4 Thus says the Lord:
“For three transgressions of Judah,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have rejected the law of the Lord,
and have not kept his statutes,
but their lies have led them astray,
those after which their fathers walked.
5 So I will send a fire upon Judah,
and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.” – Amos 2:4-5 ESV
Now God turns His attention to the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. At one time, the 12 tribes of Israel were unified and enjoyed a period of great peace and prosperity under the wise leadership of King Solomon. But even with all his wisdom, Solomon still succumbed to the temptation of sin, marrying 700 wives and 300 concubines. God had expressly commanded that Israel’s king “must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD” (Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT). But it seems that Solomon had inherited his father’s love for women, which led him to violate God’s command and live out in real life what God had warned would happen. Solomon married women from such countries as Egypt, Moab, Ammon, Edom, and Sidon. And, “In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been” (1 Kings 11:4 NLT).
So, God delivered the fateful news to Solomon that the great kingdom he had inherited from his father, David, would be split in two.
“Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants.” – 1 Kings 11:11 NLT
Solomon had willingly disobeyed the covenant established between Yahweh and the nation of Israel. And his love affair with his foreign wives and their false gods had led the people of Israel down a path marked by idolatry and apostasy.
God graciously informed Solomon that he would be allowed to complete his reign over a unified Israel. But God also broke the devastating news that, upon Solomon’s death, his son, Rehoboam would be left with a kingdom that was a shadow of its former glory.
“But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.” – 1 Kings 11:12-13 NLT
Actually, Rehoboam would end up ruling over Judah and the much smaller tribe of Benjamin, while the other ten tribes revolted, declaring themselves to be an independent nation with Jeroboam as their king.
Rehoboam was severely short-changed when it came to the kingdom he inherited from his father. But it seems that he inherited every bit of his father’s love affair with idolatry. Rehoboam’s mother was an Ammonite and it would appear that she also had a strong influence over his spiritual life. Like his father before him, Rehoboam led the people to disobey and forsake God. During his reign, “the people of Judah did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, provoking his anger with their sin, for it was even worse than that of their ancestors” (1 Kings 14:22 NLT). And this pattern of rebellious behavior would continue on and off for centuries, periodically broken during the reign of one of a handful of godly kings who ruled over Judah.
One such king was Uzziah, who was on the throne of Judah during the time that Amos prophesied against the northern kingdom of Israel. According to 2 Chronicles, Uzziah was a good king who remained faithful to Yahweh.
He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Amaziah, had done. Uzziah sought God during the days of Zechariah, who taught him to fear God. And as long as the king sought guidance from the Lord, God gave him success. – 2 Chronicles 26:4-5 NLT
We’re even told that “God helped him in his wars against the Philistines, his battles with the Arabs of Gur, and his wars with the Meunites” (2 Chronicles 26:7 NLT). Yet, even good King Uzziah had his flaws. It seems that all his military successes went to his head and his ego got the best of him.
…when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the Lord, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!”
Uzziah, who was holding an incense burner, became furious. – 2 Chronicles 26:16-19 NLT
Like Solomon, Uzziah violated the covenant commandments of God. According to the Mosaic law, he was forbidden from performing the duties of a priest. God had expressly forbidden anyone but an ordained and consecrated priest from entering the sanctuary of God.
“Appoint Aaron and his sons to carry out the duties of the priesthood. But any unauthorized person who goes too near the sanctuary must be put to death.” – Numbers 3:10 NLT
For his act of insurrection against the commands of God, Uzziah was spared death but was stricken with leprosy. His disease would force him to live in a form of exile, quarantined in a separate house, and banned from ever entering the temple of God again.
So, when God announced through Amos that He was bringing judgment upon the nation of Judah, He gave only cause for His action:
“They have rejected the instruction of the Lord,
refusing to obey his decrees.” – Amos 2:4 NLT
When God had originally given the people of Israel the law, He told them that obedience to it would result in blessings, but disobedience would result in curses. He fully expected them to keep His commands, but He had given them the sacrificial system because He knew they would repeatedly fail to do so. Through the practice of blood sacrifice, the people could have their sins atoned for and forgiven. But even the sacrificial system had become nothing more than a ritualistic form of religious observance that was devoid of meaning and emptied of all its intended benefits. Even the great king, David, knew that God wanted far more than lip service and heartless religious observances.
You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT
David had learned this invaluable lesson from his old mentor, the prophet Samuel.
“What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:22 NLT
And God would later explain His dissatisfaction with the feigned devotion of His people.
“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT
The nation of Judah stood before God as guilty. Yes, they had enjoyed the godly leadership of a few faithful kings but, for the most part, they had been just as disobedient as their northern neighbors. They had regularly displayed their disdain and disregard for God by chasing after the false gods of the surrounding nations. And even when a godly king came along and attempted to reform the ways of the people, his efforts would be short-lived and the pattern of apostasy would begin again.
So, God warns the people of Judah that their day of destruction is coming. And God’s prophetic statement regarding their demise would come about in 586 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army invaded Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. This devastating event would take place hundreds of years after the fall of Israel to the Assyrians. Even after watching the fall and exile of their northern neighbor, the people of Judah would continue to reject the law of God and refuse to obey His decrees. And their stubborn refusal to repent would cost them dearly.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.