An opening word
Themes and structure
1. The source
2. The finality
3. The fourth transgression
4. Initial word of judgment
5. More words of judgment
Ammon and Moab
Judah, the southern kingdom
Israel, the northern kingdom
1. What Israel had done and was doing
a. Amos 2:6
b. Amos 2:7
c. Amos 2:8
2. What God had done
a. Amos 2:9
b. Amos 2:10
c. Amos 2:11
d. Amos 2:12
3. What God would do
NB - Access to a map of the Biblical places would be beneficial.
It would have been nice to have been able to break down this large section into smaller and more manageable and accessible web pages but this would have been to do an injustice to the unity of the piece and to scatter the teaching into different places, making it actually harder for the reader to see its unity.
If we accept the order in which the book was written as being the order in which both the messages were delivered and the events transpired, then Amos 1:2-2:16 represents the first declaration of Amos to the northern kingdom of Israel.
It strikes me that, after an initial declaration that God is speaking to the nation of Israel - which is there not only to declare the message as coming from YHWH but to note its relevancy to those present who would have been listening - the message then continues by declaring words of judgment against various people and nations that the listener could very easily have shouted ‘Amen!’ to.
So the Israelite will greet with a fair degree of enthusiasm the destruction foretold against Damascus - a city, incidentally, that Jeroboam did take back from the control of Judah (II Kings 14:28) and it may not be without significance that this pronouncement took place for, if the Israelites accepted the prophecy as being fulfilled in their own time, it would mean that they would have had no good reason to reject any of the other words that followed.
In other words, the fulfilment of the first gave authenticity to the message for themselves (Amos 2:6-16) - something that would have both been wanted and fulfilled for their own benefit becomes the proof that the word that they didn’t want to accept is genuine and should be acted upon.
Tyre seems to be the only other location that Israel may have brought under subjection during the reign of Jeroboam for it mentions that the border of Israel was restored as far north as Hamath (II Kings 14:25) and this should have included the notable coastal ports of both Tyre and Sidon. However, whether Israel actually conquered these places or simply brought them under their control by receiving tribute is impossible to say with any certainty from the Biblical statements.
The remaining cities and regions listed here of Gaza (II Chr 26:6 - Ashdod, Gath and Jabneh are noted here as having been defeated and, although only the former of these are mentioned in connection with YHWH’s judgment of the Philistines, the verse concerning Uzziah’s military conquests notes that he began to settle in Philistine territory and his influence - if not outright control - over Gaza must have taken place) and Edom (II Chr 26:7 - the Meunites dwelt very close to or within the land of Edom. II Chr 26:2 - Eloth, now present day Eilat, which lay in the land of Edom was built in Uzziah’s day and restored to the southern kingdom), Ammon (II Chr 26:8 - they paid tribute to Judah as subjects) and Moab (whose territory lay between Ammon to the north and Edom to the south and influence may well have been exerted over this region because of the Ammonites’ subjection) were all the object of the southern kingdom of Judah’s military endeavours.
But, although judgment might be poured out upon the people of God’s enemies and neighbours, it doesn’t exempt them from the same judgment.
If we accept that this opening message was delivered to the northern kingdom of Israel (Amos 7:15 seems to be the clear statement which places all of Amos’ words as delivered there), the judgment on Judah (Amos 2:4-5) may have been received with a fair amount of enthusiasm (in much the same way as a similar word against England would be received with howls of derisive laughter by the Scots).
So, having kept his listeners drooling over each word and phrase of judgment (I’m using artistic license here) and having drawn a far greater crowd than when he first began (people would be naturally curious at the crowds who were cheering in anticipation), Amos delivers the main crux of the message - that Israel stands equally condemned before God, and the multitudes begin to withdraw from the scene, thinking ‘We were enjoying that prophet up til then…’.
The same’s true in the present day Church, of course.
Speak a ‘nice’ and acceptable word to the congregation gathered weekly at the Sunday meeting and you’ll get devoted followers and people who’ll stand by the leadership through ‘thick and thin’. But deliver a message that calls individuals to account for the way they’re living (and I don’t mean ‘hard’ words that ask for more money and which antagonise the believers - they antagonise true believers for all the wrong reasons) and it may be overlooked the first week or dismissed as being applicable to that old guy in the third row from the back who plays with his teeth throughout the sermon. If anyone needs to repent, surely he does.
But continue speaking about the need for repentance week after week, calling everyone to put their lives right - and refusing to move on until it’s been done - is hardly going to create a huge following.
Just like Amos would have found, the numbers would start to fall, the enthusiasm would dwindle until, eventually, there would be a concerted effort to remove him from their midst by ‘fair means or foul’. If we’re talking about it occurring in the ‘sanctified’ present day Church then most of the ‘foul’ means could be justified by some spiritual principle or by an appeal to the man-made Constitution of the relevant denomination.
When it comes to safeguarding your own Empire, it’s always best not to tell the people who support you that they’re sinning, stand condemned before God and are about to be judged if they don’t repent. After all, you may find yourself having to apply for a secular job or being encouraged to find a different denomination to lead (Amos 7:12-13).
An opening word
Before Amos launches into his declaration of YHWH’s judgment upon cities and nations, he opens with the offensive words
‘YHWH roars from Zion and utters His voice from Jerusalem’
Why would this opener be so offensive?
Primarily because Amos is assigning God’s presence as residing in the midst of one of the Israelites’ enemies - or, at best, rivals - Judah (II Kings 21:7, I Chr 23:25, Ps 135:21). It was because there was a centralised form of worship in Jerusalem that the first king Jeroboam had built altars at both Dan* and Bethel to save his newly acquired subjects from having to travel into their territory to offer sacrifice and, therefore, to break down the geographical and cultural boundaries that his kingdom depended upon for its survival (I Kings 12:26-29).
It’s very easy to gloss over these words and think of them as being simply a declaration by the prophet of the source of what’s about to follow - even though they are just that - for they go much further by identifying the geographical location from which the word has come.
Even worse - if the implication of the words had been thought through - is that Amos would have been declaring that YHWH wasn’t in their midst, having had the need to send the message and the messenger from a neighbouring land when there was nothing wrong, as far as they were concerned, with the form and substance of the worship that was being offered at the official altars of the kingdom.
Amhub speaks of the mention of both Zion and Jerusalem as being
‘…rebukes to the northern shrines whose false worship Amos so roundly renounces’
and that indeed they are. If the revelation of God had been at any of their altars of offering throughout the land of Israel then surely the message would have come from them rather than for it to have had to have been sent from the Temple in Jerusalem.
And that’s the reason why external messengers sent from God to denominations in this present day are so often frowned upon - because it says something about the church fellowship to whom it comes. It implies that there’s no one in the midst of the congregation who’s able to listen to God and to hear what’s being said - or, even worse, that the presence of God has so deserted the people that they’ve a need to refresh their relationship with God and get to know Him all over.
When some churches seek a new name for their congregation to give themselves a facelift, the title ‘Ichabod’ wouldn’t be too far amiss (I Samuel 4:21-22) - besides, ‘Ichabod Christian Fellowship’ has always had a certain ring to it that I find appealing.
In a fellowship that puts down both its prophets and the people who prophesy, however, it may simply be a comment that the structures in place are undermining the spiritual authority that has been put there by God, while those who are more friendly to the will and purpose of the leadership are given freedom of speech which, ultimately, isn’t achieving anything acceptable to Jesus Christ.
I remember one fellowship I was attending in particular where the Word of God that needed to be spoken was that the fellowship had lost its first commitment and desire to follow after Jesus Christ - and that it was wandering round and round in circles not actually getting anywhere, thinking it was really ‘moving on’ but failing to notice that the rocks they’d just passed in their journey were the same ones they’d passed three years ago.
Having shared my thoughts with the youth group on the Friday evening (I was actually young back then and one of their number - honestly, I really was young once), it appears that my ideas had been passed on to the main leader who forbade me to share the message when I got up to tell the congregation the following Sunday morning.
But - absolutely amazingly - one of the elders had a revelation that Tuesday night, two days after, and God was saying the same thing! Well, they sure accepted the Word of God then - but the pastor was far too silent and didn’t admit to having stood against what was now plainly obvious as being something that God wanted to say.
Fortunately, then, another person was listening - even more fortunate that their face ‘fit’ and they were able to share the message, untroubled - but it demonstrated to me that the main leader was more likely to sit on a message from God that was a bit too ‘hard’ than he was to greet it with open arms and act upon it. Indeed, it may even be true that he was unable to discern the difference between a message from God and a pickled walnut - but, there again, perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical.
Amhub is correct when he notes that when the Lord ‘roars’, it can be indicative of both an imminent act of judgment (as in Joel 3:16) or a call for the return of His people to the land (Hosea 11:10-11 - where the idea of a return in the context of Amos would have been with repentance to be restored back into a covenant relationship with Himself) - that is, it can be seen to be either positive or negative, something that His people can do something about or may not be able to.
It should also be pointed out that it’s only the Hosea passage of the two cited above that likens YHWH’s voice to that of the roaring of a lion and simply to say that He ‘roars’ can be indicative of the sound of thunder that accompanies lightning (Job 37:3-4). Therefore, Amstu’s statement (Ammot also shares the first phrase as being the intention) that its use is a deliberate attempt at
‘...implicitly comparing him metaphorically to a lion...this usage suggests that the covenant curse of harm from wild animals...was to be carried out by Yahweh Himself’
is fanciful. It’s much better to accept it simply as a statement that shows that God isn’t secretly and silently whispering a message that they may fail to grasp - rather, the declaration is coming at ‘full volume’ so that they can’t fail to understand its warning.
The second phrase that states as a consequence that
‘…the pastures of the shepherds mourn and the top of Carmel withers’
seems to set God’s intention as one of judgment and the listener wouldn’t, therefore, be left to ponder any inference that could be made from the voice of the speaker - but there’s a better interpretation below that’s much to be preferred which sees this phrase as nothing to do with judgment on the land.
The two Scriptures (from Hosea and Joel) cited above to show the two different aspects of God’s intention when He’s said to ‘roar’ occur after Amos’ ministry has already ended (historically speaking) - whether there was an accepted understanding of what type of message would immediately have been meant is uncertain but there can be no doubt left as he takes a short breath and continues his discourse from Amos 1:3 onwards.
Amos will return to the parallel of God roaring in Amos 3:8 (and here the prophet defines it specifically as the roaring of a lion) where it becomes the catalyst that’s meant to propel all His people to prophesy the truths that are being revealed.
This second phrase concerning the shepherds is rendered as a reaction to YHWH’s voice that’s now speaking in the RSV whereas, in Amstu, he turns it into a curse that’s the result of God speaking His message through His prophet and something that’s looked to in the future as about to come to pass.
Either way, the thought is that God’s Word brings results (Is 55:11) and a literal interpretation would see, perhaps, an agricultural disaster about to take place. However, this is too strained a meaning especially when the judgment detailed from 2:3 onwards seems not to be directed at Creation but at the people who have sinned before Him. Therefore, perhaps, the Jewish Targum sees the mention of ‘shepherds’ as being a reference to the ‘kings’ or ‘leaders’, rendering the text, according to Amstu, as
‘…the dwellings of the kings will become desolate and the fortification of their castles will become a waste’
Personally, it seems far better to accept the text as the RSV translates it so that it becomes a reaction of God’s Creation (a response of the inanimate pastures and the peaks of Mount Carmel) to the voice of the One who created them.
The idea, then, is that if the ‘dumb’ created order is able to recognise the voice of YHWH, the One who’s their Master and Sovereign, there should be no reason why the mind of intelligent men and women should miss it.
The Hebrew word from which ‘mourn’ is derived (Strongs Hebrew number 56) is more naturally used in the OT to convey contrition, sadness, grief and repentance (mourn - Gen 37:34, 33:4, Num 14:39, I Sam 6:19, 15:35, II Sam 14:2, Ezra 10:6, Neh 1:4, 8:9, Is 66:10, Dan 10:2, Joel 1:9), attitudes which would be necessary if the words of Amos were to be heeded and acted upon.
The fact that the word seems to be out of place has caused the NIV to translate it with ‘dry up’ to bring it into line with the verb rendered ‘withers’, but there appears to be no justification in the OT usage to justify such an interpretation.
This second word, however, clearly seems to mean what the RSV translates it as (that is, ‘withers’) and therefore seems to be out of place if used as a comparison although the NIV seems to consider the word from which it comes and reflect it back into the first phrase. The word (Strongs Hebrew number 3001 - but see below) is defined by TWOTOT by contrasting it with another that’s employed more often when bodies of water become dry, giving the one used here as meaning
‘...to portray dryness of vegetation’
although neither of these usages are exclusive to the other. Naturally speaking, it would be easy to envisage the ‘top of Carmel’ drying up in a drought but, as I’ve previously pointed out, the phraseology is that this is something that Creation does as a reaction to hearing God’s voice and it isn’t meant to be taken as something that comes upon it from an external source - that is, that God is causing it to happen as a fulfilment of His message through Amos.
If Strongs is taken at face value, it would appear that the root word is also used in a few passages in the prophets (most notably Jeremiah) where the concept conveyed is one of shame - of remorse over actions that have been committed (Jer 2:26, 6:15, 8:9,12, 10:14, 46:24, 48:1,20, 50:2, 51:17, Hosea 2:5) - and Amos seems to be using a play on words to convey this thought. Even the psalmist (Ps 102:9-11 see also Prov 17:22) would then be speaking of YHWH’s ‘indignation and anger’ that’s directed against him and that, because of such judgment
‘...I wither away like grass’
Therefore, Carmel would be described here as being ashamed - just as the same reaction should be typical of the person who hears the message of God as Amos now brings it.
Unfortunately, Strongs is incorrect! The Hebrew word that they identified and numbered as 3001 in the prophets is actually 954, a totally different word (perhaps he had an off day when he was considering that word!). But, having said that, the idea of shame or of ‘shrinking back’ from God’s Word is consistent with the use of the Hebrew word from which the RSV has given the reader ‘mourns’ and it seems best to accept the meaning to give the verse its clear intention.
Mourning and shame are the reaction of God’s Creation to the Word of God - how much more God’s own people who should know His voice respond in godly sorrow and repentance?
It would easy to take the two observations as being examples of God’s judgment of His Creation and then parallel the twin judgments in today’s Church as being directed at the livelihoods of the pastors (the pastures of the shepherds) and the pride of the pastor’s own Empires (the top of Carmel) but such a comparison is without warrant.
Concluding, even though Amos sets out his stall in the briefest of opening statements and calls upon his listeners to respond in a similar fashion to that of Creation at the voice of YHWH, his immediate change to declare judgment upon both Israel and Judah’s enemies (Amos 1:3-2:3) means that the offence of the declaration of the source of the message (as being Jerusalem) would have largely been forgotten amidst the jubilation and affirmation that would have greeted his words that dealt with their enemies.
Even so, Amos is pronouncing His message as having its source in none other than YHWH and, therefore, the nation should sit up and take notice of the words that are about to be declared to them, mourning their sin before Him and feeling ashamed.
*It’s unlikely that the worship centre of Gilgal (Amos 4:4, 5:5 - both Scriptures pair the place with Bethel while the latter also mentions Beersheba) is meant to be synonymous with the Dan at which Jeroboam set up the golden calf when Israel first became a distinct nation (I Kings 12:29).
But neither is it impossible - for ‘Gilgal’ means a ‘circle’ and probably refers to the location of a circle of stones (hence the reason why many places in the OT bear this name), a more ancient site of sacrifice and worship that had been in existence long before the Israelites had entered the land.
These sites were frequently reused in ancient times and it remains possible that Jeroboam chose a site near or in Dan that had such a feature, using the already respected association with worship.
If this was the case, ‘Gilgal’ could be a pseudonym for Jeroboam’s shrine at Dan. It does, however, remain an unlikely hypothesis.
Themes and structure
There are, in all, eight sections of judgments that Amos delivers to the children of Israel (1:3-5, 1:6-8, 1:9-10, 1:11-12, 1:13-15, 2:1-3, 2:4-5 and 2:6-16) though the last of these is the one directed against the nation of Israel and is fairly different in character even though it retains a great amount of the common phrases and observations of the others.
It’s impossible to be certain why a common structure was employed but it certainly makes it much easier for the listener to latch on to the prophet’s words (even though Ammot would see it as a summation of Amos’ message and not the message itself. The Book, to him, is a literary work which was put together by the prophet at a later date to the proclamation) for entire phrases are repeated that simply support what’s being said - the Israelite doesn’t have to get his mind round different information presented at different times in each message but is almost expecting the subject matter after each common phrase is used.
The structure, then, is as follows:
1. The source
Thus says YHWH
(1:3, 1:6, 1:9, 1:11, 1:13, 2:1, 2:4, 2:6)
It’s all too easy for us to think of this opening phrase to each of the eight declarations as being simply a statement that points to its origin as YHWH - certainly, this is what it does but Amos 1:2 has already set the scene that what’s about to follow has directly come from His presence in Jerusalem and there could be little doubt even if this prefix hadn’t been given.
Perhaps we should look at the statement from a different perspective and see it as performing a slightly fuller function. It seems to me that the crowds (or, perhaps just a few individuals) who were standing round the prophet as he began would have been joined by men and women as they passed by, inquisitive as to what was being said.
In this context, the opening ‘Thus says YHWH’ would continually be proclaimed so that any who’d ‘arrived late’ would be able to immediately identify the claim of divine inspiration for the words. Therefore, even when Amos launches into a more lengthy description of the sin of Israel and the coming judgment (2:6-16), he intersperses his message with ‘says YHWH’ at 2:11 and as a conclusion in 2:16 to underpin the authority by which he speaks. Anyone joining the group standing around couldn’t help but know the source of the message within a few seconds of listening.
But the phrase that begins each of the eight sections is also a great tool that ends one passage and begins another - a slight pause after the last words of one judgment’s end, coupled with a deliberately spoken ‘Thus says YHWH’, would naturally cause the listeners to assume that something new was about to be said in very much the same way as numbering different points easily separate sections today in a literary work.
A few people in the present day Church think that by using the phrase ‘Thus says YHWH’ or, more accurately, ‘Thus says the Lord’, they’ll add weight and authority to their own words even as, I’m sure, many of the false prophets used to take the name upon their lips to try and authenticate the imaginations of their own mind.
When Jehoshaphat stood with Ahab holding counsel as to whether or not to go out to war against Syria (I Kings 22:1-40), the voice of the prophets of Israel were wholly favourable, their message proclaiming (22:6) that
‘…the Lord [not the use of ‘YHWH’] will give [Ramoth-gilead] into the hand of the king’
while Zedekiah had made for himself horns of iron and offered them to the two kings pronouncing (22:11)
‘Thus says YHWH “With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed”’
and the other prophets confirmed it as one man (22:12) taking the name of YHWH upon their lips and announcing His message in words similar to that which they’d done in 22:6. How easy it would have been for Jehoshaphat to have accepted the unanimous pronouncements of ‘YHWH’s prophets’!
But there was something not quite right for the king doubted if the message was wholly genuine, asking Ahab, king of Israel (22:7)
‘Is there not here another prophet of YHWH of whom we may inquire?’
Now what exactly was it that prompted ‘righteous’ Jehoshaphat to call into question ‘unrighteous’ Ahab’s ‘prophets of YHWH’? Did he doubt their message because they belonged to Ahab? That’s doubtful simply because he’d been the person who’d instigated their gathering to determine the Word of God (22:5).
The only thing that can be said, I believe, is that the message that came just didn’t feel or appear right. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t one dissenting voice, the message just didn’t sit right with him (but, even more puzzling, when the right message did come through Micaiah, why didn’t Jehoshaphat act upon it? Or did he act upon it thinking ‘The word is against Ahab but not against me’?) whether it be considered to be an internal witness that he got regardless of any external actions or whether the scene that was being played out before him had all the indications that their pronouncements were nothing more than what Ahab had paid them to say.
The point is that I doubt very much that Amos was the only person who was standing up proclaiming a message from God and using the divine name, YHWH, to give it authority. Of the prophets of Samaria, in the northern kingdom of Israel, Jeremiah was later to record the observation of God (Jer 23:13) that
‘…they prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray’
where the source of their pronouncements is certainly seen to have a spiritual source - even if it’s the wrong one (they may well have literally been prophesying ‘in the name of Baal’ but it seems more likely that Elijah’s observation on Mount Carmel that the nation served both Baal and YHWH simultaneously - and couldn’t make up its mind - was the continuing state of the nation - I Kings 18:21. A plurality of worship tends to show that there would have been proclaimers of YHWH’s word as well as Baal’s).
Jeremiah’s message goes on to condemn all the prophets - both of the northern and southern kingdoms - for falsely prophesying peace in His name (Jer 23:16-17). Even though He’d never sent them to His people, they were standing up and proclaiming a message as coming from Him (Jer 23:21-22), words that God calls ‘lies in My name’ (Jer 23:25-26 - see also Lam 2:14 which is specifically written about the prophets of the southern kingdom) when true prophets like Jeremiah were in the minority and generally ignored.
When Micah spoke to both Jerusalem and Samaria (Micah 1:1), he also noted the prophets who were proclaiming peace to the people in order that they might make a living by it (Micah 3:5).
In such a society where there were conflicting voices - indeed, when the majority of voices announcing God’s will were favourable to the people - it took discernment to be certain which message was the correct one and who had actually stood ‘in God’s council’ (Jer 23:18,22).
Just because we hear messages announcing direction and teaching ‘in the name of the Lord’ in the present day Church and just because the appointed prophets of God are declaring ‘Thus says the Lord’ at the beginning, middle and end of their messages, should we accept them at face value because Divine inspiration is claimed?
The experience of both Amos and Jeremiah would shout ‘No!’ and the testimony of Scripture - whether we like it or not - is that the voice that’s in the minority is normally the right one. Even so, we shouldn’t accept a lone voice simply because it’s different to the multitudes of others but, rather, because we can witness the truth of the message as being what we ourselves have heard, having stood in the council of God Himself.
Appointed prophets will generally declare what the people who have appointed them want to hear, paid messengers are bound to represent the one who pays them to continue being able to make a living from the ‘ministry’. Men and women who have no financial remuneration and no denominational commitments that compel them to tow the party line are more likely to be concerned with pleasing God and disregard the face of man as both Jeremiah and Amos did.
2. The finality
For three transgressions of xxx and for four, I will not revoke the punishment
(1:3, 1:6, 1:9, 1:11, 1:13, 2:1, 2:4, 2:6)
After the proclamation of the One who’s ultimately speaking the message being delivered to the Israelites, Amos launches into a phrase which lays out the reason for the finality of the judgment that’s about to come upon the area in question that’s also contained within the formula.
The structure employed here is one that is used a few times in Proverbs to demonstrate to the reader the finality or the completeness of the message or instruction being brought - it isn’t, however, used exclusively in judgment passages.
It is used almost in this way, however, in Prov 6:16-19 where ‘six’ specific transgressions are said to be hated by God but that seven are ‘an abomination’ to Him, a word that is probably the single strongest word in the Law to describe an action that’s as bad as sin can get (Lev 18:22, 20:13). The writer stops short of commenting that the judgment of God rests upon an individual who does these but it seems clear that it wouldn’t be missed as having that underlying meaning.
In chapter 30, there are also three different examples of teaching where three of the four being listed are considered to be incomplete without the fourth (Prov 30:18-19,21-23,29-31 and also the apocryphal Sirach 26:5-6) and this certainly lends itself well to the use of the structure in Amos, even though the prophet isn’t concerned to outline the first three transgressions that have brought the people concerned to the point of judgment but, rather, seems only to mention the fourth and ‘final straw’ that has tipped the scales of God’s hand against them.
That is, with the exception of the message to Israel who appear to get at least four specific actions that have been deemed by God to be unacceptable behaviour before Him (Amos 2:6-8). It should also be noted, however, that to think of a literal number of ‘four’ transgressions after which God will pour out His judgment upon peoples and nations is probably incorrect. The structure is used simply as a means to show Amos’ listeners the irrevocable nature of the coming judgment.
3. The fourth transgression
Because - the reason for the judgment of God
(1:3, 1:6, 1:9, 1:11, 1:13, 2:1, 2:4, 2:6-8)
Amhub makes an interesting and noteworthy comment for he sees that all the transgressions listed are
‘…acts of inhumanity, until we come to the speech against Judah…It seems that the nations are condemned here not for idolatry nor false religions but for offences commonly judged as evil by the prevalent standards of the day…’
Because Judah is in covenant relationship with YHWH, however, their transgression is seen to be a rejection of the Mosaic Law (Amos 2:4) something that the foreign nations had never received or agreed to observe. When Paul discussed the final judgment and the need for the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation for both the Jew and Gentile, he noted (Rom 2:12) that
‘All who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law’
so that men and women are called to account for how they’ve reacted to the light they had (Rom 1:19) and don’t stand condemned before Him because they’ve been unable to observe a written code that they may never have known existed. God’s message of judgment, therefore, is at once seen to be based upon a responsibility that could have been accepted and a course of action that might have been chosen differently.
Ammot, although not speaking directly in quotation of Scripture, nevertheless hits the nail on the head when he writes that
‘…men will be judged for failing to be men…’
and that the nations about whom Amos speaks might have been
‘...without special revelation but not without moral responsibility’
When a man transgresses the witness of his own conscience, he finds that his guilt is instantly knowable and the fact that he chooses to reject its testimony is confirmation that he stands in an incorrect relationship before God.
Like the words directed against Judah, the sins of Israel that conclude the eightfold messages of judgment (Amos 2:6-8) are also transgressions that are predominantly offences under the Mosaic covenant (although we’ll see below that Judah’s transgression had begun before their external actions had transgressed the Law. The lies that they’d believed were causing their actions to be against God’s will) - for example, the oppression of the poor - Lev 19:15, Deut 15:11, 24:14, sexual sin - Lev 18:15, 20:12 (these verses are taken as being extended to even non-marriage violations of this kind), the forbidden retention of items taken as pledges - Ex 22:26-27, Deut 24:12 (a garment had to be restored before sunset if it was taken in pledge, regardless of whether or not the debt had been repaid) and using the legal system for their own benefit - Ex 21:30-32, 22:16-17 (where the fines spoken of here as having been exacted by the judges seem not to have been returned to those to whom they rightfully belonged).
Israel and Judah were culpable because they had God’s Law, guilty in a way that the nations round about both Judah and Israel couldn’t have been because they’d never entered into a covenant relationship with God that was based upon the same Law.
However, even in a society that has no covenant with God, it has law - whether cultural standards or royal decrees - and it’s these which restrict a deterioration and degeneration of society away from what remains untarnished of the image of God (Gen 1:26).
Therefore, England as well as the United States could stand condemned before God not because He entered into a covenant relationship with them and the commandments of that union have been violated (many a believer still thinks of a nation’s guilt in this way - that it’s culpable for not obeying a Law that it either never agreed to or knew nothing about) but because the light that reveals truths about God and His nature - and which each nation to some extent has received - has been transgressed.
A slackening of even ‘common’ respectability for an ever freer and increasingly degenerate society is a certain testimony that the nation has thrown away sensibility and stands in a dangerous position before the one true Creator of all.
Finally, are we to think of these transgressions being mentioned as contemporary sins or items that should be identified in times’ past and which have been ‘carried over’ by God to this point when the judgment for them will all be poured out? Amhub comments that
‘Most scholarly opinion settles [the indictments] in the later part of the ninth century, two or three scores of years prior to Amos’ time’
and this is done simply because it seems impossible to find sufficient evidence to bring them squarely into the contemporary history of the prophet. Amstu extends this period and sees the sins as being any one of a number of instances that could be pin-pointed from 940BC onwards.
Although impossible to fix all of the sins of the nations concretely into the reigns of both Jeroboam and Uzziah, it doesn’t mean that these events didn’t occur in living memory. But it seems much better to accept Amstu’s comment that the passage demonstrates to us that
‘Sins committed centuries prior can still constitute the effective basis for unleashing the covenant’s [sic - the nations that lay around Israel and Judah were not in covenant relationship with YHWH] punishments at a given point in history’
The prime example of this principle appears to be that of the exile of the southern kingdom of Judah into Babylon because it’s not the transgressions of the people contemporary to the deportation that are singled out as the reason but the sins of Manasseh (II Kings 24:3-4) that had occurred at least fifty years before.
4. Initial word of judgment
So I will send a fire upon xxx and it shall devour the strongholds of xxx
(1:4, 1:7, 1:10, 1:12, 1:14, 2:2, 2:5)
In the first seven sections, this phrase is repeated with minor variations but it’s wholly lacking from the message directed towards Israel and, instead, the prophet speaks of what God has done for them (2:9-12) before outlining the details of His judgment (noted under point 5). The second phrase doesn’t universally include the description as noted above of ‘of xxx’ and is used only four times (1:4, 1:12, 2:2, 2:5), three of them simply ending with the word ‘strongholds’ (1:7, 1:10, 1:14).
The message for the Ammonites also has the RSV render the first phrase as ‘I will kindle a fire…’ (1:14) and the phrases which come after the word ‘fire’ in each of the passages vary by referring to the ‘house’ (1:4), the ‘wall’ (1:7, 1:10, 1:14) or simply moving on to the name upon whom the fire will come (1:12, 2:2, 2:5).
Whatever the slight grammatical differences, there seems to be little or no intended departure from a single meaning - namely, that God will judge the people to whom the message is directed by removing any protection or fortification they might have. Implied is that YHWH will bring a conquering army to overcome the structures that have put up in defence but whose potency as adequate protection has been removed - but this is only implied.
The message doesn’t specifically mention the future growing strength of the Assyrians who were to ultimately advance into the land and overcome Israel - and it doesn’t need to. The implication is simply that what men and women trust in for security will be removed and their possessions given over to either destruction or plundering (this is the meaning of the similar judgment spoken of by Hosea in 8:14 that mentions Israel but limits the fire to be that which destroys the fortifications that had been built throughout the land of Judah).
In truth, the cities and nations may appear to be as strong as they had always been - even stronger as they fortified themselves with wider walls and greater armies (for example, the increasing strength of the Judahite army in II Chr 26:11-15 under king Uzziah, the monarch reigning during Amos’ prophesying).
But it would take the advance of an enemy army to show up their weakness for what it was.
Just as it was - or should have been - in that day when Joshua spoke to the Israelites as they stood on the verge of taking the Promised Land (Num 14:9) so, too, here - for no matter how strong any of the fortifications looked, they would be revealed as made out of tissue paper.
This interpretation would see only a literal fulfilment (a figurative fulfilment sees every man and woman’s security lying in tatters, their treasures and possessions being able to be plundered by all) against fortified areas and cities when Amos 1:4 seems to speak of the genealogical lines of Hazael and Ben-hadad. What’s being noted here, therefore, is that any protection of the kingly line over Damascus would be removed so that the stability of the throne would be undermined (see II Kings 13:3,24 where it’s recorded that Hazael and his son, Ben-hadad, ruled over Damascus).
In short, nothing is safe - no matter how secure it looks - before the judgment of God.
The repeated use of the fire that’s set in the walls of the fortifications is a predominantly military one to symbolise the assault of an enemy on a city but the idea of ‘fire’ is so linked with God’s presence in the official places of worship of the Tabernacle and the Temple (and, I presume, in the sanctuary at Bethel in Israel) that there may have been intended to be a direct allusion to God being ‘in’ the fire.
The burning bush is a case in point where God’s voice was heard coming out of the midst of the fire that burned but which did not consume (Ex 3:1-6), but God also chose to reveal Himself to the Israelites in the fire that led them through the wilderness (Ex 14:24), the fire that came down upon Sinai (Ex 19:18, 24:17) and the fire that dwelt over the Tabernacle at night (Ex 40:38).
God also revealed Himself in the same imagery in the fire that came from God’s presence to consume Aaron’s first offering on the altar in Lev 9:24 (Cp Lev 6:13 - it was to burn continually) and the fire that fell from Heaven when Solomon’s Temple was being dedicated (II Chr 7:1).
In this manner, although the fire that’s set in the wall of a fortification is a purely natural image that speaks of a military conquest, the listeners would probably not have missed the intention of the word to speak of God as being the One who was going to burn with fire and destroy the walls of the strongholds.
5. More words of judgment
(1:5, 1:8, 1:14-15, 2:2-3, 2:13-16)
This expansion (or, in the case of Israel, the first details of the judgment) occurs in only five of the eight passages, the three others ending with the common phrase noted under point 4. These are developments of the theme of the often repeated phrase which precede them, YHWH noting the consequences of His act of judgment in removing their protection from them.
In each of these places - including the details given us concerning Israel - the imagery appears to be one of conquest where the exploitation of the weakness of the place is seen to give opportunity for a conquest that has catastrophic effects.
Benhadad (which Amstu sees as meaning, by translation, ‘Son of the god Hadad’ or, more especially, ‘son of god’. This Benhadad is taken not to be the one mentioned in Amos 1:4) was a king over Syria who attacked Samaria, the capital of Israel, during Ahab’s reign (I Kings 20:1-21).
After his defeat by Ahab’s rare obedience to the voice of YHWH (I Kings 20:13-15), he mustered his army and returned to attack Aphek the following year (II Kings 20:22-43) but was taken captive as he tried to hide himself away in the city he’d come against, Ahab releasing him for the restoration of Israelite cities and the opportunity to trade in Syria’s capital, Damascus (I Kings 20:34).
Even though it seemed an astute political move, God condemned Ahab for letting go the king of Syria that He’d ‘devoted to destruction’ (I Kings 20:42).
Three years later, however, Ahab made an alliance with Jehoshaphat of the southern kingdom of Judah and attempted to restore Ramoth-gilead to Israelite control (I Kings 22:1-4). If we take the words of Ahab as being fairly honest at this point, then it appears that his complaint is founded squarely on the failure of Benhadad to honour the promise made to Ahab for his own release previously (I Kings 20:34) but it may have been a supposed right that Ahab was inventing to strengthen his hand with more troops from the south so that he could overcome, subdue and possess Syrian land.
Even so, the military venture ended in failure (I Kings 22:29-36) as the prophet Micaiah said it would (I Kings 22:19-23). The two nations of Syria and Israel were at least on speaking terms when Naaman was sent with a letter from the king to receive a cure for leprosy (II Kings 5:1-5) even though Israel’s king thought it simply a plot that would give Syria some offence against Israel to invade them (II Kings 5:5-7).
Benhadad was still committed to defeating Israel and possessing their land for II Kings 6:8 mentions, once more, a campaign against Israel. The fact that the writer notes that the scene took place ‘once’ when the king was warring against Israel tends to suggest that there were repeated skirmishes but that no one finally got the upper hand.
Even so, the point of the passage is to show the reader that Israel was being protected by the Word of God through Elisha even though that nation continued to be against Him (II Kings 6:8-23) and that Syria - for a time at least (II Kings 6:23)
‘…came no more on raids into the land of Israel’
But, immediately afterwards, it’s apparent that this was only temporary for Benhadad musters his entire army and besieges Samaria, the capital of Israel (II Kings 6:24 - it should be noted here that there’s no record throughout this entire time of Israel ever advancing upon Damascus, Syria’s capital. Israel was firmly on the defensive even though they did attempt to recover Ramoth-gilead under Ahab).
But he still hasn’t learnt that YHWH is defending Israel (he seems to think that a larger force will defeat their God) and they’re repelled by God causing them to hear the sound of chariots, horses and a great army which they think is the massed ranks of the Hittites and Egyptians coming to the Israelites’ aid (II Kings 7:6-7 - the entire record of the event runs II Kings 6:24-7:20).
The reason for this potted history is to demonstrate that Benhadad knew that there was a Divine power at work in the midst of Israel and that, ultimately, it didn’t matter how powerful an army he sent against the nation, all his efforts would be doomed to failure.
When the prophet Elisha had cause to visit Damascus, it coincided with Benhadad being sick and, far from him still wanting to remove this thorn from his side (II Kings 6:11-14), he decided to inquire of the God who was evidently more powerful than his own, whether he would recover from his sickness (II Kings 8:7-8). We shouldn’t undervalue the witness of God’s power and omnipotence that’s brought to the realisation of our enemies when they find that they’re unable to overcome us - if nothing else, sometimes it will be the means whereby they’re forced into acknowledging the reality of His presence in our midst, even though, like Benhadad, they might never ultimately bow the knee to serve Him.
But neither should we mistakenly think that because God stands against our enemies that it proves our righteousness before Him - in the case of Israel, it was because they were being attacked and that God was merciful towards His people that he raised up prophets to stand in the gap to thwart the enemy’s purpose.
As it says of the times of Jeroboam (who did what was evil before God - II Kings 14:24) in which Amos prophesied, YHWH restored the borders of Israel northwards because (II Kings 14:25-26) He saw
‘…that the affliction of Israel was very bitter…and there was none to help Israel’
Even if the Church should go out and see all of her enemies brought down before it, it still must be morally upright and live according to the will of God - in privilege there’s also responsibility and it’s this that was the main problem that caused Israel to stand condemned before Him.
Benhadad’s response to Elisha’s presence was to send Hazael to meet with Elisha with his question (and forty camel loads of gifts for the privilege - II Kings 8:8-9). It’s Elisha’s own knowledge of the times which lay ahead that causes him to declare to Hazael (II Kings 8:13) that
‘…you are to be king over Syria’
after he’s wept for the actions which will be directed against Israel from Hazael’s hand (II Kings 8:12), that
‘…you will set on fire their fortresses, and you will slay their young men with the sword, and dash in pieces their little ones, and rip up their women with child’
in words that are reminiscent of the ‘fourth transgression’ of Damascus (Amos 2:3) that
‘…they have threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron’
where Amstu suggests that the verse needs the emendation to make it read
‘…they threshed the pregnant women of Gilead with iron threshing sledges’
something that is surely meant to be taken as figurative rather than literal.
Elisha’s observations of what the reign of Hazael would bring to bear on the nation of Israel is sufficient enough for the reader to realise that, although Benhadad his predecessor had come against strategic cities and areas, Hazael seems to have been concerned to make war against the defenceless of the nation when his war, as Benhadad, should have been against his political and spiritual enemies.
Gilead is that region that lay both east and south-east of Galilee and may have been an easy target for the Syrian army who would have been able to fall upon the inhabitants as they chose before the Israelite army could have been gathered together to fight and defend the territory.
As if in partial fulfilment of Elisha’s prophecy, Hazael shows himself to be the despot that the prophet knew he was when he returned to Benhadad and murdered his master as he lay recovering from the illness (II Kings 8:15).
Hazael’s first concern, however, was to successfully defend Ramoth-gilead (which seems to have been a thorn in the side of Israel - II Kings 8:28-29) against the advance of a coalition of both Israel and Judah before advancing to annex parts of Israel into his own territory of Syria (II Kings 10:32-33) and overcoming Gath of the Philistines (II Kings 12:17 - later, in Amos’ time, king Uzziah of Judah was to conquer Gath which seems to have reverted to Philistine control by that time - II Chr 26:6) before being ‘paid off’ by Jehoash, king of Judah, so that he’d turn away from Judah’s capital.
God’s anger against the Israelites became increased in the reign of Jehoahaz (II Kings 13:1) and He allowed both Hazael and Hazael’s son, Benhadad (the Benhadad of Amos 1:4), to have continual success against them whenever they advanced into their land (II Kings 13:3,22), it being noted that the king of Israel’s army had been destroyed by Syria who had
‘…made them like the dust of threshing’
Even so, YHWH still listened to the king’s voice and raised up a deliverer to alleviate the oppression of His people (II Kings 13:5,23), expecting repentance and obedience to the covenant but receiving nothing (II Kings 13:6). When Benhadad, Hazael’s son and successor came to full power over Syria, his reign appears to initially have been weaker than that of his father because Jehoahaz was able to recover the cities that had been defeated and occupied earlier (II Kings 13:25). Hazael seems to be condemned through Amos, then, not because they’ve gone out to war against Israel but because, in his conquest of the people of Israel, he’d gone beyond the bounds of accepted behaviour. Ammot is right when he comments that
‘War or no war, Hazael had no liberty to treat people as if they were things’
God realises that there will always be wars and fighting between individual men, tribes and nations because of sin but He expects those who carry on such war to be restricted by the bounds of compassion and mercy.
And it seems to be Hazael’s actions which bring condemnation upon his entire lineage, Benhadad being singled out for mention primarily because he was the head of Syria following Hazael’s death, where the sin of the father has caused a judgment to fall upon his ‘house’ that will spread even to the pride of his offspring, the heir Benhadad. The condemnation seems to be, then, that the protection of Hazael’s line has been removed and that it will soon be ended totally and not just, as Amstu states, that, it would imply
‘…an end to a dynasty’
Here we’re looking at the end of a genealogical line.
But Amos goes on to expand upon the judgment (Amos 1:5) by commenting that the ‘bar of Damascus’ will be broken (Amhub rightly identifies this bar as that which ‘…held in place the massive gate…’ and is seen to ‘…cave under [God’s] onslaught’. Indeed, the idea seems to be certain that a military attack and defeat is being prophesied as the ultimate fate of the city), the inhabitants of the valley of Aven would be ‘cut off’, the one who ruled over Beth-eden would also be cut off (Amhub sees both of these as lying north of the capital Damascus though Amstu is less convinced that they’ve been positively identified, his ‘positive’ identification of the area in which Beth-eden lay being rather vague. The point, however, seems to be that, if the northern lands of the kingdom is being conquered, the advance of the army would also be seen to be from this general direction) and the inhabitants of Syria would ‘…go into exile to Kir’ (where Kir is stated in Amos 9:7 as being the place from which YHWH had brought up the Syrians to possess the land that they now dwelt in. Such a return to Kir is tantamount to the similar saying that Israel would be exiled from Canaan and removed back into the nation of Egypt from which they’d been delivered. Amstu positively identifies it as being near the Persian Gulf although, this time, it’s Amhub who’s not convinced that a positive identification is possible).
I’ve previously noted that a partial fulfilment of the conquest of Damascus would have occurred in the life of most of the people who were to hear Amos’ message, for Jeroboam retook Damascus in his reign (II Kings 14:28), but the final outworking of the prophecy came about when Pekin, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Syria, joined forces to attack Jerusalem (II Kings 16:5) while Ahaz, king of Judah, sent tribute to the king of Assyria to deliver him from their power (II Kings 16:8). The result was that the king (II Kings 16:9)
‘…marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir…’
an exile that Amos had predicted (Amos 1:5).
The mention of Gaza here refers to the city of the Philistines and shouldn’t be confused with the area called the ‘Gaza Strip’ in the present day, even though that region would contain the city.
Gaza was one of the five ruling cities of the Philistines (I Sam 6:4) - which are accepted as being Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gaza, Gath and Ekron - and it may be that Gaza is singled out for specific mention because, at this time, it was generally regarded to have been the more important or the chief instigator of the ‘fourth transgression’.
Four of these cities are mentioned here so that the word being spoken seems to be primarily against the Philistine people, though Gath is omitted for whatever reason. It’s sometimes thought to have been out of the control of the Philistines at this point in history and this may be possible for the Syrians under Hazael took it years previous (II Kings 12:17) before what appears to have been a resettling of the place by the Philistines in time for Uzziah, the king of Judah during Amos’ pronouncements, to conquer it during his reign (II Chr 26:6-7).
We might suppose, then, that Uzziah’s conquest of Gath had already taken place by this time but that Ashdod (which is mentioned alongside Uzziah’s campaign in Philistine territory) was still under their control - Amstu proposes that Gath may have been under the control of Ashdod at this point in its history, having been weakened by the successive attacks of Syria and Judah but that certainly
‘…after the ninth century, it was probably not independent’
Although the Judahite king is recorded as having built cities (II Chr 26:6)
‘…in the territory of Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines’
it seems to have been less than a total conquest of the land and its people for, later on, Hezekiah is recorded (II Chr 18:8) as attacking the Philistines
‘…as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city’
Amhub lists three specific reasons why Gath may have been ignored but each one is as good as the other and there appears to be nothing that would point us conclusively one way or the other.
As to the exact nature of the transgression, Amhub thinks of it as
‘…a purely commercial transaction in which the Philistines raided the neighbour towns of Judah and Israel and sold their prisoners to Edom’
even though the commentator is quick to point out that it’s not mentioned if there was a specific people or peoples who they brought into captivity - there’s only a general disclosure of what the ‘fourth transgression’ was that was about to bring God’s judgment upon them.
Joel 3:4-8, however, links the Philistines (along with Tyre and Sidon - Tyre is similarly condemned for this practice in Amos 1:9) with the imprisonment of the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem and their selling into the hands of the Greeks (Joel 3:6) so that the object of the enslavement in Amos seems warranted to include God’s own people.
However, Amstu notes that the text actually mentions that the Philistines had carried away a ‘whole people’ and therefore that their transgression was
‘…the capture, enslavement and sale of the population of some town or small region, including all the men, women and children rather than merely the soldiers…’
which he links to a time when either Israel or Judah were seen to have been particularly vulnerable to such a raid. There’s certainly no specific mention of such an attack in the pages of Scripture even though the Amalekites demonstrated that, when a land became stripped of its military presence, an opportunist force could steal in and take whatever it chose (I Samuel 27:5-7, 30:1-5).
Even though they may have made slaves of many people, amongst them the society of the Israelites, the actions of both the Philistines and the Tyrians may have been proverbial and specifically applicable in the minds of Amos’ hearers as a trait of that nation.
The Mosaic Law never condemned slavery as being a sin per se but it did set the bounds of slavery and the way in which a person might voluntarily find themselves working for a master, to be freed in the sabbatical or Jubilee year (Leviticus chapter 25 and see my notes on these two subjects here).
YHWH isn’t condemning the Philistines for not being obedient to a law that they probably didn’t know existed but that they’ve forced men and women into bondage for their own profit when there’s no end to those people’s servitude.
In other words, God expects that, although slavery may continue to be practised, it’s done without the exploitation of human life which the Philistines had trampled in the dirt. Ammot concludes that the condemnation is such that it teaches
‘…the priority of human welfare over commercial profit’
a call to the unbelieving industries and businesses of this present world to think carefully whether increased hours and working conditions are reflecting such a desire of God. However, it seems better to think of the freedom of the will as being the underlying principle here that was being transgressed for, if a man or woman was to sell themselves into slavery, they should do so voluntarily and be entitled to benefit from the price put on their own life (for example, as payment for their personal debt).
Edom aren’t held accountable for their purchase of the slaves offered to them (Amos 1:6) and are condemned for a transgression which is totally different (Amos 1:11) so that the mention of the nation to which the slaves came seems to have been purely an incidental added by the prophet or, perhaps, a prompt to the mind of the Israelite who was listening as to which event was being referred to.
Even though Syria had been promised that they would be exiled back to the land of their origin (Amos 1:5), the judgment upon the Philistines is worse for even the remnant of their people would be wiped out from the face of the earth (Amos 1:8).
Like Syria, though, the judgment is expanded to have to refer to a conquest of the land that would be final and total. Although part of the land may have been annexed into Jewish hands in the lives of those who were listening to Amos and, therefore, they would have perceived a partial fulfilment which pointed them towards the accuracy of the word spoken against their own nation, it was to await a complete fulfilment under the Assyrians who conquered this land during the latter years of the eighth century (Ashdod and Gath’s sacking are dated to 715BC by Zondervan though it appears that the Philistine presence was gradually removed over the course of several years rather than in one quick conquest).
Amos concludes by announcing that the words have been spoken (my italics) in the name of
‘…the Lord YHWH’
a unique phrase in these series of judgments. This use of ‘Lord’ (or ‘Adonai’ - Strongs Hebrew number 136) hints at God as being the true Master of all mankind. The true Master, then, is only dealing with the Philistines on the same basis as they themselves had exercised mastery over their captives - by selling them into the hands of their enemies.
The Judge is doing no more than they themselves have done, returning their own deeds upon their heads.
The ‘fourth transgression’ of Tyre is similar in nature to that of Gaza which has preceded it in that they had also
‘…delivered up a whole people to Edom’
but the immensity of the sin is further expanded upon because Amos defines the transgression as being a deliberate refusal to
‘…remember the covenant of brotherhood’
a difficult and enigmatic phrase that seems to cause a lot of problems as soon as an interpretation is attempted for, as Amstu comments, ‘brotherhood treaty’ (as he translates the latter two words)
‘…is a term unattested elsewhere’
although he favours an interpretation that sees it as a summary of a
‘…lengthy co-operative relationship that had existed between the Phoenicians and the Israelites…’
citing actions that took place under David, Solomon and, finally, Ahab (although his Scripture reference for the latter refers to the marriage alliance of Jezebel who was the daughter of a Sidonian - and not a Tyrian - king).
While it’s quite true that relationships between Hiram, the king of Tyre, and Solomon were favourable, if not downright friendly (I Kings 5:1-12, 9:10-14, 26-28, 10:11-12. Hiram dealt kindly with Solomon because he had loved David, his father - I Kings 5:1), any breach of a treaty or agreement between Tyre and the Jews of future years must really be anchored back into the treaty that was made between the two kings in I Kings 5:12.
As we don’t know its contents, however, it’s difficult to be certain whether Amos has it in mind, but it would appear that such a transgression committed back in the time when it was made would be less likely to be meant than something that had occurred in living memory (for new kingdoms cannot necessarily be bound by the agreements of previous kings and a new hierarchy will make new agreements with their neighbours as the times dictate - besides, we still don’t know what the treaty actually said and any application would be pure speculation).
As Tyre isn’t so much as mentioned after it’s importance in the Temple building project under Solomon, we’re clutching at straws to have to make Amos’ words apply to something for which there’s no Scriptural evidence.
On the other hand, Tyre was well known as being one of the ports that traded with the world (Is 23:5-8, Ezek 27:1,12-24) that traded in slaves who came not just from God’s people but from further flung places (Joel 3:4-6, Ezek 27:13) - indeed, where there was a dollar to be made, they seemed to be unconcerned as to what they traded in exchange, Amstu noting that their
‘…trading empire [was] particularly powerful in the eighth century and thereafter…’
something that shows that Tyre’s wealth and importance would have been well-known to Amos’ contemporaries.
It’s almost impossible to now be certain whether the RSV’s term ‘covenant of brotherhood’ is meant to be taken as a reference to an agreement that was made between Tyre and another people in which they pledged familial loyalty and commitment, or whether the idea is meant to be that it was their own flesh and blood that they’d betrayed by taking them into slavery and selling them on to the Edomites.
Both appear to be possible even though it’s the former that appears to be the more likely.
All that we can say with any real certainty here, however, is that whatever the specifics of the transgression, it must have been well-known amongst the nation of Israel for it to be a relevant declaration with which people could associate.
Both Tyre (Amos 1:11-12) and Gaza (Amos 1:6-8 - better, the Philistines) have been condemned for dealing in slaves destined for the Edomite market. Here, we read of the ‘fourth transgression’ of Edom, the sin that’s caused God’s judgment to be irrevocably directed towards that nation, but the buying of the slaves isn’t so much as hinted at in the text.
We must assume, therefore, that the sin of both Tyre and Gaza were individual ones that didn’t ‘bleed over’ to those who received their captives. That Amhub comments that
‘Edom has played a villainous role in the two previous speeches’
is incorrect for no condemnation is laid at that nation’s door for their actions - rather, the reason why it seems to be named is because YHWH is isolating the incident by which both the Philistines and the Tyrians received judgment.
Of course, it could be supposed that the violence done to the brother here alluded to is none other than a reaction of the Edomites to the slaves that were delivered to them by both the Tyrians and Philistines but it’s not an obvious attribution.
Edom’s transgression of familial loyalty is best explained.
When Isaac, Abraham’s son, took Rebekah as his wife (Gen 25:20), twins were born to them. The sons Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:25-26) were prophesied as destined to become ‘two nations’ (Gen 25:23) which they eventually did - Jacob, having his name changed to Israel at Penuel (Gen 32:28), became the father of all the Israelites and was the source, therefore, from which both the nations of Judah in the south and Israel in the north had sprung, while Esau grew and became the nation Edom (he acquired the nickname in Gen 25:29-30 when he sold his birthright for red pottage) that occupied territory to the south east of the Promised Land, where the individual had moved before his death (Gen 32:3).
Therefore, when Moses and the Israelites are travelling to the east of Canaan in order to enter their inheritance, Moses is able to petition Edom’s king (Num 20:14) and say
‘Thus says your brother Israel…’
calling upon the family ties that should have caused them each to have looked after the affairs of the other. However, the response of the king probably reflected the feelings of the society in general for he replied (Num 20:18 - my italics) with the words
‘You shall not pass through lest I come out with the sword against you’
This antagonism seems to have existed throughout the dealings of the Jews with the descendants of Esau and, although it would be going too far to think that both nations should have contributed to one another’s prosperity, YHWH expected that they should, at least, not go out of their way to do each other harm (the reader will note, therefore, that I’ve taken the identification of the ‘brother’ to be the nations of Israel and Judah even though they’re not directly mentioned in the text).
In a later prophetic message directed solely against the nation of Edom, the prophet Obadiah speaks of the final annihilation of the Edomite line (Obad 10,18) announcing to that nation (Obad 10) that
‘For the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off for ever’
where the descriptor ‘Jacob’ is the source from whom both the nations of Israel and Judah had come. Their action is spelt out in no uncertain terms as well and the reader isn’t left to ponder what sort of violence might have been poured out upon ‘the brother’.
YHWH continues by noting that in the day of His people’s distress, the Edomites had only sought to plunder what they could for themselves, rejoicing in their downfall rather than being sympathetic to their plight (Obad 11-13 see also Ps 137:7) and, specifically in the same spirit as Amos’ words against them (Obad 14), that they shouldn’t have
‘…stood at the parting of the ways to cut off his fugitives [and] delivered up his survivors in the day of distress’
where it’s probably the final exile of the Israelites under the Assyrians and the Judahites under the Babylonians that’s in mind (events which still lay in the future at the time when Amos was prophesying).
Even though Obadiah speaks of them as already having taken place, this shouldn’t cause us to limit their application to events that had already transpired - but it should also make the reader wonder at whether or not the hard and fast interpretation of both myself and other commentators that all these ‘fourth transgressions’ took place in the past are accurate.
It remains possible that, far from being historic sins, YHWH had deemed them to be prophetic warnings that would serve as a word of condemnation had the nations committed them but that they also provided a way of escape from the judgment if they heeded the message.
However, the better interpretation is to take them as historic records.
Amos’ observation, then, is to note that to be angry forever with Jacob’s descendants was what concluded their sin before Him and from which there would be no escape. Perhaps, even, we should use the prophetic passages in Obadiah to read into Amos’ words that the ultimate sin of Edom was to add trouble to trouble - that is, that Edom waited for the time when Jerusalem was oppressed and weak before it attacked both Judah and Israel rather than to see in the warring of the nations that took place frequently in OT history, the cause for the condemnation. However, for the purposes of this commentary, we’ll take Amos as it stands, even though there’s application to the present day Church from Obadiah which we’ll discuss below.
Amhub prefers the NIV’s rendering of the last phrase of verse 11 which tells us of Edom that
‘…his fury flamed unchecked’
going on to speak of Edom’s violence directed against his brother as being
‘…utterly out of control’
It certainly was a long-standing hatred if it’s taken, as is normally done, to have originated because Esau was tricked into giving away his birthright to Jacob, cited above. The Bible records the fact that it was just as much to do with Esau despising what he should have held fast to (Gen 25:34) than it was with Jacob’s scheming, and it wasn’t until the time came for the birthright and blessing to be given that Esau realised the consequences of his own actions (Gen 27:41) and
‘…hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him…“I will kill my brother Jacob”’
Such things happen in the Church, too.
I don’t mean to write about individual antagonisms that seem to divide the fellowships up internally - even though there are a great many of these that inspire heated anger between brothers for whom Christ died equally (and I’m not speaking of brothers who simply don’t get on because they have different outlooks and lifestyles - or even proposing that everyone should give everyone else hugs and holy kisses, refusing to call anyone to give an account of their personal wrong conduct).
Jesus spoke about these problems on more than one occasion (Mtw 5:23-24, 18:15 - see my notes here and here respectively) while Paul’s command (I Thess 5:13)
‘Be at peace among yourselves’
summarises the expected state of each fellowship through the state of the believers there present.
Rather, this passage has to do with a nation against another - of animosity and anger that’s poured out by one group of people with a specific identity upon another group who have a different identity because of something that occurred sometimes years before.
Even though the NT never conceived that there would be schisms and fractures in the Body of Christ (we spiritualise them with the label ‘denominations’, by the way, and make them sound almost God-given and part of the perfect - or acceptable - will of God…depending on whether or not you believe God has two wills), the fact remains that we’ve compartmentalised God as being ‘ours’ and ‘not quite’ theirs who meet over the road in that ‘ghastly architectural monstrosity’.
I’m not talking about the need to stand up for foundational doctrines and to refuse to water down the Gospel of Jesus Christ (that’s another issue entirely) but that we should consider carefully that a lot of our denominations have the same foundational beliefs in their ‘statement’ or ‘constitution’ and that we each know how important it is to seek God for direction and to know His will.
Why is it, then, that we remain divided if we’re truly seeking God? Has God decided that He doesn’t want one pure Church or aren’t we listening to Him? And why do many denominations think of themselves as the ‘pure’ and consign others to the place of either eternal punishment or of the ‘got in by the skin of their teeth’ section of Heaven?
More importantly when it comes to the passage in Amos and Obadiah, why do denominations secretly rejoice when other denominations struggle, close or have trouble? Instead of running round with reinforcements to support and strengthen ‘the brethren’, we stand back and, even if we don’t summarise their dilemma as ‘out of God’s will’ or ‘they need to repent’, we seldom put any of our resources of time and money to restore them.
Even worse, we find justification for undermining them and find Scriptural reason to shake their own stability and security by our verbal attacks. If one aspect of successive revivals has been almost consistent throughout Church history it’s been this - that the recipients of the previous revival are nearly always the people who persecute the recipients of the next move of the Holy Spirit amongst His people.
Sure, what happened in Toronto had excesses - but to deny God’s awesome power as being present in the midst and consigning the supernatural to a satanic spirit is no better than what the Pharisees did when Jesus cast out the demonic spirits (Mtw 12:22-24), Jesus observing that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit wouldn’t be forgiven them (Mtw 12:32 - see my notes on this subject here).
And here in Amos, Edom, the blood brother of both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, stands condemned before God because they attacked to kill, casting off all pity because of the unceasing anger that they hadn’t dealt with from times past - that is, Jacob had obtained something that Esau had thought was theirs by right and, because they no longer had the blessing, they didn’t see why their brother should enjoy it.
Finally, Teman and Bozrah were two cities/regions in the Edomite nation and are probably summarised best by Amstu where he comments that
‘Teman was Edom’s southernmost major city and/or region and Bozrah its northernmost city/region’
between which most of Edom’s population were settled. The two towns are singled out, therefore, as a shorthand way of saying that the judgment of God was to fall throughout the nation, calling everyone to give an account of themselves for the treatment meted out against their brother.
Ammon and Moab
Ammon (Amos 1:13-15) and Moab (Amos 2:1-3) originated as blood brothers, the offspring of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his two daughters when they were unable to find a suitable man in their own land to have children by (Gen 19:30-38 - Ammon, although the name of the tribe, was actually descended from Ben-ammi which was the name of the second son) - mind you, I can sympathise with how the two women must have felt for I look around me and wonder how a woman could find a suitable and adequate father in my own generation.
In the Law, YHWH commanded the Israelites (Deut 23:3-4) that
‘No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of YHWH; even to the tenth generation...’
(even though Ruth, the Moabitess, was the mother of David and he sat on the throne within the span of ten generations - see my notes in Part Two of the Genealogy) giving the reason because
‘...they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came forth out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you’
a reference back to Numbers chapters 22-24 (where only the Moabites are mentioned as having conspired against them). Moses never petitioned the leaders of the two nations to pass through the land and may have chosen not to do so because there were no direct blood ties that he could call on, the Israelites being plainly told (Deut 2:19) that no land was to be given them which belonged to the Ammonites - and, presumably, the Moabites also - who had been allocated their land by God.
Ammon are noted as being both instigators of violence against the Israelites (Judges 10:9, 11:4, I Sam 11:1, II Sam 10:1-5, II Kings 24:1-2, II Chr 20:1) and a people who were willing to join in another’s campaign to do the same (Judges 3:13), their gods being a cause of stumbling to the people of the land (Judges 10:6, I Kings 11:5).
Amhub points out that the nation appear to have been
‘...perpetually restless for conquest...’
for they were a land-locked nation, pressed in by the nations which lay on all sides and which may well have been seen to have been a continual threat to their own existence. The situation in which they found themselves, then, was certainly a good reason to attempt (Amos 1:13) to
‘...enlarge their border’
but not at any price and regardless of a moral stance that was there to safeguard the defenceless. Even in war, as we’ve previously said, there are certain bounds over which YHWH doesn’t expect the people of the world to step over.
Ammon’s (and Moab’s) sin could never have been a betrayal of familial loyalty towards both Israel and Judah so the ‘fourth transgression’ that’s here mentioned (and which seems to have been directed against the Jews resident in the land of Gilead which lay to the west and north of their territory) isn’t condemned as such - rather, it’s the atrocity that it is that brings God’s word of condemnation to the nation for they’ve attacked the helpless and have spared no one as they sought to extend their territory.
It’s solely in their attack on the weaker sections of society that they should have left alive that they find that they’ve committed the final act of unfaithfulness before the Creator - they’ve transgressed what’s plainly perceivable as being His will rather than that they’ve been disobedient to any written code or nationally acknowledged covenant. It’s this abhorrence of even the most basic of humanities that lies at the root of the fourth transgression, then, and not a violation of a written law - the idea is not just that the pregnant women are being killed, because such an attack also impinges upon the entry of life into the world - that is, of the unborn child.
The word used in the RSV - ‘ripped’ - is a violent word (Strongs Hebrew number 1234) and appears to mean something more than simply ‘killing’ for TWOTOT defines it, quoting Green, as
‘a strenuous cleaving of recalcitrant materials’
and we aren’t meant to see simply the killing of pregnant women but the atrocity of the way in which it was achieved (a similar event occurs in II Kings 15:16 but, this time, it’s done by the hand of an Israelite king).
Ammot views the principal somewhat differently as being one that speaks of
‘...the limitation of personal ambition by the rights of the helpless’
so that, although expansion and ambition aren’t being condemned, they aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of living on earth and such aspirations are expected to be checked when they begin to destroy the weak and helpless of society. Although specifically a word for the ‘unsaved’ (the message of Amos is directed against the Gentiles), it’s one that the Church must also carefully consider for it isn’t in the promotion to greater spiritual offices and higher callings that a man finds favour before God but in his commitment not to extinguish the spiritual lives of those that are depending upon him for care and protection.
Many a pastor would have done better to stay where they were and continued looking after the flock than to eagerly jump at the opportunity to move on to ‘greener pastures’.
Even though God may withdraw his hand and allow His judgment to be poured out in like manner by a people who showed no mercy to young and old, strong and weak alike (Hosea 13:16), it doesn’t mean that the instigators of such violence will go unpunished.
Amstu comments that, in the days of Amos
‘...Ammon was firmly under Israelite control...’
citing I Kings 4:25 as support for this position. However, that Scripture only has to do with the extension of the border of Israel into areas where Ammon wasn’t settled and it’s better to see in II Chr 26:8 a comment that Ammon had been brought into subjection not by Israel but by Judah to the south.
However, as we don’t know when this tribute was paid by the Ammonites to Judah - that is, at what date in Uzziah’s reign - it’s impossible for us to say with any real authority that it was contemporary with the prophet at all. But we do know that the subjection of Ammon continued even in Jotham’s (Uzziah’s son) reign (II Chr 27:5) although, as Jotham co-ruled with his father after he contracted leprosy, the two separate pieces of information may be referring to one and the same incident.
God is also seen as the worker of the judgment and not just as the hand behind it for here, unlike the other passages, it’s said that God Himself would
‘...kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah...’
rather than simply to have one ‘sent’. It would be tempting to insist that God Himself is concerned to show His direct involvement in the outpouring of His anger because the fourth transgression is considered to be worse than any of the others, but this is without warrant. It seems more like a simple change of phraseology to emphasise not just here but also in each of the other places that God moves in fire to deal with sin, rather than to sit on the sidelines allowing it to happen.
Finally, we should note that Rabbah was the capital of the Ammonite kingdom (Amstu notes that it was ‘their only major city’) and is now the place where Amman, the capital of Jordan, is located. The judgment to fall will remove the rulers from power (Amos 1:15) with the immediate break down of law and order that this would bring about.
Although the expansion of the judgment indicates that an enemy army was to be the means whereby God’s judgment was to be brought about, Amos stops short of saying that the people of Ammon would be utterly removed from off the face of the earth as he has done of the Philistines (Amos 1:8), though Amstu notes that, after Assyrian invasion and the payment of a tribute to the empire
‘It collapsed as an independent nation under Babylonian attack and was largely depopulated in the sixth century...’
Moab, on the other hand, were condemned by their treatment not of the living but of their lack of respect for the dead. Their treatment of the Israelites in the OT is so similar to that of their brother Ammon that it’s almost justification for seeing them as operating from the same game plan.
For, just like Ammon, Moab were frequently (but not always - I Sam 22:3-4) an enemy of the Jewish settlers in a literal physical assault against their dwelling places (Judges 3:12, I Sam 12:9, II Kings 1:1, 3:5, 13:20, 24:2) but also in their perversion of the pure worship of YHWH by an assimilation into Jewish society of their gods (Judges 10:6, I Kings 11:7,33 - the sin of Solomon lasted for many years and was only finally cut out of the society in the times of Josiah - II Kings 23:13)
But these ‘sins’ outlined above aren’t thought of in familial terms and neither is the offence laid out in Amos connected with these events - it concerns, rather, their macabre attack on the dead body of an Edomite king and it’s for this that they receive condemnation as the ‘fourth transgression’.
In II Kings 3:6-9, we read of the allied forces of Israel, Judah and Edom marching out against Moab to defeat it because of the latter’s rebellion against the throne of Israel and that, ultimately, Moab was able to escape defeat (II Kings 3:27). Amhub seems to take this as the point of ‘sharp conflict’ between the two neighbouring states even though he doesn’t put it as plainly as I have, but all this can surely tell us is that around seventy-five years prior to Amos’ prophecy, both Edom and Moab weren’t on the best of terms (to put it mildly).
He also cites Mesha’s inscription
‘...preserved on the so-called Moabite stone [that] refers to a southern incursion that Mesha made against Horonaim, apparently an Edomite city situated about twelve kilometres east of the southern tip of the Dead Sea’
as sufficient evidence that the two nations hadn’t too much love lost between them - it doesn’t however, give us a clear proof that this was the incident that Amos is referring to (and the Moabite stone text at this point is broken, disappearing into oblivion where it was damaged). Besides, the dynasty of Israel mentioned on the stone is that of Omri’s son (who’s unnamed in the inscription but who should be Ahab) and, if the description is taken literally, was more distant from Amos and from the prophecy than the Scriptural evidence cited above.
It seems better, however, to accept Moab’s ‘rebellion’ in Jehoram’s time ( who was the grandson of Omri but it’s still accurate to label him as Omri’s son as he was the first king in that particular dynasty and all those who sat on his throne are his sons) and that the details in I Kings chapter 3 tie in with the history of his rebellion on the Moabite Stone.
Interestingly, Mesha records (as quoted in Zondervan - other translations I’ve seen give variations but the main thrust of the message remains the same) that he went up to seize Nebo from Israel and that he
‘...went up by night, fought against it from daybreak to noon and took it, slaying everyone; seven thousand men, boys, women girls and maidservants for I had consecrated it to Ashtar-Chemosh’
It seems plain, then, that the Moabites were in the habit of annihilating all the people they could find when they overthrew a city or region and may have been equally as guilty as the Ammonites in their condemnation.
The bottom line, though, is that the Moabite stone shows us plainly that Edom and Moab seem to have been enemies and not peaceful neighbours - a fair enough background and reason to understand that the burning of the king of Edom’s bones is literally possible.
When Jehu was used by YHWH to wipe out Ahab’s line (II Kings 9:4-10) and had Jezebel killed (II Kings 9:30-33), he still considered her worthy of a burial, observing that
‘...she is a king’s daughter’
and was deserving of it as a mark of royal respect. The king of Edom didn’t so much as get this, however, and the treatment of leadership seems to have demanded some level of basic respect even if you were their enemy. Amhub appears to be correct (but we have no definitive statement to this effect) when he observes that Moab’s action
‘...violated the mores of the ancient world...’
but equally relevant is Amstu’s explanation that to burn the bones ‘to ashes’ was to ‘prevent resurrection’ because it was believed that
‘...the original body’s remains would be fleshed out and enlivened at the time of a general resurrection of the dead...To burn someone’s bones...was an attempt to prevent - at least symbolically - the opportunity for that person to participate in the resurrection, thus to wish for him or her eternal death’
If this is the case, its offence before God is that - in the mind of those of that region and culture - it took the choice of raising the person up from the dead out of the hand of YHWH and into their own, a transgression which denied God the ultimate right to the impartation of eternal life or death (although in real terms, I don’t believe God would be that limited).
Kerioth is singled out for destruction, probably because the main centre of Chemosh worship was here, constructed by Mesha after his revolt against Israel (he states that he built the place because ‘...he delivered me from all who would cast me down, and because he granted me revenge against all my enemies’) and it was before Chemosh, his god, that he brought the
‘...vessels of YHWH...’
The worship centre, therefore, seems to become the considered capital of the Moabite nation because it was from here that the conquests of the Moabites began and to here that spoil of their victims was brought - and, perhaps, because it was seen to be the inspiration behind the ‘fourth transgression’.
In the entry of new life into the earth and in the departure of life into the next, both Ammon and Moab had shown no respect - although the two sins are commonly held to be vastly different, they are, in fact, transgressions that bear a common theme and, therefore, they bear a common curse.
It strikes me that the easiest and simplest understanding of Amos 1:13 is to take the offence to have been the violence that had been directed against the defenceless and vulnerable women of Gilead and not against the unborn children that they were carrying.
However, there’s an application here when compared to the fourth transgression of Moab (Amos 2:1) that causes us to think of these two judgments as being complimentary. To see the annihilation of the unborn children as being partially what YHWH is speaking about makes more sense or, perhaps better, it gives added meaning to the statement.
God expects the Gentile world to show respect to both the bringing in of life into the world and its outgoing - not in the form of verbal formulae or ceremonies (after all, the fourth transgressions here recorded are those which occur in the unbelieving nations of the earth and, therefore, must be seen to be applicable outside the Church) but in its protection. As Ammot comments
‘...actions directed towards men provoke reactions from God’
and there appears to be none more cut and dried an action by God directed towards ‘unbelieving’ man than God’s judgment of the world through the Flood (Gen 6:5-7,11-13) where, even though the world might deny responsibility towards Him for they have no divine law, He still holds them accountable for the violations of conscience and the transgression of what can clearly be perceived about God in the world around them (Rom 1:18-23 and, as a consequence, 1:24-32).
Even when no law exists, God holds men and women responsible for their actions (Gen 4:10-12) because every individual has a measure of the image of God put there at Creation which bears witness to the nature of God (Gen 1:26).
The expansions of the judgments on both Ammon and Moab speak of an military overthrow of a single city and state - although in different language - that the leader of both nations will be removed from power along with the princes that reign under him (those of Moab being slain while Ammon’s will be exiled).
A leadership in a nation or region which begins to allow the exploitation and destruction of new life and the desecration of the dead for purely selfish motives is a people who will, likewise, be offensive to God and deserving judgment.
Judah, the southern kingdom
We might have expected a fuller treatment of the judgment about to fall upon Judah seeing as it was the closest of Israel’s neighbours (‘closest’ in the sense that the nation had come out from it, that it confessed to serving YHWH and that it was similarly in a covenant relationship with Him) but we get one of the briefest of details of all the eight judgments.
There’s a very real sense that the reader needs to leave behind the context and reason for the judgments that have been declared to the previous six destinations because both Judah and Israel stood in a fundamentally different relationship before God in the same way as the Church stands before God with more responsibility before Him than the secular, unbelieving world.
We’ve often forgotten this and applied the ‘laws’ and commands of the Kingdom to the world, holding them up to give an account of themselves for the transgressions of the Law that they haven’t committed themselves to - that is, if we were to consider the position under the Old Covenant, it would be like saying that the Government of this land stand condemned before God because they don’t love their neighbour and seek out his welfare (Ex 20:17, Lev 19:18, Deut 22:4).
Rather, the Government stand condemned or justified before God on the basis of how they’ve dealt with and applied those truths about God that can be clearly perceived in the world around them (Rom 1:18-23) so that it remains true (Rom 2:12) that
‘All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law’
This has been the basis of every word against the Gentile nations mentioned previously in Amos who have no Divine law (although I have applied a couple of them to the need for the Church to judge itself where I’ve felt it was particularly relevant). They stand condemned before God not because they’ve transgressed a law of God that they didn’t know existed but because they’ve transgressed even the most fundamental of accepted behaviour that was easily discernible as wrong.
As the application of Amos’ words have been rightly levelled by interpretation at our present day society so, now, the following two judgments of God upon His own people must be paralleled in the life of the present day Church.
We have no right to spiritualise the ‘blessings’ and promises given to Israel, thinking that, in Christ, they’re now our due if we’re unwilling to also accept a spiritualisation of the responsibilities of the nation and the words of judgment that came from Him when they were blatantly disobeyed. Ammot succinctly summarises the position when he writes that
‘The uniqueness of the Church includes its unique peril’
YHWH’s words are short and to the point in these two verses which remain one of the shortest judgments of the eight proclaimed by Amos. He declares that Judah’s ‘fourth transgression’ lies in the fact that they’ve
‘...rejected the law of YHWH and have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray after which their fathers walked’
something which is immediately strange when we realise that this proclamation takes place in the reign of Uzziah (II Chr 26:4) who
‘...did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, according to all that his father Amaziah had done’
and, even though, through an act of impiety and pride, he was struck down with leprosy for the final years of his reign (II Chr 26:21), his son, Jotham, reigned on his behalf and it’s recorded similarly (II Chr 27:2) that
‘...he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH according to all that his father Uzziah had done - only he did not invade the Temple of YHWH...’
We would have thought that ‘like king, like people’ but such a proverb doesn’t work because, speaking of Jotham’s righteousness before God, the scribe continues to note (II Chr 27:2 - my italics) that
‘...the people still followed corrupt practices’
where the implication of the italicised word is that this wasn’t something that began in Jotham’s reign but something that was continuing as a bleed over from that inherited from his father. While the leadership was faithful to God and stood in an almost protecting way as an intermediary, the nation continued - but, under the surface, Judah was as corrupt as ever it had been.
Therefore God’s words through Amos address the situation and speak directly into the life of the people but not against the throne and leadership who were faithful to Him. While it may be reasoned that Uzziah and Jotham could have done more to uncorrupt and reform Judahite society, it’s not something for which they’re condemned and the people who practised sin are the ones who are spoken against. However, the transgression is so widespread as to cause YHWH to level the charge against the entire nation.
Their rejection of YHWH’s Law (the Mosaic covenant) is founded squarely on the lies that they’ve believed and acted upon and which have been duplicated from their fathers (where ‘fathers’ may not strictly mean their direct blood father of the previous generation but, rather, their descendants of countless generations from the time of the exodus onwards). What they’re doing is simply repeating the disobedience that had been so intrinsically a part of the nation - even though YHWH had called them to Himself to be a holy and distinct people, separated to Him for service (Ex 19:5-6).
But their refusal to live by God’s Law was based firmly on lies.
As a comment on the state of the present day Church, there’s little that seems any better than this for the choice is laid down to either follow the true way or that which is founded upon wrong assumptions and false beliefs.
Just recently, talking to a believer in the States, I was reminded that a lot of the Church’s giving is based upon a lie - namely that God commands you to tithe and that, if you do, He’ll materially prosper you (my notes on tithing can be found here) while, if you don’t, you’ll be poor and in need. Although claimed to come from Mal 3:6-12, it’s more a ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ theology and a ‘God helps those who help themselves’ belief (where you help yourself by giving away ten per cent to God).
Strangely, though, tithing is upheld by local churches so long as the money is given to them and not to other fellowships or people who need it to do God’s work (and make sure the fellowship has it ‘on the books’ so that they’re claiming the tax back. If you don’t register your tithe, how can they know you’re giving it to them?) and the lie has been developed so that, in one denomination that shall remain nameless, you can’t be a deacon unless you tithe to their own organisation.
Tithing, therefore, becomes sectarian.
Besides, the tithe is normally used to support the workings of the local church even though the Bible notes that it was to be solely the possession of those who ministered to God and of the poor (Deut 14:28-29, 26:12-15) - which is what the Malachi passage is actually about for YHWH speaks about there being
‘...food in My house’
for the Levite and destitute of the nation.
But the lie is developed even further. The wealthy are then seen to be so blessed by God through their obedience to tithing that they’re promoted to positions of influence within the congregation - where the materially wealthy who have little spiritual insight oversee the spiritually wealthy who have few material possessions (normally because they’ve invested most of what they have in the Kingdom but - silly them! - they didn’t give it to that particular denomination where they attend).
The lies that surround tithing, therefore, lead to wrong actions which are detrimental to the continued spiritual growth of the Body of Christ and it’s these sorts of parallels with the present day Church that we should be warned about.
However, neither must we think of these words as being directed at the denomination down the road but apply them to ourselves, our own congregations, and ask ourselves whether we’re serving a lie about God rather than Jesus Christ Himself. We need to take a look at our lifestyles and our religious constitutions and see whether we are serving God in truth or in falsehood.
God’s accusation here isn’t against the leadership but the people - as I’ve showed above, the kings of Judah at this time were righteous and following after God - and it follows that a group of believers might be serving God obediently from the heart, listening to His Spirit and altering their lives accordingly and yet those under them in the congregation are wandering away from Him.
This was the context of what was happening in Judah and it’s one that every leadership must wake up to - not just the congregation who need to repent and turn round their lives to serve God. When a message comes from God’s Spirit to His people that appears ‘harsh’, there may well be a good reason for it, for YHWH knows the mind and heart of man, He knows what happens ‘after the service’ and throughout the week - and it’s He who must call to account the ways in which His people are living.
It’s never the responsibility of leadership to decide God’s message isn’t for them or that it’s too difficult a word for it to be from Him - rather, with all sobriety, they must discern the true condition of those over whom they have the care and allow God to speak even if it isn’t through them.
In Judah, then, a righteous leadership was ruling an unrighteous nation and it’s the latter that received the condemnation that such a sin deserved.
Amhub sees the ‘lies’ mentioned as being directed at
‘...the idols or false gods...’
where God had called for
‘...exclusive worship...without the representation of idols’
but this is to limit the application to the final outworking of such lies for it’s these lies that remain at the base of the Judahites’ conduct and God isn’t speaking against the idolatrous practices. The foundational problem with the nation is that it believed a lie and as a consequence they’d been led astray (Amstu is more blatant at interpreting it as referring to false gods because he notes in his translation of the Hebrew word rendered ‘lies’ that, although it usually means this, ‘...the context indicates idol worship’. Unfortunately, it’s the word ‘lies’ which gives the passage context and there no other indication that YHWH is singling out an external action as being the main transgression). Ammot is accurate when he writes (my italics) that
‘Life begins on the inside. Their abandonment of the fellowship with God and the foundational strength of God’s truth began in the mind and nothing could then stop that rejection from appearing in the life...’
for it was the eagerly held belief within that contradicted the plain truth of the Law and which began to pull away from a pure obedience to its demands.
Moreover, God charges the nation with a consequential failure to keep His statutes and this is spoken of in general terms so that a widespread disobedience to His commands is indicated and not just a transgression of the first and second commandments (Ex 20:3-6).
So, too, there may be bad practices in the present day Church that need to be removed from our midst (and, by that, I don’t just mean what happens when the Church comes together in some sort of service) but these actions only have their foundation in the lies that have been believed prior to that and these remain the real problem that lie at the centre of a person’s life.
It follows, then, that preaching, teaching and exhorting the congregation of God’s people should be aimed at dispelling the lies and of laying a correct foundation - with the observation that, even if this is done, sometimes you can’t seem to lead a thirsty camel to an oasis no matter how hard you try!
Israel, the northern kingdom
It’s like watching your Soccer team take on the best team in the land and being 1-0 up with just under ten minutes to go. You’re on your feet shouting encouragement, rejoicing in the lead and generally exulting in what’s being played out before you when suddenly - and totally unexpectedly - your defence scores an own goal.
Even worse is yet to come, though - your side give a penalty away in the dying seconds of the match and end up losing the tie 2-1.
That’s a bit like what happens at this point in Amos’ message to the Israelites. There they were, listening intently as the judgments were being declared as imminently to be fulfilled against Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab.
Then the prophet turns his attention to Judah, their neighbour (like Manchester United fans listening to a message to Leeds), and the exultation seems to know no limits, Ammot wryly suggesting that their mention
‘...produced nothing but further derisory cheers...’
But now their derisive laughter turns to anger at the prophet’s words for he singles out Israel, their own nation, for judgment - and not in just a handful of words like the other places have received.
Now it becomes something akin to a novel as the prophet speaks of their errors and sin (Amos 2:6-8), of what God did for them to bring them into the land and to raise them up as a special people before Him (Amos 2:9-12) until, finally, he rounds it off with a description of the outpouring of judgment which is now hanging over them (Amos 2:11-16).
I hope the reader has borne with me as I’ve very liberally described the scene wherever Amos declared these words - but it should, at least, give you some idea of the way that all these messages of judgment have been leading up to the much more important declaration of sin and judgment to the people who are actually listening to his words.
Forget what God wants to say about other people - it’s more important what He has to say about us. It doesn’t matter that the Pentecostals are overboard in their excesses or the Episcopalians are rigid in their services, what’s the word of God against us and how might we confess our sin and turn to be the people God wants us to be?
Judgment is all well and good when God’s finger points at the place across the road but, if judgment is pointed at them from where we meet, there’ll be at least three pointing back at our own shortcomings that need to be put right if we’re to continue to grow in stature in Jesus Christ and to full maturity.
I’ve divided this passage up into three sections as noted above. It seems easier to deal with it in this manner even though we need not to forget that it’s a single unit and needs to be understood as such.
1. What Israel had done and was doing
In similar style, Amos begins with the consistent
‘For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment...’
and then, as was the case in the former sections, moves on to outline the nature of the ‘fourth transgression’ - except that, to Israel, he goes much further than could be expected for, in listing nine specific transgressions (the total number depends on how specific you want to be - the point is, however, that there’s more than four), he demonstrates to the people that they’ve gone way beyond where even the previous nations and peoples have got to.
In each of the previous seven passages, YHWH has talked singly about the transgression, even though there have been different aspects to each of the sins and a simple one liner hasn’t been strictly kept to. Here, however, God lists a catalogue of sins that give Israel no chance whatsoever for complaint.
As Amstu points out, these violations of the covenant can be seen in the everyday life of the nation. He writes
‘These crimes are not famous historical events [as the sins of the Gentile nations and cities were]. They are the daily practices of Amos’ contemporaries, observable throughout Israel, and evidence of the rife injustice by which Israel has condemned itself to rejection by Yahweh...’
While the nations may be brought back to a specific time and place where they stepped over the bounds imposed upon them by conscience and the knowledge of what was clearly perceivable about Him, Israel are committing sins that are being perpetuated throughout their land, throughout each day.
Not only are there a list of problems but their very nature becomes more heinous because of their continued repetition. In this case, it isn’t just a matter of what Israel had done but what they were doing that was the problem.
a. Amos 2:6
The list begins in verse 6 by the observation - if literally taken - that Israel was selling their fellow Israelites into slavery. Amos announces it to the people as if he’s talking about someone else, saying
‘...they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes’
However, interpretations are wide and varied here as to what exactly it was that was taking place and we need to consider a few of them before moving on. Even though literal slavery is nowhere either specifically mentioned or implied in this verse (but, as we’ll see, the thought of slavery seems to be what’s required by the phraseology), both the Good News Bible and the Living Bible throw the word in to interpret it in this manner, the former translating it
‘They sell into slavery honest men who cannot pay their debts, poor men who cannot repay even the price of a pair of sandals’
and the latter
‘...they have perverted justice by accepting bribes and sold into slavery the poor who can’t repay their debts; they trade them for a pair of shoes’
To the former, the interpretation is that men have been sold into slavery because they can’t pay their debts while the latter sees it both as this and that which is based upon a perversion of the judicial system. Although Amhub defines it specifically as
‘...selling the poor into slavery’
once more adding the note of literal enslavement, he goes on to comment that the sin was that
‘...creditors, whether using bribes, financial adversity or rigged evidence, sold innocent...or indebted persons for set sums of money...a crime compounded where the amount of debt owed was as trivial as a pair of sandals...’
For the commentator, then, it has begun with some sort of financial arrangement between the unrighteous lender and the righteous or poor borrower which the lender perverts before the Israelite judges to be able to remove them into slavery for amounts that could even be considered to be trivial.
Amstu goes one step further, though, and sees the primary action being in the hand of the legal system, writing that
‘What Yahweh denounces through Amos is...some kind of legal impression-indenture in which corrupt courts aided the unethical rich by making available slave labour to them’
In other words, the judges have transpired against their own people for the sake of those who find favour before them - it isn’t just that the lender might offer a bribe when the decision they want is considered vital, the inference is that there’s a well-known and proven method that was being practised regularly.
There’s a multiplicity of interpretations here which should warn us against opting for any hard and fast one at the expense of the others - not only might all be correct but they might all equally be wrong. But, more to the point, there was probably such a range of ways in which Israelites were being brought into slavery that the verse is deliberately vague to cover them all.
It’s better to realise that it doesn’t matter whether we’re able to find a suitable scenario to explain what Amos proclaims in the name of YHWH, the point is that God considered what was taking place in their midst as being a transgression of the Law and that that called for the death penalty upon the transgressors. And it’s the Mosaic Law that’s plain in this matter, Ex 21:16 giving the judges the instruction that
‘Whoever steals a man, whether he sells him or is found in possession of him, shall be put to death’
and Deut 24:7, that
‘If a man is found stealing one of his brethren, the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you’
While the idea in the Law is that a man or woman may exercise their right to choose of their own freewill as to whether they sell themselves into slavery (so long as they’ve not sinned), it’s this that’s being taken from them when they’re ‘stolen’ and forced into bondage. Indeed, if we were to take the Mosaic commands as being literally broken in Israelite society, we’d have to conclude that God’s people were doing the identical thing to that which both Gaza (Amos 1:6) and Tyre (Amos 1:9) had already done.
The point of Amos’ words isn’t that there’s been a financial arrangement that’s being pressured to bring fellow Israelites into slavery but that the righteous (Strongs Hebrew number 6662 - defined by Ammot as carrying with it the meaning of being ‘...“in the right in a law suit” [that is, innocent of the charge] as well as the more general sense of “the one who has right on his side” and the particular sense of being “right with God”’) - that is, those who are faultless - and the poor - that is, those who have no resources to prevent their own sale - are being press-ganged into a position that denies them the right to determine their own future.
When freewill is denied an individual because another inflicts their own will dominantly over them, the Law calls for the death penalty and it’s for this reason that Israel stands condemned before God.
No church group or person (normally through the lives of the leadership which impinges itself ‘over the flock’) has the right to exercise its will over and above another where the people below them lose their right to determine their own lives in accordance with the will of God for them.
In the book ‘Churches that Abuse’ by Ronald Enroth - a book that prompted a few congregations and organisations to consider suing both the author and the publisher - what was detailed by case studies and personal experiences was that, even today, men and women take it upon themselves to dominate the flock of God, to elevate themselves so highly above others that their word becomes God’s Law and their teaching becomes ‘the way, the truth and the life’ that’s expected to be served (I Peter 5:2-3).
The people of God, who start out thinking that they’ve chosen freely to obey those over them, find that they begin to be manipulated, controlled and bullied into conforming to the image of their leaders who, because they’re ‘God’s’ leaders (and it’s repeated enough times that, in the end, you start believing it when large sections of the congregation shout ‘Amen!’), can’t be disobeyed without disobeying the voice of God.
Such pressure destroys freewill and self-determination before God. Instead of an individual listening to God and finding their own path that He’s laid out for them, they’re constricted into the will that’s chosen for them by those who dictate it from above.
I agree that such churches are in the minority, but the same idea of control exists even in those places that have an outward appearance of freedom for, when a man like Amos rises up and proclaims a word that’s against the will of the leadership, it’s rare that they’d ever find themselves progressing very far in the fellowship’s hierarchy.
It’s not whether a person speaks by the Spirit of God that’s all that important in a great many churches but whether they speak in the will and purpose of the leadership over them. Whether it’s those who stand in a right relationship with God, being blameless before Him and in a position to hear His voice clearly (the ‘righteous’), or whether it’s the spiritually poor who struggle to know truth and who are twisted into thinking that they’re following after satan if they don’t obey without question their leaders (an event which has happened to me on at least two occasions), it’s only a denial of a person’s freewill and, ultimately, their sale into spiritual slavery that will maintain a dictatorial leadership’s position of control over the flock.
Notice that the selling of the congregation is for personal gain - for Amos notes that either money (silver) or material possessions (a pair of shoes) is the end result of such control over God’s people. A leadership will duck and dive to continue in their positions of power, scheming to maintain their centrality over the flock, all the time remembering that old Scripture that they live by (John 10:15) that states that good shepherds
‘...lay down the sheep for their lives’
and the line in the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples (Mtw 6:10) which has the petitioner pray
‘My kingdom come. My will be done’
The Israelites did as they willed and made slaves out of their own people for the advance of their own Empire. Quite rightly, they received the condemnation of judgment upon their actions not only as a direct application of the Mosaic Law but because God stepped into history and called them to account.
b. Amos 2:7
A small part of these notes are adapted from my notes on Propitiation
Again, the first half of Amos 2:7 is generally interpreted to have to mean that the oppressed are those who are getting a bad deal when brought before the courts and judges. So Amhub writes generally concerning the first two aspects that
‘...the harsh and insolent used all their corrupt influence in court...to strip the poor of human dignity by treating them as though they were dirt...and by denying them rights of justice...’
and Amstu notes that a similar phrase is employed in Prov 17:23 as occurs in the second of the two complaints and, there, it speaks about the perversion of justice so that he feels that Amos’ message
‘…probably connotes denial of legal justice…’
Certainly this will be one aspect of the accusation that YHWH has against His people (see also Ex 23:7, Lev 19:15, Deut 16:19, 27:25, Is 10:1-2 for words that are spoken against the perversion of justice) but, by limiting the application solely to the actions of the courts and judges, we would miss the wider application to all society - and more so when a legal decision isn’t so much as mentioned here.
I noted in my general introduction to the book that commentators very quickly jump on the bandwagon of ‘inhumanity’ and ‘social oppression’ and interpret YHWH’s words as applicable to present day society in general, speaking out against the leaders who are seen to oppress the poor and make favourable rules for the rich who grow ever richer at their expense, not realising that the message to Israel wasn’t a word against the people who weren’t covenanted to follow God but the people who were the children of God and, therefore, the OT Church.
If there’s a secondary application to our society that’s relevant, all well and good - but we mustn’t miss the application that’s primarily directed at the Church. Amstu speaks of the turning aside of the way of the afflicted as evidence of ‘tragic social injustice’ and comments that
‘…the oppressed poor…are stepped on by the rich and their progress impeded’
But where are the rich actually mentioned in this passage? The point isn’t that the rich are exploiting the poor but that the Israelites are exploiting their brothers whether they be the poor (Amos 2:7), those in need (Amos 2:6), the righteous (Amos 2:6) or the afflicted (Amos 2:7) - no one area of society is any less guilty or less exploited than any other. Every one is into getting their own will done at the expense of others and the vagueness of Amos’ words must be retained to allow God to put His finger on the areas of the Israelites’ lives that needed dealing with.
While both these aspects of Amos 2:7 can be easily applied to the justice system, we could see the first that states that
‘they...trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth’
as simply being the exploitation of the poor who have no way to resist those things that are being expected of them. After all, if you have but one way of earning your denarius everyday to feed your family and your employer increases your hours each week with no extra remuneration so that you begin to flag under the pressure and strain, what option do you have but to obey their will? Trampling the poor’s head into the dust can just as well be applied to the employment situation as it can be to the perversion of justice.
Similarly, YHWH’s comments that the Israelites
‘…turn aside the way of the afflicted’
needn’t be taken to be saying anything more specific than the afflicted and oppressed find their opportunity for recovery and alleviation of their distress thwarted at every turn. Yes, it can refer to the judicial system (Prov 22:22 speaks of the afflicted being crushed ‘in the gate’ where justice was generally dispensed) but it needn’t be restricted that way.
This ‘trampling’ and ‘turning aside’ is a sure indication that oppression was widespread amongst the people of God, something that’s spoken against clearly in the Mosaic Law in a variety of ways (Ex 22:21, 23:9, Lev 25:13-17, Deut 23:16, 24:14) and legislated against by the positive command (Deut 15:11) that
‘…You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land’
where it isn’t just the ‘poor and needy’ who are singled out but the ‘brother’, a word that must extend the scope to include all fellow Israelites (though ‘poor’ and ‘needy’ are best understood to be words used to describe what type of brother was to be given to. Even so, no Israelite lay outside their scope). It wasn’t just that the Israelites weren’t to do their brothers harm, they were actually commanded to do them some good.
Oppression has always been a problem amongst the people who call themselves ‘the Church’ (though, if this present generation is anything to go by, the problem is an increasingly familiar one) and, in the previous section, I noted how those who are elevated to the authority over congregations can very often use authoritarian control to maintain their own hold over people and to safeguard their financial base on which they sit securely.
The opening of Amos 2:7 mentions nothing about material gain, however - that is, those committing the sin do so without any financial increase in their own resources but are concerned to keep both the poor and the afflicted ‘where they belong’ or, more correctly, where they won’t be a threat to those over them.
It makes sense in an organisation such as the Church to favour the large contributors and those who support ‘the work’ but the poor and oppressed must be kept down - just in case they’re seen and cause us to be embarrassed.
After all, if we proclaim that Jesus is the answer to all our problems and that He’s moving in power amongst us, why hasn’t He delivered them from their oppression or provided them with adequate finances?
The answer, of course, is that those who declare the need to have faith often lack it themselves (but it’s always the recipient’s lack of faith that hasn’t delivered them and not the person who’s praying for them, isn’t it?) and the financial needs of a believer are meant to be met by other believers as they were in the early Church (Acts 2:44-45, 4:34-35) and as commanded in the OT Law (Deut 15:11), not always by a miraculous act of God (though to the poor who receive from their brother, they always speak of it this way - and no wonder, because it very rarely ever happens).
Some people’s faces simply don’t fit because they’re ‘strange’ to us - the point of being one Body, however, is that we aren’t all the lips and eyes. Some poor sod has to be the liver or else the lips won’t be able to function and the eyes would go blind (I Cor 12:14-26) and, besides, the liver, although unseen, is much more important to the Body for survival (I Cor 12:24) - but the Church must neither trample those into the dust nor deny them help that they might be delivered from their afflictions.
When a leader begins to speak of a fellow believer with words (I Kings 22:8) similar to or having the same sentiment as
‘…I hate him [for] he never prophesies good concerning me but evil’
then you know that there are certain sections within the congregation who will continue to be afflicted and trampled upon for the ‘greater good’ of those who are ‘doing God’s will’.
Of course, Amos was a person at a distinct disadvantage in the nation he was sent to - that is, He knew God’s Word - and therefore the established religious authority tried to frighten him into withdrawing from the people to somewhere his voice wouldn’t be heard (Amos 7:12-13 - ‘Do you know how to sing “Over the hills and far away”, Amos?’).
Fortunately, he wasn’t going to remove himself willingly because one of the most powerful people in the kingdom of Israel was telling him to - there was Someone far more powerful behind the prophet to whom he had to answer if he did ‘flee’ as the Church leadership was telling him.
When God speaks to His people that all’s not well (and not when men and women take it upon themselves to speak a word that’s come from their own minds) - and God’s message here in Amos isn’t directed solely at leadership but at all the congregation of God’s people - it undermines the security and stability of the Church, therefore shaking the pyramidal hierarchy and, necessarily, those who sit at the pinnacle.
Voices who call the Church to account for their oppressive structures have to be silenced and the trampling that’s spoken against are the very tools that begin to be employed against the messengers who are sent by YHWH.
The second part of verse 7 changes tack drastically (the previous four lines appear to be all related) for the prophet announces that another of Israel’s offences is that
‘…a man and his father go in to the same maiden so that My holy name is profaned’
where Ammot sees the words ‘so that’ as actually meaning ‘in order to’ so that they’re insisting that
‘…they do it in order to offend [God]’
rather than there being a certain innocence in the transgression. The point is that those who do these things know well that it’s an affront to God but they continue regardless.
Here again there’s a difference of opinion and application amongst commentators for Ammot thinks of Amos as actually meaning to say that
‘…every adult male without exception [by his use of ‘father and son’] is a womaniser’
where the application is that the transgression occurred while the fertility rites were taking place - where men would have sexual intercourse with the female cult prostitutes of Baal. That both father and son would be joining with the same woman would be fairly common and, perhaps, even unknown to them, by and large. God, however, saw what was going on.
Even though the idea has much to commend it, I feel that the interpretation is just a little strained. However, we shouldn’t deny that this would have been happening and, as I’ll write below, all situations for which these words would have proven true shouldn’t be rejected or made to be restricted to just one possibility.
Amstu (my italics), on the other hand, thinks that it
‘…may refer to making a female slave…a concubine of a father and son…but more likely refers to sexual adulteration [spoken against loosely in Lev 18:8]…made all the more odious by the possibility that it may be involuntary on the part of the woman’
where marriage seems to be a prerequisite for both (though it would be necessary for the woman to be considered as ‘married’ to both men at the same time if a strict interpretation is to be allowed). Certainly, such ‘triangles’ are condemned in the Law in the context of marriage (Lev 18:15, 20:12, Deut 27:20 and note also Lev 18:17 where the alternative offence of one man going into both mother and daughter is spoken against) and it seems to imply that such a bond has to exist for there to have been a transgression.
Amhub, although very similar, describes a slightly different situation in which
‘...fathers, taking advantage of filial obedience and the inability of young women to stand up for their rights, asserted patriarchal authority to have intercourse with their daughters-in-law...’
This implies that the sin lay squarely on the shoulders of the father so that Amos’ expression that both father and son have sex with the same woman seems unwittingly judgmental of the innocence of the son. The point is, surely, that both men are exercising choice in the matter and do so in full knowledge of what the other has done and no reluctance on the part of the woman is implicit in the words, either.
There’s also no reference here to any wife - all the Bible says is that it’s the same woman so that neither extra-marital or pre-marital intercourse is being ignored by these words. The extent of the prophet’s words - just as we saw in the previous part of the verse and the one that precedes this - is particularly vague to cover all the applications of the sin however it was occurring. Therefore, when Amhub comments that
‘Neither slave nor prostitute seems to be in view since Amos uses the simple [Hebrew word meaning] young woman, girl, to describe her’
we can see in the ordinariness of the statement that the real point is that no single woman would be excluded and no justification could be sought by any Israelite who claimed that, technically (in the words of a well known leader)
‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’
their own words attempting to absolve them of any condemnation that should be attributable.
I don’t intend spiritualising this message to apply it to the Church - or to speak about the underlying principal here being expounded by YHWH against His people. It’s better that we remind ourselves that sexual sin has often been the Church’s downfall and we need to remember that the sins of the leaders often become the stumbling blocks that push followers of Christ into disillusionment and despair.
It’s not a simple sin that a leader commits when they break God’s clear guidelines on sex - it has effects that can crack the very foundations of a well-established fellowship. The words aren’t directed solely against leaders, though, and we would be wrong to limit their scope, for a church that follows the morality of the world won’t be one that will ultimately prosper.
Leviticus chapter 18 is a case in point here and represents the first series of Laws in the book of Leviticus that’s tied in with the expulsion of the current inhabitants of Canaan (18:1-5, 24-30). This will be repeated in Lev 20:22-26 where the passage sits as a conclusion to another series of statutes that have, at their centre, sexual immorality as here.
This makes the statutes rather important - we’re not dealing with legislation designed at keeping the nation ceremonially pure before God (even though the word for ceremonial uncleanness is used in Lev 18:19,24,25,27 and purity was to be maintained by the observance of these laws) but with legislation that would maintain their presence in the land of Canaan.
But, even more than this, the transgression of this sexual moral code is seen to be the reason why the Canaanites were to be forcefully expelled from the land by the invading armies of the Israelites (the mention of the Egyptians as being transgressors in this matter appears in Lev 18:3 but no punishment is there related to that nation as a result of their sexual relationships).
We read (Lev 18:24-25,27 - my italics)
‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves; and the land became defiled, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants...for all of these abominations the men of the land did, who were before you, so that the land became defiled’
Even though the Canaanites hadn’t received the statutes of the Law as given to Israel, they’re here described as being morally responsible for their sexual promiscuity and immorality - they had no written code delivered to them by God on these matters and yet He’s judged their actions and decided that they must be expelled from the land.
This is significant for it shows us that the legislation given to Israel is that which God has laid upon the nations, it’s not covenant-specific to keep the nation clean (though the maintenance of the covenant and the continued presence of Israel in the land is the reason for the legislation - Lev 18:26-28) but universal in scope and application. Here in Amos 2:7, though, it’s spoken of directly as a transgression of the children of God, the OT Church.
‘Sex laws’ are also mentioned in the New Testament though they’re there mainly directed towards the christians, the believers, to remind them to keep pure before God - see, for instance, I Cor 5:1-2 for a case of incest, Gal 5:19 which speaks against fornication and I Cor 6:9 which speaks out against both the adulterer and the homosexual as being incapable of inheriting the Kingdom of God. The early Church also decided that sexual immorality was still necessarily to be avoided (Acts 15:29).
Though each and every case mentioned in the Old Testament isn’t mentioned in the New, there are sufficient representative types of sexual sin outlined to consider the Old Testament laws as being equally binding using the authority of the situations that are commented on.
A church that’s drawn into sexual sin, therefore, will find itself in a similar situation to Israel - losing the right to possess their inheritance which will mean the withdrawal of the Holy Spirit, the guarantee or ‘down payment’ who secures the full possession at a later date upon Jesus’ return (Eph 1:13-14). As Amstu notes
‘Sexual purity is a part of holiness...’
without which (Heb 12:14)
‘...no one will see the Lord’
c. Amos 2:8
Amos concludes with two sins of the nation, although the first is perhaps better thought of in two parts for, although the reason for its mention is to speak of the illicit possessions of ‘garments taken in pledge’, that they do so while they lay down beside ‘every altar’ shows that they’re sinning against their brother on top of their possible sin of idolatry against God.
Just what this ‘laying down’ is that’s described in the first phrase isn’t universally dealt with by the commentators although Amstu comments that
‘...Israelites were stretching out...that is, bedding down for the night...’
on the garments and there has to be the possibility that an application of the sexual sin that we looked at in the previous section is here being expanded upon so that it occurs with the cult prostitutes of the fertility temples and is now specifically being mentioned.
However, the word (Strongs Hebrew number 5186) has momentarily occurred in the previous verse where Amos has accused the Israelites (my italics) that they
‘...turn aside the way of the afflicted’
and there seems to be no good reason why it shouldn’t also be allowed to hold this meaning here so that the meaning is that they turned aside to every altar that was found throughout the land. This may seem like an awkward way of saying that they went to worship but the same word is used twice of the patriarch Judah (Gen 38:1,16) who’s spoken of as ‘turning aside’ to have sexual intercourse with women.
The point - if it’s meant to be taken as a mention of a specific sin (and our previous discussion of God’s complaint against His people has made us keep the message as widely applicable as possible) - is possibly that the Israelites were going aside from the true way of worship to enter the cult shrines where further violation of His name would take place. They not only would perform their fertility rights with the women employed there but they’d use stolen pledges on which to do it.
But we must note that such ‘altars’ scattered throughout the land could very well have used the name of YHWH to draw worshippers to commit acts of religious worship that were opposed to His character and will - we shouldn’t insist on altars to ‘Baal’ as being what’s described.
It’s fairly common for this word to be used in the OT to denote a turning away from what’s right into sin (for example, I Sam 8:3, I Kings 11:3, Job 24:4, 31:7, Is 10:2) and there may be a far more general application intended - that it’s simply in the act of attending the altars which were scattered throughout the land (as opposed to the ‘official’ central shrine of Bethel - Amos 7:13) that the Israelites were going astray.
But, as if to add sin to sin, they bring with them garments that have been taken in pledge. The thought appears to be that there’s an illegality in their acquisition, the Law speaking specifically concerning clothes that were taken as collateral for the repayment of a loan. Ex 22:26-27 (see also Deut 24:12-13) states that
‘If ever you take your neighbour’s garment in pledge, you shall restore it to him before the sun goes down; for that is his only covering, it is his mantle for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am compassionate’
Regardless of whether or not the repayment had been made, the Israelite was obliged to return the garment to the borrower so that they wouldn’t suffer hardship when they most needed it to keep them warm. If the idea is that the Israelites were using it to ‘stop over’ the night at the temple (and, therefore, it makes sense to think of their reason as being that they were too incapable because of the next sin detailed or because they were availing themselves of the prostitutes who worked there), the case becomes a fait accompli for there’s no intention to restore the pledge as commanded.
Finally, Amos speaks of the Israelites as being (my italics)
‘in the house of their God’
which may not necessarily mean that the service and worship being performed is done, for example, in the name of Baal. There could still be service being offered in the name of YHWH but the prophet is quick to point out that God will have nothing to do with it and is almost stating that they’ve so made Him in their own image that they’ve created their own god that they’re now serving.
Whatever the name of the gods or the service that they render, YHWH is certainly not theirs (the RSV is incorrect to capitalise the word ‘God’ here for it doesn’t refer to YHWH at all but to the image in which the Israelites have made Him), made more apparent because they
‘...drink the wine of those who have been fined’
Amstu observes that
‘Lengthy festive and drinking bouts at temples were characteristic of Canaanite, not Israelite, worship (Judges 9:27...)’
and, although this probably did take place, God isn’t too concerned to bring that to their notice. Rather, it’s in the source of wine that there’s a word of warning for fines that have been taken from the transgressor were supposed to have been returned to the person who’d been transgressed against (Ex 21:30-32, 22:16-17) but here was what rightfully belonged to another being used for the benefit of someone who hadn’t been wronged and needed no restitution to be made to them (there’s the possibility that the verse should be interpreted as the worshippers associating themselves with the guilty - that is, the fined - but this seems to be a less likely interpretation).
Of all the sins that have been mentioned in this short passage, this one seems the most necessary to be taken as a comment on the judicial system - even though the message stops short of accusing the judges as being the ones who are drinking the wine and it’s not impossible that the fines that had been acquired were also being sold on at a fairly knock down price to other Israelites who would have been told
‘Let’s just say, it fell off the back of an ox cart’
In this way, it isn’t just the judges who stand condemned before God but all those who’ve participated in the continuance of the sin where what rightly belongs to an injured party is refused them.
Instead of looking so holy in their commitment to the worship of their gods (or, in their worship of YHWH who they’d remade in their own image), they were violating the covenant that the nation had made so that their service had become sin (Amos 5:21-24). God was certainly not going to accept any offering at their hand to make atonement for their transgressions - indeed, they stood before Him as guilty.
Quite obviously, it would be a rare find if we were ever to stumble upon a church in which there were cult prostitutes that whisked attendees away as part of their worship (we might also theorise that it would be fairly well attended and would be church planting with carefree abandon) or that found people lying about on garments (pews are a much better seating arrangement though, in some churches I’ve been, a blanket on the ground would have been more comfortable) - wine certainly exists in fellowships when we celebrate communion but this can be fairly easily eradicated by the use of blackcurrant cordial.
But God’s words here are about coming in to His presence with the objects of your theft still with you. I must admit that it strikes me as strange that the God of all provision would command a believer to copy a Bible Study software program onto CD ROM for free distribution to other brethren to ‘edify’ them.
Let’s call it what it is and how God sees it, shall we? Such actions are theft because they take away what rightfully belongs to a fellow believer (presuming, of course, that the person who’s produced the program is a believer which is more than unlikely - the action still remains theft, however) - that is, a monetary reimbursement that causes him to make a living.
As I hinted above, if God’s the Provider, why doesn’t He provide? Or why don’t we put our hands into our pockets and fund it out of our own resources? But we continue to serve God and to worship Him by using those things that we’ve stolen from others - in exactly the same way that the Israelites worshipped their gods upon the stolen pledges and the unlawfully acquisitioned wine.
Perhaps part of the reason for our theft is that the present day Church isn’t as eager to meet the needs of others as it is to build bigger buildings and throw bigger and better food evenings (Acts 2:44-45, 4:34-35), so that those who are in need remain so despite our gushing love and compassion that’s demonstrated outwardly by hugs and tears.
But the real reason is our greed - we want to have more so we use less of what we have. We spiritualise our taking so that God is even hinted at being the Mover behind it. But we can’t serve Him with stolen property no matter how we might like to think we can. God requires His people have clean hands and a pure heart and only then will they enter His presence (Ps 24:3-4).
It’s not important that what we do is offered in the name of Jesus Christ if, in our lives, we’re denying Him. Just like the Israelites, we would be coming to the building of our god, the one who we’ve made in our own image.
2. What God had done
Amos 2:6-12 could very easily be summarised as YHWH saying to His people
‘Look! This is how you repaid Me, when I treated you like this!’
for, having outlined the nation’s transgressions, He moves on to lay the foundation of His treatment of them in the past to make them sit up and realise that their response has been to betray His unmerited kindness and favour.
a. Amos 2:9
The history of the Amorite people and nation is a fairly lengthy and complex one judging from the details that are recorded for us in Zondervan, but we needn’t get into a study of where they settled during which time periods to understand the pronouncement, for the OT uses the phrase in a few specific ways and it’s these places to which reference should be made to make us see what Amos is talking about.
Confusion can sometimes occur because the Amorites as a people seem to pop up just about everywhere in the early books of the Bible. In Gen 15:16 (see also Gen 15:18-21, Ex 3:8, 13:5, 23:23 and so on - even Joshua 24:11 uses a list), they’re one of the people who are noted as residing in the Promised Land of Canaan - that is, that they’re settled on the west bank of the Jordan.
However, when Israel are travelling towards the land on the east side of the river, one of their temporary encampments (Num 21:13) was
‘...on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness, that extends from the boundary of the Amorites; for the Arnon is the boundary of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites’
while Num 21:21-25 (my italics) goes on to record the details of Sihon the Amorite who came out against them and fought at Jahaz, taking possession of his land
‘...from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as to the Ammonites; for Jazer was the boundary of the Ammonites. And Israel took all these cities, and Israel settled in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon and in all its villages’
The Arnon is a river which runs from the east almost due west and drains into the Dead Sea about halfway between its northernmost and southernmost extent. Jahaz and Heshbon are located north of the Arnon. Therefore, the Amorites here mentioned lay north of Moab but, presumably, were squashed in between this nation in the south and Ammon in the north.
After this subjugation of the Amorites on the eastern side of the Jordan, they again raise their head (Num 32:39) when the sons of Machir dispossess them in Gilead, an area that lay further north than where the Amorites were said to have inhabited.
But, in other places (Deut 3:8, 4:46-47, 31:4, Joshua 2:10), it’s noted that Israel took the land out of the hands of the two Amorite kings - Sihon who’s already been identified as such and Og who’s normally described as being ‘of Bashan’ an area that lies even further north than Gilead, both north and east of Galilee, again on the eastern side of the river Jordan.
Crossing the Jordan west, we also encounter them in various places, but the inhabitants of the land seem to be described as containing two specific people (Joshua 5:1 see also Num 13:29 where five groups of people are named), these being
‘...the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan to the west and all the Canaanites that were by the sea...’
‘Amorites’, then, seems also to have been a term which was representative of all the inhabitants of the central highlands if contrasted with the Canaanites who lived by the shores or, perhaps better, on the coastal plain. It’s also said in Joshua 10:5 that a confederation of kings came together to oppose the Israelite advance into Canaan and that these were all Amorites, listed as
‘...the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish and the king of Eglon...’
where the last three mentioned are those who seem to have been more on the coastal plain (where the Canaanites are said to have dwelt) than in the central hill country. This appearance of the people, tribe or nation can get somewhat confusing but the solution seems to be that ‘Amorites’ was both a label that could be given to a distinct ethnic group and one that summarised a conglomeration of people - perhaps, even, that the Amorite people were the predominant race in the midst of a multitude of settlers with different cultural origins.
Therefore, when Joshua is confronted with the army’s defeat at Ai, he turns to God and asks why YHWH had brought them over the Jordan (Joshua 7:7)
‘...to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us?’
and, in Joshua 24:15,18, the choice is given to the nation as to whether to serve
‘...the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell...’
The land of Canaan, then, is clearly being described here as that which belonged to the Amorites and appears to have been a shorthand way of describing the entire population of the land into which Israel were sent by God to take possession of.
The words of YHWH in Amos 1:9 are underlining the fact of the conquest of the land and upon which the Israelites continued to prosper (perhaps this is the reason why the conquest is described before the Exodus which made it possible - Amos 1:10), reminding them that it was He who’d destroyed the Amorites rather than for them to think that they’d managed to defeat them through their own military prowess and strength.
And, just to drive the point home, a description of the Amorites is given in which their height is likened to that of the cedar and their strength to that of the oak. Zondervan comments that
‘The cedar was considered the most important evergreen tree and the oak the most important deciduous tree’
so that it’s not without significance that here in Amos both are mentioned together to symbolise the inhabitants of the land that YHWH dispossessed to allow the Israelites to settle.
The reference to the cedar tree in the Bible is probably normally a reference to those of Lebanon which can grow to a height of 120 feet and can be up to 40 feet in girth, though the earlier references before their entry into Canaan may be to a cedar that grew in the Sinai peninsula. Zondervan notes that the word from which ‘cedar’ is translated (Strongs Hebrew number 730) appears to come from an Arabian word meaning
‘...strong and firmly-rooted’
Their longevity is also well-known and some present day specimens are reputed to be over 2000 years old. It was long sought after as a building material and was one of the most renowned of timbers, making it probably used by the richer sections of society - I Kings 10:27 notes that the cedar became as common as the sycamore tree and this is paralleled with silver becoming as common as stone, so that it’s value is easily seen.
Certainly, when something of worth needs to be described, it’s very often the cedar that’s likened to it (Num 24:6, Judges 9:15, II Kings 14:9, Ps 29:5, 92:12, Is 9:10, Jer 22:7) and it could be used figuratively to denote a very wide variety of ideas because nearly every aspect of the tree seems to have been considered as excellent.
In the current context, however, the cedar is often synonymous with great height and stature (Ps 37:35, Is 2:13, 37:24, Ezek 17:22, 27:5, 31:3).
The oak that’s being referred to as figurative of strength was the species that thrived in Bashan for we find it used in parallel with the mention of the ‘cedar of Lebanon’ in Is 2:13, Ezek 27:5-6 and Zech 11:2 as well as in the words used by Amos.
Whereas it’s easy to find numerous references to the characteristics of the cedar that were used figuratively in OT times amongst the Israelites, it’s much harder for the oak. It seems fair to say that the cedar was the king of the forests and that each and every tree was a long way behind in second place.
The oak was still a tree, however, that could be spoken of in terms similar to the cedar for in Is 2:13 both of them are noted for their height and stature (although the oak of Bashan seems to have grown only to a height of around 50 feet). Figurative uses of the oak occur less frequently than the cedar (Ps 29:9, Is 1:30, 6:13, 61:3, Ezek 27:6) and, apart from Amos 2:9, the attribution of strength doesn’t appear to be easily extractable from the OT.
Both the cedar and the oak, however, would have been trees that were well known in Israelite territory, the former occurring more to the north of their territory while the oak, although numerous in their midst, would have been stronger and more renowned a species to the north east of Galilee, called Bashan and that now incorporates the present day Golan Heights.
YHWH uses both these trees figuratively to speak of the impossibility of any conquest of the land without Him for the Amorites’ stature and power was not only legendary but easily observable by the men who were sent in to spy out the land (Num 13:28-29). Through the favour of God, they overcame all the people who stood against them - but their gratitude didn’t extend to the keeping of the covenant (Amos 2:6-8).
Finally, YHWH speaks of the inhabitants of the land as having been totally annihilated before them, proclaiming that
‘I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath’
so that the Israelites were ultimately taking possession of a vacant land rather than having to rule over a people who were in subjection to them. Most modern day conquests of territory see an invading army set up their own leadership but they continue to use the infrastructure and organisation below them to provide for themselves as masters and lords. Not so with the Israelites who were setting up towns and villages in a land that had been stripped of its human population.
Therefore, God speaks of both the fruit and root being destroyed of the Amorites - not just the fruit so that the root might produce more and not just the root so that the fruit might sow its seed and spring back up.
b. Amos 2:10
Perhaps one would have thought that this sentence would have been better served as preceding the one that’s gone before - after all, the conquest of the land of Canaan (Amos 2:9) necessarily came after the deliverance out of Egypt (Amos 2:10). But the point appears to be to first establish the reason as to why the people have possession of the land before casting a light back to an equally miraculous act of God in delivering them from the bondage of Egypt.
YHWH doesn’t need to detail the events surrounding their deliverance because it was so well known and, although Ammot sees the mention of the ‘forty years’ as being a method to call to their remembrance
‘…the sin of rebellion against God for which the sojourn in the wilderness was a divine discipline…’
and therefore to show God’s continued grace in the face of a people who were disobedient and rebellious, it seems better for it to have been simply a summary that was to demonstrate God’s favour rather than ‘favour in sin’. God isn’t trying to make them ashamed of His provision in the wilderness because of their griping and rebellion - rather, He’s demonstrating the shame of their current lifestyles (Amos 2:6-8) in the light of His well known historical acts (Amos 2:9-10).
So the exodus and the wilderness wanderings culminate in their possession of ‘the land of the Amorite’ to bring the statement full circle and to tie it in with Amos 2:9.
c. Amos 2:11
The strange point about God’s observations here is that He doesn’t mention that He uniquely entered into covenant with them at Sinai - neither does He charge them with failing to fulfil the Law of Moses or, even, of being transgressors of the written commandments that they would surely have been aware of.
Although His words can be tied in to the Law (Amos 2:6-8), YHWH doesn’t condemn them on the grounds of law-breaking - rather, He mentions their sin and then immediately goes on to show why their response is so shameful.
But not only has God taken the people out of bondage, protected and provided for them throughout the time of their wilderness wanderings and dispossessed the inhabitants of Canaan so that they had a land that was their own but He also
‘…raised up some of your sons for prophets and some of your young men for Nazirites’
God could have spoken to them about the tribe of Levi and of their intermediary office of service that they brought to the Israelites - how they stood as priests to offer sacrifice to atone for the sins of the nation and how they were commissioned to teach the nation the Law for complete observance (Deut 33:10), an observance that was sadly deficient.
But He does none of this.
Rather, He points out to them that, even though there was a specific people who served Him on their behalf, He still raised up some of them to have a relationship with Him that was purely a matter of grace.
God didn’t have to allow men the opportunity to draw close to Him until the New Covenant when all believers would function as priests with access into the presence of God as their due - but He made provision in the Law that some could devote themselves to His service as Nazirites (Numbers chapter 6 and see my notes on the subject here which show the superiority of the Nazirite over the levitical priest and how the former was a shadow of that which was to come) while some He chose to be anointed by His Spirit to speak forth the will and purpose of God to give them specific guidance and direction.
He could have left them with solely the Law and its teachers, the Levites - He wasn’t morally obliged to allow some of their own to be His mouthpiece in situations to deliver and warn them and neither did He have to allow any of them to be able to devote themselves to His service before the day when Jesus would die for the sins of all men and would open up the new way with direct access into the presence of God for all.
God’s rhetorical question with which he concludes the verse is designed to have only one possible answer - and that He asks them to affirm the truth of His statements shows us that these facts were well known throughout the land.
In my exposition of Amos 2:6-8, I tried to show the reader that the sins that were levelled against the Israelites in the OT are the very same ones in principal that His people continue to do in the present day Church. When we think of God’s heart calling back the wayward to repent and turn to Him, we should think carefully upon those things that He’s done on our behalf in our past and why our response has been anything short of total service and obedience.
For not only has Jesus on the cross and through both the resurrection and ascension delivered us from all those areas that had dogged us and kept us separated from God (see my notes which began my web site and called ‘The Cross’ on the home page and also my notes on Col 2:11-15 that I entitled ‘The Greatest Hits’ here) but He’s raised us up with Himself in the ascension to co-rule alongside Him from heaven (see my notes on the Ascension under section 4a ‘Raised with Christ’ here), something that has significant earthly consequences for we are ensured of victory regardless the circumstances in which we find ourselves (Rom 8:37 - though the type of victory is often misunderstood by believers who think that all trouble and tribulation will simply disappear if we shout at them loudly enough).
And God has made us all a kingdom of priests (I Peter 2:5, 2:9, Rev 1:6, 5:9-10) - both individually and corporately - and appointed those from amongst the flock to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11-16) as a consequence of the ascension (Eph 4:8 - see my notes under section 4c ‘The giving of gifts’ here).
In short, He’s done everything necessary to remove the hindrances to fellowship with Him and provided for our continued growth into maturity and the fullness of Christ.
And yet, how have we responded to such kindness?
d. Amos 2:12
YHWH doesn’t complain that His gracious bestowal of Canaan to the Israelites has been trampled under foot (Amos 2:9) and neither does he speak of the resultant futility of their deliverance from Egypt in which they’d learned nothing about responding to the One who’s cared for them (Amos 2:10).
God bases His observation purely upon the fact that He’d raised up men and women in their midst (for both were either allowed or called to that function) to serve Him and benefit the nation - yet they’d only tried to destroy His work.
God states that they’d made the Nazirites drink wine - something that was part of their threefold separation to God (Num 6:3-4 - see my notes on the Nazirite) - and that they’d forbidden the prophets to speak in the name of YHWH who’d been raised up by God to speak His message to the nation. Amhub sees the mention of the Israelites ‘commanding’ the prophets as suggesting
‘…that the people act as though they, not Yahweh, were in charge…’
and this is certainly one aspect and it demonstrates that the people wanted to be in charge of their own destiny rather than to leave it in the hands of God Himself.
In short, they’d deliberately stumbled (the RSV has ‘made’) those who wanted to be in a deeper relationship to Him - that is, those who were willing to lay aside the hindrances that would fog their relationship and to spend time wholly committed to service (Amhub sees them as indicative of those who had been raised up ‘to demonstrate discipline’ while Ammot sees them demonstrating ‘holy living’) - and had stopped any true message coming from God by commanding His prophets to be silent - by giving them no opportunity to speak, a great many of them would, no doubt, have given up trying.
How awful! How dreadfully naive of the Israelites!
And after all that God had done for them, too.
I’m glad we’re not like that in the Church…
…the problem is that, to a very great extent, we’re just the same.
I’ve seen it happen all too often that the people who fail to attend the obligatory social gathering because they want to spend some more time praying or studying the Bible are the ones who are labelled ‘too spiritual’, just a little bit too fanatical for their own good, and they’re very rarely ever chosen to do anything worthwhile in the fellowship.
No, best choose the people we know and who we’ve chatted with over coffee and a sandwich. It’s irrelevant that we’ve been talking about Soccer, how the prices of everything are rising really quickly and it’s difficult to make ends meet, so that their spirituality and insight go largely untested - better to choose the devil we know than the saint we don’t.
And there’s a sense in which we really do make the ‘Nazirites’ drink wine because, if they ever want to do anything, they have to conform to our own image and tread their spirituality into the dirt. Let them spend less time praying and studying the Scriptures if they want to get on in the church and be asked to speak - but in being pulled away from their commitment, they’re also pulled away from having anything particularly relevant to say that’s from God.
And we’ve done well at preventing the prophets from speaking, too.
While it would be incredibly rare for a leadership to stand up and say
‘If anyone has a word from God, we don’t want to hear it’
(although, in a place my wife was in, the leadership did stand up one Sunday and say that they recognised the message was from God but that they didn’t want it in their midst so weren’t going to act upon it), many churches have very carefully introduced the teaching that the function of a prophet died out with the early Church.
So what happens if someone prophesies in the name of YHWH? Well, at the very least, they have to be a natural deceiver who’s speaking out of their own flesh or, at the very worst, they’ve been sent and inspired by none other than satan (but isn’t it strange how satan is still allowed to speak by inspiration but God’s forbidden that option?).
No wonder that no one dare prophesy and call the church to give an account of itself before God! If Amos was to deliver his message today amongst many congregations, he’d either be shouted down, asked to leave the building or ignored. Concerning the Israelite prophets - but equally true of the present day Church - Amstu perceptively observes that although they were forbidden to prophesy
‘…more often they were probably simply squelched by rejection’
Here the condemnation of Judah holds true as I’ve already noted above (Amos 2:4) that
‘…their lies have led them astray’
where belief dictates to us the things we do. If we have a false understanding of the Scriptures, we have a false life that may bear many of the hallmarks of true Christianity but which is only superficially pleasing to God because it all too often undermines the position of the true believer and opposes the anointed message that proceeds from the mouth of God through His servants.
3. What God would do
The final three verses of this section appear to be fairly straightforward (2:14-16) but the interpretation thrown on them is coloured by a correct understanding of the opening line and, more especially, of the single word translated by ‘press’ and ‘presses’ in the RSV that’s used only twice throughout the Bible and both of them are here (Strongs Hebrew number 5781).
Amhub includes a list of eight different words from seven unique translations (if you include the marginal interpretations) and it’s fairly easy to see that many translators have struggled with the verse.
The clue to the word’s meaning is in how it’s employed for it’s a verb that describes what it is that ‘a cart full of sheaves’ does, the interpretations ranging from something that the cart does to the ground to the state of the cart when it has a full load (for example, it creaks or groans under the weight) - but even here, it seems impossible to tie down the meaning by such considerations.
There’s one passage that could be appealed to that contains the same word for ‘cart’ as appears here (Strongs Hebrew number 5699) where the idea of what the cart’s use was, apart from a vehicle to transport items - even so, the actual translation and interpretation is rather obscure. In Is 28:27-28 we first read the statement that a cart wheel isn’t rolled over cummin for, being a more tender seed, it’s beaten with a stick.
However, the prophet then seems to say that bread grain isn’t able to be crushed when the cart, pulled by horses, runs over it because it’s a much sturdier seed and needs to be threshed.
Although this is a negative, it does show the reader that the imagery of the cart could be used to speak of crushing at a time after Amos’ ministry had long since ended (Isaiah prophesied much later even though his writings appear first in the Bible).
The only problem I see with accepting that the idea of crushing is meant in Amos is that the prophet doesn’t use the same word as occurs in Isaiah (Strongs Hebrew number 1854) and the two words don’t appear to be related.
TWOTOT does, alternatively, define the word (M1585) in Amos as meaning ‘crush’ and, though there’s no explanation as to why they’ve opted for this, they do go on to note that the word is derived from two other words, namely M1585a (Strongs Hebrew number 6125) meaning ‘pressure’ and only used in Ps 55:3 (RSV ‘oppression’) and M1585b (Strongs Hebrew number 4157) meaning ‘compression, distress’ and only used in Ps 66:11 (RSV ‘affliction’).
If these words really are related then ‘crush’ appears to be the best interpretation (even though I somewhat favour the interpretation of Amstu that it means ‘bog down’ because the following descriptions seem to be speaking about such an action).
God is saying, then, that He’ll crush His people with force just as a cart full of sheaves also presses down upon anything that’s under it. Just as in Is 28:27-28, though, there may be a deliberate thought that goes undeveloped here that the agricultural crushing being mentioned serves a purpose, after which the grain becomes useful to the farmer.
Briefly, we need to conclude by looking at the descriptions that YHWH gives as to the work that He’ll perform in their midst. Amstu goes beyond simple translation when he renders these verses and his interpretative rendition has much going for it. He gives the meaning (I’ve removed two words to make it scan better) as
‘The swift will lose his ability to flee;
The strong will have no strength.
The soldier will not save himself;
The archer will not stand his ground.
The fast runner will not escape;
The horse rider will not save himself.
The very bravest of the soldiers will flee naked on that day’
These are words of conquest and not of a mere natural disaster that might have been supposed as about to descend upon the land. With the vision of an approaching army, even those who are noted for their speed won’t be able to outrun the enemy though, perhaps better, the idea seems to be that God will remove even that person’s ability so that they remain in their place, doomed in the coming advance (line 1) while the strong will have no power to resist (line 2).
Turning to the army of Israel, neither the soldier will be able by his fighting prowess to deliver his own life (line 3) nor will the archer, in the face of such a force, stand at his position and fire back to repel the advance (line 4), perhaps even running away while shooting and, therefore, being inaccurate.
The ‘horse rider’ sandwiches what seems to be a description of a civilian casualty, the ‘fast runner’ (line 5), but the same description in the Hebrew is used in II Sam 2:18-24 where the ‘swift of foot’ are three soldiers who are running away from the battle to pursue Abner.
The idea may simply be, then, that even the military are unable to flee from the destruction but it may also have an application to the ‘military runner’ who was to bring tidings of how the battle was going to the commanders or the cities that were located at some distance from the battlefield (II Sam 18:19-23) - I’m a little reluctant to break with the military association because the ‘civilian’ swift are dealt with in line 1.
The ‘horse rider’ (line 6) is taken by Amstu to mean charioteers even though the phrase employed seems to be fairly straightforward as meaning those who have a horse to ride into battle on. Whatever the precise meaning, though, the point is that even those who can move faster than a single man on foot will be unable to flee from the army of YHWH that’s being sent against them.
Finally, although both civilian (lines 1-2) and warrior in the battle (lines 3-6) are mentioned, one final word is reserved for the man who’s at home when the news of the invasion arrives or in the camp prior to the advance of the defending army (line 7) for, instead of equipping himself with armour and going out to fight, he simply turns tail and flees ‘naked’ (that is, devoid of any armour). Amstu, on the other hand, sees this line as meaning that
‘The stoutest soldiers will drop weapons and armour...and simply run from battle’
but all these interpretations appear to be possible.
The bottom line appears to be that, just as the Israelites had not let their brother go out of their hand but had pursued him for their own personal benefit, so God would now pursue all those (in fact, the entire nation) who had become His enemies. What the Israelites had done, they also receive - had they shown mercy in their dealings with their fellow Israelite, they too would have received mercy at God’s hand.
But what does this mean for the Church?
We’ve seen above that the principles of the sins mentioned are just as prevalent in the Church as they were in OT Israel. Are we to think that a church that commits such sin will be forcibly removed from their building or that those who call themselves ‘believers’ will be removed totally from an area by an opposing force such as the local authorities acting in the name of the people?
I don’t believe that this is the correct interpretation because what we’re looking at in Amos 2:13-16 is the removal of the people from their inheritance and the removal of life from the people. Both of these are centred in the gift of the Holy Spirit in the NT who’s described as (Eph 1:14 see also II Cor 1:22, 5:5)
‘…the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it…’
and as the source of life in Christ (Rom 8:11 - my italics. See also John 6:63, II Cor 3:6) when Paul argues that
‘If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you’
To lose both the inheritance and life is to lose the Holy Spirit, which is why some churches are both dead and dying in their spirituality. Numerical growth isn’t the issue here, of course (as even Israel at the time of Amos’ declarations had grown in prosperity and influence), it’s about whether the Spirit of God still lives and moves amongst the people who call themselves the Church of God, for there can be outward demonstrations of service to God as Amos pointed out (Amos 5:21-23) but no outward morality or real service (Amos 5:24).
Dead and dying churches litter our nations like fossil graveyards where the bones of something great can be witnessed but which has no flesh and no breath of life. When the Spirit of God begins to move once more in places like these, there either has to be a dramatic change in the heart and lives of those present or else there comes upon them a hardening against the Spirit and the people become the persecutors of the new move of God. Not having the life or the inheritance, they attack anything that would bring God’s simple message of the Gospel to others, either openly or by the traditions that they impose upon their followers.
Indeed, they become just like the fossilised Church of Jesus’ day who were described as people who
‘…shut the Kingdom of heaven against men [by their own rules and regulations]; for you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in’
The Israelites were about to lose their lives and their inheritance, so will the Church lose theirs if they continue to practice those things that are unacceptable to God.
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