Guilty as Charged

“Do two walk together,
    unless they have agreed to meet?
Does a lion roar in the forest,
    when he has no prey?
Does a young lion cry out from his den,
    if he has taken nothing?
Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth,
    when there is no trap for it?
Does a snare spring up from the ground,
    when it has taken nothing?
Is a trumpet blown in a city,
    and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
    unless the Lord has done it?

“For the Lord God does nothing
    without revealing his secret
    to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared;
    who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
    who can but prophesy?” Amos 3:3-8 ESV

Israel’s judgment by God was inevitable. That seems to be the point that Amos is attempting to drive home in verses 3-8. To do so, he uses a series of rhetorical questions that each has an obvious and non-debatable answer. God has already established that He and the people of Israel shared a unique relationship.

“You only have I known
    of all the families of the earth…” – Amos 3:2 ESV

And the knowledge of which God speaks was intimate and reciprocal in nature. The Hebrew word is yāḏaʿ, and it conveys the idea of both knowing and being known.  God had revealed Himself to the people of Israel and allowed them to enjoy an understanding of Him that was unavailable to any other people group on earth. Like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the Israelites had walked with God, enjoying intimate fellowship with Him and experiencing the benefits of His presence, power, and provision.

So, when Amos asks, “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?,” he is fully expecting his audience to respond, “No!” And his point is that the Israelites and Yahweh had a mutual understanding about their relationship. It came with expectations and was based on a bilateral covenant that required the Israelites to be faithful and obedient.

God had told them long ago, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 6:7 ESV). But He had also warned them that obedience would be a non-negotiable requirement if they wanted to experience His blessings.

Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.” – Jeremiah 7:23 ESV

Like two people who have agreed to go on a long journey together, the people of Israel had ratified the covenant God had made with them. In doing so, they had agreed to live according to His laws and in keeping with His will for them. The book of Exodus records that momentous occasion.

Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” – Exodus 24:3 ESV

But they had failed to keep their end of the agreement. They had not completed the journey or reached the destination God had in store for them. So, God was declaring His intention to judge them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. That’s why Amos uses the illustration of a lion roaring in the forest. He asks the question, “Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?” (Amos 3:4 ESV). And, once again, the answer is meant to be a resounding, “No!”

Under normal conditions, a lion remains silent, stealthily stalking its unsuspecting victim in order to catch it by surprise. If a lion is roaring, it is because he has successfully captured his prey. The roar is a declaration of victory. And in the case of Israel, Amos was declaring that the “roar” of Yahweh was due to their coming judgment. They were about to become His “prey.”

Yahweh was not a silent lion, having failed in the hunt. He was a roaring, victorious lion who stood over His prey, declaring His right of possession and demonstrating His  power and authority.

According to Amos, Israel was like a clueless bird being lured to a trap by the tempting presence of bit of tantalizing bait. The prophet Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, compares Israel to “silly, witless doves, first calling to Egypt, then flying to Assyria for help” (Hosea 6:7 NLT). They flit and fly this way and that, easily allured and distracted by those things it think will bring it satisfaction and security. But it’s all a trap, set by the hunter, who just happens to be God Almighty.

Finally, Amos moves from the metaphorical realm of nature to the very real arena of warfare and military conquest. In the day in which Amos lived, this next question would have struck a very sensitive nerve. He asks, “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?” (Amos 3:6 ESV). For centuries, the people of Israel had lived in a state of constant instability, facing the very real possibility of defeat at the hands of their enemies. The book of Amos starts out with a list of those nations that surrounded Israel and posed a real threat to their existence, including Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Ammon, and Moab.

The Israelites were very familiar with the sound of a trumpet being blown from the walls of the city. It was a warning signal to those living inside that the enemy was at the gates and the possibility of attack was eminent. This news was intended to produce a certain amount of fear and encourage preparation for battle. But Amos adds that the looming tragedy is meant to be seen as the handiwork of God.

Does disaster come to a city,
    unless the Lord has done it? – Amos 3:6 ESV

Once again, this is a rhetorical question that can only be answered one way: With the word, “No!” The sovereign God of the universe was in control of all things, and even the fate of a city was held in His fully capable, all-powerful hands.

Amos sums up his series of questions with a statement.

“For the Lord God does nothing
    without revealing his secret
    to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared;
    who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
    who can but prophesy?” – Amos 3:7-8 ESV

God had spoken through the prophets. In fact, every judgment Israel was about to undergo had been predicted by God’s appointed messengers, including men like Amos and Hosea. They had warned what would happen if Israel continued to ignore God and violate their covenant commitment to Him. And the rest of this book is going to defend God’s actions toward His rebellious and unrepentant people. God was going to fulfill each and every one of His warnings and, when He was done, they would hear His righteous roar as He stood over them in victory.

But Amos will also reveal that, while God will pour out His righteous anger against the nation of Israel, He will not completely destroy them.

“I, the Sovereign Lord,
    am watching this sinful nation of Israel.
I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel,”
    says the Lord.  – Amos 9:8 NLT

Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God will remain faithful to His covenant commitment to them. He will fulfill each and every promise He has made to them. But in the meantime, their many transgressions will have to be atoned for – they will have to pay the price for their disobedience. And the price will be high.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson