Amos 8:1–2 - Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, there was a basket of summer fruit. 2And He said, "What do you see, Amos?" And I said, "A basket of summer fruit." Then the Lord said to me, "The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer." Read Amos 8.
For most of us the words "a basket of summer fruit" convey a pleasant picture. What could be more delightful than a basket full of delicious red cherries, juicy plums and perfectly ripe peaches? But for Amos, the vision of summer fruit was not a pleasant sight. In the scorching heat of the Middle East, summer fruit is fully ripe or over-ripe fruit. Amos saw a basket of fruit that was becoming brown and soft and squishy! Ugh! Why did God show Amos a vision of soon-to-be-rotten fruit? The basket of overly ripe fruit was an object lesson that represented the nation of Israel. The people of Israel had turned away from the Lord and were now ripe for judgment. God had been incredibly long-suffering and patient with His people but they refused to respond to His grace. They had turned a deaf ear to the warnings which God had sent them through the prophets. Now there was no hope of recovery. As the basket of fruit indicated the end of the summer season, so Israel had arrived at the end of her national existence. As the ripening process in the fruit could not be reversed, so the moral and spiritual deterioration in Israel had passed the "point of no return." As a basket of rotten fruit must be emptied and the fruit thrown away, so the corrupt nation would soon be dispersed from the land and scattered abroad. The "summer fruit" prophecy of judgment literally took place about 30 years after Amos received this vision. Amos lived in a day when the land of Israel was divided into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom, Israel (10 tribes), with its capital at Samaria and the southern kingdom, Judah (2 tribes), with its capital at Jerusalem. The prophecies of Amos were directed primarily at the northern kingdom of Israel. In fulfillment of these prophecies, Samaria fell to the invading Assyrian armies in 722 BC. The scattering of the captives and the takeover of the land were so thorough that no trace of the northern 10 tribes of Israel exists today. Jews today trace their roots to the southern kingdom of Judah. It should be pointed out that because many individuals of the so-called "lost 10 tribes of Israel" had migrated south to live in the kingdom of Judah before the northern kingdom was conquered, all 12 tribes of Israel are represented within the Jewish people today. These migrations occurred on several occasions before the fall of Samaria. (See 2 Chronicles 11:13–17 and 15:8–12 as examples.) The Kingdom of Judah was conquered when Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, but the Jews were preserved as a race throughout their Babylonian captivity. They were re-established in their homeland about 70 years later under the Persian Empire and existed as a nation until 70 AD, when they were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Since that time, while Jews have intermarried with peoples wherever they have settled, they have been miraculously preserved as a racially distinct people. The awesome and conclusive nature of the fulfillment of Amos' prophetic vision (v3) should make us ask ourselves some sobering questions. If God were to give us a vision of a basket of fruit representing our own country, how ripe would the fruit be? Let's make the question even more personal. What kind of fruit would I see if God gave me a vision of my own life right now? Before we look further at the reasons for God's judgment of Israel, let us look at the prophet Amos himself. Amos was born and raised in the southern kingdom of Judah in a little one-horse town called Tekoa (not far from Bethlehem). He was not a trained preacher. He had not attended one of the schools of the prophets. He was a breeder of sheep and was in the business of dressing sycamore trees. (See 1:1 and 7:14–16.) But God called Amos to be a "foreign missionary" to the northern kingdom of Israel and Amos responded to the call out of secular employment. Seminary training, or even the advantages of a formal education, are not necessities when God calls us for service! Amos was available and God called him. Those are the crucial points. Are we available and ready to obey God's call, even if it means a complete change in our lives? And are we called by God, not "called" by some personal desire or dream? The fact that Amos was called by God did not mean that he had smooth sailing in his ministry! He was falsely accused of conspiring against the king and told to go home (7:10–13). We can imagine that Amos may have had some doubts about his call at this point! Let's not be surprised if we hear the same discouraging catcalls and misinterpretations from the very people we are trying to serve. Just remember that problems with people are not necessarily an indication that you have made a mistake about God's call. It is very easy, when you're experiencing rough sailing, to become discouraged and to wrongly assume that you're not where God wants you. Don't throw in the towel! Since when does the Bible say that if we're doing God's will we'll be guaranteed smooth sailing?! In verses 4–6, Amos gives the specific reasons why God had to bring judgment upon the nation of Israel. Lack of concern for the needy, love for money and cheating for material gain were the sins of which Israel was guilty. By using unethical business practices the wealthy were bankrupting the poor and forcing these helpless people to sell themselves as slaves (v4). The unscrupulous rich were buying these slaves for as little as a pair of sandals! The poor were sold inferior wheat that was not fit for human consumption (v 6). The wealthy people had an outward veneer of religion but they were riddled with hypocrisy (v 5). While going through the motions of keeping the holy feasts and passovers, the businessmen couldn't wait for the special religious days to be over so that they could return to making money! In fact, making money dishonestly was the name of the game (v 5). The greedy merchants cheated the needy by making the bushel container smaller, or by increasing the shekel weight that the poor had to pay, or by using unbalanced scales. The sins of spiritual idolatry and sexual immorality were also being practiced in Israel at this time. (See Amos 2:7, 4:4, 5:5 as well as 8:14, for example, and recognize that Dan, Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba were locations of pagan shrines where religious prostitution was practiced.) Our contemporary Christian standards would perceive idolatry and sexual immorality as being "more sinful" and more worthy of God's judgment, but it was the social injustices in Israel which God specifically condemned in the vision of the basket of summer fruit! In verse 7 we read that the Lord swore solemnly that these social sins would not go unpunished! How do we stand in reference to social justice? As a nation, we certainly need to examine ourselves. Our record is far from perfect. While we pride ourselves on being a country that always helps the underdog, aren't we often guilty of unjust laws and practices? What about our abortion laws and the rights of the unborn? Does the unborn child not classify as a needy and defenseless person? To touch on another area, we must admit that usually the dollar rather than the Bible determines the level of social justice across our land. How many payoffs and political deals, for example, are being made right now? How many landlords live in luxury in the suburbs, while their tenants live in urban squalor? Only the tip of the iceberg gets exposed through the media! And what kind of social justice is being conveyed nationally by a hypocritical "religious industry" that accommodates more than one corrupt, money-grabbing individual? We don't have to look far to see that as a nation we have a long way to go to come up to the biblical standards of social justice. But what about ourselves as individuals? It's easy to pinpoint the social sins of the nation, but how do we personally measure up to the biblical standards of social justice? Do wereally care about the poor and needy? Is social justice for the down-trodden around us as important to us as our own comfortable standard of living? Would we take in an unwed mother or a teenager who was trying to overcome a drug problem? Do we care enough to sponsor a needy refugee family? Would we take on the responsibility of personally caring for a "stranded" widow or orphan (James 1:27)? Would we consider helping just one of the 25 million individuals in our country who cannot read the Bible because they are functionally illiterate? Let's face it! Like the individuals of ancient Israel, we too are generally more interested in money and personal comfort than social justice. We may mouth our token support of social justice but do we put our money where our mouths are? If we do not, then directly or indirectly we participate in a system that is largely unconcerned and uncaring about the sins of social injustice. Again the question comes to mind: What kind of fruit would I see in the basket if God were to give me a vision of my life right now? From verse 8 to the end of the chapter the consequences of Israel's social sins are pronounced. First of all, the land itself would suffer (vs8–9). The catastrophic figures of an earthquake, the flooding of the Nile and an astronomical disturbance are all used to describe the coming devastation of the land of Israel. Was this prophecy fulfilled? Ever since the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, the land that was once so abundantly productive has suffered greatly. Reduced rainfall, unconcerned inhabitants and the ravages of many conquering armies have caused the land to waste away until modern times. The fact that Jesus used similar language to describe the events preceding His second coming may indicate that this prophecy of Amos also speaks of the end time. (See Matthew 24:27–30.) But there is certainly a present-day application in these verses. Why is our own land suffering from such problems as acid rain, smog, polluted water supplies and radioactive contamination? Could it be that we are more interested in big bucks and personal convenience than in the welfare of the land and all our citizens?! In verse 10 a second consequence of Israel's social sins is stated. Joyous occasions would come to an end. When the Assyrians overran the kingdom of Israel it was a time of great suffering. Family and social life were completely destroyed and many lost their lives as a result of the atrocities of the cruel Assyrians. Loss of joy is always a consequence of sin--any sin. The sins of social injustice will always bring their joyless consequences in due time. Why does our country suffer today with racial tension? Are we not reaping the harvest of the seeds of social injustice which were planted many years ago? By the way, practicing social justice is not the same as preaching a social gospel! A final consequence of Israel's social sins is given in verses 11-14. They would experience an unsatisfied spiritual hunger. The accuracy of this prophecy may be seen even today in the land of Israel. The people are in spiritual darkness. Many of them are very religious but their spiritual appetite is unsatisfied. Social injustice invariably brings spiritual famine--to a nation or to an individual. When we are selfishly concerned about our own interests and couldn't care less about the crying needs of the less fortunate, we look forward to a barren spiritual life. Are you spiritually hungry right now? Do you have the "spiritual blahs"? Do you seem to be getting nothing out of your study of the Bible? Look around you! Find an area in which you can use your time and abilities and money to work out some social justice. Opportunities to witness for Christ will open up, the Bible will come alive, and your whole life will become more exciting! Praise God, the prophecies of Amos do not end with the vision of the basket of summer fruit! At the end of the book of Amos there is a vision of future blessing—undeservedblessing (9:11–15). God is so gracious! Although He had to judge the nation of Israel for her sins, He was willing to forgive and forget. There would be a future faithful nation of Israel. The land and the people would be fruitful once again! How thankful we should be that our God gives visions of future blessing as well as visions of summer fruit!