Amos was a prophet of Jehovah who proclaimed His message to the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom, identified in the Bible as “Samaria” and “Israel” (Amos 4:1,12; 1:1). Because of Israel’s sin against the Lord, Amos’ message to it was, “. . . He will take you away . . .” (Amos 4:2).

Those words were fulfilled when God used the Assyrians to destroy Israel a few decades after Amos sounded out his warning to the people. Before Israel’s fall, had the Lord made any effort to discipline His people? Oh, yes, extensive effort.

“Discipline” includes (1) “training that develops self-control, character, or orderliness and efficiency,” (2) efforts which “enforce obedience,” and (3) “treatment that corrects or punishes” []. Through the Law of Moses and His prophets, the people of the Northern Kingdom had been instructed. What about God’s other efforts to discipline His people? Please read the message of Amos 4:6-11 for yourself [all bold font in the Bible quotations below is mine, rdc]:

(6) ‘Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities. And lack of bread in all your places; yet you have not returned to Me,’ says the LORD. (7) ‘I also withheld rain from you, when there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, and where it did not rain the part withered. (8) So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water; but they were not satisfied; yet you have not returned to Me,’ says the LORD. (9) ‘I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, your vineyards, your fig trees, and your olive trees, the locust devoured them; yet you have not returned to Me,’ says the LORD. (10) ‘I sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt; your young men I killed with a sword, along with your captive horses; I made the stench of your camps come up into your nostrils; yet you have not returned to Me,’ says the LORD. (11) ‘I overthrew some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; yet you have not returned to Me,’ says the LORD.

In general, this passage shows us that (1) God withheld His blessings from Israel and (2) He punished Israel by taking action against the nation. Despite what the Lord did, at least five times in this section we read that the people did not return to Him. What lessons can we learn from all of this?

Instructions that God gave Israel seven hundred years before Amos’ day served as a background to the message of Amos 4:6-11. Go back and look at what God told the Israelites through Moses. In Leviticus 26 and again in Deuteronomy 28, the clear communication from Jehovah was: if you obey Me, I will bless you, but if you forsake Me, I will withhold my blessings and send My punishment on you.

Israel was loved. The Lord’s discipline of her showed His love, as it is written, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11,12). If God had just “let Israel run wild,” that would have been evidence of no love.

Israel could blame no one but herself for the misery and pain she suffered. God’s punishment of her was not arbitrary: He disciplined her because of her transgression against Him (Amos 4:4). She had sowed her rebellion; now she must reap the harvest.

Israel still had access to God’s mercy and fellowship. At any point, Israel could have humbled herself, put the brakes on her rebellious spirit, and returned to the Creator, whose hand was open to receive her back. She refused. When people reject God’s word and refuse to return to Him, they forfeit access to His wonderful mercy.

Israel had a choice: she could return to God, or she could stay away from Him. She chose to continue her path of disaster, refusing to come home to her Keeper. God has made humans as beings with the freedom to make choices. Remember this: no one can choose to live away from God in this life and live with Him in eternity.

Not all discipline achieves the desired result. When God disciplined Israel in the days of Amos, what was He trying to accomplish? He wanted to cause Israel to correct its behavior and make better choices in the future. He wanted it to repent and return to Him. That did not happen. Does that mean that God was wasting His time disciplining Israel? Not at all. God has infinite understanding (Psalm 147:5), so He knew exactly what Israel needed. Israel was like a stubborn animal which refuses to be turned in the direction its master wants it to go. When parents lovingly discipline their kids according to the Scriptures, and when the leaders of a local church lead the flock in disciplining an unruly child of God, they are doing the right thing, regardless of whether the people involved correct their behavior or not.

Israel, by thumbing your nose at God’s discipline, you had better be ready to face the music: “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel” (Amos 4:12).

— Roger D. Campbell