Speak God’s Word With Boldness
“Go, prophesy to my people.”—AMOS 7:15.
1, 2. Who was Amos, and what does the Bible reveal about him?
WHILE engaging in the ministry, a witness of Jehovah was confronted by a priest. The priest cried out: ‘Stop preaching! Leave this area!’ What did the witness do? Did he give in to the demand, or did he continue to speak God’s word with boldness? You can find out because that witness recorded his experiences in a book that bears his name. It is the Bible book of Amos. Before we learn more about the encounter with the priest, though, let us consider some background information regarding Amos.
2 Who was Amos? When and where did he live? We find the answers to those questions at Amos 1:1, where we read: “The words of Amos, who happened to be among the sheep raisers from Tekoa, . . . in the days of Uzziah the king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, the king of Israel.” Amos was a resident of Judah. His hometown was Tekoa, ten miles [16 km] south of Jerusalem. He lived at the end of the ninth century B.C.E. when King Uzziah ruled in Judah and Jeroboam II was king of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. Amos was a sheep raiser. In fact, Amos 7:14 says that he was not only “a herdsman” but also “a nipper of figs of sycamore trees.” So he spent part of the year as a seasonal worker. He nipped, or pierced, figs. This work was done to speed up the ripening of the figs. It was tedious work.
3. How does learning about Amos help us if we feel unqualified to preach?
3 Amos candidly said: “I was not a prophet, neither was I the son of a prophet.” (Amos 7:14) He was neither born as a prophet’s son nor trained as a prophet. Of all the people in Judah, though, Jehovah chose Amos to do His work. At that time, God did not select a powerful king, a learned priest, or a wealthy chieftain. This provides a reassuring lesson for us. We may possess little in the way of secular status or formal education. But should that make us feel unqualified to preach God’s word? By no means! Jehovah can equip us to proclaim his message—even in challenging territories. Since that is exactly what Jehovah did for Amos, it will be instructive for all who desire to speak God’s word with boldness to consider the example set by that courageous prophet.
4. Why was it a challenge for Amos to prophesy in Israel?
4 Jehovah commanded Amos: “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:15) That assignment was a challenge. At the time, the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel enjoyed peace, security, and material prosperity. Many had ‘winter houses’ as well as ‘summer houses’ made, not of ordinary mud brick, but of expensive “hewn stone.” Some owned elegant ivory-inlaid furniture and drank wine produced in “desirable vineyards.” (Amos 3:15; 5:11) As a result, many people were complacent. In fact, the territory assigned to Amos may have been similar to that in which some of us perform our ministry today.
5. What unjust things were being done by some Israelites?
5 It was not wrong for the Israelites to have material possessions. However, some Israelites were amassing riches by dishonest means. The rich were “defrauding the lowly ones” and “crushing the poor ones.” (Amos 4:1) Powerful merchants, judges, and priests conspired to rob the poor. Let us now go back in time and observe what these men were doing.
God’s Law Violated
6. How did Israelite merchants exploit others?
6 We first go to the marketplace. There dishonest merchants made “the ephah small” and “the shekel great,” even selling “mere refuse” as grain. (Amos 8:5, 6) The merchants cheated their customers in the quantity of what they sold, the price was too high, and the quality was inferior. After the merchants exploited the poor to the point of ruin, those unfortunates had to sell themselves as slaves. Next, the merchants bought them “for the price of a pair of sandals.” (Amos 8:6) Just imagine! Those greedy merchants considered their fellow Israelites to be of no more value than mere footwear! What a crushing humiliation of the needy, and what a gross violation of God’s Law! Yet, the same merchants observed “the sabbath.” (Amos 8:5) Yes, they were religious but only outwardly.
7. What made it possible for Israel’s merchants to break God’s Law?
7 How did the merchants get away with breaking God’s Law, which commands: “You must love your fellow as yourself”? (Leviticus 19:18) They succeeded because those who should have enforced the Law—the judges—were their partners in crime. At the city gate, where legal cases were handled, the judges ‘took hush money and turned aside poor people.’ Instead of protecting the poor, the judges betrayed them for a bribe. (Amos 5:10, 12) So the judges too were ignoring God’s Law.
8. To what conduct were wicked priests turning a blind eye?
8 Meanwhile, what role were Israel’s priests playing? To find out, we must turn our attention to another location. See what sins the priests permitted “at the house of their gods”! Through Amos, God said: “A man and his own father have gone to the same girl, for the purpose of profaning my holy name.” (Amos 2:7, 8) Imagine that! An Israelite father and his son committed sexual immorality with the same temple prostitute. And those wicked priests were turning a blind eye to such immorality!—Leviticus 19:29; Deuteronomy 5:18; 23:17.
9, 10. Of what violations of God’s Law were the Israelites guilty, and what parallel can be drawn with our day?
9 Referring to other sinful conduct, Jehovah said: “On garments seized as a pledge they stretch themselves out beside every altar; and the wine of those who have been fined they drink at the house of their gods.” (Amos 2:8) Yes, priests and people in general also ignored the law recorded at Exodus 22:26, 27, which said that a garment taken as a pledge had to be returned before nightfall. Instead, they used it as a blanket on which to sprawl while feasting and drinking to false gods. And with the fines they extracted from the poor, they bought wine to drink at false religious festivals. How far they had strayed from the path of pure worship!
10 The Israelites were shamelessly violating the two greatest commandments of the Law—to love Jehovah and to love their fellow humans. God thus sent Amos to condemn them for their unfaithfulness. Today, the nations of the world, including those of Christendom, reflect the corrupt condition of ancient Israel. While some people prosper, many others are ruined financially and damaged emotionally by the immoral practices of dishonest leaders of big business, politics, and false religion. But Jehovah is concerned about those who are suffering and who are moved to search for him. Therefore, he has assigned his present-day servants to do a work like that of Amos—to preach His word boldly.
11. What can we learn from the example of Amos?
11 Because of the similarities between our work and that of Amos, we will benefit greatly from considering his example. In fact, Amos shows us (1) what we should preach, (2) how we should preach, and (3) why opposers cannot stop our preaching work. Let us consider these points one at a time.
How We Can Imitate Amos
12, 13. How did Jehovah show that he was displeased with the Israelites, and what was their reaction?
12 As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we center our Christian ministry on the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work. (Matthew 28:19, 20; Mark 13:10) Nevertheless, we also draw attention to God’s warnings, even as Amos declared that Jehovah would bring adverse judgment upon the wicked. For instance, Amos 4:6-11 shows that Jehovah repeatedly made clear his displeasure with Israel. He gave the people “want of bread,” “withheld from [them] the downpour,” struck them with “scorching and mildew,” and sent among them “a pestilence.” Did these things move Israel to repent? “You did not come back to me,” God said. Indeed, the Israelites rejected Jehovah time and again.
13 Jehovah punished the unrepentant Israelites. First, however, they received a prophetic warning. In line with this, God declared: “The Sovereign Lord Jehovah will not do a thing unless he has revealed his confidential matter to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7) God had revealed to Noah that the Flood was coming and had instructed him to sound a warning. Similarly, Jehovah told Amos to give a final warning. Sadly, Israel ignored that divine message and failed to take the right action.
14. What similarities are there between the time of Amos and our day?
14 No doubt you will agree that there are some striking similarities between the time of Amos and our own day. Jesus Christ prophesied that numerous calamities would take place during the time of the end. He also foretold a worldwide preaching work. (Matthew 24:3-14) As in Amos’ day, though, most people today ignore both the signs of the times and the Kingdom message. For such individuals, the consequences will be the same as those faced by the unrepentant Israelites. Jehovah warned them: “Get ready to meet your God.” (Amos 4:12) They met God by experiencing his adverse judgment when Assyria conquered them. Today, this ungodly world will ‘meet God’ at Armageddon. (Revelation 16:14, 16) Yet, as long as Jehovah’s patience continues, we exhort as many people as possible: “Search for Jehovah, and keep living.”—Amos 5:6.
Facing Opposition as Amos Did
15-17. (a) Who was Amaziah, and how did he react to the pronouncements of Amos? (b) Amaziah leveled what allegations against Amos?
15 We can imitate Amos not only in what we preach but also in how we preach. That fact is highlighted in chapter 7, where we encounter the priest mentioned at the beginning of our discussion. He was “Amaziah the priest of Bethel.” (Amos 7:10) The city of Bethel was a center of Israel’s apostate religion, which involved calf worship. So Amaziah was a priest of the State religion. How did he react to the bold pronouncements of Amos?
16 Amaziah told Amos: “O visionary, go, run your way off to the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and there you may prophesy. But at Bethel you must no longer do any further prophesying, for it is the sanctuary of a king and it is the house of a kingdom.” (Amos 7:12, 13) In effect, Amaziah said: ‘Go home! We have our own religion.’ He also tried to get the government to ban the activities of Amos, telling King Jeroboam II: “Amos has conspired against you right inside the house of Israel.” (Amos 7:10) Yes, Amaziah accused Amos of treason! He told the king: “This is what Amos has said, ‘By the sword Jeroboam will die; and as regards Israel, it will without fail go into exile from its own ground.’”—Amos 7:11.
17 Into those words, Amaziah packed three misleading statements. He said: “This is what Amos has said.” Yet, Amos had never claimed to be the source of the prophecy. Instead, he had always stated: “This is what Jehovah has said.” (Amos 1:3) Amos was also accused of saying: “By the sword Jeroboam will die.” As recorded at Amos 7:9, however, Amos had prophesied: “I [Jehovah] will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with a sword.” God had foretold such calamity for Jeroboam’s “house,” his posterity. Furthermore, Amaziah alleged that Amos had said: ‘Israel will without fail go into exile.’ But Amos had also prophesied that any Israelites who returned to God would receive blessings. Clearly, Amaziah used distorted half-truths in an effort to obtain an official ban on the preaching work done by Amos.
18. What parallels are there between the methods used by Amaziah and those employed by clerics today?
18 Have you noticed the parallels between the methods used by Amaziah and those employed by opposers of Jehovah’s people today? Just as Amaziah tried to silence Amos, so certain priests, prelates, and patriarchs of our day try to block the preaching work of Jehovah’s servants. Amaziah falsely accused Amos of treason. Today, some clergymen likewise falsely accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses of being a threat to national security. And just as Amaziah turned to the king for help in combating Amos, so the clergy often turn to political allies for support in persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Opposers Cannot Stop Our Preaching Work
19, 20. How did Amos react to the opposition from Amaziah?
19 How did Amos react to Amaziah’s opposition? First, Amos asked the priest: “Are you saying: ‘You must not prophesy against Israel’?” Without hesitation, God’s courageous prophet then spoke words that Amaziah certainly did not want to hear. (Amos 7:16, 17) Amos was not intimidated. What an excellent example for us! When it comes to speaking God’s word, we will not disobey our God, even in lands where modern-day Amaziahs are fomenting cruel persecution. Like Amos, we keep on proclaiming: “This is what Jehovah has said.” And opposers can never stop our preaching work, for “the hand of Jehovah” is with us.—Acts 11:19-21.
20 Amaziah should have known that his threats would be futile. Amos had already explained why no one on earth could stop him from speaking—and that is our third point for consideration. According to Amos 3:3-8, Amos used a series of questions and illustrations to show that every effect has a cause. Then he made this application: “There is a lion that has roared! Who will not be afraid? The Sovereign Lord Jehovah himself has spoken! Who will not prophesy?” In other words, Amos told his listeners: ‘Just as you cannot help being afraid when you hear the roar of a lion, so I cannot help preaching God’s word, since I have heard Jehovah’s command to do so.’ Godly fear, or deep reverence for Jehovah, impelled Amos to speak with boldness.
21. How do we respond to God’s command that we preach the good news?
21 We too hear Jehovah’s commission to preach. How do we react? Like Amos and like Jesus’ early followers, with Jehovah’s help we speak His word with boldness. (Acts 4:23-31) Neither persecution incited by opposers nor complacency displayed by those to whom we preach will silence us. Showing zeal like that of Amos, Jehovah’s Witnesses around the globe are impelled to continue declaring the good news with boldness. We have the responsibility to warn people of Jehovah’s coming judgment. What does that judgment involve? That question will be answered in the following article.
How Would You Answer?
• Under what circumstances did Amos fulfill his God-given commission?
• Like Amos, what should we preach?
• With what attitude should we do our preaching work?
• Why are opposers unable to stop our witnessing activity?
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God chose Amos, a nipper of figs, to do His work
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Like Amos, are you boldly proclaiming Jehovah’s message?