Judgement is a consistent theme in the Minor Prophets, as, indeed, it in the rest of Scripture. More often than not, judgement in the prophetic books (both Major and Minor) is focused on Israel and Judah. Every now and again, God turns his focus to the nations. Usually, he does so to offer Israel and Judah comfort that the nations that so viciously opposed them would receive their just deserts. The opening chapters of Amos operate a little differently.
In these chapters, Amos prophesied judgement on the nations that surrounded and opposed Israel and Judah (1:1–2:3), but he immediately followed up by prophesying judgement against God’s own people. The prophecy against the nations in this chapter appears, then, to serve a different purpose. Rather than offering comfort to his people that their enemies would be punished, this seems to have been given as a warning that God would be as committed to punishing his own people as he was to punishing his enemies. More so, in fact.
If that sounds strange it’s because we don’t understand God’s heart. God’s design in punishing unbelievers is quite different to his design in chastening believers. Peter got to the heart of the matter when he wrote, “For it is time for judgement to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17). We see here that God punishes his people for reasons quite different than the reasons for which he punishes unbelievers. It is God’s unique relationship with his people that moves him to chasten them for their sin (3:2).
As we reflect on this reality, and on God’s pronouncement of judgement on Israel and Judah, here are some warnings that we need to heed.
First, Christians should recognise that that those with more light will receive greater judgement. Amos warned that Judah would fall under judgement “because they have rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept his statutes” (2:4). Though they knew what his law required, they completely disregarded it. He held them accountable for that.
With great revelation comes great accountability. Paul argues this in Romans 2:12: “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” It is the principle that undergirds Amos’s warning of judgement against Israel and Judah. Those of us who have been privileged to receive God’s revelation in the Old and New Testaments should recognise that we are accountable to God for our response.
Second, our disobedience to God’s law undermines his holy character. Amos warned that Israel’s disobedience “profaned” his “holy name” (2:7). The honour of Yahweh’s name drove many of his people to action. Moses was driven to his knees to intercede for Israel out of this very motivation (Exodus 32:12). God’s people were to be holy because their holiness reflected his holiness (Leviticus 20:22–26).
We should be concerned about how our behaviour reflects on the name of Christ. When the New Testament speaks of Christians bearing fruit, it most frequently refers to the fruit of Christlikeness. If we claim to be Christ’s people, we should live in such a way that his holy reputation is upheld by our actions. As Jesus succinctly put it, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Third, we should be careful of mistreating the vulnerable because God delights in fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. He did this for Israel when Israel was powerless (2:9–10) and he frequently does the same for the vulnerable who experience opposition from others. We should be careful to treat the vulnerable in a godly way lest we fight against God himself.
As you reflect on Amos 1–2 this morning, ask God to reveal to you your own sin. Repent and receive cleansing restoration before you fall under the mighty and terrifying hand of God’s chastening.