Chapter five records a “funeral song” that Amos was to deliver, like so many of the prophets after him. If Israel did not repent, death was their certain end. No matter the size of their army, only ten percent could hope to survive (Amos 5:1-3). Yet it did not have to end that way; they had the opportunity to repent, which is what God wanted for them (Amos 5:4-6, 14-15). This included turning from their idols and disobedience. “The LORD, the God who commands armies” could stand either with them or against them, and their actions would determine which. God was not unaware; he knew of their cheating and injustice, greed and arrogance (Amos 5:7-13). He created the constellations and the seas, but they thought he could not deal with them (Amos 5:8-9)? Judgment was sure to come (Amos 5:16-17).
The chapter ends with a “woe,” one of only thirteen in all the prophets (including Amos 6:1). It seems that many people during this time were looking forward to “the day of the LORD” (Amos 5:18). Isaiah, who was a contemporary of Amos, spoke of Messiah’s coming reign (though he did not use the exact phrase, “the day of the LORD”), so it is possible that they thought that God’s coming judgment would be on their enemies only. However, Amos announced that God’s judgment would extend even to Israelites who rebelled against him, effectively making themselves enemies of Jehovah (Amos 5:18-27). If they did not repent, they would be exiled to “Damascus” in Assyria. The fable-like analogy of a man running from a lion, only to meet a bear, then being bitten by a viper in his own house would be humorous if not so sad; they would have nowhere to run (Amos 5:19).
Chapter four opens with a searing insult against the Israelite elites. Although Christians may often feel like calling out people like this, prophets were given latitude that we do not always have. When sharing the gospel of Jesus (including our warning of coming judgment in hell), we are challenged to “do it with courtesy and respect” (1 Peter 3:16) and to “conduct [ourselves] with wisdom…[letting our] speech always be gracious” (Colossians 4:5-6). Amos was obviously not under such restrictions with his message, calling the women cruel “cows” and lushes, fattened for their coming slaughter (Amos 4:1-3).
The people loved to offer their public sacrifices (like the people in Jesus’ day, Luke 20:45 – 21:4), yet they refused to acknowledge God when he tried to get their real attention with famine, drought, blight, plagues, and even destruction (Amos 4:4-11). Because of this, God promised to bring judgment, although he does not detail what kind (Amos 4:12-13). They thought they were meeting with him in their sacrifices, but here he told them to prepare to finally meet him.
Amos was not a prophet by trade. Instead he called himself “a herdsman who also took care of sycamore fig trees” (Amos 7:14; 1:1). From Tekoa in Judah, Amos was called by God to give a specific message to the northern kingdom of Israel. The message is dated “two years before the earthquake” during the reign of Uzziah in Judah (see Zechariah 14:8). The two kings mentioned – Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah – had overlapping reigns from 767-753 B.C., so Amos’ ministry must have occurred during this time.
This period in Israel and Judah was one of great prosperity for many people, so the fact that Amos preached disaster and judgment was readily mocked. In fact, his message and theme was relatively simple: Israel was involved in grave sin against God, so terrible judgment was coming if they did not stop. Not only was he specific in pointing out individual sins (many directly from the Torah ), he was colorful with word pictures, especially from nature, as one might expect from someone who spent a lot of time outdoors.
Chapter three begins with a series of “everyman” examples that Amos knew no one could miss. He used people, lions, birds, animal traps, and city watchmen for his word pictures (Amos 3:3-8). In case anyone was (or is) unsure whether this message applied to them, God clarified that it was “for the entire clan I brought up from the land of Egypt” (Amos 3:1), i.e., the whole nation of Israel and Judah. Whereas one could see the situations in Amos 3:3-6a as natural occurrences, Amos asked if God himself would not bring calamity as well (Amos 3:6b). However, just like the lions’ warning roar, God spoke through his prophets to warn of looming judgment, and Amos had to speak up (Amos 3:7-8).
In the second half of this chapter Amos was to call the Philistines (Ashdod was a major city) and the Egyptians as witnesses to Israel’s wickedness (Amos 3:9-15). Samaria was the capital of Israel (the northern kingdom) and housed a second temple where they worshiped (see John 4:5, 19-20). God was so exasperated (in human terms) with these Israelites that he exclaimed, “They do not know how to do what is right” (Amos 3:10). Because they were violent, they would be destroyed by violence (Amos 3:11-13), and God would crush their false worship as represented in their “altars” and “great houses,” possibly pagan shrines and temples (Amos 3:14-15). The “winter and summer houses” may also point back to the charge that many of the elites were living in luxury while oppressing the poor, destitute, and needy (Amos 2:6-7).
Chapter four closes this short letter with a series of final requests and a long list of personal greetings. In Colossians 4:2-6 Paul asked that they would continue to pray for his ministry, even while he was “in chains.” He pleaded that they would be careful in their own interactions with unbelievers, so that they would not unnecessarily turn people off from the gospel. Apparently, this was especially needed with their words, which he contended should be gracious, designed to build up others.
Paul clarified that Tychicus and Onesimus were both his ambassadors on this mission (Colossians 4:7-9). Although he did not found the church in Colossae, it seems he did know many of the people there and sent his personal greetings to emphasize again the personal nature of his care for them (Colossians 4:10-18). The mention of several people who are not named elsewhere alongside other well-known companions gives us a peek into the size of Paul’s “organization” of people that he used to lead and care for his ever-growing network of churches.
Because Luke was not mentioned in the same grouping with Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus (Colossians 4:10-11), who Paul singled out as being “from the circumcision” (NASB), many have concluded that he was a Gentile. However, there are at least three reasons to recognize his Jewishness. First, Luke’s understanding of minute details regarding the Jewish feasts and traditions is unmistakable throughout his writings (Luke and Acts). A Gentile would be unlikely to fixate on those details. Second, Luke was in Jerusalem when Paul was arrested and charged with taking a Gentile into the Temple. However, it was not Luke who was the supposed problem, but Trophimus (Acts 21:29). Third, Paul wrote that it was the Jews to whom God had entrusted his word (Romans 3:2). If Luke were a Gentile, he would have been the sole writer of Scripture who was not a Jew. It is better to see Paul’s greeting from Luke and Demas as from special friends, rather than with the intention of pointing to their ethnicity.
Chapter three introduces the practical steps believers can take to make sure we do not get caught up in these other foolish things that take us away from Christ. The most important step is to keep our minds focused on Christ himself, rather than on other things (Colossians 3:1-11). Truly spiritual things are higher than the earthly things Paul’s enemies focused on. Since our life is found in Christ, our focus should remain solely on him. Secondly, we can work to “put to death whatever in [our] nature belongs to the earth.” This includes any “fleshly desires which do battle against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). These things bring God’s wrath against unbelievers (Ephesians 5:6), so we should not be surprised that he hates them in believers as well. We are to “put off the old man with its practices” and replace that sinful nature “with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it” (see Ephesians 4:22-24). This is possible for every believer, no matter one’s background, ethnicity, or social status.
Because of our new status in Christ – “elect of God, holy and dearly loved” – we should live out Christ’s love for our fellow believers (see Philippians 2:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-3). As he wrote in Ephesians 5:18-21 about submitting to the Holy Spirit, Paul encouraged the Colossians to build up one another with encouragement from Scripture. Ultimately, no matter what we do, we should do it as agents of the Lord Jesus. Assuming that the Colossians would read the other letter (Ephesians) as well, Paul gave a shortened version of his list of example relationships found in Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9, giving only one line each to wives, husbands, children, and masters. He did write a longer encouragement to slaves, possibly due to the situation of Onesimus returning to Philemon in Colossae along with his letter at this same time.