The prophet Amos, a sheep breeder and tender of sycamore fruit from the Judean village of Tekoa, is sent by the Lord to Northern Israel. Some commentaries refer to Amos as the social justice judge, as he pronounces judgment against nations for various social injustices. He begins prophesying against eight nations. He starts each prophecy with “For three transgressions…and for four”. This statement represents the excessiveness of their sin and that God will no longer be gracious to these wicked nations. The Lord in His mercy sends prophet after prophet to warn the people of the coming judgment if they don’t repent of their sins and turn to Him. However, the people are wicked and stubborn in their rebellion, and since His mercy demands justice, judgment is coming.
The first three prophecies are against:
1) Damascus, for their brutal attacks on Gilead, land occupied by the tribes Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh.
2) Gaza, for taking the Israelites captive and sending them to Edom.
3) Tyre, who had good relations with Israel when David and Solomon were on the throne, for turning on the Israelites and selling them as slaves to Edom.
The next three prophecies are against Israel’s blood relatives:
1) Edom, Esau’s descendants, for making war against Israel and showing no mercy.
2) Ammon, Lot’s descendants, for being so vicious that they even kill babies in their mothers’ wombs.
3) Moab, Lot’s descendants, for burning the bones of the king of Edom instead of providing a proper burial.
Amos then prophesies against his own people in Judah for hating the law of the Lord and not keeping His commandments.
Lastly Amos addresses Israel’s wickedness. They are judged for only being concerned about their own personal gain, for mistreating the poor, for being involved in all kinds of sexual sin, for drinking wine while worshiping in their pagan temples, for the rich women neglecting the poor and indulging themselves, and so forth. He reminds Israel that He was the One who brought them out of Egypt and provided for them. He blessed them above all the other nations, which makes them more responsible for their disobedience – “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” He says He will also destroy the altars where Jeroboam, the first king of Northern Israel, set up those golden calves which led the nation into idolatry. The Lord tells them how He sent famine, drought, and plagues to get Israel’s attention so they would turn back to Him, but they never repented.
Then Amos says a lamentation, a song of mourning, against Israel to call the people to repent so they may live:
- “Seek the Lord and live, lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, with no one to quench it in Bethel— You who turn justice to wormwood, and lay righteousness to rest in the earth!”
- “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the Lord God of hosts will be with you, as you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate. It may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”
Amos warns Israel that because the people are so persistent in their rebellion, the Lord is sending a nation to conquer them:
- “The Lord God has sworn by Himself, The Lord God of hosts says: ‘I abhor the pride of Jacob, and hate his palaces; therefore I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.’”
- “For behold, the Lord gives a command: He will break the great house into bits, and the little house into pieces. Do horses run on rocks? Does one plow there with oxen? Yet you have turned justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood.”
Israel can’t expect to have a positive outcome when they have turned justice into gall and righteousness into wormwood, just as you wouldn’t expect a positive outcome trying to run a horse on rocks. When you neglect justice, the stability of the nation turns to chaos. However, the people continue to ignore the word of God and go about behaving however they deem right in their own sight — which never ends well. We will hear more from Amos tomorrow, so keep reading. (Amos 1:1-6:14)