Amos 3–4. A Matter of Cause and Effect.
Key Notes: God does not play favorites. Natural disasters did not yield a repentant nation. Scientific and political vis. moral and spiritual explanations of major events. The "why" question. God's ultimate purpose.
In this passage, Amos puts direct pressure on Israel and Judah. The final judgment is nearly a hundred years off but Israel cannot plead ignorance of God’s will and intentions.
3:1- 2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” The next lines should be
I love you.
You are chosen of God and precious.
You are the best people on earth.
You are innocent of wrong-doing.
You may do whatever you please.
That is what a kind, grandfatherly person would be expected to say. Don’t grandparents tell their grandchildren, “You are the best”?
Instead, God says, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth. Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities."
3:3–8 The next passage consists of seven questions with simple yes / no answers. Questions 2–7 are in pairs, illustrating the same idea. The first question sets the stage.
Can two walk together unless they make an appointment (or are in agreement)?
Does the lion roar without pray? Does the young lion cry out if he has taken nothing?
Does the bird fall without a snare? Will the snare spring if nothing is in it?
If the trumpet sounds won’t the people fear? Does evil befall the city if God has not done it?
God through Moses had warned the people against walking in opposite directions from Him. Lev.26:21,23, 27.
If God roars from Zion (Amos 1:2), He has taken sinners as prey. “The lion has roared; who will not fear?”
If the trap is sprung, there will be an obvious cause--God. Israel is the caught bird.
If the trumpet sounds and evil befalls the city, God has done it.Think cause and effect.
God does not surprise people. His intentions are always revealed to the prophets.
3:9–11 Egyptians or Philistines could stand in the hills overlooking Samaria and see the evidence of tumult and oppression from a distance. Bystanders could see that Samaria was a mess.
3:12 Samaria will be like a lamb that the shepherd finds too late, all but eaten up.
3:13–15 The horns will fall off the altar. The horns of the altar were the last refuge of the murderer. IK.1:50.
The summer houses in the hills and the winter houses near the Dead Sea will be gone—ivory and all.
4:1–3 The sensual women of east Galilee will be taken with hooks and dragged single-file through the breeches in the city wall, off into exile. “Harmon” is not identified.
4:4–5 Amos satirically challenges Israel to make more and better sacrifices and to proclaim their piety loudly. Bring your tithes every three days, instead of every three years. Deut. 14:26
4:6–11 Then he uses another template. God applies cause and effect to bad events. Israel has already experienced
*crop failure from disease
*death in war
*earthquake and destruction of cities.
God was the force behind all these but none of these was effective in turning Israel back to God. There was only one thing left. “Israel, prepare to meet your God.” It is He who created the world, who reveals His mind to humans, who controls the light, who strides over the mountains: Jahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Armies.
The passage is frightening in its detachment. Mercy is not in the picture.
The close relationship between God and Israel did not excuse bad behavior. It increased the punishment. God punished Israel with adversities but this did not result in repentance. Chastisement did not work—and it often does not. Religious observance and zeal without repentance only made things worse.
Note that Samaria could be attacked by her neighbors on the basis of her evil deeds. There are other motives for war than greed and love of blood-shed, such as preventing an evil nation from corrupting or disrupting its neighbors.
The prophet uses the cause and effect device to predict future judgment. (3:3–8). That is, these catastrophes will be caused by God. He also uses the cause and effect argument to illustrate past punishments. (4:6–11).
Most of our lives we think of flood or drought, wild-fires and hurricanes, earthquakes and explosions as chance events. We think of cause and effect only in the scientific sense—weather patterns based on the Jet Stream and El Nino, faults in the tectonic plates leading to earthquakes and tsumanis, or human error leading to the Chernobyl melt-down. But in our view God is not involved in any of these disasters. Hhe is.
Israel’s history can be understood in purely geographic and political terms. She occupied a narrow, fertile strip of land on the trade routes between the land-masses of Europe, Asia and Africa. Israel prospered in the Golden Age of Solomon when Egypt and Syria were weak. She fell into moral decay and was divided into two weak states. She recovered in the Silver Age of Jeroboam and Uzziah. The terminal decline occurred with the rise of northern power from Syria and then the Assyrian / Babylonian peoples. She was hammered by Assyria / Babylon on the anvil of Egypt / Ethiopia. She was helpless between these two super-powers and collapsed. Then she was picked to pieces by her hostile neighbors. But it was not fate.
Francis Bacon divided human thought into two parts: physics and metaphysics. Physics (science) deals with material objects and forces, things like water and metal and fire. Metaphysics deals with non-material objects and forces, like soul, love and God. Science does not think about the why question, but deals with what, when, how and how much, questions like what makes an internal combustion engine work? The “why question” belongs to metaphysics. Why ask about purpose?
What really caused the Twin Towers to fall on 9/11/2001? Why did the Holocaust happen? What about Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese Tsunami? What purpose does these catastrophes serve? Was it chance or was it God? It is better not to ask.
In a child’s mind the" why" question is up front. Why, daddy, why? Why is a cow? A cow is to give milk. Why is a hole? A hole is to dig. The giraffe has a long neck so that it can reach the leaves on the high trees. Leaves on the trees are to protect the fruit. The purpose of clouds is to hide the sun or to water the earth. An adult will find different answers for these questions.
As a philosopher, Aristotle tried to clarify the "why" question with his famous four causes. For example, there are four causes of a shoe. Why is a shoe?
Material cause: shoe leather;
Efficient cause: a shoe-maker;
Formal cause: a shoe pattern;
Final cause (what is it for?): to protect the foot.
You can see that the first three questions are simple and non-controversial. But when you come to the final cause of a shoe, we could argue various purposes--that the shoe was to pound the desk in the UN General Assembly, or to jam the gears of the Industrial Revolution, or to deform the feet of Chinese women or to make America women four inches taller.
A secular historian could ask the "why" question of Israel’s national history using these four causes.
Material cause: a under-developed territory occupied by decadent tribal groups;
Efficient cause: invasion by a mass of slaves from nearby Egypt;
Formal cause: a dynamic leader--Moses;
Final cause (what is it for?): a prosperous, independent nation.
The Bible sees the causes of Israel’s history differently.
Material cause: Abraham’s family and its prolific offspring;
Efficient cause: God's call and provision for their care;
Formal cause: The Law of Moses as a guide to nation-building;
Final cause (what is it for?): God’s glory among all nations.
God’s glory is the Final Cause or purpose or intention of all things.
We see God’s glory by revelation. It is the ultimate answer to the “why" question.
"You have set your glory above the heavens. Psa.8:1
"Before all the people I will be glorified." Lev.10:3
"My glory I give to no other." Isa.42:8
"I will set my glory among the nations." Ezek.39:21
"You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body...." ICor.6:20