EXPOSITION OF THE BOOK OF AMOS
“The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, two years before the earthquake”(Amo 1:1). These words introduce the author and set the date for the giving of the prophecy. “Amos” means burden-bearer. He was a herdsmen. It is not the usual word shepherd, “but one that marks a peculiar breed of sheep...that he tended” (F.C. Cook). The sheep were small and unsightly, but prized for the high quality of their wool. They were called “noked.” He likely tells us about his occupation to neutralize the criticism that he had become a prophet simplyfor the sake of bread (7:12). He already had an honorable occupation. He did not have to preach to make bread money.
Amos was from Tekoa, a small village in the rugged mountains 12 miles south of Jerusalem, and some 22 miles from Bethel. His home overlooked the wilderness of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. The ruins of ancient Tekoa yet bear that ancient name.
Amos “saw” his message before he proclaimed it. His words, came not from himself but were revealed to him by Jehovah. (Compare Isa 30:10). The subject of his prophecy is “Israel,” i.e., the Northern Kingdom ruled over by king Jeroboam.
He dates his prophecy by these chronological markers;
“The days Uzziah king of Judah,” i.e., 783-742 B.C. (Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary).
“In the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel,” i.e., 786-746 B.C.
“Two years before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah. No precise date can be set for the quake at this point. Zechariah was still talking about it in 520 B.C. (Zec 14:5).
To appreciate the following record of Amos preaching experience at Bethel we must try to visualize the luxury and corruption of the royal city with its degrading system of Baal worship and the sensual crowd that had gathered there for their pagan festival. Into the city walks Amos, the shepherd. He was a rugged mountain man, dressed in a shepherd’s garb, likely with the smell of the sheepcote upon him. He is revolted at the sight he sees and the people probably despise the stranger. He stations himself at a busy place and begins to proclaim his message of judgment. To get a favorable hearing he lashes out against all of Israel’s hostile neighbors. The crowd nods and speaks its approval. He then blasts Judah their alienated kinsmen. That they really enjoy. Finally, when he has them eating out of his hand, he delivers the principal message he was sent to declare. Israel has grievously sinned and must now pay the cost. The people are stunned. For a moment they are speechless. They bum with shame. They grow angry. But God’s man had done his job. The word has been delivered. He emphasizes that God’s true message will be heard from Zion, i.e., Jerusalem, where his temple is situated and where David’s dynasty ruled rather than at Samaria or Bethel where idols were worshiped and where Jeroboam prevailed.
Most scholars, based on internal considerations, base the date of Amos between 765 and 750 B.C.
Declaration of Judgment Against the Nations for Their Crimes
“And he said, Jehovah will roar from Zion and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the pastures of the shepherds shall mourn and the top of Carmel shall wither” (Amo 1:2). “He said” refers to the prophet Amos. He opens his proclamation with a bold metaphor calculated to grab the attention of the crowd. “Jehovah will roar from Zion” suggests that as the lion roars, striking terror into every living creature about, so will God roar. The lion roars when he leaps upon his victim. That God is going to roar implies that deadly judgments will immediately follow. Joel used similar imagery (Joe 3:16) so also Jeremiah (Jer 25:30). Amos refers back to this phrase and explains that God’s roar is heard through the preaching of his faithful prophets. Normally, when a lion roars, an animal or a man perishes. When God roars, the pastures and the tree-covered mountains will wither as in a drought. The pastures likely refers to Amos’ home land near Tekoa. Carmel is a notable mountain on the Mediterranean coast in northern Israel. The following judgments spoken against six heathen neighbors, Judah and Israel are the message of God’s roar.
Judgment Against Syria
“Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Damascus yea for four, I will not turn away the punishment there of; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron. But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael and it shall devour the palaces of Benhadad. And I will break the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from the valley of Aven and him that holdeth the scepter from the house of Eden; and the people of Syria shall go into captivity” (1:3-5). Amos uses a common formula to introduce each of the eight oracles of judgment, “Thus saith Jehovah” gives authority to his message by pointing to its source which is Jehovah, the great Ruler and Judge of all men and nations. He alone has the power to bring such dire threats to pass (Psa 7:11-13). “For three transgressions...yea for four” should not be taken literally since he in seven cases mentions only one sin as typical of the wickedness of the nation and in the eighth case he lists six sins worthy of punishment. The meaning is that three such sins would render the subject worthy of punishment. Now they have committed four thus they are more than due their judgment (See Gen 15:16 and Lev 18:25). The same figure of speech is used for blessings in (Job 5:19).
The nation under consideration is Syria, Israel’s neighbor to the northeast (see Amo 1:3-4). He identifies her in several ways. He speaks of Damascus, the capital of Syria; the house of Hazael, the ruling dynasty of kings in Syria; the palaces of Ben-Hadad who was the son of Hazael (2Ki 13:3); the inhabitants from the valley of Aven and him that holdeth the scepter from the house of Eden the precise location of these two places is unknown. Aven means vanity and is used by Hosea to shame those who had turned Bethel (house of God) into Bethaven (a house of vanity) because it had been made a center for idolatry (Hos 4:15). The mention of “him who holdeth the scepter from Eden” suggests that it was one of the royal cities of the Syrian kingdom.
The sin of Syria which he singles out for condemnation is that “they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron.” This threshing instrument evidently consisted of a wheel or drum, in which were embedded iron spikes, which was driven over the sheaves of grain to crush them. The words are open to two possible interpretations;
1. The Syrians actually subjected some of their Jewish captives to a torturous death beneath such threshing machines. Such cruelties were not unknown in the ancient world;
2. He may be using a metaphorical expression that says the Syrians so desecrated Gilead it was crushed like threshed grain. This is implied in 2Ki 13:7, “for the king of Syria destroyed them and made them like the dust in threshing.”
God would send conquering armies into Syria who would break the bars of their city gates, bum their palaces, cut off their people and take them into captivity into Kir. Amos sees the Syrians driven from their pleasant land and carried to Kir as prisoners of war. The site of Kir is uncertain. Isaiah mentions a Kir in Moab, a desolate desert region. The Moabites trafficked in prisoners of war sold into slavery. This may be the point Amos is making.
Some fifty years later, Syria received the threatened judgment at the hands of the Assyrians(2Ki 16:9).
Judgments Against the Philistines
“For three transgressions of Gaza... because, they carried away captive the whole people, to deliver them up to Edom. But I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, and it shall devour the palaces thereof. And I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashkelon; and I will turn my hand against Ekron; and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord Jehovah” (Amo 1:6-8). Gaza, Ashdod, Askelon, and Ekron were city states of the Philistine League. Gath is not here mentioned. It had likely already been destroyed (See Amo 6:2). The Philistines were renowned for their military power and the strength of their fortress cities, yet God promises to destroy them by fire, i.e., by war in which they would be burned. The crime of the Philistines was enslaving, i.e., selling “the whole people” to Edom. Two such raids by the Philistines are recorded (2Ch 21:16-17; 2Ch 28:16-18). They were indiscriminate in dealing with civilians taken in war. None were spared, young and old were led away. They were not taken as prisoners, but sold to the Edomites, inveterate enemies of the Hebrews, who would deal with them without mercy. For their cruelty even “the remnant of the Philistines shall perish” i.e. they would be totally annihilated as a nation. Both Assyria and Egypt inflicted severe penalties upon the Philistines but the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar pretty well destroyed them by defeat and mass deportation. Other prophets also predicted the fall of the Philistines (Is. 14:28-31; Jer 25:20; Jer 47:1-7; Eze 25:15-17 : Zep 2:4-7; Zec 9:5-8).
Judgments against Tyre
“For three transgressions of Tyre.... I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they delivered up the whole people to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant. But I will send a fire on the wall of Tyre, and it shall devour the palaces thereof’ (Amo 1:9-10). Tyre was the principle city of Phoenicia. It was the head of a vast maritime fleet and a network of seaport colonies scattered around the Mediterranean. Her sin was the same as that of the Philistines, selling Hebrew slaves to Edom; It was exacerbated by the fact they had violated “the brotherly covenant” which had been established by David and king Hiram of Tyre (1Ki 5:1-12). That covenant evidently created a compact of mutual respect and assistance that would have especially forbidden slave raiding and trafficking. As God promised, Tyre repeatedly fell victim to her enemies. She was taken and burned by the Assyrians under Sargon (721-705 B.C.). Nebuchadnezzar besieged mainland Tyre for thirteen years (585-572 B.C.) and destroyed it. Alexander the Great took the island city after a seven month siege and utterly destroyed it (332 B.C.). God is not mocked. Other prophets predicted Tyre’s fall (See Isa 23:1-18; Jer 27:1-11; Eze 26:2-21; Joe 3:4-6).
Judgments against Edom
“For three transgressions of Edom...I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he did pursue his brother with the sword, and did cast off all pity, and his anger did tear perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever. But I will send a fire upon Teman, and it shall devour the palaces of Bozrah” (Amo 1:11-12). Edomites were descended from Esau the brother of Jacob. God forbade the Hebrews to take their land or harm them for they were brethren (Deu 23:7). Their land was originally called Seir and was situated south of the Dead Sea. They did not view Israel as brethren but as despised foes and considered themselves in a state of perpetual war with them. No specific crime is mentioned, only the characteristics of their heart towards Israel. At every opportunity they pursued Hebrews with the sword. They cast off all pity, i.e., suppressed and stifled all sympathy or compassion. Their anger tore perpetually like a beast of prey tearing at its victim until it is totally devoured. Nothing is so cruel and vicious as a blood feud. Pusey notes the following worldly observations; “Fierce are the wars of brethren.” Again he says “no love, well-nigh, is more faithful than that of brothers, so no hatred, when it hath once begun, is more unjust or fiercer.” Christ demands that we not let the sun go down on our wrath (Eph 4:26).
Teman was the southern district of Edom and Bozrah, a major city. They seem to stand by metonymy for the whole of the nation. Edom was driven out of her homeland by the Nabatean Arabs. In the fourth century B.C.. Judas Maccabeus defeated them, slaughtering some 20,000. John Hyrcanus, subjected them and forced them to be assimilated into Judaism. In the Jewish rebellion, the Roman finished exterminating their remnant. Other prophets condemned Edom and predicted her doom. (See Isa 34:5-9; Jer 49:7-22; Eze 25:12-14; Mal 1:3-4).
Judgments against Ammon
“For three transgression, of the children of Ammon....I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have ripped up the women with child of Gilead, that they may enlarge their border. But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, and it shall devour the palaces thereof; with shouting in the day of battle, with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind; and their king shall go into captivity, he and his princes together, saith Jehovah” (Amo 1:13-15). The Ammonites were descended from Ben-Ammi, the son of Lot. Ammonites committed atrocities against defeated enemies such as disemboweling expecting mothers. Such terrorism was not limited to Ammon. Elisha predicted that Hazael, king of Syria would resort to this evil practice (2Ki 8:12) and Menahem so punished the mothers of Tiphsah (2Ki 15:16). The Ammonites used such terror to enlarge their borders; that is, to take the land of the Hebrews, subduing them by terror. The specific occasion of this event is not given. Perhaps they joined with Hazael of Syria in attacking Gilead (Compare 2Ki 8:12; 2Ki 10:32). Rabbah was the capital of Ammon. It would be stormed, taken and burned by invading troops. Her king and princes would go into captivity. Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian troops reduced Ammon and sent her residue into captivity (Eze 21:18-21).
Amos Chapter One
This chapter actually combines with Amos 2 to form the first division of the prophecy of Amos, in which the prophet thunders the warning of the impending judgment of God upon no less than eight nations, beginning with Israel's surrounding pagan neighbors, then resting for a moment upon Judah, and by way of climax describing the utter ruin and devastation of Israel itself, the northern kingdom. The awful judgments, "rolling like a storm, in strophe after strophe, over all the surrounding kingdoms," touched upon three pagan nations that were not related to Israel, and upon three which were related, did not neglect Judah, considered by Amos as one with the northern kingdom, and then rested the fullness of its fury upon the nation of Israel itself.
The following nations were blasted with these eloquent and fierce denunciations: Damascus (Amo 1:3-5); Philistia (Amo 1:6-8); Tyre (Amo 1:9-10); Edom (Amo 1:11-12); Ammon (Amo 1:13-15); Moab (Amo 2:1-3); Judah (Amo 2:4-5); and Israel (Amo 2:6-16). The skill and power of Amos as a speaker and orator appear in this arrangement of his material:
"The interest and sympathy of the hearers are secured by the fixing of the attention upon the enormities of guilt in their neighbors, and curiosity is kept awake by the uncertainty as to where the next stroke of the prophetic whip will fall."
In this comprehensive pronouncement of God against sin in all these nations, there looms the tremendous fact that God is a God of all nations, and not merely of Israel, and that he will judge and punish sin wherever it exists. Moreover, the sins denounced are not merely those of violence, cruelty, oppression, injustice and social wrongs. Violators of solemn covenants, innovators, and corrupters of the true worship are likewise guilty and will suffer the judgment of God.
"The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
"The words of Amos ..." Both Ecclesiastes and Jeremiah have similar beginnings; and therefore it is not necessary to attribute these words to "some later editor." Amos was his own editor; and as Coleman observed, "The nature of the text indicates an early recording of the prophet's message." The name of Amos is not to be confused with Amoz the father of Isaiah (2Ki 19:2; 2Ki 19:20). Many of the Biblical books begin with, "Thus saith the Lord," the very expression which Amos used frequently in this prophecy; and this first clause of Amo 1:1 must not be made the basis of receiving Amos' words here as in any degree other than the very message of God Himself, a fact which is categorically affirmed a moment later in the words "which he saw." That this is true "is affirmed by the succeeding clause, `which he saw.'" Schultz and many others have also discerned this: "The divine origin of the words of the prophet is emphasized by ... `which he saw.'" In the words of the prophecy of Amos:
"We are in the presence of the miracle of inspiration (Eze 2:8 to Eze 3:4), that man, without losing individuality or sacrificing personality, should yet speak words which originated not with himself but with his God."
"Among the herdsmen of Tekoa ..." See introduction for discussion of Amos' occupation and economic status. We reject the notion that he was a wealthy owner of flocks and orchards for he later described himself as "a dresser of sycamore trees" (Amo 7:14), in language which, according to Keil indicates that he lived upon this fruit, an article of diet widely associated with the very poorest people. See under 7:14.
"Tekoa ..." was a village some six miles south of Bethlehem and about twelve miles southeast of Jerusalem on a 3,000 foot plateau which affords a beautiful view of the whole Dead Sea area, and which immediately drops off eastward and south from Tekoah toward that great desolation.
"Uzziah ... Jeroboam ..." See the introduction for a discussion of the dates of these monarchs. The words "son of Joash" given in the identification of Jeroboam distinguish him as Jeroboam II.
"Two years before the earthquake ..." By Amos' mention of this earthquake's occurrence two years after his prophecy shows that he was not executed in Israel, as some suppose, but that he lived to return to Tekoah, and to see the divine confirmation of the truth of his prophecy in the devastation of the great earthquake. Deane was correct, it appears, in his opinion that Amos here alluded to it, "as a token of the judgment which he foretold, such catastrophes being regarded as signs ... of God and his vengence upon sinners."
Some scholars believe that this earthquake was the one mentioned by Josephus who gave the account of a very great earthquake in the reign of Uzziah, an earthquake so great that it was remembered generations afterward when Zechariah referred to it (Zec 14:5). That earthquake, according to Josephus, made a breach in the temple, ruined the gardens and palace of the king, and occurred simultaneously with the smiting of Uzziah with leprosy. It cannot be dated exactly.
"And he said, Jehovah will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the pastures of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither.
"And Jehovah shall roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem ..." These exact words are inJoel 3:16; and if they should be considered as the theme of the Book of Amos, then it may be said that Amos took his text from Joel. Shultz did not hesitate to write, "This verse is the text of the book. It must also be accounted as fact that, "Amos here connects his prophecy with that of his predecessor," and, hence, with all the Scriptures as part of the authentic revelation from the heavenly Father.
This expression is usually cited as proof that Amos was an outdoors man, well acquainted with the roar of the lion attempting to feed upon his flock. This viewpoint seems to be compromised by the existence of the same passage in Joel; and the more pertinent observation would appear to be that Amos knew the Scriptures. Still, we cannot deny that the figure, even if he got it out of Joel, would have appealed to one who had heard a lion roar. Adam Clarke has this: "The roaring of the lion in the forest is one of the most terrific sounds in nature; when near, it strikes terror into the heart, both of man and of beast."
"Zion ... Jerusalem ..." Amos' message to the northern kingdom thus begins with a stern reminder, "that God was to be worshipped only at Jerusalem." The apostate worship had been installed at Bethel and Samaria. "Zion" is the poetic name for "Jerusalem," and in its extended meaning has an application to the church of Jesus our Lord.
In Joe 3:16, Jehovah is represented as roaring on behalf of Israel, but in the stern denunciations of Amos, he is represented as roaring against Israel. It was calculated to strike terror into the hearts of the wicked and lead them to repentance.
"Pastures of the shepherds shall mourn ..." All of God's prophets depict him as the God of nature and as one who continually bends the forces of nature in harmony with his larger purpose with reference to humanity. This appears quite early in the Bible, where it is related that God "cursed the ground for Adam's sake" (Gen 3:17), a curse which has never been repealed and is still in effect. God providentially bends nature itself to provoke man to repentance, and thus the purpose of the primeval curse must be seen as beneficient.
"And the top of Carmel shall wither ..." Carmel was noted for remaining productive even in times of drought, the name itself meaning "the orchard, or fertile land." Even the great drouth in the days of Elijah did not wither Carmel; and, thus the meaning of the whole passage here is that utter desolation shall overcome the land, even places like Carmel. Mount Carmel was the scene of Elijah's contest with the prophets of Baal and consists of a bold mountain forming the terminus of the Samaritan range and dropping off abruptly into the sea. Whatever the ancient excellence of the place, it has long ago disappeared. "It is steep and lofty where it overhangs the Mediterranean above Haifa."
"For three transgressions ... yea, for four ..." This is a stylized expression, or idiom, having the meaning of, "for many, or for more than enough." As used here, it denotes, "not a small, but a large number of crimes, or ungodliness in its worst form." Of course, "Some critics have taken the terms literally, and have tried to identify that particular number of transgressions in each case; but this is trifling."
"Damascus ..." This city stands here as a representative of all of Syria, a point to be remembered. It was an outstanding city of the nation of Syria, one of Israel's principal adversaries, "throughout the incessant border wars which ran from the ninth century to the beginning of the eighth."
"They have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron ..." This happened in the Syrian war against Israel's land east of the Jordan during the reign of Jehu (2Ki 10:32-33; 2Ki 13:7). "They even crushed the prisoners to pieces with iron threshing machines, according to a barbarous war custom that is met with elsewhere (2Sa 12:31)."
The grievousness of this sin is seen, not only in the fact of its violation of one of God's most sacred laws, the sanctity of human life, but also that they "had done despite to the covenant people of God: `To attack God's people is to attack God.'"
"But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael and it shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad.
Hazael was the founder of the dynasty that included two or three kings named Ben-Hadad; so this is the equivalent of saying that the royal family would be destroyed. "Ben-Hadad was the title of the dynasty."
These, and the other judgments to follow are truly terrible; and there are always people who cannot understand why God should deal out such awful judgments; but Morgan has a word of explanation, thus:
"No new philosophy will excuse nations that trifle with divine requirements; the walls of doom close slowly, surely, around all those who forget God. These movements of terror are necessary to, and will issue in, the victory of God... Out of ruin and wreckage, God will bring again his divine order."
"And I will break the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitants from the valley of Aven, and him that holdeth the scepter from the house of Eden; and the people of Syria shall go into captivity unto Kir, saith Jehovah.
"I will break the bar of Damascus ..." Ancient cities used a bar to lock their gates; and the breaking of the bar was the same as leaving a city defenseless. Keil summarized the meaning of this verse thus:
"The breaking of the bar (the bolt of the gate) denotes the conquest of the capital; cutting off the inhabitants of Aven indicates their slaughter ([~hikhrith] means to exterminate) and not their deportation; so that captivity in the last clause refers to the remnant of the population not slain in war."
"Captivity unto Kir ..." The Kir has been identified with a river (now the Kar), tributary of the Araxes which flows into the Caspian sea on the southwest. The Syrians were thought to have originally emigrated from that same area.
"Saith Jehovah ..." This is the prophet's solemn affirmation that he is delivering the words of Jehovah and not his own words. This attestation occurs throughout Amos in several variations:
Thus saith Jehovah
Jehovah hath spoken
The Lord Jehovah hath spoken
The Lord Jehovah hath sworn by his holiness
Saith the Lord Jehovah
Thus saith the Lord Jehovah
The Lord Jehovah hath sworn by himself saith Jehovah the God of hosts
Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me
And Jehovah saith unto me
Then said the Lord
No less than fifty times within the brief compass of this little book, its author solemnly declared his message to be the true word of Almighty God, the very last word in the prophecy being, "saith Jehovah thy God."
"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Gaza, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they carried away captive the whole people, to deliver them up to Edom.
Note that the whole of a nation was represented by one of its principal cities, Syria by Damascus, (Amo 1:3), and here, Philistia by Gaza. "It is evident that Gaza is simply regarded as a representative of Philistia," as proved by the fact that in the announcement of the punishment, some of the other great cities of Philistia are also included, all of them, in fact, standing for the entire nation.
"Carried away the whole people ... to deliver them to Edom ..." The capture and sale of people as slaves was bad enough, but the deliverance of such captives to their worst enemies was an added touch of cruelty.
Amos has in mind such carrying away of captives as occurred in the events recorded in 2Ch 21:16.
"These Philistines captured whole cities and areas of Hebrew people and sold them to Edomites and Phoenicians. The Phoenicians probably sold them, in turn, to the Greeks, as indicated by Joe 3:6."
"But I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.
Although specific punishments are connected here with certain cities, in all probability, "The calamity of each is common to all."
"And I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod; and him that holdeth the scepter from Ashkelon; and I will turn my hand against Ekron; and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord Jehovah.
The cities mentioned in this verse were some of the principal cities of Philistia, Gath being the only one omitted of the five provincial capitals; and O.T. critics, of course, have attempted to make some big thing out of that omission, affirming that, "Gath, destroyed by Sargon of Syria in 711 B.C. (and omitted here) may suggest a date for the oracle subsequent to the time of Amos." Such "suggestions," however, are by no means inherent in this passage. It was not Amos' purpose to list all the cities of Philistia; and it is clear enough that the fate of each city mentioned is actually the fate of all of them. Again, we refer to Amo 1:3, where Damascus alone stands for all of Syria. The notion that this mention of four of the great capitals of Philistia should not include cities not mentioned is ridiculous. The same kind of reasoning imposed upon the prophecy of the fall of Syria would mean that the whole nation had already perished with the sole exception of its capital city!
"And the remnant of the Philistines shall perish ..." Here too, some scholars allege that all of Philistia had already perished, with the exception of a small remnant. This too is a gross error. "The expression `the remnant of the Philistines' indicates that a portion of them had already been destroyed." Such comment only exposes the unwillingness of unbelieving scholars to accept any such thing as predictive prophecy; and that is a theological position which we are absolutely unwilling to share. The arguments in support of it, such as those grounded in these verses, are weak, unreasonable, and trifling. The awful prophecies of the destruction of Syria and Philistia, uttered in the solemn name of God himself, as repeatedly affirmed by Amos, appeared to the people who received them, not as belated predictions of events which had already occurred, but as events impossible of ever happening at all!
FULFILLMENT OF THESE PROPHECIES
Regarding Damascus. Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria fulfilled this prophecy when Ahaz applied to him for help. The Assyrian monarch destroyed the royal family, captured Damascus and carried its people captive into Kir. This fulfillment occurred fifty years after the prophecy of Amos and is recorded in 2Ki 16:9.
Regarding Philistia. Sennacherib fulfilled Amos' prophecy regarding Philistia; and his exploits against the very cities mentioned in these verses is recorded in cuneiform inscriptions of how he humbled the kings of Ashkelon, Ekron, etc. And, significantly, Sennacherib did not ascend the throne until 702 B.C. The destruction of Philistia thus occurred in the seventh century B.C., whereas, Amos prophesied their doom in the eighth century B.C.
In fact, it was the dramatic, startling, and complete fulfillment of these tremendous prophecies that led to the retention of this book among the sacred writings of the Jews, who placed it in their canon of scripture, despite the terrible warnings and predictions it contained with reference to the Jews themselves.
"The remnant of the Philistines," as used by Amos here cannot possibly mean that "all of his prophecy (!) had already occurred, and that all of these grim warnings pertained only to a small remnant yet in the land. No! "Remnant," as used here, means, "the rest of Philistia not already specifically mentioned in the prophecy."
"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Tyre, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they delivered up the whole country to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant.
The great sin of Tyre mentioned here is their delivery of Hebrew slaves to their bitterest enemies, the Edomites, and that this was done despite the long record of friendship between Israel and Tyre, dating back to the days of Solomon, and the brotherly covenant of mutual respect and honor which existed between the two peoples. "No king of Israel or Judah had ever made war on Phoenicia." The indifference and cruelty of Phoenicia, the great slave traders of the day, in their dealings with the covenant people of God, ultimately issued in God's destructive judgment against them. The friendliness between Tyre and Israel is mentioned in the O.T. (2Sa 5:11; 1Ki 5:1; 1Ki 9:11; 1Ki 9:14, etc.); and, although there is no mention of any formal treaty existing between them, the relationship, "doubtless had occasionally been cemented by formal treaty." At any rate, there was a "covenant," as indicated by this verse. The Tyrians had considered themselves bound by no consideration of human rights and free to violate any honor for the sake of their profitable slave trade.
"But I will send a fire on the wall of Tyre, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.
Note the similarity with Amo 1:7, both predictions being somewhat stylized prophecies of the destruction of the places indicated. This prophecy was fulfilled, as were all the others.
FULFILLMENT REGARDING TYRE
Within the space of little more than half a century, Tyre was made a vassal city of Assyria, was besieged and captured by "Nebuchadnezzar after a thirteen years siege (585-573 B.C.), and was ultimately wiped off the face of the earth by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. "The ancient city of Tyreon the mainland has never been rebuilt." Following the destruction of Tyre by Alexander the Great, "Thirty thousand of its people were sold into slavery"; and thus, the old slave traders finally received "the just recompense of their deeds."
"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Edom, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he did pursue his brother with the sword, and did cast off all pity, and his anger did tear perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.
Having dealt with three pagan neighbors of Israel, Amos here moved to address his prophecy of punishment to three pagan relatives of Israel, namely, Edom, Moab, and Ammon. The Edomites were descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob, and were thus blood relatives of the chosen people, being "the seed of Abraham" in a fleshly sense, no less than Israel itself. The great sin of this people was their "perpetual" hatred of Israel, going back to the time when Jacob had cheated their ancestor out of the birthright. Their hatred, anger, and wrath have continued throughout history; and the prophet's charge that "they kept their wrath forever" has literally come to pass. Note that God disapproved of this vindictive hatred. True, they had grounds for anger at Jacob and his posterity; but God had ratified the covenant in the seed of Jacob, passing Esau for moral and religious reasons, and not because of Jacob's shameful act in cheating his brother. This judgment of God the Edomites never accepted. Perhaps Schultz is right in seeing this verse, not as recounting specific sins of Edom, but as a reference to, "the traditional attitude of Edom toward Israel."
"But I will send a fire upon Tenan, and it shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.
"Tenan, according to Jerome, was the capital of Idumaea, and Bozrah was also an important city, likewise supposed by some to have been the capital (Gen 36:33)." Bozrah was south of the Dead Sea. As in all these denunciations, the land, or nation, then the capital and/or principal city or cities were mentioned as representatives of the entire country, or nation, denounced.
"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of the children of Ammon, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have ripped up the women with child of Gilead, that they may enlarge their border.
The stark effectiveness of the prophet's language here is attested by the fact that "rip off" has passed into a proverb for wicked and wholesale exploitation, an expression that appears to be derivative from Amos' words here. "The occasion when the Ammonites were guilty of such cruelty toward the Israelites as is here condemned is not recorded in the historical books of the O.T.
The Ammonites were descended from the incestuous union of Lot with one of his daughters; and it would appear that the character of the people thus originated partook in every way of the shameful and unlawful deeds of their ancestors. "What a marvel that Ammon and Moab retained the stamp of their origin, in a sensual and passionate nature? Their choice of idols grew out of this original character and aggravated it." The chief god of this savage people was Milcom (or Malcam), worshipped as the principle of destruction, and appeased, "with sacrifices of living children, given to the fire to devour (1Ki 11:7)." They, like the Edomites and the Moabites, despite their being physically related to Israel, exploited every opportunity within their reach for encroaching upon Israel or aiding aggressions against them. "Their nation lay just east of Moab, and northward to the Jabbok river, and southward to the hills of Edom." This area was altogether insufficient to their ambitions, and they were constantly attempting to "enlarge their border" by inroads against Israel.
"But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, and it shall devour the palaces thereof, with shouting in the day of battle, with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind; and their king shall go into captivity, he and his princes together, saith Jehovah.
Note that the announcement of God's judgment is uttered in each instance by formal, stylized pronouncements which are quite effective. "The shouting mentioned here is that of the assailants." The figure of a tempest, or storm, is used to convey the fury and suddenness of their destruction.
"Their king ..." Some have noted that in some versions, a proper name is used here, signifying "Malcam, or Milcom, the god of the Ammonites." If so, the dramatic meaning is that the worshippers of the god of destruction, along with their god, shall be destroyed.
Who can deny that it happened exactly as Amos had foretold? The cuneiform inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser, the great Assyrian king, relate how Ahaz of Judah, "Sanipu king of Ammon" both appear in a list of kings who paid tribute to him. Also, some forty years later, "Buduilu of Ammon (along with others) paid Sennacherib tribute and kissed his feet." Both of these destructions of Ammon occurred at substantial time periods subsequent to Amos' prophecy. "Their last stand seems to have been against Judas Maccabeus (1Ma 5:6)."
"The wall of Rabbah ..." Dean has a very interesting account of the strength of the remarkable wall of Rabbah:
"The massive walls, some of which remain in ruins, rise from the precipitous sides of the cliff ... I bent over them and looked sheer down about three hundred feet into one wady, and four hundred feet into the other. I did not wonder at its having occurred to King David that the leader of a charge against these ramparts would have met with certain death, consequently assigning the position to Uriah!"
This indicates how unbelievable the prophecy of Amos must have seemed to his first hearers. Nevertheless, the word of the Lord came to pass exactly as the great prophet had declared.
Regarding the repeated formula, "For three transgressions of ... yea, for four," see the note at end of Amos 2.
God Rules (Amo 1:1-15)
The time frame of this prophecy is approximately 762 BC. This is forty years before the northern nation called Israel is going to be overthrow and wiped out by the Assyrian Empire. This is a time of prosperity and wealth for the northern nation. Under the reign of Jeroboam II, the nation has established its borders and regained power that it had not seen since the reign of Solomon. The reign of Jeroboam II was a reign of peace and prosperity for the northern kingdom. Nations that usually were a threat, such as Egypt, Babylon, Syria, and Assyria, were in a period of relative weakness, which offered security to Israel. This security enabled them to enjoy a period of great prosperity.
The first verse of the book tells us that Amos is the prophet, but he is not an ordinary prophet. Rather, he is a livestock breeder who lives in the town of Tekoa, which is ten miles south of Jerusalem. This offers Amos a unique perspective. First, he is not from Israel, but from the southern nation called Judah. Second, Amos will speak forcefully against the wealth and prosperity of the nation because he has not participated in this prosperity. Proper credentials for God’s spokespersons is not formal training, formal ordination, or an official title. These things do not qualify a person to speak for God. Biblically speaking, only one who has the revelation from God has the proper credentials to speak for God.
The Lord Roars From Zion (Amo 1:2)
The prophecy begins with a statement of power and fear. The Lord roars from Zion. The imagery is of a lion roaring because God is about to attack. The prey is in its grasp and therefore the lion roars. The imagery goes beyond the lion metaphor. The Lord’s voice roars depicts amazing power being brought against the people.
The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. (Joe 3:16 ESV)
Notice the same effect occurs in Amo 1:2. The pastures of the shepherds mourn and the top of Mount Carmel withers. God’s wrath is seen as a withering drought against the green hills and pastures of the land. The roar is intended to send a shockwave through the nation. Where God roars from is also important. He roars from Zion. God speaks from his temple in Jerusalem, not from the Israelite temples in Dan and Bethel.
Judgment On The Surrounding Nations (Amo 1:3 to Amo 2:3)
The form of Amos’ prophecy is interesting. The declaration does not begin with Israel. Rather, the prophecies of judgment center on the surrounding nations initially. The oracle concerning the nations would cause the audience to think that Amos is delivering a message of salvation to Israel from the nations. One can see that these judgments would curry favor for Amos as an outsider.
There are seven nations that are brought under God’s judgment before God turns his message of judgment upon Israel. Six of these oracles are against the heathen nations, those who were not under the law of Moses and were not in a covenant relationship with the Lord. For each of the nations God’s judgment came based upon how they treated others. Cruelty toward others is the cause for God to act against them. There is a formula that Amos uses. He identifies the sin and the punishment that will come because of the sin. You will also notice the repeated refrain for each oracle against each nation: “For three transgressions and for four.” Their sinfulness is a pattern and they continue to go over the limit. They are compounding sin upon sin and judgment is therefore deserved.
Before we read the specific sins we need to consider what God is teaching. God is patient in the midst of our sins. It is not for one sin that God reigning down his wrath on any of these nations. God is giving time to repent. God is being merciful and allowing the sins to continue with the desire for them to turn back to God. However, time did not change the hearts of the people. Rather than turning to the Lord, the people have compounded their sins. Though God is patient in our sins, there will be a time of judgment. The Lord must roar and wrath must come now. But God’s patience prevailed until they had filled up their sins to the uttermost (cf. 1Th 2:16).
Notice the sins that the nations committed that God declared worthy of their judgment.
Syria (Damascus was the capital) was condemned for their harsh cruelty toward the people they conquered. Amos says that they rode over the defeated Israelites with threshing boards. Threshing boards had iron teeth which was used to separate the grain from the stalk. But the Syrians used these boards on the people they conquered. Clearly God does not subscribe to the idea that all is fair in war. Syria had gone too far.
Philistia (Gaza) was condemned for kidnapping peaceful people for the purpose of turning a profit. They were willing to injure others and sacrifice morality and humanity for the sake of making money.
Phoenicia (Tyre) followed the same error as Gaza. They apparently cooperated in selling slaves to other nations. There was a callous disregard for humanity, sacrificing human rights for business profits.
Edom was condemned because of its treatment of the people of Israel. There was to be a brotherhood between the Hebrews and the Edomites because Jacob and Esau were brothers.
Ammon was brought under judgment for massacring innocent and defenseless pregnant women. This is also extremely egregious. To kill the innocent so that they could expand their border is the reason for Ammon receiving God’s wrath.
Moab was condemned for their total disrespect for the dead.
These condemnations teach us that God holds all nations accountable for their acts of inhumanity against individuals. Every nation that does not respect human life will come under God’s judgment and they will be held accountable for their atrocities.