by Francis Foulkes ©


'Proclaim to the strongholds in Assyria, and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, "Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and see the great tumults within her, and the oppressions in her midst." "They do not know how to do right," says the Lord, 'those who store up violence and robbery in their stronghold." Therefore thus says the Lord God: "An adversary shall surround the land, and bring down your defences from you, and your strongholds shall be plundered." Thus says the Lord: "As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who dwell in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed." "Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob," says the Lord God, the God of hosts, that on the day I punish Israel for his transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground. I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end," says the Lord.' (3:9-15)

Amos has already made it clear that God is no more able to hold back the judgment of Israel than He is to hold back the judgment of other nations. The prophet has spoken of that judgment (in 2:13-16), and he says more about it here. He has said that the word of the Lord is 'against' Israel (3: 1), and now he repeats that he is told, 'Hear and testify against the house of Israel'.

a. Even the heathen nations could see the sins of Israel

Israel boasted that they were the people of God. They regarded other nations as heathen. Israel and Judah did have the great advantages of the law of God and His special covenant - yet they sinned against these. But the sins of Israel were not just against the special law they had; they were such that any heathen nation could have recognised as sins. So Amos called on the people of Egypt and Assyria, who had no knowledge of the living God as Israel had, to come and see what was happening in Samaria, the capital city of Israel. There were 'great tumults' and 'oppressions'. There was suffering and distress as the rich oppressed the poor and cared nothing for their sorrows and their poverty. Those who were powerful acted with 'violence and robbery' against the weak (compare Psalm 94:5-6). Even many heathen nations had laws to stop the rich oppressing the poor. Anyone - Egyptian or Assyrian, Philistine or Syrian -could see the sins of Israel, and realise that they were a nation ripe for judgment. 'They do not know how to do right' was the Lord's word. They knew in their minds, but they rejected the knowledge they had. They closed their minds to the knowledge that should have affected the way that they lived (compare Jeremiah 4:22 and Hosea 4:1, 6). Even the Egyptians, the old oppressors of Israel, and the Assyrians, the greatest oppressors that ancient history knew, could see what was wrong in Israel.

b. The judgment that would come on Israel

Egypt and Assyria could see the sins of Israel. Above all God saw them and God is Judge. In three ways (and they may have been three separate prophecies originally), Amos spoke of God's judgment coming on Israel. They thought that their defences were strong (compare 2:14-16), but they would be broken down. They boasted of their rich homes that were also their strongholds - these would be plundered. Through enemy action, through the invasion of a powerful enemy, God would bring His judgment on Israel. In fact He did this in the life-time of many who heard these words of Amos. Tiglath-pileser III (the Assyrian king) attacked Samaria in 733 B.C. and Sargon (a later Assyrian king) captured it in 721, as we are told in 2 Kings 17:5 and 18:9-12. Secondly, Amos told how devastating that enemy action would be by taking another illustration from his life as a shepherd. When a shepherd worked with another man as master, if a lion attacked the sheep and, through no fault of the shepherd, a sheep was taken and killed, then the shepherd had to bring back to his master what he could find left from the lion's kill, perhaps 'two legs or a piece of an ear' (verse 12, and see Exodus 22:10-13). Then it would be clear that the shepherd's story was true and he had not just lost or stolen the sheep or been neglectful in his duty. So there would be just a few fragments of Israel left after the enemy came against them, as God's judgment on them. They would be left with a few bits and pieces that would remind them of their past rich and luxurious living, 'the corner of a couch and part of a bed' - for only the rich reclined on couches and slept in beds in 8th century Palestine. In the third prediction (verses 14-15) the prophet made clear where judgment was most deserved, and so where it would first come.

c. Where judgment would fall

God would bring His judgment first in the places where the people would least expect - on the places and the buildings that stood for the religion and the riches of Israel. 'On the day I punish Israel for his transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground.' Amos has more to say later about Bethel and its worship, and in chapter 5 he tells why the people's worship at the sanctuaries was not pleasing to God. There has been a hint of it already in 2:7-8. It is sufficient to say here that they professed to worship God, but it made no difference to their lives. They disobeyed God's law. They did not want to know how to do right. They oppressed the poor without mercy. Worship and sacrifice at the altars, therefore, had no meaning. The altars would be broken down, and the horns of the altars - the most sacred place where the blood of sacrifice was put (Exodus 27:2 and Leviticus 4:7) and where a man in great danger might run for protection (1 Kings 1:50-51) - would be cut off and fall to the ground. Secondly, though they thought that riches were a sign of God's blessing on them, their riches in fact greatly provoked the Lord's judgment, because they were rich and enjoyed themselves, while others were very poor and suffered. Their brother Israelites were even sold as slaves, while they had their winter houses and summer houses, and their houses inlaid with ivory (see 1 Kings 22:39). So the prophet said simply and certainly as the word of the Lord to His people that these houses would 'come to an end'.


'Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.' (James 1:27.) 'If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?' (1 John 3:17.)

For further thought and study 1. What does Jesus in His teaching say about those people who even live very religious lives but make life comfortable and easy for themselves without caring for those in need? See especially Luke 10:25-37, 16:19-31 and Mark 10:17-31.

2. Consider the application of these verses to your church life and national life. In thinking about verse 13, consider what heathen or Muslim people around us see in our life as Christians. Are these things they can condemn because their standards are higher than the standards to which we are living, especially in matters of honesty and purity and care for others? Thinking of verses 14 and 15 where do you think God would begin in the judgment of our nation?


1. In verse 9 our translation has 'Assyria' following the Greek version of the Old Testament; other versions follow the Hebrew and have 'Ashdod', the Philistine city. It does not make very much difference to the meaning.

2. When it says in verse 10 that they 'store up violence and robbery in their strongholds', it may mean that they heap up oppression as if it were treasure, while in fact they are only heaping up judgment for themselves. On the other hand, it may mean. The New English Bible puts it, they 'hoard in their palaces the gain of crime and violence'.

3. Different translations take the end of verse 12 in different ways, and it is hard to be sure which is right. Possibly the name 'Damascus' originally stood in the text but it is hard to make sense of that (see Authorised Version). Possibly the meaning is (as the Revised Version and other translations take it) 'the silken cushions of a bed'. But the Revised Standard Version may be nearest to it, and the meaning be that there would just be a few fragments left from their former luxurious living.

4. Although it is possible that the 'winter house' and the 'summer house' were two parts of the one house (see Judges 3:20), it is more likely that what is spoken of is judgment on those who were rich enough to have two houses, one for summer and one for winter (see Jeremiah 36:22). Archaeology has shown how the houses of Samaria at this time were rich with ivory, and often decorated with gold and precious stones.