Monday, December 9, 2019

Amos: The Judgement of the Nations

"This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back My wrath, because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth” (Amos 1:3).

Amos was born in Tekoa, a small town south of Bethlehem in Judah, the southern kingdom. He was a farmer by trade, but God called him to go to Israel, the northern kingdom, and prophesy against its sins. Amos preached when Uzziah was ruling Judah and Jeroboam II was ruling Israel. Thus, his ministry overlapped the beginning of Hosea’s.

Amos 1–2 records a very famous sermon by the prophet. He began by saying that a great day of the Lord was drawing near, and that God was about to judge the nations. He began with Damascus in Syria (Amos 1:3–5) saying that Syria had piled sin upon sin—three, yea four—and that God’s patience was exhausted. The sin mentioned, torture of captives, is a form of the sin of oppression. The day of the Lord would involve God acting on behalf of the weak and helpless.

Then Amos turned to Gaza in Philistia (Amos 1:6–8). The Philistines would also be judged for cruelty to the helpless. Next Amos mentioned Tyre in Phoenicia (Amos 1:9–10). The Tyreans sold God’s people into slavery, ignoring the covenant of brotherhood set up between David and Hiram of Tyre.

By now Amos’s Israelite audience was doubtlessly shouting “Amen.” It seemed as if God was going to act against all their enemies. Amos seemed to play along with them, moving from Gentile nations to the “cousins” of Israel. The Edomites, descendants of Esau, who had so often cruelly oppressed Israel, were the next to be mentioned for doom (1:11–12). Then came the vicious Ammonites, descendants of Lot (1:13–15), and finally the cruel and savage Moabites, also descended from Lot (2:1–3).

Amos may have shocked his audience at this point, because the next nation he listed for destruction was Judah (2:4–5). The crowd may have kept cheering, because Israel had often been at war with Judah. While the nations were being judged for cruelty, Judah would be judged for idolatry.

Then, however, Amos turned to Israel. Israel was also guilty of adding sin to sin, and God was going to visit her with His wrath also. We can imagine that there were no “Amens” coming from the crowd then. Amos told them that they were as cruel as the Gentiles and as idolatrous as Judah, and that God was going to treat them the same way He was going to treat their guilty neighbors (2:6–16).

A valuable lesson is taught here. God, who is just, must judge righteously, whether He acts on behalf of His own people or her pagan neighbors. Israel and Judah presumed an automatic exemption from God’s righteous pronouncements against sin. Let us not carelessly make the same presumption on the part of the church.