Amos 1:3-2:6 – A World Without Priests

Eight Judgements

Amos 1:3 The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Damascus for three crimes, even four, because they threshed Gilead with iron sledges. 4 Therefore, I will send fire against Hazael’s palace, and it will consume Ben-hadad’s citadels. 5 I will break down the gates of Damascus. I will cut off the ruler from the Valley of Aven, and the one who wields the scepter from Beth-eden. The people of Aram will be exiled to Kir. The Lord has spoken.

6 The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Gaza for three crimes, even four, because they exiled a whole community, handing them over to Edom. 7 Therefore, I will send fire against the walls of Gaza, and it will consume its citadels. 8 I will cut off the ruler from Ashdod, and the one who wields the scepter from Ashkelon. I will also turn My hand against Ekron, and the remainder of the Philistines will perish. The Lord God has spoken.

9 The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Tyre for three crimes, even four, because they handed over a whole community of exiles to Edom and broke a treaty of brotherhood. 10 Therefore, I will send fire against the walls of Tyre, and it will consume its citadels.

11 The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Edom for three crimes, even four, because he pursued his brother with the sword. He stifled his compassion, his anger tore at them continually, and he harbored his rage incessantly. 12 Therefore, I will send fire against Teman, and it will consume the citadels of Bozrah.

13 The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing the Ammonites for three crimes, even four, because they ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to enlarge their territory. 14 Therefore, I will set fire to the walls of Rabbah, and it will consume its citadels. There will be shouting on the day of battle and a violent wind on the day of the storm. 15 Their king and his princes will go into exile together. The Lord has spoken.

2:1 The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Moab for three crimes, even four, because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime. 2 Therefore, I will send fire against Moab, and it will consume the citadels of Kerioth. Moab will die with a tumult, with shouting and the sound of the ram’s horn. 3 I will cut off the judge from the land and kill all its officials with him. The Lord has spoken.

4 The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Judah for three crimes, even four, because they have rejected the instruction of the Lord and have not kept His statutes. The lies that their ancestors followed have led them astray. 5 Therefore, I will send fire against Judah, and it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem. Judgment on Israel

6 The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Israel for three crimes, even four,

For Three Transgressions and for Four

Seven represents completeness.  Seven days is a complete week, for example. Mathew 13 contains 7 parables, the book of Revelation addresses 7 churches, and 7 annual feasts on the Old Testament calendar. Examples could be multiplied.  While there is nothing magical about the number 7, the fact Amos uses the numbers 3 & 4 does hint that these nations may have reached a completeness in their sin. Additionally, Amos never actually lists 3 or 4 transgressions; so Amos is doing something rhetorically different than accusing the nations of 3-4 actual sins.

The idea that God, in grace, waits patiently until the sins of a nation are complete has some merit. Consider two examples:

Genesis 15:13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed[d] 400 years. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions. 15 But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a ripe old age. 16 In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

1 Thessalonians 2:16 Paul speaks of the wrath coming upon the Jews in Judea who were opposing “all mankind” by hindering Christians from speaking the gospel so as to “always fill up the measure of their sins.  But wrath has come upon them at last.” 

In both of these texts God has delayed his wrath until the sins of that nation reach full measure. Perhaps this is why Amos is speaking as if the judgment has already happened (The lion roared).  The nations are sinning so perfectly and completely that judgment will not be turned away.

3’s, 4’s & 7’s

A careful analysis of the judgments show Amos likely structured his text to according to these numbers.

  1. Four Kings will be entirely cut off
    • Note Judah’s King, of the Davidic line, is not one of these lineages that will be cut off
  2. Only the 4 times where a nation’s King or ruler is prophesied as coming to an end, Amos ends the oracle with “Says YHWH” or Lord YHWH.
  3. Three times an oracle gives extended reasons for God’s judgment: Tyre, Edom, & Judah
  4. Three times God sends fire or kindles one upon a wall of a Country’s citadel
  5. Four times specific capital cities are mentioned as being consumed

Grievous Sins

I am indebted to the following people: T.J Betts, J. A. Motyer, & Duane Garrett

Brutalizing people

The actions taken by Aram in the first oracle may be taken literally.  No similar type of symbolism is used in the other oracles and  it is unclear exactly what “threshing Gilead” would mean as a metaphor. 

Threshing is when an animal pulls a large wooden sled with pieces of rock, or in this case Iron, driven through the wood.  This sled is drug over grain to separate the seed from the stalk. Amos depicts the Aramaens as dragging these sleds with iron teeth across the people of Gildead–likely prisoners of war.

Now Israel, under king Jereboam II in this time period, had won back the land of Gilead from the Arameans.  God remembers, however.

Likewise, the Ammonites also attacked Gilead.  Gilead, was a fertile land east of the Jordan River, and situated south of Aram and north of Ammon.  They found themselves brutalized by both countries.  Ammon is specifically accused of ripping open Gilead’s pregnant women.

Third, Moab is also guilty of extreme cruelty and violence.  Even though Edom is implicated is two other oracles and is the subject of its very own judgment, God does not excuse Moab for burning the bones of Edom’s king to lime. The lime would likely be used as plaster for finishing a house or a temple.

Edom’s judgment contains some translation difficulties. Most translations record the sin as Edom…“Stifled his compassion.” This phrase has two primary words. The word translation compassion often carries this meaning. It is derived from the word that refers to a mother’s womb. A mothers care for her infant is may be how the word developed into the idea and emotion of compassion. The verb in the clause means to spoil or corrupt. In the days before the flood, God told Noah that man had corrupted the earth with their rebellion. However, when the verb has people/humans for its object, its meaning is almost always to destroy or annihilate.

This exact phrase is not attested anywhere else and the verb is nowhere else used with this noun. It could be Edom destroyed or corrupted his compassion. But it could also mean Edom destroyed women who were able to bear children. This last interpretation is given by Duane Garrett in his Baylor Handbook of Amos.

Whichever the case, we know Edom is certainly guilty of being a key player in the ancient Near Eastern slave trade, but they may also be guilty of more than harboring hatred for Judah. They may have been guilty of actions similar to that of Ammon.

Slavery

Tyre and Philistia both draw God’s ire for exiling and handing over to Edom whole communities. Tyre’s “breaking the covenant of brotherhood” likely indicates Tyre broke a treaty or alliance in order to sell the community for prophet.

Since both nations hand the people over to Edom, the communities forced into slavery probably landed in Arabia.

God’s is judging the nations for their barbaric cruelty and their propensity to sell humans like objects.

Judah

What could Judah have done like these nations to warrant a similar judgment? They rejected God’s Torah/instruction, and they did not keep his commands. The committed idolatry like their fathers.

It is interesting that the same judgment is being meted out upon Judah as
these other nations although the initial impression of Judah’s sin doesn’t seem to be as severe as Ammon’s ripping open pregnant women, for example. There are some implications here.

First, It seems that God’s judgment on the nations is not based on their response to His Word as revelation, but based on their breaking of the law that is natural to all mankind. Paul says in Romans 2 “When Gentiles, who do not by nature have the law, do what the law demands they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.”

Second, Judah can be blamed–to some extent–for the state of the nations around her. When God brought Judah up from Egypt, He told them they are to be a kingdom of priests. This means people as a whole were to perform a priestly service.

Now national Israel had a whole tribe devoted to the priesthood. Part of the function of a priest— after sin—is to bring sinners to God. This is done by prayers, supplications, and sacrifices, and the Levites performed this role for Israel.

So what does it mean for Israel as a nation to be a priest because the text is not speaking to the Levites? The answer is that Judah’s duty was to be a light to the nations by obeying God’s instruction, or Torah, and bringing the nations to worship God correctly. Judah’s failure to be this kingdom of priests results in the surrounding nations to be without mediation to God and to be without God’s instruction.

Although the nations are judged according to their works and to what they know, Judah is judged for knowing better. And instead of becoming God’s Kingdom of Priests, they became like the very nations they were surrounded by.

Christians have inherited this priestly role. Peter states in 1 Peter 2:9ff that Christians are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Notice the function Christians have as priests. They are to proclaim the excellencies of him who called them out of darkness. As priests there is a responsibility to proclaim God’s work of salvation. Using Amos’ oracles as a guide, part of this proclamation includes the fact that God will judge all people—individuals—and nations according to their works. What a fearful thing it would be to be judged by God who knows every deed and thought—and who will never have a lapse in memory. He’ll never forget.

Part of the Christian proclamation is to warn those prideful enough to believe they can enter into judgment based on their works and behavior in this life. They will be exposed and condemned. The good news is that a covenant mediator whose works can speak for us. A perfect righteousness has been made available and the nations do not have to bear his judgment any longer because sins can be atoned for.

The Rhetorical Structure of Amos’ First Message

A 7 Part Series?

Recall that Amos is from Judah and that a civil war between Judah and Israel is in recent memory. Amos’ message initially had to be well received—a southerner who “gets it.” Imagine being an Israelite and hearing this prophet. He begins by announcing God’s judgment upon northern Israel’s most hated enemy, Aram, and then moves to one of Israel’s most historic enemies the Philistines.

Amos looks like a prophet from Judah that the Israelites can get behind. Amos continues listing off countries and even mentions a few who brutalized their kinsmen in Gilead 3, 4, 5, 6 nations. Israel must have rejoiced. God is finally dealing with these pagan nations that have been thorns in their side. God is finally giving the nations what they deserve.

After condemning Moab, the Isralites must have wondered, “Who will be the seventh nation?” Remember that Hebrews loved to use 7 points for a sermon like a baptist preacher loves to use three alliterations. So, whose sin is so egregious that they will receive the final condemnation? Who could possibly be worse than these six? Amos then comes to Judah.

A small celebration could have probably taken place when Amos mentions God judging Judah. From a religious perspective, Judah always held that Jerusalem is where God must be worshiped and that Israel’s shrines and temple in Bethel were invalid. For a Judean to stand in the midst of Israel and condemn Judah for their failure to worship God would be a dream come true for Israel.

Looking at the map which shows the areas Amos pronounces judgments against, it seems that Amos is actually setting a trap here.

Like a bird in a snare, Amos is setting Israel up for an unsuspecting judgment.
As Amos starts rattling off nations, he is encircling Israel just as a snare around the ankle.

After the 7th oracle, Amos’s message should have been complete. In modern English, it’s common to make cases with three points. Whenever someone lists a series of descriptions or items, there is a natural impulse to list three things instead of just two—blank, blank, and blank.

After hearing Judah as the seventh in the list, Israelites were probably standing up getting ready to go to lunch after a fine service. The message should have been over. But, Amos was just getting started.

Shockingly, Amos doesn’t stop. He leans in… “I will not relent from punishing Israel, for three crimes, even four…” Shocked and angry, Israel is being condemned with an oracle that is nearly three times the length of Judah’s. And if Judah’s condemnation was 7th and most grievous, then what would being 8th mean?

The sheep breeder from Tekoa is not some ditz. He’s meticulous and cunning. He knows just how to get Israel’s undivided attention so that they would hear his oracle against them.

An Example

Paul tells Christians in 1 Corinthians 10:11 that the experiences of Israel may be seen as an example; that they were written down for the instruction of Christians, for whom the end of the ages has come.

Israel and Judah both set aside their primary instruction as it relates to them and the nations. They had rejected their mediatoral role as priests.

Christians are a new nation of priests to mediate God’s Word to the world. Do not grow weary of doing the work. In Amos’ day, Judah & Israel forfeited this role and succumbed to idolatry. They lost the only true distinction that could bring righteousness and salvation in the earth. Worshiping Ba’al, they becomes priests of oppression and injustice.

Remember that the work of being priests is secondary to knowing God as father through Jesus Christ; the only true way to know God. If we Christians do not root out the idols and ambitions that are set up against God, we will just become priests for those false gods. Amos’ first oracle was written as an example for us. Let us heed it.

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