Amos had the difficult task of preaching a message of judgment to upper-middle-class folk who were enjoying a period of political stability. During the reigns of Jeroboam II in Israel (2 Kgs 14:23-29) and Uzziah in Judah (2 Kgs 15:1-7), the Lord was merciful, granting socioeconomic success despite the unfaithfulness of His people. During Amos’s short ministry, this layman turned prophet (Amos 1:1) confronted God’s people for their lack of faithfulness to covenant standards; they claimed to be the people of the Lord but did not practice righteousness. The people ignored Amos’s messages as the ranting of a fanatic because they were secure and at ease. Could anything really harm such a prosperous people, they wondered. Amos countered that the Day of the Lord was at hand.
Amos confronted the hypocrisy of his audience. The people practiced temple worship while simultaneously participating in idolatry. Instead of pure religion and righteous relationships, Israel went through the motions of temple life, made idols to the gods of the nations, and took advantage of one another. Amos warned his audience that if they remained in their hardened state, the Day of the Lord—which they hoped would bring them permanent victory over their enemies and establish them above the nations—would actually “be darkness and not light. It will be like a man who flees from a lion only to have a bear confront him” (Amos 5:18b-19). On that Day, the Lord would reject empty adherence to temple ordinances. Amos spoke the word of the Lord, “Even if you offer Me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will have no regard for your fellowship offerings of fattened cattle” (Amos 5:22). Rather, the Lord would be pleased to see justice flowing like water and righteousness like an unfailing stream (Amos 5:24). Because of Israel’s hypocrisy and idolatry, Amos announced that the Lord would send His people into exile even beyond Damascus (Amos 5:27). Israel’s failure had been predicted by Moses (Deut 31:24-30) and in time the Lord would remove His people from the land because of their idolatry (2 Kings 17).
Amos’s condemnation of Israel contributed to the storyline of Scripture. When Stephen defended himself before the Jewish leadership in Acts 7, he cited Amos 5:25-27 as evidence that Israel consistently rejected God’s messengers. Stephen quoted multiple Old Testament passages as he reviewed Israel’s history. He began by noting God’s call on Abraham (Acts 7:3; Gen 12:1) and the covenant God made with the patriarch (Acts 7:6-7; Gen 15:13-14). Stephen reminded his Jewish opponents that an Israelite rejected Moses because Moses killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew (Acts 7:27-28, 35; Exod 2:14). Moses then fled to Midian and in the desert, the Lord appeared to Moses and commissioned him to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt (Acts 7:32-34; Exod 3:5-15). When Moses wrote the law, he prophesied that the Lord would raise up a prophet like him and that the people should listen to him (Acts 7:37; Deut 18:15). But Israel had rejected Moses—as evidenced by their idolatry with the golden calf in the wilderness (Acts 7:40; Exod 32:1, 23). And Israel’s spiritual character had not changed during the intervening period from the exodus to the time of Amos’s ministry. When Amos indicted his audience for their idolatry in Amos 5:22-23, he was condemning God’s people for demonstrating the same spiritual dullness that led their ancestors to worship idols in the wilderness. By the point that Stephen took up Amos 5:25-27 in Acts 7:42-43, Stephen’s thesis was just rising to the surface: Israel had consistently rejected God’s messengers and that is why they resisted the Holy Spirit and rejected Jesus Christ as the true temple of God.