Calamities and Disasters—Amos Provides Insight
WHILE workers were removing bodies from the earthquake-demolished church in Balvano, Italy, priest Salvatore Pagliocchi lamented: “How can I explain to these people that God decided to take their loved ones during a Mass?”—Liverpool Daily Post, November 25, 1980.
Have you noted that people often feel that God is responsible for today’s calamities and disasters? But the Bible reveals that the God of love is not deliberately causing the many floods, forest fires, earthquakes and other such calamities today. (1 John 4:8) Often these are freak effects of the earth’s natural forces. Man, though, must accept some of the responsibility, for he builds towns on flood plains or on mountainsides in earthquake-prone areas.
Yet calamities, including earthquakes with great loss of life, were foretold in the Bible for our time. While not personally causing these things, God foresaw their coming. The small Bible book of Amos provides insight into God’s ability to foresee coming disasters and offers us some timely warnings that we should consider.
Amos was a Hebrew living in Tekoa, a small town some 10 miles (16 km) south of Jerusalem. He might have seemed a most unlikely candidate to be a prophet and to deliver a judgment message. Why?
Some men could claim that their father had been a prophet or that they had associated with a society known as “the sons of the prophets.” (2 Ki. 2:3; 4:1) Not Amos. When challenged by an influential priest in the northern kingdom, Amos replied:
“I was not a prophet, neither was I the son of a prophet; but I was a herdsman and a nipper of figs of sycamore trees. And Jehovah proceeded to take me from following the flock, and Jehovah went on to say to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’”—Amos 7:14, 15.
So Amos was not a wealthy owner of herds or fields. He was a mere worker, caring for sheep on the grazing grounds of Judea and doing seasonal work puncturing an inferior type of fig to make them sweeter. Yet, even if Amos’ background was not impressive, his message, delivered under the guidance of God’s spirit, certainly was.
He prophesied sometime between the years 829 and 803 B.C.E., during the period when Jeroboam II ruled in the northern kingdom of Israel and Uzziah was king in Judah to the south. Amos said that the vision occurred “two years before the earthquake.” (Amos 1:1) Historian Josephus says that there was an earthquake when Uzziah impiously tried to offer incense in the Holy of Jehovah’s temple. But it seems that it was earlier in Uzziah’s reign when there occurred the earthquake that Amos mentioned, one so severe that Zechariah mentioned it too.—2 Chron. 26:16–27:1; Zech. 14:5.
Amos became a prophet at a time when things might have seemed to be settled and going well. With God’s support Uzziah in the south had enjoyed military successes. Security appeared to prevail in the northern kingdom, too. Jeroboam had restored Israel’s borders to their former extent, and the Assyrian war machine that had affected Syria did not yet seem to threaten Israel.—2 Ki. 14:23-28.
CORRUPT AND IN LINE FOR CALAMITY
However, all was not as pleasant and promising as it appeared. Calamity was ahead for Israel, particularly at the hands of the Assyrians. Jehovah God chose Amos, sending him from the solitude of Judea to the northern kingdom of Israel, there to proclaim a judgment message.
As you read the short book of Amos, you can perceive some of the conditions existing in Israel that gave rise to Jehovah’s sending of Amos. You could summarize the situation as: Prosperity and dissipation.
The carefree external prosperity of many in Israel marked them for judgment. The rich lived in idle luxury. There were summer houses and winter houses, some built of expensive hewn stones. Archaeological discoveries have confirmed Amos’ report that the wealthy had ivory inlays or decorations on their ornate couches. They downed fancy wine, not by the cupful but by the bowlful, and self-indulgently pampered themselves with the choicest of oils and food.—Amos 3:12, 15; 5:11; 6:4, 6.
How did these wealthy Israelites get and keep their riches? Through injustice, oppression and evil practices. They selfishly cheated the poor, giving a short measure when selling grain (poor quality or refuse grain at that) and using deceptive weights. They did not hesitate to sell the poor into slavery over minor debts; nor did they return to the poor needed garments that had been given as a pledge.—Amos 2:6, 8; 8:4-6.
Such corruption was merely part of their disregard for God’s way. There was much more. With contemptuous disrespect for Jehovah, both father and son would have sex relations with the same woman. The Nazirites’ abstinence from wine must have been a rebuke for the sensuous, luxurious ways of the rich; so these tried to make the Nazirites break their integrity. The pure God thus hated the hypocritical tithing, sacrifices and ritual feasts of the rich.—Amos 2:7, 11, 12; 4:4, 5; 5:21.
God replied to Israel’s moral and religious decay by sending Amos’ message of impending calamity. But Amos also had words of comfort and hope.
AMOS’ CALAMITOUS MESSAGE
The book opens with judgments against surrounding nations. Damascus (Syria), Gaza (Philistia), Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab have mistreated God’s people, sometimes in ways that violated normal human conscience. The preview of judgment includes Judah. What is the point? If all these surrounding nations face judgment, how could Israel, whose guilt is aggravated by disregard for God’s past acts of care, hope to escape?—Amos 1:1–2:16.
Every effect has a cause, and the cause of Amos’ prophesying is Jehovah; Amos would be afraid not to prophesy. (Amos 3:1-8) Though not mentioning Assyria, Amos assures the Israelites that an adversary will come against their pleasureloving nation. (Amos 3:9-15) Israel did not respond to God’s past reproofs. So Amos warns: “Get ready to meet your God.” Yes, they must face up to their errors and change. If they will not, the Creator will see that calamity comes.—Amos 4:1-13.
But the Israelites will not respond to the kind appeals to “search for Jehovah, and keep living.” They will not “hate what is bad, and love what is good.” So the frightful “day of Jehovah” is sure. Through Amos, God foretells that they will go into exile. That came true; the Assyrians later overran them and carried away captives. (2 Ki. 17:1-6) Israel ignored Amos’ rebuke and thus had to experience the thorough destruction that he predicted.—Amos 5:1–6:14.
With a series of descriptive pronouncements, Amos shows that Israel’s end nears. Desolation could be like the devouring of a swarm of locusts, or that caused by a fire that consumes even the water. In those two cases Amos intercedes. But the next vision is final. As a builder could check a wall’s straightness with a plummet, so God determines that Israel is no longer upright but is deserving of desolation. Amaziah, a priest of calf worship, accuses Amos of treason and orders him back to Judah. But Amos stands fast, even foretelling judgment for Amaziah and his family.—Amos 7:1-17.
Fruit is gathered at the end of the season; similarly, Israel’s end is near. Jehovah, swearing by himself, will call him to account. When the execution of that judgment comes, Israelites will look for some word from God in heaven, but it will be too late. No one will escape by hiding, even in Carmel’s caves.—Amos 8:1–9:7.
God will shake the land as if Israel were not a nation dedicated to him. But hope is not lost! Although the sinners who say “The calamity will not come near” would meet their end, yet some of Jacob’s offspring would be preserved. And they were. Persons from Israel and from Judah returned from captivity in 537 B.C.E.—Amos 9:8-10, 13-15.
Of greater comfort, Amos foretells the rebuilding of the “booth of David.” In 49 C.E. the disciple James quoted this part of Amos’ prophecy. By then there was an anointed prospective king in David’s line, Jesus Christ. The gathering of Christian disciples, Jews and Gentiles, to be corulers with Jesus was the marvelous fulfillment of the words at Amos 9:11, 12.—Acts 15:13-18.
CALAMITIES IN OUR TIME
Just as Amos was able to foretell what was to come for Israel, Jesus Christ was able to predict international developments of our time. While neither the loving God Jehovah, nor his Son, is causing such calamities, the wars, food shortages and earthquakes occurring since World War I are fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy about the “conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 24:3-12) In fact, after the November 1980 disaster near Naples, Italy, Robert I. Tilling, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Office of Geochemistry and Geophysics reported: “There are some suggestions that both volcanoes and earthquakes worldwide are on the increase.”
We certainly have good reason to heed Jesus’ warning to be on the alert, not becoming preoccupied with luxurious living, as were the Israelites in Amos’ day. The evidence proves that the “end” of the present wicked system of things will soon come. So we should “keep on the watch.”—Matt. 24:14, 36-44; Amos 5:14.