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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Amos 3

B. Messages of Judgment against Israel chs. 3-6

After announcing that God would judge Israel, Amos delivered five messages in which he explained more fully why God would judge the Northern Kingdom. Appeals for repentance and explanations of how to avoid judgment appear within these messages. The first three begin with the word, "Hear" (Amos 3:1; Amos 4:1; Amos 5:1; cf. Proverbs 8:32), and the last two begin "Alas" (Amos 5:18) and "Woe" (Amos 6:1), both translations of the Hebrew word hoy. The first message was explanation, the second accusation, and the third lamentation. [Note: Wiersbe, p. 348.]

1. The first message on sins against God and man ch. 3

Amos’ first message explained that God would judge His people because they had oppressed others in spite of their uniquely privileged relationship with Yahweh. The prophet addressed this message initially to both Israel and Judah (Amos 3:1-2), but he focused it mainly on Israel (Amos 3:9; Amos 3:12). The first two verses are a brief oracle that introduces the series of judgment pronouncements that continue through chapter 6.

Verses 1-2

Israel’s unique relationship with Yahweh 3:1-2

Amos called all the Israelites to hear a message from their Lord. He referred to them as those whom Yahweh had redeemed from Egypt, reminding them of the unique privilege they enjoyed. He also mentioned that the Israelites, among all the peoples of the world, had a special relationship to the Lord. "You only" is in the emphatic first position in the Hebrew sentence. This is an allusion to the covenant that God had made with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai (cf. Exodus 19:3-6; Deuteronomy 28:1-14). God had chosen (known, Heb. yada’; cf. Jeremiah 1:5) the Israelites in that He had made a commitment to them as His vassal in a covenant relationship. [Note: See H. B. Huffmon, "The Treaty Background of Hebrew Yada’," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 181 (February 1966):31-37.] He had also revealed Himself to the Israelites as He had done to no other people. God said He would punish His people for their iniquities because they were sins against His unusual blessings (cf. Amos 3:14). Greater privilege always results in greater responsibility (cf. Luke 12:48). Amos 3:2; Amos 3:14 both contain promises that God would punish His people, forming an inclusio or literary envelope around the whole passage.

"A similar injunction to hear what God has to say formerly introduced his commands in the Sinai covenant. Now, it introduces his covenant lawsuit against his rebellious people, who are in fact his family." [Note: Niehaus, p. 375.]

Verses 3-6

Two people do not travel together unless they first agree to do so. By implication, God and Israel could not travel together toward God’s intended destination for the nation unless the Israelites agreed to do so on His terms (cf. Amos 3:2).

Verses 3-8

Israel’s inevitable judgment by Yahweh 3:3-8

Amos asked seven rhetorical questions in Amos 3:3-6 to help the Israelites appreciate the inevitability of their judgment. In each one the prophet pointed out that a certain cause inevitably produces a certain effect. The five questions in Amos 3:3-5 expect a negative answer, and the two in Amos 3:6 expect a positive one. Amos 3:7-8 draw the conclusion.

Verse 4

A lion does not roar in the forest unless it has found prey. Young lions do not growl in their dens unless they have captured something and are protecting it (cf. Amos 1:2).

Verse 5

Birds do not get snared in traps unless there is bait in the traps that attracts them. Animal traps do not snap shut unless something triggers them. Israel had taken the bait of sin and had become ensnared.

Verse 6

People do not tremble at the news of some coming danger unless someone blows a trumpet to warn them. Calamities do not occur in cities unless God has either initiated or permitted them. [Note: See Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "How a Hermeneutical Virus Can Corrupt Theological Systems," Bibliotheca Sacra 166:663 (July-September 2009):264-66.]

"The seven examples of related events began innocuously, but become increasingly foreboding. The first example (Amos 3:3) had no element of force or disaster about it. The next two (Amos 3:4), however, concerned the overpowering of one animal by another, and the two after that (Amos 3:5) pictured man as the vanquisher of animal prey. In the final two examples (Amos 3:6), people themselves were overwhelmed, first by other human instruments, then by God Himself. This ominous progression, to the point where God Himself is seen as the initiator of human calamity, brought Amos to a climactic statement (Amos 3:7-8)." [Note: Sunukjian, p. 1433.]

Verse 7

A similar inevitable connection exists between two other events. God does nothing to His people unless He first warns them through one of His prophets (cf. Psalms 25:14; Jeremiah 23:18; Jeremiah 23:22). [Note: For a list of examples of God doing this, see ibid., pp. 1433-34.] Here God meant that He would do nothing by way of covenant-lawsuit judgment without first telling His people. Obviously God does many things without giving a special revelation to His people that He will do them.

Verse 8

Amos drew the final comparison with allusion to his previous illustrations. The message of judgment coming from the Lord that Amos now brought the Israelites was like the roaring of a lion. Who would not fear such a lion as the sovereign Yahweh? Indeed, how could the mouthpiece of the Lion not prophesy since Yahweh had spoken?

". . . if an untrained rustic farmer is preaching God’s Word, it means God has called him." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 349.]

The two rhetorical questions in this verse introduce the following series of oracles.

Verse 9

Amos called for announcements to be made to the large buildings (i.e., to the people living in them) of Ashdod in Philistia and to those in Egypt. The Mosaic Law required two witnesses in cases involving the death penalty (Deuteronomy 17:6). Here those witnesses were Ashdod and Egypt. Amos may have chosen these nations because they had previously oppressed the Israelites. People who lived in citadels were the wealthy and the leaders of those areas. A "citadel" (Heb. ’armon) was almost any fortified building higher than an ordinary house (cf. Psalms 48:3; Isaiah 34:13; Jeremiah 9:21). These structures became part of a city’s defense system because they were high and easier to defend than ordinary houses. Usually important people lived in these larger buildings, and they were often part of the palaces of kings (cf. 1 Kings 16:18; 2 Kings 15:25). Here, because of the military terminology in the passage, their function as fortresses is particularly in view. These witnesses should come and stand on the mountains surrounding Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom. There they would see great tumults, not the peace and order that should have prevailed, and oppressions within Samaria. The Israelites were assaulting and robbing one another; the rich were taking advantage of the poor.

Verses 9-10

Israel’s unparalleled oppression from God 3:9-10

Verse 10

Yahweh announced that the Israelites had plundered, looted, and terrorized each other so long that they no longer knew how to do right (Heb. nekohah, straightness). The Israelites were different from their aggressors because they plundered and looted their own fortresses rather than those of a foreign enemy. It was as though the Israelites hoarded up violence and devastation as others, and they, hoarded material wealth. Now the wealthy foreigners, infamous for their own similar sins, would see that the Israelites behaved even worse in their citadels.

Verse 11

Sovereign Yahweh announced that an enemy that would surround the land of Israel would destroy and loot its impressive fortresses. That enemy proved to be Assyria, which besieged and destroyed Samaria and overran all Israel in 722 B.C.

Verses 11-15

Israel’s coming catastrophe from Yahweh 3:11-15

Amos’ announcement of Israel’s coming judgment came in three waves (Amos 3:11-15).

Verse 12

Yahweh also predicted that only a small remnant of the people would survive. The situation would be similar to when a shepherd snatched a remaining fragment of a sheep, a couple of leg bones or a small piece of an ear, from the mouth of an attacking wild animal. It would be like when someone stole everything in a house and the owner could only hold onto a piece of his bed or a bedspread. Similarly, an overpowering enemy would steal away the people of Samaria, and only a few would escape. Evidently about 27,000 Israelites from Samaria suffered captivity. [Note: Pritchard, p. 284; D. Winton Thomas, ed., Documents from Old Testament Times, pp. 58-60; Ellison, p. 159.]

The figure of a shepherd represented Yahweh in Israel’s literature (e.g., Psalms 23:1; et al.). The people would have seen Him as the one who would rescue the remnant as well as the one who would allow the enemy to overpower them.

Verse 13

Sovereign Yahweh almighty, the suzerain warrior who led the most vast and powerful of all armies, urged Amos to hear His word and to bear testimony against the house of Jacob. The reference to Jacob recalls the devious nature of this ancestor whose character the present generation of Israelites mirrored. It also recalls God’s gracious promises to Jacob. The Israelites, as bad as they were, were God’s people, not just the people of King Jeroboam II.

Verse 14

God now promised to destroy the pagan altars that Jeroboam I had erected at Bethel at the same time He destroyed the people of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 12:26-30). This altar, and the one at Dan, had taken the place of the one in Jerusalem for most of the Israelites. The one in Bethel was the most popular religious center in Israel. There the Israelites practiced apostate worship. The horns of this altar, symbolic of the strength of its deity, would be cut off and would fall to the ground, showing its impotence. The horns of an altar were also places of asylum in the ancient Near East (1 Kings 1:50), so their cutting off pictures no asylum for the Israelites when God’s judgment came.

Verse 15

God also promised to destroy the Israelites’ winter and summer homes. The fact that many Israelite families could afford two houses and yet were oppressing their poorer brethren proved that they lived in selfish luxury. They had embellished their great houses with expensive ivory decorations (cf. 1 Kings 21:1; 1 Kings 21:18; 1 Kings 22:39; Psalms 45:8). The two great sins of the Israelites, false religion (Amos 3:14) and misuse of wealth and power (Amos 3:15), would be the objects of God’s judgment. Even some ancient kings did not possess two houses. [Note: Pritchard, p. 655.]

"The enduring principle here is that God will destroy elaborate altars, expensive houses, and other accoutrements of an extravagant lifestyle when these items are acquired through oppression, fraud, and strong-arm tactics. The idolatry of the people led to their opulent lifestyles. Life apart from God may yield temporary material gain, but it will surely result in eternal loss." [Note: Smith, p. 83.]

The eternal loss for a Christian will not be loss of salvation but loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15).

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Amos 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.