Have you ever been blindsided? Has there ever been a time when you agree with everything and then suddenly realize you were the target all along? A few years ago, a friend and his mother, while driving home from church, were discussing the sermon. Both agreed the pastor had explained the passage of Scripture very well. As the conversation turned to the specific examples of how the text should be applied, our friend's mother suddenly exclaimed, "Oh my, he was talking about us!" In all likelihood, those listening to Amos were in total agreement with the proclamation of God's coming judgment until he said "For three transgressions of Israel" in chapter two, verse six.
The introduction of Amos in chapter one says he was from Tekoa, a town in southern Judah (2 Chronicles 11:5-6) where he was a shepherd. The LORD spoke through Amos during the period when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam was king of Israel. His ministry overlapped Hosea's with both prophesying against Israel, the northern ten tribes.
Amos begins his sermon by describing the LORD as a lion who will roar in judgment from Zion. As a result, the pastures will dry up, and the grass on Mount Carmel will wither and die. For an agrarian society, a drought was devastating, but Amos declares that is what is coming.
God is speaking through Amos, like a prosecutor, laying out the charges against seven individual nations. He begins by declaring the transgressions of each country. Transgression is defiance of authority or rebellion. The basic sense of the word is to rebel with a desire for independence. In Job 34:37 when Elihu says Job "adds rebellion to his sin" he claims Job is not only breaking God's command but is rejecting His authority.
God stipulates He will not revoke the punishment due each nation; He will show no partiality. After declaring the impending judgment, Amos gives an example of each country's defiant acts against God's rule. He closes each charge with a description of what is to come from God's hand on six of the seven nations. The LORD will send fire and devour the strongholds of each country.
As Amos lists each nation, it is important to remember that his audience is the nation of Israel. Since Damascus and Gaza were perpetual enemies of Israel, I suspect the hearers were thinking "It's about time God got around to destroying those heathens." Tyre had historically been a friend to Israel so the audience might not have been as enthusiastic about God's judgment on their friends. Then every other nation on Amos' list are relatives of Israel, some more distant than others but still blood kin.
Edom as descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:43) was the nation of Israel's cousins. As descendants of Lot, both the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 2:19) and Moab (Deuteronomy 2:9) were relatives of Israel. When the LORD turned to Judah, the audience had to have started squirming because condemning their brothers who still lived in Jerusalem and worshiped in Solomon's temple left them vulnerable to the same condemnation if not worse.
D.A. Carson, standing in for Amos, to make this passage more personal and applicable instead of using these nations from times long past uses China, Russia, Germany, England, Canada and finally the United States in his sermon.
Our friend and his mother thought the sermon was directed at other people in the congregation because it is so much easier to see their failing. Aren't we the same way? Have you ever heard a convicting message and thought "Oh, I wish so and so was here? They definitely need to hear this!"
Forgive me, Lord, for doing just that. My eyes see so clearly the guilt in others, but I have such difficulty turning the same sights on myself. Please cause me to see the plank in my eye before I attempt to remove the splinter in someone else. Help us to understand our desire for independence from You for what it is—sin.