Not only the nations around Judah and Israel are judged by God. After God first pronounces the judgment on Moab, He also pronounces the judgment on Judah and Israel. It is a disgrace for God’s people to be aligned with the nations. But when Judah and Israel have descended to the level of the heathens, they also receive from God the same treatment as the heathens. Only that has greater consequences for them than for the other nations because God’s people have a much greater responsibility (Amos 3:2).
Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel also prophesy about the nations around Israel, but only after they have first prophesied about Israel. Amos reverses that order with a purpose. The nations are punished for violating the laws of nature, conscience, and natural feelings. Israel is punished for its greater sin of going against the revealed will of God.
1 - 3 Judgment on Moab
1 Thus says the LORD,
“For three transgressions of Moab and for four
I will not revoke its [punishment],
Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime.
2 “So I will send fire upon Moab
And it will consume the citadels of Kerioth;
And Moab will die amid tumult,
With war cries and the sound of a trumpet.
3 “I will also cut off the judge from her midst
And slay all her princes with him,” says the LORD.
After Ammon, his brother Moab appears before God’s judgment seat. Moab was born out of Lot’s incest relationship with his eldest daughter. He “is the father of Moab to this day” (Gen 19:36-37). He is sentenced for the horrible act of corpse burning or cremation.
Since all previous nations are judged because of some offense against Israel, the judgment of Amos on Moab is, according to some interpreters, based on an event mentioned in 2 Kings 3 (2Kgs 3:26-27). The “firstborn son” mentioned there is the eldest son of the king of Edom, the heir and probably co-king. It concerns the burning of a living son, an evil that is even more serious than the burning of bones.
In what Amos says, we do have a clue as to what God thinks about cremation. God punishes any violation of His established orders. The God-fearing King Josiah also burns bones, but he exercises the judgment of God (2Kgs 23:16; 1Kgs 13:2). The judgment of the dead belongs to God alone.
The judgment of Moab will be exercised by “the sons of the east” (Eze 25:10). All announced judgments will be carried out by Nebuchadnezzar, who conquers and deports all the nations addressed by Amos (Jeremiah 47-49; Ezekiel 25-28; cf. Zep 2:9; Dan 11:41).
Ammon lacks respect for life in its earliest existence (Amos 1:13). The application to today is abortion. The brother nation Moab lacks respect for death. The application to today is also not difficult. There is no respect for death anymore. From the burning of a dead person it is a small step to euthanizing a dying person.
Euthanasia, like abortion, is transferred from crime to beneficence. Thus, proponents of euthanasia do not speak of ‘committing’ euthanasia, but of ‘granting’ euthanasia. Cremation and euthanasia – euthanasia means ‘soft death’ or ‘good death’ – violate the rights of God. Man believes that he has the right to self-determination over both life and death. God will judge this thinking and acting of man, in which there is no place for His revealed will.
As with the judgment of the crimes of the Ammonites, the judgment of the Moabites is accompanied by much tumult and confusion. It is as if those who are used by God to this judgment will carry out this judgment with the greatest pleasure. All the leaders, “the judge … and all her princes”, under whose responsibility these atrocities were committed, receive a separate treatment in the judgment. They will be wiped out from the midst of Moab.
4 - 5 Judgment on Judah
4 Thus says the LORD,
“For three transgressions of Judah and for four
I will not revoke its [punishment],
Because they rejected the law of the LORD
And have not kept His statutes;
Their lies also have led them astray,
Those after which their fathers walked.
5 “So I will send fire upon Judah
And it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem.”
We are still listening in the marketplace in Bethel where Amos addresses his flaming words to the nations that surround Judah and Israel. In everything Amos has said so far, we have seen the Israelite hearers nod approvingly. Of course, all those heathen nations, as well as the brother peoples who have behaved like the heathens, will finally receive their righteous punishment for what they have done to Israel.
But what do we hear now? He is now addressing Judah! Amos does not walk away, he has not finished his preaching, he continues. Judah undergoes the same judgment as the nations around them. With God there is no distinction, no respect of persons, neither when it comes to sin nor when it comes to righteousness (cf. Jer 9:25-26).
Let us listen to what he has to say to them. He says to them that “they rejected the law of the LORD”. Through this act they have torn themselves away from God and thus from the Source of all blessing. It is impossible to say that you believe in God and at the same time reject that in which He makes His will known. He who rejects His law, His Word, is unable to maintain His statutes. The confession that one believes in God may be there, but the practice is that one is seduced by gods of lies.
When the Word of truth is rejected, lies take its place. Rejection of the Word takes place everywhere today where it is interpreted according to one’s own judgment, in a way that does not require us to give up anything that can satisfy our lusts. There is reasoning along the lines of: ‘God wants you to be happy; enjoy everything there is to enjoy; if you are happy, God is happy too.’ This is how the gods of lies work. They know exactly what the professors of God’s Name, like. Through the centuries they have developed a formula for success, a recipe that can be adapted to the needs of a certain generation.
The fathers, the previous generations, have gone after it as well. The addition “those after which their fathers walked” serves to emphasize how deep the sin of idolatry is in the blood of the people. “Their lies” are the gods of lies. This is true in two ways: first, they lie themselves and second, they are the product of people’s lying spirits.
There is nothing new under the sun, even though the appearance of these lie-gods changes all the time. As far as that is concerned, the devil, who uses these lie-gods, is like a chameleon. He takes on the color of the environment in which he finds himself. He exercises his evil influence in a way that suits the spiritual climate in which man finds himself.
Every nation is judged according to the light it has. God punishes the people according to their attitude towards people, His people. He punishes His people according to their attitude towards Himself, their God. The judgment of Amos on Judah is fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC and burned her citadels and the house of God (2Chr 36:19). Joel did prophesy in favor of Jerusalem, but the city will also be judged for its many sins. This judgment will not escape her, however great the future glory may be.
6 Judgment on Israel
6 Thus says the LORD,
“For three transgressions of Israel and for four
I will not revoke its [punishment],
Because they sell the righteous for money
And the needy for a pair of sandals.
Maybe Israel started to be suspicious when Amos was talking about Juda. The accusing finger of the prophet is coming more and more in their direction. They nodded violently when they heard him speak about the judgment on the nations around them. They also nodded approvingly when they heard him speak about the judgment on their brother and southern neighbor Judah. They may have openly expressed their joy at the judgment that will affect the nations and have a secret joy when they think of the judgment that will come over Judah. But if the accusing finger of the prophet is now pointed directly at them, their joy is over.
The majority of those present in the market square of Bethel will have been Israelites. They will be the last and most extensively confronted with their own situation. Now they themselves are the object of God’s judgment. The accusation of Judah has been formulated in terms of violating principles of what God has said in the law. Israel’s transgressions are clearly stated. Judah despises the law; in Israel there is a total lack of fear of God.
1. Israel’s crimes are described in verses 6-8.
2. In verses 9-11 the prophet refers to God’s actions in favor of them in the past.
3. In verses 12-16, Amos concludes his speech with a vivid description of the punishment they will receive for their behavior.
Israel’s sins are measured widest. It is not enough to describe a single sin as a model for all sins, as it were, and in which the other sins are represented. There appear to be four transgressions: greed, trampling of the poor, an unnatural form of fornication, and idolatrous pleasures.
What they do with righteous people, they will also do with the Righteous One. The Lord Jesus is sold by Judas. He is also the Poor One. The righteous is he who has the law at his side, so righteous in a legal sense. Because of corrupt justice and his poverty, the righteous is nevertheless declared guilty for the benefit of those who have money and respect.
In selling, we can imagine that a poor person has become a serf of someone from whom he has had to borrow money and with whom he is therefore in debt. He may have had to buy a pair of sandals, of which he was unable to pay the price, and therefore was enslaved (Lev 25:39; 2Kgs 4:1). In the case of ‘selling’ one can also think of handing over to the arbitrariness of the other party.
7 Heartlessness and Sexual Misconduct
7 “These who pant after the [very] dust of the earth on the head of the helpless
Also turn aside the way of the humble;
And a man and his father resort to the same girl
In order to profane My holy name.
The oppressors are so heartless, their mind is so depraved, that they pant after the humiliation of the helpless. Their helplessness has already humiliated them, but there is no tenderness or compassion for their situation among these oppressors. Hard and selfish as they are, they find it a devilish pleasure to see how the helpless in their great sadness are humiliated even deeper and brought to despair. Of these rich, what has been said of Edom is true: they have stifled their compassion (Amos 1:11). And here it concerns to their own compatriots, fellow members of the people of God.
Helpless people are defenseless at the same time. Power is with those who have money. The helpless are at the mercy of the rich. They determine, according to their own unjust standards, what is right for the helpless and what is due to them. This means that they bend all the living conditions of the helpless in a way that is most advantageous to them.
Anyone who is somewhat familiar with the history of mankind will see this horrible way of acting resurfacing again and again. The least fortunate are manipulated, they act as if they were merchandise or chattel. Every human dignity, every right to a humane existence, is taken away from them. Once again, these are the actions of people who belong to God’s people in relation to people who also belong to that people.
If the heart is closed to God and His Word – although one still confesses something with the mouth – the heart also closes to the fellow believers (cf. 1Jn 3:17). The relationship with other members of God’s people is determined by what that relationship yields, either in material benefit or in the satisfaction of depraved feelings.
How much the natural feelings are suffocated is also shown by the second offense mentioned. A man and his father going to the same girl is reminiscent of “immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1Cor 5:1). When the people of God reject God’s Word, they sink lower than the Gentiles. Going to the same girl or harlot is even worse than going to another girl or harlot. The one is already a great sin, the other is an even greater sin.
In connection with this low sin, the LORD speaks through Amos that it is precisely this sin that is happening “to profane My holy name”. This expression also appears in Leviticus 22 as the conclusion of a long section that deals with personal and social purity (Lev 22:32). In that section, the sin of incest is specifically forbidden (Lev 18:6-18; 20:17-21). It does not specifically mention a prohibition for fellowship with a woman outside the family. However, the principle does apply here, of course, when it comes to the use of one and the same girl by both the father and the son.
This way of acting provides insight into the social conditions at that time. The purity and faithfulness that may be expected of a God-fearing father in his marriage are lacking. Both the father and the son consciously act in disobedience to God. With the persistence of disobedience all feelings of shame also disappear.
The quotation above from 1 Corinthians 5 makes clear that this kind of disobedience did not only occur in Israel. This shameless fornication also occurs in the Christian church. Where justice is being bent, there is also no right view anymore on marriage and sexuality and also in these things the brother is being wronged (1Thes 4:6).
Paul makes clear in the sequel of 1 Corinthians 5 what the duty of the church is towards members of the church who live in such and other sins. The church is given the task: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1Cor 5:13b). Whoever persists in sin must ultimately be removed from the church as a wicked person.
8 The Rights of God and Man Trampled Underfoot
8 “On garments taken as pledges they stretch out beside every altar,
And in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined.
Garments are considered an object of value, not so much in the material sense, but more in the sense of use. For the owner, a garment is something with which he can cover himself at night as a protection against the cold. If someone has to borrow money, he can leave his garment as a pledge. In His care for the poor, God has included in His law that the person who has taken the garment as a pledge must return it in the evening (Exo 22:26-27; Deu 24:10-13).
But the rich do not care about God’s law. They can use that garment as a soft surface, on which they can lie comfortably. They do not care about their poor brother, who is now also suffering from cold, any more than they care about God. On the contrary, they are very devoted to all kinds of idols, to which the expression “every altar” seems to point. There is a multitude of altars (cf. Hos 10:1).
They believe they owe all their prosperity to the idols. Those idols are located in the temple in Bethel. They may have built other houses for these idols as well. There they get drunk on the wine they have bought with money obtained criminally. They have fined innocent people and came up with crimes for that. With the money thus obtained, they are now celebrating.
9 What God Has Done for Them
9 “Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them,
Though his height [was] like the height of cedars
And he [was] strong as the oaks;
I even destroyed his fruit above and his root below.
To shame them, God points out His care for them, both past and present. Their actions towards God are in sharp contrast to what God has done for them. What an ingratitude! From what has He deserved this? It sounds like a disappointment: “Yet it was I.” The memory of the past should bring them to repentance. God has paved the way for them to come to the place they now occupy.
“The Amorite” people are the original inhabitants of Canaan (Gen 15:18; Jos 24:18; Jdg 6:10). On their own, the people had never entered the land. Their unbelief had made them powerless. In their unbelief, they had felt like locusts to the inhabitants of Canaan who were like giants in their eyes (Num 13:22,32-33; Deu 1:28; 3:11).
But God had taken up their case. They have been witnesses to how He acted. He exterminated those strong giants for them, completely, from top to bottom. The cedar is more often a picture of what is high, lofty and stable (Eze 31:3) and the oak of what is strong and hard and has a long lifetime.
“His fruit” is his offspring and “his root” are the ancestors of that people. God exterminated all those people with root and branch for them. But now that they have lived in the land for so many years, they have forgotten all His efforts. They have also been warned about this (Deu 8:11-20). But what do you expect when God’s people no longer listen to His Word, no longer take knowledge of it, and so ignore the warnings it contains? Misery and destruction cannot be avoided.
10 God’s Goodness in Redemption and Guidance
10 “It was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt,
And I led you in the wilderness forty years
That you might take possession of the land of the Amorite.
Once again the disappointment resounds. Have they forgotten how they were freed by God’s goodness from the hard slavery of Egypt? Have they also forgotten how He led them through that “great and terrible wilderness” (Deu 8:15) after their redemption, before they took possession of the land they were on their way to? If God had not redeemed them, they would still be in bondage; if God had not led them in the wilderness, they would have perished there.
Let us, too, never forget how we were redeemed from the world and from judgment. The Lord Jesus had to die for this. Let us also never forget how God has guided and cared for us throughout the world since our redemption. Great is His faithfulness. Too often we answer His faithfulness with unfaithfulness. Don’t we disappoint Him then, too?
11 Prophets and Nazirites
11 “Then I raised up some of your sons to be prophets
And some of your young men to be Nazirites.
Is this not so, O sons of Israel?” declares the LORD.
In the previous verses we have the testimony of all God’s blessings, given by Him to all the people, the twelve tribes. But God’s care for His people is also evidenced by the means He has given in the midst of His people to make them return to Himself. There in the first place is the testimony of the “prophets”. They have spoken His words. Secondly, Amos points to the testimony of the “Nazirites”. They spoke through their lives. Prophets have proclaimed Who God is in their preaching, Nazirites have shown Who God is in their lives.
Prophets usually speak when the people have deviated from God. Then God lets them preach His Word to His people to call them to confess and return to Him. Before Amos, many prophets have spoken to the whole people, the twelve tribes (Heb 1:1a). For example, we can think of Moses and Samuel. But also in the midst of the ten tribes, who had no temple, altar, and priesthood, God did not leave Himself without witness. Especially Elijah and Elisha worked in the ten tribes. Also after that God sent messengers who came forth from themselves and spoke their language.
God gave a special testimony through the Nazirites. Although we do not read much about the Nazirites, given the quote here by Amos, they must have had an important place among the people. The word ‘Nazirite’ – in Hebrew Nazir – means ‘separated’ or ‘set apart’. This indicates the devotion to God that these persons put into practice.
In order to separate oneself and dedicate oneself to God, the Nazirite makes a special vow. We read about this in Numbers 6. Becoming a Nazirite is something someone does voluntarily. But if someone, “a man or a woman” (Num 6:2), wants to become a Nazirite, God ascribes conditions to this. These conditions are that such a person
1. must not use anything from the vine,
2. let the hair grow long and
3. must not touch a dead person (Num 6:3).
In their application to us, these terms and conditions can be ‘translated’ as follows. Someone who wants to dedicate himself to God,
1. voluntarily renounces earthly joys – wine is a picture of things that are not bad in themselves (Jdg 9:13),
2. takes a submissive place – of which the long hair of the woman is still the picture (1Cor 11:1-16), which still applies today – and
3. stays away from everything that is not in connection with the living God – that is the hallmark of death.
It is a great blessing of God if He raises up such people, including young people, who want to live devotional lives among His people. They are a spiritual blessing for the whole people. In earthly blessings also the heathen nations can rejoice. That is why Amos points to the spiritual blessing that these gifts of God to His people contain. This spiritual blessing precedes the earthly one, because the earthly blessing depends on their spiritual state. In order to bring them in harmony with God, He lets His prophets hear what He expects from His people. Through the prophets He sends, He maintains the connection with His people.
Although Numbers 6 states that someone becomes a Nazirite as a result of a voluntary decision to fulfill a vow, it is clear that such a vow is made from an inner prompting by the Spirit. Also, life as a Nazirite can only happen under the power and guidance of God’s Spirit. Therefore, besides the prophets, the Nazirites can also be seen as a gift of God. In the Nazirite, the people can see their own calling to consecration to God, while at the same time seeing that the LORD also gives them the power to put it into practice.
Although being a Nazirite is not bound by age, Amos speaks here of “your young men”. It is precisely young people that God wants to use to show in the midst of His people what a life of dedication means. In Christianity today, too, there is a great need for young Christians who voluntarily deny themselves things their peers are committed to, to dedicate themselves entirely to the cause of God. Let us ask God to work this in the hearts of many young people. An example of the blessing that such dedication gives can be read in Jeremiah 35 (Jer 35:1-19).
With His question “is this not so?” God emphasizes His giving of the prophets and the Nazirites. He urges His people to judge whether His comments are correct. Such questions serve to appeal to the conscience, to incite reflection and to bring insight into God’s actions. Whoever agrees with them wholeheartedly returns to Him. God wants to involve people in His actions and, by thinking about them, bring them to the acknowledgment that there is no other way.
12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
And you commanded the prophets saying, ‘You shall not prophesy!’
What is the people’s answer to God’s care? You can imagine that the bad mood of the people manifests itself simply by not listening to those people and ignoring their message. But their evil state manifests itself in a more terrible way in the spirit of rebellion.
Instead of allowing themselves to be incited to a holy life by the examples of the Nazirites, the people want the Nazirites to drink wine in order to break their vow. Here, giving wine does not mean that they are offering wine, but that they are violently forcing the Nazirites to drink wine.
The prophets meet the same spirit of rebellion. God’s witnesses are unbearable to the people and they do everything they can to silence them. Amos has experienced this himself (Amos 7:12; cf. Isa 30:10; Jer 11:21; Mic 2:11).
And what are we experiencing today? What answer do we give to God’s care? Many ‘Nazirites’ are tempted to drink ‘wine’ again. Satan will do everything in his power to take in young people, so that they do not respond to the call of God, but listen to the voice of people. Christians who do not take it very seriously feel itchy when they see other Christians who want to live fully dedicated to the Lord.
Of course, there are some things to be criticized about the lives of committed Christians. They are not perfect people. But instead of being appealed to by what can be seen of devotion, dedicated Christians often try to do something in which it is not Christ but their own pleasures that are central.
If such Christians succumb to that pressure, their lives will no longer be a ‘condemnation’ for less or not-dedicated Christians. The sting is out. By the way, dedicated Christians will not want to condemn others who live less dedicated lives. It is a more or less automatic consequence, something that cannot be avoided.
The Lord Jesus above all, and following in His footsteps also Paul, have been completely devoted to God. The hatred experienced by the Lord and Paul was unavoidable. Anyone who wants to live dedicated, must count on what Paul says to Timothy happening to him or her: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2Tim 3:12).
What the Nazirite experiences will also be experienced by the faithful prophet. A clear, radical preaching of God’s Word is generally not appreciated in professing Christianity. As long as you leave the conscience out, you will be listened to. But if you point out evil, you will meet with rejection and they will try to make it impossible for you to speak.
13 God’s Retribution
13 “Behold, I am weighted down beneath you
As a wagon is weighted down when filled with sheaves.
In response to the rebellious attitude and opposition of the people in answer to all His concerns, God has no choice but to react with His judgment. In the way Amos represents God’s judgment, we see a picture from the life of agriculture. It reflects Amos’ familiarity with this life. There may be an allusion in the use of this picture that the judgment will take place by means of an earthquake. In a broader sense, it can refer to the time when God brings in His harvest, where there is salvation for the believing remnant, while the wicked will be struck by the judgment.
The overcrowded, creaking wagon also shows that sin is a heavy burden, especially the sins mentioned above. No man remains standing under it, but will succumb to it and be torn asunder. For those who acknowledge this, salvation is present. He may know that the sheaves of his or her sins were laid upon the Lord Jesus and were judged in Him by God.
14 - 16 No Escape Possible
14 “Flight will perish from the swift,
And the stalwart will not strengthen his power,
Nor the mighty man save his life.
15 “He who grasps the bow will not stand [his ground],
The swift of foot will not escape,
Nor will he who rides the horse save his life.
16 “Even the bravest among the warriors will flee naked in that day,” declares the LORD.
The judgment of God presented in verse 13 is inescapable. Everyone will try to flee, but in vain. All individual abilities will not avail. When we think of an earthquake, we see that speed, strength, and courage are useless. No matter how fast a person can run, he will not be able to reach a place of refuge. The ground splits open beneath him. No matter how strong someone is, all his strength and effort offer no solution. He sees himself confronted with forces of nature where the strength of man is totally negligible. No matter how brave someone is, he will lose out against God’s judgment. This enemy cannot be fought with human courage.
The arrows of the archer are ridiculous in the face of a power that is mercilessly approaching and cannot be kept at bay. Even those who can use a horse will be overtaken by death. The hero who thinks he can flee throws away everything he has relied on, but what hinders him in the face of judgment in his flight. Naked means without outer garment and without weapons. In this way he, once so brave, well dressed and well-armed, tries to escape this danger. The whole stage breathes a complete desperation of people who, before this judgment takes place, still boast so much about their qualities.