The Judging of Israel’s Neighbors

Amos 1:3-2:5

As we start to look at this long section, we need to remember the main purpose of the message of Amos. He was sent to minister God’s Word to Israel. Notice the phrase “concerning Israel” in verse one. Was Amos using this section to gain a hearing among the people of the northern kingdom? That is a possible explanation. People like to hear someone else’s sin exposed and denounced, which is one reason that tabloid journalism is so popular. However, it might be that he was “circling in on them” as a bird of prey might do.

Each of the judgments against Israel’s neighbors is presented according to a set formula.

  • All open with the phrase “this is what the Lord says,” and some close with the reinforcing phrase “says the [Sovereign] Lord.”
  • All contain the phrase “for three sins… even for four….” This seems to be a Semitic expression to stress that the sins of these nations were great. “Is judgment coming on them for just three sins? No, it is coming for much more than that!”
  • All contain a phrase that says something like “I will send fire… that will consume the fortresses….”
  • All present the judgment as coming from the Lord. Israel’s neighbors will not be overcome by some chance or random calamities but by the act of God, regardless of the intermediate agent that he uses.

To help us understand this section, we need to answer three questions.

Who were these people groups?

  • Their location: they surrounded the northern kingdom of Israel. Tyre was northwest of Israel and Damascus (Aram) northeast. Gaza and the other Philistines were southwest. Edom was to the southeast, with Moab and then Ammon north of Edom on Israel’s east, and Judah was directly south of Israel.
  • Their descent: the Arameans, people of Tyre, and the Philistines were all Gentiles. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s older brother, while the Moabites and Ammonites were descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The people of Judah and Israel were descendants of Jacob.

What were the sins of these nations? First, let us consider the sins of the Gentile people groups mentioned.

  • They were guilty of a lack of compassion. They sent some of Israel into captivity and slavery (1:6, 9). Selling them to Edom was especially wicked, because Edom was Israel’s ancient and incorrigible enemy. They were filled with uncontrolled anger and a lack of pity (1:11). In both of these they showed themselves to be most ungodly. God expects people everywhere to reflect his glory as self-controlled and merciful and compassionate.
  • They were guilty of treaty breaking (1:9). Loyalty and honesty are very important to the God of truth and faithfulness.
  • They were guilty of cruelty. They “threshed” Israel (1:3). A threshing sledge had “sharp iron teeth attached to rollers which passed over the sheaves to thresh the grain and to crush and shred the straw” (Laetsch). You can have a nightmare thinking about the pain and death this would cause as people when thrown under the threshing sledges. They ripped open Israel’s pregnant women (1:13). Compare 2 Kings 8:12; Hosea 13:16. As bad as this sin is, it is aggravated by its motive: greed for territory. God examines the motives of the human heart. Both of these demonstrate the perversity of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-22; Romans 1:31).
  • They dishonored the dead (2:1), turning their bodies into simple materials. Since we are made in the image of God, humans are to be treated with respect. Notice that Gentiles against Gentiles committed this last sin. God takes notice of what nations do and judges them for it.

We are watching our world descend back into the pit of cruelty from which the revivals of the Reformation and the First Great Awakening lifted it out of for a time. Only a knowledge of God’s glory in Christ can stop this descent.

Second, notice the sins of Judah, the southern kingdom.

  • They rejected God’s law, both as God’s standard of instruction and in its particular commands. Notice that they are the only surrounding nation judged by this standard. This rejection included their heart attitude and their actions. Not to practice God’s message is to despise it in some way.
  • They followed false teaching. Every person is responsible for the teaching that they listen to (Mk 4:24-25). They allowed their hearts to be led astray (2:4).

What leads people astray today? Many wrong ideas about the purpose of life, like materialism, hedonism, addiction and substance abuse, and false religions.

How were these nations judged?

  • They were judged impartially. God gave no special respect to any group (Acts 10:34). God did not vary from the standard that he had revealed to that group. Each was judged according to what God had made known, whether through creation, the conscience or through the Scriptures.
  • They were judged inescapably. Consider what happened to Aram or Syria (2 Kings 16:9).
  • They were judged by the Lord. The Sovereign God acts in history to rule his creation, including the nations of mankind. Notice the number of times that God says, “I will….” The fate of Tyre, its complete destruction in part by Nebuchadnezzar and then totally by Alexander, is one proof of God’s action. Observe how many times God said, “I will not turn back my wrath.”

This is the message that we need to tell our neighbors (Romans 1:18). You have to start the “Romans road” in the right place. God does judge people (Hebrews 9:27). All people only have hope when they repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace,