God’s Judgment: Inevitable, Irrevocable Amos 1:1-2:16
Buzz words concerning political and social justice fill the air. The Soviets are talking about “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (reconstruction) in hope of producing greater understanding and defusing tensions with the west.
President Bush, in his inaugural address, spoke of “a new breeze…blowing…freedom reborn…the day of the dictator is over….” He also talked about developing “kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”
Even Yasser Arafat is talking about “Israel’s right to exist” hoping to promote worldwide pressure on Israel to return occupied territories and recognize a Palestinian state in the region.
While all this talk of political and social justice sounds good, there still remain political corruption in high places, subjugation of satellite nations by the Soviets and others, exploitation of third world nations for political advantage, and continual worldwide neglect and abuse toward the poor and needy.
Amos faced a similar world in his day as political leaders in the Middle East perpetrated extreme social and civil violence on each other. To this world an outraged Amos was called from his secular work to announce a coming judgment.
Prophecy of Judgment
The name Amos comes from a root word which means to bear or to place a load upon, aptly describing the kind of message God had called this prophet to bring. The message of judgment came through a vision when Uzziah king of Judah and Jeroboam II was king of Israel, “two years before the earthquake” (v. 1). Using the prophecy of Zechariah 14:5, Josephus placed the earthquake in the time of Uzziah’s transgression into the Temple (2 Chr. 26-16-23).
Amos portrayed the Lord as a roaring lion uttering His voice of judgment from the Temple, God’s earthly dwelling place in Zion and Jerusalem (v. 2; cp. Joel 3:16). These words were meant to be judgmental on the Northern Kingdom of Israel which had set up altars in Shechem, Dan, and Bethel — places where God had not put His name nor commanded worship.
The lion’s roar, heard far and wide, indicates present danger which strikes fear in the heart of man and beast (3:8). Although he stalks his prey in silence, the lion roars when the prey is in his grip and a kill is certain.
The hot breath of God’s roar would dry up the shepherd’s pastures impacting Judah and the lands to the south. His roar would thunder northward sweeping into Samaria, withering the whole Carmel area which usually does not experience such drought (v. 2). This should not have taken Israel by surprise, for God had warned that failure to keep their covenant commitment would produce the curse of drought (Dt. 28:20-24). Few judgments from the Lord affect a people so adversely as drought. Those living in the Midwest last year can attest to this!
The judgment which came forth from Jerusalem engulfed not only Israel but the surrounding nations. Judgment on the Gentiles is not listed according to geographical location but according to the severity of their persecution of God’s people.
Amos began with judgment upon Israel’s enemies for a number of reasons. First, it would grab Israel’s attention, and they would listen to the prophet’s message more closely. Second, it would show Israel that God cares for them by judging their enemies. Third, the nation would sense that God was closing in on Israel for judgment, which should bring her to repentance. Fourth, Israel would know that God is slow to anger and patiently gives His people time to repent.
The denunciation of each nation begins with the formula, “Thus saith the Lᴏʀᴅ: For three transgressions…and for four, I will not turn away its punishment…” (vv. 3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6). Some interpret the phrase to mean four transgressions added to three, totaling seven. Seven is a perfect number, thus indicating the cup of sin is completely full for God to bring judgment. It would be better to interpret this phrase as meaning that an incalculable number of sins has been committed, the cup of guilt is full, and God’s judgment must fall.
Three principles about God’s judgment need to be noted. First, the punishment is inevitable and irrevocable. Second, it is God who identifies the sins of a nation and announces the precise judgment. Third, God is longsuffering with nations giving them time for repentance.
Their sin is described as a transgression, which has the idea of breaking a covenant relationship through acts of rebellion. ISrael and Judah had broken their covenant promise to God (Ex. 19:3-6) by disobeying the commands of the law. The Gentiles had broken God’s Noahic Covenant (Gen. 9:5-17) by brutally shedding man’s blood. The nations had performed such barbaric and inhumane acts toward each other that God’s judgment must fall. The Gentiles were without excuse even though they were not under God’s law, for they did by nature the things contained in the law, having them written in their hearts and consciences (Rom. 2:14-15). Thus were all men help responsible for their willful opposition toward God’s standards.
Amos, having set forth the purpose for his prophecy, now announced the judgments on various nations. In each instance the prophet did not enumerate all the sins of a particular nation, but mentioned only the last sin (with the exception of Israel) which triggered God’s wrath against them. The prophet approached each nation with the same pattern. First, he gave the reason for their denunciation. Second, he presented their repulsive deeds. Third, he presented the results of their destruction.
The first nation denounced is Syria (1:3-5) identified by its major city Damascus (v. 3). Damascus will be judged for her ghastly deed of threshing “Gilead with… instruments of iron” (v. 3). True, God had allowed King Hazael and his son Benhadad of Syria to smite the land east of the Jordan River (Gilead, Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh) for their sins (2 Ki. 10:32-33; 13:3-7), but they had done it in a barbaric and brutal way. They had run over the captives of Gilead with a threshing machine consisting of long sharp teeth on its underside, which shredded the individual’s flesh.
King Hazael’s repulsive act would result in the total destruction of Damascus. First, Benhadad’s palace (fortification) was to be burned to the ground (v. 4). Second, “the bar [on the city gates] of Damascus” (v. 5) would be completely destroyed. Third, inhabitants “from the plain of Aven” (most likely Baalbeck, a heathen worship center) and “the house of Eden” (v. 5 plush summer palace of the king) would be cut off. Those who survived the destruction would be taken captive “unto Kir” (v. 5), the place of their origin in Mesopotamia. This prophecy was fulfilled when the Assyrian Tiglath-pileser brought destruction on Damascus in 732 B.C. (2 Ki. 16:7-9).
The second country denounced is Philistia (1:6-8) with her major cities, Gaza (capital), Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron. (vv. 7-8). Gath, the fifth major city of Philistia, is not mentioned. It is very possible that Judah had already captured it before this prophecy was given (2 Chr. 26:6), although it is mentioned as a city of Philistia by Amos (6:2).
Gaza was a center for slave trading because of its location on the Mediterranean coast between Tyre and Egypt. Gaza would raid surrounding people weaker in defense and deport the whole lot into slavery simply for financial gain. Those sold from Israel suffered great humiliation and abuse at the hands of Edom. The Edomites in turn sold their purchased slaves to other countries for financial gain.
The Assyrian, Tiglath-pileser III, attacked Gaza in 743 B.C., making a vassal city out of her and the whole area. Decades later the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar totally destroyed Philistia, her cities, kings, and people.
The third nation denounced is Tyre (1:9-10), the major city of Phoenicia. Their transgression was that they “delivered up the whole captivity to Edom” (v. 9). Amos did not identify the captive people, but most likely it was a group from Israel bought by the Phoenicians and then sold to Edom for great gain.
The “brotherly covenant” (v. 9) referred to could have been one made between King HIram and David (2 Sam. 5:11), King Hiram and Solomon (1 Ki. 5:2-6; 9; 11-14), or King Hiram and Ahab (1 Ki. 16:29-31). This was a protective covenant between the participants. The action by Tyre was totally unprovoked, for no king in Israel had come against the Phoenicians.
The result of Tyre’s sin would be the total destruction of her city by fire. This prophecy was fulfilled when Alexander the Great destroyed Tyre in 332 B.C. after a seven-month siege. History records that 6,000 were killed during the siege, and 30,000 were sold into slavery.
The fourth nation denounced is Edom (1:11-12; Obad. 10). He showed no pity (compassion) upon Israel and in anger tore her apart like a bloodthirsty wild beast kills its prey for sheer pleasure (v. 11). Edom “kept his wrath forever” (v. 11); that is, he continually kept it stirred up looking for opportunities to gratify his hatred toward Israel.
Edom’s transgression would result in total burning of its two major cities, Teman and Bozrah (v. 12), indicating that the whole nation would be destroyed. The nation was subjugated by the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C., turned into a desolate wasteland by the fifth century B.C., and later overtaken by the Nabateans, as Arabian tribe.
The fifth nation denounced is Ammon (1:13-15), descendants of Lot through his younger daughter (Gen 19:38). The Ammonites had ripped open pregnant women during their border raids into Gilead for the purpose of destroying the country’s population, making it possible to extend their land holdings (v. 13).
Ammon’s detestable sin would be punished by the burning of her capital city, Rabbah (present-day Amman). The invaders would enter Rabbah shouting blood curdling cries of war and like a whirlwind totally destroy the city and its people (v. 14). This prophecy was fulfilled by Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria when he destroyed Ammen in 734 B.C.
The sixth nation denounced is Moab (2:1-3), descendants of Lot through his older daughter (Gen. 19:37), located between Ammon and Edom, east of the Dead Sea. The Moabites committed the despicable crime of digging up the bones of Edom’s king and burning them into lime (2:1). Although this incident is not recorded in the historical books, many scholars believe it took place during the time Edom confederated with King Jehoram (Israel) and King Jehoshaphat (Judah) to come against King Mesha of Moab (2 Ki. 3:4-9).
Moab’s sin would result in the burning of her major city Kerioth (2:2; cp. Jer. 48:24, 41). The enemy would invade Moab with a bloodcurdling shout of war and the piercing sound of the trumpet (2:2). In the conflict their judges, princes, and people would be utterly consumed (2:3). History confirms that Moab did cease to be a power in the Middle East.
The seventh nation denounced is Judah (2:4-5), not for inhumane acts of savagery as did the Gentiles, but for despising (rejecting) God’s law (2:4). They lived as if the law were no longer relevant in a modern-day Judah. This failure to keep God’s commandments led the nation to practice “lies…after which their fathers have walked” (v. 4). The basic idea of the word “lies” is to practice deceit, but the Hebrew word can also refer to “idolatry” as in this verse. Thus the prophet accused Judah of practicing idolatry like their forefathers.
God would send a judgment of fire on Judah which would “devour the palaces [fortification] of Jerusalem” (v. 5). This took place in 586 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple. He deported the surviving remnant back to Babylon for 70 years of captivity (2 Ki. 25:1-21).
The eighth nation to be denounced is Israel (2:6-16). Amos, having gotten the attention of Israel by pronouncing judgment upon their surrounding neighbors, now denounced the Northern Kingdom for her social sins. The prophet mentioned four major areas where Israel had not kept the law.
First is the area of social injustice. They had perverted justice by selling “the righteous for silver” (v. 6); that is, the judges condemned righteous people for a bribe, or possibly sold into slavery those who could not pay their debts. This was not legal in Israel (Ex. 21:7); Lev. 25:39). The poor had been sold “for a pair of shoes” (v. 6), almost nothing.
These cruel creditors “pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor” (v. 7); that is, oppress the poor so severely that they mourn by casting dust on their heads; or tread the poor into the dust of the earth; or yet still take away even the dust that the poor cast upon their heads in misery. These heartless leaders do all in their power to destroy the meek (lowly and unassuming righteous people) by denying them proper judicial process in court, especially toward their creditors (v. 7).
Second is the area of sexual impurity: “a man and his father will go in unto the same maid” (v. 7). This could have been a temple prostitute or a household concubine. Such acts were sternly condemned in the Mosaic Law (Lev. 18:8, 15; 20:11). The action of these men “profane my holy name” (v. 7), said God. To disobey their covenant commitment in this area was tantamount to mocking and dishonoring God’s name among the Gentiles (cp. Rom. 2:24).
Third is the area of spiritual idolatry. They “lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar” (v. 8). The outer garment of a person could be held for a debt owed but not overnight (Ex. 22:26-27; Dt. 24:10-13). This did not apply to widows (Dt. 24:17). The law commanded such garments be returned by sunset to protect the Israelite from the cold. The creditors kept the garments and laid them on the ground “by every altar” (idol temple) at Dan and Bethel in order to protect their own clothing. The money extorted from those mentioned above was used to buy wine for the worship of “their god” (v. 8, idols).
Fourth is the sin of ingratitude. God reminded Israel that He had delivered them from the Amorites (v. 9), the most powerful enemy they had to face in conquering Canaan (Gen. 15:16; Dt. 1:20). The Lord had totally destroyed this tall and strong people from their “fruit” to their “roots” (v. 9).
He reminded Israel that He alone delivered them from 400 years of captivity in Egypt and preserved them for 40 years in the wilderness (v. 10).
God had provided two groups of people for Israel’s spiritual benefit: prophets (v. 11), to present God’s Word and will; and the Nazirite (v. 11), to present a pattern for holy living. But Israel rebelled against the prophets, commanding them to “Prophesy not” (v. 12); and coerced the Nazarites to break their vow of abstaining from wine (Num. 6:3).
The Lord illustrated His judgment on Israel’s ingratitude by saying, “I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves” (v. 13), meaning He will press Israel with destruction like a heavy truck full of cargo leaves its tire print in the ground.
Israel’s judgment would result in the complete destruction of her Northern Kingdom. Defenders would not survive — not the swift, strong, mighty (warrior), archer, swift runner, or horseman (vv. 14-15). Even the bravest warrior would lose heart, strip off his equipment, and flee “naked” (v. 16).
The destruction of the Northern Kingdom was total and came at the hands of Assyria in 722 B.C. (2 Ki 17:1-23).
A number of lessons can be learned from this prophecy. First, God is overly patient with nations, giving time to repent before judgment falls. Second, God is no respecter of nations; all will be judged for their sin. Third, when the cup of sin within a nation is full, judgment will be irrevocable. Fourth, God is sovereign over all nations, choosing the time of their rise and fall. Fifth, nations are held accountable for brutal abuse shown to countries captured in war, Sixth, God’s standards for judging the nations are similar but the results differ. Seventh, God brings judgment on leaders and nations who perpetrate fraud, oppression, and violence against its people.
Is the world headed toward a time of glasnost, perestroika, and social justice? Not according to the Bible! Paul said, “in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Tim. 3:1). Daniel detailed an upheaval among nations. Jesus said, “nation shall rise against nation” (Mt. 24:7). THere is no new breeze blowing, no freedom reborn, nor is the day of the dictator over. Talk of political and social injustice is just that — talk! Be vigilant! Arise like an Amos and give a message of warning!
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 9. 10.4.