After Amos tells the Israelites their status as God’s chosen people actually puts them in more danger than the pagans, he tells them their impending judgment is the logical outcome of their behavior. This is a continuation of his defense of the sentence he prophesied in 2:13-16.
He begins by asking several rhetorical questions. Each question is stated in an effect/cause or cause/effect order. All but one question is coupled with another question in a before/after pattern (the lion hunts for prey – the lion growls as he eats his prey). The answer to the first group of questions (vss. 3-5) is “no.” The last two questions (vs. 6) are answered “yes.” The questions are all meant to show Israel that every cause has an effect and every effect has a cause. Disobedience always causes judgment. Judgment always follows disobedience. Judgment does not come unless disobedience occurs first.
The first question is the only one not followed by an “after” question. The question is, “Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?” This may mean that two men set a time to meet and walk or it may mean that two men walk together because they are in agreement. Either way, the point is that two men do not walk together unless they want to. A man does not typically walk with his enemy. The effect is walking. The cause is the appointment. It is a logical progression that anyone can see.
Some think that this question is stated alone to show that Israel can still repent. In this interpretation, the two men are Israel and God. They walk together under the covenant. The “before” condition is stated without the “after” (such as “Can a relationship be restored after the trust is broken?”) to show that there is still time for Israel to write the second half. If they indeed repent they can still forestall God’s judgment. [This interpretation may be true, but how does it correspond to “I will not revoke its punishment” in 2:6?]
Verse 4 is the first pairing of before/after questions. A lion does not roar unless he has prey he is about to kill. A young lion in his den does not growl unless he is feasting on the prey that was captured (perhaps it is a young lion eating what his mother brought back?). The before is the hunting, the after is eating. The lion roaring is the effect. Finding prey is the cause. The young lion growling is the effect. The captured prey is the cause. The effect does not happen without the cause. The after does not happen without the before.
Note that for the prey, the roar of the lion is the last thing it hears. The lion acts and destruction surely follows. The carcass of the prey is taken back to the den for eating. The lion’s roar is no empty threat – it is cause for great fear. The Israelites should not underestimate what the roaring of Yahweh foretells.
Verse 5 pairs another set of questions. The before condition is a bird falling into a trap. The after is a trap springing up. The bird does not fall into a trap unless the trap has bait in it. The trap does not spring unless it captures something. Each effect has a cause.
In the case of the Israelites, they are culpable for their condition. The bird willingly enters the trap because it sees something it wants. The trap closes only after the bird enters. The people of Israel are in danger of judgment because of their own actions. They are not forced to enter the trap – they have no one to blame but themselves.
Verse 6 states the before question in a cause/effect pattern (unlike verses 3-5). The trumpet blows in the city which causes the people to tremble. The second half is back to effect/cause – the calamity is in the city because the Lord causes it. The trumpet is a warning signal – when it sounds the people know the city is in danger (likely from some military force). The trumpet does not sound unless danger is imminent – consequently, its sound causes fear. Calamity (“ra’ah” – the word used frequently in Jonah to mean both moral evil and calamity) is the result if the warning of the trumpet is not heeded or if it does not sound soon enough.
The last two questions are more than symbolic or rhetorical. Amos speaks plainly about what will happen when God’s judgment occurs. He again shows that each outcome has a cause, but this time he clearly says when judgment comes on Israel it will be the Lord’s doing. The city in question is likely Samaria – the capital of Israel (built by Omri – Ahab’s father and a great military man – on a hill and thought to be almost impregnable – I Kings 16:23-24). The Assyrians will someday conquer the city and it will be because the Lord appoints them. God will appoint them because of Israel’s disobedience.
Thought: God created the world and He rules it. All of it. Nothing happens in it apart from His hand. Judgment and calamity do not occur without His involvement. Even Satan needs His permission to afflict mankind (Job 1-2). It is debatable as to what God allows versus what He causes – but ultimately He controls it all and all events are ascribed to Him. Israel is in danger of judgment from the Sovereign of the world.
He is no absentee landlord in relation to the world He created; He has neither abdicated nor delegated His powers. He rules and He executes judgment and justice. The people must not presume otherwise or think that any special plea will be heard. This is the God with whom they have to do. (JA Motyer. The Message of Amos, The Bible Speaks Today; 70)
Amos now explains why he must proclaim God’s words to the people. Throughout Israel’s history God has spoken through His prophets. He has chosen men to tell His people His words so they know what He will do and what is required of them. These men are those to whom God has revealed His secret counsel – men whose hearts are turned to His (Jer. 23:18 & 22, John 15:15). [With the entire canon available to His people God no longer communicates in this way.]
Amos – though not a prophet by trade (7:14) – is such a man. God has revealed His words to him and he has no choice but to proclaim them to Israel. Israel may not like what he says and may not believe him (and we know they ultimately do not change after hearing him), but none of that takes away from his commission. God gave him a vision for Israel (1:1) and as God’s servant he must speak the words God gave him.
Ultimately, what are the words? The same ones he started this section with (1:2) – the Lord roars and is about to rip Israel apart as a lion rips apart its prey. The roar of the Lion should cause all who hear it to fear. The voice of Sovereign Yahweh (Lord God) does not allow His prophet to stay quiet (just like the other causes and effects, the voice of Yahweh inevitably leads to His prophets proclaiming). What Amos proclaims are not his words but the words of Yahweh Himself.
- Actions have ramifications. We are naïve if we think we live and act in a vacuum. God has placed order in the universe and part of that order is that actions cause reactions – causes have effects. Many times the hardships we face in life are simply the results of our decisions. The sins of the fathers are sometimes visited on the children and the grandchildren as a natural outcome of the sin itself (abused children who grow up to abuse their children, children of divorce who end up divorced, sons of adulterous fathers who cheat on their wives, etc.). We should not be surprised when the effects of our sinful choices come back to us.
- Sin brings judgment. This is actually the message of the whole book of Amos. But in this particular section Amos highlights that the Israelites are doomed because of their own actions – they are responsible for their own demise. Beyond the natural ramifications of our decisions God also actively judges sin (Ps. 51:4). We must never forget that along with His love and mercy exists His justice. God hates sin. God hates it to a degree we cannot fully understand. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom because it should motivate us to holiness.
- God is active in the world. He does not look at His creation “from a distance.” He controls all things and knows all things and is intimately acquainted with all things. He called the universe into existence and died for its salvation – He did not then back away and passively watch to see what happened. Do we understand all the ramifications of this truth? Absolutely not. Does it make sense that God is the cause of all things – even the really bad ones? Not entirely. Do we need to understand everything in order to serve Him and trust Him and have confidence that what He does is always right? Not at all. What we should do, however, is thank Him every day that no trial or tragedy or judgment can overtake us that is outside of His control.