by Francis Foulkes ©


"Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt: 'You only have I known, of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" ' (3:1-2)

We have seen how glad Israel would have been when Amos said that God would judge the nations around them for their sins, when the prophet gave as the word of the Lord: 'For three transgressions of Damascus' , 'of Gaza' , `of Tyre' , 'of Edom' , 'of Ammon' , 'of Moab' , 'of Judah', 'and for four, I will not revoke the punishment'. But then when he said, 'For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment', they could hardly believe their ears. They, Israel, were God's people. Surely God's prophet could only speak of God's blessing of them, they thought. But God had given Amos a different message, and he had to be faithful in passing it on to Israel, even if he were the first man in history to prophesy the downfall of his own people. 'Hear this word that the Lord hash spoken against you, 0 people of Israel.' They are challenged to 'hear' and to realise that it is a word of God 'against' them. God's word was against them because they had accepted all the privileges of being God's people, but they had not accepted the responsibilities.

a. Israel's privileges

We have seen in 2:9-11 how Amos reminded the people of all that God had done for them. We have seen that the greatest thing that He had done, the thing which they remembered again and again was that He had brought them out of their slavery in Egypt, and so made them a nation with a land of their own. Verse 1 here speaks of that - they were the people whom God 'brought up out of the land of Egypt'. Then verse 2 goes on, 'You only have I known of all the families of the earth'. These words seem very strange and it is important that we should study them carefully. Do they mean that God knew what Israel did, and not what other nations were doing? Certainly not. The Bible often reminds us that none of us can ever hide even one single thought from God (Psalm 139 is a wonderful expression of this). Chapters 1 and 2 of Amos show that God certainly knew what the other nations were doing, and cared. In the Old Testament the word `know' often has a special meaning; it means 'accept', or `acknowledge', 'care for', or even 'choose'. (In Genesis 18:19 the same word is translated by the word 'choose', and Phillips translates this verse in Amos, 'You only have I chosen from all the nations of the earth'.) Psalm 1:6 says that 'the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish'. This means that the Lord accepts and shows favour to the righteous in his ways while He rejects the wicked (compare Hosea 13:5). But does that mean that God was concerned only with Israel to favour and bless them, and not other nations? No, God is the God of all nations, and Amos later reminded the people of Israel of this when he said that God had not only brought them out of Egypt, but He had brought 'the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir' (9:7). God has a purpose for every nation. He loves and cares for all. But in working out His purpose that the knowledge of Him should go out to all the nations, He called Israel to a special position - to be 'a kingdom of priests' (Exodus 19:6), we might almost say to be a missionary nation. In Genesis 12:1-3 we read the way that God called Abraham, not just to bless him, but that through him His blessing might go out to all the nations. God often made it clear that He did not choose Israel because they were a specially great or good people, but because of His love for them (see Deuteronomy 7:6-8) and because He wanted to show His love to other nations through them. It happens like this in all life. We cannot all have the leading jobs to do; those who are chosen as leaders are not particular favourites and others should not be jealous of them. They may have privileges, but they also have great responsibilities, and their leadership is intended to be a blessing to others. It was like that with Israel. They were chosen for a particular place in God's purposes, but it was not just to have all the privileges that others did not have.

b. Israel's responsibilities

Israel expected God to say, 'You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will bless you with all my blessings'. But instead of that God said 'You only have I known ... therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities'. They had greater opportunities of knowing God than other nations had. Therefore they had a greater responsibility to serve Him. They had greater encouragement, through God's prophets and Nazirites (see 2:11), to walk in God's ways. Therefore they had a greater responsibility to be true to Him. This is a principle which the Bible repeats very often. It is put this way in Luke 12:48, 'Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required'. It is not our job to look at the lives of others and be jealous of their opportunities, nor to judge them for their failures. We are to remember the opportunities God has given us, and realise that we are responsible to Him for the way we use them. To feel the nearness of God is a great blessing, but it brings a great responsibility. To hear God's word is a great privilege, but it brings the great responsibility of obeying it. The nearer God places us to the light of His truth, the greater our responsibility to walk in that light. God will judge us by the light that we have had and the opportunities He has given us - just as He judged Israel and the other nations.


Lord, we have heard Your word many times, we have seen Your work, we have received many and great blessings from Your hand. Have mercy on us that often we have not used the opportunities You have given us. Help us to have true repentance. May we not be hard of heart, but may we love You and serve You, for the sake of Jesus Christ whom You gave to die for our sins, AMEN.

For further thought and study. 1. Think what other passages in the Bible are like these verses in speaking of the way that increased opportunities of hearing God's Word and knowing God's truth, love and power give us increased responsibility to live according to what we know. Note the attitude of Jesus concerning those who had the greatest opportunity of hearing His word and seeing His work. See Matthew 11:20-24, Luke 12:47-48, James 4:17 and 2 Peter 2:21

2. Looking at the world today what dangers do you see when one race of people or tribe considers itself better or greater than all others?