LISTEN TO GOD
When the Lord speaks, His words are authoritative and His people must listen. The tone of Amos 1:2–2:16 is urgent with judgment. The Lord “roars” thunderously from His temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion (1:2), pronouncing judgment on surrounding Gentile nations. The greatest surprise comes when God “roars” against His own people’s crimes.
Wrongs reviewed (4–8)
God is indignant at His people’s flagrant covenant violations, especially injustice against the poor. Their treatment of fellow Israelites flouts God’s laws intending love and compassion to neighbors. “For three crimes, even four” indicates God’s patient indulgence is at an end and judgment is imminent. Israel rejected God’s instruction (Torah) from the very first commandment.
Amos details Israel’s shocking crimes of social injustice. Wealthy Israelites treat the poor like cheap objects, bribing to achieve their legal ends and mercilessly selling people into debtor slavery. Israel oppresses the poor and keeps them poor. The girl mentioned could be a domestic servant, sold by her family to a wealthier one to settle a debt; it appears she is used sexually by the men of the family.
Although this word for girl does not usually mean prostitute, the context seems to be one of worship through drinking and ritual sex at an idolatrous altar. It is also possible syncretistic worship is happening, in which the “holy name” of God (Yahweh) was invoked along with the name of Canaanite gods. In either case, the abusive defilement of this young girl draws God’s ire and warrants the reader’s revulsion.
If ritual prostitution is in view, the Israelites’ immorality is exacerbated by drinking dishonestly obtained wine funded by extortion and by using garments of the poor, unlawfully retained.
History relived (9–11)
As God details these sins, a terrible reality emerges: Israel, God’s covenant people, had become just like the sinful Amorites. God judged the powerful and fearsome Amorites through Israel’s victory (Num. 21:21–35). As the active agent, God cut down the Amorites completely (roots and fruits), while raising up Israel and privileging the Israelites to possess the land, to hear His words through prophets and to witness a righteous life and character exemplified by Nazirites (Num. 6).
Judgment reckoned (12–16)
God indicates Israel’s time is up and its destruction looms. He will expel Israel through a warring nation as a means of judgment. Israel’s fighting force would be debilitated from its heavy and light infantry (foot soldiers and archers) to its cavalry and elite warriors, who will turn tail and run for their lives.
God is a self-revealing covenant God, merciful and patient. His people are held to a higher ethical standard, having experienced the loving compassion and powerful deliverance of God. God also works justice for the oppressed. Evildoers and covenant breakers will be held accountable for their crimes. It is impossible to please God with our worship on Sunday while mistreating our neighbors throughout the week.
By Stefana Dan Laing
Associate professor at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama