Israel, You Only Have I Known Amos 3:1-15
Israel has a special relationship with God. Like a father to his son, God heaped upon Israel every provision for a life of purity and prosperity. Sadly, Israel turned out to be a prodigal son, rebelling against the goodness of his father; the nation committed social injustice, sexual impurity, and spiritual idolatry.
Like a father to his son, God brought punishment on this sordid behavior. Sternly, the prophet thundered out, “Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you” (v. 1). God had three messages for Israel, all beginning with “Hear this word” (Amos 3:1, 4:1; 5:1). The messages directed to Israel were to be heard by the “whole family which I (God) brought up from the land of Egypt” (v. 1).
Privilege of Israel
Israel was reminded of her unique privilege: “You only have I known of all the families of earth” (v. 2). The Hebrew word yada, translated known, means to be acquainted with, or to have intimate relation with. It speaks of God’s covenant relationship with Israel whereby He elected her to a unique position among nations and bestowed special privileges of love, care and fellowship – something not granted to any other nation. God has chosen Israel to be His special people (treasured possession) above all people of the earth (Dt. 7:6-7; cp. Ex. 19:5; Dt. 14:2; 26:18; Ps. 135:4; Mal. 3:17).
Why did God choose Israel? It was not for her size, for she was the “fewest of all people”. (Dt. 7:7). It was not for any innate goodness, for she was corrupt from the inception of her deliverance from Egypt (Ex. 16:9; 17:3; 32:7-10; 33:3, 5). Two reasons are given for God’s election of Israel: first, His love for the people; second, to keep the oath which He swore unto their fathers (Dt. 7:8) to forge their seed into a mighty nation and to provide them with the promised land of Canaan (Gen. 17:7-8; 26:3-5, 24; 28:13-15).
God chose Israel to be the depository of His Word, a nation through whom the Messiah would come (Gal. 4:4), and a blessing to the Gentiles (Gen. 12:3). God’s choice of Israel was pure grace; thus, she should not boast in her position or privileges.
One must ask the ultimate question: Why did God choose Israel and not another people? Only He knows! Paul put it best when he said that God chooses “according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:5). The reason must be left with God.
With selective privileges comes sobering responsibility. In Deuteronomy 7:9-11, Moses enumerated seven principles about God’s goodness that Israel is to continually remember. First, there is only one God, “the Lᴏʀᴅ…he is God” ((v. 9). Israel should not seek help from or worship any other god. Second, God is “faithful” (v. 9); that is, He can be trusted to keep His promises. Third, He “keepeth covenant” (v. 9) with His people. Israel is guaranteed that God will never violate or break the covenant He made with their fathers. Fourth, He will show “mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments” (v. 9). Fifth, these promises were not made with only those who came out of Egypt but with their descendants as well, “to a thousand generations” (v. 9), or forever. Sixth, conversely, He “repayeth them who hate him to their face” (v. 10). “To their face” means that the nation will personally know that their judgment is from God. Seventh, the rebel will be destroyed (v. 10) by God. Thus, every Israelite was to walk circumspectly before the Lord.
Israel is not the only people whom God has chosen. A great multitude from the nations of the world has been forged into “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a people of his own” (1 Pet, 2:9) called the church. God’s divine purpose for both Israel and the church is that they shall show forth His praise (Isa. 43:21; 1 Pet, 2:9) throughout the world.
With special privilege and responsibility comes accountability (Ex. 19:5). Therefore, God said to Israel, “I will punish you for all your iniquities” (v. 2). God’s sentence of condemnation was great on Israel and Judah. They would receive “of the Lᴏʀᴅ’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:2). The same is true for the Christian. His election does not negate the chastening hand of God if he commits or lives in sin. God will purge out the believer’s sin to make him a holy vessel for His use.
Amos illustrated his point of accountability by the use of seven rhetorical questions. In these result-causes Amos was saying, B does not take place unless A precedes it!
First, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (v. 3). The truth is self-evident: Two individuals cannot walk on a road together unless they agree to do so. Both God and Israel had agreed to walk with each other (Ex. 19:5, 8; 24:3, 7-8), but now the agreement had been broken because Israel had walked in the opposite direction.
Many Christians break fellowship with the Lord and walk according to the ways of the world (Eph. 2:2), “as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind” (Eph. 4:17). The believer, like Israel, is to “walk circumspectly” (Eph, 5:15) of diligently before God.
Second, “Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey?” (v. 4). Lions do not roar unless they have their prey so near that it cannot escape. Their roar will stop the animal in its tracks while the lion moves in for the kill. God has roared out of Zion, warning of the judgment about to fall upon His people (Amos 1:2).
The Lord sounds out his displeasure to the sinning Christian, warning of coming chastening. The Christian is to judge himself, putting sinful thinking, habits, and actions far from him (1 Cor. 11:31). Failure to do so will invoke the chastening hand of God, not to destroy the believer but to correct his way (1 Cor. 11:32), bringing him into conformity to the image of Christ (Rom, 8:29).
Third, “Will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing?” (v. 4). The young lion who has taken prey will let others know by growling. So it is with the Lord who had Israel in His grip and was ready to devour her. The Christian who lives in continual disobedience is at the mercy of God, who can either temper His chastening or bring the individual to destruction. Chastening often takes the form of weakness, sickness, or, in some extreme cases, death (1 Cor. 11:30). John stated, “There is a sin unto death” (1 Jn. 5:16); that is, swift and immediate punishment of which Ananias and Sapphira are examples (Acts 5:1-10).
Fourth, “Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no trap is for him?” (v. 5). Naturally, birds can only be snared when they are drawn into a baited trap. Israel, who ignored the warning of God, became trapped in sin which resulted in her demise. The same is true with the Christian who often ignores the traps set by Satan. Through lust he will take the bait of temptation and fall into sin, spiritually destroying himself (Jas. 1:15-16).
Fifth, “Shall one take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all?” (v. 5). Set traps only spring up when triggered by the captured prey. Israel, who was captured by the trap of sin, will not escape destruction. Likewise, the Christian will eventually be caught if he continues to sin (Gal. 6:7-8).
Sixth, “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid?” (v. 6). A trumpet, when blown, frightens people out of their self-security; likewise, the prophet’s voice frightened when he sounded coming judgment. Amos blew the trumpet of warning, but Israel did not hear and respond accordingly; thus, judgement was about to fall. When Christians do not heed the voice of the Holy Spirit’s warning, chastening will come upon them.
Seventh, “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lᴏʀᴅ hath not done it?” (v. 6). The evil spoken of was not moral evil but physical calamity upon a city, which God either allowed or sent as punishment. The calamity Israel was about to suffer would be sent by God. Likewise, God often allows evil to come upon Christians for disciplinary purposes (Heb. 12:6).
Amos applied the illustration in two ways. First, “Surely, the Lord Gᴏᴅ will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants, the prophets” (v. 7). God’s judgment never comes arbitrarily; He reveals it to the prophets who, in turn, warn the people, giving them a chance to repent and reform their ways.
Second, “The lion hath roared; who will not fear? The Lord Gᴏᴅ hath spoken; who can but prophesy?” (v. 8); that is, as fear naturally follows a lion’s roar, so the prophet must give the message revealed by God no matter how distasteful or disturbing it may be. The prophet cannot be silent (2:12). He is under divine authority, as God’s ambassador, to speak the message regardless of the opposition (7:14-15).
The first-century apostles boldly confronted the opposition of their day with the words, “we cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20) and “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). God is looking for such people today. Such people are few!
Publish the Invitation
God had raised up Israel to be a witness of his holiness to the surrounding nations (Dt. 4:5-7; 28:9-10), but sin had covered her light. As a prosecuting attorney, God called Amos to invite the palaces of Ashdod and Egypt (Israel’s enemies) to assemble on the mountains of Samaria in order to witness his case against Israel (v. 9). They would witness “tumults” (v. 9), a state of confusion where justice and order had been overthrown. They would witness “the oppressed” (v. 9), those hurt by injustice and violence who were already graphically described (2:6-12).
Having rejected God’s truth and light, the people lost all sense of justice. Their sin had so blinded and hardened their spiritual condition that they had lost their ability to discern right from wrong. This resulted in the rulers storing up “violence and robbery in their palaces” (v. 10); that is, building massive palaces with the plundered wealth. They were storing up the fruits of their wickedness which was sure to bring judgment.
Israel was marked out for punishment; their “adversary” (v. 11) would soon strike. The invasion was precipitated by King Hoshea, who refused to pay an annual tribute to Assyria. Shalmaneser V imprisoned Hoshea and besieged the city for three years. The Assyrian, Sargon II, came to power in 721 B.C., pulled down Israel’s strongholds, and spoiled their palaces (v. 11). Samaria was destroyed in 722 B.C., and thousands of people were carried into captivity (2 Ki. 17:4-6). The cities of Israel were repopulated with Gentiles (2 Ki. 17:24) who intermarried with the poorer Israelites remaining in the land. They became known as Samaritans, a mixed race of Jews and Gentiles, highly despised by the Jews (Jn. 4:9). This practice of mixing races was done to weaken the population and prevent them from revolting against the Assyrian occupation.
One often hears about the ten lost tribes leaving Assyria and wandering through Eastern and Western Europe, eventually being discovered in Britain. Those holding this teaching believe the ten tribes to be the Anglo-Saxon people of today. The teaching further states that Britain (Ephraim) and America (Manasseh) are to inherit the covenant promises made with Israel. This teaching, called British-Israelism, is fallacious and has promoted much anti-Semitism in various cults and churches worldwide.
The Assyrian captivity of the ten tribes does not mean that Judah and Benjamin were the only tribes left. Before Israel’s destruction, many within the ten tribes went to Judah during the rebellion of Jeroboam (1 Ki. 12:16-20; 2 Chr. 11:16-17); thus, Judah became the embodiment of the twelve tribes, Jesus came as the Messiah, not just to Judah, but to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 10:5-6). In the New Testament many tribes are mentioned (Mt. 4:13, 15; Lk. 2:36; Acts 4:36; 26:7; Phil. 3:5; Jas. 1:1).
Israel would be consumed by the Assyrian beast like a lion rips apart its prey, leaving only small, worthless remnants (v. 12). Those swept away by the Assyrians are pictured dwelling in Samaria on the corner of a bed and in Damascus on a couch (v. 12). The invaders would take all, even the inlaid ivory couches (6:4) covered with expensive materials from Damascus. In the midst of their soft sumptuous, secure life, they were quickly removed to servitude.
Israel’s heathen enemies were not only to witness her trial (v. 9) but to “testify” (v. 13) against her as well, the ultimate humiliation to God’s people. “The Lord GOD, the God of hosts” (v.13) had the power and authority to execute her sentence of judgment.
God’s judgment would extend to “the altars of Bethel” (v. 14), the seat of Israel’s idolatry, where Jeroboam set up one of the two golden calves for Israel to worship (1 Ki, 12:25-33), a horrible abomination to God. The “horns of the altar shall be cut off” (v. 14) symbolizing the loss of any hope of refuge, protection, or salvation.
The rich and famous in Israel had winter and summer houses of ivory (v. 15) built with extortion money from the poor. These would be totally destroyed as well.
Many sense that America is wandering down the same path as ancient Israel. The nation is full of social injustice, sexual immorality, and spiritual idolatry – a privileged people who sense no responsibility or accountability for their actions. The good life of peace and prosperity has lulled the nation into a false security. The preacher’s warning is not taken seriously; therefore, it goes unheeded. Could it be that God’s roar will soon be heard against this nation? Hear this word, O children of America!