As we work out way through the book of Amos, we have to remember the two great themes—the violence of oppressive cruelty and the abandonment of right worship. The prophet Amos requires us to reject all those who embrace either sin. These are the two great themes of this prophet of God.
“Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof . . . ”
Remember that the prophet Amos speaks to us in sevens. We have here a series of denunciations, all of them voiced as “for three [sins] . . . and for four.” The fourth is the crowning sin, and the one at the center of the rebuke, but the three and the four together make seven. Moreover, before Amos gets to the nation of Israel (his central target), he takes a tour of the surrounding nations, seven of them. Each rebuke has a standard introduction. Each has a statement of that nation’s sin. Then there is a standardized pronouncement of coming judgment, all of them by fire—seven nations and seven fire judgments. And then each has some details of the Lord’s judgment on that nation. The nations are grouped in an a/a/b/b/c/c/d pattern—Damascus and Gaza together, Tyre and Edom, and Ammon and Moab, all crowned with the rebuke of Judah. These seven denunciations lead us to a 7 + 1 suprise—the eighth nation is Israel.
THE SINS OF SEVEN NATIONS:
What sins have these nations committed? First Damascus was guilty of cruelty in her warfare against Gilead (1:3-5). The threshing sled is a picture of extreme and thorough cruelty in war. Gaza, and the other cities of the Philistines, are judged because their slave-trading with Edom (1: 6-8). Tyre was guilty of the same inhumane offense—selling slaves to Edom (1:9-10). Edom, descended from Esau, for his part kept a grudge for a long time and pursued his brother with a sword (1:11-12). Ammon, one of the nations descended from Lot, was guilty of gross cruelty in war for the sake of border expansion (1:13-15). Moab, descended from Lot through his other daughter, was guilty of descrating the bones of Edom’s king (2:1-3). And Judah, in the crowning sin, was guilty of apostasy away from the worship of the true God, forsaking His laws (2:4-5). Amos, like the God he represents was not playing favorites here. All these nations are denounced, some for sins they committed against others on the list, and some for sins they committed together with others on the list.
GOD OF ALL NATIONS:
One of the striking things about these rebukes is that Amos fully expects these heathen nations to conform to God’s standards. “We serve other gods” is no excuse; it is no defense. The God who will judge them for their sin doesn’t care. Idolatry would be a central part of the problem.
Remember two things about his. One is that in the Old Testament, Israel was called to be a priestly nation. This meant that Gentiles could worship and serve God acceptably without becoming Israelites. We see Melchizedek, and Jethro, and Namaan, and the inhabitants of Ninevah under the preaching of Jonah, and those Gentiles who came to the Temple in order to woship God in the court designated for them to worship in. Being a Gentile in the Old Testament was not exactly parallel to being a non-Christian today. The second point is that because in the gospel God has universalized Israel, and all who believe are to be made part of this priestly nation. Thus, to be a non-Christian today is parallel with being a rebellious Gentile in the Old. We can therefore speak with a comparable authority to all nations today—certainly with the Great Commission in force we cannot speak with less authority than did Amos.
AMOS SPEAKS FOR GOD:
When Amos comes against these nations, he does so in the name of the Lord. His rebukes show that he knows (for example) that Damascus sinned against Gilead (part of Israel) which does not prevent him from rebuking Israel later. Ammon sinned against Gilead too—does that mean that Amos is on “Israel’s side.” No, he is on God’s side. Amos does not rebuke Israel on the basis of Edomite scholarship, or rebuke Moab on the basis of Philistine newspaper editorials. He doesn’t rebuke America on the basis of Michael Moore’s lies, or defend America on the basis of Sean Hannity’s pom poms. Amos brings the authoritative law of the sovereign and holy God to bear.
GETTING IT STRAIGHT:
Judah should have thought of her relationship to God as that of belonging exclusively to Him. Instead they fell into the trap of believing that God belonged exclusively to them. Because of this, presumption they came to believe that they had the right to alter the worship that He required of them. “Their lies caused them to err” probably refers to their idols as lies. In the rhetorical pattern set up here, the seventh sin is the worst, the crowning sin. As awful as cruelty in war might be, as terrible as slave-trading is, as horrific as ripping open pregnant women is, the worst is to worship idols—that is, after all, the font that creates all the rest of the polluted water downstream. So right worship and mercy go together, and if you separate one from the other, you kill them both.
We have to fix this in our minds at the beginning because the book of Amos has long been used by leftist ideologues to justify their violent coercions. And the fact that it has been abused in this way by the envious left has often caused fat cats of various stripes to ignore the warnings that the prophet delivers to their doorstep. But this is like Ammon defending itself because the prophet rebuked Edom, or Edom defending itself because the prophet rebuked Gaza.
A curse on all socialists, soft leftists, bedwetters, hand-wringers, liberation theologians (whether black, brown, or white), Marxists, communists, or sojourners. They want justice without right worship, which means that they bring nothing but raw injustice, some of them wanting it in the name of Jesus. A pox on all money-grubbers, manipulators, riggers, fat cats, mammonphiles, imperious neocons, and greed monkeys. They want profits without right worship, which means that they are denying the God who alone gives us true affluence. When the gospel creates free men, then and only then will we have truly free markets.
What should we then do? How do we then live? To the law and to the testimony. Right worship is the tree. Mercy is one of the fruits necessarily produced by that tree. We cannot have the tree without the fruit, and we cannot have the fruit without the tree.