Amos 1–2. Does God Judge All the Nations?
Key Notes: Good kings do not stop corruption. The Rift Valey and the earthquake. Indictment of three groups: pagan nations, blood relatives and Israel, north and south. The basis of international judgment. Sheep and goats. The persecution of Jesus' "brethren".
Amos is called the prophet of social justice and he is the source of the famous quote: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos.5:24). However, that oversimplifies his message. He begins with indictments of all of Israel’s neighbors (except Egypt), as if pointing the finger all around, but ends with God’s judgment on Judah and Israel as well. He wrote when Judah was enjoying peace and prosperity under Uzziah and when Israel was victorious under Jeroboam II. Jeroboam II, although wicked, had won a respite for Israel after a hundred years of oppression by Syria. By the mercy of God he was able to restore Israel’s lost territories. IIK.14:23–27
Uzziah, a godly king, was given power over the Philistines and Ammonites. He had a standing army of 300,000 and made catapults and other war machines. He was also a good farmer. He had a spiritual mentor, Zechariah. Having been so successful in these enterprises, he attempted to usurp the priest’s office and ended his life as a leper. IIChron.26
In spite of the godly example of Uzziah (and Amaziah and Joash before him) the life of the people continued to be corrupt. Elijah and Elisha had ended the worship of Baal but the people continued to pay lip-service to the worship of God with many transgressions: sexual sin, oppression of the poor, robbery, etc.
1:1 Amos gives us his name, his address (a village 7 mi. south of Bethlehem) and the time of his prophecy--- calculated between 810BC and 753BC. He was a shepherd and often uses farming terms.
He notes an important natural disaster, an earthquake also mentioned in Zech.14:5, which occurred two years before his prophecy. Israel lies in the fault line that extends from Lebanon to Lake Tanganyika running through the Jordan River. Shifting tektonic plates along this line make for earthquakes, some of which may be severe. Volcanoes and hot springs are further signs of instability. These geological disturbances may explain such diverse events as Sodom and Gomorrah and the disruption of the temple at the time of the Crucifixion. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem lies on this fault line and periodic repairs of the mosques are necessary. (The Geography of the Bible .D. Baly; Harpers,’57 is a rich resource.)
1:2 “The Lord from Zion”, His holy place, roars against the wickedness of the nations. The phrase is quoted in Joel 3:16 where God is also judging the nations.
The pastures at the top of Carmel wither. Mt. Carmel is an exceptionally beautiful coastal landscape and less likely to suffer drought than the drier inland hills.
Amos uses a template that is applied to eight nation-states.
“Thus says the Lord: for three transgressions and for four I will not revoke the punishment, because…
For three or four transgressions does not seem like very many, and undoubtedly there were many more, but the implication is that three or four would be enough. In most cases, the prophet mentions only one transgression.
The nations are divided into three groups:
Pagans—Syria, Philistia and Phoenicia
Relatives of Israel—Moab and Edom from the daughters of Lot, and Edom / Esau, Jacob’s brother.
Chosen people: Judah and Israel.
Please find them on a map.
1:3 Damascus/Syria was the first to be indicted, and it was probably the worst. “Threshing Gilead” is grinding up people, i.e., wiping them out. Gilead was the fertile wheat-growing plain east of the sea of Galilee, a frequent site of Syrian invasion. Jehoahaz had only 10,000 infantrymen left after prolonged war with Syria. Syria made them “like the dust at threshing.” (IIK.13:7) Hazael and Benhadad were the kings who preyed upon Israel. Damascus was going to be captured by Assyria and her people deported.
1:6 Gaza / Philistia kidnapped people from Judah and sold them to Edom. The tragedy is not described in Scripture. Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron are four of the five primary cities of Philistia, bordering the Mediterranean near Egypt. The fifth city of the Philistines was Gath. Was it spared in the invasions? Philistia was later over-run by the Assyrians.
1:9 The third nation-state was Tyre / Phoenicia, Lebanon of today. They also kidnapped Israelites for Edom. Joel 3:4–6 says they sold Israelites to the Greeks as well. The covenant of brotherhood probably refers to David’s friendship with Hiram of Tyre. (IK.5:1–12). Phoenicia was finally wiped out by Alexander and the Greeks centuries later.
1:11 Edom is the first of the ”relatives”. Jacob and Esau were brothers, centuries before. They had reconciled late in their lives, but there was no peace between their countries, Israel and Edom, after the Judges. Edom was listed as one of Saul’s enemies. (ISam.14:47) and David conquered it. (IISam.8:13–14). The prophet here charged them prophetically with harassing Judah at the time of the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem in 586BC. It was “hitting a fellow when he is down”. Obadiah describes it (Obad.10–14) in more detail. Ezekiel also took up the indictment. Ezek.35
1:13 Ammon committed atrocities in the process of extending their territory up into east Galilee. Jeremiah complained that Ammon was dispossessing Gad, east of Jordan. (Jer.49:1). Probably that also happened at the time of the Babylonian invasion.
2:1 The complaint against Moab is strange: they dissolved the bones of the king of Edom in lime. That was probably an act of desecrating the dead. It seems minor compared to some of the other crimes. What does it tell us about cremating the dead?
2:4 Judah’s indictment was for rejecting the Law of the Lord, simply that.
2:5 Israel, on the other hand, is cited with a list of perversions. Note that the Law is not mentioned. A hundred years before, Jehoshaphat had sent preaching and teaching missions throughout Judah (IIChron.17:9) , but Israel did not receive the same blessing.
*They oppressed the poor. Sleeping in a garment taken in pledge was forbidden. The outer coat, if taken in security, had to be given back by night-fall. The poor might not have another blanket. (Ex.22:26–27)
*They were guilty of sexual crimes like prostitution and incest.
*They drank wine that had been bought with money from fines in their idol’s temple. That may have been extortion.
*They tempted the Nazirite to drink wine.
*They stifled the prophets’ voices.
2:13 They would be oppressed—pressed down like sheaves in a cart. Even the strong would not be able to defend themselves.
Six of the nations around Israel and Judah were judged. The charges varied. They include crimes, atrocities and kidnapping against Israel, desecration of a king's body, rejecting the Law of God and social crimes. There are no exemptions for being a relative, or being ignorant of the Law. However, the nations are not being judged with reference to the Law of Moses. Since God judged all eight nations mentioned, we may ask whether God will judge all of the nations of the world? Or is He concerned only with Israel and her neighbors? “The nations” may be limited to the Middle Eastern sphere. If we find the phrase “all the nations”, suggesting a world-wide judgment, we may see the problem in a different light. If He were to judge all nations, what would the charges be?
“Why do the nations conspire, and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and His anointed….” (Psa.2:1–2). Psalm 2 describes a general, world-wide rebellion and judgment.
“Arise, O God, judge the earth, for to Thee belong all the nations.” (Psa.82:8). This Psalm indicts the rulers of the nations for injustice against the weak, the needy, and the fatherless.
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats….
This is plainly world-wide. What is the basis of the judgment? How can all the nations be divided into two categories? How can the whole world be held to one standard?
It is care—or failure to care-- for the hungry, the ,thirsty, the stranger, the naked, imprisoned of Jesus' brothers.
“…as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Matt.25:31–46
Who are Jesus’ brothers? The residents of Palestine? “…whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother, sister, and mother.” (Matt.12:50). So Jesus is not speaking of his biological relatives, but His spiritual kin, the believers who do the will of God.
Who are the least of His brothers? Those who are destitute, ignored or oppressed.
The obvious group is the persecuted church. There are 86 / 200 countries in this world that persecute Christians as a policy. Christians are deprived of education, jobs, homes ,marriage, food and eventually life in many of these countries. They are vulnerable to prison, expropriation of property, torture, rape, beatings and robbery.
The top 16 persecuting nations are:
Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Laos, China, Turkmenistan, Iran, N. Korea, Vietnam, Maldives, Bhutan, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Columbia, Nepal, and N. Sudan.
(Operation World, P. Johnstone, RJ Johnstone, J. Mandryk; Center for World Mission, 2001; p.222)
Taken together, these New Testament references charge the nations with rebellion against Christ, and with oppression and injustice, particularly against Jesus’ brothers. So we have specific charges that we can understand and deal with.
What can we do for the least of these, His Brethren? Clothe, feed, befriend, visit. For the first time in history, Christians have access to ambassadors and other government officials, and Christian aid agencies. We also have ready information on individual persecutions in these other countries. We are in a position to act.
Pray for the persecuted church.