Summary: Our generation of churches has been more bountifully blessed by God than in any other generation. Along with the blessings comes responsibility.
Andrew Jackson, one of our first presidents, was known as a man of few words.
One day, his wife was unable to attend Sunday services and she asked what the minister’s message was about. Jackson said, "Sin." She said, "Well, what did he have to say about it?" He said, "He was against it."
That dialogue could have occurred between Amos and one of his contemporaries for Amos preached about sin and he was against it! The opening prophecy in his book is a diatribe against sin.
Amos began by addressing the nations surrounding God’s chosen people. Each successive indictment probably drew forth a chorus of "amens" from the people of Judah and Israel. People love to hear bad things about people they don’t like. They would have agreed that God had something against Damascus (1:3-5) and Gaza (1:6-8) and Tyre (1:9-10) and Edom (1:11-12) and Ammon (1:13-15) and Moab (2:1-3). And the people that Amos was preaching to would have been a ready audience to hear that God was going to deal harshly with these peoples.
However, the prophet startled his listeners when he applied the message of judgment first to the southern kingdom of Judah (2:4-5) and then to the northern kingdom of Israel (2:6-8). Until then, God had been encircling the kingdoms ... drawing them into His net.
He used a formula to announce each judgment: "for three transgressions .... and for four." This was not meant to be a literal expression. It was a figure of speech in which he said, "You know, three transgressions would have been bad enough but each one of these nations have gone far beyond anything remotely resembling a nation that has my favor." Each nation had rebelled more than enough to justify the Lord’s intervention and judgment. If three weren’t bad enough, they have gone far beyond that and exceeded any limit where my judgment and wrath will be stayed. Three transgressions would have been enough for God to be justified in bringing His judgment on these peoples. But, they have far exceeded that and done vastly more so that there is virtually no hope that God will not bring judgment on these peoples.
The word "transgressions" is the common prophetic word for sin. It means to rebel against God and describes a deliberate attempt to break away from a relationship with God. The focus is not on breaking the rules.
The focus is on breaking a relationship. This is still true today. Sin is not just breaking God’s rules. It is breaking our relationship with Him. Too many people today get caught up in the rules. And they like to point fingers at other people who, in their estimation have broken God’s rules and therefore should incur His wrath. They are just like Amos’ audience when they hear that something has happened to the people whom they dislike or whom they feel superior to because they deem their sin more awful than their own. But the key is the relationship and not the rule.
What they don’t realize is that they also have sinned, they also have broken relationship with God, and they sit so smug and so self-satisfied, having the identical problem of the ones to whom they feel superior.
In each nation there were numerous examples of rebellion against God. Amos was God’s spokesman to deliver a message of judgment.
What does this message of judgment say to us today?
The Control of God (1:3-2:3)
In each of the first six prophecies against the nations, Amos designated a specific sin which called forth judgment of God. For example, the Syrians (Damascus is the capital city) were condemned "because they threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron" (1:3). Some commentators want to translate this literally. They suggest that the Syrians used the instruments for threshing grain to mangle the flesh of Israelite prisoners of war. Others have suggested that this was used figuratively to depict the savage method of warfare used by the Syrians. The image describes the process of dragging a grinding sledge over the sheaves to separate the grain from the chaff. In Amos’ day, the sledge was made of boards with the underside studded with metal prongs or knives. The image implies not only the crushing of Gilead by Damascus but the cruel treatment of those taken prisoner. In effect, you have done to them what farmers do to grain.
The Philistines (Gaza) were under judgment "because they deported an entire population to deliver it up to Edom" (1:6). The Philistines lived along the Mediterranean Sea, in the area that is called the Gaza Strip today. Philistia consisted of five city states, the largest and southernmost of which was Gaza.
The specific charge God entered against the Philistines was that on some unspecified occasion ... Gaza had carried a complete group of captives to Edom, apparently to sell them as slaves.