For Three Times and Four
Amos was a very interesting prophet. He was simple. He was direct. He was willing to do God’s will when he was called to prophetic ministry. At the time Amos was called to ministry, the nation of Israel had been in existence for approximately 700 years. By this time in history, the nation had been up and down so many times on the scale of apostasy that it almost seemed second nature to them. Their spiritual ride had been like that of a roller coaster, which achieves great heights and then, all of a sudden, plunges down into its lowest depths.
The nation of Israel had split under the rulership of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. The ten Northern tribes had left, falling under the leadership of Jeroboam. Nearly 200 years had passed from this split to the time of Amos.
Apostasy had deepened once again; conditions in both the Northern and the Southern kingdoms were poor. Apostasy seemed to be in the very air the children of Israel were breathing, and as far as God was concerned, it was almost as though His people had become incorrigible.
In this study, we are going to learn some things about the care that God takes over the earth. There is no question that God loves His people, but God also loves the world. Both comprise His creation. He watches the birds. The Bible tells us that not even a sparrow falls without God’s notice. Each hair on our head has been numbered. (Matthew 10:29, 30.) God takes care of His creation. Whether we are classed in Israel or classed in the world, God knows everything about us.
God is willing to go a long way for His people. This is why we are told, in John 3:16, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son . . . .” God is willing to go the second, the third, and the fourth mile many, many times—even when we are not worthy of His doing so. We find, as we read the history of the Old Testament and the writings of the New Testament, that God was willing to do more than His children could even imagine.
Introduction to Amos
Amos 1:1 says, “The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” Here is the introduction to the Book of Amos.
Bible names had meanings, and often, when a prophet’s name was given to him or her, it described the work that God had called the prophet to do.
The name Amos means bearer, or burden, or heavy. His given name was prophetically significant to the work that he was called to do. He was to bring a heavy message. It was weighty, and the burden of the words was weightier still.
In looking at the life of Ellen White, at times the burden of delivering some messages given to her became so heavy that she expressed a desire to die rather than deliver them. (See Selected Messages, Book 3, 36, 37.) She, however, had committed herself to be faithful and obedient to God. This perhaps gives us a little insight as to where Amos found himself—a messenger with a weighty message.
Of course, that is nothing new. God has always laid heavy messages upon His messengers. Jonah, you may remember, ran away from his burden because of the weight of the words that God had given him to deliver. He took a “submarine ride,” crash-landed on the shore, and still had to deliver the message! His attempt to avoid delivering this given message from God did not change the message. (See Jonah 1, 2.)
Amos had a heavy message. It was not an easy message, but Amos did not run away from delivering it. Dealing with apostasy is never an easy matter. There is probably nothing more difficult than dealing with issues where one is unsure what the reactions will be of the individuals receiving the message.
Amos, it tells us in verse one, was a sheepherder. He lived in a small town called Tekoa, which was about 12 miles south of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was located in the Southern kingdom of Judah, but the message that Amos was given was directed, for the most part, to the Northern kingdom. Two possible reasons for this could have been that God could not have found a prophet in the Northern kingdom, or that the Bible principle that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country applied here. (See John 4:44.) God called Amos from the south and sent him to the north, hoping that somehow His children might listen to a stranger, a prophet of God who had a message for them.
At this time, Israel, that having been the ten Northern tribes where Amos had been called to minister the Word, was still intact. Israel was at its highest splendor; they had reached a peak of national prosperity. The reality of the matter was that they were rich and increased with goods and had need of nothing. (Revelation 3:17.) That is a very desperate position in which to be! The simplicity, which had characterized the national life, was completely gone. The problem is that prosperity so often brings a whole host of evil in its wake. Many have been the stories of people who have said, “You know, when I was poor and down and out, I was closer to the Lord than when I became prosperous.”
A class of nobles, in defiance of the Mosaic Law, had arisen in the nation of Israel. This class possessed large estates into which was swept the smaller holdings of the lower classes. To make matters worse, they began to oppress the masses that had sunken into a condition of poverty, and in some cases, they actually participated in slavery of their fellow brethren. They had adopted the social and political conditions of the world, and this they had incorporated into their way of life and into their thinking.
Show of Worship
While all of these terrible social conditions, oppressions, and cruelties were transpiring, there was still a show of worship taking place.
When considering the ten Northern tribes, we often perceive that, upon splitting from the other tribes, they apostatized and began to worship idols, but that was not really the case. They still kept up a position of worship in spite of their inclusion in all of the pressing things of the world. The Israelites would make their way to places of worship on Sabbath; they would bring their tithes and their offerings. The flow of social life, on the surface, was going on just as it had for centuries. The flow of their religious life was going on just as it had for centuries. It seemed that all was well on the outside, but man does not see as God sees. God sees into the heart. What God saw there was of such an alarm that it called for Him to get Amos to go north and deliver a message.
“And he said, The Lord will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither.” Amos 1:2. We need to realize that the place of residence for God was Jerusalem. It was not some city in the north such as Bethel or Dan. The house of worship was at Jerusalem. At Bethel and Dan, Jeroboam had built golden calves so that the people could worship there and not have to go to Jerusalem. (See 1 Kings 12:27–30.)
A Certain Theme
You may notice, as you read the first two chapters of Amos, that a theme is repeated over and over again. The end of this theme directs the attention toward the punishment that is to come. One of the things we need to understand is that God is very tolerant, to a point. When that point is reached, there is no more toleration.
The theme that is used in the first two chapters of Amos is not new to the writings of the Hebrews. One thing of interest, as you read through the scriptures, is that each author seemed to use a theme device to get his point across, and sometimes the theme was borrowed from another writer. Amos perhaps borrowed his theme from the Canaanites. The Canaanites used theme devices in their writings, as we may discover, going back into antiquity. The theme device that Amos used was a popular way of describing the level of tolerance that would be reached. The saying that the Canaanites used, and it seemed to be almost a universal saying, was “for two transgressions and for three.”
Amos takes this same theme and stretches it a little bit. He tries to describe that God has given them every chance, every opportunity He possibly can for them to repent and come back to Him. So the theme of Amos is showing the longsuffering nature of God. But even with God, the limit can be reached. The prophet wanted us to understand that we cannot go on sinning and sinning without expecting to have some measure of punishment meted out to us, so he said, “for three transgressions and four.” (Amos 1:3.) This is the way God is trying to say, “I want to save you for the kingdom.”
In Amos 1 and 2, six nations are mentioned, and God had tried to work with each of them at some point in time. He had tried to save them for His kingdom. One thing we can see in all of this is that God will only allow things to go so far, and then the line is drawn. God cannot be pushed and pushed and pushed to extend the time of probation. He draws a line and says, “If the line is crossed, it is all over.”
What was it that filled up the cup of Damascus, the first nation that is listed? (See Revelation 18:5, 6.) They had been very cruel to God’s people. In one translation of Amos 1:3, it says that this judgment came upon Damascus because they sawed, with iron saws, women with child. You would think that this kind of crime would call for immediate retribution of some kind, but it took nearly 100 years for this crime to catch up with them. Here we are told that this is the reason their cup was full. God said, “Okay, it is all over.”
In 11 Kings 8:7–12, this event is also mentioned. If you read this passage, you will find that what they did to God’s people was the very punishment that would at some future time come back upon them. It became a fulfillment of the old adage—and we use that same adage today—that says, “What goes around comes around.” God had a way of using that same adage in Old Testament times. He warned that if this is what you have done to His people, mark it down, for it will come back around, and it will happen to you.
If you think there are times you are getting away with something and that God does not notice, you need to think twice. It may not come back upon you right away, but if you continue to persist in that sin, God will use that very sin to punish you, in an effort to encourage you to change your ways.
Psalm 19:9 says, “The judgments of the Lord [are] true [and] righteous altogether.”
The prophecy in the first chapter of Amos predicted that the bar of Damascus would be broken. (Amos 1:5.) This means that the great bars placed across the city gates to protect the people from their enemies would be broken. The gates would be opened, exposing them to the ravaging nations around them, and the horrendous acts that were committed against God’s people would be repaid by removing all the defenses and allowing the cruelty of their heathen neighbors to seek them out.
It is interesting to consider the simple things God used for correction. All that was needed was for God to snap the bars of the gates, and their punishment could take place. An army did not need to be sent in; He needed only to open the gates and expose the city to the elements.
The foundation of morality is in knowing the true God of heaven. Remove that and the vacuum is filled with hatred. That is a principle of scripture. While the love of God is in place, God provides protection, but when hatred fills the vacuum where love has been, there is no good that can come. It only leaves the animal nature of man to run its course, and the animal nature is very selfish; it is very vicious. It does not regard any life other than its own.
Invariably, the evil things that we hear about daily in the news take place because there is a vacuum—the love of God has been expelled, and the vacuum has been filled with hate. For the least provocation, killing and other atrocities take place. The Lord says there will be a repaying that will come to pass, and it will be kind for kind.
Gaza and Tyre
Gaza was in Philistia, and the Philistines were a perpetual enemy of God’s people. Gaza is mentioned in Amos 1:6–8 as a representative of the nation of Philistia, but their chief cities are also mentioned. It could be that the sin for which Gaza was guilty became the sin of the other cities at a later date, which is why they were included here.
What was Gaza’s sin? The specific crime cited was the capture, enslavement, and sale of some of the people of Israel. Such action could have easily taken place along a border area. Raiders from Gaza could run over the border, capture some Israelites, and sell them—men, women, and children—as slaves. Sometimes they would take whole families.
The Law of Moses required the death penalty for this kind of crime. Kidnapping involving the selling into slavery was recognized as an international cruelty. No matter how often it was practiced in Bible times, it was still a very grievous wrong to steal families or members of families and sell them into a life of slavery. These slaves who were sold to foreigners were still human beings, created in God’s image.
It is unforgivable to use and abuse people for the profit of the mighty or the wealthy. This is why their crime loomed so great in the minds of Joseph’s brothers; it plagued them for many years. They knew their actions had been wrong. Even though the Law of Moses had not yet been given, those laws had been indelibly written in their minds as to how God required people to be treated. So when they took Joseph and sold him into slavery, they knew it was a grievous wrong, not only against their brother, but also against God, and their action haunted them. It would have been a lesser crime, in their minds, to have left him in the pit to die rather than to have sold him as a slave to be used and abused. (See Genesis 37:23–36; Patriarchs and Prophets, 212, 239.)
Amos 1:7 says, “I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, which shall devour the palaces thereof”—the places where luxury and sin abounded. This is where many times God strikes first in His judgment, because those who have reached these positions are usually the worst abusers.
The next nation was Tyre (verses 9, 10), which apparently was guilty of the same sin as Gaza and would suffer the same fate.
Here is a lesson that God would have us all learn, and learn well. We may not be related by blood the way Israel and Edom were, but nevertheless, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and the bond is, or should be, closer than blood relatives. Edom was involved in the slave-trading process along with all the other nations that were mentioned.
Edom received slaves and merchandised them as if they were animals, but they were blood rela-tives, and that is what made their actions even more grievous in God’s eyes. The relationship of a brother belongs in the realm of loving our neighbors as ourselves. (See Leviticus 19:18.) If this brotherhood is breached and if the great law of love is not protected, this then makes us accountable to God. It is bad enough to hate an enemy; it is worse to hate a friend, but it is worse still to hate a brother. It is a sin against nature.
The Bible says that no man hated his own flesh (Ephesians 5:29), yet because of the depth of sin into which Edom had fallen, the vacuum left from their lack of love was turned into hatred. This hatred caused them to receive as merchandise that human commodity that would be treated with the cruelty and abuse to which no human being should be subjected, especially a brother.
This is why, regardless of where we may find ourselves in our station of life, the brotherhood should be protected above all else. If we are protecting that level of brotherhood, we are fulfilling the second table of God’s Law, and He will honor us for that.
Amos said that Edom pursued with a sword. (Amos 1:11.) They were murderous in their pursuit and cast off all pity. This is what we are going to face in the last days. Think about this for a moment. But for the interposition of God on our part, during the time of trouble of the last days, there will be no one to have any pity of any kind on us. All natural feelings of humanity will go out the window.
This was apparently the condition in the days of Amos. This is why we can learn invaluable lessons as we study the scriptures and why I have always maintained, and will maintain until I am shown differently, that every book of the Bible is a book of last-day events. In every book we can find instruction concerning how we are to relate to issues in the last days. In Amos, we find some very clear instruction regarding these things and the events concerning our future involvement with people who are standing in the breach.
Ammon and Moab
The next ones to feel the thunderbolts hurled down in denunciation were Ammon and Moab. As we work our way through the nations, beholding woe after woe, it seems nothing can get any worse, and yet it does.
Ammon and Moab were children of unnatural and shameful sin. In Genesis 19:30–38, the story is told of how the mothers of these two children, wanting to be like the world and not wanting to stand out as being different, got their father, Lot, drunk, lay with him, and became pregnant. They gave birth to Ammon and to Moab. But as you look at this story, you will see that the main reason for this sin, which became a thorn in the flesh of Israel for centuries, was that they wanted to be like the world. They did not want the experience of being different. Their children, conceived in drunkenness and lewdness, set the stage for the rest of their lives, and we are able to trace the results of this sin down through the ages. We find also, as we begin to trace this family tree, that the sensuousness was passed on to the many generations that followed. It was strengthened, and it was confirmed. It was not faithfully dealt with, so it was perpetuated. According to the Bible, many of the Ammonite women became members of King Solomon’s harem. (See 1 Kings 11:1.) You see what God had to deal with!
There are two kinds of sin: inherited sin and cultivated sin. Our forefathers’ besetting sins are likely to be passed on to us. Now, I am not saying that sins are passed on from father to son. There are, however, inherited characteristics which, at times, seem overpowering to us and which we have great difficulty overcoming. These are most likely the sins that have been passed on to us from our forefathers. The scriptures we have been studying tell us that we need to struggle against such characteristics, with the help of the Holy Spirit, or they are likely to manifest themselves in our children who follow after us.
Ruth, the Moabitess, is a testimony that an inherited sin can be successfully dealt with. She responded to and was trained in a godly, Hebrew family. She allowed the Spirit of God to enter in and to work in her life. As a result, she became an ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ. (See Ruth 1:1–4:17.) This gives us a testimony of the power of overcoming sin.
Judah and Israel
As Amos finishes showering the nations around Israel with woes and judgments, he turns to God’s people, and using the pattern that he had already established, he starts in on them. He uses his theme device—“for three transgressions and for four”—this is the judgment that is going to come. When he finally comes to Judah and to Israel, it is almost as if he screams out, “Are you listening to me? Sit up and take notice, because for three transgressions and for four, you are going to feel the stroke of God.” He wanted to get their attention, because they were next on God’s list.
Here is the real reason for this testimony to the church. Because the Israelites had rejected far greater spiritual light than had the nations around them, they were under far greater condemnation. This is why Amos’ message became so hard, so heavy, and so weighty. It is much easier to condemn someone you do not know than to have to deal with an issue with someone that you do know.
But even though it came closer to home for Amos—to Judah and to Israel—the punishment was just as severe, because “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin.” James 4:17. God was going to deal with those people in a different way.
Judah had come under this condemnation because they had violated the Law of God and had refused to keep His commandments. They had knowledge of God, and because of that, their condemnation would be greater. But through it all, God said, “I want you to change.” He wanted them to see Him for who He really was. If they had only been willing to see God for who He really was, a love relationship would have developed, and they would have changed. But they had violated the covenant to such an extent that punishment was inevitable.
Amos 2:9–11 says, “Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height [was] like the height of the cedars, and he [was] strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath. Also I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. [Is it] not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith the Lord.” God is asking, “Is not this the way that I treated you? Did not I treat you right? I want you to respond.” They were going to pay a price for their unfaithfulness. God was telling them that they would be sorry they had not remained faithful.
A Lesson for Us
This again is a lesson for those of us who are going to go through the last days. Only the faithful will make it through the last days, but God is not willing that any should perish. (11 Peter 3:9.) However, God cannot stand by and witness multiplied injustices taking place to the detriment of His work. He will not just stand by and watch that happen.
When people consider what is going on in the remnant church, there is a tendency to feel that God does not care or that He has abandoned His people. But all that is needed is to read the accounting process we see revealed in Amos 1 and 2, and we begin to see that God is still very much interested and still very active. Sometimes it takes a long time for the cup to become full. None of us know how fast our cup is filling, or when it is going to fill. It fills differently for different people. But when the cup is full, mark it down; the Lord is going to roar out of Jerusalem.
The lesson we find portrayed in the first two chapters of Amos is that in these last days, it is only going to be the faithful who are going to make it through. We can be among the faithful. We can allow our cups to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
God cares, and He is working. His will is going to be done in all areas. He is preparing a people who are going to come through the trials of the last days without spot, without wrinkle, or without any such thing. (Ephesians 5:27.)
In all areas of scripture, the lesson is basically the same: turn from your sins and be saved all you people of the Lord. (See 11 Chronicles 7:14.) This is what He wants more than anything else, and that is how He wants us to be found—pure and clean and ready to meet Jesus when He comes.
Pastor Mike Baugher is Associate Speaker for Steps to Life Ministry. He may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.