by Francis Foulkes ©


"Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel?" says the Lord. "Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir? Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground; except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob," says the Lord. "For lo, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall upon the earth. All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, 'Evil shall not overtake or meet us." ' (9:7-10)

There is no place for racism with God. The Bible often says that with God there is no 'partiality' or 'respect of persons'. That means that He does not see one person as more important than another, because of his position or power, his race or tribe (see Acts 10:34-35, Romans 2:11 and Ephesians 6:9). In chapter 1 of Amos we saw that Amos announced God's judgments on all the nations around Israel, and realised that Israel would have been glad to hear this. They did not think that God would ever judge them. In the same way, however, as God's word came to Syria and the Philistines, to Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab, it came to Judah, and it came to Israel. 'Thus says the Lord, "For three transgressions of Israel and for four, I will not revoke the punishment . . . " (2:6). If they had greater privileges and greater blessings from God, they had greater responsibilities. So Amos went on: 'Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, 0 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). They thought that they were the only people who mattered to God. Had He not set them free from their slavery in Egypt, and brought them through the wilderness and into their land? Yes, but God had also brought the Philistines from where they had been in Caphtor, the island of Crete, and He brought the Syrians from Kir to the north-east (see on 1: 5). ' "Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, 0 people of Israel?" says the Lord.' The Ethiopians lived far away; the colour of their skin was different (Jeremiah 13:23); often they had to serve as slaves (see Jeremiah 38:7). But the Ethiopians mattered to God as much as the Israelites did.

Israel had a lesson to learn about racial pride; and often we have that lesson to learn too. We can more easily see racism and racial pride in others than we see it in ourselves. We should thank God for our race and nation, our tribe or clan, our family - God's gift to us. But pride becomes dangerous when we think that we are better than all others, and that God cares for us more than for others. As the apostle Paul said (in Acts 17:26), God 'made from one every nation to live on all the face of the earth, having determined ... the boundaries of their habitation'. Christ came and died for people of every land and every race; He sent His disciples to go and teach all nations. All are the objects of His care and love: all should be the objects of our care and love too.

a. God's demands on all nations

God's love reaches to all men of every nation. He cares for all. He seeks to bring His word to all. But also God is Judge of all, and if men turn from Him and reject the light that they have, they must one day give account t6 Him. So the words of Amos here are, 'Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom' - whatever that kingdom is - 'and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground'. 'Righteousness exalts a nation' - and that is true of any nation: 'but sin is a reproach to any people' (Proverbs 14:34). Corruption and oppression cause the fall of any nation. All down through history nations and empires have fallen when they have become corrupt. The principles of God's law and of God's judgments stand, and they apply to every nation in the whole world.

b. God's special purposes

God's purpose for all nations is clear; but it is also true that God has His special place and purpose for each nation. He had a purpose in bringing the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir as well as in bringing Israel from Egypt. But in His greatest work of bringing salvation and the knowledge of Himself to all nations, He had a special purpose for Israel. He called Abraham and then Jacob for that purpose. Therefore, in addition to what has been said, the Lord must say, 'I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob'. They could not come to an end as a nation until God's purpose for them was complete. He would judge Israel, but their defeat and captivity would mean that they would be like corn shaken in a sieve. The sinful and unrepentant would be lost. Those who boasted 'Evil shall not overtake or meet us' would be overtaken by evil. Men like Amaziah would suffer in God's judgment (7:16-17). Those who 'put far away the evil day' would find the evil day catching up with them (5:18-20 and 6:1-3). But the faithful would remain, and God would carry out His special purpose for Israel through them.


Lord, put Your love in our hearts, that we may not despise or hate those of other races or peoples; and may Christian people of every tribe and nation in our land, and in other lands, bear witness to Your gospel, through their unity in Jesus Christ our Saviour. AMEN.

For further thought and study. 1. What should the Christian do when he finds racial superiority, racism or tribalism, in his own country or in other countries to-day?

2. Study passages in the gospels which show how Jesus taught that God's judgment involved a process of sifting, or of division, between those who are accepted and those who are rejected. See especially Matthew 13:24-30, 34-43, 47-50 and 25:31-46.

Notes. 1. It is possible that verse 8 means, as the New English Bide takes it, 'I, the Lord God, have my eyes on this sinful kingdom that is, on Israel; but it is more likely that it means `the sinful kingdom', whatever that kingdom is.

2. Some people have thought that while verse 7 and the first part of verse 8 was the message of Amos, the latter part of this section have been given by another prophet. They think that Amos had only a message of judgment and doom for Israel, and no hope for the salvation of any. This may be true, but it is more likely that, although Amos knew God's judgment must fall on Israel, he would have seen that God had a purpose beyond judgment, and that God wanted to be 'gracious to the remnant of Joseph' (5:15) who were faithful to Him.

3. The words translated 'sieve' and 'pebble' in verse 9 are difficult words. The sieve may have been one in which the corm was sifted and the stones or pebbles were held while the good grain went through; or it may have been a smaller sieve which held the corn and let the useless chaff pass through. The translations of Moffatt and Phillips take it in the second way. In either case we can realise that the judgment of God is a sifting process, and that is the main point.