Amos Addresses the Nations: Amos 1:3-2:3

The first section of Amos startles us. The editorial heading prepared us to hear a word from Yahweh to Israel. Instead, the first six of eight proverbial sayings are addressed to regional nations. How does a Yahwehist prophet speak to the nations, on what basis, and about what? To be sure, he does finally get to Israel (2:6-16) after he also addresses Judah (2:4-5). Nevertheless, his starting point is surprising.

But this is not all that startles us. Amos does not address the imperial powers at all. There is no mention of Assyria or Egypt. They are not even on his radar. Instead he addresses the nations that are contiguous with Israel and Judah–six regional powers:  Damascus (Aram), Gaza (Philistines), Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab. Amos focuses on Judah and Israel’s immediate neighbors, the people with whom they would have daily interaction.

The nations addressed are: Damascus (NE of Israel), Gaza (SW of Judah), Tyre (NW of Israel), Edom (SE of Judah), Ammon (E of Israel) and Moab (E of Judah). His list goes back and forth between Israel and Judah, and north-south/east-west with its directions. It is difficult to discern an order here but some have suggested that it is like a tightening circle. Amos is strangling Israel and Judah with a rope. And Israel is the last in the list to whom Amos addresses the message of the book.  Israel is not alone–others are accountable as well. But Israel is Amos’s focus.

This opening section should give us pause. Amos does not address the nations as covenant people.  There is no appeal to the Torah or to divine expectations from some kind of “special revelation.” Nevertheless, his words are stern, unyielding, and determinative. Amos thinks he is in a position to assess the morality of the nations.

On what basis does Amos do this? It is not the Torah per se. Rather, it is because Yahweh is the God of all nations, not just Israel and Judah. God has invested in humanity as a whole. God has expectations and designs for humanity scattered among the nations.

What is clear, however, is that the nations have pursued agendas and practices that are not consistent with God’s design for humanity . In particular, they have embraced torture, indiscriminate killing, and slavery.  They have committed crimes against humanity.

There is something, Amos seems to assume, within the human being or something about their existence within the creation that demands humane treatment, encourages mercy and condemns war crimes. There is something about humanity itself which condemns inhumanity.

Curiously, he does not mention idolatry, at least overtly. He is focused on the war footing and abusive relationships among the nations rather than their cultic religions. This is sufficient for their condemnation no matter what else is involved.

Indeed, Amos knows that the nations are filled with other transgressions. He begins every oracle with a proverb:  “For three transgressions of X, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment.” Proverbially, he knows there are y four transgressions which means he knows they are numerous. But Amos only names one in each case, and the one he names is a war crime of some sort; they are about human inhumanity to other humans.

Each of the nations were created out of humanity. God empowered these nations, set their boundaries, and raised up their rulers. God intended each of these human communities to live out the image in which they were created. But they did not. Instead, the nations favored their own security, power, and wealth, and they pursued those interests through violent and inhuman means.

God still addresses the nations through Amos. The divine intent and the principles embedded in our function as the images of God still remain. Nations are called to live out that divine intent and embody those principles. And nations, even the United States of America, are still judged by these principles.

The message of Amos is still relevant, and Amos continues to address the nations. But nations continue their inhumanity, torture and indiscriminate killing; humans continue to enslave other humans. Consequently, as with Israel and Judah’s six neighbors, their judgment is certain.



3 Responses to “Amos Addresses the Nations: Amos 1:3-2:3”

  1.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    were not Judah and Israel being shown as evil as the surrounding nations were,That they had forsaken and forgot god, and took up the ways of Jeroboam,and the Gentiles.
    So doing became just as apostate,
    so as just as the sin of cruelty
    of the nations reached the divine limit of 3 the 4th made the cup of iniquity spill over, the ability of our righteous god to tolerate any longer.This brings about judgement, to his people which are not his people (because of their stiff-necked nature) although their is the divine principal of the righteous seed and a remnant brought forward ch 10:8-9?
    and the 7 seven nations were to receive judgement,as god pleads for HIS people”s repentance?

    then their are the FAT COWS :-)

    was not Israel to be a light to the nations

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Indeed, Judah and Israel will also receive the same proverbial condemnation in 2:4-16. Amos begins with the nations but he ends up with Israel. They do not escape his notice as truly they were to be a light to the nations rather than a reflection of the nations.

    •   rich constant Says:

      ref. for above
      1ki :12:25-33
      “”” 13:1-4
      2ed KI..17:23,24
      key phrases from
      2ki 7:7-26
      2Ki 17:13 Yet Jehovah testified unto Israel, and unto Judah, by every prophet, and every seer, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.
      2Ki 17:14 Notwithstanding, they would not hear, but hardened their neck, like to the neck of their fathers, who believed not in Jehovah their God.
      2Ki 17:15 And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified unto them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the nations that were round about them, concerning whom Jehovah had charged them that they should not do like them.
      2Ki 17:16 And they forsook all the commandments of Jehovah their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.
      2Ki 17:17 And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, to provoke him to anger.
      2Ki 17:18 Therefore Jehovah was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.
      2Ki 17:19 Also Judah kept not the commandments of Jehovah their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made.
      2Ki 17:20 And Jehovah rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight.
      2Ki 17:21 For he rent Israel from the house of David; and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king: and Jeroboam drove Israel from following Jehovah, and made them sin a great sin.
      2Ki 17:22 And the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them;
      2Ki 17:23 until Jehovah removed Israel out of his sight, as he spake by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day.

Leave a Reply