Amos proclaims judgment on seven nations surrounding Israel. He prophesies against Israel’s neighbors before finally working his way back to Israel itself. Six of the seven countries are pagan – the seventh is Judah. The purpose of these prophecies seems to be to show God as judge over all the earth, not just Israel. It is not meant as a warning to the countries themselves since there is no evidence that these words will ever be delivered to them. Beyond showing God as judge, however, the oracles are a rhetorical device meant to invite agreement and favor from his audience (God’s judgment on their enemies will sound good to the Israelites – “get ‘em Amos!” – and make them buy in to the thought that evil deserves punishment. They likely think Amos will prophesy continued deliverance and peace for Israel after proclaiming God’s wrath on their rivals) before announcing the much more detailed judgment on them.
None of the six pagan nations has the law. None of them has special revelation from God. All, however, are found guilty before God. All six are judged for crimes against humanity. There is a basic understanding of right and wrong that all mankind has regardless of their specific knowledge of the law of God. Every human is born with a conscience that effectively is the law of God written in his heart (Romans 2:12-16). Thus, all are guilty for moral wrongs even when the specific law is unknown.
The seven nations mentioned all border or lie within the Promised Land. Damascus is the capital city of Aram (Syria), to the northeast of Israel (and interestingly, under Israeli control at the time Amos prophesies). Gaza (along with Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron) is a city in Philistia that borders Judah to the west along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Tyre is in Phoenicia which is to the northwest of Israel also along the coast of the Mediterranean. Edom is a country to the southeast of Judah. Ammon is a country directly east of Israel. Moab is a country to the east of Judah, between Ammon and Edom. Judah, of course, is directly south of Israel.
The first six prophesies seem to be linked in pairs. The first two nations are condemned for their cruelty. The next two are also condemned for cruelty, but with the added issue of having betrayed their brothers. The last two are judged amid war cries for their cruelty to the helpless – pregnant women and the dead.
The final prophecy against Judah stands on its own and most closely resembles what Amos will say to Israel. Amos seems to circle around Israel and slowly come closer and closer until he reaches Judah and then alights on Israel itself.
In each case, the country/city is judged for three transgressions…and for four. This is a Hebrew motif more common to wisdom literature (Prov. 6:16, 30:15-31). It means “enough and more than enough” or “full and more than full.” It pictures a cup filled to the brim having one more drop added to it – similar to the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It carries with it a sense of God’s mercy – He has extended His mercy and extended His mercy and finally can extend it no more as the people identified continually fill up God’s wrath with their sin. God’s wrath almost always comes only after extended times of His mercy.
Damascus is the major city in Aram, an age-old enemy of Israel. The time of the offense mentioned is not identified but several references provide possibilities (II Kings 8:28-29, 10:32-33, 13:3-7). Aram has fought against Israel throughout most of its history. As Amos speaks, however, it is actually under Israeli control as Jeroboam II has subjugated it (II Kings 14:25) after it was weakened by Assyria.
The Arameans are accused of threshing the people of Gilead with implements of sharp iron. Threshing is sometimes done by pulling heavy sleds with sharp bits of iron protruding from planks of wood across stalks of grain. Here God says the Arameans either literally or figuratively did this to the inhabitants of Gilead (part of Israel on the east side of the Jordan among the tribe of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh). When the Arameans conquered this area they left it and its people as if they had been threshed – not just an act of war but an act of barbarity.
God will judge Aram by destroying what it sees as its security. He will destroy the house of its kings (Hazael and Ben-hadad – several kings of Aram were so named) and its military fortresses. He will remove the king and the inhabitants (from south – valley of Aven – to the north – Beth-eden). The people will go in exile to Kir (per Amos 9:7 where they migrated from). This prophecy is apparently fulfilled in II Kings 16:9 by Assyria under Tiglath-pileser III.
Gaza is accused of deporting an entire population to Edom presumably to be sold into slavery. Since taking prisoners of war is not considered morally wrong, this apparently refers to capturing innocents in a time of peace and selling them for profit.
God’s judgment on Philistia is similar to that of Aram. He will destroy its main cities and destroy their inhabitants. Nothing of Philistia will remain.
In both cases, Aram and Philistia are accused of treating people like things and dismissing any thought of human dignity or worth. Human life is deemed secondary to political gain or profit. Since they do not value human life, God will take the lives of their people.
Amos ends both oracles by reminding his hearers that these are the words of Yahweh (vss. 5 and 8). His listeners likely cheer their God judging these people who are so deserving.
Tyre is accused of acts similar to Gaza. The difference, however, is that what Tyre did is a violation of a covenant of brotherhood. Yahweh’s name is connected to covenant – He is the covenant-keeping God (Exodus 6). To violate a covenant makes what Tyre did even more serious than Gaza. They not only delivered innocent people into slavery – they did it to people with whom they had a covenant.
God will judge Tyre by destroying it. Nothing is said about its people. He will destroy the citadels – the symbols of their might and security.
Edom is the country that Gaza and Tyre sent slaves to. Edom is made up of cousins of Israel – the descendants of Esau. Throughout Israel’s history the relationship with Edom has typically been hostile (I Kings 11:14-17, II Kings 8:20-22, 14:7), and per Obadiah the Edomites will rejoice in the calamity of their Israelite relatives. Here Edom’s brother is not identified, but it is reasonable to assume Israel is intended. Edom is ruthless in his pursuit of his brother and God will judge the nation because of it.
Just like Tyre, God will destroy Edom’s main cities and its fortresses.
For both Tyre and Edom, the sins are made worse because they betray those with whom they have a covenant or a blood relation. They are not loyal and do not keep their covenants, therefore God will not preserve them. There are no Philistines or Edomites alive today.
Ammon and Moab are also countries with ties to Israel. Both nations were formed by the incestuous relationship of Lot and his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38 – the daughters’ lack of regard for their father might be explained by Lot’s behavior when the angels visited him in Sodom – Genesis 19:8). Lot’s sin – just like Abraham’s with Hagar – is still being felt by Israel and Judah in Amos’ time centuries after Lot’s death.
The Ammonites are judged for ripping open the pregnant women of Gilead (same area where Aram threshed the inhabitants). Presumably this was an act of war, but barbaric acts in war are not excusable. Pregnant women pose no military threat – this was done purely as terror and genocide – and to enlarge the borders of Ammon by stamping out the next generation of Gileadites. The women and obviously their children were completely defenseless.
God says He will destroy the capital city of Ammon – Rabbah (modern day Amman, Jordan). Amidst war cries the city and its defenses will be destroyed. Apparently God will intervene – a storm on the day of tempest – to ensure the Ammonites’ defeat and that their king and princes (the ones who presumably commanded the slaughter in Gilead) will go into exile. They will understand what it means to be conquered and to be subject to the mercy of their captors.
Moab is judged for burning the bones of the king of Edom to lime. At first reading, this seems the strangest of the sins of the pagan nations. When this happened or why is impossible to say with certainty. A possibility is found in II Kings 3 when Israel, Judah, and Edom allied against Moab and virtually destroyed it. It could be that Moab later on was able to exhume the body of the king of Edom and make a public spectacle of it in retribution. They not only burned the body, but actually made lime out of the ashes and perhaps used it to plaster the walls of a house. Their desire for revenge was such that it was not sated even by the death of the king – they followed him to the grave to somehow satisfy their hatred. Could anything publicize more clearly the senseless irrationality of a nourished hatred than to see a venerable corpse dragged from its tomb to suffer pointless indignities? (JA Motyer. The Message of Amos, The Bible Speaks Today; 45)
God will punish Moab by destroying it. The king and his princes will die and the citadels of Kerioth – the city that houses the temple of their god Chemosh – will be destroyed. Like Ammon, this will happen amidst war cries.
Ammon and Moab both committed heinous acts to satisfy selfish needs. Ammon needed to satisfy its ambition for more land. Moab needed to satisfy its desire for vengeance. Both valued their need for satisfaction over human life.
In the end, all six pagan nations are punished for valuing self over human life and dignity. They callously trampled on the weak and defenseless for the purpose of personal gain. They did this with no thought for the ramifications of their actions or any idea that there was a God who will hold them accountable.
The treatment of others is vitally important to God. Human life is treasured by God. Every man is an image-bearer and no soul is unimportant or forgotten. Believers and unbelievers alike will be judged based on their treatment of others. Six pagan nations who did not value human life and ruthlessly eliminated weaker people who got in their way will be destroyed by a God who does not allow such acts to go unpunished (none of these nations exists today).
It is a constant aspect of the Bible’s view of life that earthly relationships have a heavenly dimension: actions directed towards men provoke reactions from God. (JA Motyer. The Message of Amos, The Bible Speaks Today; 46)
For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment – James 2:13
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets – Matthew 22:37-40.
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also – I John 4:20-21.
And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’ – Matthew 25:40.