About forty years ago when I was in seminary, I heard a sermon based on the prophecy of Amos, chapters one and two.
Thus says the Lord, “For three transgressions of Damascus and for four, I will not revoke its punishment, Because they … Amos 1:3a NASB
This is followed by the specific reason for this judgment on Damascus, the capital of Syria (known also as Aram), and the specific acts of judgments that will be carried out against her, both the city and the whole nation.
This sequence of listing the sins of a people and the consequent judgment is applied to several cities and nations around Israel.
First, Syria to the northeast of Israel; then Gaza (Philistia), southwest of Israel along the Mediterranean; then Tyre, to the west and northwest of Israel, also along the Mediterranean; then Edom, southeast of the Dead Sea; then Ammon, east and southeast of Israel; then Moab, south of Israel on the east side of the Dead Sea.
Each of these six surrounding nations were condemned for their sins and subject to divine judgment. In the sermon I heard forty years ago, the speaker postulated that the prophet was probably cheered after each section of judgment on Israel’s enemies. They liked this preacher. He had his listeners hanging on to every word with delight as he preached against their enemies.
Then the message took a surprising turn.
Thus says the Lord,
“For three transgressions of Judah
and for four, I will not revoke its punishment,
Because they rejected the law of the Lord
And have not kept His statutes;
Their lies also have led them astray,
Those after which their fathers walked.
“So I will send fire upon Judah
And it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem.”
Amos 2:4, 5 NASB
The speaker suggested that they didn’t know whether to keep cheering because their sister, Judah, was also being judged; or to be a little nervous because it was getting a little too close to home.
They didn’t have to wait long because the seven brief prophecies against Israel’s neighbors, including her sister, Judah, were but the warm up for an extended prophecy against Israel herself.
Thus says the Lord,
“For three transgressions of Israel and for four
I will not revoke its punishment,
Because they sell the righteous for money
And the needy for a pair of sandals.
“These who pant after the very dust of the earth
on the head of the helpless
Also turn aside the way of the humble;
And a man and his father resort to the same girl
In order to profane My holy name.
“On garments taken as pledges they stretch out beside every altar,
And in the house of their God they drink the wine
of those who have been fined.
Amos 2:6-8 NASB
What makes it worse is that this is the nation to whom the LORD had been so good, thus making them more accountable to God.. Amos recounts the Exodus from Egypt, God’s care for them in the wilderness, God’s giving them the land of promise, God’s sending them prophets to proclaim his Word. Amos 3:9-11
God’s judgment is just and will be carried out on the unrepentant. But much of the time, God’s warnings of judgment, even the judgment as it is carried out, is disciplinary, designed to bring Israel to repentance to receive God’s mercy. God could justly destroy them without further warning, without another call to repentance. Instead, God says,
“Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel,
and because I will do this to you, Israel,
prepare to meet your God.”
Amos 4:12 NIV
In the midst of the continued delineation of Israel’s sins, chapter 5 introduces a recurring theme.
This is what the Lord says to Israel:
“Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel,
do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba.
For Gilgal will surely go into exile,
and Bethel will be reduced to nothing. ”
Seek the Lord and live,
or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire;
it will devour them, and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
Seek good, not evil, that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.
Amos 5:4-6, 14, 15
Thus it is obvious that God’s desire is not to judge, but to forgive, thus calling Israel to repentance, reinforcing God’s word through Ezekiel…
Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? Ezekiel 18:23
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! Ezekiel 18:32
‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’ Ezekiel 33:11
The story line of the Bible, the meta-narrative, the story within the stories, is that God is the rescuer, desiring salvation for those who come to Him in faith and repentance. The same principle is in the New Testament.
…He [God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9b
But there is more of this Good News in Amos.
“In that day
“I will restore David’s fallen shelter—
I will repair its broken walls
and restore its ruins—
and will rebuild it as it used to be,
so that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations that bear my name,”
declares the Lord, who will do these things.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
and flow from all the hills,
and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.
“They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;
they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant Israel in their own land,
never again to be uprooted
from the land I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.
The fulfillment of this is yet future. Israel has been exiled and restored, but not the full restoration prophesied here. This promise was delayed until the greater and ultimate act of God’s rescue would take place, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.
Jesus died on the cross for our sins, to be punished in our place so that we can be forgiven. This applies to people from all the nations surrounding Israel, to who judgment was due. It applies to the people of Israel. It applies to all of us.
And in the end, the promise of full restoration will be fulfilled when Jesus comes to reign on earth. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 2 Peter 3:13
That is truly Gospel Good News!
* Introduction to Amos, NIV Study Bible