In 931 B.C. the Kingdom of Israel split into two lesser kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The king of the north, Jeroboam I didn’t want his subjects to go to Jerusalem in the south to worship, so he established shrines at Dan and Bethel. He drew on the earlier occasion where the Israelites made a gold calf to worship while they were in the wilderness. Jeroboam followed suit and made gold bulls for each of the shrines so the people would have a god to worship. This behavior was typical of the northern kingdom’s rejection of God’s revelation in defining both their worship and their ethics. Because pagan religions focused on acquiring power, pagan Israel became an abuser of the powerless. When Amos arrived in Israel around 753 B.C. the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. Egypt was in decline as was Assyria. As a result the two kingdoms of the Lord enjoyed a time of prosperity and they regained some of the territory they had lost to Aram. Both kingdoms increased in prosperity. But this serve to only give those who already had power, more and those with no power were even more oppressed. Although Amos was from Judah his message was directed primarily to the northern kingdom. It is possible he was called specifically to Jeroboams court because his status as a peasant would have been in such contrast to the wealth and professionalism of Samaria.
As you read the Book of Amos pay particular attention to the strong emphasis of social justice. Amos demonstrated that periods of unusual prosperity can lead to spiritual complacency and ethical laxity. It can cause oppression of the poor, injustice In the courts, sexual immorality, religious abuses, violence, idolatry, and corrupt business practices. He taught that true faith is expressed through actions, especially those that concern social justice. And as we have seen in other prophetic books, there is a theme of justice. Injustice and exploitation of the poor would be punished and those who lived richly at the expense of others would lose everything they had. God would expose the hypocrisy and false piety of His people. But He would first call them to repent and return to Him. After God was finished judging His people He would restore them.
Amos was a Shepherd from the town of Tekoa which is located about 12 miles south of Jerusalem. Later Amos will also describe himself as one who tends fig trees. He dated his book using both the reigns of two kings and the remembering of a huge earthquake. He received this message via visions from the Lord and the earthquake he is remembering came during the reign of Uzziah. This event is described in Zechariah 14:5. Uzziah was the most powerful king of Judah after the division of the country. The message speaks of judgement at the day of the Lord and Mount Zion, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was the most logical source of a message from the Lord. But God wouldn’t just speak. He would roar and thunder. There would be no mistake that this was the Lord speaking. Mount Carmel rises up from the Mediterranean Sea and is well watered even in times of drought. If all the grass there withered it would be the sign of a catastrophic drought. Today’s reading consists of eight judgements from the most obvious enemy, Damascus, to the least obvious, Israel itself. This sequence of judgements would have engaged the people as they listened to what would happen to their enemies but then Amos eventually confronted the people with a judgement on them as well. So here we go with these eight judgements. Starting off with the for three sins even four shows that God’s patience was exhausted. The expression is used for repeated acts of rebellion against the natural order established by God.
The first judgement was against Damascus and Aram, which would be Syria today. They were brutal in their treatment of the people of Gilead. They beat down the people like grain when it is threshed. In that time grain was threshed by pulling heavy wooden sledges over the grain, separating the heads from the stalks. These sledges had sharp teeth that cut the grain. This was the picture God painted about the brutality of the people of Damascus. As a result, God would send fire down on the kings palace. Fire was a sign of God’s judgement and in ancient times conquered cities were burned by invading armies. Aven and Beth-Eden were both connected with Damascus and Aram with Aven meaning wickedness. This was an area in Lebanon while Beth-Eden may have been a reference to Damascus. Kir was the area where the Arameans had originally come from. It is most likely in southern Babylon.
The Philistine city of Gaza was on the Mediterranean Sea coast at the southwest edge of Palestine, and it was the gateway for traffic between Africa and Asia. Their sin was slave trading. They had raided Israel and Judah and sold whole villages into slavery into Edom. God would sent fire on the Philistines as well. That fire came in the form of an Assyrian invasion in 701 B.C. God would also punish the Philistine cities of Ashdod, Ekron, and Ashkelon. Of the three Ekron was inland. The Philistines maintained their ethnic identity through the Assyrian period but it gradually faded away by the time of the Persians.
Tyre and Sidon were the principal seaports of Phoenicia. Like Philistia, Tyre’s crime was selling whole villages of Israelite captives to the Edomites as slaves. Tyre’s reputation was, anything is for sale, and Isaiah portrayed the city as a prostitute peddling her wares. The main part of Tyre was on an island just offshore making it nearly impossible to capture. But like the others God would send the fire of judgement on them too.
Edom was another betrayer. They had sinned repeatedly and God was finished with them. Edom was located southeast of the Dead Sea and they controlled the all important caravan trade routes, making them deeply involved in commerce. They could trace their ancestry to Esau, the brother of Jacob. However, being brothers meant nothing to the Edomites. In fact they took advantage of Israel or Judah’s misfortunes to help others attack them. When Teman and Bozrah were destroyed Edom lost its capacity for continual warfare. Babylon destroyed Edom shortly after Judah in 553 B.C. and again the Lord sent the fire of judgement.
Israel considered Ammon as kin, but the Ammonites also betrayed them. They were the descendants of one of the sons of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The Ammonites had been a constant threat to Gilead and more than once in their attacks they had literally ripped open pregnant women. They slaughtered the children of the towns they seized as well, in an attempt to prevent the increase of Israel’s population. Rabbah was the chief city of the Ammonites. The fire of judgement that fell on them came from the hands of the Assyrians who attacked in the 800’s B.C., and then the Babylonians who attacked and depopulated them in the 700’s B.C. In ancient times the people believed that when a nation was conquered, that nations gods went into exile along with the rest of the people.
In some past skirmish the Moabites had captured Edom’s king, and burned his bones. Cremation was considered a form of desecration and if the ashes were used like lime in plaster, the insult would be greatly compounded. The ancients believed that burning someone’s bones would deprive the persons spirit of the rest that was widely believed to result from a decent burial. Kerioth was one of the major towns in Moab and was thought to be where the Moabite stone resided. This was a shrine to the Moabite god Chemosh. It is possible the Edomite kings bones were burned here as an offering to the Moabite god. As a result of this, God would send disaster on the Moabites and his officers, destroying them. This too came at the hand of the Assyrians, probably in the 715 B.C. time period.
From here the tables turned. All of a sudden Amos was not talking about Israel’s enemies. He was speaking about them! God began with the southern kingdom of Judah. They shared a border with Israel but there was angst between the two kingdoms. The north regarded the descendants of king David in the south as abusive kings who had caused the split n the first place because of their imposition of heavy taxes and forced labor. Like everyone else, the people of Judah had sinned time and time again. They had rejected the teachings of the Lord, in other words the Torah. The pagan nations listed up until this point had committed atrocities that violated all human decency, but Judah went another step farther. They held the Word of God but they rejected its teachings. The thing is, God holds people responsible in proportion to the privilege they have received. Once Judah rejected God’s true instruction they turned to pagan ways, but intermingled them with worship of the Lord and idolatry. Judah’s punishment was the same as their pagan neighbors…fire. This fire would destroy Jerusalem. That came at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
Perhaps the northern kingdom thought they would get away Scott free but their turn came right after Judah’s. After leading the northern kingdom through a litany of sins committed by their neighbors, Amos came to his real point. The Israelites would suffer the same fate. This was Israel, God’s people, who had violated their covenant relationship with Him. Now God was calling them to account for the violations of the covenant. By Amos’s day those in power in Israel were taking advantage of the courts to sell debtors as slaves, slaves termed righteous here because they were the innocent victims of the corruption of the courts. They were sold for a pair of sandals, a hyperbole for the pittance they owed. The sandals were a pledge given for a debt or a token used to seal a bargain. They treated the poor ruthlessly, the helpless and poor exploited by a socio-economic system that denied them the justice guaranteed by law. Not only were the people unjust but they were morally bankrupt. Whatever sexual practices the men were undertaking were prohibited by God’s law found In Leviticus 18, and 20. Making matters worse was that often these acts were performed in the name of the Lord. This served to corrupt God’s holy name. The irony here is that they still observed their religious festivals, flaunting their sins there.
The Torah allowed a lender to take a poor man’s cloak as security for a debt but it was not to be kept overnight because the nights were cold and the poor man would need his cloak to wrap up in to keep warm. Never was a widows clothing to be taken as a security deposit. The wealthy bribed the judges and used their influence to keep the poor who could not defend themselves from obtaining a fair hearing. In verse 9 we see a reference to the Amorites but this is a general reference to all the inhabitants of Canaan. In addition to priests, God provided prophets to speak His word and will, and holy men called Nazarites who were dedicated to the Lord by abstention from fermented drinks. Israel showed her disregard for the Lord by telling both the Nazarites and the prophets to ignore and violate God’s calling. The last three verses are a message with a description of the battle in which Israel would be defeated and would flee. Those who posed as strong and mighty would go weak in the knees and the fastest runners would not be able to outrun the coming attacks. In battle, the archers stood last in the ranks, meaning they were the last line of defense. If they fled it meant the forward ranks had already collapsed. Later in his book, Amos will call that day the day of the Lord. Both terms indicate the time of judgement on Israel. If the strong could not save themselves, what would happen to the rest of Israel?
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W