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Amos 2:4-16

It’s so easy for us to point fingers! We can “armchair quarterback” everyone else’s problems around us, knowing that we would never do what they did! We sympathize when our neighbors have problems, but we often — if we are honest — also feel smug, thinking that “they must have had it coming”.

It’s bad enough to have these attitudes toward our friends and neighbors, but what about when our enemies have problems? We are so quick to judge! We forget our own problems as we applaud God’s judgment on those who “deserve it”!

Amos started out his message doing exactly that — he sounded out judgment against all of Israel’s evil neighbors. You can picture Amos’ Jewish audience nodding their heads and shouting “Amen!” to each failure and consequence that comes to each of their enemies! These enemies had been a problem for centuries, and they are now getting their payback!

But then the finger of condemnation comes closer to home. First to Judah, the neighbors to the south, then finally to Israel herself. Israel is even worse than her pagan neighbors, because they had God’s law, yet still rejected the Lord and His justice!

Judah has Rejected God’s Law

Amos 2:4-5
Thus says the LORD:
“For three transgressions of Judah,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have rejected the law of the LORD,
and have not kept his statutes,
but their lies have led them astray,
those after which their fathers walked.
So I will send a fire upon Judah,
and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.”

Unlike the pagan nations in the previous chapter, Judah knew God’s law, yet still chose to reject Him! They turned from God’s law and His statutes, choosing instead to go their own way. God will send His punishment by destroying their nation. This was finally accomplished when the Babylonian army, under king Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

Amos shows two ways that Judah has rejected God’s law: First, they “have not kept his statutes”. These statutes are God’s laws and principles, which they had known since the time of Moses. They knew what God wanted but they refused to obey Him. They are worse than the ignorant pagans who didn’t know! How much more guilty are God’s people when they fully know His law and still refuse him!

Their second failure is that “their lies have led them astray”. Implicit in the wording here is that they have gone back to worshiping idols. The lies of all the idols from their past, of which their ancestors were also guilty, was a constant thorn in their side. They had turned back to the idols that they had fashioned throughout their history and rejected God‘s law. Israel’s fascination with idols went back past the golden calf in the desert (Exodus 32), through the time of Egypt, back to Jacob’s family, who had to be reminded to put away their idols (Genesis 35:2). They were always struggling with idolatry!

“If we put the true God out, a lesser god will come in.” – Boice5

But while Judah followed their idols, the northern kingdom Israel took their transgressions even further!

Israel has Forsaken God

Amos 2:6-8
Thus says the LORD:
“For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
and turn aside the way of the afflicted;
a man and his father go in to the same girl,
so that my holy name is profaned;
they lay themselves down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge,
and in the house of their God they drink
the wine of those who have been fined.

After pronouncing judgment on Israel’s neighbors, Amos now points the finger at Israel herself. Israel may consider themselves to be better than their neighbors, but they are even more guilty – they have known God‘s law, like Judah, yet have refused to obey Him! Amos shows three areas where Israel has turned away and rebelled against God.

Israel’s first sin is their injustice. They have sold the righteous and the needy for bribes and cheap pieces of clothing.a The value of justice and human life had little meaning to them! They trampled the poor and crushed the afflicted ones. While they should have been the ones to help those in need, they only added to their burdens!

Israel’s second sin is their immorality. Their sexual promiscuity was bad enough, yet the charge here shows even more despicable acts of wantonness. Amos says, “a man and his father go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned”. This is a direct violation of God‘s moral laws, as outlined in some of the most disturbing chapters of Leviticus. In Leviticus 18-20, God‘s people were given explicit commands to keep themselves from all kinds of lewd sexual defilements, and so to present themselves holy for the name of the Lord God. The message of Leviticus is that God’s name is to be honored above all else. When they fall into deviant sexuality, they have profaned the great and holy name of God!b

Israel’s third sin is their idolatry. They “they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge”. The Israelites took the spoils of conquest from the poor, using them to comfort themselves in the shrines of their idols. God’s law was that they should return any clothing given in pledge before the nighttime (see Exodus 22:26-27), yet they wantonly disregarded His law so that they could increase their own comfort. Furthermore, one of the most insidious forms of idolatry is when it is mixed in under the illusion of true worship of God. They went to the house of God like devout believers, yet only to get themselves drunk on their repossessed wine!c

Israel has Forgotten God

Amos 2:9-12
“Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them,
whose height was like the height of the cedars
and who was as strong as the oaks;
I destroyed his fruit above
and his roots beneath.
Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt
and led you forty years in the wilderness,
to possess the land of the Amorite.
And I raised up some of your sons for prophets,
and some of your young men for Nazirites.
Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?”
declares the LORD.
“But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
and commanded the prophets,
saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’

The Israelites had forgotten that God was the one who led them through the desert! It was the Lord‘s leading that protected them when they had nothing, and He fought for them against the strongest of enemies! He gave them devout leaders, such as the prophets and the Nazirites. Yet they persisted in forcing the Nazirite to break their solemn vows, and to silence the prophets from speaking.d

Don’t miss God’s depiction of the Amorites in this prophecy. The Israelites saw them as great and mighty warriors, to whom they were but grasshoppers (Numbers 13:32-33). But to God, they are nothing but trees! They may be tall and strong, but He will uproot them!

God Will Turn Against Them

Amos 2:13-16
“Behold, I will press you down in your place,
as a cart full of sheaves presses down.
Flight shall perish from the swift,
and the strong shall not retain his strength,
nor shall the mighty save his life;
he who handles the bow shall not stand,
and he who is swift of foot shall not save himself,
nor shall he who rides the horse save his life;
and he who is stout of heart among the mighty
shall flee away naked in that day,”
declares the LORD.

Israel prided themselves in their strength — their mighty warriors, their swift runners and horsemen, their archers and their mighty warriors! But in every way that they prided themselves, God will turn against them. The swift will find themselves slow, the archers will miss, the strong will find themselves weak, and the horsemen will not be able to flee. God says he will crush them under a heavy load. They thought themselves to be brave and mighty, but the Lord says that they will “flee away naked”!

Conclusion

It is so easy to point our fingers at others and overlook our own failures. But God’s judgments against ancient Israel contain some important warnings to us in our modern lives!

First, remember that we are responsible for what we are given! God judged Judah because they rejected God’s law that they knew. God has given us His word and we are responsible to know it and to keep it!

Luke 12:48b
Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Next, we need to take a warning from Israel’s path of destruction. Like Judah, Israel ignored what they knew about God, and then they forgot how God had led them and helped them! After ignoring and forgetting God, they embraced their own cravings, leading them to the horrific abuse that we see in Amos’ prophecy! It all started by ignoring God and forgetting about Him!

May we remember to hold fast to what God has given us, to know Him, and to not forget Him!

Previous post: Judgment on the Neighbors


References

[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 2:4-16, pages 1418-1419

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 7, Zondervan, 1985, Amos 2:4-16, pages 292-297

[4] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Amos 2:4-16, pages 994-995

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


Notes

[a] Amos 2:6 accuses Israel for selling “the needy for a pair of sandals”. The point here is that they are catering to very cheap bribes, such as a cheap pair of sandals.3

[b] Commentators have debated whether the immorality mentioned in Amos 2:7 is referring to ritualized prostitution or to incestuous relations within the same family.3 However, since the conclusion is that, “so that my holy name is profaned”, this points more an issue of purity than of idolatry, similar to the charges in Leviticus 18-20. This is a direct violation of Leviticus 18:8. This sin is also judged in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 5:1-2.

[c] Amos 2:6-8 indicates places of worship twice, in “they lay themselves down beside every altar”, and “in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined”.

The first place of worship, “every altar” is commonly understood to be the pagan shrines throughout Israel (i.e. the multiple altars). The second place of worship in this passage, “the house of their God” is understood to be worship of the true God, albeit a broken worship because of their wanton disregard for Him.

[d] The Nazirite was a person who made a vow of dedication to the Lord, to abstain from such activities as cutting his hair and drinking grape juice or fermented drink (Numbers 6:1-12). The Nazirite vow was for a specific time period, yet the two most famous Nazirites, Samson and Samuel, held it for their entire lives. The crime in Amos 2:12 is that they forced the Nazirites to break their vows by drinking wine, and they forbade the prophets from prophesying.

“This was a more heinous crime than simply opposing these religious groups; it was tantamount to rejecting the word of Yahweh and the dedication to Yahweh that found expression among them.” – Gabelein3

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