He Rules Over the Nations

1 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Moab,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he burned to lime
    the bones of the king of Edom.
So I will send a fire upon Moab,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth,
and Moab shall die amid uproar,
    amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet;
I will cut off the ruler from its midst,
    and will kill all its princes with him,”
says the Lord. Amos 2:1-3 ESV

The nation of Moab shared more than a border with Ammon and Israel. Located along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, this Semitic nation held close genealogical as well as geographic ties to the people of Israel. As the story in Genesis reveals, the Moabites were the result of an incestuous relationship between Abraham’s nephew Lot and his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:30-38). In Hebrew, the name Moab sounds similar to the word that means “from father.” Moab’s very name seemed to celebrate the fact he was the son of his mother’s father – a child born from immorality.

The Bible provides virtually no information regarding the destiny of Lot’s son, Moab. And the Scriptures provide scant record regarding the fate of his descendants. They originally settled in the plain of Zoar at the southern tip of the Dead Sea. From there they expanded their borders north and south, gradually claiming all the territory east of the Dead Sea. One of the most detailed accounts we have of the Moabites is found in 2 Kings 3. In this chapter, the kings of Israel and Judah join forces with the king of Edom to do battle with the Moabites. This conflict was precipitated by the king of Moab’s decision to stop paying tribute to the king of Israel.

King Mesha of Moab was a sheep breeder. He used to pay the king of Israel an annual tribute of 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But after Ahab’s death, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. – 2 Kings 3:4-5 NLT

Jehoram had inherited the crown of Israel after the death of his father, Ahab. King Mesha of Moab seems to have viewed the change in Israel’s leadership as an official termination of the agreement he had made with Ahab. His refusal to send any more tribute payments to Samaria infuriated Jehoram and led him to declare war on Moab.

The ensuing battle did not fare well for King Mesha. Even though Jehoram “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 3:2 ESV), God promised to give him victory over the Moabites. Elisha, the prophet of Yahweh, delivered the good news:

“…he [God] will make you victorious over the army of Moab! You will conquer the best of their towns, even the fortified ones. You will cut down all their good trees, stop up all their springs, and ruin all their good land with stones.” – 2 Kings 3:18-19 NLT

And the prophecy of Elisha proved to be true. God gave the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom a great victory over the Moabites. And, in a last-ditch effort to sway the battle in his favor, King Mesha resorted to offering his own son as a sacrifice to the god Chemosh.

When the king of Moab saw that he was losing the battle, he led 700 of his swordsmen in a desperate attempt to break through the enemy lines near the king of Edom, but they failed. Then the king of Moab took his oldest son, who would have been the next king, and sacrificed him as a burnt offering on the wall. So there was great anger against Israel, and the Israelites withdrew and returned to their own land. – 2 Kings 3:26-27 NLT

This story is significant because it has been used to explain the indictment delivered by God against the Moabites as found in the Amos 2 passage. Amos’ mention of the Moabites having “burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom” (Amos 2:1 NLT) has been linked to the human sacrifice described in the 2 Kings passage. There are those who believe that when the author of 2 Kings states that “he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall” (2 Kings 3:27 ESV), it is a reference to the son of the king of Edom. In other words, King Mesha captured and sacrificed the son of the king of Edom, who would have been the successor to his throne. But there is little evidence to support this conclusion. It makes much more sense that Mesha, a worshiper of the god, Chemosh, used his own son as a human sacrifice, in a last desperate attempt to garner divine intervention.

The fact is, we don’t know when the Moabites burned the bones of the king of Edom. It could have taken place sometime after the battle, an act of revenge against the Edomites for their role in Moab’s defeat. It seems likely that the Moabites desecrated the grave of a former Edomite king, disinterring and burning the bones. It could be that the king of Edom died in the battle described in 2 Kings 3, and that the Moabites later came and dug up his bones, burning them as a sign of disrespect and as payback for their defeat. 

Amos provides no explanation or elaboration concerning Moab’s transgression. He simply states that God will pay them back. By desecrating the grave and the body of the king of Edom, the Moabites were thumbing their noses in the face of God Almighty. They were refusing to admit that their defeat had been His doing. God had given Israel, Judah, and Edom a decisive victory over the Moabites. And just as King Mesha had refused to pay tribute to King Jehoram, the Moabites refused to pay tribute to Yahweh. These descendants of Lot stood opposed to the God of Abraham, and they would pay dearly for their stubborn resistance to His will.

“So I will send a fire upon Moab,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth,
and Moab shall die amid uproar,
    amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet;
I will cut off the ruler from its midst,
    and will kill all its princes with him,”
says the Lord. – Amos 2:2-3 NLT

The prophet Isaiah provides further insight into the coming destruction of Moab.

This message came to me concerning Moab:

In one night the town of Ar will be leveled,
    and the city of Kir will be destroyed.
Your people will go to their temple in Dibon to mourn.
    They will go to their sacred shrines to weep.
They will wail for the fate of Nebo and Medeba,
    shaving their heads in sorrow and cutting off their beards.
They will wear burlap as they wander the streets.
    From every home and public square will come the sound of wailing.
The people of Heshbon and Elealeh will cry out;
    their voices will be heard as far away as Jahaz!
The bravest warriors of Moab will cry out in utter terror.
    They will be helpless with fear. – Isaiah 15:1-4 NLT

At the root of Moab’s rebellion lie the sin of pride. They were an arrogant and self-possessed people who refused to acknowledge the sovereignty and superiority of Yahweh. And Isaiah makes this point painfully clear.

We have heard about proud Moab—
    about its pride and arrogance and rage.
    But all that boasting has disappeared. – Isaiah 16:6 NLT

Despite their defeat, the Moabites would remain deluded by their visions of grandeur, and committed to their false gods to restore their good fortunes. But Isaiah reveals that their aspirations of corporate revitalization are ill-founded.

The people of Moab will worship at their pagan shrines,
    but it will do them no good.
They will cry to the gods in their temples,
    but no one will be able to save them. – Isaiah 16:12 NLT

It was only a matter of time before the God of Israel paid back the Moabites for their many transgressions. Like all the rest of the nations outlined in these opening chapters of Amos, the Moabites stood condemned before God and would face His righteous indignation. Their pride would be broken. Their false gods would be exposed as unreliable. And their days of glory would come to an abrupt and decisive end.

But now the Lord says, “Within three years, counting each day, the glory of Moab will be ended. From its great population, only a feeble few will be left alive.” – 2 Kings 3:14 NLT

In 598 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar would invade the land of Canaan and bring the nation of Moab to its knees, fulfilling the word of God spoken through the prophet Jeremiah.

Because you have trusted in your wealth and skill,
    you will be taken captive.
Your god Chemosh, with his priests and officials,
    will be hauled off to distant lands! – Jeremiah 48:7 NLT

The Moabites would experience the judgment of God. Their pride, arrogance, independence, and stubborn resistance to the will of God would eventually catch up with them. All the nations of the world will one day answer for their actions because “kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28 ESV).

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

Time Is On God’s Side

13 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of the Ammonites,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead,
    that they might enlarge their border.
14 So I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah,
    and it shall devour her strongholds,
with shouting on the day of battle,
    with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind;
15 and their king shall go into exile,
    he and his princes together,”
says the Lord. Amos 1:13-15 ESV

The next nation on Amos’ “naughty” list is Ammon, a relatively small country located north of Edom and east of the Jordan River. Like the Edomites, the Ammonites had blood ties to the Israelites. Their relationship goes back to the days of Abraham and Lot and is recorded in the book of Genesis. When Abraham was called by God to leave his homeland of Ur and go to Canaan, he brought his nephew, Lot, with him. During their time in Canaan, both men became “very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents” (Genesis 13:5 NLT). When Abraham offered his nephew the choice of land on which to settle, “Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram” (Genesis 13:10-11 NLT). It just so happened that this area included the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, infamous for their immorality. And Lot settled his family, flocks, and herds within the vicinity of Sodom.

Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord. – Genesis 13:12-13 NLT

As the story goes, Lot ended up actually moving into the city of Sodom, and later had to be rescued by two heavenly messengers. After narrowly escaping the city before God rained down judgment upon it, Lot found himself without a wife and caring for two adult daughters whose husbands had stayed behind and died in the destruction of the Sodom. Lot and his widowed daughters took up residence in a cave. But the story does not end there.

One day the older daughter said to her sister, “There are no men left anywhere in this entire area, so we can’t get married like everyone else. And our father will soon be too old to have children. Come, let’s get him drunk with wine, and then we will have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” – Genesis 19:31-32 NLT

It seems apparent that these two women had been negatively influenced by their time in Sodom. Their immoral plan provides ample evidence to that fact. And they carried it out. The result being that both daughters became pregnant by their own father. One gave birth to a son, Moab, who became the progenitor of the Moabite people. The other daughter gave birth to a son whom she named Ben-ammi (son of my kinsman). He would become the father of the Ammonites.

With this as background, it’s easy to see how the relationship between the Israelites and Ammonites was going to end up strained. Fast-forward to the days of Moses, and you find the Israelites, Ammonites, and Moabites reunited after more than 400 years of separation. While the Israelites had been suffering in captivity in Egypt, the descendants of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his two daughters had settled and been living in the land east of the Jordan River. When Moses attempted to lead the nation of Israel through the lands belonging to their distant relatives, they were met with resistance. As a result, God ordered Moses to ban them from ever reentering the assembly of Israel.

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 23:3-4 NLT

With the story of Lot and his daughters as a backdrop, it’s not difficult to understand how the Ammonites eventually became paganized by the culture around them. It seems that they were predisposed to immorality and apostasy, and they eventually embraced Milcom and Molech, the false gods of the Canaanites.

Once the Israelites had settled in the land of Canaan, the Ammonites would remain a constant source of trouble. God had forbidden the Israelites to intermarry with them and had declared, “As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites” (Deuteronomy 23:6 NLT). King Solomon would violate God’s command, marrying an Ammonite princess named Naamah. Her son, Rehoboam, would be the successor to Solomon’s throne. Under his leadership, “Judah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their fathers had done” (1 Kings 14:22 NLT).

But whether from without or from within, the influence of the Ammonites was particularly devastating to the people of Israel. They were a prideful people who harbored jealousy for their more prosperous and populace relatives to the west. In an effort to expand their borders, the Ammonites would make raids into Israelite territory. But on one such raid, they overstepped their bounds, brutally butchering civilians, including pregnant women. And all for the sake of material gain, not self-preservation. This attack was unprovoked and unnecessarily violent. And God is unsparing in His judgment of the Ammonites because “they ripped open pregnant women with their swords” (Amos 1:13 NLT).

God would hold the Ammonites responsible for their actions, eventually sending judgment in the form of foreign armies who would destroy their cities and take their people captive. Even the king of the Ammonites would end up in exile, living as a slave to his enemies. And all of this would begin in 734 B.C. with the invasion of Ammon by Tiglath-Pileser III. But the final fulfillment of God’s prophetic word would take place nearly 150 years later when Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians invaded the region in 586 B.C.

Because He is eternal, God has time on His side. He is in no rush. He never has to hurry or respond in haste. For hundreds of years, the Ammonites had lived in the land of Canaan, worshiping their false gods and harassing the people of Israel. And whether they realized it or not, God had given them the land on which they lived. He had made that point perfectly clear to Moses when the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Canaan.

“Today you will cross the border of Moab at Ar and enter the land of the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot. But do not bother them or start a war with them. I have given the land of Ammon to them as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:18-19 NLT

And for centuries, the Ammonites had enjoyed the benefits of living on the land provided to them by God. But when they arrogantly chose to slaughter innocent Israelites in a self-aggrandizing effort to expand their borders, God would not tolerate it. They would pay dearly for their mistake. And while it might take hundreds of years for their judgment to come, it was not because God was impotent or disinterested. It was simply because He had a plan and that plan had a timeline. God had no reason to hurry because He has all the time in the world. And while the centuries may pass, God’s plan is always accomplished – in His time and according to His will.

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

Family Matters

11 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Edom,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he pursued his brother with the sword
    and cast off all pity,
and his anger tore perpetually,
    and he kept his wrath forever.
12 So I will send a fire upon Teman,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.” Amos 1:11-12 ESV

Amos now shifts his attention from the Phoenician coastline to the nation of Edom, located at the far southeastern corner of the land of Canaan. But this will prove to be far more than just a change in geographic location. Amos’ decrees of divine judgment are beginning to narrow in on the people of God. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, making them close relatives of the Israelites.

But these two people groups had a love-hate relationship that began hundreds of years earlier. When Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, had been unable to bear him any children, he took the matter to God, pleading with Yahweh on her behalf.

The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins.  But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked. – Genesis 25:21-22 NLT

And God graciously responded to Rebekah, informing her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son” (Genesis 25:23 NLT).

As divine providence would have it, when the two boys were born, Esau was the first to exit the womb, making him the legal firstborn. Yet, as the story goes, the day came when Esau willingly traded his birthright to his younger brother, Jacob, for a bowl of stew. Driven by his physical appetites, Jacob treated his birthright with disdain and agreed to this ridiculously lopsided arrangement.

Esau swore an oath, thereby selling all his rights as the firstborn to his brother, Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. Esau ate the meal, then got up and left. He showed contempt for his rights as the firstborn. – Genesis 25:33-34 NLT

By essentially “selling” his birthright, Esau was forfeiting his rightful role as the next chief of the tribe and head of the family. At that moment, his present physical needs far outweighed any future promise of power and responsibility. And Esau would continue to live his life driven by his physical appetites. Eventually, he would disobey and disappoint his parents by choosing two wives from among the Hittites. These two women “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” (Genesis 26:35 ESV). But Esau would be in for a bitter shock of his own. Years later, as Isaac neared death, he called for Esau and made him a promise.

“Prepare my favorite dish, and bring it here for me to eat. Then I will pronounce the blessing that belongs to you, my firstborn son, before I die.” – Genesis 27:4 NLT

But Rebekah overheard this conversation and devised a plan by which Jacob would deceive his nearly blind father by disguising himself as his Esau and stealing the birthright. Their plan worked and Isaac unwittingly passed on the blessing of the firstborn to Jacob.

“From the dew of heaven
    and the richness of the earth,
may God always give you abundant harvests of grain
    and bountiful new wine.
May many nations become your servants,
    and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
All who curse you will be cursed,
    and all who bless you will be blessed.” – Genesis 27:28-29 NLT

It seems unclear whether Isaac and Rebekah were aware of the stew-for-birthright trade made between the two brothers. That arrangement may have never been divulged by either Esau or Jacob. But by having sold his birthright, Esau had given up his right to inherit his father’s estate. He would not enjoy “head of household” status at the death of Isaac. Yet, despite his earlier show of contempt for his birthright, Esau still expected to receive the blessing of the firstborn. And when he found out that Jacob had tricked Isaac and stolen the blessing of the firstborn, he was furious. He demanded that Isaac bless him, but his cries were met with a disappointing response from his father.

“I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?” – Genesis 27:37 NLT

Eventually, Isaac would pronounce a blessing on Esau, but it would far from encouraging or aspirational.

“You will live away from the richness of the earth,
    and away from the dew of the heaven above.
You will live by your sword,
    and you will serve your brother.
But when you decide to break free,
    you will shake his yoke from your neck.” – Genesis 27:39-40 NLT

It is easy to understand the animosity that Esau held for his brother, Jacob. He even thought seriously about killing him. But eventually, the wound between them was healed. Esau would later settle in the hill country of Seir or Edom (Joshua 24:4). And when the Israelites eventually made their way to the promised land, they had to pass through Edom. God warned Moses and the Israelites to treat the Edomites as brothers.

“You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. – Deuteronomy 23:7 ESV

Yet, over the years, the Edomites would become a constant source of irritation for the Israelites. During the reign of King Saul, there were many battles fought between these two nations. King David would eventually subjugate them, but they remained enemies and not allies. And Amos reveals that God will not let the Edomites go unpunished for their mistreatment of their Israelite brothers.

“They chased down their relatives, the Israelites, with swords,
    showing them no mercy.
In their rage, they slashed them continually
    and were unrelenting in their anger.– Amos 1:11 NLT

While Jacob and Esau had resolved their conflict, the animosity over the birthright and the blessing appears to have remained unabated and manifested itself in the lives of their descendants. As Isaac had predicted, the Edomites ended up serving the Israelites. The descendants of Jacob became the masters of their brothers. And it was all in keeping with the promise that God had made to Isaac.

“I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 26:4 ESV

Despite the deceit employed by Jacob and Rebekah and the contempt displayed by Esau, this had all been according to the will of God. The apostle Paul comments on this matter in his letter to the Romans.

When he [Isaac] married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:10-13 NLT

God had sovereignly chosen Jacob over Esau, and the older had ended up serving the younger. But, as always, there was resistance to the will of God. The Edomites would end up resenting the Israelites. And their ongoing efforts to make life miserable for their relatives would earn them the anger and judgment of God. Through His prophet, Amos, God decreed the nature of His divine retribution for their transgressions.

“So I will send down fire on Teman,
    and the fortresses of Bozrah will be destroyed.” – Amos 1:12 NLT

Underlying Edom’s sin was a heart of pride and arrogance. They had become full of themselves. And God delivered a stinging indictment against them through another one of His prophets.

The Lord says to Edom,
“I will cut you down to size among the nations;
    you will be greatly despised.
You have been deceived by your own pride
    because you live in a rock fortress
    and make your home high in the mountains.
‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’
    you ask boastfully.
But even if you soar as high as eagles
    and build your nest among the stars,
I will bring you crashing down,”
    says the Lord. – Obadiah 2-4 NLT

The Edomites were boastful and proud. They had become arrogant and even apostate, choosing to worship false gods rather than serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God would punish them for the many transgressions.

“Because of the violence you did
    to your close relatives in Israel,
you will be filled with shame
    and destroyed forever.
When they were invaded,
    you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
    and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
    but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.” – Obadiah 10-11 NLT

Despite being descendants of Isaac, the Edomites were seen by God as little more than godless foreigners. Just as Esau had sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, the Edomites had sold their birthright as children of Abraham by compromising with the pagan culture of Canaan. So, God warned them that their future would be filled with curses and not blessings.

“The day is near when I, the Lord,
    will judge all godless nations!
As you have done to Israel,
    so it will be done to you.
All your evil deeds
    will fall back on your own heads. – Obadiah 15 NLT

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

When Men Play God

9 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Tyre,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they delivered up a whole people to Edom,
    and did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.
10 So I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre,
    and it shall devour her strongholds.” Amos 1:9-10 ESV

From Philistia in the south, Amos now moves up the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, focusing the reader’s attention on the Phoenician city of Tyre. Tyre was an ancient coastal community that had been in existence long before the descendants of Abraham entered the land of Canaan. Due to their location along the Mediterranean coast, Tyre and its sister city of Sidon became commercial hubs for international trade. Tyre became wealthy and world-renowned for its purple dye. The prophet Isaiah referred to Tyre as “the fortress of the sea” (Isaiah23:4 NLT), most likely because of its impenetrable fortress perched atop the rocky coastline. While Phoenicia was a relatively small state within the region, it had tremendous influence over the lives of its inhabitants and the other nations around it. Isaiah goes to describe Tyre as “that great creator of kingdoms,” and he alludes to her significant financial influence by stating, “Her traders were all princes, her merchants were nobles” (Isaiah 23:8 NLT).

When the Israelites had entered the land of Canaan, God had awarded the tribe of Asher with the region of Phoenicia as part of its inheritance. But the book of Judges indicates that they failed to fully conquer or occupy the coastal communities, including the cities of Tyre and Sidon. When David ascended to the throne of Israel, he formed an alliance with Hiram king of Tyre, negotiating a trade agreement that brought “cedar timber and carpenters and stonemasons” (2 Samuel 5:11 NLT) to Jerusalem for the construction of his royal palace. When David’s son, Solomon, became king, he continued this symbiotic relationship, utilizing the shipping and trading capacities of his northern neighbor to access building materials for his many construction projects, including the temple.

At the end of twenty years, in which Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the Lord and the king’s house, and Hiram king of Tyre had supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress timber and gold, as much as he desired, King Solomon gave to Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee. – 1 Kings 9:10-11 ESV

Israel’s congenial relationship with Phoenicia continued, even after the split of the kingdom after the reign of Solomon. But it took a marked turn for the worse when Ahab become king of the northern tribe of Israel.

But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. And as though it were not enough to follow the sinful example of Jeroboam, he married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and he began to bow down in worship of Baal. First Ahab built a temple and an altar for Baal in Samaria. Then he set up an Asherah pole. He did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him. – 1 Kings 16:30-33 NLT

Like all the other nations that occupied the land of Canaan, the Phoenicians were pagan idolaters. And when King Ahab married Jezebel, he violated the expressed command of God that prohibited intermarriage with the nations living in the land of Canaan.

Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 7:2-6 NLT

And Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel would end up proving the truth behind God’s warning. She would have a strong and devastating influence over the spiritual direction of the nation.

But besides their love affair with false gods, it seems that the Phoenicians had another pressing problem: The pride and arrogance that stemmed from their great wealth and influence. And the prophet Ezekiel delivered a stinging indictment from God against the pride-filled king of Tyre.

“Son of man, give the prince of Tyre this message from the Sovereign Lord:

“In your great pride you claim, ‘I am a god!
    I sit on a divine throne in the heart of the sea.’
But you are only a man and not a god,
    though you boast that you are a god.
You regard yourself as wiser than Daniel
    and think no secret is hidden from you.
With your wisdom and understanding you have amassed great wealth—
    gold and silver for your treasuries.
Yes, your wisdom has made you very rich,
    and your riches have made you very proud.

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
Because you think you are as wise as a god,
    I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!
They will bring you down to the pit,
    and you will die in the heart of the sea,
    pierced with many wounds.
Will you then boast, ‘I am a god!’
    to those who kill you?
To them you will be no god
    but merely a man!
You will die like an outcast
    at the hands of foreigners.
    I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 28:2-10 NLT

According to Amos, the city of Tyre and, by extension, the nation of Phoenicia, was guilty of unfaithfulness. They had broken their covenantal relationship with the people of Israel.

They broke their treaty of brotherhood with Israel…” – Amos 1:9 NLT

Ever since the days of David and Solomon, the Phoenicians and Israelites had enjoyed a close and mutually beneficial relationship. But it would appear that the Phoenicians were little more than opportunists. At the end of the day, they were business people who entered into agreements and partnerships with other nations with their eyes focused on the bottom line. They were in it for what they could get out of it. Like all good capitalists, they measured success by looking at the return on their investment.

And it appears that they had found a way to profit from their southern neighbors by capturing and selling some of them as slaves to the Edomites. So, they were guilty of the same sin as the Philistines.

The Phoenicians were more interested in amassing wealth than in keeping their word. And they had found a way to take advantage of their peace agreements with Israel, surreptitiously selling out their partners to the highest bidder. And they thought they could get away with it. But God warned the king of Tyre, “you are only a man and not a god, though you boast that you are a god” (Ezekiel 28:2 NLT).

Yes, the king of Tyre had grown incredibly wealthy. And God acknowledges that “your wisdom has made you very rich” (Ezekiel 28:5 NLT). But God also warns that the king’s great wisdom and wealth did not make him a god. He could not do as he wished with the lives of God’s people.

It’s interesting to note that Jezebel made a marriage covenant with Ahab, the king of Israel. In essence, she married into the family of God. But she wanted nothing to do with the God of Israel. Instead, she promoted the worship of her false gods. And at one point she ordered the deaths of the prophets of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:13). But this prideful Phoenician princess would pay dearly for her sins. The book of 2 Kings describes her ignominious end.

When Jezebel, the queen mother, heard that Jehu had come to Jezreel, she painted her eyelids and fixed her hair and sat at a window. When Jehu entered the gate of the palace, she shouted at him, “Have you come in peace, you murderer? You’re just like Zimri, who murdered his master!”

Jehu looked up and saw her at the window and shouted, “Who is on my side?” And two or three eunuchs looked out at him. “Throw her down!” Jehu yelled. So they threw her out the window, and her blood spattered against the wall and on the horses. And Jehu trampled her body under his horses’ hooves. – 2 Kings 9:30-33 NLT

And, speaking on behalf of God, the prophet Amos describes an equally violent end to the people of Tyre.

So I will send down fire on the walls of Tyre,
    and all its fortresses will be destroyed. – Amos 1:10 NLT

Years later, long after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, Jerusalem would be invaded and destroyed by the Babylonians. And the opportunistic Phoenicians would take advantage of Judah’s demise. They would see the fall of Jerusalem as a chance to enrich themselves at Judah’s expense. But the prophet Ezekiel would warn them that such selfish behavior would prove costly.

“Son of man, Tyre has rejoiced over the fall of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Ha! She who was the gateway to the rich trade routes to the east has been broken, and I am the heir! Because she has been made desolate, I will become wealthy!’” – Ezekiel 26:2 NLT

The Phoenicians would attempt to profit from the situation, declaring themselves the self-appointed heirs of Judah’s lucrative trading business. But God had other plans in mind for the capitalistic and opportunistic Phoenicians.

Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am your enemy, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the waves of the sea crashing against your shoreline. They will destroy the walls of Tyre and tear down its towers. I will scrape away its soil and make it a bare rock! It will be just a rock in the sea, a place for fishermen to spread their nets, for I have spoken, says the Sovereign Lord. Tyre will become the prey of many nations, and its mainland villages will be destroyed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 26:3-6 NLT

The Phoenicians made a pragmatic and rationalistic decision to violate their covenantal agreements with Israel and Judah. It seemed like the right thing to do. The numbers added up. The cost-benefits analysis made good business sense. But God let them know that their return on investment would have a dramatically different impact on their bottom line.

“They will plunder all your riches and merchandise and break down your walls. They will destroy your lovely homes and dump your stones and timbers and even your dust into the sea. I will stop the music of your songs. No more will the sound of harps be heard among your people. I will make your island a bare rock, a place for fishermen to spread their nets. You will never be rebuilt, for I, the Lord, have spoken. Yes, the Sovereign Lord has spoken!” – Ezekiel 26:12-14 NLT

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

Sovereign Over All

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Gaza,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they carried into exile a whole people
    to deliver them up to Edom.
So I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza,
    and it shall devour her strongholds.
I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod,
    and him who holds the scepter from Ashkelon;
I will turn my hand against Ekron,
    and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,”
says the Lord God. Amos 1:6-8 ESV

The focus of God’s judgment now moves geographically south, to the nation of Philistia and Gaza, one of its major cities. Philistia was located on Israel’s southwestern border and had long been a source of conflict for the people of God. It is believed that the Philistines were originally a seagoing people who originated from region of Aegean, near the island of Crete. The name “Philistine” is derived from the Hebrew word Philistia. In Greek, the name is rendered as palaistinei, from which we get the modern name of “Palestine.” The Bible indicates that during the days of the prophet, Samuel, and the judge, Samson, the Philistines migrated from the Mediterranean coastline and settled five cities that operated as autonomous and independent kingdoms each having their own king or lord. These five cities comprised a loose confederation that called for joint military operations when facing their mutual enemies. And for nearly 200 years, the Philistines focused much of their attention and aggression on the people of God. Their use of iron weapons made them a formidable adversary, and it would not be until the reign of King David, that the Israelites had any real success in eliminating the Philistines as a threat.

In keeping with the pattern He established with Syria, God mentions four transgressions for which the Philistines are guilty. But, as before, He only elaborates on one of them. The truth is, God could have chosen from a long list of sins that the Philistines had committed against His people. But it’s important to remember that He had often used these very same people to punish the rebellious Israelites. The book of Judges reveals one such occasion.

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. – Judges 13:1 ESV

The prophet Samuel would later remind the people of Israel that God had allowed their enemies to defeat their ancestors because they had failed to remain faithful to Him.

“But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them.” – 1 Samuel 12:9 ESV

Yet, God warns the Philistines that He will hold them accountable for their actions. They were guilty of having raided Israelite settlements and selling off the inhabitants as slaves to the Edomites. The prophet Joel elaborates on the egregious actions of the Philistines and other nations, warning that God would repay them for their mistreatment of the people of God.

“What do you have against me, Tyre and Sidon and you cities of Philistia? Are you trying to take revenge on me? If you are, then watch out! I will strike swiftly and pay you back for everything you have done. You have taken my silver and gold and all my precious treasures, and have carried them off to your pagan temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, so they could take them far from their homeland.” – Joel 3:4-6 NLT

During the reign of King Jehoram, God had sent the Philistines and Arabs against the southern kingdom of Judah, allowing them to plunder the temple, deport the royal household, and take many of the citizens of Jerusalem as captives, later selling them as slaves.

And the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the anger of the Philistines and of the Arabians who are near the Ethiopians. And they came up against Judah and invaded it and carried away all the possessions they found that belonged to the king’s house, and also his sons and his wives, so that no son was left to him except Jehoahaz, his youngest son. – 2 Chronicles 21:16-17 ESV

God’s problem with the Philistines was not that they harrassed and attacked the people of Israel. It was that they treated them them as little more than property to be sold. They showed God’s people no respect, devaluing them as persons, and using them as a means to line their own pockets. What the Philistines failed to recognize was that the Israelites were God’s chosen people. He had set them apart as His own chosen possession, and they were of great value and worth to Him. By mistreating and devaluing the people of Israel, the Philistines were guilty of dishonoring God. And they would pay dearly for their mistake.

Amos mentions four of the five Philistine cities, describing the judgment they would face for their crimes against God and His people.

“So I will send down fire on the walls of Gaza,
    and all its fortresses will be destroyed.
I will slaughter the people of Ashdod
    and destroy the king of Ashkelon.
Then I will turn to attack Ekron,
    and the few Philistines still left will be killed.” – Amos 1:7-8 NLT

God vows to avenge the treatment of His people. The fire that destroys the walls of Gaza will come from His hands. The slaughter of the people of Ashdod will be His doing. He will personally destroy the king of Ashkelon and attack the city of Ekron. In other words, God has taken the actions of the Philistines personally and, as a result, He will get personally involved in their destruction.

We know from the book of 2 Chronicles, that King Uzziah of Judah would partially fulfill this prophetic word from God.

Uzziah declared war on the Philistines and broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. Then he built new towns in the Ashdod area and in other parts of Philistia. God helped him in his wars against the Philistines, his battles with the Arabs of Gur, and his wars with the Meunites. – 2 Chronicles 26:6-7 NLT

Eventually, the Philistines would be completely wiped out by God. They would suffer humiliating losses to the Egyptians and later, to the Assyrians and Babylonians. Those who were not defeated or deported as slaves would simply be assimilated into the surrounding Canaanite culture. The prophet Jeremiah would later describe the utter annihilation of the Philistines by the sovereign hand of God Almighty.

“The time has come for the Philistines to be destroyed,
    along with their allies from Tyre and Sidon.
Yes, the Lord is destroying the remnant of the Philistines,
    those colonists from the island of Crete.
Gaza will be humiliated, its head shaved bald;
    Ashkelon will lie silent.
You remnant from the Mediterranean coast,
    how long will you cut yourselves in mourning?

“Now, O sword of the Lord,
    when will you be at rest again?
Go back into your sheath;
    rest and be still.

“But how can it be still
    when the Lord has sent it on a mission?
For the city of Ashkelon
    and the people living along the sea
    must be destroyed.” – Jeremiah 47:4-7 NLT

As Amos continues through his list of judgments against Israel’s enemies, it’s important to remember that the focus of his book is on the people of God. He will ultimately turn his attention to Judah, then Israel. But by beginning with the pagan nations that surrounded God’s chosen people, Amos is highlighting the sovereign power of God. All nations stand before Him as guilty and convicted, and none will go unpunished. Yahweh is the one true King who rules over the entire universe that He created.

The psalmist points out the real problem to which Amos is referring.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.” – Psalm 2:1-3 NLT

Ultimately, the Syrians and the Philistines were guilty of plotting against God. Their attacks on the people of God were nothing more than a veiled attempt to thwart the plan of God. And the psalmist goes on to describe how foolish and futile it is to oppose the will of God.

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
    in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.” – Psalm 2:4-6 NLT

Nations will come and go. Kingdoms will rise and fall. But the sovereign will of God remains unchanged. The Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians, Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites were no match for God Almighty. Their 15 minute of fame would come and go. But the Lord’s plans stand forever. He remains sovereign over all.

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations
    and thwarts all their schemes.
But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever;
    his intentions can never be shaken. – Psalm 33:10-11 NLT

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

God of the Nations

And he said:

“The Lord roars from Zion
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
    and the top of Carmel withers.”

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Damascus,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have threshed Gilead
    with threshing sledges of iron.
So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.
I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
    and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
    and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir,”
says the Lord. Amos 1:2-5 ESV

Amos received his commission from God at a time when the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were both enjoying remarkable peace and prosperity. In the south, King Uzziah had led the nation of Judah in a series of successful battles against the Philistines, their neighbor to the west. These military victories allowed him to expand Judah’s borders into former Philistine territory. His greatly expanded army even made against the Egyptians and Arabians, earning Judah a growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in the region. According to 2 Chronicles 26:8, “his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong.” The Ammonites, located for to the east, recognized Judah’s growing influence and formed an alliance with them, paying a yearly tribute to King Uzziah.

To the north, Israel was also enjoying a period of expansion, under the leadership of King Jeroboam II. He proved to be a particularly evil king who continued the track record of idolatrous behavior that his predecessors established. In fact, he was named after Jeroboam, the man whom God had made the first king of Israel after He divided Solomon’s kingdom. Jeroboam had been the one to inaugurate Israel’s period of idolatry and apostasy by establishing his own religion, complete with false gods and its own priesthood. His namesake would follow in his footsteps, further enhancing Israel’s reputation for rebellion and unfaithfulness. Yet, despite all this, God allowed Jeroboam II to greatly expand Israel’s borders.

He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel – 2 Kings 14:25 ESV

Unwilling to allow Israel to be destroyed, God sent the prophet Jonah to guide its wicked and rebellious king. With the help of Jonah’s prophetic counsel, Jeroboam II was able to secure victories over Israel’s enemies and restore its borders to where they had been during the glory days of King Solomon. This godless king became an instrument in Yahweh’s hand to accomplish His sovereign will for the nation of Israel.

…the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. – 2 Kings 14:27 ESV

With all this as a backdrop, we can begin to look at the opening lines of Amos’ divinely inspired oracle. In verse 2 he clearly states that his message is from God.

“The Lord roars from Zion
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
    and the top of Carmel withers.” – Amos 1:2 ESV

In the midst of all the success taking place in Israel, God is about to deliver a much-needed message of judgment against His covenant people. And this shepherd from Tekoa wants his audience to understand that what he is about to tell them is the word of God. He is speaking on behalf of Yahweh. And the tone of God’s message will be ferocious and fearful. The prophet Jeremiah also picked up on this imagery of God as a roaring lion, preparing to devour His helpless prey.

“The Lord will roar from on high,
    and from his holy habitation utter his voice;
he will roar mightily against his fold…” – Jeremiah 25:30 ESV

Even Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, provided a similar description of Yahweh as an apex predator, ready to destroy its unsuspecting victim.

“So now I will attack you like a lion,
    like a leopard that lurks along the road.
Like a bear whose cubs have been taken away,
    I will tear out your heart.
I will devour you like a hungry lioness
    and mangle you like a wild animal.” – Hosea 13:7-8 NLT

Amos describes the sound of God’s voice as emanating from Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It was there that Solomon had built his grand temple and dedicated it to Yahweh, the God of Israel. But when Solomon’s kingdom was divided in two, the ten tribes to the north decided to build their own temples in Dan and Bethel, where they erected altars to the golden calves that Jeroboam had constructed. And at that time, he had instructed the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28 ESV).

Now, from the top of Mount Zion, where the temple was located, came the roar of God’s voice, declaring His judgment upon not only Israel and Judah but also the nations of the earth.

Beginning with Syrian, Amos delivers a series of stinging oracles against those nations that surround His covenant people. He will include Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab.  His list begins with Syria, a foreign power that had played a significant role in Israel’s history. From there, Amos begins to list out the nations that encircle the covenant people of God. From Gaza in the land of the Philistines to the Phoenician city of Tyre, Amos provides a concentric circle of kingdoms that have interacted with God’s people over the centuries. And for each one of them, Amos has a specific message from Yahweh.

“The prophet began with the distant city of Damascus and, like a hawk circling its prey, moved in ever-tightening circles, from one country to another, till at last he pounced on Israel. One can imagine Amos’s hearers approving the denunciation of these heathen nations. They could even applaud God’s denunciation of Judah because of the deep-seated hostility between the two kingdoms that went as far back as the dissolution of the united kingdom after Solomon. But Amos played no favorites; he swooped down on the unsuspecting Israelites as well in the severest language and condemned them for their crimes.” – McComiskey, Thomas Edward. “Amos.” In Daniel-Minor Prophets. Vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.

Ultimately, Amos will spend the majority of his book addressing the rebellious people of Israel. But, in order to establish God’s sovereignty over all nations, Amos begins with Syria. And he opens up with what will become his favorite phrase:

For three transgressions of Damascus,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment…” – Amos 1:3 ESV

He will repeat this phrase eight different times, inserting the name of a different nation with each occurrence. And in each case, Amos provides no details concerning the nature of the four transgressions. His point seems to be that each of these nations stands before God as guilty and worthy of His condemnation and judgment. The mention of three transgressions is compounded by the addition of one more.

Amos originally penned his book for a Jewish audience and they would have recognized a pattern established in the book of Proverbs. On four separate occasions in the chapter 30, Solomon utilizes a similar “three-plus-four” pattern.

Three things are never satisfied;
    four never say, “Enough”:
Sheol, the barren womb,
    the land never satisfied with water,
    and the fire that never says, “Enough.”  – Proverbs 30:15-16 ESV

Three things are too wonderful for me;
    four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a virgin. – Proverbs 30:18-19 ESV

Under three things the earth trembles;
    under four it cannot bear up:
a slave when he becomes king,
    and a fool when he is filled with food;
an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
    and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress. – Proverbs 30:21-23 ESV

Three things are stately in their tread;
    four are stately in their stride:
the lion, which is mightiest among beasts
    and does not turn back before any;
the strutting rooster, the he-goat,
    and a king whose army is with him. – Proverbs 30:29-31 ESV

Based on this repetitive model, Amos’ Hebrew audience would have probably expected him to list the four transgressions. But he fails to do so. Instead, he provides rather generic descriptions of their crimes, focusing on what they had done to the people of Israel.

…they have threshed Gilead
    with threshing sledges of iron… – Amos 1:3 ESV

Syria, also known as Aram, had constantly invaded the region of Gilead to the east of the Jordan River. This area, also known as the Transjordan, had been settled by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. These three tribes, located outside the actual land of promise, were subject to regular raids by Syrian forces. Amos compares these unprovoked attacks to iron farming implements ripping through the land, leaving devastation in their wake. During the time when Jehu was king of Israel, God had used the Syrians to punish his disobedient people.

In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan. – 2 Kings 10:32-33 ESV

But even though God had sovereignly ordained Hazael’s successful forays into Israelite territory, He would also hold Hazael responsible.

I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. – Amos 1:4 ESV

Throughout these eight oracles, Amos will accentuate God’s sovereign control over the nations. But he will also emphasize their collective guilt. They are not innocent parties or lifeless puppets animated by the hand of God. Each of these nations is responsible for its actions. God was not forcing them to act against their will but was simply directing their natural dispositions to accomplish His sovereign plan. As Solomon records in the book of Proverbs: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV). Hazael had plans to invade and conquer the Transjordan territories of Israel, but God used this pagan king’s selfish aspirations to accomplish His greater purpose. And Amos wanted the people of Israel to know that God would hold each and every nation accountable for their individual transgressions.

And, as far as Syria was concerned, God had plans in store for them that would fully repay them for their crimes.

“I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
    and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
    and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir…” – Amos 1:5 ESV

Amos was trying to assure his Hebrew audience that Yahweh, whom they had forsaken, was still in full control. He was still on His throne and was ruler over all the nations of the earth. And if God was ready, willing, and able to hold the Syrians accountable for their sins, He was more than prepared to judge the Israelites for their many transgressions.

These oracles of Amos were not just hyperbole. He was not spouting spiritual-sounding rhetoric that was all bark and no bite. What he decreed would actually take place. And, in the case of Syria, his predictions were ultimately fulfilled.

So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin. – 2 Kings 17:7-89 ESV

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

Not An Easy Job

1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.Amos 1:1 ESV

Amos describes himself as a shepherd from Tekoa, a city located 10 miles south of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. And later on in his book, he elaborates on his background by adding a few additional facts: “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:14-15 ESV). Amos’ somewhat adamant-sounding statement, “I was no prophet” may seem strange, considering the fact that he admits that he was called by God to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel.

But Amos was only trying to make the point that he had not always been a prophet. For most of his adult life, Amos had been a herdsman (bôqēr), a Hebrew term that was often translated as “shepherd.” Over the centuries, biblical scholars have speculated that Amos was actually far more than a lowly shepherd. In the opening verse of his book, he refers to himself as a being “among the shepherds of Tekoa.” The term he uses there is nōqēḏ, which can be translated as sheep-raiser or sheep-dealer. It is the same term used in 2 Kings to describe the king of Moab.

Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder (nōqēḏ), and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. – 2 Kings 3:4 ESV

Either Amos worked as a shepherd-for-hire, contracting himself out to the sheep breeders of Tekoa, or he was one of them. When he refers to himself as a “dresser of sycamore figs,” he seems to be describing the process of “gathering” (bālas) the fruit of the tree. This involved the scoring or cutting of the skin of the fruit so that it would ripen. So, it could be that Amos was nothing more than a seasonal day-laborer, who made his living by hiring himself out as a shepherd or field hand.

But regardless of whether Amos was a wealthy sheep breeder or a lowly sheepherder, he found himself going through a mid-life career change that was divinely ordained. Amos was called by God to leave behind the figs and flocks and begin his new life as a prophet. And whether Amos was rich or poor, highly successful or barely making ends meet, this would have been a significant change in his career trajectory.

A prophet (nāḇî’) was considered to be an “inspired man” – a divinely commissioned spokesman who operated under the influence of the Spirit. The Hebrew word actually means “to bubble forth, as from a fountain.” A prophet of God was divinely inspired to speak on behalf of God. And that is exactly what God had commissioned Amos to do.

“Go, prophesy to my people Israel…” – Amos 7:15 ESV

What is interesting is that Amos, a citizen of the southern kingdom of Judah, was being called to go as a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel. Ever since the end of King Solomon’s reign, the nation of Israel had been divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom was comprised of ten of the original 12 tribes of Israel. Samaria was its capital and Jeroboam II was its king at the time Amos was called. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and their king was Uzziah, who ruled from the throne of David in Jerusalem.

It is important to note that this division of the kingdom of Israel had come about because of Solomon’s disobedience and unfaithfulness. As the son of David, Solomon had inherited a powerful kingdom that was marked by peace and prosperity. And while Solomon had been gifted by God with great wisdom, he ended up amassing a harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines. And the author of the book of 1 Kings makes it clear that Solomon’s actions were far from acceptable to God.

King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” – 1 Kings 11:1-2 ESV

Solomon allowed his love of women to diminish his love for God. In order to appease his many foreign wives, he allowed them to worship their foreign gods. But eventually, he became influenced by their idolatry and began to promote the worship of false gods within the land of Israel.

…when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. – 1 Kings 11:4-6 ESV

As a result, God determined to punish Solomon for his unfaithfulness by splitting his kingdom in half. Solomon would be allowed to finish out his reign, but his son would inherit a kingdom much diminished in power, size, and influence.

“Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.” – 1 Kings 11:11 ESV

By the time Amos comes along, the two kingdoms have co-existed for hundreds of years, but their relationship was strained and marked by constant conflict. From its inception, the northern kingdom of Israel had been plagued by idolatry and apostasy. Its very first king, Jeroboam I, had commissioned the creation of two golden calf idols, placing one in Dan and the other in Bethel. Then he instructed the people of Israel:

“You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” – 1 Kings 12:28 ESV

From that point forward, the people of the northern kingdom of Israel were effectively “paganized.” They no longer kept the Law of God or made the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem to celebrate the prescribed feasts and festivals. Instead, they made their way to their own sacred sites to worship their own man-made gods. And Amos will declare God’s dissatisfaction with them.

“Come to Bethel, and transgress;
    to Gilgal, and multiply transgression;
bring your sacrifices every morning,
    your tithes every three days;
offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened,
    and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
    for so you love to do, O people of Israel!”
declares the Lord God. – Amos 4:4-5 ESV

And God will use Amos to call the rebellious people of Israel to repent.

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:

“Seek me and live;
   but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
    or cross over to Beersheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
    and Bethel shall come to nothing.” – Amos 5:4-5 ESV

And Amos, the newly appointed prophet, will begin his career by calling his northern neighbors to give up their idolatrous ways and return to the worship of Yahweh.

Seek good, and not evil,
    that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
    as you have said.
Hate evil, and love good,
    and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
   will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. – Amos 5:14-15 ESV

But Amos will find his new job to be much more difficult than tending sheep or dressing figs. He will quickly discover the obstinance of the people of Israel and, eventually, he will be required to deliver a sobering message to their king, Jeroboam II.

“‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
    and Israel must go into exile
    away from his land.’” – Amos 7:11 ESV

Just imagine the change that took place in Amos’ life as a result of God’s call. His world was turned upside down. He went from herding sheep to haranguing kings. Rather than scoring figs so that they might ripen, he was now excoriating the faithless so they might repent. Amos would quickly learn that being a prophet was a far-from-glamorous job that required great commitment and total reliance upon God. Despite the divine origin of his message, he would find his audience unreceptive and his presence unwelcome. He spoke on behalf of God but was treated as a pariah by the people of God. They didn’t want what he was selling, and they will repeatedly reject the God he was representing.

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

Measured and Found Wanting

7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
    in the midst of my people Israel;
    I will never again pass by them;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
    and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
    and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Amos 7:7-9 ESV

The book of Jonah could easily be classified as a cliff-hanger. It ends rather abruptly, leaving the reader with a lot of unanswered questions, not the least of which is what happened to Jonah. We can safely assume that God did not answer Jonah’s pitty-filled plea to kill him. But did he remain in Nineveh or return home to Gath-hepher in Galilee? Regardless of his disposition or destination, he remained a prophet of God. So, did he receive a new assignment? Was he called to minister God’s Word to the new converts in Nineveh?

All of these questions are left unanswered. We are not even told what happened to the citizens of Nineveh. But we know that God did not rain down destruction on them because the text tells us, “God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 ESV). God showed them pity and spared their lives. But that is all we know. There is no extant record that corroborates or validates the author’s claim that the people of Nineveh experienced a revival. The Assyrians kept detailed accounts of their many exploits, but no archeological discoveries have ever unearthed a stone or tablet containing evidence of the mass conversion of the city of Nineveh. But that should not come as a shock. The Assyrians were not known for keeping objectively based or unbiased records of their history. The chronicles they penned were intended to glorify their successes while minimizing their failures. So, it would not be surprising that, if the king of Nineveh made a record of what is described in the book of Jonah, it was quickly expunged by his successor. And we know that the repentance of the people of Nineveh was short-lived. Their king’s mournful plea that they “turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence” (Jonah 3:8 ESV), seems to have resulted in a temporary change in behavior. But those same Assyrians would ultimately show up on Israel’s doorstep, besiege their capital city of Samaria, and eventually defeat and deport them.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

God had repeatedly warned the people of Israel that they would suffer destruction for their sinfulness and for their stubborn refusal to repent and return to Him. Even Jonah’s contemporary, Amos, had prophesied that they would one day be defeated and deported, and it would be God’s doing.

The Sovereign Lord has sworn this by his holiness:
“The time will come when you will be led away
    with hooks in your noses.
Every last one of you will be dragged away
    like a fish on a hook!
You will be led out through the ruins of the wall;
    you will be thrown from your fortresses,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:2-3 NLT

And the author of 2 Kings does not sugarcoat the cause of their destruction.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the Lord their God. – 2 Kings 17:7-9 NLT

The fates of Jonah and Nineveh were not relevant to the author of the book of Jonah because they were not the focus of his story. He was writing to the Hebrew people and the entire purpose behind his book was to remind them of the sovereign will of God. It is likely that this book was penned after the nation of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians. They would have been living in exile “along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kings 17:6 NLT). And this story was meant to convict them of their sin and remind them that their God was “a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love” (Jonah 4:2 NLT). He was “eager to turn back from destroying people” (Jonah 4:2 NLT).

And even though they were living as captives of war in Assyria, their God had not forgotten them. If He could redeem the wicked Ninevites, He most certainly could redeem His chosen but rebellious people. But even in their captivity, they remained stubbornly unwilling to obey God. They longed for His deliverance but remained opposed to keeping His commands. In a sense, they were just like Jonah. As they languished in the Assyria (the belly of the fish), they displayed a superficial form of repentance that had no teeth to it.

Come on! Let’s return to the Lord.
He himself has torn us to pieces,
but he will heal us!
He has injured us,
but he will bandage our wounds!
He will restore us in a very short time;
he will heal us in a little while,
so that we may live in his presence.
So let us search for him!
Let us seek to know the Lord!
He will come to our rescue as certainly as the appearance of the dawn,
as certainly as the winter rain comes,
as certainly as the spring rain that waters the land. – Hosea 6:1-3 NET

They were like Jonah, vowing to keep vows and pledging to offer up offerings, only if God would rescue them. But they remained just as stubborn as the prophet of God. And God saw through their sham display of repentance.

“…your faithfulness is as fleeting as the morning mist;
it disappears as quickly as dawn’s dew…” – Hosea 6:4 NET

God was not interested in pretense and false displays of piety. He was looking for true heart change.

“For I delight in faithfulness, not simply in sacrifice;
I delight in acknowledging God, not simply in whole burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6 NET

God had taken stock of Israel and found them to be wanting. As the book of Amos reveals, God had measured the integrity of the house of Israel and found it to be of poor quality and construction. Amos was given a vision of God standing next to a wall with a plumb line in His hand. A plumb line was a simple, yet effective building tool that featured a heavy weight on the end of a string. It used the force of gravity to establish an accurate line of perpendicularity so that a wall would not lean in the wrong direction. And God told Amos, “I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins” (Amos 7:8 NLT). He was going to measure or assess their spiritual integrity. And God made it to Amos that the people of Israel were not going to measure up to His righteous standard.

“The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.” – Amos 7:9 NLT

God was going to deal with Israel according to their sins. Yes, they were His chosen people. He had set them apart as His prized possession. But they had repeatedly rejected Him as their God, chasing after false gods and refusing to acknowledge of confess their spiritual adultery. And God could not and would not tolerate their sin forever.

“I want to heal Israel, but its sins are too great.
    Samaria is filled with liars.
Thieves are on the inside
    and bandits on the outside!
Its people don’t realize
    that I am watching them.
Their sinful deeds are all around them,
    and I see them all.” – Hosea 7:1-2 NLT

The people of Israel had become arrogant and prideful. Under the reign of King Jeroboam II, they had enjoyed renewed success and prosperity. He had expanded their borders and reestablished them as a major player in the region. Yet, rather than see these successes as the handiwork of God, they took credit for them.

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 listen closely to how God describes His chosen people.

“The people of Israel have become like silly, witless doves,
    first calling to Egypt, then flying to Assyria for help.
But as they fly about,
    I will throw my net over them
and bring them down like a bird from the sky.
    I will punish them for all the evil they do.” – Hosea 7:11-12 NLT

The Hebrew word for “dove” is yônâ, which just happens to be the name of the prophet whom God sent to Nineveh. As Jonah flitted about like a witless dove, flying to Joppa and then taking flight to Tarshish, he was mimicking the actions of the rebellious people of God. And just as he could not escape the soveriegn hand of God Almighty, neither would they.

All of this reminds me of another incident recorded in the Word of God. It involves King Belshazzar and the prophet, Daniel. The southern kingdom of Judah has fallen to the Babylonians and Daniel is among those who were taken captive and transported to Babylon as slaves. Fortunately, he has ended up on the payroll of the king. At one point, the king threw an extravagant party, and to impress his guests, he ordered that they bring in all the “gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem” (Danuel 5:3 NLT). Belshazzar, in a display of pride and arrogance, had his guests drink wine from these sacred vessels, and they toasted “their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (Daniel 5:4 NLT). And as they reveled in the superior nature of their gods, a startling scene unfolded.

Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him. – Daniel 5:5-6 NLT

The king sent for Daniel, who was known for his ability to interpret dreams and visions. And Daniel gave the king a brief, but sobering history lesson.

“Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. He killed those he wanted to kill and spared those he wanted to spare. He honored those he wanted to honor and disgraced those he wanted to disgrace. But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them.” – Daniel 5:18-21 NLT

Daniel reminded the arrogant king that his predecessor had suffered from the same malady and had paid dearly for it. Nebuchadnezzar had failed to recognize that his success had been God-ordained. He had taken credit for something God had done. And now, Belshazzar was repeating that mistake.

You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven.” – Daniel 5:22-23 NLT

And when Daniel finally got around to interpreting the vision, he simply informed the king, “…you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27 ESV). In essence, God had given Belshazzar a plumb-line assessment of his reign:

“God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.” – Daniel 5:26 NLT

“…you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.” – Daniel 5:27 NLT

God is sovereign over all nations. He alone places kings of their thrones. And He had sovereignly chosen to make Israel His set-apart people. They had enjoyed a unique relationship with Him, unprecedented among all the nations of the earth. But they had failed to remain faithful. They had chosen to reject their calling to be a blessing to the nations and a light to the world. As, as a result, God was compelled to punish them.

Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel—against the entire family I rescued from Egypt:

“From among all the families on the earth,
    I have been intimate with you alone.
That is why I must punish you
    for all your sins.” – Amos 3:1-2 NLT

But despite their unfaithfulness, God would remain faithful. He would punish them, but He would also restore them. Yahweh would remain the covenant-keeping God, who fulfills all the promises He has made.

“I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.
I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:14-15 NLT

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

The Right To Give Life

Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Jonah 4:6-11 ESV

This is the second time that Jonah has fled from Nineveh. On the first occasion, he had been somewhere in Israel, probably not far from his hometown of Gath-hepher, in the region of Galilee. This would have placed him more than 500 miles from Nineveh. But for Jonah, that was not far enough. So, when he received God’s call to go to Nineveh and announce their pending judgment, he refused and headed in the opposite direction. He attempted to avoid his commission by fleeing from the presence of the Lord. But his plan didn’t work out so well. God sent a storm to delay Jonah’s departure. Then, when the sailors cast lots to see who was the source of their troubles, God caused the lot to fall on Jonah. In a last-ditch effort to save their lives, the sailors cast Jonah overboard, at which point God appointed a large fish to swallow His disobedient prophet. Then, after Jonah had spent three miserable days in the belly of the fish, God caused the fish to disgorge Jonah on dry land. From there, Jonah made his way to Nineveh, where he finally delivered God’s message. And the people believed.

Now, Jonah sits outside the walls of the great city of Nineveh, waiting to see whether God will rain down judgment on the enemies of Israel or if He will show them mercy and compassion. Jonah hopes for the former but fears that the latter will be what takes place. Sitting in his man-made shelter, Jonah is burning with rage. He is furious that his message of God’s pending destruction of Nineveh had been met with repentance and mourning. Rather than turn on Jonah as the bearer of bad news, the people had turned to Yahweh in faith. And Jonah knew that Yahweh was “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Jonah 4:2 ESV). He was afraid that the repentance of the Ninevites would cause God to change His mind about destroying them. But Jonah still held out hope that God might do to Nineveh what He had done to Sodom and Gomorrah. He was still longing for their destruction and not their deliverance.

But as Jonah fumed in his makeshift shelter, “the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort” (Jonah 4:6 ESV). It’s important to recall that when Jonah had been thrown off the ship and into the raging sea, God had appointed a fish to rescue him from certain death. Now, as Jonah raged outside the walls of the city, God appointed a plant to relieve his “discomfort.” Once again, the God of the universe intervened in the life of His rebellious prophet. Yahweh caused a plant to appear, virtually overnight, providing His sun-baked, pitty-soaked prophet with protection from the sun and relief from his anger. 

Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. – Jonah 4:6 ESV

The sudden and miraculous appearance of the plant had its intended effect. Jonah was relieved of his discomfort. But the author uses a very specific Hebrew word to describe the condition from which Jonah was relieved. It is the word, raʿ, which is most often translated as “evil” or “wickedness.” It can also mean “affliction.” It is the same word the author used in describing the behavior of the people of Nineveh.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. – Jonah 3:10 ESV

And when Jonah saw the people of Nineveh repent of their evil way, he refused to see it as a good thing. Verse 1 of chapter four states that “it displeased Jonah exceedingly.” This phrase could actually be translated as “It was evil to Jonah, a great evil.” Jonah viewed the repentance of the Ninevites as evil or wicked. And yet, it was God who deemed Jonah’s reaction as evil. His anger was not only unjustified, but it was also unrighteous. That is why God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” (Jonah 4:4 NLT). Jonah’s response was not good or acceptable. He actually preferred that God do evil by destroying the Ninevites. That is exactly what he meant when he expressed his concern that God might be gracious to the Ninevites, “relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2 ESV). In Hebrew, that phrase reads nāḥam raʿ, which means, “repenting of evil.” In essence, Jonah wanted God to respond to the Ninevites with evil. He longed for God to devastate and destroy them.

But even in his fit of unrighteous and unjustified anger, Jonah was met with undeserved grace and mercy. God appointed a plant that provided Jonah with relief – and he was glad. But notice what the text says: “Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant” (Jonah 4:6 ESV). He gladly accepted the gift of God’s mercy but failed to show Him any gratitude.

So, “God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered” (Jonah 4:7 ESV). All throughout this story, the author purposefully portrays the sovereign hand of God behind all that happens. God appointed the fish. He appointed the plant. Now, He appoints the worm. Every step of the way, God has been ordaining the events of Jonah’s life in order to accomplish His sovereign will. The Creator-God orchestrated the actions of a giant fish and a tiny worm, all to accomplish His grand redemptive plan. He caused the plant that had sprung up overnight to disappear just as quickly. And His removal of the plant was followed by His appointment of “a scorching east wind” (Jonah 4:8 ESV). The soothing shade was replaced by the searing rays of the sun and a scorching sirocco wind.

The sudden change in his circumstances left Jonah in a foul mood. While he had gladly accepted the gracious gift of shade without uttering a word of thanks, he immediately declared his dissatisfaction when the shade was suddenly removed. He bitterly informed God that he would rather die than suffer any further.

…he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” – Jonah 4:7 ESV

But Jonah was missing the point. He was failing to understand the lesson that God was trying to teach him. So, God asks him a second question:

“Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?” – Jonah 4:9 NLT

Did Jonah really have a right to be angry over the loss of his source of shade and comfort? Was he justified in expressing his desire to die? But before God could complete His thought, Jonah quickly interrupted and defended his actions.

“Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” – Jonah 4:9 ESV

Then God graciously exposes the absurdity of Jonah’s over-the-top response. He points out that Jonah was upset about the untimely demise of a plant he had done nothing to produce. He had no vested interest in the plant, other than the comfort he had received from it.

You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. – Jonah 4:10 NLT

Jonah was grieving over the loss of the plant, not because he had labored to produce it, but because he missed the benefit he had received from it. His motives were purely selfish and self-centered. Jonah’s only concern for the plant was in its ability to provide him with comfort – which was now gone. So, God uses the destruction of the plant to teach Jonah a lesson regarding His sparing of the people of Nineveh.

“But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” – Jonah 4:10 NLT

God describes the people of Nineveh as not knowing “their right hand from their left.” They are ignorant of the His ways. They were like children who lacked wisdom, discernment, and spiritual understanding. Unlike the people of Israel, the Ninevites had not enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Yahweh. They had not been given His law or instructed in His ways. The entire community was living in spiritual darkness, unaware of Yahweh’s identity and completely oblivious to the wickedness of their ways.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul would provide a powerful reminder to the Gentile converts who were part of that local fellowship.

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. – Ephesians 2:11-12 NLT

Jesus would also emphasize the inclusion of those who were outside the nation of Israel.

“I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” – John 10:16 NLT

The people of Israel had been chosen by God so that they might be a light to the nations. They were to shine in the darkness of the world, providing the Gentiles with a glimpse of God’s goodness, glory, and greatness. But they had failed to live up to their calling. The prophet Hosea declared of them: “Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel” (Hosea 8:8 ESV). Just as Jonah had been swallowed by the fish, Israel would ultimately be swallowed by the Assyrians. They would fall to the very nation to whom Jonah had been sent. And God had proven to Jonah that He could redeem and rescue the worst of sinners. He could even use a reluctant and rebellious prophet to bring about the repentance of a city full of wicked and spiritually ignorant Ninevites.

God cared enough about Jonah to send him a fish and a plant. God cared enough about Israel that He repeatedly sent His prophets to call them to repentance. And He cared enough about Nineveh to send His reluctant prophet to deliver His message of redemption. But Jonah missed all of this. He failed to grasp the significance of God’s grand redemptive plan for His creation. Even the author’s reference to “much cattle” is intended to reveal that God has a plan to redeem and restore all that He has made.

The apostle Paul reminds us that the entire creation is living under the weight of the curse that came as a result of Adam’s sin.

For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:19-22 NLT

And the book of Jonah ends with God reminding His self-consumed prophet that He loves and cares for the people of Nineveh because He created them. Like the plant, they exist because God gave them life. And as the author of life, only God has the right to give or take it away. Jonah was asking God for the right to die. But God wanted Jonah to understand that He had the right to let the Ninevites live. Because He cared for them.

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

Blind to His Own Sin

1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Jonah 4:1-5 ESV

Once again, Jonah finds himself in an unexpected and unpleasant situation. This entire portion of the narrative parallels Jonah’s experience in chapter 2. But this time, rather than praying from the belly of the fish, Jonah cries out to God from inside the walls of Nineveh, where a spiritual revival seems to be taking place. But in both cases, Jonah shares with God his dissatisfaction with his uncomfortable circumstances. Upon finding himself trapped inside the gullet of the giant fish, Jonah turned his attention to Yahweh.

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress – Jonah 2:1 ESV

The Hebrew word translated as “distress” is ṣārâ, which literally means “tightness.” Jonah was in a literal and figurative “tight spot.” To put it another way, he was in dire straits, something the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as “a very bad or difficult situation.” And it was the unpleasant conditions of his surroundings that produced in him feelings of anguish and distress. He wanted out. He was looking for a way of escape. And he ended that prayer with the confident assertion: “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9 ESV).

But fast forward to chapter four. Jonah now stands in the crowded streets of Nineveh, where the citizens, covered in sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning for their sins, are calling out to Yahweh. But rather than rejoicing in this incredible display of repentance, Jonah is “displeased…exceedingly” (Jonah 4:1 ESV). In Hebrew, that phrase literally reads, “Jonah was displeased with great displeasure.” He is enraged by what he is witnessing. And raʿ, the Hebrew word describing his displeasure, is also translated as “evil” elsewhere in the book. The previous chapter ended with the statement, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil (raʿ) way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 ESV). 

The Ninevites had repented of their evil ways while Jonah was consumed by evil thoughts. He was angered by the thought that God might spare these pagan idolaters. He was repulsed by their displays of mourning and their cries for mercy from his God. And at this point in the narrative, Jonah had no way of knowing whether their actions would result in God sparing their lives. He wasn’t yet aware that God had already “relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them” (Jonah 1:10 ESV). But he suspected as much, and the very thought of it left him in a fit of rage. He is literally “hot and bothered.” The Hebrew word is ḥārâ, and it means “to burn up.”

In chapter 3, the king of Nineveh expressed his hope that God might “turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger” (Jonah 3:9 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “fierce” is ḥārôn, and it comes from the same root word as ḥārâ. It means “burning anger.” So, while God relented or turned from His righteous anger against the Ninevites, Jonah found himself consumed by self-righteous indignation.

So, in his “distress,” he called out to Yahweh, trying to explain the source of his consternation and concern.

“Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. – Jonah 4:2 NLT

He justified his rage by claiming that his worst fears had been realized. The potential repentance of the Ninevites was exactly why he had run away in the first place. Now, as he stood in the streets of Nineveh, he realized that his compassionate, gracious, and loving God might change His mind and let the guilty Ninevites off the hook. And that prospect appalled and angered him.

Jonah described Yahweh as being “slow to anger” and yet, here he was filled with uncontrollable rage at the thought of the Ninevites literally getting away with murder, torture, idolatry, and immorality. But Jonah seems to have an inflated sense of his own righteousness and that of the people of Israel. Somehow he believed that the chosen people of God were somehow deserving of God’s mercy and grace, but not the Gentiles of the world.

Back in chapter 1, Jonah slept like a baby while the Gentile sailors desperately struggled to save the ship and their lives. Even when they discovered that Jonah was the source of their predicament, they made one last attempt to row to shore rather than throw him overboard. They showed him mercy and extended him grace. But Jonah seemed unconcerned with either the physical or spiritual well-being of these pagan men. And it was only after he got exposed as the guilty party that he offered to sacrifice himself. But it seems that Jonah was more interested in ending his own life than in saving theirs. He would rather die than have to obey God’s command and go to Nineveh.

And as Jonah considered the unacceptable prospect of Nineveh being spared, he called on God to put him out of his misery.

“Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” – Jonah 4:3 NLT

Jonah would rather die than have to watch the sinful Ninevites escape the wrath of God. But his arrogant attitude failed to recognize his own guilt and worthiness of God’s judgment. When he had been trapped inside the belly of the great fish, Jonah had called on God to extend him mercy and grace. And God had heard his cry and spared his life. But Jonah suffered from short-term memory loss. And he seems to have conveniently forgotten the words of his fellow prophets, who had repeatedly declared the guilt of the people of Israel. Poor Hosea had been commanded by God to marry a prostitute who ended up bearing him three children. The first child was a son, whom God told Hosea to name Jezreel, “because in a little while I will punish the dynasty of Jehu on account of the bloodshed in the valley of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel” (Hosea 1:4 ESV).

At the birth of Hosea’s second child, God told him, “Name her No Pity’ (Lo-Ruhamah) because I will no longer have pity on the nation of Israel. For I will certainly not forgive their guilt” (Hosea 1:6 ESV). When Hosea’s wife gave birth to another son, God told him, “Name him ‘Not My People’ (Lo-Ammi), because you are not my people and I am not your God” (Hosea 1:9 ESV).

And yet, despite these sobering and convicting words from God, Hosea had also recorded the good news of God’s gracious and merciful forgiveness.

“However, in the future the number of the people of Israel will be like the sand of the sea that can be neither measured nor numbered. Although it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it will be said to them, “You are children of the living God!” Then the people of Judah and the people of Israel will be gathered together. They will appoint for themselves one leader, and will flourish in the land. Certainly, the day of Jezreel will be great!” – Hosea 1:10-11 NLT

The nation of Israel was guilty of having rejected God. They stood condemned before Him and worthy of His just and righteous judgment. God would be fully justified in punishing them for having broken their covenant commitment to Him.

“…you broke my covenant and betrayed my trust.” – Hosea 6:7 NLT

God would go on to describe the people of Israel as “silly, witless doves” (Hosea 7:11 ESV). The Hebrew word for “dove” is yônâ, which should sound familiar because it just happens to be Jonah’s name. This arrogant prophet, just like the people of Israel, was worthy of death. He didn’t need to give God an excuse to kill him. He was already worthy of God’s judgment and deserving of death. Yet God had spared his life. Jonah had been miraculously rescued from “the belly of Sheol” (Jonah 2:2 ESV. He had been able to praise God for having, “snatched me from the jaws of death” (Jonah 2:6 NLT). After having been graciously spared by God, Jonah had declared, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9 ESV). And yet, here was this same man demanding that God take his life so he wouldn’t have to witness the salvation of the Ninevites.

But God, who is all-righteous and yet slow to anger, asked his pouting prophet if his rage was justified.

“Is it right for you to be angry about this?” – Jonah 4:4 NLT

Did Jonah really believe he had a right to stand in judgment over the Ninevites? Was he so blind to his own sin that he couldn’t see the hypocrisy of his own actions? But Jonah refused to answer God’s question. Instead, he simply walked away. Jonah “went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there” (Jonah 4:5 ESV). Still unaware of God’s plans for Nineveh, Jonah erected a shelter from which he could view the city and wait to see what God was going to do. The fact that he sought shelter outside the walls of the city reveals that he still had hopes that the destruction of Nineveh was a possibility. And there he sat, “till he should see what would become of the city” (Jonah 4:5 ESV).

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