The punishment Amos predicted was a complete destruction of the nation of Israel. He said, “Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel. The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise” (Amos 5:1). A lamentation is a chant or wail that occurs at a funeral. Amos was speaking as if the judgment had already been decided and there was no chance of escaping it, but God intended to preserve a remnant of the nation.
According to Amos, ten percent of the people would survive (Amos 5:3). What this meant was that at an individual level there was a type of escape clause in God’s punishment that enabled an Israelite to remain alive even though the nation of Israel would not longer exist. Amos stated, “For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, seek ye me, and ye shall live” (Amos 5:4).
The Hebrew word translated house, bayith (bah´ – yith) refers to a family or a household. It can also designate a “fixed, established structure made from some kind of material” (1004) such as a home. Similar to when the Israelites celebrated the Passover in Egypt and were exempted from the plague that killed all the first born males, each household that sought God’s mercy would be kept alive.
One of the things that Amos made clear was that the punishment of Israel’s sin was coming directly from God. Amos declared, “Therefore the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, alas! alas! And they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skillful of lamentation to wailing. And in all vineyard shall be wailing: for I will pass through thee, saith the LORD” (Amos 5:16-17).
A significant problem that existed in Israel was false worship. By that I mean worship that had nothing to do with having a relationship with God. The goal of worship was supposed to be communication with God. In particular, prayer was meant to be a two-way conversation. Instead of asking God what he wanted them to do, the people of Israel were making sacrifices so that God would do what they wanted him to.
Pagan worship, in which deities had to be appeased in order to gain their favor, had infiltrated the Israelite culture. Much like the heathen that lived around them, the Israelites expected their God to do certain things because they made sacrifices to him. The LORD warned his people, “Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meal offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts” (Amos 5:22). In order to be saved, God’s people would have to seek his direction through prayer.