Bible Commentaries
Amos 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 3-16

A. Oracles against nations 1:3-2:16

An oracle is a message of judgment. Amos proceeded to deliver eight of these, seven against Israel’s neighbors, including Judah (Amos 1:3 to Amos 2:5), and one against Israel (Amos 2:6 to Amos 6:14). The order is significant. The nations mentioned first were foreign, but those mentioned next were the blood relatives of the Israelites, and Judah was its closest kin. Upon hearing this list the Israelites would have felt "a noose of judgment about to tighten round their [the Israelites’ own] throats." [Note: J. A. Motyer, The Day of the Lion: The Message of Amos, p. 50.] This is the "rhetoric of entrapment." [Note: R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, p. 144. Cf. Isaiah 28.]

"The prophet began with the distant city of Damascus and, like a hawk circling its prey, moved in ever-tightening circles, from one country to another, till at last he pounced on Israel. One can imagine Amos’s hearers approving the denunciation of these heathen nations. They could even applaud God’s denunciation of Judah because of the deep-seated hostility between the two kingdoms that went as far back as the dissolution of the united kingdom after Solomon. But Amos played no favorites; he swooped down on the unsuspecting Israelites as well in the severest language and condemned them for their crimes." [Note: McComiskey, pp. 281-82.]

Each oracle follows the same basic pattern. First, Amos declared the judgment to come. Second, he defended the judgment by explaining the reason for it. Third, he described the coming judgment. Smith described this pattern, which occurs with some variations in the oracles to follow, as a "messenger speech." [Note: Smith, p. 44. See also F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Amos, pp. 341-69.] It contains five elements: introductory formula, certainty of judgment, charge of guilt, announcement of punishment, and concluding formula.

"All the things condemned by Amos were recognized as evil in themselves, not merely in Israel, but by all the nations of the western Fertile Crescent." [Note: Ellison, p. 72.]

Other major collections of oracles against foreign neighbors appear in Isaiah (chs. 13-17, 19, 21, 23, 34), Jeremiah (chs. 46-51), and Ezekiel (chs. 25-32). One might consider all of Obadiah and Nahum as oracles against foreign nations as well. In fact, all the prophetical books except Daniel and Hosea contain some condemnation of Israel’s neighbor nations. [Note: See the chart of oracles against foreign nations in D. Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, pp. 405-6.]

Verses 1-3

6. An oracle against Moab 2:1-3

Yahweh promised not to revoke His punishment of Moab, another nation descended from Lot (cf. Genesis 19:30-38), because of its brutal treatment of an Edomite king’s corpse (cf. 2 Kings 3:26-27). Burning the bones of a dead person dishonored that individual since there was then nothing substantial left of him. Burning the king’s bones indicated a desire to completely destroy the peace and even the soul of Edom’s king, in this case King Mesha, for eternity. This was a despicable crime in the ancient Near East where a peaceful burial was the hope of every person. This treatment of a dead corpse reflected a lack of respect for human life, life made in the image of God.

"Highly significant is the fact that Amos here pronounced the punishment of Yahweh on a social crime involving a non-Israelite. In his other oracles the crimes were, for the most part, against the covenant people. Amos understood that an aspect of God’s law transcended Israel." [Note: McComiskey, p. 291.]

Probably the Noahic Covenant provides the background for the Lord’s indictment (Genesis 9:5-7; cf. Isaiah 24:5).

"All the things condemned by Amos [in all eight oracles] were recognized as evil in themselves, not merely in Israel, but by all the nations of the western Fertile Crescent." [Note: Ellison, p. 72.]

"Crimes against humanity [not just against Israel] bring God’s punishment. This observation is a powerful motivation for God’s people to oppose the mistreatment and neglect of their fellow human beings." [Note: Niehaus, p. 358.]

"However dimly and falsely men may draw the boundary, there are such things as absolute right and wrong based on the nature of the Creator and Ruler of all." [Note: Ellison, p. 74.]

"When a society acquiesces in and welcomes an evil, knowing it is evil, that society is doomed." [Note: Ibid.]

Because of this sin Moab would perish in the tumult of battle, and its leaders would die. Kirioth was a major city in Moab (cf. Jeremiah 48:24).

Nebuchadnezzar conquered Moab shortly after 598 B.C., which opened the way for Arab tribes to occupy its land. [Note: Josephus, 10:9:7.]

Verses 4-5

7. An oracle against Judah 2:4-5

God would treat Judah with the same justice that He promised Israel’s other neighbor nations. Judah’s overflowing sin was her failure to live by the Torah, the instruction that Yahweh had given her, including the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Romans 2:12-15). Listening to false prophets and worshipping idols (Heb. kazib, a lie, something deceptive) had been major evidences of this apostasy (cf. Deuteronomy 6:14; Deuteronomy 7:16; Deuteronomy 8:19; Deuteronomy 11:16; Deuteronomy 11:28). [Note: See Andersen and Freedman, pp. 301-5, for defense of the false prophet interpretation.] So Yahweh promised to destroy Judah and Jerusalem as He had promised to destroy her sinful neighbors.

The fulfillment came with Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:1-12).

Verse 6

Israel’s first sin was that the Israelites took advantage of righteous, needy people for their own personal, material advantage and sold them into slavery, perhaps into debt (cf. 2 Kings 4:1-7). They sold, for the price of what they owed, honest people who would have repaid their debts if given the opportunity. They would even sell into slavery someone who could not pay the small price of a pair of sandals. Another interpretation is that they would take as a bribe as little as what a pair of sandals cost. The Israelites should have been generous and openhanded toward the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). Sin often results in the devaluation of human life.

Verses 6-8

Israel’s recent sins 2:6-8

Not all the sins that Amos identified appear in Amos 2:6-8; two more appear in Amos 2:12. Amos named seven sins of Israel all together rather than just one, as in the previous oracles, though he continued to use the "for three transgressions and for four" formula. Seven seems to be the full measure of Israel’s sin. The idea of "the straw that broke the camel’s back" carries over from the first seven oracles into the eighth with double force.

Verses 6-16

8. An oracle against Israel 2:6-16

The greater length of this oracle as well as its last position in the group of oracles points to its preeminent importance. Amos 2:10, by using the second person rather than the third, suggests that all these oracles were originally spoken to Israel.

There are four sections to this oracle: Israel’s recent sins, God’s past gracious activity on Israel’s behalf, Israel’s response, and Israel’s punishment.

Verse 7

Second, the Israelites were perverting the legal system to exploit the poor. The courts were siding with creditors against their debtors; they were "stepping on" the poor. This was as painful and humiliating as having one trample on one’s head as it lay in the dust. The oppressors longed to see the poor reduced to extreme anguish. They may have been so greedy that they craved even the dust that the poor threw on their heads in mourning. The Mosaic Covenant called for justice in Israel’s courts (Exodus 23:4; Deuteronomy 16:19).

Third, fathers and sons were having sexual intercourse with the same women. The women in view may be temple prostitutes, servant girls taken as concubines, or female relatives (cf. Exodus 21:7-11; Leviticus 18:8; Leviticus 18:15). This showed contempt for Yahweh’s holy character (cf. Exodus 3:13-15). The Law forbade fornication, including incest (Leviticus 18:6-18; Leviticus 20:11; Leviticus 20:17-21).

Verse 8

Fourth, the Israelites failed to return garments taken as collateral for debts owed them. The Law specified that the Israelites could take a garment as a pledge, except the garment of a widow (Deuteronomy 24:17), but they were to return it to the owner before nightfall (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:10-13; cf. Deuteronomy 24:6; Job 22:6). The Israelites were even taking these garments with them and displaying them at the public feasts honoring whatever god they worshipped.

Fifth, the Israelites had worshipped other gods (cf. Amos 2:4). They were using the wine that they had received as fines, or had extracted from the poor, to honor heathen gods. The proper course of action would have been to drink wine that the worshipper had paid for himself or present it in worship of the true God.

Verse 9

The Israelites had committed the previous breaches of covenant in spite of God having driven the giant Amorites out of the Promised Land for them (cf. Numbers 13:22-33). These enemies had been as strong and tall as cedar or oak trees (cf. Numbers 13:28-33; Deuteronomy 1:26-28), but the Lord destroyed them completely, from fruit above to root below.

"Destruction of ’his fruit’ left no possibility of future life from seed. Destruction of ’roots’ left no possibility of future life from the tree. God is able to deal decisively with the enemies of his people." [Note: Smith, pp. 65-66.]

Here the Amorites, the most formidable of the native inhabitants, represent all of them, by metonymy (cf. Genesis 15:16). The defeat of these giants demonstrated Yahweh’s superior power as well as His love for His people. By implication, if God drove the Amorites out of the land, He might also drive the Israelites out.

Verses 9-11

God’s past grace 2:9-11

In this section Amos reminded the Israelites of Yahweh’s past blessings on them. This made the heinousness of their sins even clearer. Israel’s treatment of the poor had been destructive, but Yahweh’s treatment of the poor Israelites had been constructive. The other nations that God pronounced judgment against in the previous oracles had not enjoyed these special blessings.

Verse 10

Going back even further in their history, Yahweh reminded His people that He had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt and had led them safely through the wilderness for 40 years. He had preserved them so they could take possession of the Promised Land, the land of the Amorites. By shifting to the second person, Amos strengthened the force of God’s appeal.

Verse 11

In the land, God had raised up prophets and godly Nazirites from among the Israelites’ sons. Prophets relayed God’s messages to them, and Nazirites were examples of ordinary citizens who dedicated themselves completely to the Lord. These individuals were blessings to the nation because by their words and deeds they encouraged the people to follow the Lord faithfully. Yahweh asked rhetorically if this was not indeed what He had done.

The order of these blessings is not chronological. Evidently Amos arranged them in this order to highlight the Exodus, the central of the three blessings mentioned and the single most important event in Israel’s history.

Verse 12

Israel’s response to God’s grace 2:12

Even though God gave His people prophets and Nazirites, the Israelites had encouraged the Nazirites to compromise their dedication to Yahweh and the prophets to stop prophesying. These were the sixth and seventh sins of the Israelites that Amos enumerated. The people were uncommitted to God and unwilling to hear and obey His Word.

"Even today we are sadly familiar with the preacher who preaches the whole Bible most faithfully but yet so that none of his hearers are ever shaken out of their sins. I myself have been told by a sincere Christian man, who was motivated, as he thought, purely by concern for my well-being, ’You mustn’t say that kind of thing here, or you will not be invited again.’ How many a man of God has been passed over when a minister has been wanted: ’He is not the man for us.’ There are many ways of saying to the prophet Prophesy not, and one and all they are an abomination to God and bring judgment on God’s people." [Note: Ellison, p. 76.]

Verse 13

The Lord said He felt burdened by the sinfulness of His people, as heavy as a wagon filled to its capacity with grain. [Note: Andersen and Freedman, p. 334.] Another interpretation understands Amos picturing Israel being crushed like an object under the wheels of a heavily loaded cart. [Note: Sunukjian, p. 1432; McComiskey, p. 295; Smith, p. 68.]

Verses 13-16

Israel’s consequent punishment 2:13-16

In the previous oracles, Amos consistently likened God’s judgment to fire (Amos 1:4; Amos 1:7; Amos 1:10; Amos 1:12; Amos 1:14; Amos 2:2; Amos 2:5). In this one he did not use that figure but described the judgment coming on Israel with other images, especially images of panic in battle.

Verses 14-16

Running fast would not provide escape from His coming judgment, resisting would not enable the Israelites to withstand it, and outstanding leaders could not deliver them from it. Archers opposing God would not be able to prevent Him from advancing against them, quick runners would not be able to flee, and riding a horse could not remove them from the scene of judgment. When Yahweh would judge the Israelites even the bravest among them would prove fearful and ashamed. In the past Israel’s heroes had routed the Canaanites, but in the future they would not even be able to deliver themselves in battle much less win a victory. This sevenfold description of Israel’s panic balances the earlier sevenfold description of Israel’s sin.

The fulfillment of this threatened judgment came when the Assyrians besieged and destroyed Samaria, Israel’s capital, in 722 B.C. and carried many of the people of that land into captivity.

These oracles teach the modern reader that God is sovereign over all nations and holds them accountable for their conduct toward other human beings and for their response to special revelation (cf. Genesis 9:5-6). They also teach that God is patient with sinners and will only punish when the measure of human sin has overflowed His predetermined capacity. They also teach that God is impartial in His judgment; He will punish sin in His own people as well as sin in those with whom He has established no special relationship.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Amos 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.