Today we begin the book of Amos. Amos was one of the 12 Minor Prophets, and is believed to have been the first writing prophet, that is, a prophet that himself wrote what he prophesied. Amos prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II in Israel (1:1 – see 2 Kings 14:23-29), a time of relative prosperity for the Northern Kingdom (note how the borders of Israel were enlarged in 2 Kings 14:25). However, Amos was from Tekoa, which was in Judah. So God called a prophet from Judah to come to the Northern Kingdom to prophesy against Israel, primarily for their false religion and their failure to administer justice. Amos also pronounces judgment on Judah (2:4-5), along with Syria (1:3-5), the Philistines (1:6-8), Tyre (1:9-10), Edom (1:11-12), Ammon (1:13-15), and Moab (2:1-3). This again shows how, like with Assyria, God’s moral law is to be followed by all nations.
The book begins with the introduction of the prophet (1:1), and the fact that from His dwelling place of Jerusalem, God sees all the nations (1:2). Amos starts by pronouncing judgment on the capitol of Syria. He uses that “three…four” formula that we saw in Proverbs 30:18 (like the “six…seven” we saw in Job 5:19 and Proverbs 6:16) to show the seriousness of the matter at hand (he uses this in each of the judgments in these first two chapters). He condemns them for their “threshing” of Gilead, which was used to describe the lands of Israel east of the Jordan (see 2 Kings 10:32-33). Note that God used Hazael to take those lands to punish Israel, yet Hazael still bears the guilt of his free decision. We have seen this before, and will again. So God pronounces judgment on Syria: the Assyrians will take them captive (vv. 4-5). We will see this come to pass in 2 Kings 16:9.
Next, YHWH pronounces judgment against the Philistines, using four of their five capitol cities as His targets. Many believe that the primary indictment against Philistia here is their involvement in the slave trade (“carried into exile a whole people to deliver them up to Edom” – v. 6). The perishing of the remnant of the Philistines (v. 8) is another result of Assyrian dominance in the area. By the time Judah returns from their captivity in Babylon (530s B.C.) the Philistines are no more.
Next, God turns His attention to Tyre, presumably for the same reason as the Philistines (vv. 9-10). Then, God pronounces judgment on Edom for pursuing his brother with the sword and having no pity for him (v. 11). And who is Edom’s brother? Israel. This judgment is for Edom’s perpetual enmity towards Israel, from their refusal to let them pass through their land during the wilderness wanderings (Num 20:14-21) all the way through their coming alliance with Babylon during the siege of Jerusalem (see Ps 137:7).
God then takes aim at Ammon. Throughout Israel’s history, they have been at war with them (v. 13 – see 2 Sam 10:8). As they were to the east of Israel, the battlefield was often Gilead (see above). Ammon, along with Moab, would also join Babylon against Judah (2 Kings 24:1-2). God’s judgment of Ammon would also include the judgment of their gods. The “their king” of verse 15 is literally the name of their highest God, Milcom (see 2 Kings 23:13). This is similar to how God judged the gods of Egypt along with Egypt (see Ex 12:12). This shows the spiritual reality (and spiritual warfare) behind the physical.
Chapter 2 begins with judgment against Moab. Moab’s crime was their treatment of the king of Edom (2:1). They are indicted for war crimes. God will send an invading army against Moab to destroy its cities (v. 2 – “Kerioth” is literally the word “towns” in Hebrew). The ruler in verse 3 is again very likely a local deity (Paul uses the “rulers” and “princes” language to describe demons – see Eph 6:12).
Now God focuses on Judah. Unlike the nations around them, who were judged for their treatment of God’s people or for breaking the moral law through slavery or war crimes, Judah is indicted for breaking the Mosaic Law (v. 4). We have already seen judgment against Judah begin (2 Kings 15:5). We have already seen that they also embraced false worship in their borders (2 Kings 15:4). So like Moab, God would send an invading army to capture Judah (v. 5). This would be Babylon in 586 B.C.
The remainder of the chapter – and of the rest of the book of Amos – is focused on the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They are first indicted for injustice against the weak and needy (vv. 6-7a), for their violations of the Law of Moses (v. 7b), and for their worship of false gods (v. 8). God reminds them why they are in the land at all (vv. 9-10). He established the religion of Israel (v. 11), and Israel has distorted it (v. 12). God gives an overview of the judgment that awaits them (v. 13). They will be overtaken by an enemy (vv. 14-16). This is the kingdom of Assyria. As we have already seen, God began to mete this punishment out shortly after the reign of Jeroboam II and the ministry of Amos (2 Kings 15:29).