Amos continues his prophecies against the nations (which I discussed last week) in this chapter.
Review: You don’t see what the prophet is doing here until you see that Amos 1-2 is a unit. And, it is carefully structured. Verse 2 pictures the LORD (YHWH) roaring like a lion. Then a series or oracles of judgement follow. Each is for a different nation. They are introduced with this repeated formula:
“For three transgressions of _____________,
וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ
and for four, I will not turn back….”
There is a certain rhetorical power in this repeated formula. But, this whole poetic prophecy is going somewhere. It’s building. It is going to end in an extended prophecy of judgement at the end (in our chapter 2). And, the weight of this prophecy of judgement is going to fall on Israel.
In Chapter 1 verses 3-15 Amos mentions: Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, and the Ammonites. There is a pattern here. And, it starts to become clearer in this chapter. The prophecies are coming closer to home. With Damascus, Gaza, and Tyre we simply have enemies. But, with Edom, and the Ammonites (and then, the Moabites, mentioned in this chapter) we have near-relatives. The Edomites were believed to be descendants of Israel’s brother Esau. And the Ammonites (like the Moabites) were believed to be descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot. So, as Amos moves along here, he is getting closer and closer to his real targets: Judah and Israel.
(6.) Against: Moab “because he burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom.”
• Consequences: “So I will send a fire on Moab, and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth, and Moab shall die amid uproar, amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet; I will cut off the ruler from its midst, and will kill all its officials with him…”
What is striking here is that their sin is an act of disrespect of the dead. This incident is not mentioned anywhere else in the Old testament history, so we don’t know anything more about it than what is told here.
(7.) Against: Judah “because they have rejected the law of the LORD, and have not kept his statutes, but they have been led astray by the same lies after which their ancestors walked.”
• Consequences: “So I will send a fire on Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.”
This is where the prophecy takes a dramatic turn. We can still feel the power of this. Yes, the nations have done wrong. Their conduct in war has been cruel and disrespectful. But, this is as nothing before the sins of the Chosen People.
I found these remarks in The Wesley Study Bible:
The atrocities recounted here are recognized by all peoples as crimes against humanity, so the nations are accountable to the Creator, the Lord. Since Judah and Israel have a revelation of God’s righteousness…, their guilt is greater than the nations’. Even Jerusalem, the site of God’s throne… is liable to judgment (2: 5).
It is worth noting at this point: Amos’ prophecies do not come out of nowhere. They are rooted in the particular history of the people of Israel. He assumes they know the story and they know what the law is. it is not a matter of the prophet simply saying: ‘This is true because I say so.’ He is reminding them of their history and the particular revelation of God that has been given to these particular people. The prophetic tradition assumes and builds upon the Mosaic tradition. I realize that there is some uncertainty about the writing and editing of the Old Testament books as we have them in their present form. Certainly the exile and restoration of the nation are shaping influences on the books as we have them. but, the prophets remind us that they are much older than that. Before there could be an Amos calling the people back to faithfulness, there first had to be patriarchs and a law giver.
Like all true prophets Amos is a radical traditionalist. His word grows out of the words already given by others before him — but he radically applies the inner principles of that tradition to the times in which he lived.
What was Judah’s sin?
They rejected the Law of YHWH.
◦ They were under blood oath to keep this according to Exodus 24:8. It was part of their covenant with God. But, they had no respect for the Law.
They have not kept YHWH’s statutes.
◦ Of course, this phrase is typical Hebrew parallelism (redundancy), but it reminds us that the statutes of God are not only to be respected — they are to be followed.
They turned to Idolatry.
◦ Most commentators think that’s what the phrase “they have been led astray by the same lies after which their ancestors walked” means. They followed after false gods and false prophets. When the truth is uncomfortable, the tendency is to turn to those with an easier message.
As Jesus said, of those to whom much has been given, much will be required (Luke 12:48). Those who have received a revelation of God’s will have a responsibility to keep it.
And, the question for us is: how is the Church of Jesus Christ doing in keeping the teachings of Christ? Are we quick to condemn others when our own house is not in order?
Whoever is curious about the sins of others, or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet laid the beginning of repentance and has not taken care to get to known his own sins, which are truly heavier than a lead weight of many pounds, and does not known why a man who loves vanity and seeks after falsehood becomes slow of heart (cf. Psalm 4:3), and therefore, as a man senseless and roaming in darkness, he, leaving his own sins, dreams of those of others, whether true or imagined on suspicion alone.
How quick we are to condemn! How slow we are to examine ourselves! But, Amos knew himself to be part of a people who were under the judgement of God — for he was himself a member of the tribe of Judah.
But, the real crux of this prophecy is what comes next in verses 6-16. Amos primarily prophesied against the northern kingdom of Israel. So, my next post will focus on those verses.
And to that we turn next….