his heart from God? The Lord had used the foreman of Solomon’s workforce to break the kingdom in two. The king’s spies had told him a prophet foretold Jeroboam as ruler over ten of the twelve tribes. Rather than heed God’s warning and repent, Solomon attempted to kill Jeroboam.
Escaping to Egypt, Jeroboam waited until the king’s death and then returned to make his move for power. He asked Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, now king, to lighten the workload upon the people.
God knew the pride of men, but still gave them opportunity to repent. Wise counselors surrounded Rehoboam and gave him sound advice. Rehoboam refused to listen, preferring instead the witless counsel of spoiled, arrogant young men who told him he would be greater even than the great King Solomon.
King Solomon had loved women more than God. His desire to please them led the people astray, for one wife wanted an altar for the pagan god Chemosh, another bowed down to the detestable idol of Moab, and others worshiped Molech, the idol of Ammon, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. Solomon was even led to worship Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom of the Ammonites.
How could a man reputed to be the wisest on earth have been so foolish?
King Rehoboam attempted to show his authority by sending a servant to call the people back to work. When the servant was stoned to death, Rehoboam fled to Jerusalem. He rallied the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and called up warriors to go to war, but the Lord sent word through His prophet to stop what he was doing. “Do not go to war against your brothers!” This time, Rehoboam listened and repented. Any man who fought against God was destined to lose, and he wanted to retain the power he had. He stayed in Jerusalem and ruled over Judah and Benjamin, expecting the other ten tribes to return. After all, the Lord required them to come three times a year to Jerusalem to worship, and the Levites would draw them back to God—and to the rightful king.
Jeroboam knew the risks. He had no trust in God even though the Lord had given him the ten tribes. He made his own plans and gave the Israelites the god their ancestors had worshiped in Egypt—a golden calf. Hadn’t the tribes wanted to return to Egypt? Hadn’t they always been tempted to follow the ways of the other nations? Even Aaron, brother of the great lawgiver Moses, had made a golden calf. Jeroboam gave them two and placed them in cities where God had spoken to the patriarchs—Bethel and Dan.
“Here are your gods, Israel!”
The people rejoiced and flocked to worship the golden calves.
Jeroboam’s religion grew so rapidly and prospered so greatly he set up golden calves and goats in Gilgal and Beersheba. He built palaces on “watch mountain,” Samaria, his capital. Shrines sprung up like poisonous plants throughout the territories. He silenced all protests by abolishing the Levitical priesthood established by God. The new priesthood did as the king wanted, raking in proceeds from the royal sanctuaries.
Jeroboam’s cunning plan worked. Men wanted ease, after all, not hard work. Ah, yes, why not worship idols? A man would have immediate pleasure with temple prostitutes. Sin would be approved. No one need consider what is right or wrong. Live for yourselves. Go ahead: lie, cheat, steal—everyone is doing it—as long as you give the king his share of the offerings! Why serve a holy God who demanded you follow the Law, when other gods would allow you to wallow in self-gratification? People rejected truth and gulped down lies, turning their backs on the loving, merciful God who provided their every need. Instead, they followed a king who ruled over them as he pleased.
Shall I speak here, Lord? Shall I speak now against all I see?
Still, God did not answer.
Frustration filled Amos. His anger grew the longer he waited. Sin stood upon the altar, and the people praised it! Bethel, once a holy place, now a city of blasphemy! He could not bear to listen to the priests calling the people into that foul temple for worship. Turning away, he pushed through the crowd. “Let me through!” he cried out, eager to make his way off the temple mount and down the thronged street.
Only after he left the city behind did he feel he could breathe again.
He gave a cry of pent-up emotion and went out into the hills. Jerusalem was bad enough, but now he saw this place! He spread his arms and roared, “Israel! Israel!” The ten tribes wallowed in sin and did not even recognize it. He paced and circled, muttering to himself. Finally, he sank down and tried to plead. “Lord . . . Lord . . .”
A glorious sunset crossed the western sky. The tinkle of bells made him raise his head. A shepherd led his sheep across a field toward home.
Amos held his head in his hands. “Send me home, Lord. Let me prophesy to Your people in Judah and Benjamin. Please, Lord.”
No answer came.
Amos wandered the city of Bethel each day, waiting for the Lord to tell him to speak. On the temple mount, he smelled the stench of incense the priests offered, heard their chants and songs. Along streets and in markets, the wealthy used their power to take whatever they wanted from lesser people, parading their finery and privilege before those they cheated.
Sometimes he’d stand in the shadows of a gate and listen to the elders turn laws to their own favor and strip the poor of what little they had. One judge took the robe from a poor man and handed it over to a merchant for a jug of wine. Another took an unfortunate’s sandals as pledge for a debt, and had not even a grimace of guilt as the man hobbled away to work in a rock quarry.
Shaking with rage, Amos turned away and headed up the hill. He heard shouts of greeting and looked back. A delegation approached.
Holy fire poured into Amos’s veins as God spoke to him. He strode down the hill and extended his staff, pointing at them as the Lord spoke through him. “This is what the Lord says: ‘The people of Damascus have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!’”
Amos’s voice rose above the din of the crowd, echoing in the narrow street. “‘They beat down My people in Gilead as grain is threshed with iron sledges. So I will send down fire on King Hazael’s palace, and the fortresses of King Ben-hadad will be destroyed. I will break down the gates of Damascus and slaughter the people in the valley of Aven. I will destroy the ruler in Beth-eden, and the people of Aram will go as captives to Kir,’ says the Lord.”
“Who is this beggar who speaks insults?” Faces red with consternation, the Assyrians protested loudly. “Is this the way Ben-hadad’s servants are greeted when they come in peace?”
Amos came on. “You speak of peace, but war is in your hearts.”
“Be careful what you say. You may find your head on a pole!”
“Go back to Damascus!”
The people moved away from Amos, staring, as he cried out, “Go and tell your king what the Lord God has said! Get out of here!”
People whispered and then began talking. Some called out. Soon, the street was full as people surrounded Amos. Heart pounding, he shouted and raised his staff again. The people let him pass as he strode down the street. He was eager to get away from this place, away from them.
They called out questions. He didn’t answer.
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know.”
“He looks like a shepherd.”
“But did you hear him speak!”
“Just a madman talking.”
“I’ve never heard a man speak with such authority. Have you?”
The Lord’s judgment excited them. Hadn’t he felt the same?“Let it come, Lord! Let it come.”
People shouted from all directions.
“Did you hear what the prophet said?”
“Damascus in ruins!”
“That’s a sight I’d like to see.”
When it had to do with judgment upon their enemies, why wouldn’t they celebrate? Why not cheer and shout? The Lord had given them words to savor, visions to delight. They listened to His Words.
Would they keep listening?
Amos ducked down a side street.
“Where is he going?”
“Prophet! Wait! Give us another prophecy.”
Amos remembered other visions the Lord had shown him and ran. Now was not the time. He must wait upon the Lord. He must wait! Some gave chase. Turning down another street and then another, Amos left them behind. Out of breath, his body shook violently. Emotions warred within him—wrath that made him grind his teeth and groan, anguish that brought a torrent of tears. “Lord,Lord!”
The wave of emotion crested and ebbed, leaving him drained. He sank against the wall, squatting on his heels. His staff clattered to the packed ground. Still panting, he rested his arms on his raised knees and bowed his head.
A door opened, and a woman stood staring at him. When he met her gaze, she stepped inside and closed the door.
Children played in the street.
A bird chirped from a sprig of hyssop growing from a high wall.
A man and woman argued across the way.
Tensing at the sound of running feet, Amos stood. Shouts and curses. Excited laughter. Youths ran past. One spilled a few coins. Their sandals echoed as an angry man came tearing around the corner, pausing long enough to snatch up the dropped coins and take after them again.
A lattice window opened above him. Amos looked up as a woman leaned out. Dressed in an expensive Babylonian robe, she sipped from a silver goblet. “What are you doing down there?” Not waiting for an answer, she disappeared and a servant appeared at the window and dumped a bowlful of something. Amos barely managed to evade being covered by household slops. The wealthy woman leaned out again and laughed at him.
Amos found his way to the main gate. A man recognized him and whispered to the elders. He did not stay long enough for anyone to detain him.
Amos found a small cave in the hills where he could spend the night. The next morning, he waited and prayed until God impelled him to return to Bethel where, as soon as he entered the gate, he heard the buzz of whispers.
“He’s back! The prophet is back.”
A young man pressed through the crowd and ran up the street. No one tried to stop Amos or ask questions when he passed through the gate and entered into the city. People followed him to the temple mount and then stood watching, talking behind their hands to one another, eyes eager. He sat on the lowest step of the temple and waited. Someone put a plate down in front of him, and people began putting coins into it. Angry, he kicked it away. With a collective gasp, they drew back and stared. Some quickly retrieved the coins they had offered.
“The priests are coming. . . .”
“The priests . . .”
The young man who had run from the gate came down the steps with two priests. Amos did not stand for them. They murmured to one another and then stood between him and the people.
The taller priest spoke quietly. “You stirred the people yesterday with your prophecy against Damascus.”
Some people edged closer, faces rapt and eager.
Amos looked from them to the priests. He rested his staff across his knees. “These people are easily stirred.”
“We would like to talk with you, Prophet, hear what you have to say.” The tall priest glanced pointedly toward the men and women closing in. “Perhaps you prefer somewhere more private.”
“Ask what you will here and now, though I probably will not be able to answer.”
“What is your name?”
“Amos.” He had never given much thought to his name, but now he wondered if God had caused his parents to give it to him: “burden bearer.” His heart was truly burdened with the task God had given him, burdened even more by the visions he carried in his mind.
“And your village?”
People whispered, murmured.
“You are Judean.”
“Yes, and God has called me here to speak His Word.”
“What else would God have you say to us?”
“I speak in His time, not mine.”
“Your prophecy against Damascus is well received. We all gave thanks to God yesterday. We would have invited you to speak again, but you disappeared. Where did you go?”
“Out into the hills.”
“You should have shelter.”
“The Lord is my shelter.”
“Come, Prophet. Join us inside the temple. We have room for you here. We will worship together.”
Heat filled Amos’s face. He had no intention of being drawn inside that vile place. “I will come and sit here and wait upon the Lord.”
Dark eyes glinted, smooth words were murmured. “As you wish.” They bowed in respect and went back up the steps. The man who had reported Amos’s arrival remained outside. He insinuated himself among the watchers. Two temple guards came down and took positions. Amos smiled faintly.
The morning passed slowly. People drifted away. When Amos was thirsty, he lifted his skin of water to his lips. When he was hungry, he took grain and raisins from his scrip.
The guards sought shade. Others came to take their place.
Amos left as the sun was setting, but he returned the next day and the next, and the next after that. His tongue felt like a weight in his mouth. Day after day, he watched the people of Bethel live their lives, cheat one another, seek the solace of prostitutes, and give their offerings to idols. He waited and prayed. And people forgot about him.
When he came one morning, Philistines stood in the gate. Backs straight, heads high, they spoke to the elders who deferred to them nervously.
Fire flooded Amos’s blood, and the quickening of the Holy Spirit took hold.
“This is what the Lord says.” He strode toward them. “The people of Gaza have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They sent whole villages into exile, selling them as slaves to Edom. So I will send down fire on the walls of Gaza, and all its fortresses will be destroyed.”
Fury spread across the faces of the Philistines. Two drew swords.
Amos blocked one with his club and used his staff to yank the other man around and pitch him to the ground. Swords clattered on the stones. When the fallen warrior tried to rise, Amos slammed his heel on his back. He sent the other crashing against a wall.
“This is what the Lord says!”His voice thundered in the gate. “I will slaughter the people of Ashdod and destroy the king of Ashkelon. Then I will turn to attack Ekron, and the few Philistines still left will be killed.” He lifted his foot and stepped back so the fallen man could scramble to his feet. “Go back!” He drove them from the gate. “Go and take the Word of the Lord with you to your king.”
Pandemonium reigned. A crowd surrounded Amos. People pressed in upon him from all sides. Strangely, he felt no fear, no desire to run away again. Even as he was swept along like a leaf on a stream, he felt calm. The temple of Bethel loomed before him, a gathering of priests waiting. Guards poured down the steps and took Amos into custody while the priests calmed the crowd.
One priest came close and put his hand upon Amos’s arm. “You bring us good news.”
Amos withdrew his arm. “I speak the Word of the Lord.”
The priest’s eyes grew cold, calculating, searching. “As do we.”
Another beckoned. “You must have lodgings within the city.”
Amos held his staff in front of him. “I have lived my life in the fields of the Lord.”
“A man of your importance should live in comfort.”
Someone tugged Amos’s sleeve. “I can give you lodgings.”
“No! Come with me.”
“I have a summer house you can stay in!”
Surprised by such offers, Amos turned to the people. “The Lord has provided me with a place to live.” He headed down the steps.
“Prophet!” one of the priests called out. “Will you give us no answer?”
Amos regarded the group in their finery. “God will answer you.” Turning, he headed across the courtyard. People clustered around him, asking questions, praising him, pleading for another prophecy. They crowded so close to him, he could scarcely move.
“Let him pass!” a priest shouted.
The people retreated enough so he could proceed toward the street leading to the main gate. Guards appeared, and the people quieted. Amos breathed in relief when he left the confines of Bethel. Glancing back, he saw a group of men following him and tried to send them away.
“We just want to talk with you!”
Flustered, needing solitude, Amos headed for the hills. He walked in a seemingly aimless pattern, knowing the city dwellers would grow tired and give up. When the sun began to set, Amos went to the small cave in a hillside where he had left his supplies, and settled down for the night.
Voices whispered outside.
“Why does he live in a cave when he could have a room near the temple?”
“I don’t know.”
Amos pulled his robe up over his head.
Foxes had holes, but it seemed a prophet of the Lord would have no place private to lay his head.
When Amos arose, he found gifts at the mouth of his cave. The first day, there was a small basket of fruit. The second, he found a pouch of roasted grain and a woven coat. He awakened to clinking the third day and came outside to find a bowl and offering of coins. Amos took the tunic and coins with him to Bethel. A man in a worn tunic shivered, waiting for the gate to open. Amos tapped him on the shoulder. When the man turned, Amos held out the coat. “This will keep you warm.”
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Do you mock me? I can’t afford such a coat.”
“I’m giving it to you.”
The man stared at him in surprise and then looked at the coat with longing. Still, he did not raise his hand to take it.
“What’s your name?”
“Why will you not accept the coat, Issachar? You have need of it.”
Issachar became angry. “As soon as I show my face inside the gate, I’ll be accused of stealing it. I’ve lost everything. I’d like to keep from having my hand cut off.”
“I’ll make it clear you came by it honestly.”
“And who are you to speak for me? A stranger. I’ll still lose it.”
“There are those who would take it from me as payment for a debt.”
“Only for a day and then, by law, they must return it.”
Issachar gave a snort of disdain. “No such law prevails here.”
“How much do you owe?”
Issachar told him, and the amount was far less than the offering that had been left in the basket outside Amos’s cave. “Take it.” Amos stood beside him. “We will settle your debt when the gate opens.”
As he walked the streets, he gave a coin to a man without sandals, and another to an aging Nazirite. While buying what he needed in the marketplace, he saw a widow with four children begging for bread. He gave her the rest of what he had and told her to thank God for the provisions.
Each day, he found more gifts left outside his cave dwelling.
The people showed generosity to him, a stranger, and remained blind to the poor of their city. They liked what he had said. They wanted more favorable prophecies and thought these bribes would keep them coming. It did not occur to them that the Word of the Lord was not for hire.
Amos marveled at how God used their attempts to control prophecy to provide for him and even bless a few of the forgotten and impoverished in Bethel.
Still, Amos knew the time was coming when these gift givers and flatterers would turn against him.
“When will you speak again, Prophet?” an official called out as he entered Bethel one day.
“When God gives me the words.”
After a while, no one paid attention to him when he entered Bethel. Even the beggars left him alone, quickly aware that the gifts had stopped and they would receive nothing from his hand. Amos wandered and observed, waiting upon the Lord in the midst of the crowd, thankful he was no longer the center of attention.
He knew it was the calm before the storm.
He spent long hours walking the hills, squatting on his heels or sitting on a boulder to watch the shepherds with their flocks. He was more at home alone than among the well-dressed, well-fed, prosperous crowds.
One day, he walked long enough and far enough that he could see Tekoa. His heart squeezed tight with pain. Leaning on his staff, he pleaded. “Why must I wait, Lord? Why can I not speak all the visions at once and have done with them?” He felt the answer in his soul and bowed his head.
Oh, that he should care so little about people whom God loved so much.
The sun set. Darkness came. Amos looked up and imagined the hand of God flinging stars like shining dust across the heavens. No. He was wrong to think such pagan thoughts, for God had only to utter a word and it was done. Only man had He shaped with His hands, using dust He created to form His most precious and amazing creation. Only man was molded and loved into being, the breath of life in his lungs given by God.
The canopy of night soothed Amos. He felt God’s presence over him. Surely his ancestors had felt the same as they wandered in the wilderness with the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. God might be silent, but He was near—oh, so near—only a breath away. Burdened with the task God had given him, Amos also felt cherished. Wayward, stubborn, contentious as he was, God loved him.
Did He not also love the people of Bethel and Dan, Gilgal, and Beersheba? Wayward, stubborn, sinful though they were?
“Feed My sheep,”God had said.
“Help me see them through Your eyes, Lord. Let me feel what You feel toward Your people so that I might better serve You.”
And suddenly he did. Anguish, rage, passion. A father grieving over a wayward son, crying out to him tocome back to me where you are safe, come back. . . .Judgment thrown down as a hedge to keep that son from plunging over a precipice straight into the arms of death.
Do you not see? Do you not know? I am your salvation.
Amos dropped to one knee, clutching his staff, swaying with the force of emotions. He moaned. “Lord, Lord . . .”
God had called him to be a prophet, and with each day, he surrendered more. For in those moments when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, he wasalive. It was only later when the Lord departed from him that Amos felt the loneliness of his soul. No longer was it enough to know God existed: God heard, saw, and knew him. Amos ached to have God remain indwelled, transforming his mind and heart. He wanted the intimacy to last.
He thought of Elijah taken up to heaven in the flaming chariot, never tasting death, standing now in the presence of the Lord; of Elisha, parting the Jordan River, raising a dead boy. And of Jonah running and hiding, only to be found and made more useful despite his disobedience. Who could doubt the word of a man half digested and vomited on the beach by a fish? Even the hated Assyrians in Nineveh had listened and repented!
For a while anyway.
Amos closed his eyes. “These are Your people, Lord, Your wandering children. You are my Shepherd. Lead me, Lord, so that I might lead them away from death. Help me.”
He would speak the Word of the Lord. But would they come to God’s call upon their hearts and minds?
He already feared he knew the answer. Had not the Lord already shown him what would happen?
How soon men forget the Word of the Lord.
And choose to perish in the midst of God’s patience.
Amos watched a caravan make its way up the hill toward Bethel. His vision blurred, and he saw siege machines, warriors attacking, smoke and fire. He heard screams of terror and pain.
Surging to his feet, he cried out in a loud voice and strode through the orchard. He came out onto the road and raised his staff. “This is what the Lord says: ‘The people of Tyre have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!’”
Camel jockeys shouted profanities at him.
“They broke their treaty of brotherhood with Israel, selling whole villages as slaves to Edom. So I will send down fire on the walls of Tyre, and all its fortresses will be destroyed.”
Animals bayed and paced. Attendants ran back and forth, trying to keep them in line.
Amos ran and placed himself between the caravan and the city. He pointed his staff toward Edom.
“This is what the Lord says: ‘The people of Edom have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!’”
Visitors backed away from him as he cried out.
“They chased down their relatives, the Israelites, with swords, showing them no mercy. In their rage, they slashed them continually and were unrelenting in their anger.”
People lined the walls of Bethel.
“The prophet! The prophet of the Lord speaks!”
“From your mouth to God’s ears!”
“This is what the Lord says.” Amos pointed his staff toward Ammon. “The people of Ammon have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! When they attacked Gilead to extend their borders, they ripped open pregnant women with their swords. So I will send down fire on the walls of Rabbah, and all its fortresses will be destroyed. The battle will come upon them with shouts, like a whirlwind in a mighty storm. And their king and his princes will go into exile together!”
Amos’s lungs filled. His heart rose. He entered the gates, his voice like thunder echoing down the streets.
“This is what the Lord says: ‘The people of Moab have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They desecrated the bones of Edom’s king, burning them to ashes. So I will send down fire on the land of Moab, and all the fortresses in Kerioth will be destroyed. The people will fall in the noise of battle, as the warriors shout and the ram’s horn sounds. And I will destroy their king and slaughter all their princes.’”
“The Lord defends Israel!” men shouted.
“Israel is great!”
Blood on fire with the Spirit of the Lord, Amos came outside the gates once again and cried out against Judah. “This is what the Lord says.” Tears filled his eyes and sorrow, his voice. “The people of Judah have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They have rejected the instruction of the Lord, refusing to obey His decrees. They have been led astray by the same lies that deceived their ancestors. So I will send down fire on Judah, and all the fortresses of Jerusalem will be destroyed.” His voice broke.
The Spirit of the Lord lifted. Amos’s blood cooled. He heard people cheering, shouting from the top of the wall. “Bring on the Day of the Lord!” People rushed from Bethel and clustered around him, their voices like chattering birds. “Let it come! Let it come!”
Only a few appeared to be troubled that the Lord’s judgment had fallen so close to home.
Is it time, Lord? I have given every prophecy but one. Is it time, Lord?
The crowd parted as several priests came toward him. The eldest spoke with cool respect. “Your prophecies please the people.” Tightly spoken words, eyes ablaze with jealousy.
“I speak the Word of the Lord.”
“So we have been told. And it is true you speak with great power, Amos of Tekoa.”
People talked among themselves. “He prophesies against his own country. . . .”
Amos turned away.
The priest quickly caught up with him. “Come.” A command.
Amos ignored it.
The priest spoke with less force. “We will reward you for your words.”
Amos pressed his way through the throng of people and kept walking.
“Where is he going?”
The priest’s voice rose above the din. “We want to hear more of what you have to say to us.”
Angry, Amos faced him. “You hear, but you do not understand.”
People whispered. “What don’t we understand?”
“Shhh. Let him speak.”
“What does he say?”
“Let the Day of the Lord come,” the priest called out. “It’s what we wait for. We are ready for it!”
Others called out in agreement.
Amos looked up at the wall lined with people. “The Day of the Lord will not be as you imagine.”
The people fell silent.
Unable to say more, Amos walked away.
Ducking into the orchard where he had sat all morning, he ran.
Sitting in his cave, Amos pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes.Judah!His throat tightened.Judah!
“Prophet?” Someone stood outside, a dark silhouette against the setting sun. “May I speak with you?”
“Please.” A young voice, broken, questing. “I have to know. Is this judgment upon Judah certain, or will God show mercy upon us?”
Shuddering, vision blurred by tears, Amos rose. When the young man bowed before him, he shouted, “Get off your knees! Am I God that you would bow down to me?”
The young man scrambled to his feet and flinched as though expecting a blow. “You are the Lord’s messenger!”
Shoulders sagging, Amos let out a long sigh, sat, and rested his staff across his knees. “Unwilling messenger.” He scowled at the intruder. “What do you want?”
“Judahwillbe destroyed, ormaybe destroyed?”
Amos struggled with emotion. “If the people repent, perhaps the Lord will show mercy on us.” Amos held out little hope of that happening. Only an invading army seemed to turn men’s hearts back to God.
“I have family in Judah. Uncles, aunts, cousins.”
“I have brothers.” He saw something in the young man’s face that made him soften. “Why are you here? What do you want of me?”
“You are the Lord’s prophet. I want to know. Will not the Lord hear your prayers?”
“The Lord hears, but so far the Lord had said no to everything I’ve asked of Him. Better if you tell your uncles, aunts, and cousins torepent. Tell them to return to the Lord. Prod them. Plead with them. Pray they will listen!”
The young man looked toward Bethel. “The people of Bethel hang on your every word. They love what you have to say.”
Amos leaned back, depressed. “Yes. They do, don’t they?” Because every word that had come from his mouth thus far had proclaimed destruction on their enemies—or competitors.
“Is there no hope for Judah?”
“I told you.Repent!And why are you here in Bethel if you are a Judean?”
“I’m a Levite.”
“All faithful Levites returned to Judah long ago.”
The young man held his gaze. “Some felt impelled to return here.”
“Impelled by God, or self-interest?”
Troubled, the young man bowed his head and didn’t answer.
“Afraid to answer?”
The lad’s eyes were awash with tears. “In truth, I don’t know.” He stood and walked away, shoulders slumped.
Amos went into his cave, sank down, and put his head in his hands.
The Lord told Amos to return to Bethel and repeat the prophecies about the surrounding nations. Amos went, calling out as he entered the city. Crowds gathered eagerly to hear him. The young Levite stood in their midst. Unlike those around him who cheered, he listened intently, troubled rather than jubilant. He didn’t approach Amos again.
Gifts continued to pile up outside the entrance of Amos’s cave. He thanked God for the provisions and gave away everything but the little food he needed.
Each day, Amos preached on the steps of Bethel’s temple. “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors Him.”
The people listened, but did not apply the words to their own lives. Even the priests thought he spoke only of the surrounding nations and Judah to the south.
“Fools make fun of guilt, but the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation with God! Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”
The people clapped at his preaching, nodding and smiling to one another. Was there any nation as religious as Israel? Fervent in worship, they flocked to the temples and shrines, singing and dancing. They poured out offerings. Puffed up with pride and prosperity, they grew smug and self-righteous.Look at us! Look at the evidence of our righteousness!
They had gold in abundance and an army ready to defend them. King Jeroboam II lived in splendor in the capital of Samaria, having succeeded in pushing back the borders to what they had been during the reign of the great King Solomon. Such blessing had to be a sign of God’s approval.
Amos knew better. He preached on the sins of the nations, but no one saw any similarity to the way they thought and lived. They continued to look at the nations around them, rather than into their own hearts.
The trap was set . . . and would soon be sprung.
One afternoon Amos again found the young Levite waiting outside his cave, along with several others. He stood as Amos approached. “May I speak with you?” He spoke more softly. “In private?”
Amos sent the others away. Leaning on his staff, he looked at the young man. “You have not returned to Jerusalem.”
“I spent a week with my relatives in Jerusalem. I told them everything you said.”
“Good.” Amos went inside. “Did they believe you?”
The young man followed him. “No.”
“But you do.”
Amos felt a softening toward this young man. He sat on his pallet and waited for the visitor to speak.
“Why do you live in such a mean place?”
“I would rather live in a cave, than trapped in the city.”
The young man sat tensely. “I came back to explain why we’re here and not in Jerusalem.”
“Confess your reasons to God.”
“God knows, and I want you to understand. There was not land or work enough for everyone in Jerusalem when my grandfather returned. I mean no disrespect, but the families who had lived and served in that district were not willing to step back and make room for others to serve.”
Amos thought of Heled and Joram. The young man’s words held the ring of truth. Like sheep, even the Levites had their butting order, and those long established in Jerusalem might have looked upon the influx of Levites with jaundiced eyes. He could not imagine Heled or others like him willingly giving up any of the benefits of their position, even to a brother in need.
“And I will confess—” the young man bowed his head—“Bethel has always been my home.” He met Amos’s eyes again. “My ancestors were born here.”
“So you believe you belong here?”
“Perhaps God has kept me here for a reason.”
“Do you follow after their ways?”
“Neither my father nor I nor any member of our family has bowed down to the golden calf, nor used the temple prostitutes.”
“But you live comfortably in hypocrisy.”
The young man’s face reddened. “Would you have us live as they do?”
“Do they know you don’t?”
“My father and I grieve over what you said about Judah.”
“Grieving isn’t enough to change God’s mind.” He leaned forward. “When our ancestors rebelled against the Lord in the desert, God was ready to wipe them out and make a dynasty of Moses’ family. Moses pleaded for our salvation, and God changed His mind, withholding His wrath.”
“Then you must pray for Judah!”
Amos nodded. “I have prayed, and will continue to do so, but I amnotMoses.”
“How many prayers will it take? My grandfather and father have prayed for years. I have prayed since I was a boy for Israel to return to God and for the tribes to reunite.” The young man’s eyes filled with tears. “Why is Jerusalem to be judged when Samaria and Bethel and Beersheba wallow in sin? You live here. You must see it even more clearly than I do. But it’s different in Judea. King Uzziah worships the Lord our God and follows the Law. And Judah is to be consumed by fire?”
Lord, he speaks as I did. What is it in us that rejoices at the judgment upon others, while pleading that our sins be overlooked?“You will not be satisfied until everyone is dead. Better judgment should fall here on Israel than Judah. Is that it?”
“No. I did not mean that. I don’t want that anyone should die.”
“Then you are a better man than I. When the Lord first gave me these visions, I felt the same exhilaration I see in these people.Destroy Assyria! Yes, Lord.I see the gloating faces, hear the cruel laughter.Send fire on the fortresses of Philistia and Phoenicia. Yes, yes! Consume Edom with fire. Crush the Ammonites. Wipe out the Moabites!He gave a mirthless laugh. “But Judah?Myhome?Myfamily? We’re better than the rest, aren’t we?” He shook his head. “We haven’t the excuse of ignorance. We know when we turn our backs on God. We make the choice to go our own way. Isn’t that worse than what others do? They don’t even know better.”
“But Jerusalem. The Temple. God resides there!”
Amos shook his head. “No temple is large enough to contain the Lord our God.”
“Perhaps I have seen more of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount than you have. Sin may not be as rampant there yet as it is here, but the Temple of the Lord stands there—if there is any place on earth that should stand firm upon the Law, shouldn’t it be there?”
Amos sighed, weary, heartsick. A year ago, he wouldn’t have cared about what happened to these people. And then he had prayed and God had answered. Now he cared so much that his heart broke every time he thought of Jerusalem, every time he entered the gates of Bethel, every time he looked into the faces of the people who could not stand before the judgment of a righteous God, least of all he. God was holding the nations accountable for what they’d done against His people, but the Lord would also hold His people accountable for the way they live before the nations. God chose them to be His people. He called them out of Egypt to be unique, an example to all the nations. And look how they lived, chasing after worthless idols. Thankless, faithless children. Lost sheep.
“Today, in Bethel, men heard the Word of the Lord against Judah and were silent. Judgment hit close to home this time again, but do they even wonder?”
The young man paled. “Wonder what?”
“If it applies to them. The Lord sees what men do. He hears what they say and how they live. The Lord knows we are like sheep, prone to wander. We cast ourselves into sin and can’t get out. We look for better pastures among the religions of the nations around us and feed on poison. We drink from other men’s wells and are infected with parasites. And still, the Lord sends prophets to call the people back to Him. But do they listen?”
“Yes.” Amos’s muscles relaxed. Why would God send him to Bethel if there was no hope?
“King David said God is faithful. His faithful love endures forever.”
Amos had never given much thought to the word the shepherd-king had used. “His loveendures.”
God put up with their rebellious nature, suffered their rejection, and witnessed their desertion. God grieves over their lack of love. He sent prophet after prophet to call them back to HimselfbeforeHe had to use His rod and staff of discipline. Even then, when discipline had to come, the Lord extended His mighty hand to deliver them again.
But then the cycle would repeat: faith for a generation, then complacency, soon followed by adultery as the people chased after false gods. Man decided how and what he wanted to worship and substituted idols for the living God. Sin took root and spread tendrils of arrogance and pride into every area of life. Eyes became blind to God’s presence, ears deaf to His Word. And the curses came again, often not even recognized for what they were—a call to return to the Lord.
“His faithful love endures forever.”
There were far worse things than discipline.A father who does not discipline his son hates him.The same held true of a nation.
If the northern tribes refused to listen again, God would let them go their own way. They would continue to follow after Jeroboam, the son of Nebat.FOUR
“What are you doing here?” Ahiam glared. “Get away from our stalls! Go back to Israel.”
Amos stood shocked at his brother’s greeting. “I’ve just come from offering my sacrifices to the Lord.”
“Offer them in Bethel, you betrayer.”
Heat surged into Amos’s face. “I betray no one!”
When his brother took a swing at him, Amos blocked it with his staff, resulting in Ahiam’s yelp of pain as he hit the ground. He scrambled up, ready to attack Amos again, but Bani put himself between them.
“People have heard what you’ve been saying in Bethel, Brother. They are not happy.”
“Don’t call him ‘brother’!” Ahiam raged. “He makes nothing but trouble for us. He always has!”
“What trouble have I made?” Amos ground out and then sneered. “Is business down?”
“You! A prophet!” Ahiam laughed derisively. “You look like a beggar in your shepherd’s rags.”
“Better a poor man than a dishonest one.”
With a roar, Ahiam came at him again. Amos hooked his shepherd’s staff around Ahiam’s leg and flipped him onto his back. Bani tried to intercede, but Amos shoved him back. “I told you both before I left that the Lord had given me visions of the nations.” When Ahiam tried to rise, Amos held the end of the staff over him. “You wouldn’t even listen to me!”
Ahiam slapped the shepherd’s staff away and rose, face flushed.
Amos stepped forward. “God sent me to Bethel, Ahiam, and the prophecies are not mine, but the Lord’s.”
“You speak against Judah!” Ahiam spat on the ground. “That’s what I think of you.”
Amos went cold and then hot. “It is not me you spit upon, Brother.”
“Enough!” Bani shouted at them.
Startled, the sheep leapt and moved restlessly in the stalls. Amos went over and spoke softly to the animals. Ahiam raised his hands in frustration.
Bani turned to Amos. “Tell us what’s happened.”
“I tried to tell you. When God called me to prophesy, I resisted.” He looked between them. “You needn’t tell me I’m unworthy. I know better than you both that I am not a learned man. What I know of God, I learned in the pastures and from the stars. God forgive me, I still resist Him.” His mouth worked. “But Imustspeak what the Lord tells me.”
Ahiam brushed himself off. “And we’re supposed to believe He speaks destruction uponus?” He pointed north. “We, who are more faithful than that nation you now call your own?”
“I am Judean.”
“Because God wants it so. The northern tribes are still our brothers, though they wander like lost sheep with wolves for shepherds. We were once one flock!Twelvesons of Jacob,twelvetribes that God made into a nation. Have we all forgotten that?”
“Jeroboam claimed God gave him the ten northern tribes, and look what that usurper did with them!”
“And God sends me to remind them they yet belong to the Lord. Why else would He send me to prophesy other than to confront their sin and call them back to Him?”
“It’s nottheirsin you’ve confronted, is it? You cry down destruction onus! I’ll bet they loved that message. I’ll bet they paid you well.”
Amos shook his head. “Who are we to be so self-righteous? We all sin against the Lord. Our family’s wealth has grown out of it. And it will all turn to dust in our mouths if we don’t repent.”
“Don’t preach at me.” Ahiam flipped his hand, dismissing Amos’s words. “We’ve known you since you were a baby messing yourself.”
“A prophet is never heard in his own home or by his own family.”
“You’re misguided. You’ve been too long in the sun. You’re beginning to bleat like your sheep.”
“Careful what you say, Brother.”
Something in Amos’s voice silenced his brothers.
Bani spread his hands. “Forgive us if we have misunderstood. Tell us of the visions, Amos. Tell us everything.”
“Yes.” Ahiam’s mouth twisted sardonically. “Tell us everything that we might be as wise as you.”
Ignoring his older brother’s sarcasm, Amos told them everything except the final vision he had yet to speak in Bethel.
Ahiam snorted. “Words to feed their pride. That’s what you’re giving them.”
Sorrow filled Amos. “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” He looked up at the Temple, then to the stalls of animals gained by deceit. He turned his gaze from the priests collecting fines to Bani and then to Ahiam. Grief overtook him, and fear for those he loved and could not convince. “Nothing is done in secret. The Lord sees what you do. He hears the words of your mouth. He knows what you hold most dear.”
Ahiam frowned, but said nothing. Amos felt a moment of hope when he saw fear flicker in his brothers’ eyes.
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.
“Make your offerings quickly,” Bani said. “And give them to Elkanan or Benaniah. If Heled sees you, he will try to bar you from the Temple.”
“Has he caused you trouble?”
“He is the one who told us of your prophecies against Judah.”
“Is he unwilling to confess his sins before the Lord and repent?”
“It is no laughing matter, Amos!”
“Do you see me laughing?” He grasped Bani’s arm. “Take the Lord’s word to heart, Brother, before time runs out. I spoke the truth. Judah is judged! Repentance may bring mercy for a time, but you know as well as I how quickly men return to sin to make their own way in the world.” Ahiam had given himself over to profits.
“And what would I do?”
“Be a shepherd again.”
“Mishala would not be happy as a shepherd’s wife, Amos.”
“She would prefer it to being a widow. Without you, how will she live? How will she provide food for your children?” Many widows were forced to turn to prostitution for food money.
Amos gave his offerings and worshiped before the Lord. He spent the entire day inside the Temple, watching and listening. Not all the priests were like Heled, but the few who were had done great damage to the many who came with sincere hearts to worship the Lord.
I must keep my mind and heart fixed upon You, Lord, and not upon those who would lead me astray.How long had he allowed bitterness against Heled to rule his thinking?
He spent the night at his home in Tekoa. Eliakim gave him good reports about Ithai and Elkanan. They had faithfully obeyed Amos’s instructions, and they had not traded spring lambs with Joram.
Amos walked with Eliakim to the boundary of his family’s ancestral land. “If God allowed, I would stay.”
Eliakim turned to him. “Will you return soon?”
“I will return to Jerusalem as often as the Law requires.”
“I meant come home to stay. Here, in Tekoa.”
“I know what you meant, Eliakim, but I don’t know. I can only hope—” his throat tightened—“one day, perhaps, my friend. Look after everything as though I were here with you.”
Eliakim bowed low. “May the Lord protect you.”
“The eyes of the Lord are upon all the people, Eliakim. All His people.” Judah and Israel might be God’s chosen people, but the Lord rules the nations as well. Empires rise and fall at His command. Amos put his hand on Eliakim’s shoulder. “God will strongly support the one whose heart is completely His.” He looked back toward Jerusalem and thought of Bani and Ahiam. “Terrible days are coming.”
He walked away, shoulders slumped with the burden of the message he carried to Israel, the same message only a few in Judah had heeded.
The waiting was over.
Amos knew it the moment he entered the gates of Bethel. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he saw everything differently. The beautiful woven veil of wealth had been lifted to reveal the corruption and foulness hidden beneath. Everywhere he looked, he saw sin.
His anger mingled with sorrow. He saw his own sin, too—his pride, his aloofness. He had withheld his love. Now, he walked among the people of Israel as he had his sheep, seeing both vulnerable lambs and dangerous predators.
The wealthy fed off the poor, stripping them of robes and sandals as collateral for loans that could never be repaid, while their wives lounged on Egyptian pillows in their second-story summer houses decorated with inlaid ivory furniture. Men hired to build in the city were cast out, their wages withheld by the wealthy to buy drink and delicacies.
The few men who dedicated themselves to the Lord as Nazirites were persecuted. Ordered to show their fealty to King Jeroboam, they drank wine before the elders who knowingly forced them to break their vows to God.
Everyone ran to do evil on that mountain with its golden calf. Incense smoke curled up from roofs. Mediums who claimed they could interpret dreams sat before the temple, grabbing their share of the offerings brought to the royal sanctuary. Idol makers thrived. These people were passionate for divination, and poured themselves out to wanton living and idol worship.
And yet God loved these lost people of Israel the way Amos loved and cared for his sheep. The truth shamed him and warmed his heart at the same time. And just as Amos sometimes found it necessary to wound a straying sheep in order to save it, so God must now discipline His straying people. If only they would listen, hear, before it was too late.
With new resolve, Amos strode up the street toward the temple of Bethel. “Come! Listen to the message that the Lord has spoken!”
“The prophet has returned!”
“Speak to us, Prophet!”
“Bring on the Day of the Lord!”
“We have been waiting for it to happen!”
“The nations will bow down beforeus!”
The excitement grew as Amos mounted the temple steps. He stopped halfway up and faced the people who stood eager to hear his words, certain he would proclaim continued prosperity and blessing. They nudged one another, gleeful, proud, stuffed with self-assurance. The square filled with excited people, all come to hear how God’s wrath would be poured out on others. It was sin God hated, and here before him were a thousand sinners who believed they stood on firm foundations. They knew nothing.
Feed My sheep. . . .
Amos raised his staff. “This is what the Lord says: ‘The people of Israel have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!’”
“What is he saying about Israel?”
People murmured. People shifted. Some drew back slightly and began talking among themselves.
Amos pointed toward the priests gathered at the entrance of the temple. “They sell honorable people for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals. They trample helpless people in the dust and shove the oppressed out of the way.”
A rumble began as people talked—confused, disappointed, angry.
Amos pointed toward the side streets and the temple brothels. “Both father and son sleep with the same woman, corrupting My holy name. At their religious festivals, they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security. In the house of their god, they drink wine bought with unjust fines.”
Faces flushed. Eyes narrowed. Mouths curled.
Amos threw his arms wide and cried out, “But as My people watched, I destroyed the Amorites, though they were as tall as cedars and as strong as oaks. I destroyed the fruit on their branches and dug out their roots. It was I who rescued you from Egypt and led you through the desert for forty years, so you could possess the land of the Amorites. I chose some of your sons to be prophets and others to be Nazirites.”
Amos looked into dark, pitiless eyes. “‘Can you deny this, My people of Israel?’ asks the Lord.”
He pointed to one, then another, and another. Faces hardening, they stared back.
He raised his staff again. “So I will make you groan like a wagon loaded down with sheaves of grain.” Amos continued pointing as he came down the steps. “‘Your fastest runners will not get away. The strongest among you will become weak. Even mighty warriors will be unable to save themselves. The archers will not stand their ground. The swiftest runners won’t be fast enough to escape. Even those riding horses won’t be able to save themselves. On that day the most courageous of your fighting men will drop their weapons and run for their lives!’ says the Lord.”
People cried out from every side, some in fear, others in rage.