Amos’s initial focus in his book envisions Yahweh as a Lion (Amos 1:2), who is on the offensive against the nations (1:3–2:3), Judah (2:4–5), and climactically, against Israel (2:6–16). The Oracles against the Nations in Amos 1:3–2:5 end with the announcement of an earthshaking punishment upon Israel (2:6–16). At least two questions arise from these initial chapters in the book. The first is, “Isn’t Israel Yahweh’s elect nation?” And this is followed with, “Who is this Amos anyway?” Amos 3:1–2 answers the first question, while 3:3–8 deals with the second.
Questions and Answers
(Note: Questions only are found in the student section.)
Q1. Israel is rarely called a “family” (e.g., Jeremiah 31:1), which may indicate that the use of this title in Amos 3:1–2 demeans Israel in that the nation is not a nation, per se, but a smaller part of one nation comprised of all the families of the earth (3:2) that are equally accountable to Yahweh. See Amos 2:4–2:16; 9:7. Why does Yahweh need to humble His people in this way?
A1. Israel’s leaders believed that they were the crème de la crème; they boast that they are “the first of the nations” (Amos 6:1). If these leaders were first in anything, though, it was that they were first in pride, arrogance, and self-absolution. Yahweh had called them “the least of the nations” (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7) but now these prima donnas were number one in self-esteem. Those “at ease on Mount Zion” and “trusting in Mount Samaria” (Amos 6:1) demonstrated a ruthless disregard for the repeated exploitation of the poor (6:6c). Because of their “most favored nation” status, they confessed that “evil will not even come close, much less confront us” (9:10). The leaders were sure that Yahweh was with them (5:14). Enjoying their economic success (4:1; 6:4–5; 8:5–6) and celebrating their victories on the battlefield (6:13), they were sure that the “day of Yahweh” (5:18–20) would be for them a day of light and not darkness. These leaders probably said something like this to the meddlesome Amos: “Leave us alone to enjoy our days. Life is too short to be tormented with guilt about people whose problems are too big and too complex for us to fix anyway!”
Q2. In light of the Oracles against the Nations in Amos 1:3–2:16, the first half of 3:2 seems odd. In the opening oracles of the book, Yahweh indicates that He knows what has been transpiring among the nations. How then can Yahweh say that He knows only Israel? In 3:2 the Hebrew verb yada is often translated “to know.” More specifically, though, it denotes that Yahweh chose Israel for His covenant partner (yada is employed in this way also in, e.g., Genesis 18:19; Exodus 33:12, 17; Deuteronomy 9:24; 2 Samuel 7:20; Jeremiah 1:5). How does this assist your understanding of Amos 3:2?
A2. Whereas Yahweh knows all of the nations (Amos 1:3–2:3; 9:7), He is only in a covenant relationship with Israel. Israel’s election was completely undeserved and came from Yahweh alone (Deuteronomy 8:17; 9:4). The nation was attractive because they were loved; they were not loved because they were attractive. But election is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the elect have the promise of Yahweh’s covenant. On the other hand, they are held to a higher standard and are therefore all the more guilty. Privilege has its perils.
Q3. Choosing always originates from the side of Yahweh and is rooted in His mercy and love (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7–8; John 15:16). Election empowers people to respond with faithfulness. Read the following passages: Abraham—Genesis 15:6; 22:18; Israel—Exodus 19:1–6; the disciples—John 15:1–16. What do these texts teach about election and response?
A3. Abraham was declared righteous (Genesis 15:6) and became a blessing to all the nations (22:18). Israel witnessed Yahweh’s acts of salvation (Exodus 19:4) and became a “kingdom of priests” (19:6). The disciples were grafted into the Vine (John 15:5), and so they bore fruit (15:16). Amos is but one voice in this grand chorus that proclaims God’s electing grace that empowers the elect to live for Him. Like other biblical writers, Amos does not deny Israel’s covenantal status but suggests that the status carries with it added responsibility.
Q4. What is striking in Amos 3:2 is that the prophet does not state that it is because of Israel’s sins that the nation is judged; it is rather because of Israel’s covenant status. See the following verses for further examples of how election is turned into Law: Matthew 3:9; Luke 12:48; James 3:1; 1 Peter 4:17. What does this teach you?
A4. Along with Amos, these texts employ a prominent biblical theme: relationship, reminder, and response. God freely and lovingly enters into a saving relationship with people and then sends spokesmen to remind them of His grace as well as encourage them to respond. The theme is echoed with variations in Exodus 20:1–17. The giving of the Ten Commandments is preceded by a declaration of Yahweh’s saving relationship (“I am Yahweh your God,” Exodus 20:2a), as well as a reminder of what Yahweh has done (“who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” 20:2b). Israel is then given the Ten Commandments, because as Yahweh’s new creation from Egypt (cf. 19:5–6), they now are in a position to begin following His will, albeit imperfectly. In following this same progression, Amos reiterates the Sinaitic covenant by calling Israel to affirm the relationship, remember Yahweh’s grace, and respond with justice and righteousness.
Q5. The word “sin” (Hebrew avon) in Amos 3:2 implies that unabsolved guilt is punished by Yahweh (cf. Numbers 5:31). In the majority of its uses, however, “sin” is a more concrete word, referring to an entity unto itself. It is “present in” the one who is guilty (1 Samuel 20:8), “finds” people (2 Kings 7:9), and consumes them (Genesis 19:15). See the following to better understand Yahweh’s Law/Gospel relationship with avon: Exodus 20:5; 2 Samuel 24:10; Psalms 51:4, 11; 65:3.
A5. Yahweh’s Law/Gospel relationship with avon is that, on the one hand, He is the one who serves as the catalyst for punishment (Exodus 20:5), while on the other hand, He alone is capable of taking away guilt and thus averting the punishment (2 Samuel 24:10). The only solution for avon is atonement, which Yahweh delivers through priestly actions in the sanctuary (Psalm 65:3). He takes away avon by washing or wiping it away (Psalm 51:4, 11). But being Yahweh’s chosen people does not guarantee a passport to forgiveness. According to Amos 3:2, when Yahweh visits Israel’s avon He does so all the more severely because they are His chosen people.
Q6. Why was Israel going to be destroyed?
A6. We might conclude that Israel’s collapse occurred because of poor foreign policy, weak military preparation, foolish government, or aggressive imperialism. But Amos cuts through conventional perceptions and underneath the commonsense explanations to the real issues that are covenantal and theological. Israel’s elite ignored Yahweh’s counsel (Amos 2:12), treated him as though second-rate (5:26), believed themselves “above the law” (4:4; 9:10), and ignored their election status and responsibilities (2:10–11; 3:1–2).
Q7. After answering the first question that arose out of Amos 1:3–2:16—“Doesn’t Israel have a favored nation status that exempts them from the law?”—Amos proceeds to respond to the second question from those who heard the Oracles against the Nations, “Who is Amos to preach such a sermon? By whose authority does he say these things?” Amos 3:3–8 is the prophet’s answer to this second challenge, which is a series of rhetorical questions that use analogies from common experiences in Israel’s life. Because Amos was rejected by his contemporaries (2:12; 7:10–17),he found it necessary to present the rationale for his oracles. What is the logic of the prophet’s argument in Amos 3:3–8?
A7. The prophet’s argument is anchored in the premise that every event has its immediate cause, and every cause, in turn, leads to its own result. His first question is self-evident and is designed to gain a hearing with the audience. The next six are related to harm and danger, while also appearing in three related pairs. The lion seizes his prey in the first pair. The trapper is depicted as the one who seizes in the second pair. In the last two questions the trouble comes from Yahweh. Each question is designed so that the listener agrees and responds with something like, “Of course, that is so obvious!” At the end of the sequence (Amos 3:8) the order is reversed by naming a cause that brings an effect.
Q8. In Amos 3:7, the Hebrew word sod denotes Yahweh’s council. Read the following texts to learn more about the council: Psalm 89:7; Jeremiah 23:18–22; Job 15:8; 1 Kings 22:19; Job 1:6; Isaiah 6:1–8. Who takes part in this council, and what decisions are made there?
A8. Yahweh’s council (sod) is called a conclave of “holy ones” (Psalm 89:7), which can include prophets (Jeremiah 23:18, 21–22) as well as other people (Job 15:8). These attendants are also designated “all the host of heaven” (1 Kings 22:19), “the sons of God” (Job 1:6), as well as the “seraphim” (Isaiah 6:2). The council has an important role in several prophetic texts. For example, Isaiah is commissioned to work as a herald on behalf of such a council (6:8). This is based upon the premise that Yahweh makes His will known to chosen individuals. For example, He asks, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Genesis 18:17). The context expects a negative response. Amos furthermore claims that prophets are not just told what Yahweh is about to do; they are also part of the “consultation team.” Yahweh consults with Amos in varying degrees throughout the five visions in chapters 7–9. Yahweh not only speaks His word, He also listens to the prophet’s intercession (cf. Amos 7:2–3, 5–6).
Q9. Amos 3:8 is the rhetorical goal of the sequence of questions. “The lion roars; who does not fear?” The normal response to a roaring lion is a racing heart, a stomach tied up in knots, and feet that are ready to run! One thought consumes a person’s mind: “I’m going to die!” See the following verses that connect Amos’s preaching with the roaring Lion: Amos 1:2; 7:10–17. What do they tell you about Amos’s call to prophesy?
A8. The Lion roared in Amos’s life (Amos 1:2). Amos did not choose Yahweh; Yahweh chose him (see John 15:16). This means that attempts to silence him (Amos 2:12; 7:12–13) are in vain; in fact, they are a frontal attack against Yahweh. Amos was compelled to speak because Yahweh first spoke to him. He could not do otherwise. The contrast between Amos 3:8 and 2:12 could not be any sharper. In the first case, the response to the Lion’s roar is suppression; in the second case, it is abject fear followed by prophetic vocation.
Q9. Like Amos, Jesus was also compelled in His ministry; see the following verses: Luke 2:49; 9:22; 22:37; 24:44. What does this tell you about Jesus?
A9. Christ’s “divine must” means that Calvary is not just a moving tragedy. It was not a stopgap measure, nor was it the Father’s unexpected knee-jerk response to a world plummeting toward destruction. The cross was drawn into the original blueprint, written into the first script. Golgotha is the decisive plan of the Father before the creation of the world (Acts 2:23). Jesus intentionally planted the tree from which His cross would be carved. It means He voluntarily placed Judas into the womb of a woman. It means He was the one who set in motion the political machinery that sent Pilate to Judea. And it means He didn’t have to do it, but He did it for all people.
A covenant relationship with Yahweh is the presupposition of the prophet’s indictment in Amos 3:1–2. Yahweh does not exhort Israel to act justly toward others on the basis of their inherent goodness. Ethical and moral actions, rather, are to flow from the Gospel promises that were made to the patriarchs, were fulfilled when Yahweh rescued Israel from Egypt, and gave Israel the Promised Land.
Amos must preach. Yahweh’s roar has irresistibly impelled him to prophesy (Amos 3:8). When the prophet appears before Amaziah in Amos 7:10–17 he is not there for monetary gain, but because he has been divinely impelled (7:14–15). In this he is similar to Jeremiah who likewise is “weary of holding it in” (Jeremiah 6:11; 20:7, 9) and is also compelled to proclaim Yahweh’s message. This is also every Christian’s goal. Paul states this in Acts 20:24: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”