For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough

3:1.  “Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying,”

Having outlined their sin in the previous chapter, God now declares something of the nature of the judgments with which He will punish that sin.  He Who in the past had spoken to them in loving kindness, now speaks against them in righteous anger, and clearly His words are addressed to the whole twelve tribes “the whole family ... brought up from the land of Egypt.”

We must note, however, that He addresses them first as “children of Israel,” and not as “the house of Jacob” until verse 13.  This reminds us that there have always been two Israels: the believing remnant, the true Israel (the new name given their father Jacob, in Ge 32:28); and the professing but apostate mass of the nation described in verse 13 as Jacob.  Throughout Scripture Jacob’s new name Israel is associated with what is spiritual; his original name Jacob, with what is of the flesh. 

God’s judgments against the apostate majority would affect also the godly remnant, but with a difference: the latter, as in every age, would have the comfort and assurance of knowing that the same adverse circumstances which punished the wicked, were the same things He used to test and refine the faith of the godly, their comfort coming from the same assurance as is given the obedient in this present Church age, “We know that all things (even those which seem adverse) work together for good to them that love God,” Ro 8:28; their love being expressed in obedience, as declared by the Lord Himself, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jn 14:15.

“... the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt,” ought to have reminded them that Jehovah had delivered them from bondage, and had redeemed them to be His own special people, giving them the land of Canaan for a possession, so that their rebellion against Him was base ingratitude.

3:2.  “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

“...known” is variously translated favored: acknowledged: cared for: chosen, sympathized with and loved, and is used frequently in Scripture to describe the intimacy of the marriage relationship.  Israel had been brought into a unique love relationship with Jehovah.  Of all the people on earth she alone had been chosen to be His special people, her responsibility and privilege being to make Him known to the nations.  But she had despised that unique privilege, and instead of expressing her gratitude in loving obedience, had debased herself to the level of the heathen, prostrating herself before imaginary gods, whom she in her folly believed to be the source of the blessings which Jehovah alone had showered upon her.

Their sin was compounded by reason of the fact that God had furnished them with every proof, not only of the reality of His existence and omnipotence, but also of His immeasurable love for them.  How great was the madness that had induced them to reject that revelation, and to believe instead the lies of the evil Canaanites, thus making themselves the objects of God’s wrath instead of His love and blessing!

Apostate Christendom has duplicated Israel’s folly, for Calvary is the incontrovertible evidence of a love that transcends human comprehension; and the Lord’s resurrection the proof of equally incomprehensible power exercised for man’s blessing.  Christendom, like Israel, has rejected truth, and believed lies - to her own destruction.

3:3.  “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”

This is the first of seven questions asked in verses 3-8, all of them rhetorical, and the answers axiomatic. 

God will not walk with men who choose to walk in sin, as it is written, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear,” Isa 59:2.

God could no longer walk, i.e., remain in fellowship with the Israel addressed by Amos, nor can He walk with apostate Christendom today.  The one as much as the other has left Him with no recourse but to execute judgment, the culpability of Christendom being the greater in that she has the record of Israel’s fate as a warning against repeating that nation’s folly.

It is equally impossible for the spiritual and the carnal Christian to “walk together.”

3:4.  “Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing.”

This sounds the awful warning that Israel had sinned away her day of grace.  The time for repentance was gone.  Nothing she might do could avert the terrible judgments about to break upon her guilty head.  A lion doesn’t roar until the prey is as good as in his claws, without possibility of escape; and God’s roaring from Zion, 1:2, declared that guilty Israel was likewise in the hand of Jehovah without hope of escape.  No folly is more deadly than that which ignores God’s warning, “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” Ge 6:3, and, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1.  Esau is an example of those who refuse to repent while God is still willing to pardon, and of him we read that “he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry,” Ge 27:34, and again “he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears,” Heb 12:17.

Today apostate Christendom also mocks God, and revels in every sinful pleasure; but her laughter is also about to give place to hopeless weeping, her zealous pursuit of sin, to a frantic but vain search for a way to escape the wrath of Him Whose gospel she has despised.

3:5.  “Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no gin is for him?  shall one take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all?”

(According to The Wycliffe Bible Commentary gin “is an old English contraction of “engine,” referring to the mechanism that releases the trap”).

A bird can’t be snared or trapped where no trap has been set; nor does one take up a trap that has been set unless or until some creature has been caught in it.  The hunter is Satan, for God does not tempt men to sin, see Jas 1:13-15, “... God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.  Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished bringeth forth death.” 

Israel, enticed by the licentious rites associated with the idolatrous worship of her Canaanite neighbors, had been caught in Satan’s snare, in spite of the repeated warnings from Jehovah that idolatry brings death.  Now, ensnared by her own lust, she must die; nor could she plead that she hadn’t been warned repeatedly against such evil: God Himself at Sinai, and thereafter through His prophets, had given ample warning of the consequences of idolatry; but she had deliberately disobeyed His command, and had added to that sin her mockery and murder of His messengers.

Apostate Christendom has compounded her repetition of Israel’s sin by ignoring Israel’s fate, but she too is about to fall into the hands of the same God Who refused to pardon His earthly people’s sin in the days of Amos.

3:6.  “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid?  shall there be evil (calamity, disaster) in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?”

The next figure used to warn of impending judgment is that of the trumpet blown in a city to warn of the approach of a powerful attacking army.  Such a warning blast invariably begets fear in the hearts of all who hear it.  But it was otherwise with rebellious Israel.  Through His messengers the prophets, God had sounded the trumpet many times, but she, having stopped her ears to all but the voice of lust, refused to hear, and closed her eyes to the inevitable consequences of her sin.  And now it was too late.  She was about to fall into the hand of Him Who would have saved her had she repented, but Who now must destroy her because she refused to repent.

“... shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?”  This is the reminder that all things are under God’s control, He ordering or permitting every circumstance of men’s lives, and using those circumstances for His own glory and the blessing of those who love Him, their love being evidenced by their obedience.  Israel who might have basked in His blessing, must now suffer His wrath.  Her day of grace had ended, as has that of Christendom, for she too has turned a deaf ear to both entreaty and warning, and is now about to suffer the consequences in the form of the impending Tribulation judgments, the thunder clouds of which are already gathering; but blind eyes refuse to see the clouds; deaf ears, to hear the rumbling thunder.

3:7.  “Surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”

The NEB translation of this verse reads, “For the Lord God does nothing without giving to his servants the prophets the knowledge of his plans.”

The warning continues with the assurance that the words of the prophets weren’t the expression of things they themselves had conjured up in their own minds.  What they declared was what God Himself had revealed to them, and in the present instance it was a warning of impending irrevocable judgment upon a rebellious people who had refused to heed the warnings given by earlier prophets.

Christendom’s guilt is compounded by reason of the fact that she has had available to her in the Scriptures, not only the words of all the prophets, but of the One to Whom all of them bore witness, the Lord Jesus Christ.  As the Israel, to whom He revealed Himself personally two thousand years ago, mocked Him and refused to believe His word, so has Christendom also mocked, and rejected His words.

3:8.  “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?”

Taylor’s translation of this verse reads, “The Lord has roared - tremble and fear.  The Lord has sounded your doom - I dare not refuse to proclaim it.“

As a nation, Israel was as prey in the paw of the lion.  Nationally her doom was sealed; but the very fact of Amos’ proclaiming the certainty of that doom can scarcely have been for any other purpose than to beget such fear in the hearts of the few individuals whose consciences were not hopelessly seared, as would lead them to repentance.  Even in the midst of that day’s national apostasy and idolatry a few souls were saved and added to the small minority who had a heart for God, and though they might have to endure the results of the nation’s sin when Divine judgment fell upon the unbelieving mass of the people, they had the assurance of His protection and provision even in the midst of it, Daniel and his three friends being examples of that believing remnant.

It is the same today.  In the midst of the mass of professing but apostate Christendom, there is a small minority who love the Lord, and who seek to obey Him even in the midst of an ever rising tide of evil.

Dr Tatford’s comments on this verse are of particular relevance to believers today.  He writes, “People feared at the roar of the lion, but Amos had heard the voice of Jehovah the Sovereign.  He had no alternative but to speak.  He knew the horrors to come: he was compelled to prophesy.  Is there not a message here for God’s servants today?  His voice was heard clearly and unmistakably at Calvary.  He spoke: can any refrain from prophesying?  He has revealed the judgment which lies ahead.  Can we be dumb in view of the dangers confronting a guilty world?  The preacher’s voice should ring out with power and assurance.  God has spoken: who can but prophesy?”

3:9.  “Publish in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold the great tumults in the midst thereof, and the oppressed in the midst thereof.”

Here Amos calls upon the inhabitants of Ashdod (used here to represent all Philistia) and of Egypt to stand on the mountains surrounding Samaria (a vantage point from which they could look down into the city), and see the disorder, confusion, and oppression which reigned there.  Rejection of God’s order had reduced life in the city to virtual anarchy, the rich plundering the poor at will, being aided and abetted by the venal judges, while every form of immorality was practiced everywhere.

The same evils prevailed in Philistia and Egypt, but the degree of the sin in Samaria would shock even these other two wicked nations; and if they were shocked at what they saw, how much more must a holy God have been provoked to anger by the conduct of a people to whom alone He had revealed His mind and will and given His holy law!  The wonder is that His patience had been so great, and that His judgment hadn’t destroyed them long ago!

Only darkened minds and spiritually blind eyes will refuse to confess that the terrible sins of Samaria are surpassed by those of present day Christendom.

(Some translators render Ashdod as Assyria, but the message remains the same: Israel’s flagrant sin was worse than that of any other people).

3:10.  “For they know not to do right, saith the Lord, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.”

Phillips renders “know not to do right” as “have forgotten how to do right,” and his translation seems to be more accurate, for it isn’t that Israel didn’t know, but rather that she had deliberately chosen to disobey God’s revealed will, and after long years of rejecting it had ceased even to remember it.

“store up violence and robbery in their palaces” is more accurately translated “store up in their palaces wealth acquired by violence and robbery.”

3:11.  “Therefore thus saith the Lord God; An adversary there shall be even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength (defenses) from thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled (plundered).”

The Assyrians and the Babylonians might be the human instruments who would fulfill the prophecy, but what foolish Israel failed to understand was that by her iniquities she had made her Benefactor, God, her Adversary.  Before His righteous anger Israel’s imagined strength would be turned to weakness, and His omnipotent hand would reach into her strongholds scattering all her ill-gotten riches, leaving her penniless.

If the prophet’s words were believed at all, the hearers probably assigned the fulfillment to a far distant day; but they were mistaken.  After a three year siege the city fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, and in the following year almost thirty thousand were carried captive to Syria, Assyria, and Babylon, and thus ended the existence of Israel, the ten northern tribes.

A similar fast approaching judgment, that of the Tribulation era, is about to overtake, not only today’s apostate Christendom and every individual comprising that same evil travesty, but the whole present world.

3:12.  “Thus saith the Lord; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch.”

Phillips translates this verse, “As a shepherd may snatch from the mouth of a lion no more than two bits of bone or a torn piece of an ear, so shall the children of Israel be rescued - all that will be left of Samaria will be a scrap of a couch or a tattered piece of pillow.”

This is the graphic description of the ruin to be brought to Israel as a result of God’s judgments.  The bits of bone and piece of ear left by the lion are not to be understood as indicating that a few would escape.  On the contrary, they declared that the destruction of that generation of Israel would be complete.  As the scraps of the carcase left by the lion proved that the victim was dead, so would it be with Israel.  Just as when an animal which had been entrusted to the care of another, was killed by a wild beast, so was the one to whom it had been entrusted, to bring the remains of the carcase as proof that he himself hadn’t stolen the animal, see Ex 22:13, “If it be torn in pieces, then let him bring it for witness, and he shall not make good that which was torn.”

Relative to the bed corner and couch the Wycliffe Bible Commentary declares that, “The corner was the place of honor.... on the silken cushions of a bed (ASV).  The picture is that of a council chamber in Samaria where the leaders of the nation rested free from care.”  Many see in the articles mentioned symbols of the idleness and sensuality in which the people wallowed.  Little did they suspect that their pride and careless confidence were soon to give place to hopeless consternation, as an angry God swept away all that in which they had foolishly trusted as being immovable.  (The mention of Damascus indicates that this was after Jeroboam II had recaptured it, see 2 Ki 14:28).

Apostate Christendom lounges proudly and confidently in the same false belief that the great political, military, commercial, and religious edifice which it has reared up, is also permanent.

In a day fast approaching, it’s foolish confidence will also give place to abject terror as it finds the whole great structure reduced to rubble by the God they now brazenly defy and mock.

3:13.  “Hear ye, and testify in the house of Jacob, saith the Lord God, the God of hosts (armies),”

In verse one He had addressed them as “children of Israel,” and as noted in our study of that verse, Israel is connected with what is spiritual; but Jacob (used often to designate Israel, the  ten northern tribes), with what pertains to the flesh. 

Their evil deeds revealed what they were, as it is written, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.... A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.... Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven,” Mt 7:16-21.  Israel’s wicked deeds testified to their true character, and contradicted their claim to be God’s people.

God’s description of Himself as “the God of hosts (or armies” ought to have reminded them that He Who had destroyed the might of Egypt when He delivered Israel, had also the power to destroy the ingrates who had repaid His love and kindness with derision and rebellion.

The record of God’s might preserved in Scripture, should remind an equally derisive and rebellious Christendom that He can and will also destroy her.

3:14.  “That in the day that I shall visit (with punishment) the transgressions of Israel upon him I will also visit (with punishment) the altars of Bethel: and the horns of the altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground.”

There was no question about whether God would punish Israel: it was a question of when His judgment would fall.

Bethel meaning house of God had become the center of the idolatrous worship of one of the golden calves set up by Jeroboam I (the other was located in Dan).  In spite of its former hallowed associations, the idolatrous altar at Bethel was to be destroyed, and the cutting off of the horns (which represent power) of the altar, while certainly being literal, may also be pointing symbolically to the cutting off of the power of the evil priests who served that altar, and who had cunningly induced Israel to forsake the worship of Jehovah or to mingle it with the worship of the Baalim. 

Relative to the horns of the altar, The Bible Knowledge Commentary states that, “Fugitives could grab these horns to claim asylum from their pursuers (1 Ki 1:50; 2:28; Ex 21:12-13).  Murderers, however, could not receive protection, but were torn by force from the altar (Ex 21:14).  Israel’s sin was similarly so great that God Himself was going to cut off the means of claiming asylum.  There would be no sanctuary from the enemy who was coming against them.”

Christendom’s so-called worship is also a strange mingling of pure idolatry, mixed with an outward travesty purporting to be the worship of God.  It too is about to be destroyed.

3:15.  “And I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the Lord.”

The rich, in their pride, had built for themselves what formerly only kings could afford: winter and summer houses, and mansions richly adorned with ivory and other costly materials; but all were to perish.  The God Whose patience Israel had exhausted, was about to demolish all of their magnificent buildings, and take away all their ill-gotten gains.

The terrible judgments of the quickly approaching Tribulation will likewise destroy, not only the mansions of apostate Christendom, but the military, economic, political, and religious edifices of the whole world.

[Amos 4]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough