Amos was a prophet from Tekoa, a town in Judah some ten miles south of Jerusalem, but he was sent to Israel to prophesy. Judahís and Israelís relationship was by no means peaceful or amiable. Amos was sent into hostile territory and he would not be well received. Historically, Amos prophesied during the same period Hosea did, under the rule of Jeroboam II (son of Jehoash).
The book of Amos begins with the condemnation of non-covenant, foreign nations. All were long-time enemies of Israel. Each nation was condemned because of its own specific sins. Amos utilized a particular literary form of poetry which introduced the list as a numerical sequence (x, x+1). The numbers are not literal, for neither three nor four sins are listed; rather, they lead the reader to a climax, namely the horrible sins each nation was guilty of committing.
Judgment speeches against Israelís enemies were used elsewhere as messages of hope (Isaiah 13-23; Jeremiah 25-32; Joel 3; Obadiah; Nahum), but that is not the case here. Godís sovereignty demanded that he punish these nations and this sovereign action should have opened the eyes of Israel to Godís nature. If he would hold non-covenant people responsible for their sins, how much more would he punish his own covenant people? Including Judah and Israel in an unbroken list with their enemies would have been an insult to both nations and it was supposed to be. Godís covenant people were to be different than their neighbors, but they were not.
God reviewed Israelís history for their benefit. The Amorites were mentioned because of their role in Godís giving Israel the land. The Amorites were regarded as too powerful and seemingly unbeatable in the eyes of the Israelites when they first entered the promise land, but God overcame them for his people (Numbers 13:28; Deuteronomy 1:28; 9:2). Amorite is a term that had two meanings in the Old Testament. It could be used to refer to a specific tribe in the land of Canaan. It could also refer to any inhabitant of Canaan (Genesis 15:16; Joshua 24:8,11). Sources outside of the Bible used the term to refer to people of the West, where Canaan was located. This broader meaning is intended here. God gave Israel the power to take the land.
God also gave Israel his prophets. Through these men he communicated his will (Deuteronomy 18:14-22), but Israel refused to listen. They forgot that God led them from Egypt and, in spite of their sin, guided them through the desert. Thus, they would not be able to stand when the Lord came to destroy them.
Questions for Home Study and Class Discussion
1. Amos was a prophet from Judah sent to Israel. He was not a native Israelite and therefore not well accepted. God was not concerned with national or ethnic identities of his messengers. What prejudices keep us from hearing the truth? Do we have views of superiority that do not allow us to hear truths from other people?
The truth of Godís message may come from anyone. God, at times, will use messengers to speak for him who may not be well received by the recipients. There is always purpose in this. The truth is still the truth even when the messenger is from a cultural, social or political group we are uncomfortable with or with one we may be enemies. Sometimes we must break down walls of prejudice in order to see the truth, for God acts in ways that are truly mysterious.
1. Discuss the sins of each of the following nations and what, if any, relevance their sins and Godís response has to modern nations.
a. Damascus (1:3-5)
Damascus is the capital city of Syria (or Aram). It had a close relationship with both Israel and Judah, as enemy and ally. Hazael and Beh-hadad (1:4) may be the father and son rulers who were active during the reigns of Jehu and Jehoahaz (2 Kings 10:32-33; 13: 1-17). Hazael invaded the territory of Gilead and Ben-hadad had destroyed their army and ďmade them like the dust at the threshing timeĒ (2 Kings 13:7). Oddly, the oppression of the Syrians was a punishment from the Lord for Jehoahazís sins (13:2-3). If this is the case, it means that even if God uses a nation to punish others, it does mean that the nation he uses is justified in their actions. Syria would be punished for their invasion of Gilead. The territory and cities listed indicate the completeness of Godís punishment (Damascus, Valley of Eden and Beth Eden). As a result, they will taken back to the place of their origin (Amos 9:7), Kir, where they were in exile and the Lord graciously freed them from their oppression. The location of Kir is unknown and what makes it even more difficult to pinpoint is that the word simply means ďcityĒ.
Their sin was that they persecuted Godís people. God hold nations accountable for how they treat his people. It angers him. Even today, Christians are being persecuted and no matter where this occurs, God cares. We as Christians must be in constant prayer for these areas, that God will intervene on behalf of his people. If our interest in International affairs is focused only on what effects the USA, our focus is wrong. That kind of perspective is damaging to our understanding the nature of the church.
b. Gaza (Philistia) (1:6-8)
The cities listed in this context are four of the five major cities of Philtistia (Gath is omitted because by Amosí time it had lost much of its independence and significance; see 2 Kings 12:17). Philistia had been a major enemy of the people of Israel, as far back as the period of the Judges. They sinned by involving themselves in slave trading and selling them to Edom (see Joel 3:2-6). God abhorred forcefully taking a person and selling them as slaves in Israel (Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7). It seems that his abhorrence of abusive slavery extended to even the pagan nations. It is possible that the slaves here are Israelites, but nothing in the context seems to suggest it.
Slavery was an existing practice in Israel, so what makes this specific act a sin? Slaves could be taken by capture as prisoners of war (Deuteronomy 20:10-14; 21:10-14), by purchasing from other owners or on the market (Genesis 17:12-13; Leviticus 25:44- but these slaves are foreigners), by birth, born to slave-parents, or by the inability to repay fines or debt or due to extreme poverty (Exodus 22;3; 2 Kings 4:1; Nehemiah 5:5, 8). The treatment of slaves was dependent on several factors, ethnicity being the major factor (Exodus 21:2-10; Deuteronomy 15:15:1-18) . Hebrew slaves were given opportunity for release after seven years (Deuteronomy 15:12-18; see also Leviticus 25 for Jubilee Laws) and were to be given enough stock and supplies to assist them in starting over. Many owners were compassionate (Genesis 24; 39:1-Deuteronomy 15:16), and abuse was outright condemned (Exodus 21:20, 26-22 ). Foreign slaves could be enslaved permanently and handed down as property (Leviticus 25:44-46). All in all, slavery was not outright condemned, it was simply regulated, but, much like the divorce issue, one cannot say that it was completely condoned. Although taking people by force and enslaving them without reason and selling them was regarded as abhorrent to God in this context.
c.. Tyre (1:9-10).
Tyre was a major seaport on the Phoenician coast, northwest of Israel. During David and Solomonís reign, the King Hiram of Tyre assisted in the building programs and had a fairly amiable relationship with Godís people (2 Samuel 5:11; 1 Kings 5:1-12; 1 Chronicles 2:3-16; 14:1). He even assisted Solomon in business endeavors (1 Kings 9:27-28). Their relationship declined over time. Due to Ahabís , king of Israel, relationship with the daughter of Ethbaal, Jezebel, the Tyrian influences of paganism took hold in Israel (1 Kings 16:31-33). Slave trading was not uncommon for them (Joel 3:6, a practice still followed after the Israelite destruction). The use of the term ďbrotherĒ in verse 9 could indicate a covenant relationship which they violated (see 1 Kings 9:13 for such a use). The slave-trading business in which they were participants was a dehumanizing business and a violation of basic human rights. See notes on Phoenicia above.
d. Edom (1:11-12)
Edom had a long history with Israel, beginning with the fraternal conflict of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:19ff.). Edom opposed the Israelites in their request to pass through their land in their journey to the land of Promise (Numbers 20:14-21). They met in conflict with or were in submission to Saul (1 Samuel 14:47), David (2 Samuel 8:14), Solomon (1 Kings 11:14-22), Jehoram (2 Kings 8:20-24), and Amaziah (2 Kings 14:7-10; 2 Chronicles 25:14-16). The use of the term ďbrotherĒ in this context could be similar to its use in 1:9, but could also be a reference to their kinship (Genesis 25:24-26). Their aggression and violent acts against these ďbrothersĒ caught the attention of God. Their hostility was unacceptable to the Sovereign Lord. Teman, a city near their southern border, and Bozrah, a city near their northern border, indicates the completeness of Godís punishment. Cruelty and violence of this nature was not to be tolerated.
e. Ammon (1:13-15)
Ammon was one of two nations that were descendents of Lot, Abrahamís nephew (Genesis 19:36-38). Moab being the second. Ammon was located east of the Jordan and bordered the territory of Gilead, where the tribes of Gad, Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh settled. Rabbah (1:14) was their only major city. Their relationship with Israel was hostile. Ever since the days of the Judges they were Israelís enemies (Judges 3:12-14; 10:6-9; 1 Kings 11:1-11; 2 Samuel 8:11-12; 10:1-11:1; 2 Chronicles 20:1-30; 24:26). Their battles were ruthless with the people in Gilead. They tore open the wombs of the Israelite women for the purpose of expanding their own territory. Once again, God does not turn his eyes from those nations who abuse his people. He will bring them down. We should constantly pray that God will intervene on behalf of those who suffer under the tyranny of rulers who oppose his people.
f. Moab (2:1-3)
The Moabites were condemned for what seems to us an unusual crime. They ďburned the bones of the king of Edom to lime (ashes)Ē. An enmity existed between Edom and Moab (see 2 Kings 3:6-9). They desecrated the kings remains as a show of contempt. It was a symbol of their hatred. A proper burial was a valuable act within the cultural climate of the Ancient Near East. (see 1 Kings 13:22; Jeremiah 16:6). Corpses were rarely burned, and apparently only when circumstances were extreme and burial was pending (1 Samuel 31:12-13).
Even when conflict arises between non-covenant people, the Lord holds them accountable for how they treat one another. God expects even non-covenant people to treat each others humanely and without spite and hatred.
3. Review the list of Judahís and Israelís sins in 2:4-8. Why did Amos leave their transgressions for the end? What distinction should we make between Judah and Israel and the foreign nations?
Judahís sins are listed in principle (2:4-5). They rejected Godís law and were led astray by idols (literally ďliesĒ). Israel would have viewed this indictment with some sense of joy. They were not on the best terms with their brother, Judah, and Judahís destruction would have brought them a sense of relief, but that would change when they were told they were the climax ofAmosís list. They were both suppose to be Godís chosen people, unique and holy (Exodus 19:5-6), but they were now no different than the pagans they lived among. We as Christian are called to live differently than those around us (1 Peter 2:9-12). We must be distinguishable from those we socialize with or work with. We must be seen as unique in a world full of corruption and sin.
Israelís sins were social in nature. They sold the poor into slavery , oppressed the poor, had fathers and sons share the same woman sexually (see Leviticus 18:7-8) and exploited the needy who were in debt. The parallel of ďrighteousĒ and ďneedyĒ in verse 6 indicates that the oppressed were those poor who were innocent of the sins Amos condemned.
In 2:6, the wealthy seem to be abusing the poor by selling them into slavery for their own gain. The ďpair of sandalsĒ may refer to the ridiculously low price for which they sold their fellow Israelites into slavery or the ridiculously low amount of debt over which they were willing to hold against the poor and place them into slavery. They crushed them as one crushes a weak manís head into the dust (2:7). The pushing away or turning aside the poor seem to indicate that these wicked men of power had rigged the court system to make decisions in their favor. The offense of social injustice is equated with sexual perversion. The holiness of God cannot stand to be in the presence of both sexually impurity and those willing to oppress or abuse his fellow believer for the sake of gain. One using his power within the church to get way is somewhat akin to this.
The garment in 2:8, refers to the garment a man gives as a pledge or collateral when he receives a loan from his fellow Israelite. However, God forbade the lender to keep it overnight (Exodus 22:25-27) because of the need of the poor man to keep warm. A widow who received a loan was exempt from giving up her garment (Deuteronomy 24:17). In this case, the religious leaders (!) refused to allow the borrowers the right to be warm at night. They refused to allow the poor a basic right: warmth during the cold nights. The ďfinesĒ were a normal part of seeking restitution for a crime (see Exodus 21:19, 30-32; 22:14-17; etc.), but here the priests were using the system placate their desire for debauchery.
4. In 2:9, the defeat of the Amorites was stated to have been performed by God. What was God trying to say about Israelís past that should have changed their present lives? Do we value our spiritual past and does it affect the way we live?
The Amorites were feared by and seemingly unconquerable according to people of God after the spies reported their finding in Numbers 13:28-33. These so-called undefeatable foes did meet their end, but not by the hands of the Israelite warriors. It was God the Warrior who brought low these powerful people. He executed his divine judgment on those whom he had patiently waited for until their sins were rooted deep within their hearts (see Genesis 15:16). The Lord that Israel despised is the same Lord who brought down the mighty Amorites. He was to be regarded as the God who defeated Israelís foes. Israel should have placed their hope in Godís protective hand. The past should have taught them this. We too have a historical past, given to us from the hands of inspired writers. They showed us the nature of Godís work in Christ and the early church and how he cared for them in times of plenty and in times of persecution and/or trouble. The God who delivered his apostles, disciples, prophets, kings, people etc. when they were faithful is our God.
5. What was the significance of the destruction of the Amorites (Genesis 15:16; Deuteronomy 1:27; Joshua 24:8, 11) and how should it have affected Israel? Why would Amos appeal to this event in light of the Israelís sins? What message is there for us today?
See question #4 above- this is the same question for reason repeated.
6. What should have been the effect of the Lordís reminder to Israel of the Exodus and the wilderness wanderings in 2:9-10? How should these events have prepared the people to enter the promised land? How should Israel have understood these powerful acts? How should we view them? See also Exodus 6:6-8; Deuteronomy 8:1-18: 2 Samuel 7:22-24.
The nature of the Exodus indicated for Israel Godís redemption and power to deliver his people from oppression. It was their birth place (Ezekiel 16) and where they established a covenant relationship with their Lord and became his people (Exodus 6:1-9). The wilderness, even though it was a punishment for Israelís disbelief, was regarded as the place where God led, cared for and protected his people (Deuteronomy 2:7). These great events of Godís power to deliver were to be always remembered in Israelís history as the principal example of Godís gracious acts, just as the cross is for us today. God showed Israel in these events the greatness of his love and compassion that he was willing to extend to his people. They should have been a constant reminder to Israel the lengths God was willing to go on their behalf and the desire he has to develop a relationship with them. He even continued to reveal himself to his people through his prophets and Nazarites (dedicated ones to a specific mission, such as Sampson (Judges 13:7)). They had become so opposed to Godís requests that they turn back to him that they rejected the prophets messages and forced the Nazarites to profane themselves by drinking wine (Numbers 6:1-21).
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