a Message for the Present
Part 1 of a four part series
Amos came from Tekoa, a town approximately 12 miles south of Jerusalem in the kingdom of Judah. He was a contemporary of Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, and Jonah (8th Century BC). According to the opening verse of his prophecy he was a herdsman, or shepherd. It is generally believed that he had no formal education, or training.
His early prophecies follow a clear pattern that is set out in his opening comments:
So says Jehovah: For three transgressions of Damascus, yes for four, I will not turn away from it; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron - Amos 1:3.
The expression “for three transgressions and for four” is repeated with each prophecy and is an example of Hebrew numeric parallelism. The numbers are poetic figures, not specific quantities of sins. They signify that the people’s sins were innumerable. The early prophecies of chapters 1 and 2 are divided into 3 parts, with each part of the first 2 also having 3 parts. First were those enemies who were not related to them—Damascus, Gaza, and Tyre. Then came the enemies who were descendants of Abraham— Edom, Ammon, and Moab. Finally we have the twin kingdoms of Judah and Israel.
What separates the first two groups from Judah and Israel is significant. Their sins were committed nation to nation, men to other men. God still called down Judgement upon them.
However, as we shall see, the sins of Judah and Israel were not committed between nations, but between them and God. Thus, His Judgement would be even greater in their case.
A Historical Perspective:
A meaningful study of Amos requires historical perspective. It was a time of great political and economic prosperity. The people were at peace and were ruled well. The economy was booming. In short, the times were much like our own, and like our society, the people were far more interested in seeking pleasure than they were in seeking God.
They were self-indulgent, and their greed led to great exploitation or what today we would call ‘social injustice’. They preyed on the poor and helpless; those who could least afford to pay for anything, especially justice. This in turn produced blatant idolatry both in the natural and the spiritual. Doesn’t this sound familiar, with what we see in the world and in parts of the church today? God had blessed His people, giving them wonderful rewards and privileges. See how they repaid Him. Therefore, great as the blessings had been, even greater was to be their accountability. Amos came to give warning; let him speak to us today, for I believe we stand in the same position, as did the people of Israel. The parallels are far too great for this to be a mere coincidence.
We’ll start with verses 4 and 5 of chapter 2, which deal with the southern kingdom known as Judah, and which at this time had been mingling with the surrounding nations, much as the church today is mingling with the world.
Verse 4 - Thus says the LORD; For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment there; because they have despised the law of the LORD, and have not kept his commandments, and their lies caused them to err, after which their fathers have walked:
Here the prophet lists four charges made by God against the people.
- They had despised and rejected the Law of the Lord;
- They had not kept His commandments;
- They had walked after Lies;
- They had erred and gone astray like their fathers.
In verse 5 God’s judgement is given.
I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem.
It will be the same today as it was then, so let us examine these transgressions and see how our society measures up.
The word translated “despised” (v.4), is the Hebrew word “ma’ac”, which means to “abhor”, “cast away”, “despise”, “disdain”, or “loathe”. It is something utterly vile, like pus in a sore. When you despise and reject the Law of the Lord, you are also despising and rejecting the maker and the giver of that Law.
This has nothing to do with the question of being ‘under’ the Law, and everything to do with our relationship with God. When we reject Him, we reject His Law and vice versa. Remember too, the unregenerate world IS still under the Law. They are not under Grace, as we are. Much of the world then, falls into the first transgression. They have despised God, His laws and His ways. They want nothing to do with God, especially if it interferes with their pleasure and self-indulgence. Their motto seems to be, ‘who needs God when everything is going so well.’ Like the people of Judah, an accounting will one day be made.
Similarly, the way they showed their attitude to the Law was by breaking it. They not only despised it, they rejected it, by breaking it. I may not like certain laws; I may even despise them; but that doesn’t mean I will not keep them. By not keeping God’s commandments, the people of Judah showed themselves to be lawless and in rebellion. So too are the people CETF #63 Magazine AUST.indd 16 of our society, who flout God’s Holy ordinances. They don’t believe they apply to them. Nobody is going to tell them what they can and cannot do! The message of the prophet Amos is that judgement will come to all such.
So far, the first two transgressions apply mainly to the world, though they also apply within the church. It’s when we consider the next two that the church comes under closer scrutiny:
... their lies caused them to err (1), after which their fathers have walked (2).
God is all Truth! Satan is the father of all lies! There are two likely possibilities here, which both apply then and now.
Lies quite clearly refer, either to the words of false prophets and teachers, or they are linked to idolatry, i.e. following and worshipping the lie, rather than the Truth which is God manifested for us in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. Both are equally valid interpretations then and now.
How much of this do we see today, not only in the world with its New Age, humanistic ideologies and crass materialism, where money and power are the ultimate gods of our generation, but we see these worldly attributes taking over large sections of the so called church. Instead of the church going into the world and having an impact out there, we find that the ways of the world are impacting on the church. The Great Commission says ‘Go’, but we tend to say ‘Come’. Instead of looking to the Word for our answers, we look to the World. We look either to men who are "experts", or we import the methods the world teaches into our churches in order to become successful in the eyes of the world or in the eyes of “worldly” Christians. Mega churches now have C.E.Os. This is contrary to everything that Jesus taught.
Today, we have high profile preachers telling us we need more money, when what’s really needed is more holiness and more of God. Unfortunately, most people prefer to hear these lies rather than the Truth. They are caught up in the things of the flesh and listen to the lies that feed the flesh, rather than the Truth which will feed their spirits. They are guilty of the third transgression.
The fourth transgression is linked to the third. ‘They have erred and gone astray like their fathers.” There are two important Hebrew words to be examined here—ta’ah and halak.
“Ta’ah” means to “err”, “go astray”, “wander from the path” or “the way”. It refers to sin which leads to these things. It can mean “to stagger around drunk”, “to be lost”, or “to move about with no sense of direction or purpose”. Sometimes, this can be unintentional, but at other times, it can be a deliberate choice. This too describes much of the world and the church of our day. Many have lost their way and are staggering about like a drunk, with no sense of direction or purpose in their lives.
The second word, “halak”, means at its simplest level “to walk”. However, in the OT, it is the verb most frequently used to describe the process of living. It is often used in conjunction with the terms for obedience and disobedience to the covenant standards of God:
Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to fear Him - Deuteronomy 8:6.
.. You shall diligently keep all these commandments .., to do them, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him - Deuteronomy 11:22.
Christianity is often described as a walk, or way of life in the Bible. Perhaps an even clearer and more powerful example that pertains to this entire passage is found in Leviticus:
If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; (refer to the 4 transgressions mentioned above.) Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall last to the vintage, and the vintage shall last to the sowing time: and you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid the land of evil beasts, neither shall the sword go through your land - Leviticus 26:3-6.
Notice the blessings, then go to verse 14 to see the other side of the coin:
But if you will not obey Me, and will not do all these commandments; And if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you will not do all My commandments, but break My covenant: (remember the 4 transgressions.) I will also do this to you; I will even appoint over you wasting disease and fever, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set My face against you, and you shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and you shall flee when no one pursues you. And if you will not yet after this listen to Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as bronze: And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits. And if you walk contrary to Me, and will not listen to Me; I will bring upon you seven times more plagues according to your sins. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate. And if you will not be reformed by Me by these things, but will walk contrary to Me; Then will I also walk contrary to you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins - Leviticus 26:14-24.
Amos was saying nothing new. What God had earlier declared would happen was then coming to pass. Our Lord doesn’t change. His blessings and His curses are just as true today as they ever were. Walking according to the world is walking contrary to God. It is the fourth transgression.
Because my people have forgotten me, they have burned incense to idols, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in pathways and not on a highway - Jeremiah 18:15.
But as for them whose heart walks after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their deeds upon their own heads, says the Lord GOD - Ezekiel 11:21.
The result of these four transgressions was then and is now, judgement by God. He judges not primarily for what is done in the world, but for what is done to Him. Based on those criteria we can say, “Woe to the church which has made the name of our Lord a laughing-stock in many parts of the world”. Those who have brought the true church into disrepute will have a great deal to answer for when they stand before the judgment throne.
Consider the implications of Amos 2 verse 5. God will execute His judgement on a lawless and sinful nation—in the capital Jerusalem where His Holy temple was located, where He was both known and known to have set up a refuge.
Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. God is in her palaces He is known as her refuge. Psalm 48:2-3.
Amos chapters one and two clearly show us that no nation will escape the judgement of a righteous God, whether they acknowledge Him or not. He has promised His fire and it will come. Nowhere will be safe if unrighteousness is present and clearly, it is.
Consider again the 4 listed transgressions and let’s apply them to our nation:
They have despised and rejected the Law of the Lord.
In Australia we have a Prime Minster (PM) who is an avowed atheist and a State Government which has just legalised same sex unions—something God calls an abomination cf. Romans 1:26-27 etc.
They have not kept His commandments.
Crime and violence are increasing, worldwide. Abortion has become legalised murder. Idolatry in all its forms permeates almost every aspect of our society. The list is virtually endless.
They have walked after Lies.
We see this at every level, from our PM, with her bare faced lie that there would be no carbon tax and then she reneged, to our media outlets in businesses, and sadly in the church too. Another "gospel" is being preached, one which lines up more with the world than with the Word.
They have erred and gone astray like their fathers.
This is the result of the first three transgressions. We now have “bibles” from which the word “repent” has been removed. It’s virtually a sin in some churches to talk about sin and sinners. How are we here in Australia or for that matter in all nations? Is there any difference from the time of Amos who announced judgement to the nations.
THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL:
Thus says the LORD; for three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes. That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in to the same girl, to profane my holy name: and they lay themselves down upon clothes taken to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god – Amos 2:6-8.
Here we again see four transgressions against the Lord:
- Perverting Justice.
- Oppressing the Poor for Personal gain.
- Sexual uncleanness, immorality and incest.
- Idolatry- Profaning the Name of God.
Note, there is a clear link between the first two, and a similar link between the last two. Perverting Justice, by oppressing the poor in favour of the rich is still prevalent in many places today, and the spiritual link between adultery and idolatry, is very well known. Israel was guilty of all of these and worse, as we shall see, because they attempted to involve God in their sin.
Verses 6-8 hold the key to understanding what the Prophet said. The various implications inherent in the original Hebrew give a clear idea of the corruption and social injustice, described by Amos and echoed by what we see in the world today.
Verse 6 – “they sold the righteous for silver”. The Hebrew word Tsaddiq (STRONG 6662) is usually translated “righteous”, ”just”, or “honest”. It also signifies someone who is obedient to the Laws of God. However, in Amos, it is more than that. The righteousness expressed here, suggests a reflection of the relationship between man and God. God alone is truly righteous, and our righteousness comes from Him, through our relationship with Him. Therefore, our righteousness is based on a relationship. In New Testament terms the “relationship” we have with Him, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is demonstrated in how men and women treat each other, with an emphasis on social justice and meeting the needs of the oppressed. This was not being done in Israel, as it is not being done today. Simply put, how we treat others is a reflection of our relationship with God, which is the basis for any righteousness we may claim. It’s not that we follow a set a rules, but rather that we allow the light and life of Christ within us to shine out.
The leaders of Israel were operating out of greed, not justice. They sold those who were truly righteous, for silver, just as Jesus was sold. If these leaders had been righteous, they would have been obedient to God’s Laws and protected the people as they were commanded. Their actions revealed their wrong relationship with God. Such was their greed, that they could be bought or bribed for the cost of a pair of shoes. God repeatedly commands that the poor be cared for. These men disobeyed God, for purely monetary reasons. Money, mammon, not our Heavenly Father, was their god. There are echoes of this in many churches today.
Verse 6 – “... they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes”.
Magistrates (ministers) betrayed their trust by taking bribes of silver from those who could afford it and as little as a pair of shoes from those who couldn’t, to pervert the cause of justice. A Just God could not overlook this sin.
A pair of shoes could mean much more than a casual reading would lead you to believe. A shoe was often the token given for the exchange of land rights or ownership in the Hebrew culture. We see this in the Book of Ruth.
Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things, a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel. Therefore the kinsman said to Boaz, Buy it for yourself. So he drew off his shoe. And Boaz said to the elders, and to all the people, You are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi. Moreover Ruth the CETF #63 Magazine AUST.indd 18 Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead not be cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: you are witnesses this day - Ruth 4:7-10.
In Amos, we have people, likely magistrates, taking advantage of the poor to claim their land for themselves. A righteous God could not countenance such corrupt behaviour.
Verse 7 (a) – “That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek...”
Psalm 42:1 tells us that we are to pant after our Lord, in the same way that a thirsty deer pants for water. Yet, see what it is that the leaders of Israel were panting for in verse 7.
The word translated dust, is the Hebrew word “aphor” (STRONG 6083) which was the dust a person poured on the head to signify grief or mourning. These men, the magistrates and priests, were longing to see the poor which they were pledged to protect come to grief. Why?
So that they could be further enriched, as we see in verse 8. Is it any wonder that our God was totally outraged? The first two transgressions— Perverting Justice, and Oppressing the Poor for personal gain are clearly seen. Are some of the conmen, in so called ministry today, who beguile the poor into sending them money any different, or any better? Many of them are also guilty of the second part of the statement, “turning aside the way of the meek.”
“Dherekh” (STRONG 1870) is the Hebrew word translated “way”. It means a “journey”, or “way of life” and is the equivalent for the New Testament, “I am the Way ....” (John 14:6). So, this refers to those whose way of life followed the Laws of God, those who were obedient, those who were righteous.
In Matthew 11:29 our Lord Jesus Christ announced that He is “meek’” and He calls us to follow Him. So here in Amos is a warning to us all. His followers are the meek, whom Jesus said would one day inherit the earth. Beware any who would lead people astray from the true way, the true Gospel, as Paul himself warned. There are many false prophets and teachers in the world today, who are effectively doing just that. God will deal with them at Judgement, if not before.
Verse 7 (b) “... and a man and his father will go in to the same girl, to profane my holy name”.
It is unclear whether they were committing adultery, incest, or both, but what is clear is that such behaviour is not acceptable and will be dealt with by God.
The word translated here as “profane”, is the Hebrew word “chalal” (STRONG 2490) which has several meanings all relevant to this verse. It means to ‘profane’, ‘defile’, or ‘pollute’, usually sexually and frequently with reference to incest. It can also mean to do violence to the established Law of God, or to desecrate something Holy. Any or all of these could apply here.
There is also, a clear link to the first two transgressions, because profaning His name refers to the mistreatment of the poor and the destitute who, according to God’s Will and Commands, they were supposed to help and protect. Israel profaned His name, because they made slaves of free citizens due to minor debts, oppressed the needy and sexually mistreated helpless female slaves. All of this was in direct violation of His Commandments and His revealed Will. Remember too, that adultery, which this was, is frequently linked with idolatry in the Bible, the fourth transgression.
Verse 8 (a) – “... they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, ...”
Note the implied idolatry – “they lay before EVERY altar”, not just the altar in the temple, but all the pagan ones as well. Not only that, but in doing this, they made use of items pledged to God. The word “lay” is the same word often translated ‘bow down’ as in worship. They were worshipping other gods using items belonging to the one true God. In a sense, we see similar things happening in some churches today. People are worshipping a god, but it is NOT the God of the Bible; it is a god created by men—IDOLATRY!
In the Hebrew, the word “pledge” is “chaval” (STRONG 2254) which means to “bind”, “pledge” or “bring forth with pain”, as in childbirth; to “deal corruptly”, “offend”, or “destroy”. To understand this verse, we also need to use scripture to interpret scripture.
If you take your neighbour’s garment to pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down: For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin: what shall he sleep in? and it shall come to pass, when he cries to me, that I will hear; for I am gracious. You shall not revile the gods, nor curse a ruler of your people - Exodus 22:26-28.
You shall not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s garment to pledge - Deuteronomy 24:17.
Take his garment that is surety for a stranger: and take a pledge of him for a strange woman - Proverbs 20:16 and 27:13.
These are some of the passages governing the taking and the using of pledges for debt. Note especially Exodus 22:26. This garment had to be returned by sundown. Obviously, this was not happening. However, as we have already seen, these strictures were there to protect the poor and destitute, but in the time of Amos, they were being completely ignored for the personal pleasure of the rich and powerful. They demonstrated a total lack of respect for those who were not well off.
Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: everyone loves bribes, and follows after rewards: they do not defend the fatherless, neither does the cause of the widow come before them - Isaiah 1:23.
Isaiah called these people thieves and dubbed them rebellious. The Bible warns us that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”.
And if the man be poor, you shall not keep his pledge overnight: In any case you shall deliver him the pledge again when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his own garment, and bless you: and it shall be righteousness to you before the LORD your God. You shall not oppress a hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of your brethren, or of strangers that are in your land within your gates - Deuteronomy 24:12-14.
Verse 12 clearly shows that they weren’t supposed to sleep (lie down) on a clothing pledge, but that’s what Amos tells us they were doing. Of more interest, is verse 13. Note that returning the pledge at the appropriate time was accounted as righteousness before God. These people then, were showing themselves to be unrighteous by their actions, no matter what their lips were saying. God is concerned about the poor and the needy; they weren’t. I hope you can see the modern parallels.
Amos 2:8 (b) – “... they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god.”
The Hebrew “anash” translated “condemned” means to “urge or inflict a penalty”, or to “impose a fine as punishment for a crime”. These men were taking wine obtained in this manner, or as a tax, or in payment of a debt and were drinking it at a supposed worship service, thus making God a partner in their crimes and a partner in their profits. This God could not allow. It was further idolatry. They weren’t worshipping Him. They were only pretending to. It was an excuse to drink wine that didn’t really belong to them. God’s true people don’t drink “the wine of the condemned” at the altar of our Lord; rather we drink the wine of the Redeemed.
Pretending to worship—calling something worship that really isn’t— remains an idolatrous practice today. Woe to those churches, who practise it, such as those who worship ‘worship’ itself. From this point God proceeds to judgement.
Verse 9 (b) “...yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.”
God doesn’t deal in half measures. He destroyed both fruit and root. When God executes His judgement on the church, and by that I mean the false church, not the true church of our Lord Jesus Christ, He won’t just destroy the fruit, that which everyone can see, but he will totally destroy the roots—all that is hidden, all that sustains and nourishes it. It will be a complete work. Woe to those churches in that day. Their practices of oppression and idolatry will not only be visibly destroyed, (their fruit), but they will be destroyed from within as well as without, (their roots).
Let us not be caught up in similar practices. The four transgressions of Israel are with us today, both in the world, and in that which purports to be the church of Jesus Christ, but really isn’t. They need to be purged from every transgression. This is not primarily a word of warning to individuals, but to leaders and churches as a whole.
In summary - God’s final message to the church—to the nation—BE RIGHTEOUS before God, be Holy, be obedient, or be judged!
Next – Sowing & Reaping – Amos chapter 4
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David is a retired high school teacher, a semi-retired church pastor and a foundation member of CWMF. After many years with both CLC and the AoG he and wife Margaret became associated with Philip and Kathleen Powell about 11 years ago and recently completed his current preaching series on the Book of Amos. David and Margaret have two adult children. They live in Tanah Merah