STUDY TWO: AMOS 1:3 – 2:5

© Rosemary Bardsley 2021

Before bringing God’s message to Israel Amos has a message from the Lord to the surrounding nations, including the southern kingdom, Judah.

Each message begins with the same formula:

‘This is what the LORD says:
“For three sins of ... even for four,
I will not turn back my wrath”.’

‘This is what the LORD says ...’
Amos’ opening statement to each of the neighbouring pagan nations, to Judah, and to Israel, begins with identifying ‘the LORD’ as the source of the message. What Amos is about to say is not his message but a message from ‘the LORD’, regardless of whether or not the hearers know or acknowledge him as ‘the LORD’.

This God who identifies himself as ‘the LORD’ is the God who had –

Revealed himself to Abraham and called him out from the worship of other gods, establishing his covenant with him (Genesis 12:1 – 3; Exodus 3:13 – 16; Joshua 24:2,3).

Sent the ten plagues upon Egypt, demonstrating his utter superiority over the so-called ‘gods’ of Egypt (Exodus 7 – 12).

Delivered the Israelites slaves from Egypt with a mighty miracle (Exodus 13:17 – 15:21).

Sustained the Israelites (even preventing their clothing and shoes from wearing out) for forty years in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 29:5).

Brought them into the promised land, giving them victory over its inhabitants (Joshua 24:6 – 13).

Affirmed that he, and he alone, is God (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39).

It is this God, ‘the LORD‘, who here speaks through his prophet Amos, to the neighbouring nations who did not know him, to Judah, who knew him, but were wavering between faith and unbelief, and to Israel, who had once claimed to know him, but had replaced him with other gods.

It is the same God who speaks to them all.

 

‘For three sins ... even (and) for four’
About this formula respected Old Testament scholars Keil and Delitzsch state:

‘In the formula, which is repeated in the case of every people, “for three transgressions, and for four,” the numbers merely serve to denote the multiplicity of the sins, the exact number of which has no bearing upon the matter. “The number four is added to the number three, to characterize the latter as simply set down at pleasure; in other words, it is as much as to say that the number is not exactly three or four, but probably a still larger number” (Hitzig). The expression, therefore, denotes not a small but a large number of crimes, or “ungodliness in its worst form” (Luther),

‘(Note: J. Marck has correctly explained it thus: “When this perfect number (three) is followed by four, by way of gradation, God not only declares that the measure of iniquity is full, but that it is filled to overflowing and beyond all measure.”).

‘That these numbers are to be understood in this way, and not to be taken in a literal sense, is unquestionably evident from the fact, that in the more precise account of the sins which follows, as a rule, only one especially grievous crime is mentioned by way of example.’

 

‘I will not turn back my wrath’
God’s judgements are not always, or even often, immediate. In his patience and grace his judgement is often delayed. However, God does remember, and God will act in justice. There comes a time when the judgement must and will be implemented.

What do these texts have to say about this gracious delay, and the irreversibility of God’s wrath?
Exodus 34:6 – 7

 

1Kings 11:9 - 13

 

Luke 11:47 - 51

 

2Peter 3:8 – 10

 

Revelation 6:9 – 11

 

Revelation 16:5, 6

 

Revelation 18:4 – 10, 21 – 24

 

For a brief meditation on the inevitability of God’s judgment when human wickedness reaches the extreme: https://www.godswordforyou.com/thoughts/isaiah/830-enough-is-enough.html

 

A. GOD’S WORD TO THE PAGAN NATIIONS

In 1:3 to 2:3 Amos speaks God’s message to the neighbouring nations. These nations were pagan nations. They neither worshipped nor pretended to worship the God who had revealed himself in the history of Israel. God had not entered into covenant relationship with them. Yet God, although they did not know it, is the God of all the earth. The whole earth is his, created by him and sustained by him. God’s message to them is not connected to either the covenant or to the commandments that formed part of that covenant. Yet still he addresses them and still he holds them accountable.

Study Amos 1:3 to 2:3. Why does God condemn each of these nations?
Syria (also known as ‘Aram’; Israel’s northern neighbour; capital – Damascus)

 

Philistia (Israel’s western neighbour; cities – Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron)

 

Phoenicia (Israel’s north-western neighbour; principal seaport – Tyre)

 

Edom (to the far south of Israel, beyond Judah; capital – Teman; note that Edom descended from Esau.)

 

Ammon (the south-eastern neighbour of Israel; city – Rabbah)

 

Moab (to the south-south east; city – Kerioth)

 

Some comments:
[1] Did you notice that each of the actions for which these places are condemned are what we today would call ‘war crimes’ - ‘man’s inhumanity to man’? Nothing is said about their pagan worship, only about the way they have treated human beings.

[2] ‘Gilead’, mentioned twice, refers to the land east of the Jordan River occupied by two and a half Israelite tribes – Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

[3] Notice the words God uses to refer to his judgements:

‘I will send fire’, ‘I will set fire to’ (‘fire’ is often a symbol of judgement).
‘I will break down’
‘I will destroy’
I will turn my hand against’.

[4] Notice the result of God’s judgement:

Syria: the king is destroyed; fortresses destroyed; the people go into exile.
Philistia: fortresses destroyed; kings destroyed; the Philistines cease to exist.
Phoenicia: fortresses destroyed.
Edom: fortresses destroyed.
Ammon: fortresses destroyed; king and officials exiled.
Moab: fortresses destroyed; king and officials killed.

[5] When these judgements occurred:

Syria: was defeated by the Assyrians in 732BC, the king, Rezin, killed, and the population deported and resettled in Kir (2Kings 16:5 – 9).

Philistia: The Philistines were subjugated by Uzziah and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and later by various nations: Egypt, Persia, Greece, and the Jews in 2nd century BC.

Phoenicia: Tyre was besieged by Assyria on several occasions (724 – 722 BC; >664BC), and by Babylon (c587 – 574).

Edom: Overpowered by Arabs in the 5th century BC, and by the Nabataeans in the 3rd century BC.

Ammon: Defeated by the Jews in the 2nd century BC.

Moab: Subdued by Assyria (late 8th century BC); subdued by Babylon (c587BC); controlled by Persians and various Arab groups; ceased to have independent existence as a nation.

Of all of these countries only ‘Syria’ exists as a nation today, but modern ‘Syria’ is not the same nation or people group as the Syria which was conquered by the Assyrians and deported/resettled.

But although these nations are accountable to God and subject to his sovereign authority and judgement, he is more concerned with the descendents of Abraham – those he redeemed from slavery in Egypt, with whom he established a covenant agreement.

 

B. GOD’S WORD TO JUDAH

Amos turns his attention away from the pagan nations to Judah. Here the kings of David’s line reigned. Here, in Jerusalem, was the temple, the house for God’s name. Here the priests and the Levites engaged in the rituals that formed part of the covenant established at Sinai.

But all was not well.

Read Amos 2:4, 5. What do you learn?

 

 

What makes these three things important?
Rejecting the law of the LORD

 

Not keeping his decrees

 

Being led astray by false gods

 

Recall what the covenant required of Israel (see Study 1, section C).
What was the most important part of, the foundation of, the law?

 

From the list of kings of Judah in Study 1, section B.3.3, which of the kings, up to Uzziah, were guilty of the accusations in Amos 2:4? (be careful ... some started well and finished badly)

 

As a nation, what was Judah’s attitude to God during the reigns of these kings?

 

What connection was there between the king’s obedience to God and the people’s obedience to God?

 

 

B.1 Why was it so difficult?
If you studied the list of kings of both Israel and Judah you will have noticed how easily the people reverted to the worship of idols. Only one king in Israel had anything good said about him in this respect. In Judah some kings were constant in their allegiance to God, some appeared to be faithful to begin with but reverted to idolatry when their godly mentor died. One or two started badly, but repented and worshipped the Lord. Others were given over to idolatry all their lives.

This raises the question: why was it so difficult? The answer lies in two facts: there was a national history, and there was a cultural context.

B.1.1 The history and the context

Read Genesis 3. Here we are told of the first rejection of God. There Adam and Eve, who had in Genesis 1 and 2 pure knowledge of God and a perfect relationship with God, were led astray by the evil one, who corrupted their understanding of God, generating doubts where there had been perfect trust. The deception resulted in their rebellion against God and their rejection of his word.

Read the following texts. What do they reveal about the long term flow-on of this corrupted understanding of God?
In humans generally: Romans 1:20 – 23, 25

 

In Abraham’s ancestors: Joshua 24:2, 14 – 15.

 

In Abraham’s immediate descendants: Genesis 35:1 – 4; Joshua 24: 14 - 15, 23; Jeremiah 16:19.

 

In the Israelites in Egypt: Deuteronomy 29: 16 – 17; Joshua 24:14.

 

In Israel, newly redeemed from slavery: Exodus 32:1 – 8; Numbers 25:1 – 5; Joshua 24:23; 1Samuel 8:8.

 

In Israel, in their early years in the promised land: Judges 2:10 – 13, 17, 19, 22; 3:4, 7, 12; 4:1; 6:1, 7 – 10; 8:33, 34; 10:6, 13; 1Samuel 7:3; 8:8; 2Chronicles 15:3; Psalm 106:34 – 39.

 

 

In the united kingdom: 1Kings 11:1 – 10

 

In the divided kingdom – Israel: 1Kings 12:28 – 33; 14:9; 21:25 – 26; 1Chronicles 5:25; 2Chronicles 13:8, 9; Hosea 4:6 – 13, 17; 8:4 – 6; 13:1 – 2.

 

In the divided kingdom – Judah: 1Kings 15:11 – 14; 2Chronicles 24:17 – 19; 25:14; 2Kings 15:4; Isaiah 2:6 – 8; 57:5 – 9; Jeremiah 35:15; 44:3 – 5, 9.

 

 

B.1.2 False impressions
Many Christians seem to assume that Israel, the people of God, were people of genuine faith. As evident in the verses above, that’s clearly not how it was. God called Abraham out of an idolatrous people. His grand-children and great-grand children engaged in idolatry. His descendants in slavery in Egypt engaged in idolatry. The newly freed Israelites engaged in idolatry, and when they entered the promised land this got worse rather than better. The worship of idols, which was clearly forbidden by the covenant, persisted right through their history. Regardless of the example and the religious reforms of godly kings, and regardless of the messages of the prophets.

The very reason the prophets were called and commissioned by God, was to confront the people with the gross disobedience of their idolatrous practices, remind them of the covenant obligations and conditions, to warn them of the judgement of God that would fall, and to urge them to put aside their idols and return to the living God.

Check this focus of the message of the prophets on returning to/turning to/seeking the Lord.
Samuel: 1Samuel 7:3, 4

Elijah: 1Kings 18:18 – 21, 39

Azariah: 2Chronicles 15:2

Isaiah: Isaiah 9:13; 55:6;

Jeremiah: Jeremiah 3:12, 13, 22; 4:1, 2; 29:13;

Ezekiel: Ezekiel 18:23, 30, 31;

Hosea: Hosea 7:10; 14:1

Amos: Amos 5:4

Malachi 3:7

Amos’s message to Judah, unlike his messages to the pagan nations, reminds them of the covenant law because, for the most part, Judah had forgotten or ignored both the covenant and the living God. As we are about to see, Amos’ message to Israel, the northern kingdom, is far more intense. However, there is some indication that at least some (not the detail, but the general principle) of what he says to Israel also applies to Judah (see 3:1, 2; 6:1; 8:7).

REFLECTION
What have you learned about God from this study – who he is and what he does?

 

 

What have you learned about the right human response to God?

 

 

What have you learned about the wrong human response to God?

 

 

What have you learned about right and wrong treatment of your fellow humans?

 

 

Where are you positioned, personally, regarding the three previous questions?