by Francis Foulkes ©


'Thus says the Lord: "For three transgressions of Judah and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his statutes. but their lies have led them astray. after which their fathers walked So I will send a fire upon Judah and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem" ' (2:4-5)

Each one of the nations around Israel has been named already -Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Moab, and Ammon, Moab all except Judah. But Judah was different, in two ways. Judah and Israel had belonged together up to the end of Solomon's reign, and then they had broken apart. The people of Judah were different also in that they, like Israel, had had special opportunity of knowing God. God had made a covenant with them, promising to be their God. calling them to serve and obey Him, and giving them the task of making Him known to other nations (see Genesis 12:1-3 and Exodus 19:5-6).

a. The sins of Judah

We have seen that the sins of the other nations, the 'heathen' nations of which Amos had spoken, were not sins against a written law. They were sins against a law that they knew in their heart and conscience. God judged such people by the light they had. With Judah it was different, because they were the people of God's covenant. They had God's law written down. They were 'people of the book'. But they despised that law and treated it as if it did not matter, though it was God's own word to them, showing them His perfect plan for their lives. They had the statutes' of God, but they did not keep them. They had the knowledge of God, but they did not live by it. They turned away from God to worship idols. This is what Amos means by 'their lies' that have 'led them astray, after which their fathers walked'. Back in the early days when their ancestors worshipped idols, it was hard for them to know any better (see Joshua 24: 2 and Ezekiel 20:18, 30). But then God made Himself known to Abraham as the living God. Later He made Himself known to the people in the days of Moses. He showed His power and love as He led them out of slavery in Egypt, and into their land. Now they madly turned away from that mighty, living God to serve idols that were simply lies (Psalm 40:4). An idol, of any sort, is always a lie, because it professes to be what it is not. It professes to be God, when it is only a part of God's creation (a creature and not the Creator - see Romans 1:25). This was true of the old idols of wood and stone. It is true of our modern idols of money, drugs, pleasure, and sex. They are things made by God to be used in their place - they are lies when they profess to be able in themselves to give true life and enjoyment. They cannot, because life is only found in God Himself and it is found when a person trusts Him, depends on Him and serves Him. Sometimes it is said that idols were not made to be worshipped as gods, but that God is worshipped through the idols. Yet it stands true that any representation of God made by men's hands (made long ago or made today), that gives a false or misleading understanding of God, is a lie.

b. The punishment of Judah

It is folly indeed when people who know God turn aside to idols, to lies that sensible people have rejected. Jeremiah (2:11, 13) shows how foolish it is when he says, 'Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?' But 'my people have committed two evils : they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.' It was not only foolish; it was the sin of rebellion. They were unfaithful to God; so Judah, though they were God's people, with His law, His covenant and His temple, stood under God's judgment. The same thing has to be said of them as is said of the heathen nations. 'For crime after crime of Judah . . .' (New English Bible) God must judge them as He did the other nations. All people have responsibility according to the knowledge of the truth they have.

This is stated in Romans 2:12, 'All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law'. The other nations were judged by the law written on their hearts and consciences. Judah was judged by the written law they had. No matter how it is we know what at is right, we will be judged by that knowledge. "Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin' (James 4:17). If we feel we are better than others because we have greater knowledge, then we need to realise that we have greater responsibility (see Romans 2: 1); and judgment will begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). All of us have sinned against what we know is right and true (Romans 3:23), and our only hope is when we turn to God in repentance and ask His mercy and forgiveness. Judah in Old Testament days thought that judgment would never come to them. They had the temple, they thought, and so the presence of God always with them (see Jeremiah 7:4), but because they had rejected God and His law, they could not expect to continue to enjoy the blessing of His presence. His presence would be known in judgment. Indeed the warning of these verses came true and the 'fire' of an enemy invasion did come. The Assyrians came up to the very walls of Jerusalem. Then the city was saved only because the people led by Isaiah the prophet and Hezekiah the king, turned back in humility to God (2 Kings 19). When later they refused His word and His warnings, the fire of the Babylonian invasion destroyed 'the strongholds of Jerusalem' and even the temple itself.


'Let my heart be turned to your unchanging word, and not to evil desire. Let my eyes be turned away from what is false; give me life in your ways' (Psalm 119:36-37, Basic English).

For further thought and study. 1. Consider how Paul deals with the sins of the Jews and the Gentile (non-Jewish) people in Romans 1:18-2:29, and the responsibility that each had.

2. Consider other passages in the Old Testament (such as 1 Kings 18:20-40, Psalm 135:15-18, Isaiah 44:8-20 and Jeremiah 10:14-16) that show that idols are lies, professing to be what they cannot be and to do what they cannot do; and then think how this is true of the things that people make their idols today.

Note.As with two or three of the other prophecies, some have thought that this prophecy belongs to a time later than that of Amos, and it was an application of the message of Amos to Judah at a later time. We cannot here go into the details of the arguments that are based on the words used in these verses. The prophecy could be later than Amos, but the arguments for this are not compelling. Although it is true that Amos from Judah was sent to be God's messenger to Israel, it would have been strange if he had a message from God concerning all the other nations around and no message at all concerning his native Judah.