Amos Speaks Again … Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Amos Speaks Again

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

Having presented His indictment of Israel’s neighbors, the Lord now turns His attention toward the two Jewish Kingdoms, the Southern Kingdom of Judah first. We ended part one in verse 3 of chapter 2, so we’ll pick up the narrative in verse 4.

Amos 2

This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back {my wrath}. Because they have rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed, I will send fire upon Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.” (Amos 2:4-5)

The Lord called Amos to prophesy primarily to the Northern Kingdom, during the same time that Isaiah was His spokesman to the South. Even so, He had Amos give this short message to Judah before launching into a full scale rant against the North.

Although it was nearly 150 years away, judgment of the South was coming. The warning provided by the imminent destruction of the North by the Assyrians would be ignored and so the Lord would send Babylon against the South. In the process the City of Jerusalem including the magnificent Temple of Solomon would be put to the torch and exist no more. (2 Chron. 36:19)

Before they were taken captive to Babylon, the Lord had Jeremiah tell the people not to resist this, but to go to Babylon and settle there because after 70 years He would bring them back.

He told them, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:10-11)

As we’ll see now, He made no such promise to the Northern Kingdom.

Judgment on Israel

This is what the LORD says:

“For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back {my wrath}. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines (Amos 2:6-8).

Someone has said, “When the bonds between God and man are broken, the bonds between man and man can fare no better.” This picture of the oppression of the lower class by people of privilege is only the beginning of the Lord’s indictment against Israel but it proves the point and provides a good lesson for us.

The Northern Kingdom split from the South over idolatry. Having freed themselves from the restraints provided by God’s Law, they yielded to man’s natural inclination to mistreat the less fortunate. This was a violation of the Law. The Lord had laid down very clear and strict laws to protect servants and the poor, but these laws were being scandalously ignored. Household servants were bought and sold for a pittance. Female servants were turned into family prostitutes. Garments taken in pledge (as security for a loan) were illegally kept over night, and the practice of levying exorbitant fines to settle trumped up charges was common. Often it literally took the clothes off the backs of the poor and food off their tables.

Today even in developed countries the injustices suffered by the poor are different but just as abhorrent. But, to follow up on a couple of the examples above, women and girls of all races are still sold as slaves in the sex trade, as trafficking in humans continues worldwide. Some nations still maintain low age of consent laws to encourage sex tourism with the lure of young girls.

In the US and Europe , years of easy credit followed by declining economies has had the effect of placing millions of people in life long financial servitude.  The reduced purchasing power of their currencies further compounds the problem, and leaves untold numbers of hard working people with no hope of ever being free.  In the meantime the gap between the rich and the poor grows ever wider.

Where is the moral restraint that used to prevent mercenary lenders from exposing vulnerable consumers to temptations they aren’t savvy enough to resist? Where is the public outcry that just a few decades ago would have demanded that the human traffickers be prosecuted under the same laws that put an end to slave trading a few hundred years ago? It disappeared when God was drummed out of our society.

“I destroyed the Amorite before them, though he was tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks. I destroyed his fruit above and his roots below. “I brought you up out of Egypt, and I led you forty years in the desert to give you the land of the Amorites. I also raised up prophets from among your sons and Nazirites from among your young men. Is this not true, people of Israel?” declares the LORD. “But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.

“Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain. The swift will not escape, the strong will not muster their strength, and the warrior will not save his life. The archer will not stand his ground, the fleet-footed soldier will not get away, and the horseman will not save his life. Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,” declares the LORD. (Amos 2:9-16)

When God promised the land of the Amorites  to Abraham, He said the transaction wouldn’t take place for 400 years “because the sin of the Amorites has not reached its full measure.” (Genesis 15:16) Knowing the end from the beginning, God knew that the Amorites wouldn’t repent of their evil ways. But He was going to give them the time anyway,  so they couldn’t say He hadn’t warned them.

Though the Bible doesn’t speak of it, the character of God would have demanded that He tell them their time was running out. (In a few verses we’ll see Him implying just that in respect to Israel.) Remember, for a time after the flood all the people of the Earth worshiped God.  By Abraham’s time most had fallen away, discarding the truth of their origins in favor of outrageous lies that became the basis for their false religions.

But certainly the knowledge of their past still existed somewhere in their memories.  And at least one of Noah’s sons, Shem, was still alive and living in the region of the Amorites during the time that Abraham traveled the length and breadth of their territories (Genesis 13:17)  and could have borne witness to them.  These circumstances tell us it wasn’t that God hadn’t warned them to change their ways, but that they hadn’t listened.  So, when the time was up He brought the Israelites under the command of Joshua as His agents of judgment and the Amorites were dispossessed.

Now the very nation who saw first hand how God feels about false religion was indulging in the same behavior they had judged in the Amorites. What’s more, they too had ignored the warnings of the prophets and even undermined the efforts of those who tried to remain holy.  How could they think that God would not judge them?

The South didn’t learn the lesson of the North, so they were judged as well.  And the world today hasn’t learned the lesson of either.  God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. (Hebr. 13:8) How can we think that He won’t judge us?

Amos 3

Witnesses Summoned Against Israel

Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel—against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.”

Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? Does a lion roar in the thicket when he has no prey? Does he growl in his den when he has caught nothing? Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground where no snare has been set? Does a trap spring up from the earth when there is nothing to catch? When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it? Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:1-7)

These examples show that while God’s promises to Abraham were unconditional, His relationship with Israel was based on cause and effect. Obedience brought blessing and disobedience brought judgment. In fact the entire Old Testament can be boiled down to just one question. “Israel, are you going to obey me or not?”

Just as Israel was warned by the prophets, so too is the world of today.  We should take comfort from the promise that God will never do anything without informing us first.  No surprises, except to those who refuse to believe the warnings.  Paul wrote that the judgments that came upon Israel were also meant to warn us, upon whom the fulfillment of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:11).  He distinguished the believers from the unbelievers at the end of the age by saying that the former would not be taken by surprise, while the latter would (1 Thes. 5:3-4).  It turns out that even though His promises to the Church are unconditional, mankind’s relationship with God is still based on cause and effect.  Belief brings blessings while unbelief brings judgment.  Like the Old, the New Testament can be boiled down to one question as well. Mankind, are you going to believe me or not?

The lion has roared— who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken— who can but prophesy? Proclaim to the fortresses of Ashdod and to the fortresses of Egypt: “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria; see the great unrest within her and the oppression among her people.” (Amos 3:8-9)

Even the pagan leaders of Philistia and Egypt would agree that God’s judgment upon the Northern Kingdom is just and well deserved.

“They do not know how to do right,” declares the LORD, “who hoard plunder and loot in their fortresses.” 

Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
“An enemy will overrun the land; he will pull down your strongholds and plunder your fortresses.”

This is what the LORD says:

“As a shepherd saves from the lion’s mouth only two leg bones or a piece of an ear, so will the Israelites be saved, those who sit in Samaria on the edge of their beds and in Damascus on their couches.” (Amos 3:10-12)

Having severed their connection with their Creator, they no longer had the ability to distinguish right from wrong. Therefore the Lord was sending Assyria to judge them. On their way the Assyrians would conquer Damascus as well.

Because of their numerous conquests, the Assyrian Empire was growing. Without a strategy to prevent it, they’d soon spend all their time keeping the peace, as conquered nations mounted efforts to regain their independence. So when the Assyrians conquered an enemy, they took all those among the survivors who looked like potential leaders and scattered them around the Empire, leaving in place only those who posed no threat.

The Lord had Amos use a shepherd’s analogy to describe this. When a wild animal devoured a sheep, the shepherd would save the discarded parts of the animal for the owner’s inspection to prove that it was eaten and not lost or stolen.  Just so, the Lord would preserve only a remnant of Israel as proof that a judgment had taken place.  When the Assyrians led the captives of the Northern Kingdom away, they left only a few survivors behind to protect the harvest.

“Hear this and testify against the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord, the LORD God Almighty. “On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground. I will tear down the winter house along with the summer house; the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished,” declares the LORD. (Amos 3:10-15)

Shortly after the civil war, a golden calf had been set up in Bethel near the site where Jacob had seen the ladder ascending into heaven. (Genesis 28:10-19) Bethel soon became a center of pagan worship that the Lord sometimes called Beth Aven, or House of Evil. Their religion disgusted Him and its centers would be destroyed. Likewise the fine houses of the wealthy, bought with the money they extorted from the poor, would be leveled to the ground.

The lesson here is clear. The Lord is patient, allowing ample time for His disobedient children to return to the righteous way. But there comes a time when His patience runs out and His justice demands accountability. We are on the cusp of that time today, and the prophecies tell us that since we haven’t learned the lessons of history, we’re doomed to repeat them.  Stay tuned. 02-23-13

Amos Speaks Again … Part 1

Amos Speaks Again … Part 3

Amos Speaks Again … Part 4

Amos Speaks Again … Part 5