The Lord had called the prophet Amos to speak to the people so that they would come to their senses and repent, yet he seems not to have made very much of an impression on them, because most of them had failed to mend their ways. Israel was continuing to live under the delusion that because God had chosen and loved them, he would protect them to the end of their days—regardless of their behavior. God’s imminent judgment on Israel would not be a mere punitive blow to warn, but an almost total destruction. Following the conquest of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 721 BC the ten tribes were scattered throughout the Assyrians empire. Should America read Amos closely and turn from their national sin?
In studying the Book of Amos we see that Amos writes of God’s judgments against Israel, Judah and the surrounding nations. Amos is the most thorough and comprehensive of the twelve minor prophets. He claims in an elaborate indictment that all people have sinned so greatly that the Lord will not ‘turn back’ His wrath unless they repent. Several specific offenses are chronicled by Amos, such as usury, which is the unethical or immoral lending of money, oppression, hypocritical religious practices and complacency. Universally all these nations are called out because they have turned their backs on the Law of God and therefore God Himself. Restoration, however is also part of the grand theme of not only Amos but of all Twelve of the minor prophets when they are considered as a single book consisting of twelve authors.
When we study the minor prophets we find they all pretty much have the same basic ingredients: first there are warnings of impending judgment because of the nations’ sinfulness; second a description of the sin; third a description of the coming judgment; fourth a call for repentance; and fifth a promise of future deliverance if they turn from their sins. That is the Gospel message that we understand today.
To properly understand the Book of Amos we need to put it into historical perspective. When Solomon died, between 926 and 922 BC, the ten northern tribes refused to submit to his son, Rehoboam, and revolted. From that point on, there would be two kingdoms of Hebrews: in the north – the ten tribes of Israel, and in the south – the two tribes of Judah. The Kingdom of Israel had their capital in the city of Samaria, and the Judaeans kept their capital in Jerusalem. These kingdoms remained separate states for over two hundred years. Amos’ message is directed to the Ten Northern tribes – these are the very ten tribes that would defy the warnings that God gave through Amos and are to conquered then scattered by the Assyrians. God’s warnings were not heeded by this self-indulgent, godless nation.
As we read the opening chapters we can imagine Amos’s audience (the northern kingdom of Israel) nodding their heads in total agreement as they heard each one of their ungodly neighbors being denounced. It must have been gratifying for them to know that, at last, these nations were going to be punished for some of the dreadful things they had done—particularly for those atrocities they had inflicted on the Israelites. They must have nodded in agreement as Judah was indicted after the six had their sins clearly spelled out. But you can also imagine how these same Israelites felt when Amos turned to a denunciation of them as a people and as a nation. In God’s eyes they were no different than the nations or Judah if they were not living in covenant with Him.
After indicting the nations, Judah and Israel for their sins and after pronouncing judgment, Amos in Chapter 9:11-15 speaks of their restoration:
“In that day “I will restore David’s fallen shelter—I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins—and will rebuild it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom (Edom is a reference here to the descendants of Esau) and all the nations that bear my name,” declares the Lord, who will do these things. “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. “They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.”
Passages such as these are also recorded in Obadiah, Micah and Zephaniah and represent the unmistakable statement that God will restore Israel and convert the nations after, or through, the day of punishment and cleansing. He will make provisions for them and the nations through a Promised Messiah. They would be spared eternal punishment if they would accept the Lord Jesus Christ, repent and turn from their sins.
So what sins did the six nations surrounding Israel commit? First Damascus was guilty of cruelty in her warfare against Gilead. The threshing sled mentioned in (1:3-5) is a picture of extreme and thorough cruelty in war. Gaza, and the other cities of the Philistines, are judged because their slave-trading with Edom (1: 6-8). Tyre was guilty of the same inhumane offense—selling slaves to Edom (1:9-10). Edom, descended from Esau, for their part kept a grudge for a long time and pursued his brother with a sword (1:11-12). Ammon, one of the nations descended from Lot, was guilty of gross cruelty in war for the sake of border expansion (1:13-15). Moab, descended from Lot through his other daughter, was guilty of desecrating the bones of Edom’s king (2:1-3). All these nations are denounced, some for sins they committed against others on the list, and some for sins they committed together with others on the list. Amos, like the God he prophesied for, did not play favorites. The nation of Judah, in fact, does not escape denunciation, and is next up after the six nations for condemnation. The seventh nation condemned in the first two chapters of Amos is Judah. Judah, commits the crowning sin, being guilty of apostatizing away from the worship of the true God and forsaking His laws (2:4-5).
Even though Judah was part of God’s chosen people, they were to suffer the same condemnation as the heathen nations: ‘For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.’
The charge against Judah is one of the shortest of these eight oracles found in the opening chapters of Amos—and is the only one which fails to mention any sin against humanity. Despite this, there is nothing for Judah to be proud about because their censure is far, far worse. They, who ought to have known better, had ‘rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept his decrees’.
Paul in Romans 3:1-2 reminds the Jewish believers in Christ: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
Judah, like Israel, had been given the law of the Lord and they had promised to keep it. They had entered into a covenant relationship with their God and had been bound by that agreement. Their obligation was to serve the Lord alone. Yet despite the deliverance that he had granted them, and the support he had given them during their conquest and settlement in the Promised Land, they had departed from God’s word; they had actually ‘rejected the law of the LORD’.
The twelve tribes had cast off the law of the Lord by listening to lies. These lies had led them to believe that they would find their religion to be more satisfying if they worshiped a god that they could see with their eyes. They behaved as their ancestors had done when they grew tired of having God’s appointed judges to rule over them. When Samuel was old the people had wanted a king, ‘such as all the other nations have’. Even then this showed the people who God claimed as His own wanted to be like the surrounding nations. They had become dissatisfied with the provisions God had made for them; they wanted to be like the other nations, but God desired that He have a people set aside for Himself. God wanted a people that did not conform to the ways of the nations.
Throughout Judah and Israel’s history they had continually turned their backs upon God and his law. This law, given to Moses at Sinai, said that the people should serve only the Lord and not make for themselves any idol to bow down to and worship. Such gods were not real and had no power, nevertheless the Israelites did bow down to them and worship them. This showed that they had ‘been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed’ (Chapter 2 v. 4).
So God indicted Judah for her transgressions:
Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,because they have rejected the law of the LORD, and have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked.”
The effect of this would be that they would come under God’s judgment—a very similar judgment to that which would fall upon the surrounding heathen nations. Fire would come upon the fortresses of Jerusalem. Even that once-blessed place would come under the severe displeasure of God and be ransacked. The Temple in which God resided in the Holy of Holies would be destroyed. Ezekiel Chapter 10 describes in magnificent detail God’s presence leaving that Temple before it’s destruction. This shows us that the Lord considered that disloyalty to him and disobedience to the covenant he had made with them in the past are just as serious as the crimes of inhumanity committed by some of the other nations. Judgment was to come if they did not turn back to their Lord in Covenant. History tells of His judgment for Judah and in 2 Kings 25 we read:
“So the city (Jerusalem) was besieged till the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, and the Chaldeans were around the city. And they went in the direction of the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho, and all his army was scattered from him. Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains and took him to Babylon.
In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile.”
The sovereignty of the Judean kingdom in the land of Israel came to an abrupt end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the leading citizens to Babylon in 586 BC.
Yet the Lord had had great patience on both Israel and Judah, but they refused to listen to His prophets. Many years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Judean people to Babylon, God had brought down His wrath of the Northern Tribes of Israel. After the ten northern tribes had been conquered and expelled from their land by the Assyrians Jeremiah sternly warned Judah of their fate if they followed the path of their sister Israel in Chapter 3:8-10:
“She (that is Judah) saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.”
And later in Jeremiah 35:17 it is written:
“Therefore this is what the LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.'”
Although Amos’s prophecy was given to the northern nation of Israel, we should know that his home was in the southern kingdom—whose destruction he was prophesying in Chapter 2:4–5. Surely, then, his heart must have been heavy as he uttered these words about his beloved city of Jerusalem. The blessing for Amos was that he did not live long enough to see the desecration of this blessed city. It was not attacked until many years later—in 586 B.C.
We see a patient God but not an ever-patient God. We see a God who has desired through the prophets to warn the nations, not only in ancient times but through all history. He warns all peoples that they will pay for their sins and transgressions. We see a God whose love is shown through His warnings and patience, but we also see the judgment of this God based of the transgressions of the people and His need for justice. And so there is an indictment of Judah, there is a warning, there is no response from Judah and there is judgment.
After condemning Judah God prophesies His anger with Israel because of her many sins but Amos makes no mention of the Israelites failing to keep God’s law (as he had to the people of Judah). He did not need to delineate it because their behavior betrayed their failures to live up to the Law of their Lord, they were just as guilty as the people of the southern kingdom.
The prophet speaks, first, about the behavior of their judges: ‘They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals’ (2 v. 6). Those who were rich behaved as they wanted to, without being questioned; silver passed hands and the corrupt judges convicted those who were innocent, ‘the righteous’. It was totally different for the poor. The judges were willing to sell a poor man into slavery—even though his debt might have been as small as the cost of a cheap pair of sandals—because the creditor paid the judge a part of the money he received from the sale.
We can almost hear the sadness in God’s voice as, throughout Amos, the Lord speaks out about the lack of compassion shown by the rich people of Israel for the plight of their poor fellow countrymen. The rich and clever in Israel treated the poor like dirt and denied them justice because they were not wealthy enough to bribe the judges (2 v. 7).
Amos indicts Israel for the oppression of the poor. The time in which Amos lived was a time of peace and prosperity for Israel. At least it was a time of prosperity in that the rich people became richer, but they became more selfish and heartless too. Originally in Israel each tribe had its own land, and each family its portion of that land, but then the rich got into their hands more and more of the land of those who were poor became poorer. They even caused many of the poor to become their slaves. Poor people might owe a debt of no greater value than a pair of shoes, and they had to be sold as slaves to pay it (see also 8:4-6 and 2 Kings 4: 1). In many ways the rich ‘trampled the head of the poor into the dust of the earth’. They only cared to get more money for themselves. They oppressed the poor, taking away both their land and their liberty. This was sin, grievous sin, in God’s sight; and the people knew it but did not care. The word of Amos was that they must answer to God for it.
The second of Israel’s sins named here was the misuse of sex. When Chapter 2:7 says ‘a man and his father go in to the same maiden’, it may mean that in the household there was a servant girl kept so that the master of the house or his son might have sexual intercourse with her.
The Bible is very clear that sex is a beautiful and lovely gift of God, but it is also very clear that sexual intercourse, in its wonder and beauty, should be between one man and one woman in marriage. As Genesis 2:24 puts it, ‘a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh’. The Bible also makes it clear that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is contrary to God’s purpose. Sexual intercourse is the expression of love and the sign of unity between those pledged for life each to the other, and who establish a home in which children can be conceived and born and brought up.
Israeli is then condemned for the perversion of justice. Israel had courts, and magistrates or elders to give justice, but bribery and corruption were common, and the poor were ‘afflicted’ and turned away from their rights (see also Amos 5:12 and Isaiah 10:2). It was the ‘righteous’, those who were innocent of crimes, who were sold for silver. Moreover, there were laws from early days in the life of Israel which not only upheld the right of the poor, but which forbade the rich to cause suffering to the poor. If a man owed money, he might give something as a ‘pledge’ or promise that he would repay it; but if a poor man in debt gave his warm outer garment as all that he could give in pledge, the law said that it must be given back to him before night time (see Exodus 22:26-27 and Deuteronomy 24:12-13). That was all that he had to keep himself warm (see Job 22:6 and 24:7). This law was neglected, and the poor suffered while the rich lay down in comfort ‘beside every altar upon garments taken in pledge’. Then the magistrates fined men in the courts and took this public money and used it for their own feasting and living in luxury. They feasted and drank ‘in the house of their God’, but they had no real thought of God. They neither worshiped Him from their hearts, nor did they want to obey Him. They despised His law. They oppressed the poor. They corrupted the justice that God commanded should be given to small and great alike. This was sin, grievous sin, in God’s sight, and for this too Amos declared that the people must give answer to an angry God.
In verses 13–16 of Chapter 2 Amos gives a very vivid description of the punishment which will come upon disobedient Israel. They will be crushed (not merely bruised) ‘as a cart crushes when loaded with grain’. There will be no escape for the swift runners, the strong, the warriors, the archers, the fleet-footed soldiers, the horsemen or the bravest warriors. They will go, naked, out of existence on ‘that day’ when the Lord comes in divine judgment upon them. In fact, that day did arrive, and Israel was taken away by the Assyrians, never to be heard of again. They were scattered and out of existence on ‘that day’ when the LORD lost His patience on an evil society.
With every warning of coming judgment, however, there is always a call to repentance, whether specifically spoken of or implied. Isaiah had prophesied, ‘Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live’ (Isa. 55:3). Yet these stubborn people continually refused to listen to the voice of the Lord’s prophets because they did not like what they heard. They did not want to be challenged or shaken out of their comfortable lifestyle.
The Lord had called Amos to speak to these people so that they would turn back to Him and repent, yet he seems not to have made very much of an impression on them. Most of these proud people would fail to turn away from their sins and look once again to their God. Israel was continuing to live under the delusion that because God had chosen and loved them, he would protect them to the end of their days—regardless of their behavior.
Chapter 6 addresses this very complacency and pride of Israel. God had sent the prophet Amos to shake them out of their complacency. These were a proud people and a self-assured people who reveled in their prosperity. The prophet warned them in 3:2, ‘“You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you.” Chapter 7 details the punishments to come. In Chapter 8 we see the reactions of the people.
We would expect the realty of such words would bring horror to the people, but instead there was only impatience—particularly from the rich people (the merchants) whose only desire was to continue growing richer. They did not cease to ‘trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land’ (8:4).
Instead of enjoying the religious feasts which had been given for the benefit of everyone, these merchants could hardly wait for them to be over so that they could get back to selling grain. They not only enjoyed the profit that the market brought them they took delight in swindling the poor. Their dishonest scales boosted their profit by cheating their customers—‘buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat’ (v. 6). And they were doing this with a pretense of holiness. They pretended that they were enjoying the Sabbath days, but all the while they were eager to get on and make more money.
The Twelve Minor Prophets, in fact all the latter prophets, compose a uniform message by putting their concerns into a specific order which really is the Gospel message itself. Their plot sequence is very selective, it’s very purposeful, very sequential, and very effective. You can see God’s hand in forming His Word. It is because of this purposeful almost formulaic theme to these books that the unity of the prophetic warnings and promises are evident. No single book goes into depth on all points of the formula – it is only by taking God’s prophetic as a whole that God’s Word is made evident.
God’s dealings with God’s Chosen People and even the foreign nations shape the Twelve’s concept of sin, punishment, and renewal. In Amos God’s Word is directed at Israel, the Northern Nation. Most of the time Israel is a rebellious figure who is nearly pitiful in its destructive pride. Throughout God’s dealings with Israel this country is seen as covenant breakers, oppressors and covenant breakers. They are self-sufficient and in no need of God’s love. Again and again Amos thunders in judgment against immoral and inhuman practices, mostly on the part of the wealthy ruling classes. From Amos’ perspective sin seems hopelessly ingrained into the fabric of the whole Middle East whether Jew or Gentile. God gives His warning: “The Lord roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem”. In Joel the roaring and thundering of the Lord signals the onslaught of judgment, so when Amos repeats this warning it is done to alert these self-righteous people that there is judgement to come.
So, what are we to take from God’s Word to the nations. As a country can we see a loving God that through His prophets has warned us about turning away from Him? Can we see the sins of a nation even if it is a nation that we live in? Or will we only see the faults of the “surrounding nations”? Are we a people that, like Israel shows a lack of compassion for the plight of our poor fellow countrymen? Are we a people that, like Israel are a stubborn people more focused on accumulating wealth at any cost? Are we a people, like Israel a proud and self-assured people who does not need a loving, compassionate God? If that is the case, we need to quickly become a people who understands that God might be loving and compassionate, but He is also a God of judgement. He is a God that is patient, but His patience is not without end. We need to understand that the sins of avarice, sexual indulgence outside of marriage, greed, injustice, self-righteousness, blasphemy and many more are the very sins that brought God’s vengeance down on the nations of Israel, Judah and their surrounding neighbors. We need to turn to the loving God who has provided a means to individually turn away from the punishment rightfully deserving to each of us that have turned away from this loving and compassionate God. We need to turn to our Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our trespasses in following the way of a wayward nation. Lastly, we need to pray for our country that it will not continue down a path that leads to destruction. We need to pray and ask that our country return to it foundation as one nation under God.