This is what the Lord says:“For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent” (Amos 2:6a NIV).
In the previous section (1:3-2:5), we learned of God’s judgment on the nations surrounding Israel. All except Judah were Gentile nations, and God called them to account on the basis of what they should have known about God. But Judah was judged according to God’s law.
As we read these verses, we must remember that it is God who is speaking through his prophet. The covenant Lord spoke against the covenant breaking of his people. Relationships bring with them responsibilities. Yet the nature of the human heart is to think only of the benefits that we get from a relationship with another, especially being related to God. In this context God announces judgment on his people (2:6), and as he does so, he calls them to account for their failures in this covenant relationship.
Amos began with Israel’s sin of breaking God’s law (2:6-8). Notice that the same opening form was used in the address to Israel as in the address to the surrounding nations.
First, we have an examination of the general ways they sinned.
- They were guilty of greed and materialism (2:6). God would have us live contented with his gifts and to give thanks for them. Greed shows a basic discontent with God’s providence, which leads to a life of pursuing the things of this world.
- They were guilty of sexual immorality (2:7b). God’s visible people ought to have been demonstrating a different way of life from the surrounding Gentile nations. The tragedy of the contemporary church is how it grovels in the same cesspool of sexual immorality that the world is in.
- They were guilty of oppression and the perversion of justice (2:7a, 8a). Servants of the righteous Lord ought to value justice highly, yet Israel had a different attitude.
- They were guilty of religious corruption (2:8b). This sin is to be traced back to the sin of Jeroboam I, and from him back to the Golden Calf (Exodus 32).
They might have been religious, but it was a religion far from what God intended—showing love for God and love for one’s neighbors. Love is the greatest thing in religion; without it everything else is useless (1 Cor 13:13).
Israel was judged according to the standard of the law for these sins (cf. Romans 2:12). Amos exposed their breaking of the law covenant. Although they had already departed from the Lord, they were still responsible to be faithful to him and the covenant. A desire to want to live our own way does not absolve God’s people from the obligation to believe his word and to follow him.
They sold the righteous for silver, etc.; that is, they sold them into slavery (2:6; cf. Deuteronomy 16:18-19). “Those who will wrong their consciences for anything will come at length to do it for next to nothing” (Henry). Let us hear and remember! People in bondage to sin will eventually want to enslave others. This is a growing evil in our time.
They trampled on the heads of the poor (2:7a); contrast Leviticus 25:35-43; Deuteronomy 15:7-11. God’s standard is equal justice. It would have been just as wrong to pervert justice in favor of the poor. But as a general rule, the poor suffer more from injustice in court than the rich.
Father and son used the same girl (2:7b). This probably refers to the sin of incest (Leviticus 18:6-17) rather than the sin of temple prostitution. God’s standard of permissible sexual relations narrowed from before the law to under the law, and now is even more restricted (ex: a believer may only marry a believer). Involvement in this sin profaned God’s name.
They misused garments taken in pledge (2:8). Compare their conduct with what God’s law required (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:10-13). To misuse these garments by sleeping on them by an altar to a false god (a supposed way to get a revelation from that false god) aggravated the crime.
They made the Nazirites drink wine (2:12). Consider what God required of the Nazirite during the time of his vow (Numbers 6:1-14). It was another way of corrupting another person’s devotion to his or her God. The true guilt of sin prompts a person to want to lead others away from the Lord.
All of this demonstrated that Israel was far from God, as were her neighbors. Wherever Amos looked he saw departure from the true and living God. He had a hard assignment from the Lord to minister for God in that religious and moral climate. But Amos was faithful! May God grant us grace to continue to walk faithfully with him.
Grace and peace,