“The words of Amos, who was among the sheepherders of Tekoa, which he envisioned in visions concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” (Amos 1:1, NASB)
It’s disturbing to recollect that Amos lived during a time when there were kings around him that seemed to have all but utterly forgotten God, forsaking His life-giving, preservational statutes for the sake of wealth. In this context, the kings of Israel had literally returned to worshiping the golden calf of Egypt (the same golden calf worshiped at Mount Sinai).
To understand the metaphor, one needs to know a little about Egyptian religion. Egypt, a paramount of social arrogance and wealth in this era, had a plethora of gods they worshiped, one of the most popular being a calf or bull-like god called Apis. The Apis Bull (aka. the Golden Calf) was often a symbol of economic progress (being the god of prosperity in livestock and grain – two staples of Middle Eastern economics). Ironically, bulls and calves were also used in the temple worship of God during the pre-Christiandom era as scapegoats for sin and symbols that God was greater then any man-made wealth. Hence, the calves sacrificed at the temples of Apis during Amos’ lifetime were a direct contradiction of God’s purifying bull sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem.
The most disturbing part of all this is the startling comparison we see in the Kingdom of God today where money is earned by clergy through the profiteering of ministry and how our society at large has almost but forgotten a loving dependence on God in the name of self-sustaining wealth. Progress has become the god of the hour, capitalism the great beast that we sacrifice our time and energy to.
The outcome of all this idolatry in Amos’ time was a massive earthquake that hundreds of years after the fact still served as a cautionary tale for future kings of the Middle East. God will fight, in His overwhelming want of us, for faithful commitment, and “love as strong as death” – a committment that He exemplified through the death of Christ on the cross. He will shake us out of our apathy should it be needed. Considering this one is left to wonder, when this next great shaking will begin, and whether or not we will also be jolted out of our apathy as well.