Joel: I feel like this book can be best summarized in Chapter 2, verse 12-13:
“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
“Even now”—when you have turned away from God
“Rend your heart and not your garments”–don’t just tear your sackcloth and cry big, fake tears. Change your heart attitude. Return to the LORD.
“He is gracious and compassionate”–If you will return to him, he will show compassion on you. There is hope.
Amos: I can’t remember ever reading this book, except the 1 time in middle school when I read through the whole bible cover to cover over the course of a few years. It’s another picture of God’s disappointment and anger at Israel for their wickedness, for their disregard for God’s law, and for their idolatry. However, it doesn’t end with God’s anger. It ends with a beautiful picture of how, despite Israel’s wickedness, God would again restore his kingdom, through the line of David (hint: Jesus), and there will be rebuilding and everlasting stability “I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them” (Amos 9:15).
A friend posted a commentary on how Hosea and Amos both approach the same topic a little differently. Both men are sharing God’s’s messages to the people of the Northern Kingdom after Israel was divided in 2 but before the Assyrian conquest in 722 BC. Hosea focuses on how Israel broke their covenant (like a marriage vow) with God, and Amos focuses on how Israel has turned away from righteousness and as a result there is no justice in society, particularly for the poor. Here’s a piece of the commentary that I couldn’t get enough of:
God’s disdain of Israel’s injustice and hypocrisy is seen in chapter 5. Amos 5:4 says, “Seek me and live; but do not seek me at Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal.” He’s telling them to renounce their idolatry. Don’t go to Bethel, don’t go to those idolatrous temples. Then, in verses 10-13, he explains the sorts of things that happen in society when you do worship false gods: people who stick up for the poor are ignored or hated. The poor have heavy rent imposed on them. The wealthy keep getting wealthier, but they’re annexing the land of the poor. The poor are turned aside at the city gate. Society gets really bad when you don’t live faithfully for the one true God.
But in Amos 5:14, God gives the better way, “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.” This is a cool pairing with the beginning command in 5:4. Initially, God said “seek me” as a means of rejecting idolatry. But in 5:14 it’s “seek good and not evil” as a means of rejecting idolatry. The play on words is meant to show you that right worship of the God of the covenant will result in justice being done in the city gate, while idolatry will result in neglect of the poor. So, for Amos, to seek God is to seek the good of others and to turn your back on God (in idolatry) is to live at the expense of others. Your worship of God, or lack thereof, will necessarily reflect itself in how you treat the poor, the oppressed, and the needy.