Amos begins his second series of oracles. Remember that the Israelites listening to Amos are likely shocked to hear they are in danger of judgment. Times are good, they worship Yahweh as they have for almost two centuries, God’s blessing is clearly in their lives, and their behavior has been rationalized for so long that it no longer is questioned [the huge danger of complacency toward sin: when we live with it long enough we forget what it really is – repeat a lie enough times and it becomes the truth – we must pray continually not only for protection from sin but also for opened eyes that see the sin that is already here]. Consequently, they have a hard time believing that what he said in Chapter 2 is really going to happen. Amos starts to lay out a logical appeal to show them that his prophecies are true.
Amos begins by saying, “Hear this word…” (he will do this two more times – 4:1 and 5:1). This is similar to the New Testament words “verily, verily.” He wants them to pay particular attention to what he is about to say.
He says the word is from Yahweh against (or about) the sons of Israel. Even more, the word is about the entire family. What Amos says is not just about Israel but actually about both the northern and southern kingdoms. The countries may be split, but both are the chosen people of God.
God reminds them that they are the people He brought up from the land of Egypt. Throughout the Old Testament God repeatedly reminds Israel that He delivered them from Egypt. He refers to this event more than any other when He describes Himself in relation to His people (2:10, Ex 20:2, I Sam 10:18, Hosea 11:1, Micah 6:4, many others). He instituted the Passover feast and mandated that they set apart for Him the firstborn of every animal and the firstborn of each family (Exodus 13:1-16) all in remembrance of their delivery from Egypt. Egypt is where God redeemed Israel and the Passover points directly to His future redemption of all mankind. God never wants Israel to forget.
Thought: The cross is our Egypt. It is the proof of God’s love for us and the basis of our covenantal relationship with Him. If God did not want the Israelites to forget what He did in Egypt, how much more does He not want us to forget what He did on the cross? We must live our lives constantly in the light of the gospel. We must never stop being in awe of the love that took our punishment at Calvary. Just as forgetting their deliverance from Egypt led the Israelites to stop fearing and worshiping God, so can taking the cross for granted cause us to stop living in thankful obedience to Him. The gospel must be a daily part of our lives.
If there’s anything in life that we should be passionate about, it’s the gospel. And I don’t mean passionate only about sharing it with others. I mean passionate about thinking about it, dwelling on it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world. Only one thing can be of first importance to each of us. And only the gospel ought to be (CJ Mahaney).
The gospel is so foolish (according to my natural wisdom), so scandalous (according to my conscience), and so incredible (according to my timid heart), that it is a daily battle to believe the full scope of it as I should. There is simply no other way to compete with the forebodings of my conscience, the condemnings of my heart, and the lies of the world and the Devil than to overwhelm such things with daily rehearsings of the gospel. (Milton Vincent. A Gospel Primer for Christians; 14)
God reminds the people of Israel of their place as His chosen people. He tells them, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth.” The word chosen can also be translated “known.” It is the same word used for the sexual union of Adam and Eve in Genesis 4:1. It is also used in Jer 1:5 to show that God knew Jeremiah and chose him to be His prophet even before he was born. God knows Israel relationally and intimately. God obviously knows all things cognitively, but He intimately knows and chooses only Israel. He chose them based not on their merit or their size or their power, but based on His love for them (Deut 7:6-8). Their privileged status is unique and can be claimed by no other nation. God has told no other people that He is their God (Ex 6:7).
God initially chose Israel when He made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). He reinforced that covenant by telling Abraham it would extend to his descendants and that Canaan would be theirs forever (Genesis 17:1-8). He then called Israel His son (Ex 4:22-23) and redeemed His son from Egypt. Through the Exodus and the wanderings in the wilderness, He again reminded Israel of His covenant with them (Ex 6:2-8, 24:1-11). In all cases, the proof of the covenant on the people’s hearts was their obedience to God’s commands. God sovereignly chose them; thus they were to keep His commands (Deut 7:9-11).
Interestingly, what Amos describes is exactly what his listeners are likely counting on to protect them from God’s wrath. How can God punish His chosen people? Did He not promise that they will have Canaan forever? Did He not promise that through Israel all the earth will be blessed? He covenanted with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses – the forefathers of the very people Amos proclaims against! “We are God’s chosen people – Yahweh is our God forever!”
Amos now says the most shocking thing of all. He says it is their very status as God’s chosen people that will lead to God’s wrath poured out on them. “Therefore, I will punish you for your iniquities.” He chose them and knows them and because He chose them He will punish them. They are not protected by their unique status; they are in grave danger (is there any other kind?) because of it. “Yes you are God’s chosen people and yes you are under the covenant and that is EXACTLY why you are going to be punished.” Far from being protected, they are actually more exposed.
Their condition is worse than the pagans because they have been given so much. If they behaved as they do without the covenant they would be in better shape. As it is, however, they face a greater wrath because God chose them, loved them, redeemed them, and warned them.
This echoes exactly what God told His people when He made the covenant with them. “All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers.” “Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.” “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today.” “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” “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 will 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).
At the first covenant with Abraham God said to him, “Walk before Me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). At the covenant meal with Moses and the elders of the people, the people promised, “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Ex 24:7). Just before God gave the Ten Commandments to the people He said to them, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the people, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:5-6). Obedience has always been a part of the covenant. The people themselves knew this when they agreed to enter into it. The Israelites of Amos’ generation, however, (along with so many other things) have long since forgotten this element of their covenantal relationship to God. They revel in their status as God’s chosen people without worrying about the responsibilities and dangers that come along with it. As a result, they will suffer God’s wrath.
This argument supports Amos’ conclusion in 2:13-16 and removes a deceptive theology of the nation that God will never punish His chosen people. Privilege comes with the heavy weight of responsibility; these advantages do not provide a guaranteed free ride with no strings attached. The Israelites must listen to God’s warning and fear Him if they are truly His covenant people.
(Gary V. Smith. Amos, The NIV Application Commentary; 272)
What does this mean for us?
God chose Israel. God chose us. God redeemed Israel through the blood of the Passover lamb. God redeemed us through the blood of His Son. God tells Israel the proof of the covenant is in their conformity to His law. They cannot claim the privileges of the covenant apart from obedience. God tells us the proof of our sonship is in our obedience to His commands (Jn 14:15, Jam 2:14-26, I Jn 3:1-10, Matt 7:21-27, I Cor 15:1-2, Heb 3:14).
What does this say to those who stake their eternity on a “once saved always saved” theology but whose lives show no fruit? John the Baptist said of the Pharisees who thought their status as Abraham’s children protected them, “…God is able from these stones to raise up children of Abraham. And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3:9b-10). A good tree does not bear bad fruit (Matt 7:18), and only he who does the will of My Father will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 7:21). We must continually examine ourselves and test our faith (II Pet 1:1-11, II Cor 13:5) to ensure we are His. A past decision with no current fruit is no assurance of eternity.
God tells Israel they will be punished BECAUSE of their status as His chosen people. God tells us that we will be disciplined in this life (I Peter 4:17), that He disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:5-13), that those who receive the truth of the gospel but go on sinning are in greater danger than those who do not receive it at all (Heb 10:26-31, II Pet 2:20-22), and that to whom much is given, much is expected (Lk 12:47-48). God may not punish unbelievers in this life for their actions because justice ultimately comes through damnation in the next. For the Christian, however, punishment happens now to prepare his soul for everlasting life in the next. The Christian who sins regularly without ramification is not a son (Hebrews 12:8). A responsible father does not discipline someone else’s kids.