STUDY FOUR: AMOS 3:1 – 15

© Rosemary Bardsley 2021

Chapter 3 begins with a summons to Israel to hear the word that the LORD has spoken against them. While directed specifically against Israel, it is relevant to both Israel and Judah - ‘the whole family’ that God redeemed from slavery in Egypt is called upon to hear this message.

These first two verses are extremely significant. God is here reminding the Israelites of his historical actions towards them and his special relationship with them. He is reminding them of the covenant that he established with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is reminding them how he redeemed them from slavery. He is reminding them of the covenant obligations to which their ancestors at Sinai, and again in the promised land, committed themselves and their children. All of this held them accountable to him, in a way that the neighbouring nations were not accountable. Because they belonged to him in a special way they were obligated to him in a special way also. To be chosen is not a random or arbitrary thing; to be chosen is to be chosen for a purpose.

A. CHOSEN BY GOD

Study these verses. What do you learn about the origin of the relationship between God and Israel?
Exodus 19:3 – 6

 

Deuteronomy 7:6 – 10

 

Deuteronomy 10:12 – 15

Isaiah 43:7, 10

Isaiah 51:1, 2

Now look at the verses again. What was the purpose for which God chose the Israelites?

 

 

According to these verses, God chose Israel:

Exodus 19:3 – 6:

For himself.

To be his ‘treasured possession’ out of all the nations.

To be a kingdom of priests.

To be a holy nation.

Deuteronomy 7:6 – 10:

To be ‘holy to the LORD’ (that is, to be set apart for God).

To be his people, his treasured possession out of all peoples on the earth.

Isaiah 43:7, 10:

For his glory.
So that they may know and believe him.
So that they may understand that he is the only God.

As you read these verses, did you notice God’s sovereign initiative and action?

He brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand.
He ‘carried them on eagles’ wings.’
He brought them to himself.
He chose them.
He set his affection on their forefathers and on them simply because he loved them.
He created them for his glory.
He formed and made them.
He called their forefather Abraham and blessed him.

God chose them when they were nothing, and made them something. All that they were, and all that they had, and all that they had accomplished, was God’s doing. His initiative, his sovereign power had done it (Read Ezekiel 16:1 – 6, or the whole chapter if you have time, for graphic imagery used by Ezekiel to describe the beginning of Israel’s relationship with God.)

But rather than align with God’s purpose for them:

They had given themselves to idols, instead of being holy (set apart) to the LORD.
They had subjected God’s name to dishonour, rather than bringing him glory.
They neither knew him as the only God nor believed that he is the only God.

Read these verses. What is connection between the behaviour of God’s people and God’s honour?
Romans 2:24

1Timothy 6:1

Titus 2:4,5

1Peter 2:12

 

B. ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD

We have seen in Amos 1:3 – 2:3 that God does hold all nations accountable, and that God does punish these other nations. This involvement of God with all nations is evident throughout the Old Testament, and Amos refers to it again in 4:10 & 11 and 9:7. It is part of this sovereign authority over all things. However, because Israel was chosen by God out of all the people of the earth to be holy (set apart) for him, because he had revealed himself to them in a special way, they were also accountable to him in a way that the rest of the earth was not. The standards he expected of them, the worship he expected from them, was at a different level to what he expected of those to whom he had not made himself known. [Revisit Study One, sections B.2 and C for the covenant requirements.]

After having been chosen by God, after having been given special revelation of God, and then having lived contrary to that choice and contrary to that knowledge, they attracted the penalty intrinsic in their historical covenant relationship with God. And so God says, through Amos ‘therefore I will punish you for all your sins’ (3:2).

The punishments were clearly detailed in the covenant on multiple occasions.

What are the kinds of punishments decreed by God for failure to keep the covenant?
Deuteronomy 4:25 – 28

 

Deuteronomy 28:15 – 68

 

C. THE INEVITABILITY AND EXTENT OF THE JUDGEMENT

We saw previously in Study 2 that God is gracious and slow to anger. But the same statement in which God’s mercy and forgiveness is affirmed also affirms the inevitability, the inescapability, of his punishments: ‘Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation’ (Exodus 34:7; see also 20:5, 6).

The Israel to which Amos brought the message of God had progressed in its wickedness and its rejection of God to the point where the judgement must fall.

Amos expressed this inevitability in a list of questions about actions and outcomes (3:3 – 6), the outcome being dependent on a prior action:

People walk together because they have made a prior arrangement to do so.

The lion roars because he has caught his prey.

A bird is caught only because a snare has been set.

A trap is sprung only because some creature triggered the spring.

People tremble because a trumpet has sounded an alarm.

Then Amos brings his list closer to home:

If disaster comes to a city it is because the LORD has caused it.

Amos then softens this harsh statement by affirming that God does not do that without first sending prophets to give advance warning of his plan (verse 7). He then adds to his list of actions and their accompanying outcomes (verse 8):

The lion (that is, God) has roared: the people should be afraid.
The Sovereign LORD has spoken: Amos must prophesy.

The overall impact of Amos’ message infers another pair of actions and outcomes:

The nation has been unbelieving and rebellious: God’s judgement must fall.

Before Amos continues with his message he summons the Philistines (Ashdod) and Egyptians to position themselves on the mountains of Samaria as witnesses of Israel’s sins (Samaria was the capital city) – to witness the ‘great unrest’ within Samaria, and ‘the oppression’ occurring among her people (3:9).

Read 3:10 – 15. Answer these questions:
How does Amos summarize their sin? (v10a)

Suggest what sins are being described in 10b.

What will God’s judgement look like? (v11)

How extensive will the judgement be? (v12)

What title of God is used in verse 13?

Suggest why this title is introduced here?

What particular sin is being judged in verse 14?

Suggest what sin is in focus in verse 15.

All of the above is what the Philistines and Egyptians are summoned to witness. These pagan, idolatrous neighbours of Israel are witnesses of Israel’s sins and God’s judgements.

Those judgements will destroy:

Israel’s physical and military security (v11). Under God’s sovereign judgements, their enemies will destroy their strongholds and fortresses, which they had constructed for their defence and protection.

their false worship (v14)

and their heartless luxury (v15).

Only a very small remnant will escape the destruction (v12).

 

D. WHAT ABOUT US?

All of this might be making us think – ‘What about us?’ What about us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ – whom God also affirms that he has chosen? And for whom God’s purpose is also that we should glorify him?

Do our sins attract similar judgement?

Can we also fall so far away from God that we become idolatrous and incur his rejection?

Is the ‘new covenant’, the covenant sealed by the blood of Christ, also at risk, just like the covenant that bound the Israelites to God?

Does the continuance of this new covenant also depend on our obedience and our faithfulness?

Regarding these important question there are a number of truths to keep in mind:

D.1 There is a difference between the nation and individuals within the nation
The northern kingdom, Israel, had from the beginning officially discarded the pure worship of the LORD. Jeroboam I had set up calf gods in Dan and Bethel, and claimed that they were the gods who had brought the people out of Egypt. He set up altars, and instituted festivals, in competition/conflict with those ordained by the covenant law. In addition, he installed as priests anyone who wanted to be a priest, in clear disobedience to the covenant law that limited priesthood to the descendants of Aaron (a Levite), assisted by others from the tribe of Levi. At that time, many of the priests and Levites left Israel and went down to Judah where the worship of the LORD was maintained in Jerusalem (1Kings 12:25 – 33; 13:33; 2Chronicles 11:13 - 16).

At that time, not only did the Levites (including the Levitical priests) leave the northern kingdom and its false worship, so also did many others – ‘those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the LORD, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the LORD, the God of their fathers’ (2Chronicles 11:16).

Similarly, when Elijah, some years later, feeling that the whole northern kingdom was involved in worshipping Baal, said ‘I am the only one left’, God assured him that there were still seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed down to Baal (1Kings 19:9 – 18).

Within the godless nation which had broken the Sinai covenant and were therefore legally unrighteous, there were individuals who, because they were people of faith, were recipients of the unconditional promise of the Abrahamic covenant – of a righteousness credited by faith. That there were some of these present in Amos’ day is evident in his accusations against the nation, that they ‘sell the righteous for a pair for silver’ (2:6) and ‘oppress the righteous’ (5:12).

Similarly, there is a difference today between the ‘church’ as a visible congregation and individual believers within the visible church. In the visible church there is always the potential for people who do not have what the Bible calls ‘faith’. Sometimes time weeds out the fake believers. Sometimes the majority of a congregation may be without biblical ‘faith’, and God, in his sovereign wisdom may bring that visible local church to nothing. Sometimes he waits until the judgement day. But the salvation of those who are genuine believers is never in question. They remain completely secure in Christ, sealed as God’s children by the Holy Spirit, and guaranteed complete spiritual blessedness in Christ.

Check these texts about this mixed membership of the visible ‘church’:
Matthew 13:3 – 23

Matthew 13:24 – 30

Matthew 13:47 – 50

John 2:23 – 25; 6:60 – 71

1John 2:18 – 23

The letter to the Hebrews was written to warn people to keep on believing in Jesus Christ, because to give up on Christ, in a final way, would be to expose oneself as a person who did not really believe, and who therefore had never been saved.

 

D.2 The nature of the promises and covenants
While all Old Testament covenants were an expression of God’s grace, some of the promises in some of these covenants were unconditional, grounded solely in the sovereign purpose of God, while other covenant promises were conditional on human obedience.

The following are relevant to this discussion:

The first promise – about Eve in Genesis 3:15, concerning her ‘seed’. This promise is grounded solely in the eternal, saving purpose of God. It is not dependent on any human fulfilling any conditions. It is sheer grace.

The promises to Abraham (the Abrahamic covenant) – Genesis 12:1 – 3. This covenant is established solely by God’s initiative and God’s grace. It is an unconditional covenant. It is reaffirmed and clarified several times (to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) – in Genesis 15; 17; 22; 26; 28. In 15:6 the blessedness of righteousness credited by faith is stated; the New Testament understands this ‘righteousness’ to be the same righteousness that is credited to those who have faith in Christ. In 22:18 God makes it clear that all the nations of the world will be blessed through a single descendant (seed) of Abraham. The promise made in Genesis 3:15 flows on through this promise relating to Abraham’s ‘seed’. The ‘seed’ of Eve, which could have been any person from any race, is now restricted to a ‘seed’ of Abraham. In 26:4, this promise is further restricted to the ‘seed’ of Isaac, and in 28:14 is restricted again to the ‘seed’ of Jacob. Of Jacob’s twelve sons, Jacob himself prophetically anticipates that it will be Judah through whom God’s promised saviour will come (Genesis 49:8 – 12).

The Sinai covenant. This covenant was specifically between God and the Israelites as a people group/nation. This is the covenant to which Amos has been referring, and which the Israelites have persistently broken. It is both a continuation of and something distinct from the Abrahamic covenant. It does not replace nor undo nor interrupt the Abrahamic covenant. Its very existence assumes the existence and reality of the Abrahamic covenant.

It goes hand in hand with the God’s promise to Abraham about giving the land of Canaan to him and his descendants. But, unlike the unconditional Abrahamic covenant, the continuance of the Israelites in the land is conditional on their obedience to the covenant laws.

Whereas God simply told Abraham, Isaac and Jacob what he would do for them and through them, the Sinai covenant required the agreement of the Israelites and their commitment to the covenant.

The Abrahamic covenant involved only blessings. The Sinai covenant involved both blessings and curses, dependent on whether or not the Israelites kept the covenant.

But it also ties in with the Abrahamic covenant, and with the promise to Eve concerning the promised ‘seed’. Through the nation of Israel, the promised ‘seed’ is preserved. Through this covenant – with its moral laws and its ritual laws, its blending of law and of atoning grace, it lays the foundations upon which the saving work of Christ, the promised seed, is both defined and based. The promised seed, when he came, would fully keep the requirements of the moral law defined in the Sinai covenant, and he would completely fulfil the deep meaning embedded in all of the rituals described and required in the Sinai covenant.

The Sinai covenant is thus the servant of both the promise to Eve and the Abrahamic covenant. It defines righteousness and exposes human sinfulness. It points us to the ultimate Redeemer – the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham.

While the majority of Israelites failed, as we are seeing in Amos, and, therefore, the physical punishments defined by Sinai fell upon the nation, and the nation would soon be destroyed by God’s judgements, there were, at the same time, people of genuine faith, who, in terms of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant, were secure spiritually – blessed with that same imputed righteous that comes by faith that Abraham enjoyed. (Daniel, and his three friends, are examples of this.)

The Davidic covenant. To David, a descendant of Judah, God promised an ‘everlasting’ kingdom. In purely physical terms, that promise was conditional on David’s descendants remaining faithful to God. Solomon failed to do so, and after his death ten of the twelve tribes were wrenched from David’s line. Later, with the increasing godlessness of his succeeding heirs to the throne of Judah, David’s dynasty ceased. There is still no king of David’s line in Israel. But in spiritual terms, the Davidic covenant was unconditional: regardless of the sins of the Davidic kings, Jesus Christ was born in David’s line, in Bethlehem, the city of David. He is the ‘Son of David’, ‘the root of Jesse’, the ‘Lion of Judah’. He is the eternal King; his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that will not pass away.

The new covenant is promised in Jeremiah 31:31 – 34 and Ezekiel 36:25 – 27. It is this covenant of which Jesus Christ speaks – the new covenant in his blood – at the last supper (Luke 22:20). It is the continuation and culmination of the Abrahamic covenant (see Galatians 3:6 – 14, 29), and of the eternal, Christ-centred aspect of the Davidic covenant. It is also intimately connected with the Sinai covenant, the requirements of which Jesus Christ completely fulfilled in his life of positive righteousness, and in his death in which he bore completely the just penalty for our sin. He, the righteous one, died in the place of us, the guilty ones.

The new covenant is a covenant of grace, just like the promises concerning Eve’s seed, just like the Abrahamic covenant and its righteousness credited by faith, and his seed, just like the promise to David concerning his one descendant who would reign over an eternal kingdom. All of these point ahead to the one Saviour, Jesus Christ. By God’s grace we are incorporated into this grace ... grace that was given to us before the beginning of time (2Timothy 1:9). Nothing, not even the accusations of the evil one, can separate us from this love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31 – 39).

D.3 The role of obedience
The Sinai covenant, with its rules, regulations and rituals, defined human sinfulness (Romans 3:19, 20) and provided a way of mediation and atonement. In defining human sinfulness it also exposed the one foundational sin out of which all sin arises – the sin of unbelief. The on-going idolatry of the Israelites made it quite evident that they did not, as a whole, believe in God – the God who revealed himself as the LORD, the only true God.

The Ten Commandments can be divided into two clear groups:

The first four commandments relate to our faith in God. They asked the Israelites the question: ‘Do you really believe in God?’ Here they were instructed:

Do not have any other gods.
Do not make, bow down to, or worship any idol.
Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God.
Keep the Sabbath day as holy to the LORD.

The next six commandments instructed them how to treat their fellow human beings:

To honour their father and mother.
To not murder.
To not commit adultery.
To not steal.
To not give false witness.
To not covet

The first four were about which God they believed in. The next six were about how they treated people.

In his answer to the rich ruler (Luke 18:18 – 30) Jesus expressed this distinction: When he listed the commandments that must be kept to inherit eternal life he named only commandments from the second list. And he did not quibble with the man’s claim that he had kept all of those from his boyhood. Rather, he accepted his claim even as he added ‘You still lack one thing ...’ And that one thing, identified in Jesus’ command to sell what he had, give it to the poor, and follow him, actually challenged him in relation to the first four commandments.

Here, in Jesus Christ, God confronted him, demanding his allegiance. Here, Jesus, the Lord God Almighty in human flesh, commands him to submit to his authority. But he is not willing to bow to the divine authority of Christ. He will not acknowledge his authority. He does not believe in him. The key thing, the central thing, is missing – acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Lord. Essentially, this is the equivalence of the first four of the commandments.

And it is there that the Israelites failed: they failed to recognize God the Lord God Almighty. And it is out of that failure, that central, foundational sin, that all other failures, all acts of disobedience, arose.

We might ask: but did not the rich ruler demonstrate obedience? On the surface, the answer is ‘yes’. But if we look at Jesus’ understanding of those commandments (Matthew 5:17 – 30) we realise that outward obedience to these commands is not the most important thing. More important is what is in the heart: that anger in the heart, and lack of respect in the heart, actually make a person guilty of murder; and lust in the heart makes a person guilty of adultery.

The New Testament repeatedly affirms that the evidence of true faith in Christ is keeping his commands. The faith may not be perfect faith, but it is there, and it is faith in Christ. The obedience may not be perfect obedience, but it is there, and it is there because it knows and acknowledges that Jesus Christ actually is Lord – that Jesus Christ has the authority to command our obedience.

Check these New Testament references to the significance of obedience as the expression and evidence of our faith in Jesus Christ.
John 13:35

John 14:15

James 2:14 – 26

1John 2:3 – 6

1John 2:9 – 11

1John 3:14

1John 4:7,8

Obedience does not save us, but it is the evidence that we are saved. It does not cause our relationship with Jesus Christ; rather it is caused by our relationship with Jesus Christ. To know him is to know also that obedience is not optional.

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?