The time frame of this prophecy is approximately 762 BC. This is forty years before the northern nation called Israel is going to be overthrow and wiped out by the Assyrian Empire. This is a time of prosperity and wealth for the northern nation. Under the reign of Jeroboam II, the nation has established its borders and regained power that it had not seen since the reign of Solomon. The reign of Jeroboam II was a reign of peace and prosperity for the northern kingdom. Nations that usually were a threat, such as Egypt, Babylon, Syria, and Assyria, were in a period of relative weakness, which offered security to Israel. This security enabled them to enjoy a period of great prosperity.
The first verse of the book tells us that Amos is the prophet, but he is not an ordinary prophet. Rather, he is a livestock breeder who lives in the town of Tekoa, which is ten miles south of Jerusalem. This offers Amos a unique perspective. First, he is not from Israel, but from the southern nation called Judah. Second, Amos will speak forcefully against the wealth and prosperity of the nation because he has not participated in this prosperity. Proper credentials for God’s spokespersons is not formal training, formal ordination, or an official title. These things do not qualify a person to speak for God. Biblically speaking, only one who has the revelation from God has the proper credentials to speak for God.
The Lord Roars From Zion (1:2)
The prophecy begins with a statement of power and fear. The Lord roars from Zion. The imagery is of a lion roaring because God is about to attack. The prey is in its grasp and therefore the lion roars. The imagery goes beyond the lion metaphor. The Lord’s voice roars depicts amazing power being brought against the people.
The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. (Joel 3:16 ESV)
Notice the same effect occurs in Amos 1:2. The pastures of the shepherds mourn and the top of Mount Carmel withers. God’s wrath is seen as a withering drought against the green hills and pastures of the land. The roar is intended to send a shockwave through the nation. Where God roars from is also important. He roars from Zion. God speaks from his temple in Jerusalem, not from the Israelite temples in Dan and Bethel.
Judgment On The Surrounding Nations (1:3-2:3)
The form of Amos’ prophecy is interesting. The declaration does not begin with Israel. Rather, the prophecies of judgment center on the surrounding nations initially. The oracle concerning the nations would cause the audience to think that Amos is delivering a message of salvation to Israel from the nations. One can see that these judgments would curry favor for Amos as an outsider.
There are seven nations that are brought under God’s judgment before God turns his message of judgment upon Israel. Six of these oracles are against the heathen nations, those who were not under the law of Moses and were not in a covenant relationship with the Lord. For each of the nations God’s judgment came based upon how they treated others. Cruelty toward others is the cause for God to act against them. There is a formula that Amos uses. He identifies the sin and the punishment that will come because of the sin. You will also notice the repeated refrain for each oracle against each nation: “For three transgressions and for four.” Their sinfulness is a pattern and they continue to go over the limit. They are compounding sin upon sin and judgment is therefore deserved.
Before we read the specific sins we need to consider what God is teaching. God is patient in the midst of our sins. It is not for one sin that God reigning down his wrath on any of these nations. God is giving time to repent. God is being merciful and allowing the sins to continue with the desire for them to turn back to God. However, time did not change the hearts of the people. Rather than turning to the Lord, the people have compounded their sins. Though God is patient in our sins, there will be a time of judgment. The Lord must roar and wrath must come now. But God’s patience prevailed until they had filled up their sins to the uttermost (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:16).
Notice the sins that the nations committed that God declared worthy of their judgment.
- Syria (Damascus was the capital) was condemned for their harsh cruelty toward the people they conquered. Amos says that they rode over the defeated Israelites with threshing boards. Threshing boards had iron teeth which was used to separate the grain from the stalk. But the Syrians used these boards on the people they conquered. Clearly God does not subscribe to the idea that all is fair in war. Syria had gone too far.
- Philistia (Gaza) was condemned for kidnapping peaceful people for the purpose of turning a profit. They were willing to injure others and sacrifice morality and humanity for the sake of making money.
- Phoenicia (Tyre) followed the same error as Gaza. They apparently cooperated in selling slaves to other nations. There was a callous disregard for humanity, sacrificing human rights for business profits.
- Edom was condemned because of its treatment of the people of Israel. There was to be a brotherhood between the Hebrews and the Edomites because Jacob and Esau were brothers.
- Ammon was brought under judgment for massacring innocent and defenseless pregnant women. This is also extremely egregious. To kill the innocent so that they could expand their border is the reason for Ammon receiving God’s wrath.
- Moab was condemned for their total disrespect for the dead.
These condemnations teach us that God holds all nations accountable for their acts of inhumanity against individuals. Every nation that does not respect human life will come under God’s judgment and they will be held accountable for their atrocities.
Judah Condemned (2:4-5)
Now the judgment turns to the people of God. God pronounces judgment on Judah, but for different reasons that what we read in the previous judgments. Judah is condemned because they refused to follow God’s stipulations and instructions. They rejected the law of the Lord. Judah had been given a covenant which they violated. Instead of obeying God, they turned to lies, false gods who led them astray just as their ancestors followed before them.
Israel Condemned (2:6-16)
The condemnation finally arrives on Israel. One can feel the weight of the prophecy. Israel is acting like the nations. They are committing the same sins as these nations who do not have a covenant relationship with God.
They oppressed the weak and poor. Verse 6 describes the merciless selling of destitute people who could likely have paid their debt if given a bit more time. They unnecessarily foreclosed on small loan amounts (like a pair of sandals). They abused the helpless and weak. Verse 7 says that they “turn aside the way of the afflicted.” Powerful people were manipulating the weak and afflicted, using their power against them. They forced people to do things that they did not want to do and made life miserable for them. Verse 7 describes the sexual abuse of a servant woman by both the father and son. God condemns the mistreatment of a hard working household employee.
We can commit the same sin when we take the power or authority we have and use it to force others to do what we want. We see this abuse in marriage and friends, where through our words or actions we will punish each other until we make them do what we want them to do. We will ignore them, be rude to them, be angry with them, or act in some other sinful way to force the other to do something. We do not have the right to force anyone to do anything. Not even our Lord forces us to do anything. Husbands, you do not force your wives to do things by being loud or threatening. Wives, you do not force your husbands to do things by being a nag or withholding affection. Friends, you are not to force one another to do what you want through manipulation. Neither are we do use our power to compel people we do not know to do what we want.
Notice how God describes these actions in verse 7. He says that his holy name is profaned. This is God’s view of our sins. We must not see our sins as nothing or merely small indiscretions. We are disrespecting, corrupting, and defiling the holy name of the Lord when as the supposed people of God we force people to obey our wishes.
In verses 9-11 God gives the reason why we cannot use force and oppression on others. God graciously cared for his people when they were oppressed. God reminds the people how he took care of his people when they were oppressed in Egyptian slavery. God does not abuse the oppressed. God does not take advantage of the weak. God cares for them. This is most clearly seen in sending his Son for our sins. God calls us weak and helpless in our sins. God came for our deliverance.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6 ESV)
We cannot forget the grace of God toward us. We are to be thankful to God and obey his covenant because of his grace. The purpose of God’s past actions of grace are to generate grace toward others and obedience toward God. Grace is not given to be wasted but is provided to encourage a positive response of thankfulness and service.
God’s grace is also seen in sending messengers to warn his people of impending judgment. Restoration is possible only if people are open to God’s gracious attempts to convict them of sin and his gentle prodding to discipline those who need correction. If people are not affected by God’s grace, they will one day stand accountable before his face. We cannot rebel against God’s grace and plunge ourselves into sin. Further, we will not encourage others to sin. But this is what these people did. They forgot God’s grace and encouraged sinful behavior.
Verses 12-16 reveals how they made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded to the prophets not to speak to the words of the Lord. The Nazirites were outstanding examples of lives consecrated to the Lord, providing a visible testimony of the humility of heart and purity of life that the Lord expects. They encouraged people to break that holiness and purity and commit sin. Therefore, Israel and her army will be defeated. They will not survive the coming day of the Lord.
Rebellion against God’s design for healthy human relationships erodes God’s holy reputation. We are to have a concern for God’s holy name just as Moses had on Mount Sinai (Ex. 32:12). When we act like the world, how can the world learn about the holy God? We have a covenant relationship with God and we know what God expects from our lives. We must not defile the holy name of God. We must see God’s grace as the means for us to show grace to everyone we know and meet.