The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Amos 3

Amo 3:1

Amo 3: "Israel is described by the humble prophet herdsman, used to the hardships and sacrifices of a herdman's existence as apostate (Amo 2:4), oppressive (Amo 2:6), immoral (Amo 2:7), vain and indolent (Amo 6:16), idolatrous (Amo 2:8), exceeding the guilt of other nations (Amo 3:2). He described the seat of royal power as the foundation of transgression (Amo 7:13; 3:14; 4:4; 5:5). Though it was the period of Israel's greatest power, when the people doubtless imagined that all was well, Amos warned of national judgments soon to fall on it (Amo 6:14). He prophesied two years before the great earthquake in the death of king Uzziah, which is typical of the greater earthquake at Christ's return (Zec 14:4). Amos 3-6 provides an explanation of Yahweh's judgment, with three discourses stating the sins of the Ecclesia, and revealing impending judgment. They are each commenced with the solemn call: 'Hear this word'. So the record has: [1] Responsibilities resting on Israel: Amo 3:1-2. [2] Responsibilities resting on Amos: vv 3-8; [3] The heathen are invited to witness to Samaria1s sins: vv 9,10; [4] Retribution: The punishment impending: vv 11-15. The ch concludes with the amazing contrast between the altars of Bethel (v 14), and the luxurious and pretentious homes of the wealthy ecclesia (v 15)" (GEM).

Amo 3: Amos' first message explained that God would judge His people because they had oppressed others in spite of their uniquely privileged relationship with Yahweh. The prophet addressed this message initially to both Israel and Judah (vv 1,2), but he focused it mainly on Israel (vv 9,12).

Amo 3:2

YOU ONLY HAVE I CHOSEN OF ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH; THEREFORE I WILL PUNISH YOU FOR ALL YOUR SINS: God knew and chose the Jews in the sense of Psa 147:19,20: "He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws" (cp the covenant made on mount Sinai (Exo 19:3-6; Deu 28:1-14). But in the broader sense, now, any person or people to whom the word of God has been given could be considered "known" and "chosen" in the same way! There is a great warning in this.

"Closeness must not be mistaken for divine favoritism or immunity from chastisement, but, on the contrary, it means being more seriously exposed to divine judgment and chastisement" (Abraham Heschel).

Amo 3:3

Vv 3-8: Amos asked seven rhetorical questions in vv 3-6 to help the Israelites appreciate the inevitability of their judgment. In each one the prophet pointed out that a certain cause inevitably produces a certain effect. The five questions in vv 3-5 expect a negative answer, and the two in v 6 expect a positive one. Vv 7,8 draw the conclusion.

DO TWO WALK TOGETHER UNLESS THEY HAVE AGREED TO DO SO?: The verse is used to suggest the notion that only when there is perfect agreement among brethren can they "walk together" in the bonds of fellowship. In the first place such a blanket assertion is not true, and in the second place such a usage of the verse is entirely beside the point.

It is certainly wrong to state as a matter of fact or principle that two men cannot cooperate unless they are perfectly agreed in every particular. In actual practice, nothing is further from the truth. Two men or a group can work together quite well on a common project by agreeing beforehand to submerge their differences in matters of secondary importance. If in their minds there is the same major goal, then minor considerations are modestly set aside so that their full energies may be directed toward its achievement. Such a policy is wise, and Scriptural! Peter's "Be ye subject one to another" (1Pe 5:5) surely expresses such a spirit of "compromise" in the best sense, as does Paul's exhortation to the strife-prone Corinthians: "There should be no schism in the body... the members should have the same care one for another" (1Co 12:25).

What then is the point of Amos 3:3? Perhaps the RSV rendering here would be helpful: "Do two walk together, unless they have made an appointment?" Or, as the Heb: 'unless they have met together?' This sounds very much like the thoughts expressed above: Two men can and do walk together IF they have agreed beforehand to walk together; it is as simple as that.

However, a consideration of the prophet's message in the broader sense indicates that the two who must agree in order to walk together are God and man. God knew Israel in the sense that to Israel He had committed His laws (v 2; Psa 147:19,20). This knowledge placed upon Israel the burden of responsibility to obey God, to agree to walk with Him; else Israel would be punished above all the nations for her transgressions. But, responsibilities aside, there are also great privileges in such a close association with the Almighty: "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amo 3:7). Man must walk in communion and harmony of heart and purpose with God. In doing so his blessings will be many, but if he deserts such a partnership then he may expect fiery judgment. God is saying, 'Can you think to ignore My advice and still claim to be My friend?'

The very first thing God asks us to agree with Him about is that we are sinners, not that we are as perfect as He is. An awareness of our weaknesses before God should make us considerably more sympathetic toward the weaknesses of our brethren. The goal of all is that we learn day by day to walk more and more in conformity with God's will. In the awesome shadow cast by our Father, we are all no better than toddlers, and our petty quarrels with His other babes are just so much futility, and are due to our limited horizons. The Lord of all creation has condescended to grasp each of us by the hand; like a natural father, He has shortened His pace so that we may be helped and guided in our first faltering steps upward toward manhood. Let us set our attentions upon His standard and strive to conform to it; let us walk with God (Gen 5:22; 6:9; 17:1), and not be so concerned to scrutinize the faltering steps of our brothers.

One final thought: Today divorce has become a widespread practice in the world around us, so much so that many young people enter marriages fully intending to terminate them at the first sign of trouble, on such flimsy grounds as "incompatibility". It is as if they are saying, 'We can no longer walk together, because we do not agree on such-and-such.' There are few in the brotherhood who would not deplore such a childish disregard for the marriage bond. And yet how often do brethren put forward this same excuse for "divorcing" themselves from a bond just as sacred -- the tie that binds (or should bind) all Christ's brethren together! They thus put asunder in the spiritual realm what they would never think of dissolving on the domestic level; and this means a debris of broken homes and lingering recriminations. And all because they will not apply the same restraint and reasonableness and patience and understanding in the ecclesial family that every husband and wife knows is essential in the natural family.

Amo 3:6

"The seven examples of related events began innocuously, but become increasingly foreboding. The first example (v3) had no element of force or disaster about it. The next two (v 4), however, concerned the overpowering of one animal by another, and the two after that (v 5) pictured man as the vanquisher of animal prey. In the final two examples (v 6), people themselves were overwhelmed, first by other human instruments, then by God Himself. This ominous progression, to the point where God Himself is seen as the initiator of human calamity, brought Amos to a climactic statement (vv 7,8)" (Sunukjian).

WHEN DISASTER COMES TO A CITY, HAS NOT THE LORD CAUSED IT?: "When we consider how much depends, both in public and private matters, upon the moods and desires of particular individuals, and how easy it is for divine power to affect those moods without the person being aware of the cause, or that any cause at all is in operation, it is easy to realise how God can raise trouble or give peace, without any apparent interference with the order of nature. A man has not yet learnt the ways of God thoroughly, who does not recognise that most of His dealings with the children of men in the present state of racial alienation, are performed with gloved hand, and from within the veil so to speak, by means of regulated natural circumstances which are none the less the work of God because under a mask" (WP 206,207).

Amo 3:7

SURELY THE SOVEREIGN GOD DOES NOTHING WITHOUT REVEALING HIS PLAN TO HIS SERVANTS THE PROPHETS: Who, as with Amos, add nothing of their own to the message -- since they are in agreement with the words of God (cp v 3).

The rising crescendo of observations of impending danger (vv 3-6) introduces two other events (v 8). But first of all, the prophet reminds his listeners that God does nothing to His people unless He first warns them through one of His prophets (cf Psa 25:14; Jer 23:18, 22): 'Be alert! You HAVE been warned!'

"This revelation is made that his people's faith may be confirmed and enlarged; and that in every generation they may know the times and seasons to which they stand related. Knowing the signs they are enabled to discern the times; and while consternation and dismay cause men's hearts to fail, they are courageous, and rejoice in perceiving the approach of the kingdom of God. This is the proper use of the prophetic word. It was thus that the ancients used it, and were enabled to live in advance of their contemporaries. This appears from the exhortation of the apostle who says, 'We have a sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well to take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place until the day dawn and the day-star arise..." [2Pe 1:19]. Some were not unmindful of this exhortation, which is as applicable to us as to them; for the day has not yet dawned, nor has the day-star arisen" (Elp).

Amo 3:8


THE SOVEREIGN LORD HAS SPOKEN -- WHO CAN BUT PROPHESY?: Indeed, how could the mouthpiece of the "Lion" not prophesy since Yahweh had spoken? Just as the prey is powerless in the jaws of the great lion, so the prophet Amos is powerless in the grip of divine inspiration -- he must declare the LORD's message!

Balaam, imperfect "prophet" that he was, seems to have felt this same overwhelming compulsion (Num 22--24), so that regardless of his desire for reward (2Pe 2:15), he was forced to speak the words of God. This observation demonstrates the power of God in inspiring the writers of the scriptures. The prophets clearly were, at the times of their prophesyings, quite unable to influence the words that they spoke by the action of their own will.

Amo 3:9

PROCLAIM TO THE FORTRESSES OF ASHDOD AND TO THE FORTRESSES OF EGYPT: The Gentiles, specifically the Philistines and the Egyptians, are called to come and witness what the LORD will do to His OWN people because they have turned their back on Him!

ASSEMBLE YOURSELVES ON THE MOUNTAINS OF SAMARIA; SEE THE GREAT UNREST WITHIN HER AND THE OPPRESSION AMONG HER PEOPLE: At Samaria these Gentiles would witness great tumults, not the peace and order that should have prevailed, and oppressions within Samaria. The Israelites were assaulting and robbing one another; the rich were taking advantage of the poor.

If these sins in God's own Land can call forth His righteous judgments, think what such sins might do in the lands of the Gentiles who do not even claim to serve the God of Israel? "For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1Pe 4:17).

Amo 3:10

WHO HOARD PLUNDER AND LOOT IN THEIR FORTRESSES: At least, the heathens plunder and loot their enemies -- not their own countrymen!

Amo 3:11

AN ENEMY WILL OVERRUN THE LAND; HE WILL PULL DOWN YOUR STRONGHOLDS AND PLUNDER YOUR FORTRESSES: The Sovereign Yahweh announced that an enemy that would surround the land of Israel would destroy and loot its impressive fortresses. That enemy proved to be Assyria, which besieged and destroyed Samaria and overran all Israel in 722 BC.

Amo 3:12

AS A SHEPHERD SAVES FROM THE LION'S MOUTH ONLY TWO LEG BONES OR A PIECE OF AN EAR: God Himself is the Shepherd of Israel, but so great will the depredations be that the only thing left behind will be that which is too small and inconsequential to be noticed by the beast of prey.

In practical terms, only a very few and very poor will be left in the Land, to tend vines and fields, etc (2Ki 25:12).

THE EDGE OF THEIR BEDS AND... THEIR COUCHES: This phrase is difficult. Perhaps it suggests that an invading army will nothing to the inhabitants of the land except something like a scrap of blanket, or a scrap of broken furniture.

Amo 3:14

I WILL DESTROY THE ALTARS OF BETHEL: God now promised to destroy the pagan altars that Jeroboam I had erected at Bethel at the same time He destroyed the people of Israel (cf 1Ki 12:26-30). This altar, and the one in Dan, had taken the place of the one in Jerusalem for most of the Israelites. The one in Bethel was the most popular religious center in Israel. There the Israelites practiced apostate worship.

THE HORNS OF THE ALTAR WILL BE CUT OFF AND FALL TO THE GROUND: The horns of this altar, symbolic of the strength of its deity, would be cut off and would fall to the ground showing its impotence. The horns of an altar were also places of asylum in the ancient Near East (1Ki1:50), so their cutting off pictures no asylum for the Israelites when God's judgment came.

Amo 3:15

THE WINTER HOUSE... THE SUMMER HOUSE... ADORNED WITH IVORY... THE MANSIONS: They had embellished their great houses with expensive ivory decorations (1Ki 21:1,18; 22:39; Psa 45:8). The two great sins of the Israelites, false religion (v 14) and misuse of wealth and power (v 15), would be the objects of God's judgment. "How the flesh loves these monuments of unfaithful stewardship!" (Ber 66:25).

"The enduring principle here is that God will destroy elaborate altars, expensive houses, and other accoutrements of an extravagant lifestyle when these items are acquired through oppression, fraud, and strong-arm tactics. The idolatry of the people led to their opulent lifestyles. Life apart from God may yield temporary material gain, but it will surely result in eternal loss" (Smith, cited in Const).
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