STUDY THREE: AMOS 2:6 – 16

© Rosemary Bardsley 2021

Amos opens his first message to Israel with the same formula that he used to address the pagan nations and Judah. He then lists some of Israel’s sins, relates some of God’s historical actions on Israel’s behalf, mentions a further sin, then warns of the coming judgement.

A. ISRAEL’S SINS

Compared to the war crimes of the surrounding pagan nations and the covenant breaking of Judah, some of the sins listed in 2:6 – 8 seem much less significant. But that apparent insignificance is misleading.

Read Amos 2:6 – 7a. What are God’s four accusations against Israel?

 

 

 

 

A.1 Social injustice
Think about these questions:
Today, which of these sins would be called ‘social injustice’ or ‘discrimination’?

 

What kinds of social injustice are evident in your community or country?

 

What kinds of discrimination are evident in your community?

 

What laws are in place in your country outlawing such discrimination?

 

In your opinion, are all kinds of discrimination wrong? Explain your answer.

 

Suggest why God is opposed to social injustice and discrimination. Give verses or biblical truths to support your answer.

 

[Note: we will see more about social injustice as we move through Amos.]

A.1.1 ‘They sell the righteous for silver’ and ‘the needy for a pair of sandals’
This refers to corrupt judges accepting bribes to convict and condemn a legally innocent person. The reference to ‘a pair of sandals’ points to the very small amount that was sufficient to bribe the judges. So corrupt were the judges that they would accept even a very minimal bribe to pervert justice. Here there is discrimination against the righteous and discrimination against the needy.

Read Deuteronomy 16:18 – 20. What does God say about this?

 

 

A.1.2 ‘They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground’
The Hebrew verb translated ‘trample’ means something like ‘covet’ – hence the KJV ‘pant after’. It has a sense of eagerness/keenness to it. They are deliberately, knowingly, heartless towards the underprivileged. It is their way of life. It is normal for them as walking on the ground.

A.2 Religious profanity/making mockery of God
In addition to the disrespect of their fellow humans evident in the first four accusations, Israel engaged in blatant disrespect for God. This is obvious in the next group of accusations. Each of the next three accusations exposes a failure at a spiritual/religious level.

Bible teachers, and Bible translations, disagree about the precise practices that are condemned in verses 7b & 8.

A.2.1 Amos 2:7b: ‘father and son use the same girl’
This accusation takes us out of the realm of social injustice and into the realm of sexual immorality. There is difference of opinion about the context of this specific practice:

Some people think that the ‘girl’ is a ‘temple’ prostitute, part of the pagan religious practices that had been embraced by Israel. If this is what God was referring to, it is easy to see why he said ‘and so profane my holy name’. Not only were the Israelites engaged in pagan rituals, but they were also practicing, under the name of religion/worship of ‘god’, things which he, the one-and-only holy God, had outlawed. Both the pagan worship, and the immorality involved, profaned, made mockery of, his name.

If Amos is referring to cult prostitution, then it is a widespread behaviour, not just a single incident that he is talking about. It is one thing in a list of several sins that characterised the nation as a whole. Note the repeated ‘they’ ... ‘they sell the righteous ... and the needy ... they trample on the heads of the poor... and deny justice ... they lie down beside every altar ... they drink wine taken as fines ...’ Now he refers to a so common practice among them, the practice of cult prostitution so rife that every male, both fathers and sons, are involved.

The references to other pagan cultic practices – lying down beside every altar, and drinking wine in the house of their god – supports the interpretation that the ‘girl’ Amos is referring to is a cult prostitute.’

However, others think that the reference is simply to a prostitute being used by both a father and his son, not related to any religious practice. But even this practice demonstrates a defiance of God and a rejection of his word.

The way God sees it, all of the choices and actions of his people have spiritual significance. Certain sexual relationships and actions were forbidden precisely because, as God repeatedly stated, ‘I am the LORD your God’. Included in these forbidden practices were prostitution (Leviticus 19:29), sexual relations with the same woman as your father (Leviticus 18:7, 8). An extensive list of forbidden sexual relationships is given to the Israelites in Leviticus 18, all of them grounded in the fact that God, the LORD, is their God. Because he is their God, because he is holy, they must not defile themselves by engaging in these practices.

Read these texts. What significance do they give to sexual choices?
Leviticus 18:1; 19:1

Leviticus 18:3, 4, 30

Leviticus 20:10 – 13

God is holy. He commands his people to be similarly holy – to be set apart, separate from the evil practices of those who do not belong to God. For people who claim to belong to him, to engage in sexual relationships that he has forbidden is, automatically, to profane his holy name, to make mockery of both God and their claim to believe in him.

The New Testament continues to uphold this high standard for those who profess faith in Jesus Christ.

Read these verses. What do they say about our sexual choices?
Matthew 19:4 – 6

1Corinthians 6:12 – 20

Galatians 5:19 – 21

Ephesians 5:3, 5, 12

Colossians 3:5

Answer these questions:
How necessary are these commands in the church today? Explain your answer.

 

In your culture, how have sexual standards changed in your lifetime?

 

What does Paul mean by ‘honour God with your body’?

 

How difficult is that for you as a follower of Christ in an unbelieving, highly sexualised, world?

 

It is evident from the list of forbidden sexual unions in Leviticus 18 and elsewhere that what we see happening today was also happening when God gave Moses these laws. And we can expect the standards of our culture to worsen, and become even more like they were in Moses’ time. The people of faith have always been called and commanded to distance themselves from the practices and values of those who do not know God.

Amos’ message to Israel, the people of God, condemns their immoral actions, pointing out that such actions, such a lifestyle, profanes God’s name. Then, as now, our actions either glorify/honour God, or dishonour God.

From these verses, what principle should govern all of our choices as followers of Christ?
Matthew 5:16

1Corinthians 10:31

1Peter 2:9,12

A.2.2 Amos 2:8a – ‘they lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge’
Here again a moral issue and a spiritual issue merge in one action. The moral issue is again that of social injustice/discrimination against the needy.

About the moral issue:

Read Exodus 22:25 – 27. Answer these questions:
What does God forbid?

Why?

In what way were the people Amos addressed ignoring and disobeying this command?

 

About the spiritual issue:
Not only were these people guilty of heartlessness and lack of compassion towards the poor, disobeying God’s clear command, they were also guilty of pagan religion. The garments which should have been returned to the poor for the night, out of compassion for the poor, were taken to the pagan altars/temples and there used for personal comfort while engaged in pagan worship/feasts. Not only were the poor deprived, but God was also insulted. Note that this disrespect towards both the poor and God was widespread: it was happening ‘beside every altar’. Amos is not bringing God’s message to a nation where a small handful of people had sinned a small number of times. He is speaking to a nation that, as a whole, had turned their backs on God and on his word. As we will see later, they were a people ripe for judgement.

 

A.2.3 Amos 2:8b – ‘In the house of their god they drink wine taken in fines’.
The ‘wine taken in fines’ most likely refers to fines that had been paid in wine rather than in money, or wine bought with money paid in fines by those unjustly accused and condemned. (Perhaps tying this last accusation to the first.)

Albert Barnes explains: ‘persons in any petty judicial authority ... expending in revelry and debauchery in the idol’s temple what they had unjustly extorted from the oppressed.’

He further comments:

‘Amos, with wonderful irony, marks the ghastly mixture of sin and worship, “they drank the wine of the amerced” - where? “in the house of their God,” condemning in five words their luxury, oppression, perversion of justice, cruelty, profaneness, unreal service and real apostasy. What hard-heartedness to the willfully-forgotten poor is compensated by a little Church-going!’

‘In the house of their god ...’
Which ‘god’ is Amos referring to?

Back when Jeroboboam I led the ten tribes to form a break-away nation separate from the kings of David’s line, he had set up a rival worship system.

Read 1Kings 12:25 – 33.
Why did he do this?

 

What do you learn about this alternative worship/religion?

 

What was wrong about it?

 

Were these calf-gods actually God?

Jeroboam I became a benchmark by which the succeeding kings of Israel were assessed. Almost without exception they are said to have walked ‘in the ways of Jeroboam and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit’, or, as the KJV reads ‘in the way of Jeroboam who made Israel to sin’.

But these spurious calf-gods at Dan and Bethel, with the accompanying altars and unauthorised priests, were not the only ‘gods’ in Israel. There were also the Baals and the Ashtaroths which were left-over from the Canaanites who had previously inhabited the land. Contrary to God’s instructions the Israelites had failed to get rid of these when they occupied the land.

How had God warned the Israelites, even before they entered the land?
Exodus 23:23, 24, 32, 33

 

Deuteronomy 31:15 – 21

 

A.2.4 Amos 2:12 – ‘you made the Nazarites to drink wine ...’
Here is another religious/spiritual offence. Almost the whole of Numbers 6 describes the Nazarites. These were people, both men and women, who wanted to make a special vow of separation to the LORD for a specified time. (The most famous Nazarite was Samson – see Judges 13:5, 7; 18:17.) The very first instructions concerning the Nazarites required them to abstain from drinking wine and from eating anything that comes from the grape vine – see Numbers 6:1 – 4.

But here in Israel the people have interfered with the Nazarite vow of consecration, forcing them to break their vow. And it is even worse than that, for the previous verse in Amos informs us that it was God himself who had raised up these Nazarites – it was God, who by his Spirit, moved them to consecrate themselves to him, and by that consecration serve as a testimony to the godless nation. But the nation would have none of it.

For discussion: In what ways do the godless today seek to corrupt God’s people?

 

 

 

A.2.5 Amos 2:12 – ‘and commanded the prophets not to prophesy’
Similarly, God had sent prophets to Israel, to remind them of what he had done in their past, to remind them of their covenant commitments, to point out how they were breaking the covenant, and warn them of the covenant consequences of their actions. But they had commanded the prophets not to prophesy.
They do not want to be reminded. They do not want to hear the word of the LORD. Indeed, they have rejected both God and his word. This is the central sin, the foundational sin, the sin from which all other sins arise.

B. GOD’S ACTIONS IN ISRAEL’S HISTORY

Amos reminds Israel of a few significant things that God had done for them, despite their on-going historical rebellion against him.

B.1 The destruction of the Amorites – Amos 2:9, 10c
The Amorites had a long history in the land of Canaan, a land which God promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Read these verses and answer the questions:
Genesis 15:7, 16 – God speaking to Abraham
How long would it be before God gave the land to Abraham’s descendants?

Why was there to be this long delay?

Numbers 21:21 – 35 – the defeat of the Amorites (Sihon and Og were Amorite city-kings)
Who initiated the attack (v22)?

Who ensured Israel’s victory(v34)?

Which tribes of Israel occupied this land (32:33)?

Where was this territory located (clue in 32:5, 27)?

 

B.2 The exodus from Egypt – Amos 2:10a
In the same Genesis conversation in which God promised Abraham and his descendants the land of the Amorites, he also told Abraham that his descendants would spend generations as slaves in a country not their own (Genesis 15:13). Exodus 1 describes how that happened in Egypt. Exodus 3:1 – 4:17 reports God’s conversation with Moses, in which he told Moses of his determination to rescue the Israelites from Egypt, and to use Moses as the human leader who would bring them out. The exodus itself is reported in Exodus 12:31 – 42; 13:17 – 14:31.

Moses’ song of praise is recorded in Exodus 15.

Read Exodus 15:1 – 21. Answer these questions:
What did Moses call God in verse 2?

How did Moses describe God’s victory? (vv1, 4 – 8, 19)

 

What is the answer to Moses’ questions in verse 11?

What is Moses’ confidence in verses 13 – 18?

 

Moses’ song is a powerful expression of faith in God and of absolute awe and wonder at God’s power and overwhelming victory. Notice in verse 1 that the Israelites joined Moses in this song. But as their story soon demonstrated, the Israelites’ faith and wonder was very short-lived.

It is of this history, this Exodus deliverance, that the prophets persistently reminded the people, but, as we have seen in Amos 2:12, far from listening to the prophets and returning to the God who had redeemed them, they commanded the prophets not to prophesy. Soon, Amos himself will be told the same thing.

B.3 The forty years in the desert – Amos 2:10b
Numbers 13 and 14 report the unbelief and rebellion of the Israelites at the borders of the promised land. Because of their unbelief the Israelites did not enter the promised land. Also because of that unbelief, God decreed that they would wander for forty years in the ‘wilderness’, until all the adults involved died, before he would bring them into the land. (See also Numbers 32:11 – 13; Deuteronomy 2:14 – 16; Hebrews 3:7 – 19.)

Yet, despite the fact that those forty years were a result of their sin of unbelief, and of God’s judgement on that sin, God continued to lead and sustain them. It is this on-going care that Amos refers to in 2:10b.

Read these verses. What did God do for them during all these forty years?
Exodus 16:4, 35

Deuteronomy 2:7

Deuteronomy 8:3, 4

Deuteronomy 29:5

Why did God to do these things for such rebellious, unbelieving people?
Exodus 16:12

Deuteronomy 8:2, 5

Deuteronomy 29:6b

 

B.4 God raised up prophets and Nazarites – Amos 2:11
God continued not only to sustain them physically but also to raise up among them men who proclaimed his word, and men consecrated to him. [See A.2.4 above re the Nazarites.]

Check out some of the prophets in Israel’s history prior to Amos. How did Israel respond?
Unnamed prophet: Judges 8:7 – 10

Samuel: 1Samuel 3:19 – 21;

Numerous unnamed prophets: 1Kings 18:4

Elijah: 1Kings 19:1, 2, 10, 14

Micaiah: 1Kings 22:26, 27

As we have already seen in verse 12 the Israelites and their kings did not respond appropriately to the prophets sent by God to call them back to him. Just as their brothers in Judah had rejected the law of the LORD, so they have rejected the word of God.

 

C. THE COMING JUDGEMENT

Having identified some of their sins, having reminded them of God’s actions on their behalf in their history, Amos now summarizes the complete and devastating judgement that God intends to bring upon Israel – 2:13 – 16.

Read Amos 2:13 – 16. How does Amos describe the totality and inescapability of the judgement?

 

 

 

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?