by Francis Foulkes ©


'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 that holds the sceptre from Ashkelon; I will turn my hand against Ekron; and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,' says the Lord God. 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. So I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, and it shall devour her strongholds" ' (1:6-10)

From the Syrians, the greatest enemies of Israel in the days of Amos, the prophet now turns to two other nations on the borders of Israel.

a. Philistines and Phoenicians

The Philistines lived by the sea to the south-west of Israel (see map) and four of their five great cities are named here, Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron. The Philistines were enemies of Israel from the early days when they came into the land under Joshua. In the days of the Judges, especially the time of Samson, there was war against the Philistines. They continued to raid the territory of Israel in the days of Samuel, Saul and David. The giant Goliath was a Philistine champion (1 Samuel 17). The Philistines came and destroyed Israel's crops and tried to take their land. The books of Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel often tell us that it was only when Israel turned to God for help that they were able to defeat the Philistines.
The Phoenicians lived on the coast to the north-west of Israel and were the great traders of the Mediterranean world. Tyre was their fine seaport, although once Sidon had been more important. Isaiah 23:8 says that Tyre's 'merchants were princes' and their 'traders were the honoured of the earth'. David and King Hiram of Tyre were friends, and Hiram helped David with timber and builders to build his house (2 Samuel 5:11), and helped Solomon to build the house of God in Jerusalem (1 Kings 5:1-12). But the people of Tyre cared more about their trade and the money they gained from it than they cared about people.

b. The sin of Philistines and Phoenicians

Both Philistines and Phoenicians were great traders; after the Philistines controlled the trade routes by land and the Phoenicians controlled the trade routes on the sea. They traded in anything they could. What is said of Babylon in Revelation (18:12-13) might have been said of them, that they traded in 'gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots' but also in 'slaves', in the lives of men. They treated men as things. They not only took prisoners in war, as any fighting nation might do, but they sold them as slaves to others. The Philistines `carried into exile a whole people to deliver them up to Edom' - that is, they sold their captives as slaves to Edam. The Phoenicians of Tyre also 'delivered up a whole people to Edom' - that is, they did the same, they sold their captives as slaves to Edom. In recent centuries East and West Africa suffered long at the hands of slave-traders, Arab and European, and Africans sold their fellow-Africans to these Arab and European slave-traders. Thank God for those who, inspired by Christ, toiled and fought to bring the slave trade to an end. We thank God that there is no slave trade among us today, but let us ask even ourselves whether sometimes we deal with men and women as things, whether to us they are like property from which we can get gain, or whether we really treat them as persons.

There was another sin of Tyre that is mentioned here, they 'did not remember the covenant of brotherhood'. There was a 'covenant', an agreement, with promises made on both sides - perhaps between Tyre and Israel (see Note), perhaps between Tyre and some other nation - and the people of Tyre did not keep it. The sins of Tyre and of the Philistines, like the sins of Syria, were sins against a law that they knew in their own hearts and consciences. They knew it was wrong to deal in human lives as if men and women were pieces of property. They knew it was wrong to have a 'covenant' and fail to keep it, to make promises and to break them. For a man should make no covenant or promise lightly, but when it is made it should be carried out, even if that is a costly thing to do (see Psalm 15:4).

c. Judgment on the Philistines and the Phoenicians

As with the Syrians, so with the Philistines and the Phoenicians, crime must lead to punishment. They had done what they themselves knew to be wrong, and they had not turned from it; so the Lord, who is God of all nations, would judge them. As they had caused others to suffer, so they would suffer. There would be the 'fire' of enemy invasion right in on the city wall of Gaza, and her proud 'strongholds' (see note on verse 4) would be destroyed. In Ashdod and Ashkelon the people and their readers would suffer. The 'hand of the Lord' which might have been strong to help them, would be turned against Ekron, and the Philistine people as a whole (reduced in days to a 'remnant', a small part of what they once were), would 'perish' in God's judgment on them. A similar judgment would come on Tyre, 'fire upon the wall of Tyre', and it would 'devour her strongholds'.

Judgment did indeed come on these Philistines and Phoenicians. They fell as other nations all down through history have fallen, when they have become corrupt and cruel. The time when God brings a corrupt and cruel nation to its downfall is not always just when we might wish or think; but the downfall comes. The Philistines cities fell to the Assyrians before the eighth century (the century in which Amos lived) was over. Tyre suffered too at the hands of the Assyrians, and later from the Babylonians. Both the Philistines and the Phoenicians had their power completely overthrown in the days of Alexander the Great. This is a demonstration that only righteousness can exalt a nation and give it lasting strength. Corruption and weakness always result when people are treated as things, and when the words of politicians and people are just words, words that others cannot trust. Then corruption and weakness lead to collapse.


Lord, help us, who are called to love our neighbours as ourselves, to show our love in care for them and in being true to our promises and our responsibilities. Keep us from ever wanting to use people to serve our own selfish purposes, for the sake of Jesus Christ who loved us and gave Himself us. AMEN.

For further thought and study. 1. Consider in Isaiah 14- 29-32, Jeremiah 47, Ezekiel 25:15-17, Zephaniah 2:4-7 Zechariah 9:5-7, and in Isaiah 23, Ezekiel 26-28, Zechariah 9:2-4 the other prophecies that relate to the Philistines and to Tyre.

2. In what ways may we be tempted to treat people as things to be used to our own advantage rather than as men and women and boys and girls whom we should love and help and serve because they are made in God's image, and because Jesus Christ died for them? In what ways are we tempted to be untrue to our word and our promises made to others?

Notes. 1. For the background history of the Philistines before the times of Amos, and the relationships between Israel and the Philistines, see Judges 3:1-3, 10:6-9, 13-16, 1 Samuel 4-7, 13-18, 31, 2 Samuel 5:17-25 and 8:1. For Tyre and Tyre's relationships with Israel see 2 Samuel 5:11-12, 1 Kings 5:1-12 and 9:10-14.

2. 'The covenant of brotherhood' (verse 9) may mean that since Edom and Israel were brothers (descended from the brothers Esau and Jacob); it was a sin against that brotherhood to sell Israelites as slaves to Edom. It may refer to the 'covenant of brotherhood' between Tyre and Israel in the days of David and Solomon (see 2 Samuel 5:11 and 1 Kings 5:1). But we do not know for certain that they were Israelites who were handed over as slaves to Edom. They may have been other Phoenicians, or representatives of some other nation with which the people of Tyre had made a treaty or covenant, and had broken it by their action.