6 Thus says the Lord:
“For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
7 those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
and turn aside the way of the afflicted;
a man and his father go in to the same girl,
so that my holy name is profaned;
8 they lay themselves down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge,
and in the house of their God they drink
the wine of those who have been fined. – Amos 2:6-8 ESV
God saves His longest and most detailed declaration of condemnation and judgment for the northern kingdom of Israel. It had been God who divided the kingdom of Solomon in half, allowing the ten northern tribes to secede under the leadership of Jeroboam. But it had been the newly crowned Jeroboam who had immediately led the people into apostasy and open rebellion against God Himself. Not long after the northern tribes had split away from Judah, Jeroboam had come up with a plan to consolidate and conserve his new leadership role. His control over the ten tribes was tenuous at best and highly vulnerable to failure. And he knew that the presence of the temple in Jerusalem would provide King Rehoboam with a strong advantage. The ten northern tribes would feel a constant obligation to return to the capital city of Judah for the annual feasts and festivals commanded by God. And this prospect concerned him greatly.
“Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.” – 1 Kings 12:26-27 NLT
Driven by fear and motivated by self-preservation, Jeroboam came up with a plan to deal with this potential problem.
So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”
He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT
Jeroboam created his own religion, complete with false gods, a priestly cast, and places of worship. He even decreed an annual festival to compete with the Feast of Booths, ensuring that his constituents no longer had to make the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jeroboam laid the foundation on which the future kings of Israel built their apostate dynasties. And God would hold Jeroboam personally responsible for his role in Israel’s spiritual rebellion.
“I promoted you from the ranks of the common people and made you ruler over my people Israel. I ripped the kingdom away from the family of David and gave it to you. But you have not been like my servant David, who obeyed my commands and followed me with all his heart and always did whatever I wanted. You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made other gods for yourself and have made me furious with your gold calves. And since you have turned your back on me, I will bring disaster on your dynasty and will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. I will burn up your royal dynasty as one burns up trash until it is all gone. The members of Jeroboam’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures. I, the Lord, have spoken.” – 1 Kings 14:7-11 NLT
And God would fulfill this promise within one generation. Jeroboam’s son, Nadab, inherited the throne but only lasted two years. He was assassinated by Baasha, who then declared himself the new king of Israel. And to secure his hold on the crown, Baasha exterminated Jeroboam’s entire family.
He immediately slaughtered all the descendants of King Jeroboam, so that not one of the royal family was left, just as the Lord had promised concerning Jeroboam by the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh. This was done because Jeroboam had provoked the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, by the sins he had committed and the sins he had led Israel to commit. – 1 Kings 15:29-30 NLT
But Israel’s new king proved to be just as bad as the old one. Baasha “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of Jeroboam, continuing the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit” (1 Kings 15:34 NLT). And that pattern would continue, year after year, dynasty after dynasty. A long line of kings would come and go, but the hearts of the people would remain stubbornly committed in their rejection of God. The prophet, Hosea, would record the words of God declaring His displeasure with His chosen people.
“Wine has robbed my people
of their understanding.
They ask a piece of wood for advice!
They think a stick can tell them the future!
Longing after idols
has made them foolish.
They have played the prostitute,
serving other gods and deserting their God.” – Hosea 4:11-12 NLT
And their love affair with idolatry had eventually led them to commit gross acts of immorality, prompting God to declare them as an abomination in His eyes.
“But then they deserted me for Baal-peor,
giving themselves to that shameful idol.
Soon they became vile,
as vile as the god they worshiped.” – Hosea 9:10 NLT
The Hebrew word that is translated as “vile” in this verse was usually associated with an actual idol. God considered these man-made gods to be detestable because they were intended to be substitutes for Him. Men that God had given life had turned around and manufactured these mindless and lifeless pieces of stone, wood, and precious metal as His replacements. And, in doing so, the chosen people of God became as detestable and abominable in His eyes as the gods they had made. But unlike their lifeless idols, the Israelites were fully capable of committing egregious acts of immorality. According to Hosea, the people of Israel were guilty of a wide range of sins against God and one another.
“There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
no knowledge of God in your land.
You make vows and break them;
you kill and steal and commit adultery.
There is violence everywhere—
one murder after another.” – Hosea 4:1-2 NLT
And Amos discloses that the ten northern tribes had managed to violate every single one of God’s holy commandments. Because they had no love for God, they had no capacity to show love and respect for one another.
They sold the innocent for silver,
the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the dirt-covered heads of the poor;
they push the destitute away.
A man and his father go to the same girl;
in this way they show disrespect for my moral purity. – Amos 2:6-7 NLT
They were not only immoral, but they were also unjust. Their failure to love and honor God by keeping His holy commands resulted in an inability to care for one another. Centuries earlier, Moses had told the people of Israel, “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4 NLT). But God expected their love for Him to show up in the way that they loved one another. So, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to name the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses, He responded, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT).
Bu the people of Israel were guilty of abandoning God and abusing one another. They had actually made themselves gods, practicing a brand of religion that was motivated by an unhealthy obsession with self and a disdain for others. Ignoring all of God’s commands regarding the just and holy treatment of their neighbor, the Israelites practiced a form of injustice that was unheard of even among the pagan nations surrounding them.
They stretch out on clothing seized as collateral;
they do so right beside every altar!
They drink wine bought with the fines they have levied;
they do so right in the temple of their God! – Amos 2:8 NLT
The Israelites were to have been a light to the nations, illustrating the way in which the just and holy laws of God could produce a community of loving and compassionate people whose lives were dedicated to honoring Him and caring for one another. But they had failed miserably. The spiritual light had gone out in Israel. They were living in the darkness of sin, the blind leading the blind, and their pervasive pride kept them from recognizing their sorrow state and returning to God in repentance.
Their arrogance testifies against them,
yet they don’t return to the Lord their God
or even try to find him. – Hosea 7:10 NLT
And, as Amos will point out, they had forgotten all that God had done for them. Enjoying the recent signs of success made possible by the leadership of Jeroboam II, the people of Israel had grown content, cocky, and spiritually complacent. Like the church of Laodicea in the book of Revelation, the people of Israel were blissfully ignorant of their true condition. They were boastfully declaring, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing” and yet, they were actually “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17 NLT). And their over-confidence would bring down the judgment of God.
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.