We see in this chapter that God judges the nations that surround Judah and Israel. He does so because of their hostile attitude toward His people and also because of their cruel nature, which is essentially opposite to feelings of humanity. Not only Israel, but all nations fall under the supreme authority of God, for He is the God of the whole earth and of all nations (Rom 3:29).
The downfall of the nations mentioned by Amos is God’s work. He addresses Syria in the northwest, the Philistines in the west, Tyre in the north, Edom in the south, and Ammon and Moab in the east.
The means by which the judgments come is not mentioned. However, the reason for the judgment is indicated – each time introduced by the word “for” – so that the consciences can be addressed. All fall under the same judgment.
1 The Words Amos Has Envisioned
1 The words of Amos, who was among the sheepherders from Tekoa, which he envisioned in visions concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
Amos not only heard the words of God, but also “envisioned” them. By this he indicates that they are not his own words, but words he received from God. To ‘envision words’ means as much as words received through prophetic revelation. He not only hears the words, but he also sees their content and meaning. The Word of God lives for him. It is not just dead letters, but what God says unfolds before his mind into a scene. Thus John wants to see on Patmos the voice that speaks to him (Rev 1:12).
Amos has seen what he hears. This certainly applies to the visions he speaks about in Amos 7. He has seen them literally. But it applies equally to everything he hears from the LORD to pass on. That is how involved he is in his message. Being so involved is the power of everyone who passes on the Word. He who speaks and sees for himself what he is talking about, speaks with great commitment. Such a preaching makes the greatest impression on the hearers. When the speaker himself experiences the power of the Word, no listener can ignore it. He can reject it, ridicule it, take a hostile attitude, but never make it powerless.
What Amos has seen and is presenting to the people must bring the people to repentance. He warns against the judgment that God must execute if the people do not listen and do not repent. Amos does not come from Tekoa for nothing. There is a lookout and warning post there (Jer 6:1; 2Chr 11:5-6; 20:20). He is familiar with taking a position from where he can observe the surroundings and warn of imminent danger. With his spiritual eyes he sees how the people are doing and to what danger they are exposing themselves.
The Word gains even more strength as the person of the speaker has less that impresses people who ‘see what is before their eyes’. This is also the case with Amos. He introduces himself to his humble origins. He is just a sheepherder. But God takes him away from his flocks and his work, just as He took David from behind the sheep and Elisa from the plow (Psa 78:70-71; 1Kgs 19:19-21). He calls himself “a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs” (Amos 7:14).
God does not hesitate to use a simple sheepherder. He even prefers him. As long as his heart is pure and dedicated to His service. God can use an oxgoad (Jdg 3:31) and a sling and a stone (1Sam 17:50). It is not about who man is or what he has, but about Who He is and what He has.
Amos is an example of God calling whom He wills. Any posturing to serve on the grounds of education, descent, or status is condemned by this. Of the disciples of the Lord Jesus who preach with irresistible force after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, bystanders notice “that they were uneducated and untrained men” (Acts 4:13).
The tearing between the ten tribes realm and the two tribes realm is for Amos no excuse to limit himself to his ‘home kingdom’, Judah. As mentioned in the introduction, the time in which Amos lives is a time of great prosperity. It is the time of Jeroboam II, king of Israel from 793-753 BC, and Uzziah, or Azariah, king of Judah from 790-740 BC. But there is also a shameful rape of justice and oppression of the poor. That is why Amos speaks of the great opulence and luxury of the rich, their arrogance, pride, self-assertion and the oppression of the poor.
Prosperity has the great danger that there is no place for God anymore. Dependency on Him is no longer necessary. After all, there is no lack of anything. There the voice of Amos sounds in the midst of all the pleasure: ‘Where is God in all this? You have pushed Him to the edge of your existence. In a little while He will be lifted over the edge and completely removed from your existence!’
Beneath the surface is moral destruction caused by a formal, false religion. In this state, the people do not think of any kind of coming disaster. God warns His people first by the words spoken by Amos, then by the act of the earthquake. This comes shortly after the words of Amos, while those words are still sounding as it were.
The earthquake is not just a local vibration, but affects a large area and makes many people flee. The mention of the earthquake is not meant to indicate the time of his action, but to point out the connection between the earthquake and his service. Amos is the prophet of the earthquake (Amos 8:8; 9:5). Zechariah refers in his book to this earthquake in connection with the coming of Christ to the world to judge it (Zec 14:5).
Judgment is the great burden of the prophecy of Amos. The judgments that Amos announces are not in the distant future, but in the near future. They are fulfilled for the most part, they are history. This is also how we look at what happens in our days when it comes to disasters and wars. They are not the end, but indicate the character of what will happen in the end time judgments, to a greater and more serious extent (cf. Mt 24:6,8).
2 The LORD Roars
2 He said,
“The LORD roars from Zion
And from Jerusalem He utters His voice;
And the shepherds’ pasture grounds mourn,
And the summit of Carmel dries up.”
Amos begins where Joel ends. The last words of Joel are about the roaring of the LORD like the roaring of a lion (Joel 3:16). Joel speaks in Judah and his statement is probably not known in Israel. Because of the use Amos makes of it, this statement is now also known in Israel. It also connects these two prophets. By connecting quotations in this way, God makes the different testimonies into one testimony.
The LORD speaks from Zion, the central place of worship and government. He does not do this to comfort and lead, but to charge and condemn. In doing so, He speaks not only to strangers, but also and above all to His people. Amos refers here, although he performs in Israel, to Zion as the dwelling place of the LORD.
The roaring of the lion is heard in the thunder in the air. In Joel the roaring precedes the realm of peace. It is directed there as a threat to the enemies, while it is followed by giving shelter to His people. Here the same roaring of the LORD is directed not only against the enemies of his people, but also against his own people, because they behave hostile against Him. It is therefore not followed by giving shelter, but by statements of judgment (cf. Jer 25:30-33). The roaring is only a threat and not yet a tearing. Thus the LORD presents Himself at the very beginning of this prophecy.
The judgment announced by Amos affects not only the people, but also the land. That the “pasture grounds mourn” indicates that grass and flowers will lose their splendor and beauty (Hos 4:3; Joel 1:10). “The summit of Carmel” is known for its abundant afforestation that provides shade.
God comes to judge. He takes away the fertile rain. Great drought is the result. The pastures in Galilee will dry up, as well as the wooded area of Carmel. Because of the judgments of God, the peaceful work of the shepherd will stop, because there is no more grass for the herds (Jer 25:36-38). And those who set out to seek shelter from the blazing sun will seek it in vain in Carmel.
3 - 5 Judgment on Damascus and Syria
3 Thus says the LORD,
“For three transgressions of Damascus and for four
I will not revoke its [punishment],
Because they threshed Gilead with [implements] of sharp iron.
4 “So I will send fire upon the house of Hazael
And it will consume the citadels of Ben-hadad.
5 “I will also break the [gate] bar of Damascus,
And cut off the inhabitant from the valley of Aven,
And him who holds the scepter, from Beth-eden;
So the people of Aram will go exiled to Kir,”
Says the LORD.
After Amos has introduced himself (verse 1) and his Sender (verse 2), he begins with the announcement of the judgments. First the “wicked neighbors” of Israel (Jer 12:14) are dealt with, and then Judah and Israel. The nations are judged because they have pursued their own interests while being used by God to discipline His people (Isa 10:5-19). The recurring saying “thus saith the LORD”, indicates that what is said has its origin in Him.
The recurrence with every people without exception of the expression “for three transgressions ... and for four , I will not revoke its [punishment]” is a Hebrew way of saying that it is a common or frequent transgression. It indicates that the measure is full and overflowing (Pro 30:15-31; 6:16; Job 5:19; Ecc 11:2). Because of this there is no change in judgment.
In accordance with this way of saying, the prophet does not list all offenses either. By way of example he describes one crime. That one crime is typical of the many crimes that have been committed. Although one crime is sufficient for the judgment of God, it shows God’s patience. God only carries out judgment when the measure is full and overflowing. Further delay would make Him implausible in His statements about the judgment of sin.
The Spirit of God begins with the greatest and at the same time most foreign enemy, Syria. Damascus as capital represents the entire population of Syria. The following enemies are all connected with God’s people in a certain way: the Philistines by living in their territory, Tyrus by alliance and Edom, Ammon and Moab by kinship.
The cruel way in which the Syrians treated the Israelites who live on the east side of the Jordan, including Gilead, will not be forgiven. This was done by Hazael who conquered this area and killed the prisoners and made them “like the dust at threshing” (2Kgs 13:7; 10:32-33).
The judgment, of which fire is an image, is brought over Syria by the LORD Himself, He sends the fire. This “sending of fire” always comes back with the next nations, except with the last nation, Israel. It affects in the first place “the house of Hazael”.
It is not for nothing that Hazael is called by name. He reigns over Syria from ca. 841 till 806 BC. When Elisha is in Damascus at Ben-hadad’s request, he meets Hazael. At that meeting Elisha is impressed by the evil that Hazael will do to Israel. He says the same to Hazael (2Kgs 8:7-15). But Hazael and his successors were not distracted from their intention by this prophecy. In spite of the contact with the prophets of God’s people, they have treated Israel cruelly. Because of this they are all the more guilty that they have laid hands on God’s people.
Any defense, “bar”, against this judgment of God will turn out to be in vain. The bar is the crossbeam that is slid before the gate in order to close it. If the LORD breaks the bar, it means that He grants free access to the enemy. In a wider application it means the removal of all the strength and security on which they rely.
This judgment on Syria was executed in 732 BC by the king of Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser (2Kgs 16:9). The verdict comes on the whole people, not just on “him who holds the scepter”, who are its leaders and other high-ranking persons who have incited a criminal act. The whole people are responsible. They have supported their leaders.
Aven means ‘idols or nullity’ – that is Damascus in the eyes of God – and represents idolatry. Beth-eden means ‘house of lust, house of pleasure’ – that is Damascus in the eyes of man – and represents carnal pleasures. Practitioners of both kinds of evil will be exterminated.
It is not possible to say with certainty where Kir has been located. It is suspected to have been in Armenia or Georgia near the Caucasus. Amos will mean the place where the Syrian people originally come from (Amos 9:7) and from where they made their conquests. That is where the Syrians will be exiled. We can compare this with the threat that the LORD pronounces on His own people when He says that He will bring them back to Egypt in case of unfaithfulness, that is to say, will bring them back into slavery.
6 - 8 Judgment on the Philistines
6 Thus says the LORD,
“For three transgressions of Gaza and for four
I will not revoke its [punishment],
Because they deported an entire population
To deliver [it] up to Edom.
7 “So I will send fire upon the wall of Gaza
And it will consume her citadels.
8 “I will also cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod,
And him who holds the scepter, from Ashkelon;
I will even unleash My power upon Ekron,
And the remnant of the Philistines will perish,”
Says the Lord GOD.
The Philistines are border enemies. They occupy the coastal plain in the southwest of Israel. Also with them, transgression upon transgression is found against the people of God. They are judged because they are guilty of human trafficking. Although we find no clue about this in Scripture, it is obvious that the Philistines captured people during several raids in Israel and sold them to the Edomites.
Amos talks about the fact that God’s people are “deported” as “an entire population”, thus underlining the enormous scale of this crime. The intrusion into Israel and the deportation of the inhabitants can be found in 2 Chronicles 21 after which the treatise to Edom may have taken place (2Chr 21:16-17). Also the prophet Joel speaks about selling inhabitants of Israel (Joel 3:4-6). In this treatise, we see a picture of the false, carnal religion, represented in the Philistines, surrendering man to the power of the flesh, represented in Edom.
God will judge this practice of the Philistines, which is represented by the sending of fire. Of the Philistines, even the remnant will be exterminated, so that nothing will remain of this people (Eze 25:15-17).
Of the five cities in which the Philistines live, four are mentioned. As a possible reason for not mentioning Gath, it has been suggested that this city has not restored itself from the destruction that King Uzziah brought upon it (2Chr 26:6). Also in later lists of the Philistine cities Gath does not occur (Jer 25:20; Zep 2:4; Zec 9:5-6).
9 - 10 Judgment on Tyre
9 Thus says the LORD,
“For three transgressions of Tyre and for four
I will not revoke its [punishment],
Because they delivered up an entire population to Edom
And did not remember [the] covenant of brotherhood.
10 “So I will send fire upon the wall of Tyre
And it will consume her citadels.”
Tyre, which stands for the whole of Phoenicia, has committed the same sin as the Philistines. They too have sold Israelite prisoners. Because of their sin, they also broke the covenant. In the time of David and Solomon there was a covenant between Israel and Tyre (1Kgs 5:12). Other Scriptures show the friendly relationship that existed between Israel and Tyre for a longer period of time (2Sam 5:11; 1Chr 14:1; 2Chr 2:11-16). The evil done to covenant brethren is worse than the evil done by an enemy. It is treason. You do not expect a friend to harm you.
Amos does not mention that Tyre invaded Israel; the ‘deportation’ of verse 6 is missing here. Possibly Tyrus acted as a ‘middleman’, who probably bought from Syria or others and resold to Edom. Tyre is known to have traded in people (Eze 27:13).
As far as we know Israel has never waged war with Tyre. Nevertheless, Tyre has traded treacherously and as a trading city it has wanted to enrich itself even by trading in people who on top of that belong to the people of God. God will therefore also execute His judgment on that people. All his wealth will perish. The merchants are all princes who live in luxury houses, palaces. Of all this splendor, nothing will remain.
For us Christians, the judgment of Tyre is the serious warning that God’s judgment is on those who treacherously break up the fraternal fellowship. This breaking takes place when a Christian pursues his own interests and not those of the Lord. We see it, for example, in the life of a Christian who is full of commitment to his career, so that there is no more time for personal contact with God.
In such a situation, the Christian virtues slowly but surely disappear. Such a person may still want to be called a Christian in name, attend Christian meetings and even take part in the Lord’s Supper, but the Christian values are ‘sold’. God sees through that. He does not let Himself be deceived and judges those who do such things (1Cor 11:27-31).
11 - 12 Judgment on Edom
11 Thus says the LORD,
“For three transgressions of Edom and for four
I will not revoke its [punishment],
Because he pursued his brother with the sword,
While he stifled his compassion;
His anger also tore continually,
And he maintained his fury forever.
12 “So I will send fire upon Teman
And it will consume the citadels of Bozrah.”
Edom is another name for Esau (Gen 36:1), Jacob’s twin brother. With Edom it is not so much about certain deeds. It is more about his attitude and mind toward God’s people. These are put forward and he is indicted for them.
Edom has always been hostile towards the people of God. Thus, Edom met the people of Israel on his journey to the promised land with the sword (Num 20:18-21). He has an insatiable, irreconcilable, and deadly hatred against Israel. Every feeling of “compassion” toward Israel, even the ordinary human, has been “stifled” by Edom. He does not want to give it any space. Compassion is unknown to him.
He is not only selfish, but also full of hatred against what is of God. He is armored against everything he thinks is weak. In his judgment he is rock hard. He makes short work of anything that threatens him. His whole attitude radiates a tearing anger. Destroying is the only thing he can think of. There is no coming to repentance. He cherishes his fury and thus maintains it forever.
For Job in his misery, God is Someone of Whom he says: “His anger has torn me” (Job 16:9). Job experiences God as Someone Who hates Him, Whose anger rages destructively against him. That is not God, but that is how Job experiences Him. Edom is like that. He cherishes “his anger” as if it were something dear to him. He does not want to lose it.
Edom is a picture of the flesh, the own ‘I’. Man without God lives in the flesh and hates everything that belongs to God. It will not always be expressed in the same brutal way as with Edom towards Israel. But the mind set on the flesh is always hostile toward God (Rom 8:7). Edom is man without God.
But the flesh is also present in the believer. And in him the flesh thinks of nothing but hostility against God. Only he is told not to devise the things of the flesh. This is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:13). Man is inseparably connected with the flesh. There is, as it were, a blood tie, such as between Jacob and Esau or Israel and Edom. This goes beyond a covenant relationship, such as between Tyre and Israel. For the Christian who has new life, God in Christ has “condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3). He may already see this in faith and live accordingly.
In the future God will judge Edom because of his irreconcilability. The prophet Obadiah devotes a great deal of prophecy to how and why this judgment will take place (Oba 1:1-20; Eze 25:11-14). Because of the crimes committed and the criminal attitude, the cities of Teman and Bozrah are exterminated. Teman is one of the largest cities of Edom; Bozrah is a strong fortress city in the north of Edom. These cities represent the whole country of Edom.
If we have a picture of the sinful flesh in Edom, we can see these cities as a picture of the way the flesh expresses itself. Teman is a city that in the Bible is connected with wisdom (Jer 49:7; Oba 1:8-9). We can see Teman as the wisdom of the flesh, a wisdom of the natural man, who thinks he can control everything. But God will “send fire upon Teman” which means for us: He will “destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside” (1Cor 1:19).
As has been said, Bozrah is a fortified city, a stronghold that is difficult to conquer. According to some scholars, it is the capital of Edom. Connected to Teman, the wisdom, we can see in Bozrah strongholds of our own thoughts and reflections that raise up against God. But the fire that God send upon Teman has the consequence that it also “consumes the citadels of Bozrah”. Through the wisdom of God in Christ, the wisdom of the world and the pride of the heart is judged. Those who have acknowledged this can say with Paul: “For the weapons of our warfare are ... divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. [We are] destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and [we are] taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2Cor 10:4-5).
13 - 15 Judgment on Ammon
13 Thus says the LORD,
“For three transgressions of the sons of Ammon and for four
I will not revoke its [punishment],
Because they ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead
In order to enlarge their borders.
14 “So I will kindle a fire on the wall of Rabbah
And it will consume her citadels
Amid war cries on the day of battle,
And a storm on the day of tempest.
15 “Their king will go into exile,
He and his princes together,” says the LORD.
Ammon’s heinous crime defies description. “He is the father of today’s Ammonites” (Gen 19:38). He himself was born of an incest relationship between Lot and his youngest daughter (Gen 19:36). His offspring born out of this ungodly relationship is without any natural feeling.
Someone must be weaned from any natural feeling to treat a pregnant woman like this. Any respect for God-given life is lacking. The mother’s womb is cut in and both the bearer of the new life and the new life itself is murdered. And that only for the sake of expansion of one’s own area. No action is taken to defend oneself, but only out of greed of robbery. Murder is carried out in cold blood.
This unimaginable atrocity of Ammon is unfortunately not a rarity. He is also mentioned of the Syrians (2Kgs 8:12). We do not have to look down pityingly on this behavior as if it were only practiced by primitive peoples in ancient times. The parallel with the ‘modern’ 21st century in which we live is quickly drawn. Unwanted pregnancy? Abortion. Surely you do not let your career – we can call it in modern terms, an individual enlarging his/her estate – go up in smoke because of ‘an accident’? This murder in the womb is concealed with fine words and even with legislation. As a result, the sting is taken out of conscience. At least that is how they mean it. The fact that many people continue to walk with a great sense of guilt is not talked about.
God will judge these actions. Ammon will perish in a devastating war. A crushing war disaster, with a deafening noise, will erupt over their territory with the sound and power of a hurricane. It seems as if God is pouring out all His wrath over such behavior. That is how horrible to Him is what Ammon has done. So horrible to Him is what is happening in abortion clinics today.
The king and his princes, all those in charge, go into exile. The political leaders who support these unholy practices with legislation will not be able to drag the country further down the road of destruction.