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Amos 3:1-4:3

Lesson Focus God’s judgment is not just for those who actively participate in oppression and violence but also for those whose lifestyle perpetuates the system of violence and exploitation.

Through this lesson, students should

  1. Understand that Israel chose to walk with God in covenant fidelity.

  2. Understand that Israel had saved up oppression and violence, not

  3. earthly goods.

  4. Understand that God’s judgment is not just for those who actively oppress others but also for those who participate in oppressive systems.

Catching up on the story Amos, a prophet from the southern nation of Judah, has begun his work in and around the capital city of the northern nation of Israel. The book opens with a series of oracles spoken against Israel’s surrounding neighbors. These oracles would have been well received by those who first hear Amos. Slowly, though, Amos works his way closer and closer to Israel until he has pronounced judgment on Judah. The pronouncement against Judah would have excited the crowd. In that excitement, Amos lowers the boom and announces God’s displeasure with Israel.

With the crowd shocked and silenced, Amos reminds his hearers of their history. They were once a people who were oppressed and enslaved. God himself, the one who now speaks through Amos, rescued them from Egypt and established them in the land they now occupy. Only, Israel has not lived up to the conditions set by the covenant that God had established. Israel will be held responsible, even more so than their neighbors, because of the continued violation of their covenant with God.

The Text This week’s text can be split into several sections. The first section, 3:1-8, establishes a cause and effect relationship between Israel’s action and God’s forthcoming judgment. Verses 9-11 seek to call outsiders as witnesses against Israel. Finally, 3:12 through 4:3 begin to announce how God will bring about punishment on Israel. We will examine each section in turn.

Cause and Effect: 3:1-8 Chapter three begins with a formulaic pronouncement statement. The words of the previous two chapters should give Amos’ hearers an occasion to pause and consider what will happen. Amos stands and declares that what is about to follow is a word directly from God. They are not his own words but the word of the God who brought them up from the land of Egypt. In reality, the line, “O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt,” is meant to remind Israel, not just of their past salvation, but of the fact that they belong to a family much larger than themselves.

They are no less and no more God’s people than their neighbors Judah. God asserts that Israel and Judah, for that matter, have been in a special relationship with God. The “You only have I known” of verse 2 details this special relationship. In the Old Testament, “know” has two specific meanings. The first is used to describe intimate relations between a man and a woman. The second use belongs to the realm of covenants and treaties. Taken together, God has “known” Israel in both a close and intimate way because of their covenant relationship with them.

As Amos reestablishes that Israel exists as a result of God’s good grace and mercy, he begins to remind the people that they entered into this covenant relationship willingly. Verses 3 through 8 describe a series of questions that are put to the listener that describe some cause and effect relationships. Each question is meant to elicit the answer, “No, of course not.” The first, “Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment,” can be a little ambiguous. The NIV’s rendering, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” is more precise. The effect of the line of questioning is to get the hearers used to answer in the negative.

Verses 7 and 8 are where Amos wishes to make his point. At this point in his ministry, some might be wondering, “Who is this guy, and why is he talking like this to us?” Amos offers an answer. When it comes to God’s interaction with his chosen people, especially when it comes to correction and judgment in the light of covenant unfaithfulness, God speaks his intentions through a prophet. In these two verses, Amos declares that God is about to act, and he has revealed his plans to Amos. The prophet’s burden is so great that he cannot be quiet. Those who hear the words of God must speak them. Amos is a prophet of God. God’s plans have been revealed to him, and he cannot remain silent.

Inspection Time: 3:9-11 Now that Amos has established who he is and why he speaks, he will begin to deliver God’s message. The language in this section is mainly metaphorical. Amos commands the leaders of Israel to issue summons to Ashdod (a Philistine stronghold) and Egypt for their experts to come and inspect Israel’s fortifications. Only, what the inspectors are to inspect is not the strongholds themselves, but Israel’s treasures, which Amos declares are great tumults, oppression, violence, and robbery. This international review board is to come to Israel to see how Israel has gained all that they have gained through unrest, oppression, and robbery. Israel has not stored up for itself riches, as Israel has assumed, but has stored up for itself unrest and violence.

Because they have prospered through violence, unrest, robbery, and oppression, their land shall be surrounded, and their strongholds will be plundered. There is a sense here that the very violence and oppression which came to be housed in Israel’s metaphorical strongholds will now be unleashed upon themselves. As the rich and powerful in Israel have treated others, so shall they be treated.

Fat, Stubborn Cows: 3:13-4:3 Verse 12 begins a new section with the phrase, “Thus says the Lord.” In additio