Why Scholars don’t Understand Amos? The Gospel.

Most scholars agree with Julius Wellhausen that the conclusion to the book of Amos (Amos 9:11-15) is not authentic and was not written by Amos. The reason they believe it cannot be authentic is that the tone of Amos’ message changes drastically from merciless judgment to merciful blessing. He spends nine and half chapters aggressively promising his wrath to Israel, and then all of a sudden the tone changes to grace and restoration. Wellhausen’s famous quote which poetically gives the reasoning for his argument is that the conclusion is “roses and lavender instead of blood and iron…After he has just surpassed widely all his earlier menaces, he cannot suddenly break off their point, he cannot pour out of the cup of Yahweh’s wrath finally milk and honey.” The reason why scholars have accepted the conclusion of Wellhausen is actually quite simple and has nothing to do with textual form, grammar, syntax, ancient culture, background, or anything else. The reason scholars do not understand the book of Amos and its conclusion is that they do not understand the gospel. They say God cannot be wrathful for an entire book and then quickly turn around and promise hope and blessing. He cannot preach through Amos the judgment, exile, and death of Israel, and then turn around and talk about the resurrection and blessing of Israel in the same place. Hope emerges out of death. That is the Gospel! That is the message of Amos. Amos teaches that Israel will die under inescapable judgment. Yahweh is the one God who rules the whole earth, and he treats all sinners the same, death. Yet, death leads ultimately to resurrection and the fulfillment of the promises to David. Amos tells us that judgment is not for Israel alone, but also for the nations (Amos 1-2). But, resurrection and blessing is not for Israel alone either, it is for the nations (Amos 9).

Amos spends most of his book describing God’s wrath against Israel for her sins and violation of Torah. He begins condemning the sins (crimes against humanity, not specific violations of Torah) of the nations that surround Israel and promising his judgment on them. Then, he moves to the sins of Israel and his wrath towards them. He says the bravest warriors in the Israelite army who are charged with saving others will not even be able to save themselves (2:14-16). He says in 3:12 that any deliverance God performs for Israel will only be like a shepherd taking the piece of sheep’s ear from the mouth of a lion who has already consumed the whole body. Chapter 5 is the funeral of Israel. Amos takes up a “lamentation,” a funeral song, against Israel. Israel has fallen and will “rise” no more. Israel is forsaken by God. This judgment is described as the Day of the Lord (cf. Joel 2), when God will pour out his wrath on his enemies. He tells Israel not to think that she will escape (Amos 5:18). He says that in the day he pours out his wrath on Israel the sun will go down at noon and the feasts will be turned into mourning, mourning for an only son (8:9-10). In chapter 9 he says that Israel cannot escape his wrath and will be killed (9:8). All of Amos is pervaded by judgment and wrath. Then, he all of the sudden switches and says “I will raise up the booth of David that has fallen…” He talks about Israel possessing the nations and great agricultural blessing that will come to Israel (Amos 9:11-15).

Scholars say this is not appropriate. But, this is the Gospel. The judgment that God promises to Israel ultimately falls on Jesus at the cross. He is the true Israel (cf. Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1). He is the one who takes on God’s wrath for the sins of Israel and the whole world. As John 11:49-52 says, “And…Caiaphas…said, ‘…it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish (cf. Amos 9:8).’ Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.” Jesus is Israel who suffered the wrath of God. He was the one of whom it was said “he saved others but he cannot save himself” (cf. Amos 2:14-17). He was the one who was forsaken (cf. Amos 5:2). That was the Day of the Lord when the sun blacked out at midday, the feast of Passover was turned into mourning, and the only Son of the Father was cut off (cf. Amos 8:9-10). Then, the Son of David was raised up on the third day (cf. Amos 9:11), giving hope to Israel and the nations (cf. Amos 9:11-15; John 11:52).

Amos begins with the punishment of the nations, and then he describes the death of Israel. Amos ends with the death and resurrection of Israel, then hope for the nations. Judgment is merciless and inescapable because sin is rebellion, but there is hope for restoration after judgment when the fallen booth of David is resurrected (cf. 2 Sam. 7; Ezek. 37). Indeed, Yahweh promises destruction on Israel, but it will not be ultimate (Amos 9:8). Scholars are perplexed at how Amos can consistently preach doom, and then turn within a few verses to hope. One needs only to read the gospels to see the doom of Friday turn into the hope of Sunday. In Acts 15, at the Jerusalem Council, James tells us that Amos 9 is fulfilled (the aspects of edenic restoration promised in Amos 9 await fulfillment) in the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church through the Gospel. How does the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church demonstrate the renewal and resurrection of David’s kingdom? The nations are submitting to a Jewish King. Gentiles in Louisville, Beijing, New Delhi, and all over the world are bowing the knee to David’s Son. That submission means blessing for the nations. Our prayer is that those in darkness all over the world who cannot understand the message of wrath, justice, mercy, and grace contained in the gospel will have their eyes opened to see. I pray that some OT scholars will understand this too.


[This post has not dealt with some of the specific exegetical concerns in Amos, specifically Amos 9. I will soon post an exegetical paper I did on Amos 9 for those who want more details to support the arguments I am making. Also, a sermon on the Gospel and Amos is available at the Baptist 21 podcast.]