Amos 1-2 shows that there can be no distinction between Israel and the nations when it comes to the measure of God’s holiness. But in Amos 3 we see that Israel does undergo a separate judgment. The reason for this is that in the midst of all the nations, Israel has been given a special place by God. It is His people of property. That is why there is a special judgment for the people that the LORD has chosen for Himself. This is what verses 1-2 are about. The announcement of judgment the LORD has dedicated to the prophets (verses 3-8). The content of the judgment is that the enemy will invade the land, kill its inhabitants, destroy the altars of Bethel, and make a mess of the capital (verses 9-15).
We can learn from this. Just as Israel held the position of God’s testimony, so Christianity does now. If we hold that position, it is necessary that we give a testimony of Who God is and that this happens in accordance with Who God really is. A false testimony gives a false image of Him. Unfortunately, the history of Christianity has shown that it has not done any better than Israel. God will therefore have to judge professing Christianity. The description of that judgment can be found in Revelation 17-18.
1 Call to Hear
1 Hear this word which the LORD has spoken against you, sons of Israel, against the entire family which He brought up from the land of Egypt:
The call “hear this word” is also heard in Amos 4 and Amos 5 (Amos 4:1; 5:1). These are words that call for all work to be stopped in order to listen attentively to “this word”. The fact that it is a word “which the LORD has spoken against you” emphasizes the importance of listening. None other than the LORD speaks and it concerns none other than themselves, the “sons of Israel”. These are all compelling reasons to focus your ears. Here the whole people are spoken to, Judah and the ten tribes, because reference is made to “the entire family” that the LORD led “out of the land of Egypt”.
With these words Amos also makes the connection with the origin of their people’s existence. Familiar as they are with their folk history, they know that Egypt is the land where they had to perform hard slave labor. They could never have freed themselves from this slavery. That they now live in Israel, they owe it to the liberating love and power of the LORD.
2 You Only Have I Known
2 “You only have I known among all the families of the earth;
Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
It is the exclusive privilege of Israel that the LORD knows them. To know them here is to know them in love and expresses a special intimacy. The LORD says the same of Jeremiah when He tells him how He knew him before the womb (Jer 1:5a). The word ‘knowing’ incorporates the thought of the sovereign acting of God, who chooses the object of His knowledge for His purpose and sets it apart. Knowing is not but a ‘knowledge of’ or ‘being familiar with’, but a knowledge of the deepest being of the people or of a human being as something that expresses fellowship. That God knows His people means that He has fellowship with them.
A people that have been given such a special place cannot but receive a special assessment. That special assessment is reflected in the serious “therefore”. Israel believes that because of its election and its special position it will not be treated like the surrounding peoples. But God will punish the people all the more for their sinful behavior precisely because of their close relationship with Him. No iniquity is overlooked: “All your iniquities.”
The measure of relationship is always the measure of responsibility. That is why this verse is so important for Christians. They are in a special relationship with God. The sins of God’s people are always more grievous to Him than the sins of other nations. Those other nations live in ignorance of Him, while He has made His people known with His will.
An example can help to clarify this difference in treatment. Imagine a group of boys doing something that is not allowed. A policeman just passing by, grabs one in the collar and gives him a big beating. Bystanders shout: ‘They all did it!’ ‘I know’, says the policeman, ‘but this boy is my son’. You can be sure that the policeman will also have a serious talk with his son at home.
In Leviticus 4 it also becomes clear that it does matter who commits a sin. There it can be seen from the size of the sacrifice that has to be offered in case of sin. The sin of a prince, a prominent person among the people, is taken more severely than that of an ordinary member of the people. The Lord Jesus speaks in the same way (Lk 12:47-48; cf. Mt 11:20-24).
3 An Appointment
3 Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?
When you travel with someone else or start something, it is important that you have taken a good look at the expectations that each has of this going together. This is also true, for example, for a marriage and a business. If you travel together with people, it is possible that a party has unfounded or too high expectations. This going together can lead to many disappointments, so much so that sometimes a split up occurs.
Why is that? Because the basis of the ‘negotiations’ lies in people, in their ideas and opinions about going that way. Often people also agree by making concessions and compromises. The Samen op Weg-proces (Together on the Road-process) in the Netherlands is an example of this. It is the name of the process of the attempts to closer cooperation of the Dutch Reformed Church, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Netherlands since 1961. These churches were called the Samen op Weg (Together on the Road) churches. As of May 1, 2004 this resulted in the merger of the churches into the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.
It is different when God is involved in a going or walking together. And that is what we are talking about here. Who wants to go on the road together with God, will not be able to make a deal with Him. Going on the road together with God is only possible if you made an appointment with Him. Meeting Him means going into His presence and adapting completely to His holiness. It is impossible to walk with God without being at peace with Him. Walking with God, being with Him, can only be done by separating yourself from evil. Walking with God means listening to Him, obeying His Word.
Surely you do not go on the road with someone else, without having made an appointment with him. Otherwise you should not start. For Amos it is clear. He is has made an appointment with God, he completely agrees with Him. Amos and God are on the same wavelength. That is why Amos can be used by God as His prophet, as His mouth. Amos speaks the language of God and he speaks the language of the people. The language of God comes to the people in understandable words.
Amos will support the right and duty to prophesy in the following verses by means of examples taken from life. He does this because the announcement of the punishment for the iniquities arouses resistance. He is going to explain that God does not threaten with judgment if there is no reason for it, if He does not have a people before Himself that is ripe for that judgment. Therefore, the question of this verse also includes a call to repentance, a call to make an appointment with God. If not, He will have to be their adversary (Lev 26:23-24).
4 Cause and Effect in the Forest
4 Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey?
Does a young lion growl from his den unless he has captured [something]?
The question in verse 3 is the first of seven poignant questions asked sequentially in these verses. Amos takes us for the following questions
1. to the forest (verse 4),
2. to the field (verse 5) and
3. to the city (verse 6).
After the introductory question of verse 3, the following questions are meant to make us think about cause and effect. God wants to teach us and make it clear that nothing ‘happens by chance’.
A lion does not roar just like that. His roar has a cause, a reason. Thus, what happens in our lives is not the result of blind forces, but of an established plan of God in Whose hand our life rests. He leads our lives and controls all events.
Now someone may think: ‘But God does not lead me if I choose a path of sin.’ No, God indeed does not lead that, but He does lead the circumstances in a way that He wants to bring us back to Him. God is always above evil and sin. In the following verses Amos works this out.
Amos as a sheepherder knows what the roaring of the lion means: it is a warning of approaching danger. This roaring of the lion refers to the mighty voice of God that He makes heard. The cause is the sin of His people, which He must judge.
Yet God does not act without first warning His people. That is why He raises His mighty voice through His prophets to whom He has revealed what He is going to do (verse 7). In His judgment of His people, the LORD presents Himself as a lion and a young lion (cf. Hos 5:14). A young lion can refer to a lesser or partial judgment.
5 Cause and Effect in the Field
5 Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground when there is no bait in it?
Does a trap spring up from the earth when it captures nothing at all?
In verse 4 the fact is expressed that the LORD already has the people in His power as prey. He does not tear yet, but roars. He warns as it were. In the first question of verse 5 we see that Israel itself is to blame for this situation. Just as a bird shoots at a bait and is then caught in the trap, so someone shoots in ruin because sin pulls him into it. The bait is sin.
The people have brought destruction upon themselves by not walking with God but rather, choosing the way of sin. The meaning is: Can destruction strike a person when sin does not draw him into it? No one is ruined without looking for it himself.
The first question in this verse is about the behavior of the bird. The second question is about the working of the trap. Both parts of the verse are about the sin of Israel, but approach it from a different point of view. The trap represents the judgment of God. He makes those who sin His prisoners. The trap symbolizes the means available to God which are effective in their use. They will reach their goal because Israel has gone the way of sin.
But a warning precedes the judgment. We see it in the following verse.
6 Cause and Effect in the City
6 If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble?
If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?
Every previous question starts with the effect, for example: the bird is caught: then comes the cause: because of bait. That order is now reversed. We now first have the cause: the blowing of the trumpet; then the effect: the trembling or frightening of the inhabitants of the city. The sound of the trumpet from the city wall warns the city that intruders are approaching (Eze 33:1-3).
The trumpet represents the voice of the prophets. It is not listened to (Jer 6:17), because the people are gazing at their prosperity. They go on as if there were no danger and no warning. Every disaster that strikes a human being or a community of people, a city, is meant by God as a punishment. The word ‘discipline’ has a negative sound for some people. But it has to do with education. Its meaning is ‘pulling’. God disciplines to educate His people and to draw them to Himself. Also, discipline does not always have to be ‘corrective’, as a result of sins committed. It can also be ‘preventive’, to prevent us from sinning.
Another mistake we can make when we are disciplined is that we remain sticking to the means God uses to discipline. That is the case if we start giving our own explanations for example for illness, an accident, unemployment, children going their own way, while we do not think about the fact that God makes these things happen to us. We must learn not to look at second causes, the instruments, because there is nothing that happens outside of Him. No sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father (Mt 10:29). How much less can a disaster occur in a city without Him.
The foregoing is not meant to be a cheap solution for dramatic and shocking events or even crimes that have happened to someone. There are acts that can be done to someone, that can ruin someone’s life. In such cases, one can only hope and pray that the victim may eventually come to entrust himself completely to God. He was there when that terrible thing happened.
He did not intervene, that is true, but that does not mean he wanted this terrible thing or even agreed with it. He cried with him or her. Whoever can get to the point of looking at God beyond this personal catastrophe and its cause, will experience His consolation and alleviation of pain on the way to healing.
The thought of sin, as if God would work it, is completely misplaced. That is also not what Amos says. It is always, and certainly here, necessary to see the context of the verses in which it is written. Then it becomes clear that God is not the Processor, the Author of sin. Evil has a punitive character here. It is a disaster, such as an invasion by hostile forces, the sword, famine, or plague, as the necessary consequence of sin (Isa 45:7).
7 The LORD Reveals His Secret
7 Surely the LORD GOD does nothing
Unless He reveals His secret counsel
To His servants the prophets.
It is a tremendous privilege that God tells us what He plans to do. This privilege is the part of the ‘friends’ of the Lord Jesus, His disciples (Jn 15:15). God has revealed to all Christians through His Spirit what He has prepared for those who love Him (1Cor 2:10-16). And Peter writes in his second letter about upcoming events and concludes his letter with: “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard” (2Pet 3:17a).
Why then is it that so many people are not aware of God’s purposes? Because they do not meet the conditions attached to them. Are we ‘friends’ of the Lord Jesus, followers, disciples, of Him? Do we really love God and let ourselves be led by the Holy Spirit? For the things of God are only understood by spiritually minded Christians. Do we read in God’s Word to know what is in it? God has told us everything, but we must take note of it. And are we prepared to do what He says?
The latter is what Amos is talking about. He speaks about “His servants”. A servant is someone who is in the service of a boss and from whom is expected to carry out the orders of his boss. God can reveal His counsel to such people. To them He can reveal the things He is going to do. If we take God’s announcements to heart about what He is going to do, we can go a certain way. Everything He has to say, He has revealed to us in His Word.
We read in the Old Testament how He confided in servants like Noah, Abraham, Joseph and many others about the judgments that were to come. In the New Testament we read how the Lord Jesus told His disciples about future events (Lk 21:20-24). And don’t we have “the prophetic word” (2Pet 1:19) like the whole book of Revelation? What do we do with all these confidential messages from our Lord?
8 There Must Be a Reaction
8 A lion has roared! Who will not fear?
The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?
Amos does not apply the examples of cause and effect only to his hearers. He himself also does something with them. His speaking is the consequence of the speaking of the LORD. He has to speak because as a prophet he is in a direct connection with Him. What Amos has said and will say, seems to the hearers not at all a word of God. The people can say in rejection: ‘How can this man speak like this, where does he get the guts from?’ And Amos says: ‘I cannot do otherwise, because the LORD has spoken.’
No lion roars without prey, no bird is caught without bait, and no prophet speaks without hearing a word from the LORD. And when the LORD speaks, he cannot remain silent. Amos proves with the examples quoted that he must speak, because the LORD has spoken to him. He who criticizes Amos, criticizes the LORD.
The LORD has made His warning voice heard with great power in all kinds of events. Many have remained deaf to it. The prophets are God’s voice to the conscience of the people. They want to point again to God’s warnings, so that the people will come to repentance. Whoever is aware of what God is going to do, cannot but speak about it (Acts 4:20; Jer 20:9; 1Cor 9:16). If we are convinced of the truth of God’s Word and the seriousness of the judgment it announces about those who disobey God, it will encourage us to testify of the Lord Jesus: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2Cor 5:11a).
We are not allowed to pass on anything but what God has told us. A willful explanation of what He has said is not permitted. If He has not spoken, every statement of any man, no matter how learned, is worth as little as that of another. Its value is nil, not to speak of a harmful effect. Only the Word of God keeps its value forever and proves its validity in all times and situations. Whoever has realized this, wants to pass on this Word to others.
9 Proclaim on the citadels in Ashdod and on the citadels in the land of Egypt and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria and see [the] great tumults within her and [the] oppressions in her midst.
After justifying his service as a prophet, Amos now unreservedly announces the verdict that must come over the ten tribes. The command of the LORD to the prophets is: “Proclaim.” They must call Asdod and Egypt to witness the violence and atrocities taking place in the citadels of Samaria. For this they must sit on the mountains of Samaria and see what is going on there. From what they have seen, they have to testify again to Israel.
By this action of the LORD the excess of the sins of Israel is presented in a shameful manner (cf. 2Sam 1:20). What a humiliation it is for the people of God when they have to be judged by heathens. Sometimes the world has a more correct judgment of evil by the people of God than the Christian himself. The Philistines, represented in the city of Asdod, are the people closest to them. Egypt is the known great empire.
What God has revealed must be preached, near and far. By making them witnesses to the sins of Samaria, the enemies must understand that God rightly uses them to discipline His people. Ashdod and Egypt are called to bear witness to Israel’s iniquity, which is expressed here in disturbance and oppression. There is general (social) injustice, and the mighty people abuse their position to oppress others. The whole social life is disrupted (Ecc 4:1).
By the way, the fact that God uses them to discipline His people should not lead the people around them to think that they themselves are better. To put it in New Testament language, they will have to realize that it is “time for judgment to begin with the household of God”. Then it will affect them and what will be the outcome for them? (1Pet 4:17).
10 Why the Judgment Comes
10 But they do not know how to do what is right,” declares the LORD, “these who hoard up violence and devastation in their citadels.”
“They do not know how to do what is right” means that doing right is totally strange to them. It is a road they have never taken, they have no knowledge of it at all. What they know and do is the opposite: they accumulate injustice and violence in their citadels.
How expressive is the language of Amos here. Their houses are like warehouses, filled with all kinds of prosperity goods. But by hoarding up these goods they are also hoarding up their social sins, because they owe their stock to violence and oppression. If you look at these piled up goods, you can see their accumulated sins. Their moral sentences are so twisted, that they no longer distinguish between good and evil. Doing injustice has become their nature.
11 The Enemy Does Its Work
11 Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD,
“An enemy, even one surrounding the land,
Will pull down your strength from you
And your citadels will be looted.”
They will be delighted to see their ever larger piles of goods. But the pleasure in it will disappear. Their luxury homes will be plundered by the enemy. That is the result if God looks at our goods differently than we do. He sees any increase in their possessions as an increase in their sins, because of the unlawful way in which they obtained them.
His judgment of their sins is seen by Amos and what he sees, he passes on. The enemy will invade and take the land from all sides. He will encircle the cities (cf. Lk 19:43) and humiliate the arrogant people by tearing down their “strength”, which are the walls and towers, and destroying their “citadels”, which are their luxurious dwellings. It is most obvious to think of the enemy as Assyria, who in 722 BC will take away the population of the ten tribes empire in the scattering.
12 Only a Remnant Is Saved
12 Thus says the LORD,
“Just as the shepherd snatches from the lion’s mouth a couple of legs or a piece of an ear,
So will the sons of Israel dwelling in Samaria be snatched away—
With [the] corner of a bed and [the] cover of a couch!
Of the people who live in such wealth and tranquility, hardly anything will remain, comparatively nothing. Only a remnant will be saved (Amos 4:11; 5:15; 9:8), a miserable little heap, not even a shadow of the former abundance. Yet there is a remnant, as God will always provide for a remnant according to His gracious choice (Rom 11:5). Later we meet an Anna, from the tribe of Asher (Lk 2:36-38). She does not have a winter or summer house (Amos 3:15), but is in God’s house day and night.
This remnant will be characterized by a balanced walk to the honor of God, of which the “a couple of legs” speak, and a listening to Him, of which we may think at “a piece of an ear”. Also in the present time, that of Christianity, in which the decay increases hand over hand and on which God’s judgment has been announced, there is a remnant. It consists of all those who do not resign themselves to the general decline in Christianity as a result of the increasing abandonment of the Word of God.
In Revelation 2-3 the decline in Christianity is presented in the seven epistles to the seven churches. All those who do not go along with the evil mentioned in the letter in question are called ‘overcomers’. They form the remnant in the midst of the whole. Their characteristics are: they walk in allegiance to the Lord and to His Word and they have an ear to hear.
This remnant contrasts sharply with the people on their beds and couches. These are the people of whom Peter says: “They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you” (2Pet 2:13). They bathe themselves in opulence and laziness and surround themselves with everything that can satisfy their carnal pleasures.
13 An Interruption
13 “Hear and testify against the house of Jacob,”
Declares the Lord GOD, the God of hosts.
For a moment the announcement of judgment is interrupted. For a moment a pause to let what has been said sink in. That rest is used to make a serious appeal to the people. May the people hear! The Speaker is indicated in a grand and impressive way. The words “hear and testify” come from none other than “the Lord LORD, the God of hosts”. He introduces himself here as their “Lord”, Adonai, their Commander. He is the “LORD”, Yahweh, Who has brought Himself into a covenant with them. He stands at the head of all heavenly and earthly army forces, He is “the God of hosts”.
To whom this “hear” is addressed, is not said. One possibility is that it is addressed again to the heathens of verse 9. They have seen what Samaria does. They have also heard the punishment that God announces about it. Now they have to warn the house of Jacob. “Testify” is the solemn assurance of what has been said and warning that what has been said will come.
14 Judgment on the False Religion
14 “For on the day that I punish Israel’s transgressions,
I will also punish the altars of Bethel;
The horns of the altar will be cut off
And they will fall to the ground.
The judgment on the altars of Bethel recalls the word of the man of God from Judah in the days of Jeroboam I (1Kgs 13:1-5). The word spoken at that time will be performed by Josiah one hundred years after Amos (2Kgs 23:15-16).
The horns are an important part of the altar (Exo 27:2; 30:2). They symbolize the power of the altar. If the horns are cut off, the altar is destroyed and powerless in its workings. They are no longer there to hold on to in order to possibly escape judgment (1Kgs 1:50; cf. Exo 21:12-14).
This judgment on the altars is in fact the judgment on all idolatry that takes place in Bethel. Because this sin of idolatry is the basis for the other sins, Amos, in between the judgments about wealth and oppression, pronounces this judgment about the false religion. In fact, every sinful behavior a member of the people exhibits stems from a sinful service to God. It is also possible to see the horns of the altar as a symbol of everything to which a person thinks he can take refuge in the (false) certainty that it is all right there.
15 Houses Are Destroyed
15 “I will also smite the winter house together with the summer house;
The houses of ivory will also perish
And the great houses will come to an end,”
Declares the LORD.
When ‘the house of God’ – that is the meaning of the name ‘Bethel’ – perishes, there can no longer be a right to exist for any house. Bethel no longer honors his name. God has been replaced by idols. The judgment of Bethel was announced in the previous verse. As prosperity is pursued, God disappears from sight. The luxury in which the people bathe is an annoyance to the peasant Amos. Several times he bursts out against it with a justified indignation (Amos 3:12,15; 5:11; 6:1,4-6).
The prosperity of the time of Amos can easily be translated to the time in which we, Christians of the twenty-first century, live. The economy is running at full speed. Everyone, we are told, is increasingly prosperous. As long as this is repeated often enough and becomes palpably true, the enormous danger looms up that we, too, will allow ourselves to be carried away by what someone once called the ‘belief in progress’.
Are the ‘winter house’ and the ‘summer house’ mentioned by Amos not close to us even in a literal sense? After all, many Christians own two houses. One in the Netherlands for the summer, one in Spain to spend the winter there. To have only one copy of something is not always enough anymore. Two cars, twice a year on vacation, two smart phones and so on.
We have to have everything double, because often we have two incomes. And if that does not quite work out, we take out a personal loan. Well, you do not want to lag behind. The money is within reach. One signature and the matter is settled. We profess to be Christians, but don’t we live in the meantime as calculating and egocentric as the people around us? Where in all this is the dependence on God?
This word also applies with all its force to us if we only have one house and one car and if we only go on vacation once a year. We can decorate our house in such a way that it can serve as a place in which we think we can survive in all possible situations. We are prepared for anything and have covered ourselves against all possible calamities. And that one vacation must and will come. We need it and we are entitled to it. And our one car has the place of an ‘altar of Bethel’. What sacrifices are made to idol car! And clean up, guys; be careful not to scratch or dent it. It is our status symbol.
Do we know who also has a winter house? King Jehoiakim, the wicked son of the God-fearing King Josiah. What is he doing there? Cutting the Word of God to pieces (Jer 36:16-26). We should think about how much we have already ‘cut away’ from the Word of God with all our luxury. And Ahab, the most wicked king of Israel, has an ivory house (1Kgs 22:39).
All that wealth will be taken away by judgment and ultimately disappear. The judgment that Amos announces about these houses may have been carried out by the earthquake we read about at the beginning of his prophecy. In any case, it will have happened at the conquest of Samaria by Shalmaneser (2Kgs 17:5-7).
The application to our time we see on the housing market. People with towering mortgages are totally grounded. Mandatory housing sales result from people in great financial distress.