encouragement theology

Judgment on the Neighbors

Amos 1:2-2-3

One of my favorite books has been The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. In the story, four British children are transported to a magical world of winter, which is under the power of a cruel witch. The central character is the lion, Aslan, who rules the world and has come to stop the witch’s tyranny, and one of the best descriptions of Aslan comes from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, as they tell the children about him:

“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.” 

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” 

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” 

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. 

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”8

Amos presents a view of God that is far from safe! We see God in His greatness and judgment. Like a roaring lion, His voice is going out over the earth. He strikes the fertile pastures and destroys the strongest refuges.a 

Amos 1:2
And he said:
“The LORD roars from Zion
and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
and the top of Carmel withers.”

The Book of Amos starts with an extended prologue, showing that all nations are guilty before Him. The pagan nations that surrounded Israel didn’t know God, yet they were still guilty in His sight. They didn’t have His laws, yet they failed to show human decency and compassion to their neighbors.

Amos also uses the repeated refrain, “for three transgressions, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment”. The Lord was not judging these nations for one-time failures, but for consistently rejecting His standards.b Therefore, God’s judgments are not only for the acts listed in these chapters, but for all of their wickedness and cruelty toward others.c

The surrounding nations are shown in this map here:

Syria and Philistia: Toward Their Enemies

God judged the neighboring nations of Syria (also known as Aram) and Philistia for cruelty to their enemies. Syria was directly to the northeast of Israel, while the Philistines occupied the coastal plain in Israel’s southwest. Both of these nations were enemies of Israel, with a long and bitter history of wars between them.

Amos 1:3-5
Thus says the LORD:
“For three transgressions of Damascus,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have threshed Gilead
with threshing sledges of iron.
So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.
I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir,”
says the LORD.

Amos represented Syria by its capital city, Damascus. Syria bordered Israel on the northeast, and was a constant enemy since the days of David and Solomon. Syria constantly fought with Israel over the trans-Jordan land of Gilead, seeking to assimilate this land into their own territories.

Amos’ prophecy against Syria may have been in response to the Syrian destruction of Israel, as recorded in 2 Kings 13:1-9. The threshing sledge was a large and heavy sled that was dragged over harvested wheat in order to break apart the kernels. Whether these threshing sledges were actual or poetic, Amos used this as an example of Syria’s extraordinary cruelty towards their enemies at war.d e

Other prophecies against Damascus are found in Isaiah 8, Isaiah 17, Zechariah 9, and Jeremiah 49. The prophecy against Syria was fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Damascus. Damascus remained as an active city but was repopulated after the Babylonians removed the original inhabitants.

Amos 1:6-9
Thus says the LORD:
“For three transgressions of Gaza,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they carried into exile a whole people
to deliver them up to Edom.
So I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza,
and it shall devour her strongholds.
I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod,
and him who holds the scepter from Ashkelon;
I will turn my hand against Ekron,
and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,”
says the Lord GOD.

The Philistines were a Mediterranean people group who had settled in the coastal plains of Canaan since the time of Abraham (Genesis 21:32). Fierce and warlike, they had terrified the Israelites since the days of Joshua. The account of Goliath even shows that there were also giants among their population! The hostility between the Israelites and the Philistines was the most severe during the time of the judges and Samuel. Sampson was famous for his using his God-given strength against the Philistine oppressors, and Saul’s many battles against the Philistines culminated in his death on Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). The most famous battle against the Philistines was when the young shepherd boy, David, faced off against the Philistine giant, Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17).

The Philistines were ruled by their five major cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath.f Amos identified the Philistines by their most prominent city at that time: Gaza.

The Philistines were judged for carrying off a “whole people” and delivering them to Edom. We don’t have the specific occasions of these incidents, but the Philistines had made it a practice to capture entire villages and towns, selling them off into slavery. The neighboring Israelite towns nearby would have been defenseless against the Philistine raids. This cruelty toward the Israelites went beyond acts of war, in that they looted and destroyed entire communities, simply for their own gain. God‘s judgment against the Philistines was that their major cities would be destroyed.

Other prophecies against the Philistines are found in Jeremiah 47, Zephaniah 2, and Zechariah 9.

Tyre and Edom: Toward Their Family

Even worse than cruelty toward one’s enemies, is the cruelty that the nations of Tyre and Edom showed to the Israelites, who should have been their brothers and allies. The Phoenician seaport of Tyre was on the Mediterranean coast, northwest of Israel. In contrast, the nation of Edom occupied the barren desert highlands beyond the Dead Sea, to the southeast of the Israelite people. Combined with the Syrians and the Philistines, Amos has enclosed Israel on all four corners: to the northeast, the southwest, the northwest, and the southeast. Israel is now in the center of the “X”.

Amos 1:9-10
Thus says the LORD:
“For three transgressions of Tyre,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they delivered up a whole people to Edom,
and did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.
So I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre,
and it shall devour her strongholds.”

The transgressions of Tyre are very similar to the previous judgment against the Philistines. They had taken entire communities, selling them as slaves to the Edomites. But as horrific as was the Philistines’ cruelty toward their enemies, it was even worse to witness the same atrocities by the people of Tyre, Israel’s traditional ally. Israel and Tyre had had a very close alliance throughout their history. Solomon exchanged goods and supplies with Hiram, king of Tyre, in order to fuel his many building projects, including the temple (see 1 Kings 5). One of the most infamous marriages in ancient Israel was between King Ahab and Jezebel, the princess from that region (1 Kings 16:31).

Other prophecies against Tyre are found in Isaiah 43, Ezekiel 26-28, and Zechariah 9. The people of Tyre prided themselves on their offshore fortress in the Mediterranean Sea, believing it to be impregnable. Both the Assyrians and Babylonians failed to conquer this city (see Ezekiel 29:18), but the city of Tyre was finally defeated by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.2

Amos 1:11-12
Thus says the LORD:
“For three transgressions of Edom,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he pursued his brother with the sword
and cast off all pity,
and his anger tore perpetually,
and he kept his wrath forever.
So I will send a fire upon Teman,
and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.”

If any nation should have had a close family bond with the Israelites, it was the Edomite people. The Edomites were descendants of Jacob’s brother, Esau (Genesis 25:21-26). Nevertheless, the relationship between Israel and Edom was marked with hostility throughout their history. The Edomites refused the Israelites passage as they wandered through the desert (Numbers 20:14-21), and there were battles on both sides throughout the kingdom years.

The book of Obadiah in the Old Testament is a brief prophecy against Edom. Other prophecies against Edom are found in Jeremiah 49 and Ezekiel 25. The transgression of Edom, in Amos’ prophecy, is that they relentlessly attacked Israel without any pity. They kept the anger and hatred alive throughout their generations, constantly looking for opportunities to destroy them.g The Edomite people were conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and carried off into exile, although there were a few people of Edomite descent during the New Testament times, most notably the family of Herod.

Ammon and Moab: Toward The Defenseless

The Lord judged Syria and Philistia for their cruelty toward their enemies at war, and judged Tyre and Edom for their cruelty towards their brothers and allies. But the most horrific were the atrocities by the Ammonites and the Moabites. Both the Ammonite and the Moabite people were descended from the daughters of Lot, who had seduced their father into giving them each a child and an heir (see Genesis 19:30-38). Out of that incestuous union arose the two nations east of the Jordan river. Although there were a few positive stories from these nations, such as the story of Ruth, both Ammon and Moab had a long history of hostility with Israel. 

Amos 1:13-15
Thus says the LORD:
“For three transgressions of the Ammonites,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead,
that they might enlarge their border.
So I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah,
and it shall devour her strongholds,
with shouting on the day of battle,
with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind;
and their king shall go into exile,
he and his princes together,”
says the LORD.

Ammon bordered Israel to the east and south of the trans-Jordan land of Gilead. Since the time of the judges, the Ammonites tried to increase their own borders by assimilating the Israelite territories (see the conflict with Jephthah in Judges 11). The horrific abuse mentioned by Amos shows that, in a bid to increase their own power, the Ammonites showed no pity nor stay of their cruelty, even to the most defenseless of people.h 

We don’t have a specific reference in time for when the Ammonites committed these atrocities against the Israelite people of Gilead. It may have been a single point in time, or it may have been the consequences of several border raids throughout the years.

The Ammonite fortress of Rabbah was the capital city and home of their king. This area today lies within the modern city of Amman, Jordan.

Commensurate with their cruelty, the Lord’s judgment against Ammon is especially strong. He will destroy them with fire, shouting, a tempest, and a whirlwind. Compare this to the Lord’s presentation of His power to Elijah from the cave at Sinai (see 1 Kings 19). The Lord will come against Ammon in power and judgment. The king and all his nobles will be led away into exile.

Other prophecies against Ammon are found in Jeremiah 49 and Ezekiel 25.

Amos 2:1-3
Thus says the LORD:
“For three transgressions of Moab,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he burned to lime
the bones of the king of Edom.
So I will send a fire upon 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 princes with him,”
says the LORD.

Moab’s transgression seems to be the most unusual: “they burned into lime the bones of the king of Edom”. It is interesting to note that this is the one judgment which is not related at all to Israel. This is the atrocity of one pagan nation by desecrating the bones of another pagan nation’s ruler. However, it also shows the cruelty and callousness of the Moabite people, who not only oppressed their captive people, but dishonored the dead bodies. To desecrate the bones of the king would have been a national disgrace.

We don’t know when the Moabites desecrated the body of Edomite King, but it was a significant enough event to have made it into Amos’ prophecy.i The Lord‘s judgment against Moab is nothing less than that the nation, its king, and its nobles, will die.j

Other prophecies against Moab are found in Isaiah 15, Jeremiah 48, and Ezekiel 25.


These messages in the first chapter of Amos are a series of judgements against pagan nations, all of which have been gone for thousands of years. So what can we learn from this passage? Are there any principles which we can apply in our modern world?

First, these messages show us that God’s standards are universal! These nations — Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab — didn’t have the Ten Commandments nor any of the other Israelite laws, yet they were still guilty before God. From their guilt, we see that there are universal principles in God’s standards, such as compassion and care for each other, which are expected of all people. 

Romans 2:14-16
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Second, these messages show us that God expects compassion — even for the wicked! Edom was one of Israel’s worst enemies, and is mentioned three times in the course of these judgments. Both Philistia and Tyre were condemned by God for joining in Edom’s human trafficking business; Edom herself is condemned for pursuing Israel without pity. Yet the final judgment against Moab is for their cruelty against Edom. Edom was vile and corrupt, yet Moab failed to show them compassion when they had them in their power. 

Romans 12:17
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

Finally, these messages show us that God does not ignore His justice! This is a common theme throughout the Book of Amos. God may seem silent during the horrors of the world, but He has not forgotten. God will wait patiently, but His justice will come!

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Romans 12:19
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Romans 12:21
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Previous Post: The Book of Amos


[1] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries: The Minor Prophets, Amos 1-2, THE INDICTMENT OF THE NATIONS

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: Old Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Amos 1:2-2:3, pages 1416-1418

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 7, Zondervan, 1985, Amos 1:2-2:3, pages 280-292

[4] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Amos 1:2-2:3, pages 993-994

[5] James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, Baker Books, 2002, The Prophet from Tekoa, Amos 1:1-2; 7:10-17, pages 161-168

[6] James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, Baker Books, 2002, Everyone Equal Before God, Amos 1:3-2:16, pages 169-178

[7] Bob Fyall, Teaching Amos, Proclamation Trust Media, 2006, 3. Calling the Nations to Account

[8] C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1950, page 75


[a] The geography in Amos’ message is very significant. Amos was sent to the northern kingdom of Israel, delivering judgment against those who had abandoned the true worship of God and His laws. The northern kingdom had rejected the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, choosing instead to worship at the cult shrines in Dan and Bethel (see here). Therefore, Amos’ message starts out with geography, including Zion, the temple location in Jerusalem. The “pastures of the shepherds” is likely a reference to the wealth of the northern Israelites, who relied on the fertile pastures to sustain their flocks, and Mt. Carmel, on the Mediterranean Sea, was one of their most secure refuges. The Lord will strike them with a withering drought. It was on Mt. Carmel that Elijah had the famous showdown against the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 18). The Lord’s judgment is coming from Jerusalem and will strike them in their most secure places.

[b] The expression “for three transgressions, and for four” was a common Hebrew idiom to show the totality of their failures. The term “x, and x+1” was not used for a specific number but to emphasize a large amount. See also the same refrain in Proverbs 30 (e.g. Proverbs 30:18, “Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand”).

[c] Thanks to James Montgomery Boice for his inspiration in the outline of Amos 1.6

[d] Hazael was the infamous king of Syria who took the throne by murdering his boss, and then went on to incredible cruelty against the Israelites during his reign (see 2 Kings 8:7-15). Ben-Hadad was the name of several kings of Syria and may have been a royal title. Amos used Hazael and Ben-Hadad to represent the Syrian king and his dynasty.

[e] The gate of Damascus in Amos 1:3-5 is a reference to the seat of power, since business was normally conducted at the city gates. We don’t know the specific location of the “Valley of Aven”, but it is likely the prominent plain near the Damascus area.3 Beth-eden was a major city on the Euphrates River. Kir was the national origin of the Syrians (see Amos 9:7). 2 Kings 16:9 records the fulfillment of this prophecy.

[f] Four out of the five Philistine cities are listed in Amos’ Oracle, with the city of Gath being notably absent. Most scholars speculate that Gath had been significantly subdued during this time, and was no longer a major Philistine city.2 3

[g] Teman and Bozrah were the major cities of Edom.

[h] The horrific cruelty towards the pregnant women in Gilead may have been a calculated attempt by the Ammonites at genocide of the Israelite people in the disputed region. They may have deliberately targeted the pregnant women, hoping to destroy the next generation of Israelites who would oppose their assimilation of their territories.

[i] Some commentators believe that this desecration might have happened during the battle of Israel, Judah, and Edom against Moab, when the king sacrificed his own son on the wall (2 Kings 3:26-27). These commentators have proposed that the Moabite king didn’t sacrifice his own son, but instead, he killed the crown prince of Edom. Moab was facing a losing battle against Edom and the king used shock and outrage in order to stop their advance. Therefore, according to this proposal, he not only killed and sacrificed the Edomite crown prince but desecrated his body, thereby horrifying the enemy troops and stopping them from taking over the city.3 This is an interesting proposal, but there’s not enough Biblical support to confirm this theory. In addition, the simple reading of the text points to the Moabite king killing his own son and not the Edomite prince.

[j] Kerioth was a major Moabite city, possibly the capital city.

4 replies on “Judgment on the Neighbors”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s