In the first two chapters (his first sermon) Amos pictures God as a roaring lion, a holy judge moving against the unrighteousness of the nations . Many people in our society, Christian and non-Christian, would cheer as he condemns the war-mongers, baby-killers and poor-abusers. But the point of the passage is this: all of us deserve God’s punishment. We all have skeletons in the closet and we desperately need someone to save us. (click “Read the rest of this entry” for a longer exegesis).
In these two chapters we have a brief introduction to the book (1:1-2), judgement of the Gentile nations (1:3-2:3) and judgement of God’s people (2:4-16).
This introduction introduces us to Amos, who began life as a shepherd not a prophet; tells us these words were not his, but were words he “saw” (i.e. they were from God not man); and tells us the period in which the prophecies were given. It emphasises that it is the God of Israel that is roaring with anger.
Application for non-Christians: The words in this book claim to be the words of Yahweh, the true God. Consider if these are the words of the true God who rules the Universe and if they are what you should do in response.
Application for Christians: God is not just a God of love, he roars with justice too.
Judgement of the Gentile Nations (1:3-2:3)
The Gentiles were the non-Jewish nations, the people who weren’t Christians. They follow a similar three fold pattern. Firstly, God says “For three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment”. There are many interpretations of the “for three…for four…” idea but it seems to amount to the sins of the people piling up before God’s throne. Due to this ever increasing number of sins God will never revoke the punishment. No parole, this is life long punishment.
Then God states a crime for which the nation is punished. These are always violent or cruel crimes (the burning to lime in 2:1 is probably a pagan ritual that they believed sent the King of Edom to hell, a cruelty God will not stand for). Most of them are against Israel, but interestingly Moab’s sin is against Israel’s greatest enemy.
Then a punishment is given. These differ in accordance with the severity of the crime. All of them involve a destroying of the strongholds, the great fortresses they put their hope in and many involve death of kings, destruction of great cities, wars or exiles.
Application for non-Christians: The whole world is judged fairly by God. Every “stronghold” of yours, everything you cling to in this world will be destroyed by a just God for your crimes. This is what we call hell. God is the only stronghold that will survive.
Application for Christians: God will judge those that persecute us for doing his will. He rules the whole Earth with justice. One day every wrong will be put to right.
Judgement of God’s People (2:4-16)
Imagine being Israelites hearing this new prophet. You quite like him! He criticises each of your enemies and promises destruction on each city. As he pronounces punishment on Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom and the Ammonites for all their sins against you you let out a roar of approval. He definitely is a prophet from God! He knows everything wrong your enemies have ever done. Then things go down hill…
Firstly, he criticises your ally Moab for crimes against your greatest enemy Edom. Who’s side is your God on?
Then he criticises “holier than thou” Judah, as if they were any other nation. Judah have always been the better nation of the two of you, yet he criticises them for two crimes, rejecting the law of God and walking after their ancestor’s lies. You start to get a bit hot under the collar. You know what’s coming.
Then the prophet rails off into an attack on the sins of you and your people. He gets so carried away he forgets his structure. Sin after sin is dragged into the open. The judges are selling off the innocent for bribes; the needy are given no financial help because the rich value pricey sandals more. He talks about you and your dad having sex with the same woman beside an altar, on clothes that should have been donated the poor. He talks about how you got blind drunk in the places meant to worship God, again with wine bought with unjust fines. You try to hide your red face but it just won’t work.
Then Amos speaks as if he were Yahweh, personally offended that the same nation he cared for left him. He brought us out of Egypt, cast out all nations in the promised land and gave you clergymen (prophets and Nazirites) that you might go his way. Yet he knows know how you got the teetotal Nazirite drunk last night and he knows that you’ve told the prophets to shut up. So he is angry, promising you won’t be able to run. Like a cart that it is weighed down, you will be too slow to escape as Yahweh comes to judge you.
Amos does exactly what Paul does in Romans 1-2. He draws us in, criticising our enemies and then says “You haven’t done any better!”. We can’t deny it. The pronouncement is true. God’s people are as bad as the nations.
Application for non-Christians: God is a just judge. Do you see the corruption of the Church? Do you see the evils that they do? So does he, and he will punish it. Don’t be put off by the sin of his people. God is holy. He deals with all sin.
Application for Christians: Don’t think hiding in the back of a church will cover over your sins. Abuse of the poor and weak and breaking his law are deeds not acceptable to Yahweh. Our sins are seen by God whether we are saved or not (and within the “visible” church building there are always those who aren’t saved, even if they think they are). We must obey God’s law and live to his perfect standard.
So the application is the same for us all. God judges everyone, including you, and we all fail the test. We all need to trust in Jesus, let him take the punishment for our sin. We all have sinned. We all have a price to pay. Let’s not shift the blame we’ve all done wrong. Why not have Jesus take the punishment instead? Why not trust in him to save us from inevitable judgement?