Amos has prophesied against the pagan nations around Israel. He began with those who are not related – Aram, Philistia, Phoenicia – and moved to the ones who share a blood relation to Israel – Edom, Ammon, Moab. Now he speaks against the closest nation both geographically and relationally – Judah. He is slowly coming closer and closer to Israel and is about to direct his harshest remarks to his listeners themselves.
As Amos begins to speak against Judah, his listeners likely derive as much satisfaction from hearing of its judgment as they did when they heard his words against the pagan nations (it probably also surprises and delights them that he is proclaiming judgment against his own country). It was not that long ago – during the reign of Jeroboam II’s father, possibly within the last 30 or so years – that Judah instigated war against Israel and the armies of Israel destroyed a portion of the walls of Jerusalem and stole the gold and silver of the temple and took the king of Judah (Amaziah) captive (II Kings 14:8-16).
His listeners may become uncomfortable, however, when they hear why Judah will be judged. Unlike the other six nations, Judah will be judged for rejecting the law of Yahweh. The pagan nations do not have the law, so this judgment is unique to Judah. However, the only other nation to have the law is Israel. If Judah is about to be judged, might the audience begin to suspect that Amos may have something to say about them too? And in actuality, Amos’ words about Judah are aimed at Israel also – 3:1 makes it clear that ultimately this initial oracle is as true of Israel as it is about Judah.
Judah’s sin is not based on general revelation or sins against the conscience. Judah has not merely committed crimes against humanity or practiced cruelty. Judah has the revealed will of God as expressed in the law. So its sin is against Yahweh Himself. The people of Judah have rejected the law of the Lord. They are God’s chosen people and enjoy the privileges of election, but they have forsaken that privilege by disobeying God’s law. Their disobedience is ultimately a rejection of the God who chose them (I Samuel 15:22-23).
Note that for Judah, just like for the pagan nations, God will not revoke its punishment. Judah is past the point of no return – there is no hope for God’s mercy anymore. God’s mercy has been exhausted and nothing can happen now to stem His wrath.
Is there anything scarier in these first two chapters than the words I will not revoke its punishment? Seven times God says the nations Amos prophesies about are beyond saving and beyond the limits of His mercy. Nothing they do from here on will change their sentence. He was merciful through the first sin, through the second sin, through the third sin, but cannot be merciful any longer and has given them over so that it is no longer possible for them to repent. Note that in most cases the filling up of His wrath by these countries took CENTURIES. The northern kingdom will have been around for over 200 years before it is destroyed. Judah will exist for almost 200 years after this prophecy before it comes true. God is patient and God is slow as we measure time and God is almost immeasurably merciful. But God is ultimately just – and there are limits to His mercy on the unrepentant.
The Christian who dabbles in sin and assumes that he will always be able to come back would do well to remember these words. The mercy of God is not something we can keep in the corner waiting to be used as we see fit. To assume that we will always find our way back through the haze of unrenewed thinking and that the mercy of God will always be available is an exceedingly dangerous way to live. God eventually gives man his way when man is intent on going there (Romans 1:24-32), and man does not know at what point that will be. It is instructive to remember that people sometimes drown because they actually swim away from the surface in the confusion and darkness of the deep.
Along with warning there is also encouragement to the believer here. God is a God of justice even when the justice is a long time coming. As pointed out above, the ultimate punishment for the countries listed will come in some cases HUNDREDS of years after the sins mentioned. God never fails to notice when His creatures suffer and never forgets when justice is not served. Though it seems like the evil prosper and oftentimes go unpunished, God is eternal and practices eternal justice. All wrongs will be righted in the end and the Christian can be confident that all injustice will eventually be addressed – if not in this life, in the life to come. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day – II Peter 3:8.
What has caused Judah to reject God’s law? The text says their lies also have led them astray. They decided to listen to someone or something other than God and slowly substituted the lies of men for the law of God. The lies are those after which their fathers walked. They followed traditions of men rather than the law of God. Their fathers stopped following God and the sons followed the fathers. This is a perfect illustration of the curse God associated with the first two commandments. …for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me – Exodus 20:5.
The lies led them away from the true God to the worship of false gods. Nothing is more important to God than that He alone is worshiped by His people. Throughout the history of the divided kingdom all kings have been judged based on one thing – did they lead the people to worship God or to worship false gods? All other acts were secondary to this one issue. First and Second Kings summarize every king’s rule with a simple commentary on whether they observed the first two commandments. They may have been mighty warriors or great builders or kind leaders or cruel and cowardly, but their time on the throne is still summarized by whether or not they led the people to worship Yahweh alone. The kings on the throne as Amos preaches are summarized as follows: Jeroboam II (king of Israel) – And he did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from the all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin (Jeroboam the son of Nebat was the first to introduce idol worship) – II Kings 14:24. Uzziah (king of Judah) – And he did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places – II Kings 15:3-4 (interesting that Amos is proclaiming judgment on Judah during the reign of a generally righteous king).
So what’s led Judah away from the law of God? Lies. What would have kept Judah from believing the lies? The law of God. The law is God’s will revealed to His chosen people just as the completed Scriptures are God’s will revealed to us. God’s word protects those who follow it from falling prey to the lies of the Enemy. Straying from or ignoring God’s word leaves us unprotected and gullible. We cannot depend on the traditions and prevailing wisdom of men. Only the word of God is timeless and perfect and true. Remaining in the truth precludes falling into lies.
What will happen to Judah as a result of rejecting the law of God and believing instead the lies of men? God will send fire upon Judah and it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem. He will follow through on what He threatened through Moses when they first received the law hundreds of years earlier: And it shall come about if you ever forget the Lord your God, and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the Lord your God – Deut 8:19-20.
Judah will be treated just like the pagan nations. The peace and safety that was theirs as the chosen people of God were effectively forsaken when they forsook the God who chose them. They will remain His chosen people, but the associated privileges will be taken away. Their punishment will be little different from the punishment of Aram, Philistia, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon and Moab (the difference being – in the case of Judah – they will not be wiped out completely and will return to the land – this will not be true for Israel).
- When those who call themselves the people of God choose to reject God’s word and to place something other than God at the center of their lives, they will be destroyed (thus showing that they were not in fact His people).
- Rejecting God’s word is ultimately rejecting God Himself.
- We cannot legitimately claim to be God’s children if we have no interest in His word. Knowing His word is to know Him because His word is how He reveals Himself to us. Knowing Him is the ultimate goal of every one of His children. Having no desire to know Him through His word (and through prayer) is a sign that we are not His.
- Remember that God gave the commandment not to worship any other gods even though there is no such thing as another actual god to worship. He knew our propensity to make things in this world into false gods. ANYTHING that we turn to for satisfaction other than God is a false god. And in almost all cases, the things we substitute for God are good things. The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but the endless nibbling at the table of the world. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of His love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not His enemies but His gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God Himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable and almost incurable (John Piper, A Hunger for God;).
- With privilege come responsibility and a heightened exposure to God’s discipline. Judah’s sin is worse than the pagan countries because of its knowledge of the law and its place as the covenant nation. God will tell Israel in 3:2 that He will punish them BECAUSE they are His chosen people. We must never forget that God disciplines His children and that to whom much is given much will be required (Luke 12:47-48).