There is a phrase that is used in our time within the realm of political discourse to speak of a certain mindset in Washington, D.C. as “inside the beltway thinking.” This refers to politicians who go to Washington, who become a part of the scene and lifestyle there, who adopt the culture of self-serving and uncaring leadership, and who become therefore isolated from the real world outside of the Capital Beltway.
I had a friend who was elected to a high position in government at an unusually young age. As an older man, he reflected on that portion of his life – a time that he looked back upon decades later as filled with a lot of futility and false pride. He once told me, “When you walk down the marble halls of the state capital, the sound of your footsteps echo back to you and seem to say, ‘You’re really something now, you’re a pretty big deal!’”
It is to such a crowd of elite leaders in Israel that Amos speaks his fifth and final message (of those written in chapters 2 through 6). And in verse 1, even the leaders in the Southern Kingdom are included in the warning.
6:1 Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!
2 Go to Kalneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours?
The cities and nationalities mentioned in verse 2 were of surrounding areas that had been conquered in recent decades by Assyrian kings and warfare. Was Israel larger or stronger than these fallen places? The answer to that question was “no.”
3 You put off the day of disaster and bring near a reign of terror. 4 You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.
5 You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.
6 You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
Again, as in earlier chapters, the indulgent lifestyles of the leading classes of people in Israel were excessive in the extreme and sustained through injustice. The Hebrew word for “lie on beds” is a colorful one picturing a person with arms and legs spread out in drunken fashion. Their drinking was excessive – by the bowlful! And they did not grieve over the ruin of Joseph –referencing the Northern Kingdom. Remember that there was no tribe of Joseph, but that he had a double portion through his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. The tribe of Ephraim was especially large, and sometimes the Northern Kingdom was called “Epharim,” and in this case it is referenced as “Joseph.”
7 Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.
The Lord Abhors the Pride of Israel
8 The Sovereign LORD has sworn by himself—the LORD God Almighty declares: “I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it.”
9 If ten people are left in one house, they too will die. 10 And if the relative who comes to carry the bodies out of the house to burn them asks anyone who might be hiding there, “Is anyone else with you?” and he says, “No,” then he will go on to say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the LORD.”
11 For the LORD has given the command, and he will smash the great house into pieces and the small house into bits.
12 Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—13 you who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar and say, “Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?”
14 For the LORD God Almighty declares, “I will stir up a nation against you, Israel, that will oppress you all the way from Lebo Hamath to the valley of the Arabah.”
There are some interesting pictures in these verses:
– The anger of the Lord was such that if ten people in a home were killed, and a relative came along to deal with the bodies, he would be afraid that anyone might still be left alive who escaped somehow, and his voice would bring God’s wrath back upon them.
– Amos asks if horses run on rocky crags – well of course not. And do oxen plow the seas – that is ridiculous. And so it was just as unimaginable what these corrupt leaders had done with the system of justice. In the final couple of decades before the destruction of the nation, a series of six horrific kings fully defiled any system of justice or righteousness.
– Israel was proud of a victory they had achieved on the east of the Jordan in recovering an area named Lo Debar … but Amos intentionally makes a play on words by referencing it as Lo Dabar, which means “nothing” in Hebrew. Their great, proud victory was nothing in God’s eyes.
Having fallen into sin, it is the nature of man to be self-indulgent and proud. This is especially true of so many who by whatever good fortune are able to find success in the measurements of this world … be it in government, business, education, entertainment, or whatever. It is easy to have your life’s footsteps seem to echo back to you that you are a pretty big deal, only to at the end of it all find at the top of the ladder of success that it was leaning against the wrong building and had taken you to Lo Dabar – nothing.