Economic hardship (vv. 9, 10): Take away someone’s means for making a living and you’d think that person would begin to look up to the heavens, wondering what to do next. God struck the crops, vineyards, and orchards of Israel with blight and mildew, so that they would not produce fruit. He sent pestilence on the whole nation and destroyed the young generation through foolish wars instigated by arrogant kings at the advice of false prophets. He even allowed all the horses of the nation to be taken captive as spoils of war, leaving the people to pull their own plows and cart their own goods, thus slowing down the economy at every level. Through these economic hardships God meant to get the ear of His people; but nobody seems to have been listening.

Overthrow of the mighty (v. 11): As a final warning shot to His wayward people, God overthrew some of mightiest cities in the land—including the capital, Samaria. He exposed the folly of wicked rulers and false prophets by having them carried away captive and having all they had trusted in— fortified cities and elaborate rituals—reduced to rubble. Even at this the nation did not return to Him. Nobody seems to have been listening.

The Warnings of the Prophets
These warning shots did not come without accompaniment from bold and faithful prophets. Like lions let loose upon prey, the prophets of God had roared out warnings of judgment, calling the people to forsake their sinful ways and return to the Lord (Amos 3:1-8). But a people distracted by the allure of wealth, ease, power, and religion-as-you-like-it only learned to hate those who stood firm on the Law of God and spoke the truth of God into the nation (Amos 5:10). The people preferred the soft and comforting words of the false prophets, who told them over and over again that God loved them, that He was not offended by their idolatry but, rather, was honored by the clever and relevant ways they had managed to incorporate even pagan and worldly elements into their liturgy, and who taught them that they could trust their political rulers to bring them to even greater levels of luxury and largesse.

Who wants to listen to the dire warnings and legal indictments of a handful of putative spokesmen for the Lord when all the other religious and political leaders are crying “Peace, peace!”? No one in ancient Israel, that’s for sure.

But what about in the churches today?

Warning Shots?
Is God firing warning shots across the bow of the Church in our day? Is He trying to get our attention? Warning us that our wealth and ease, neglect of our mission, cavalier attitude toward His law, and indulgence in worldly ways are putting us in danger of judgment? If we extrapolate Israel’s experience into our own time, we can see that God may well be joining the witness of our circumstances with the witness of many faithful prophets to call His people to seek Him so that we may be revived (Amos 5:4).

Want: Spiritual malnutrition is evident on every hand in the contemporary Church. Even pastors in the most outwardly successful churches describe their congregations as “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Books, retreats, conferences, and seminars on spirituality and spiritual formation are the latest rage, and people are lining up at the troughs to find some real substance for their souls. Apparently there is little in the way of “meat on the table” in most of our churches.

Unequal distribution: In our day a handful of churches are getting all the attention. In the community of faith, “everybody knows” where the blessings of God are most to be found. These churches have thousands of members, grand and spacious facilities, large budgets, and an abundance of leaders and programs to meet everyone’s need. The showers of blessing seem to be raining on them without end. Meanwhile, inner-city, neighborhood, and rural churches are drying up, and members continue to drift from the dry spigots of their familiar churches to drink from what seem to them the refreshing waters of the mega-church across town. But it’s a mirage. They aren’t there very long before they begin to feel thirsty in their souls. Most Christians today are not satisfied with the state of their walks with the Lord, and this includes those who attend the mega-churches about which we hear so much. God’s design is for all His churches to be fountains of living water. This unequal distribution of His blessings should warn us that something is out of whack in the Body of Christ.