Amos, Missionary to Israel, Part 4
Issue No. 352
After proclaiming judgment against Israel’s neighboring nations—which, no doubt, all the people applauded—Amos 2:4, 5 then prophesies against Judah, saying,
4 Thus says the Lord, “For three transgressions of Judah and for four, I will not revoke its punish-ment, because they rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept His statutes; their lies also have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked. 5 So I will send fire upon Judah, and it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem.”
Keep in mind that Amos was from Judah, but he had been sent with a message to Israel. His message against Judah probably caused no serious opposition, because Judah and Israel were separate nations and were often at war with each other. Yet his prophecy about Judah may have been hitting too close to home. Perhaps his audience began to wonder if Israel was next on his hit list.
Indeed, it was. But for the moment, let us look at his condemnation of Judah’s lawlessness.
Why Judah was Judged
Judah was to be judged “because they rejected the law of the Lord.” The temple was in Jerusalem, not in Samaria or Bethel—cities in Israel. Amos prophesied during the days of Uzziah, King of Judah, who was also known as Azariah. The account in 2 Chron. 26:4, 5 says of him,
4 And he did right in the sight of the Lord according to all that his father Amaziah had done. 5 And he continued to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding through the vision of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God prospered him.
However, later in life, he attempted to usurp the place of the priesthood, and God smote him with leprosy. However, this does not seem sufficient to warrant divine judgment. In the other account, given in 2 Kings 15:3-5 we read,
3 And he did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. 4 Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. 5 And the Lord struck the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death…
The cause for divine judgment did not seem to be at the temple, but in the fact that the king did not enforce the First Commandment to have no other gods before Him. He allowed freedom of religion, which infringed upon God’s right to rule those that He had redeemed from Egypt. Having purchased Israel, He had the right to expect them to serve Him.
Because the king did not enforce the most important and basic law of God, it seems (by the wording) that God induced the king to act foolishly in usurping the priesthood. God intended to judge him by inflicting him with leprosy, a sign of mortality and death, which also caused him to be separated (quarantined) from society. So his son Jotham became co-regent with his father Uzziah (or Amaziah) in the years that his father was a leper.
It was during these years of Uzziah’s reign that Amos prophesied. Amos knew that many in Judah worshiped false gods freely in violation of the divine law.
In chapter 1 of my book, The Ten Commandments, I show that God allows freedom of conscience in personal applications of the law, but does not allow anyone to violate the law with immunity or to set up alternate gods to worship. On page 4, I wrote:
“In essence, to obtain citizenship in the Kingdom of God, one must make a commitment even as Ruth did when she said in Ruth 1:16, “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” This is the essential requirement for Kingdom citizenship, and to maintain such citizenship one must comply with the laws of the Kingdom. Violation of the law will be judged and corrected.
“Within that context, men have freedom of conscience. But one cannot use conscience as an excuse to break the law. Such lawbreakers are Kingdom criminals. There is to be one law for the whole nation, and all men are equally bound to be obedient to the law of God. But men have the right to be wrong in doctrinal matters, as long as they do not violate the First Commandment.”
There has seldom been a time in Israel’s history when they kept the First Commandment. Judah had a few godly kings who enforced it to the best of their ability, but it is apparent that in those times, many people simply went underground and worshiped false gods in secret. We know this, because as soon as a king rose up who allowed false gods, many people immediately flocked to the groves to sacrifice to false gods.
On Being God’s People
Their forefathers had sworn allegiance to God at the foot of Mount Horeb (Exodus 19:8). This covenant was like their Declaration of Independence, that is, it was the oath on which the nation itself had been established. The law was their Constitution and legal system, by which society was to function with equal justice for all. These laws ensured freedom, peace, and prosperity, if the people would follow them (Lev. 26:3-13).
It was also the basis of their “chosen” status as God’s people, for Exodus 19:5 says,
5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you will be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…
Likewise, we read again in Lev. 26:12 that if they were obedient,
12 I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.
Being God’s people was conditional upon obedience. Hence, whenever Israel was disobedient and lawless, they were no longer His people, nor were they “chosen.” This is why Paul distinguishes between Israel as a nation and the remnant of grace (overcomers). He tells us in Rom. 11:7,
7 What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened [or blinded].
Paul distinguishes between Israel as a whole and “those who were chosen,” that is, the remnant of grace. In the days of Elijah, there were just 7,000 chosen ones out of millions of Israelites. In Paul’s day, once again, there were relatively few believers out of millions of Jews and Israelites.
The remnant of grace, however, was chosen by God, not by men. Under the Old Covenant, men had attempted to become God’s people by the power of their own choice, their own will, their own vow of obedience (Exodus 19:8).
But the New Covenant shifted the burden from men to God. So the second covenant (Deut. 29:1) was an oath that God Himself made, not only with Israelites, but with non-Israelites (Deut. 29:10-12) and even with all who were not present at the time (Deut. 29:14, 15). God vowed to make all of mankind His people and to be their God, so Deut. 29:12, 13 says,
12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In other words, God took an oath to turn the hearts of all mankind, so that they would indeed become His people. Moses says that this is the same covenant that God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Hence, it actually preceded the Old Covenant that was made at Mount Horeb and was a reiteration of the Abrahamic covenant, which was also the basis of the New Covenant.
This explains the scope of this covenant in Deut. 29 and why it specifically was to benefit the aliens and all who could not be present to hear about God’s oath. Abraham was to be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3). So Deut. 29:13 defines the Abrahamic covenant in greater detail, showing that the blessing was to make them all His people and to be their God.
The “chosen” ones—that is, the remnant of grace—are those whose hearts God has turned FIRST in the ages prior to the establishment of the Kingdom. Paul’s prime example of His intervention in the remnant of grace is in the story of Jacob and Esau. Rom. 9:11, 12 says,
11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”
All will eventually become God’s people. Being “chosen” is a special endowment of faith in this life, which sets people apart in the present age. But in the end, God made the same promise to all mankind, and its fulfillment depends fully upon God’s ability to turn the hearts of men and to instill faith by speaking to them.
In their blindness, the world (and much of the church) has no faith that God is able to do this, for they see the will of man as an impediment to the power of God. But God has imposed this blindness upon them. Rom. 11:7, 8 says,
7 What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened [or blinded]; 8 just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day.”
Paul also says in Rom. 11:32,
32 For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.
Some complain about this, not understanding the mercy of God, for in blinding the people and shutting them up in disobedience, He has taken the responsibility upon Himself to set them free and to make them all His people. This He must do in order to remain a just and good God.
Some complain about God’s lack of fairness as well. But God is the Creator and Owner of all. He does not have to be fair. He has the right to be unfair and to choose a few today and save the rest tomorrow. He is only obligated to be just, for justice is in His nature, and He must be true to Himself.
Fire Upon Judah
Recall that Amos 2:5 says,
5 So I will send fire upon Judah, and it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem.
Judah was judged under the Old Covenant for failing to keep their vow at Mount Horeb (Exodus 19:8). Jerusalem’s citadels were consumed by literal fire when Babylon laid siege to the city about 150 years later. The same took place in 70 A.D. for the same reason (lawlessness). It will happen again soon—still for the same reason. Destruction will not cease until the city is no longer repairable (Jer. 19:10, 11).
So will God cast out “Hagar,” as Paul called the earthly Jerusalem in Gal. 4:25, 30). Hagar-Jerusalem has been contending with Sarah-New Jerusalem to be known as the mother of the “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). Paul says that the children of the earthly Jerusalem cannot inherit the Kingdom, but must be “cast out” in favor of the children of the New Jerusalem—the believers in Christ.
Even so, the same fire that consumes the citadels of the earthly Jerusalem will also be the move of the Holy Spirit that sweeps throughout the whole earth, turning the hearts of the people to Jesus Christ. The fire of God, says John the Baptist, is designed to consume “chaff” (Luke 3:16, 17), which represents fleshly things. All flesh is combustible.
Yet God’s purpose is not merely to consume flesh, but to prepare the way for something greater that will encompass the whole earth. When this fire consumes the wicked at the Great White Throne, their hearts will be turned as their fleshly works are consumed. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess their allegiance to Christ in that day (Isaiah 45:22-24; Phil. 2:9-11).
Hence, the judgment upon Judah, though terrible in its earthly manifestation, will work together for good, and so God will make them His people by turning their hearts and imparting faith to all. He has chosen to do so, and no man can stop it by the power of his own will.
The Israelite Oracle
Amos finally gets to the heart of his message, which was to Israel itself. This was why he was sent from Judah to Israel. Amos 2:6 says,
6 Thus says the Lord, “For three transgressions of Israel and for four, I will not revoke its punishment, because they sell the righteous for money [silver] and the needy for a pair of sandals. 7 These who pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the helpless also turn aside the way of the humble…”
Amos’ first indictment upon Israel was upon their Department of Justice.
Unrighteous people (thieves) were supposed to pay restitution, and if they were unable to do so, then they were to be “sold” to pay the debt to their victims (Exodus 22:3). However, many of the judges in Israel were being bribed, and as a result, the righteous were being sold into slavery. Exodus 23:6-8 says,
6 You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 And you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.
God takes injustice very seriously, both then and now. So this is the first thing that God condemned in Israel.
The Lack of Mercy
Amos also charged Israel with selling “the needy for a pair of sandals.” I doubt that this was the price of a slave. More likely, since it is coupled with selling the righteous for silver, Amos was referring to the unjust judges again.
I believe that Amos was condemning the judges in Israel for excessive punishment. A poor man who has nothing might steal a pair of sandals, and for this a merciless judge might condemn him to be sold as a slave. Hence, Israel’s sin was not only injustice, but also lack of mercy. Instead of selling the poor man on account of a pair of sandals, someone ought to have given him some sandals—or at least paid the restitution for his theft. Micah 6:8 says,
8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness [chesed, “mercy, loving-kindness”], and to walk humbly with your God?
The law, then, commands us to know the mind of God, not only in matters of justice, but also mercy and humility.
Amos 2:7 continues,
7 … and a man and his father resort to the same girl in order to profane My holy name.
This was a common practice in Canaanite temples, which employed priests and priestesses to “purify” the people through sexual acts. In such cases, both father and son might have sexual relations with the same priestess.
Amos does not give us any details, but it is also possible that the wealthier Israelites had purchased slave women to be sexual slaves for fathers and their sons. The law in Lev. 18:17 says that a man was not to “uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter,” because “they are blood relatives.” This principle applied equally to the a man and his son having relations with the same woman, which was something that Paul addressed in 1 Cor. 5:1.
It appears that such things were being practiced in Israel, because the law had been put away. But God saw it and was displeased, for it profaned His holy name.
Pledges on Garments
Amos 2:8 says,
8 And on garments taken as pledges, they stretch out beside every altar…
Pledges were collateral on loans. On short-term loans, it was often customary for someone to give his outer garment as a pledge on a loan. But the law says in Exodus 22:26, 27,
26 If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27 for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.
But in Amos’ day, creditors were ignoring this law, for they were using them at night to “stretch out beside every altar.” Perhaps the creditors were priests who slept beside the altars, or it may be that Amos was using more figurative language, indicating that creditors kept the garments overnight with the approval of the religious system that the altars represented.
Drinking on the Job
The last part of Amos 2:8 says,
8 … And in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined.
The wine in question seems to be wine that was “fined” (or exacted) from debtors. In other words, it has to do with foreclosure on debts. While some see an element of utter ruthlessness of mortgage lenders in this, it seems more probable to me that the focus is upon drinking “in the house of their God” (or god).
Was this Bethel, “the house of God”? It is not likely that Amos was talking about the temple in Jerusalem, since his condemnation was directed at Israel, not at Judah. Yet it must have been directed at the actions of priests in some sort of worship center. The law says in Lev. 10:8-11,
8 The Lord then spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 “Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you may not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations— 10 and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses.”
The law of God forbids priests to drink on the job, so that they may think clearly and teach the law soberly. Strong drink tends to blur the distinctions “between the holy and the profane and between the unclean and the clean.”