Studies in Prophets and Writings

Amos 1: Calling Israel to repent from social injustice

Amid the seemingly disconnected warnings about various nations in Amos 1 is a message for the people of God: The answer to social injustice is not socialism but spiritual revival that brings personal transformation. This is also the message of Revelation 1-3.

Amos, Jonah and Hosea were contemporaries. They lived in the same time period. Amos was a poor farmer by trade. He was not raised as a prophet from childhood, which is unusual because most of the prophets were either trained as prophets or were members of the priestly household, which would have given them deep Torah training.

“The words of Amos, who was among the sheepherders from Tekoa, which he envisioned in visions concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” (Amos 1:1 NASB)

The first two chapters, Amos is giving you a perspective, a theme, he is setting the stage for what he wants to teach the reader. 

This is not the only author to mention this earthquake during Uzziah’s reign. It’s also mentioned in Zechariah 14:5. Amos is throwing out a lot of accusations in this chapter. 

The first exile of the 10 Northern Tribes begins about 20 years after Amos’ ministry. He’s trying to warn Israel of this coming exile. He is calling them to repent to either prevent the exile or to lessen its severity.

Amos was one of the first prophets to write his testimonies in a book. He is from a town called Tekoa, but there are two cities with this name so we are not absolutely certain where he is from.

There’s a Tekoa in Judah and a Tekoa in Israel and there’s debate on which Tekoa he was from. It is more likely that he was from the village of Tekoa near the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Amos exhibits an intimate knowledge of Israel’s geography and his entire ministry is set in Israel. He shows very little knowledge of Judean geography. 

The nation of Israel is a very prosperous nation in his lifetime. They have taken over huge swaths of territory and she has reached the status she had in the days of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon. 

Amos’ book focuses on one symptom of godlessness, social injustice, of how the ruling class treats the lower class. All the other prophets pick up this mantle and use it to demonstrate the failures of the rulers of the nation. Social injustice is a symptom of a godless people, a Torah-less society. 

“The LORD roars from Zion And from Jerusalem He utters His voice…” (Amos 1:2 NASB)

Why is Amos’ bringing this up. Would the people of Northern Israel care about Zion or Jerusalem? As far as the children of the 10 tribes were concerned, YHVH’s spiritual pilgrimage sites were in Bethel and Dan. The holy days were moved to different times in the calendar centuries before. The founder of the nation of Israel as an independent nation, Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, established the golden calves and worshiped them as YHVH. Israel at this time is a polytheistic society. This is confirmed in archaeology.

Amos has to specifically state that the God he is representing is not represented by the golden calves of Dan and Bethel but lives in Jerusalem. 

There’s this phrase that pops up throughout the rest of the chapter. “For three transgressions of — and for four…” yet most of the time, only one transgression of each nation is actually mentioned. This phrase is idiomatic. The point is not the number, it’s what does it mean? It’s an accumulation. It’s a build up, an accumulation of evil by those who refuse to repent.

Amos addresses Damascus first, aka Syria or Aram. Their transgression was “… Because they threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron.” (Amos 1:3 NASB) Gilead was inhabited by Israelites, particularly from the tribes of Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh. Reuben had territory to the south on the east side of the Jordan. 

“So I will send fire upon the house of Hazael (2 Kings 8:7-15) And it will consume the citadels of Ben-hadad. “I will also break the gate bar of Damascus, And cut off the inhabitant from the valley of Aven, And him who holds the scepter, from Beth-eden; So the people of Aram will go exiled to Kir,” Says the LORD.” (Amos 1:4–5 NASB)

The kings Hazael and Ben-Hadad are dead and gone but their descendants are still alive. They were beyond evil in their conquest of Gilead. No one in Israel would dispute the fact that Syria deserves divine punishment. Amos uses Damascus, Gaza, Tyre/Sidon, Edom and what they have done to build up a point. 

Gaza and Tyre were both called out for what we would call ethnic cleansing and slave trading. The Bible calls it “whole captivity.” Both Gaza and Tyre were on the coasts and had access to the ocean to be able to sell slaves to the world. Both Gaza and Tyre would either kill or sell off every man, woman and child they got their hands on and sold them to Edom. 

Tyre actually broke its covenant with Israel (1 Kings 5:12) by enslaving and shipping Israelites off to the slave trade. 

“While he stifled his compassion; His anger also tore continually, And he maintained his fury forever.” (Amos 1:11 NASB)

Edom’s sin was a refusal to forgive a sin, a wrong committed many generations before. Ammon was called out for their brutal treatment of noncombatants. 

All of these nations deserved to be punished for their evil. In the next chapter, he calls out Israel for their evil to show how much worse they are than these surrounding nations. If these nations deserve punishment for their crimes, Israel deserves punishment, too. Unlike these other nations, Israel should have known better. Although the people of Israel were happy to call out the evil of the nations, they refused to see their own evil, which was actually worse than the evil of their neighbors. 

The prophesies Amos spoke against Israel came to fruition within Amos’ lifetime. The prophesies against the other nations didn’t come to fruition for another 150 years or so. 

What do all these nations have in common? God punished these nations with fire on their palaces, the bases of rulership. The leaders are the ones who got wiped out, killed, sent into exile and never heard from again. Jeremiah seconds this later in his ministry, when he says that the leader of Moab and Ammon will suffer but a remnant of their people will survive. 

The leaders are the one who bear the penalty when they allow their citizens to commit acts of social injustice on one other and to commit war crimes and atrocities on their neighbors. 

Speaker: Daniel Agee. Summary: Tammy. 

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