A. The logic of God’s judgment.
1. (1-2) God’s love and care for Israel make their judgment unavoidable.
Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying:
“You only have I known of all the families of the earth;
Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
a. Against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt: Israel’s rejection and disregard of God were all the more inexcusable in light of God’s great deliverance. When He brought Israel up from the land of Egypt, God proved His love and care for Israel; for God to speak against them shows He must have been sorely provoked.
i. The central act of redemption in the Old Testament was Israel’s exodus from Egypt. All through the Old Testament, God called Israel to look back and remember Him as the one who freed them from Egypt. The central act of redemption in the New Testament – and in God’s whole plan of redemption – is the work of Jesus on the cross. In the same way, we are called to constantly look back and remember what Jesus did on the cross and to live in light of that great fact.
b. You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities: God made a clear connection between the great privilege of Israel (you only have I known) and the great responsibility this privilege brings (therefore I will punish you). If Israel thought that their standing as a specially chosen nation made them less responsible before God, they were tragically mistaken.
i. “The false deduction which is too often made is that if we are the privileged people of God, therefore we may look for His mercy, He will not punish us. That is not so. The measure of our privilege, in the Divine economy, is the measure of our responsibility. Therefore if we fail to fulfill that responsibility He will not pass over our sins, but rather will visit upon us all our iniquities. It is well that those nations who boast of the Divine favour, should lay this lesson to heart.” (Morgan)
2. (3-6) The inescapable logic of God’s judgment.
Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?
Will a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?
Will a young lion cry out of his den, if he has caught nothing?
Will a bird fall into a snare on the earth, where there is no trap for it?
Will a snare spring up from the earth, if it has caught nothing at all?
If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid?
If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?
a. Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? In this section, Amos connected six statements that were obviously true. The six statements of the obvious lead into a seventh statement, each one reinforcing this final point.
b. If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it? When judgment comes against the cities of Israel, everyone should know that it was the LORD who has done it. It won’t be an accident, fate, or bad luck. It will be the hand of the LORD.
3. (7-8) The inevitable message of the prophet.
Surely the Lord GOD does nothing,
Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.
A lion has roared!
Who will not fear?
The Lord GOD has spoken!
Who can but prophesy?
a. Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret: In context, Amos spoke of the coming judgment upon Israel. God revealed this secret to His prophets, and it was prophesied for years and years before it happened so Israel would have every opportunity to repent.
i. God especially reveals the secrets of His coming judgment, so that men will have time to repent and no reason to be surprised. “Such secrets of God are revealed to them, that they may inform the people; that, by repentance and conversion, they may avoid the evil, and, by walking closely with God, secure the continuance of his favour.” (Clarke)
ii. We must remember the context of the book of Amos and understand that this does not mean that God does nothing without revealing it to a prophet first. In Ephesians 3:5 Paul described how God deliberately hid the nature of the church (being a new body, not Israel and not Gentile) from Old Testament prophets. This is one example of something that God didn’t announce or explain until it happened, without giving a prior revelation to a prophet.
b. A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy? Amos is saying, “Don’t blame me. I’m only the messenger.” As natural as it is for a man to fear when a lion roars, that is how natural it is for the prophet to prophesy when the Lord GOD has spoken.
4. (9-10) The message of judgment against Israel goes to the surrounding nations.
“Proclaim in the palaces at Ashdod,
And in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say:
‘Assemble on the mountains of Samaria;
See great tumults in her midst,
And the oppressed within her.
For they do not know to do right,’
Says the LORD,
‘Who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.’”
a. Proclaim in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of Egypt: The city of Ashdod was a leading city of the Philistines. God invited the nations – represented here by Philistia and Egypt – to come to Samaria (the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel) and to see their sin (great tumults in her midst, and the oppressed within her).
i. Hubbard on the choice of the Egyptians and Philistines as witnesses: “Their reputations for injustice and brutality would be resented by the Israelites, who would consider themselves in every way morally superior to those whom God had summoned as witnesses.” It would also “show that covenant law is not the only criterion for testing Israel’s behaviour but that by any standards of international decency they have become culprits.”
b. Who store up violence and robbery in their palaces: The rich and powerful of Israel used their wealth and power to oppress and steal from others. God invited the nations to see the sin of Israel, so they could understand the judgment He would bring upon them.
B. The destruction God’s judgment brings.
1. (11-12) Israel will be conquered and exiled.
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD:
“An adversary shall be all around the land;
He shall sap your strength from you,
And your palaces shall be plundered.”
Thus says the LORD:
“As a shepherd takes from the mouth of a lion
Two legs or a piece of an ear,
So shall the children of Israel be taken out
Who dwell in Samaria–
In the corner of a bed and on the edge of a couch!”
a. An adversary shall be all around the land: This was fulfilled in the Assyrian invasion of Israel, less than 30 years after Amos made this prophecy. For ten years, Israel was a subject state in the Assyrian Empire.
b. As a shepherd takes from the mouth of the lion: Exodus 22:10-13 says that if an animal dies in the care of another man – such as a shepherd – the shepherd must make restitution to the owner of the animal, unless he could bring remains that proved the animal was attacked by a predator.
i. “Amos’ comparison, then, makes the sarcastic point that when invasion strikes Israel’s devastation will be so complete that all that will be rescued is proof of death in the form of scraps of furniture.” (Hubbard)
c. So shall the children of Israel be taken out who dwell in Samaria: This was fulfilled in the Assyrian exile of Israel, less than 40 years after Amos made this prophecy. After a little more than ten years as a subject state in the Assyrian Empire, Israel was completely conquered by Assyria and the people of Israel were taken from their land and scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire.
2. (13-15) Judgment on wicked places.
“Hear and testify against the house of Jacob,”
Says the Lord GOD, the God of hosts,
“That in the day I punish Israel for their transgressions,
I will also visit destruction on the altars of Bethel;
And the horns of the altar shall be cut off
And fall to the ground.
I will destroy the winter house along with the summer house;
The houses of ivory shall perish,
And the great houses shall have an end,”
Says the LORD.
a. I will also visit destruction on the altars of Bethel; and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground: The altars of dedication to idols would be destroyed by God’s judgment. When we build a place of idolatry, we invite God to destroy it. The horns of the altar at each corner were thought to represent the strength of the altar, just as horns represent the strength of an animal.
b. The great houses shall have an end: God’s judgment would not stop at places of idol worship; it would also extend to places built and enjoyed through oppression and robbery.
i. In the age prior to Jeroboam II, the houses in Israel’s cities were roughly the same size. But archaeologists find a change starting in the eighth-century B.C. – ancient cities like Tirzah have a neighborhood of large, expensive houses and another neighborhood of small, crowded structures, smaller than the houses from previous years. The larger houses are filled with the marks of prosperity, and the oppressive rich of Israel thought they could find safety there – but God’s judgment came against those houses as well, just as Amos promised.