by Francis Foulkes ©


'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 bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitants firm the Valley of Aven, and him that holds the sceptre from Beth-eden; and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir," says the Lord.' (1: 3-5)

In the first verse of this chapter it has been said that the words that Amos spoke were 'concerning Israel', but now for the first main section of the book (from 1: 3 to 2: 5) his words were spoken concerning all the nations round about Israel: Syria, the Philistines, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, and finally Judah. He speaks about the sins of these nations and how the judgment of God will surely come on them for their sins. Israel would have been glad to hear the prophet speak like this against her enemies, just as many nations in those days did curse their enemies and hoped for blessing only on themselves. We know of the way that the Egyptians, for example, wrote curses on their enemies on pots and then broke the pots in pieces, as a sign of what they hoped would happen to these nations. So also today many people put curses in various ways on those whom they hate and look forward to the outworking of those curses in their lives. When Amos began to preach about the sins of other nations and their judgment, the people of Israel probably hoped that Amos was going to do something like this. But they were wrong, terribly wrong, in two ways. First, Amos was not just speaking against these nations and cursing them because of hatred or because of a desire to see their ruin. He was telling of the way that God in His holiness and righteousness saw their sins, and that these sins must lead to their downfall unless they turn from them. Secondly, when Amos had finished speaking against the sins of Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Moab and Judah, he had much more to say about the sins of Israel and the judgment of God on them. The people of Israel did not expect that. Never before in history had a prophet spoken so clearly and with such courage about the downfall of his own nation. That was the word from God that Amos knew that he had to speak, whether the people liked to hear it or not.

Before he spoke of Israel's sins, however, he spoke of these other nations. He began with Syria. He speaks in verse 3 of Damascus, the capital of Syria and the oldest city in the world; but in verse 5 it is clear that Amos is not just speaking of the capital but of all 'the people of Syria'. We have seen (in Study 2) that 50 years before the time of Amos the Syrians were the great enemies of Israel, and they had often defeated Israel in battle. Israel would have loved to hear a prophet speak of the judgment of God falling on Syria. But what Amos said was not only pleasant in the ears of Israel; it was the plain truth. map

a. Crime after crime

Each of these prophecies against the nations (from 1: 3 to 2: 5) begins in the same way, 'For three transgressions of . . ., and for four . . 'This was the Hebrew way of speaking that means 'for repeated transgressions', or, as the New English Bible translates it, 'for crime after crime of . . .'. Because these nations had committed 'crime after crime', one sin after another, and had not turned away from their sins, God's warning was, 'I will not revoke the punishment'. In other words, there is judgment coming, and God will not turn it back. This is a serious warning. The Bible is full of God's offers of forgiveness and His promises of forgiveness. It says, 'If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness' (1 John 1:9). 'For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us' (Psalm 103:11-12). The tragedy is when God calls men back from their sins to Himself, and they refuse and refuse and go on refusing. So it was with Syria and with the other nations of which Amos spoke. Therefore the prophet had to bring them the word of the Lord like this, `For crime after crime of Damascus I will grant them no reprieve' (New English Bible). There could be no reprieve, no turning away of judgment, because they would not turn away from their sins against God and against men. They had reached the point of no return.

b. Sins against a law they knew

What were the sins of Damascus? They were not sins against a law that they did not know. They were not sins for which they might easily be excused. They had acted in a way that their own heart and conscience must have told them was wrong, as when one nation today practises atrocities on another. There were many wars in those days between the various nations around Israel. The people were not condemned here for fighting, however wrong their quarrels may often have been. The Syrians were condemned because in their wars they had been bitterly cruel. 2 Kings 13:7 tells us of the way that the Syrians had conquered Israel shortly before the time of Amos and 'destroyed them and made them like the dust at threshing'. Perhaps it was at this time that, as Amos says here, they in their bitter hatred and cruelty 'threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron'. Gilead was the area of Israel east of Jordan between the Dead Sea and the Lake of Galilee. We read of Syria's attacks on Gilead in 2 Kings 10:32-33. In those days people threshed their corn with heavy slabs or 'sledges' of wood, and underneath these were sharp pieces of iron to help remove the grain from the stalk. It was as if the Syrians had actually dragged these over the people of Gilead, and followed victory in battle by such torture of the people (For such cruelty of the Syrians see also 2 Kings 8:12). They knew in their hearts that such a thing was wrong: they would have thought so if any one who defeated them in battle did it to them. It was therefore a sin in God's sight for which judgment would come to them.

c. The punishment of Syria

In punishment God would allow a powerful enemy to invade Syria. They had caused great suffering to others. Now 'fire' would consume their homes and their strongholds also. Hazael was king of Syria in the days of Elisha and there were three Ben-hadads who were Syrian kings. The last of these reigned till about the time when Amos preached. So 'the house of Hazael' is the royal family of Syria, and the 'strongholds of Ben-hadad' their fortifications (but see further note below on this word). 'The bar of Damascus' was the great iron bar that held firm the city gate. When that was broken, the enemy could come into the city. Under God's judgment, through such an enemy invasion, the ordinary people ('the inhabitants') and the leaders ('him that holds the sceptre') alike would suffer. 'The Valley of Aven' was probably the valley between two great mountain ranges in Syria, and Beth-eden is thought to have been a place about 25 miles from Damascus. Probably the two place names were chosen, not because they were the only places that would suffer, but because of the meaning of their names. 'Eden' means `pleasure' and 'Aven' means 'trouble' or 'sorrow', or sometimes 'wickedness'. Because of the sins of the people, they would have no more pleasure, even in Beth-eden, the house of pleasure, but the whole land would be Eke a valley of sorrow. And the people would go back to Kir, the area to the east from which the Syrians had come in the beginning (see 9:7). Because they just lived for themselves, without care for others, and sinned against the light that they had, and were utterly cruel to others, they would go back and have to live as if they had never been a great power. What Amos said was surely fulfilled. 2 Kings 16:9 tells what happened before thirty years had passed: 'The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus, and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir. . '. The prophet spoke truly; his word was the word of the Lord.


Lord God Almighty, we Thank You for warning us that You see all that we do and know all our sins against the truth we recognize in our hearts; help us to accept Your warnings without delay, and determine to live in obedience to You and with love and care for others, by the power of Jesus Christ our Saviour. AMEN.

For further thought and study. 1. In what ways does the New Testament help us to understand the basis of God's judgment of those who have not had such an opportunity of knowing His word as we have had? See especially Matthew 25:31-46 and Romans 2:12-16.

2. Do you think that it is possible to see the outworking of the judgment of God on nations in the history of the past 50 or 100 years, or even in what is happening in the present?

Notes. 1. We do not know whether Amos had an opportunity to preach these messages in the ears of the people of Syria and these other nations, or to representatives of them. It may be that only the people of Israel actually heard them, but we can be sure that if Amos had had opportunity, he would have preached them to those whom they directly concerned.

2. If we translated verse 3 word for word it would be 'For three transgressions of Damascus and for four, I will not turn it back'. He did not say what the 'it' was; but all who heard or read these words would know that it was the judgment of God.

3. Many translations take the word 'strongholds' in verse 4 (and it occurs in many other places in the book) as 'palaces'. It is hard to be sure, but it may be that they were the houses of the rich, which were strengthened to be like fortresses; and so the people had confidence both in the riches and the strength of them.