Summary: Many things happened at Bethel, including this visit from one of God's true prophets who came face to face with the priest of that city. God's prophet preached--but what happened afterwards?
Introduction: God’s prophets seldom if ever had an easy time of it. Consider Nathan, who had the duty to inform David that what he had done with Bathsheba was sin. David was king and could have said only one word and the result would have been one less prophet! David’s own great-great-grandson Asa was one of the first kings of either kingdom to imprison a prophet (Hanani, see 2 Chronicles 16:10). Elijah was told to hide by the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:3-5); and Jeremiah spoke of Uriah, a contemporary of his, who prophesied against Jerusalem, then fled to Egypt. Uriah was “extradited” back to Jerusalem, and then executed (See Jeremiah 26:20-23).
In spite of the risks, some men did answer God’s call and gave His message to His people regardless of the cost. Amos was one such prophet, one of the first “bi-vocational” prophets! He had a regular job, or two, and may not have had much of a professional ministry. He downplayed what we could call human credentials, insisting only that God took him and God told him to prophesy. We could use a lot of men like Amos in the Church today, who will urge God’s own people back to repentance!
The text is from the seventh chapter of Amos, from the New American Standard Version:
[Amos 7:10-17, NASB]10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is unable to endure all his words. 11 "For thus Amos says, 'Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will certainly go from its land into exile.'" 12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, "Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah and there eat bread and there do your prophesying! 13 "But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence." 14 Then Amos replied to Amaziah, "I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs. 15 "But the LORD took me from following the flock and the LORD said to me, 'Go prophesy to My people Israel.' 16 "Now hear the word of the LORD: you are saying, 'You shall not prophesy against Israel nor shall you speak against the house of Isaac.' 17 "Therefore, thus says the LORD, 'Your wife will become a harlot in the city, your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword, your land will be parceled up by a measuring line and you yourself will die upon unclean soil. Moreover, Israel will certainly go from its land into exile.'"
I. The words of Amaziah, the priest of Bethel
Something to remember was what had happened at Bethel before this encounter. Abraham had built an altar to the Lord near there (Gen 12:8), and Jacob had two significant encounters at Bethel (Gen 28 and 35). Bethel is mentioned several times in Joshua, Judges, and in connection with Saul and David in the books of Samuel. All these and perhaps other encounters were good, in that the Israelites were at least, on the surface, trying to do God’s will.
Sadly, there were other mentions of Bethel that reflect the rebellion of the ten northern tribes of Israel, Jeroboam first led the northern tribes into rebellion against the southern tribes (see 1 Kings 12) and then built a pair of golden calves for worship in defiance of the First and Second Commandments. He put one of these calves in Dan, far to the north, and the other he put in Bethel. It seems the worship of that idol was kept up from Jeroboam’s day until the day the northerners were carried away captive, and perhaps even longer (2 Kings 17).
Jeroboam had begun the calf worship but soon started “ordaining ‘priests (1 Kings 12:31)’”. We’re not told in Scripture what the duties for these priests were, but one guess is that they were copies or imitations of either the true worship of the God of ALL Israel, perhaps some of the pagan cultures around (and there were plenty!), or even a combination or mish-mash of both. We just don’t know.
We do know that Amaziah was _the_ priest of Bethel when Amos arrived. We don’t know how many of Amos’ messages Amaziah had heard, but he apparently had listened to enough of them that he wanted to smear Amos. Take a look at the two messages from Amaziah, some of the few recorded words of an apostate Israelite in the Bible.
First, he tried to make Amos look bad by misquoting him, and then by telling outright lies to the king! Verses 10 and 11 give a summary, perhaps, of the “charge” which Amaziah brought against Amos. Now, nowhere in chapter 7 do we read that Amos made these predictions against Jeroboam, or anyone else by name. In addition, nowhere do we read that Amos was preaching rebellion against the king or trying to set up a conspiracy or any other such thing. I suppose this proves that “conspiracy theories” are really nothing new at all!