Amos Prays and God Relents
“The Lord GOD was calling for a judgment by fire, and it…was eating up the land. Then I said, ‘O Lord GOD, please cease! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!’ The LORD relented concerning this: ‘This also shall not be,’ said the Lord GOD” (vv. 4–6).- Amos 7:1–9
Even though the Old Testament prophets were called chiefly to speak God’s words to God’s people, there were also points at which the prophets cried out to the Lord in behalf of Israel. Genesis 18:16–33 and its account of Abraham’s intercession for the righteous men in Sodom and Gomorrah is the first place we see this in Scripture, for Abraham was called a “prophet” (20:7). In this well-known chapter, the Lord announces His intent to destroy the wicked cities, and there is no hint at first that He will leave anyone alive. Appealing to God’s own righteousness, Abraham prays for God to stay His hand for the sake of the righteous remnant in those cities. The Lord agrees to this and preserves Lot and his daughters, even though his family did not amount to the ten righteous people mentioned in 18:32–33 (see chap. 19). Abraham’s example shows us clearly God’s willingness to relent when His people pray.
Today’s passage is another example of this truth. The Lord revealed to Amos a vision of locusts as an image of judgment on Israel. This is a picture of total, indiscriminate destruction—just as a locust swarm devours everything in its path, Israel’s destruction would be full and final (Amos 7:1). Amos recognized this, cried out to God in behalf of Jacob—Israel—and God relented (vv. 2–3). Following the vision of the locusts, the Lord gave Amos a vision of fire that also depicted complete, unselective destruction. Again, the prophet prayed and God announced that He no longer intended that sentence for Israel (vv. 4–6). Finally, our Creator gave Amos a vision of a plumb line (vv. 7–9). Unlike the other visions of indiscriminate desolation, this picture of a measuring instrument indicated that God would not make a full end of all the old covenant people living in the northern kingdom. He would measure the heart of each person and differentiate between the righteous and the unrighteous, saving the remnant He had chosen and preserved by grace even as the land and the house of Jeroboam suffered the brunt of His wrath.
Notice that Amos did not pray for this act of God to be reversed. After all, to differentiate between covenant-breakers and covenant-keepers is entirely in keeping with the Lord’s justice and the way in which He holds the guilty accountable and saves the righteous. (This means, ultimately, that the righteous are those whom God declares righteous in Christ, for no one is righteous in himself except Christ; see 2 Cor. 5:21).
The Lord has ordained all of history and “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11), so He knew that Amos would pray and that He would relent when He gave the visions of the locusts and fire. He even ordained Amos’ prayers and His relenting in eternity past. But Amos did not know what the Lord had ordained, nor was He expected to. The same is true of us. We are to pray for God to move and believe that He can, all the while remembering His sovereignty over all.
Passages for Further Study