The righteous judgment of a holy God is a major theme of the Bible and one we dare not ignore. But the God who is Judge also is a merciful and gracious Savior, who offers to all who trust Him sure hope for the future. In the dark prophecies of Amos, we find the light of hope.
The Justice and Mercy of God
We tend to think of mercy and justice as mutually exclusive—you either get justice or you get mercy, but you are certainly not going to get both at the same time. The truth is, justice and mercy are attributes of God, and they are never in conflict in Him. God always acts justly, but He is also merciful. How does that work? Well, the final three chapters in the book of Amos reveal these divine qualities in perfect balance.
In our brief study through the prophecy of Amos, we have seen that Amos has focused on coming judgment—especially of the northern kingdom of Israel. That theme continues in these final chapters, where God’s revelation is given to His prophet through five different visions. Here’s verse 1 of chapter 7:
This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout . . . after the king’s mowings.
This first vision describes God sending a plague of locusts upon Israel. The “latter growth [that] was just beginning to sprout” is a reference to the second crop in late summer. The “king’s mowings” refers to the king taking the first cutting as a tax to support the government. That means the loss of this later crop will leave the people “without any food till the next harvest.”
This second crop is the one Amos sees destroyed by the locusts sent by God. He knows how serious this will be, and he prays in verse 2, saying, “O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand?” How are we gonna survive? he wonders.
In response to his prayer, God withholds this judgment. As one writer put it, “Prayer had made it possible for God justly to spare Israel in answer to it.”
Now in the second vision, given in verse 4, Amos sees God “calling for a judgment by fire.” This is a drought that exhausts the water supplies and leaves the land barren and unable to produce crops. Again, Amos prays, and again God withdraws this judgment.
Not only do these first two visions reveal the heart of the prophet, who sees these forms of judgment as too much for Israel to bear, but they also reveal the mercy of God, who is willing to allow more time for His people to repent.
In verse 7 we come to the third vision, as Amos sees the Lord holding a plumb line against a wall. A plumb line is a piece of string with a weight at the end of it. It is held up against a wall to determine whether it is standing perfectly upright. Sometimes you can tell by looking that the fence post you just planted is crooked; sometimes you need to use a plumb line.
The Lord says, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them” (verse 8). He already knows the nation is crooked—it is not standing upright. Like a crooked wall or fence post, God simply has to pull it down and start over. And in verse 9 the Lord says here He is going to pull down the house of Jeroboam, Israel’s king, as well as the corrupt places of worship.
There is no prayer from Amos this time. God’s judgment is inevitable.
The remainder of chapter 7 then breaks away from the visions to record an encounter Amos has at Bethel, one of the centers of Israel’s false worship. Amaziah is the priest in charge there, and he has heard these prophecies of Amos. But this priest is crooked too, and he reports to the king that Amos is a traitor conspiring against the king.
When Amos shows up at Bethel, Amaziah tells him to move on to Judah and “eat bread” there (verse 12). In essence, he is saying, “Go make a living off prophesying to Judah, and leave us alone here in Israel.”
He even warns Amos in verse 13 to “never again prophesy at Bethel,” because this is where the king worships. This is really a threat on the life of Amos.
Well, Amos is no pushover. He answers that he is not some professional prophet. He is not even the son of a prophet. He says in verse 14, “I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs.” He was just a farmer and a fig picker. Now notice verse 15: “But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophecy to my people Israel.’”
Amos is saying, “I am not some fancy prophet for hire, and I did not come from a long line of prophets; but God called me to deliver His word.” And frankly, beloved, that is what we need today—fewer professionals in the pulpits and more God-ordained prophets who will deliver His word faithfully.
In chapter 8 we have the fourth vision, as the Lord shows Amos a basket of summer fruit. The meaning is given in verse 2: “The end has come upon my people Israel.” As the gathering of the summer fruit marked the end of the harvest, so Israel’s end is fast approaching.
God gives Amos four pictures that describe what is coming for Israel: an earthquake (verse 8), darkness (verse 9), a funeral (verse 10), and a famine (verses 11-14)—and by the way, this is not a famine of bread and water but of the “words of the Lord.”
The fifth and final vision is given in the ninth chapter of Amos. In verse 1, the Lord is seen “standing beside the altar,” that is, the altar in Bethel. When He strikes the tops of the columns, the entire temple collapses on all those gathered there in idolatrous worship. Then those who survive this building collapse are killed by the sword.
The point is that none of these idolaters are going to escape God’s judgment. Those who are carried into exile in Assyria will die there. Why? Because the Lord says, “I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good” (verse 4).
Beloved, this is the justice of God. Unrepentant sinners who choose other gods, even if they are among God’s chosen people Israel, must be held accountable.
But even in this scene of justice, there is a glimpse of God’s mercy. In verse 8 we read these words:
“Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord.”
The nation will be destroyed and sent into exile, but those who follow after God will be preserved as a remnant.
Then after all these words of condemnation, warning, and judgment—which were necessary—Amos shifts back in verse 11 to the promise of Israel’s future restoration. Here we see the glory of God’s grace and mercy, working hand in hand. We also see His faithfulness in keeping His promise to Abraham, so that a repentant people will one day become a great nation and enjoy the blessings of God in the land of promise.
These last verses of chapter 9 look ahead to the time when Israel’s Messiah, Jesus the Redeemer, returns and reigns on earth.
Yes, God is just. His holy justice demands that those who defy Him and choose their sin over the Savior will ultimately face His wrath. But God is also merciful. He patiently delays His judgment and waits for people to repent.
Perhaps God is waiting today for you to repent. He is giving you one more day, one more opportunity to turn from your idols and selfish desires and ask Him for His forgiveness, His mercy, His grace. Do that today, and you will never need to fear the justice of God.
 Thomas E. McComiskey, “Amos” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 7, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Zondervan, 1985), 321.
 Charles L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Moody Press, 1990), 112.
 Ibid., 115.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament Prophets (David C. Cook, 2002), 366.