The book of Amos grimly recounts the sins of humanity and God’s promises of justice and retribution. At the time the book of Amos was written (750 BC), Israel and its neighbors were devoted to no one but themselves. In Israel’s case, their devotion to their faith had devolved into little more than figuring out ways to exploit it.
The first chapter and a half of Amos details the transgressions of the various nations, while the second half of chapter two turns the lens onto Israel itself. Lawerence Boadt’s book Reading the Old Testament has an interesting insight into the beginning of Amos on page 318:
One can almost feel the people of Bethel swelling with pride as the prophet denounces one foreign power after another. Six times Amos thunders out Yahweh’s judgment against an enemy people… then he turns on a seventh—Judah… That seemed close to home… Suddenly the prophet continues: “For three sins of Israel and for four, I will not revoke punishment against them” (Am 2:6). Such was not supposed to be. Prophets were to condemn and give judgment against others, but not to turn on one’s own.
In a shift from typical prophetic works, God—through Amos—shows that He is concerned with every nation. We read of God’s displeasure with all humanity, not just His chosen people. It seems that everyone is ignoring Him, and the Day of the Lord is upon them.
In the following chapters we read the specific details of Isreal’s transgressions. Chapters 3-6 overflow with tales of extreme injustice and the Israelites’ negligent spirituality. As Amos writes in chapter 5 verse 11:
You trample on the poor
and force him to give you grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
The last few chapters contain Amos’ visions, including his pleadings with God for mercy. It’s here that we get God’s chilling promise to judiciously separate the good from the bad in chapter 7 verses 7 through 9:
This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”
“A plumb line,” I replied.
Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”
Amos shows us in vivid detail what kind of iniquity to avoid. It brims with stories of injustice and with God’s reactions to those injustices, and it calls all nations to serve and obey the one true God.