As the last in the list of nations and the major focus of Amos’s ministry, Israel receives the most attention. In Amos 2:6-8 the prophet identified the reasons why Israel (the northern kingdom) will go into exile. They will suffer for their sins. They abused the innocent and poor, pursued sexual immorality, and approached God clothed in their economic abuses. Like the other nations, their sins will overtake them.
Amos, however, does not break away to another topic at this point as he did with the previous seven nations. Rather, Amos–speaking as Yahweh–argues his case with Israel and announces their punishment. We hear a passionate, though reasoned, word from Yahweh that arises from a heart that was broken by Israel’s betrayal.
Israel sinned, “yet it was I,” says Yahweh, who redeemed and blessed Israel throughout its history. Sandwiched between Israel’s sins (Amos 2:6b-8, 12), Amos, speaking as Yahweh, offers a passionate rehearsal of how God has loved Israel again and again (Amos 2:9-11). The divine initiative and participation is stressed by the use of the Hebrew pronoun “I” — “it was I” the text announces (used at the beginning of 2:9 and 2:10).
1. Yahweh destroyed the Amorites.
2. Yahweh delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage.
3. Yahweh led Israel in the wilderness for 40 years.
4. Yahweh gave Israel the land of the Amorites.
5. Yahweh raised up pious leaders within Israel.
“Amorite” is a name that represents the inhabitants of Canaan before Israel arrive. Amorites have been the perpetual enemies of Israel (Deuteronomy 1:19; 3:8; 7:1; 20:17, for example).The Amorites are the people God intended to remove from the land when their sins had filled God’s cup of wrath (Genesis 15:16). The metaphors remind Israel of how overwhelming the Amorites appeared to them when they first entered the land–they were giants and incredibly strong behind their walled cities. Nevertheless, God completely destroyed them–both their fruits and their roots. Yahweh uprooted the Amorites and gave the land to Israel.
Amos turns from what happened to the Amorites to what was given to Israel. Yahweh brought Israel from Egypt through the wilderness into the land once inhabited by the Amorites. This is the Exodus-Wilderness-Conquest narrative that forms the foundation of Israel’s faith and life. Israel often rehearsed this story in their liturgies (Psalm 66:5-7) and oracles (sermons; Hosea 11:1; Micah 6:3-5). God loved Israel–redeemed them, provided for them, and gave them a land of abundance.
Moreover, God remained active within Israel even after they settled the land. God raised up (1) prophets and (2) Nazirites). The language (“raise up”) has covenantal overtones–it represents God’s continued presence and engagement with the people. Prophets communicated Yahweh’s will to Israel; they represented God before Israel. They were messengers whom God sent to maintain relationship and encourage faithfulness within Israel. Nazirites are those who separated (or consecrated) themselves for pious purposes. Their commitment to abstinence, uncut hair and ceremonial cleanliness modeled humility and purity (Numbers 6:1-21). They represented the presence of God within Israel. The prophets and Nazirites railed against the decline of piety within Israel; they bore witness to Israel’s covenantal responsibilities as well as God’s gracious presence.
“Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?” Is this not the truth? Has not Yahweh loved you beyond measure and beyond what you deserve? And what is your response? How do you repay the Lord?
Israel did not respect this divine presence among them. They scoffed at the piety of the Nazirites and shut the mouths of the prophets. They treated the pious much like they treated the poor. Moreover, they subverted God’s design for the prophets and Nazirites. However they may have caused Nazirites to drink wine–whether through seduction or mocking coercion or persuasion–their hostility to godliness was evident. Not only did not refuse to listen to the prophets they wanted to stop the prophets from speaking at all. In other words, Israel sought to remove all signs of God’s covenantal presence so that they might continue to pursue their own interests without a guilty or shamed conscience.
How will the Lord respond? “Behold,” Yahweh announces. Imminent judgment is coming, and it is coming from the same one who destroyed the Amorites and gave you their land. “It is I” is used for the third time in this text (2:9, 10, 13). Just as Amorite sins reached the point of no return and God removed them from the land, so Israel’s sins have now reached a point where God will remove them from the land as well. Israel will lose its birthright to the land.
Israel’s loss is described by metaphors that represent tragic reversals. They are like a heavily loaded cart that cannot move. There is no escape even for the swift of foot, and the strong will have no strength. The mighty will not win the battle even if they are armed with bows. A fast horse will not provide an escape. The most courageous among the mighty will flee in fear.
The climactic expression is that Israel–even the most fearless among them–will “flee away naked in that day.” It will be a day of judgment; day when God calls Israel to account for its sins. The term naked (‘arom) is an evocative term which echoes other texts in Israel’s canon. It reminds us of the fear and shame Adam and Eve felt after they sinned, or the lament and mourning that accompanies devastation (Micah 1:8). Or, naked reflects the loss of everything–just as we came into the world, so we will leave it (Job 1:21; Ecclesiastes 5:1).
The day of judgment , which Yahweh will execute through the Assyrian nation, will reverse Israel’s fortunes. In recent times they had experienced growth, prosperity and leisure. Now the nation will fall. Its armies (the mighty) will flee for their lives and neither bow nor horse will save them. God has spoken. The mighty will flee naked on that day. Israel will suffer the same fate as Tyre, Damascus, Gaza, Moab, Edom and Ammon.