Unseal the Indictment!

John Sampey, a prominent teacher of Old Testament at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, served as the president of the seminary from 1928-1941 and for 40 years served as editor of the interdenominational Uniform Lesson Sunday School series. He published his Old Testament syllabus as Syllabus for Old Testament Study in 1903. He introduced his discussion of the book of Amos in this way.

Amos was a native of Tekoa, a city on the edge of the desert ten miles south of Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom. He was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. He was not educated for a prophet, but was called by the Lord from his rural employment to bear His message to the Northern Kingdom. Perhaps to sell his wool he had traveled to the Northern Kingdom repeatedly. He was a keen observer of men and things, burning with righteous indignation at the wrongs heaped upon the poor and helpless, and a fearless prophet of God. His prophecy was delivered at Bethel in the reign of Jeroboam II, two years before the earthquake of Zech 14:5. This was early in the eighth century B. C., about 760 B. C.; but the date cannot be fixed with exactness. Amos probably reduced his prophecies to their present form after his return to Tekoa. Amos is a home missionary who ‘into politics brings facts, and into religion vision.

I. Chapter1:1 – Amos introduces himself and the divine power that compelled him to his prophecy. He then enters into an avalanche of unrelenting judgment against all nations surrounding Israel. As Matthew Henry noted, he was a man “of undaunted resolution … , faithful and bold in reproving sin and denouncing the judgments of God for it, and pressing in his exhortations to repentance and reformation.”

A. Verse 1– Amos identifies himself as a shepherd from Tekoa. In 7:14 he adds that he grows and harvests sycamore figs. There was an art and precise timing necessary for harvesting these figs and Amos would have had to be quick and faithful in a tedious job for a good gathering of fruit to occur. He was not trained in a school of the prophets but was gifted by God with a brutal eloquence, a spiritual relentlessness, and an urgent message. Elisha was called as he plowed behind oxen. David was tending sheep. “Those whom God has endued with abilities for his service ought not to be despised nor laid aside for the meanness either of their origin or of their beginnings.” (Matthew Henry) He prophesied during the days of Uzziah in Judah and the second Jeroboam in Israel. His writing seemingly is done more than two years after the live version of the prophecy. Both kingdoms were in prosperous condition; their sins, nevertheless, were corrosive to both the social and religious life of the nations and warning of God’s anger was necessary and designed to evoke repentance. The earthquake in Uzziah’s time now is past and Amos prophesied two years prior to that.

B. Verse 2 – The intensity of the message he was to deliver was like the roaring of a lion before the prey is torn; this roar is frightful for it is no mere charade but comes from one who is fully able to destroy even in the midst of apparent safety. For this reason, it also is merciful for the aggressiveness and angered determination of the predator should provoke measures for saving the flock. The roar warns but also call for repentance. It comes, symbolically, from Jerusalem where both the law and the mercy seat are found. The laws brings death upon its violation and the mercy seat restores life upon the propitiation. If unheeded, however, the pasture grounds will mourn for the carnage that ensues and Carmel, the place of abundant harvests will dry up and be unproductive.

II.. We find some commonalities in these judgments.

A. The entire prophecy is issued as having come from the righteous mind and clear voice of God through the human faculties of Amos” “The words of Amos” (1:1); “The Lord roars from Zion and from Jerusalem He utters His voice” (1:2). Each judgment begins with “Thus Says the Lord” (1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13, 2:1, 4, 6). And then we find in 3:1, “Hear this word which the Lord has spoken against you, sons of Israel.” Several also end with a reaffirmation of the words having come from the divine voice, “Says the Lord, (1:5, 8, 15) “Declares the Lord” (2:16, 3:15; 4:3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11) with similar assertions of divine origin scattered frequently throughout the prophecy. What a damnable ostentation would the entire book be if this assertion were a mere charade, a histrionic attempt to gain attention and plausibility. Shameful it would be. If the book be not from God then it is a work of oppressive blasphemy, a use of God’s character and name to spread a frightening message that misrepresents God’s attributes and purpose. And yet the moral earnestness and judgments pronounced against a false worship, using God’s gifts and blessings vainly, and the picture of divine holiness, power, and purity militate against any shrewd use of falsehood. That the prophecies came true also says that the words were indeed from the one who knows and controls the historic and moral future of nations and every person. This is the word of God both by claim and character.

B. Amos speaks the words of the Lord in judgment of the nations around Israel. Though they do not worship the Lord and have received no special revelation from him as did Judah and Israel (2:4; 3:1, 2), yet God will show them that, nevertheless, their sins have come before him, they are accountable to him, and he will judge them. “They are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). The phrase used for those nations as well as for Judah and Israel repeated eight times (1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13, 2:1, 4, 6) “For three transgressions … and for four,” means that no matter how much sin increases, God will be aware of all and will execute justice on all. Nothing that is worthy of punishment in any degree will escape the exhaustive justice of God. Severity of sin and punishment depends on a combination of the degree of revelation and mercies already received and the severity of the violations (Matthew 11:20-22). The law of God written on the heart still is operative in an undiminished way and will be that which holds all nations accountable (Romans 2:1-11). Nothing is done in a merely arbitrary way in this matter of judgment but manifests the perfection of retribution. “I will shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground” (9:9).

III. Chapter 1: 3- 2:3 – This gives judgments to the idolatrous “unknown” nations around Israel.

A. 3-5 – Syria will be punished for its cruelty in war. They were merciless to a defeated foe (2 Kings 8:12). All their strongholds will be destroyed, their population taken away, and their kings or leaders executed. They would be taken into exile. This was fulfilled in 2 Kings 16:9.

B. Gaza (6-8), the land of the Philistines, was judged for selling an entire group of people (“the whole captivity”) into slavery to Edom. This could have been people from Judah seeking to escape during the attacks of Sennacherib. God would destroy several of the major towns and a portion, (“the remnant”) of the Philistines would perish.

C. Tyre (9, 10) also sold to slave traders delivering desperate Israelites to Edom. Under Hiram, king of Tyre, a relationship of trade and trust had developed with Israel through the wise negotiations of Solomon (1 Kings 5. See verse 12 in particular; also 2 Chronicles 2). The fair trade (Hiram was displeased with one particular transaction but still honored Solomon – 1 Kings 9:10-14) had established a covenant of respect and equitable negotiation. This was violated egregiously by Tyre systematically after the division of Israel. Joel 3 contains a similar prophecy against Tyre as does Isaiah 23.

D. Edom, named after Esau the brother of Jacob, had been in continual enmity to Israel (Genesis 25:30). They received the refugees from Israel captured by Gaza and Tyre and enslaved them. From their first contact on the Israelites exit from Egypt and journey to the Promised Land, they positioned themselves as enemies (Exodus 20:14-21). Ezekiel 25:12-14 also issued a prophecy against Edom. Amos indicates a perpetual enmity of Edom and a vengefulness and cruelty that lasted through the generations: “His anger tore continually, and he maintained his fury forever” (11). Thus will God’s anger and fury be displayed not only in temporal fire but in eternal.

E. Against Ammon divine fury will be displayed for their amazing cruelty and ferocious devastation in their attempt at expansion. The Ammonites were descendants of Lot by his younger daughter (Genesis 19:38). In war with the Ammonites, Jephthah made his fatal vow (Judges 11). Under David, Joab had conquered Rabbah and its people were made to be workers for Israel (1 Chronicles 20:1ff). Jeremiah also prophesied against Ammon (Jeremiah 49:1-8). In order to disinhabit the land of Gilead, the Ammonites killed not only those already born but those to be born, ripping open pregnant women. Killing of the unborn is seen as a peculiarly culpable crime and evidence of the loss of human conscience. Abortion in America and the deceptive defense of it as a “right,” the making of a profession of it, and supporting “health” clinics where the procedures and the babies are executed seems a more sinister killing of the unborn than even this tragedy of war. The crime calls for a punishment of unquenchable fury until vengeance is fully satisfied: “So I will kindle a fire on the wall of Rabbah and it will consume her citadels.”

F. Against Moab (2:1-3). The Moabites were descendants of Lot by his elder daughter (Genesis 19:37). Into the country of Moab Naomi went with her sons during a time of famine in Israel. Ruth, her daughter-in-law, was a Moabitess. She became great-grandmother to David (Ruth 4:17-22). Isaiah 15, 16 describes a wailing for Moab in light of the judgment that has come on this basis: “We have heard of the pride of Moab—He is very proud—of his haughtiness and his pride and his wrath; but his lies shall not be so. Therefore Moab shall wail for Moab” (Isaiah 16:6, 7). The ferocity of the Moabites is seen in that they not only defeated their foes with a vengeance but “burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime” (2:1).

IV. Judgment on Judah – 2:4, 5. Judah had received the law of God by special revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19, 20; 33, 34; Deuteronomy 5). In spite of pledges to walk in the ways of the Lord and in obedience to his commands, each generation had its own periods of rebellion punctuated with periods of faithfulness. After the split between north and south following Solomon, Judah, (south) had some kings, prophets, and priests that led them toward righteousness, but the gravity of disobedience kept pressing a constant downward trend. The words of the Lord to Moses and of Moses to the people would come to pass: “They will forsake me and break my covenant which I have made with them. Then my anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured.” Shortly after Moses said, “For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 31:15, 16, 29).

III. Judgment on Israel (2:6-16) – Sampey summarized the prophetic utterance this way: “Against Israel for covetousness, injustice, lasciviousness, sacrilege; also for ingratitude in forgetting Jehovah’s kindness and rejecting his messengers.”

A. They are oppressive to the needy and promote immorality in their worship (2:7, 8).

    1. Their oppression of the needy, their lack of mercy and provision for the destitute (cf. 5:11, 12), will bring God’s own display of removing mercies from the needy and dependent. They omit both mercy and justice for the sake of bribes; God will relinquish his mercy in the pursuit of pure justice. We all are absolutely dependent on God and his mercies, and when he removes it from us and allows our sin to run its proper course we will be destroyed by it and made even more deeply susceptible to God’s righteous anger.
    2. They have adopted the worship characteristic of the Baals and think they please the gods through immoral conduct and drunkenness. A man and his son resort to the same temple prostitute for their act of “worship.” They drink wine in worship that they have obtained through unjust fines pressed on the poor. False gods have neither wrath nor manifestation of acceptance but are simply dead constructions of the hands of men or the imaginations engendered by lusts. The Lord God, however, abominates any attempt at worship of any sort to any supposed god that is based on unfettered pursuit of personal advantage and mere worldly pleasure..

B. Their spirit of rebellion and self-centeredness made them forget their dependence on God for their very existence as a nation and the degree of prosperity to which they had risen (9, 10). Amos looks at God’s actions in reverse order, mentioning first the conquest of the promised land and second the rescue from Egypt.

    1. They would not be a nation at all but would have still been buried in Egypt as slaves if by his mighty hand God had not brought them out of the mighty Egyptian empire and destroyed the Pharaoh and his army before their very eyes. This favor to their ancestors hundreds of years before has given them existence as a nation and their lack of gratitude and recognition of these merciful interventions is repugnant to their deliverer. The combination of redemption and judgment in their wilderness wanderings should put them in awe of the God who has covenanted with them and their ignorance of this is appalling.
    2. The destruction of the Amorite was absolute, “fruit above and root below.” That named group stands for the various tribes that God drove out from before the Hebrews as they settled in by degrees to the land. Their failure to continue their conquest until even the remnant of the other groups was destroyed became the downfall of Israel. The strength of their adversaries was imposing, but God’s purpose for his people was that they should pursue them to the end and God himself would see to it that they were victorious.

C. In the midst of their systemic rebellion, God had called them to hear the truth through prophets and pursue a moral and holy life through the example of Nazirites (11, 12). Instead of receiving benefit by disciplined example, they enticed the Nazirites to break their vows, disposing of their intended effect in the culture. The prophets they ridiculed, opposed, threatened (see 5:10; 7:10-17), and instructed to remain mute. They demonstrated that they neither felt gratitude nor respect for God’s way of holiness and the gift of his revealed truth.

D. God’s patience has been exhausted, his tendency toward mercy is pressed down by the weight of their rebellion and pleasure in unrighteousness (13). He has brought threats and calls to repentance for decade upon decade, king after king, prophet after prophet, but their rebellion has piled up like too many sheaves on a wagon. It cannot move. Israel has left God no option now but exile and judgment.

E. No amount of human strength or skill will be able to overcome to instrument of judgment that God brings on Israel (14-16), As they departe4d from God in their worship, so he will depart from them in the conflict that is coming. They will find themselves unable to stand; their strength in which they have such confidence will be gone and the movement of God will be within the assault of the Assyrian army. They look for the day of the Lord; it is coming (4:12; 5:18)

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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