Amos continues his prophetic word against the sins of the nations in Amos 1:11-2:3. He first addressed Damascus, Gaza and Tyre (Amos 1:3-10) which lie to the north and southwest of Israel and Judah. Now he addresses Edom, Ammon and Moab which lie to the east and southeast of Israel and Judah.
The pattern of his rhetoric remains the same for all six nations.
Address: “The Lord Says”
Proverb: “Because of the three transgressions of … and because of four, I will not cause (him/it) to return.”
Conclusion: “The Lord God has spoken” (not always present).
This rhetorical pattern stresses the sin and the consequence. Only one sin is identified even though many others are presumed (“three, even four…”). The identified crime becomes the central ethical condemnation (1:11, 13; 2:1). The identification of the sin becomes the key element of the oracle itself followed by its consequences.
The consequences, however, are essentially the same–fire will burn destroy the cities/citadels (1:12, 14; 2:2). These nations were ravaged by an invading force. Future Assyrian campaigns will do just that in the 740s-700s BCE.
What are the sins?
- “because [Edom] pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever” (1:11)
- “because they [Ammon] have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, that they might enlarge their border” (1:13)
- “because they [Moab] burned to lime the bones of the King of Edom.” (2:1)
1. Edom “pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity” (1:11). In earlier proverbs, Edom is identified as a nation which bought slaves from Tyre and Philistia (Gaza). Edom enslaved his own brothers–Israel and Judah (1:6, 9). Moreover, Edom opted for violent aggression against his brothers. This may refer to Edom’s plundering of Jerusalem and Judah in alliance with Philistia and Arabs in 2 Chronicles 21:16-17, but it may characterize the perpetual hostile relationship between Edom and Judah throughout the eighth and ninth centuries BCE.
The full statement by Amos is instructive as we note the parallelisms involved.
he pursued his brother with the sword
and cast off all pity
he maintained his anger perpetually,
and kept his wrath forever.
The description “cast off all pity” extends the accusation that Edom pursued violent aggression against Judah. The term “pity” comes from the root which means “womb.” This alludes to the brotherly relationship between Edom and Judah. Edom lost all natural brotherly affection for Judah. Edom pursued violence rather than peace. Moreover, Edom betrayed their fundamental kinship–it was “brother” against “brother.”
Even more, Edom pursued violence out of intense anger. The imagery is vivid. Edom’s anger incessantly “tore” Judah like a lion tears its prey (cf. Psalm 7:2). Edom sought to devour and decimate Judah like a predator. Further, Edom did not seek resolution to its anger; it refused to let go of it. Instead, Edom “kept his wrath perpetually.” The term “kept” is often used to describe a shepherd who watches over and keeps his flock. In other words, Edom nurtured and fed this anger against Judah. Edom needed some anger-management that would give an opening for peace.
Edom fueled their anger against Judah rather than seeking peace-making and resolving their anger. They pursued violence rather than peace. Amos highlights and condemns that sin.
2. The Ammonites “ripped open pregnant women in Gilead” for territorial gain (1:13). The Ammonites descended from Lot’s youngest daughter and were thus related to Israel. In fact, Israel was told to respect their cousins. They were to respect Ammon’s territorial integrity (cf. Deuteronomy 2:19). However, Ammon was not satisfied with their gift from God. They coveted more territory and the economic gains that would accompany such an acquisition. Enlarging borders is about power, economics and historic status.
Greed often generates violence and sometimes extreme heinous acts. The killing of pregnant women was not unusual in the ancient world (or sometimes even in the modern one; e.g., Nazi Germany or on the American frontier against Native Americans). Hazael of Syria (2 Kings 8:12) and the Israelite King Menahem (2 Kings 15:16) both utilized this tactic in the eighth century BCE. Apparently it was designed not only to promote fear but to eliminate potential descendants. Killing pregnant women not only terrorized others but it also, at least in part, secured the future of the territorial gain.
The image of ripping open the bellies of pregnant women is nauseating. It is little wonder that it is singled out as a war crime worthy of punishment. It is the destruction of two lives; it interrupts a genealogical line. It destroys hope and instills terror.
3. Moab “burned to lime the bones of the King of Edom” (2:1). This seems a rather odd atrocity to stress. It does not seem comparable to the sins of Edom and Ammon. This should alert us to think carefully about why this is significant.
Lime is a kind of plaster that is used in buildings and on floors. Many examples are known from the ancient world that predate Amos ranging from Egypt to Malta as well as other places in the world. Apparently, Moab dug up the bones of the kings of Edom, crushed them and mixed them with lime plaster. The ashes of Edom’s king were used as wall plaster or floor tiling.
This is not merely grave robbing (though that was probably part of it). Rather, it is the desecration of the bones of the dead. It is a hate crime. By disinterring and crushing these bones Moab disrespected the humanity of Edom’s king.
Moreover, the problem is not simply one of disrespect, but it is the ungodly use of human remains. Humans are created in the image of God. Their bodies are important. Their bodies deserve honor. Turning human remains into “lime” is similar to the Nazi use of Jewish hair and skin for their own comfort. Moab’s motive was probably nationalistic and is justly categorized as a hate crime. Moab hated Edom and thus used the bones of their king as lime. It is an ultimate disrespect.