by Francis Foulkes ©


' Thus says the Lord: " For three transgressions of Israel and for four, I will not revoke the punishment: because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes they that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and turn aside the way of the afflicted; a man and his father go in to the same maiden, so that my holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every altar upon garments taken in pledge; and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined" ' (2:6-8)

Israel was glad to hear Amos thunder the word of God against the other nations. They were glad to think of 'the day of the Lord' coming as a day of darkness and of judgment on them (see 5:18). They were happy to hear him speak of the sins of Judah. But they did not expect, and certainly did not want to hear him speak against them. They thought that 'day of the Lord' would be light and blessing for them. But Amos had God's word that he knew he must preach to Israel, about the sins of Israel, and about judgment on Israel. So he began exactly as he did with the other nations, 'For three transgressions of . . ., and for four, I will not revoke the punishment . . . " Or as the New English Bible puts it, 'For crime after crime . . .' Israel as much as the other nations had committed 'crime after crime', and the judgment of God could no longer be held back. He begins in the same way as he does in the preaching about the sins of other nations, but he says much more. The rest of the book concerns Israel and no other nation. For God sent Amos, whether they liked it or not, telling him, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel' (7:15). In these verses he speaks of three particular sins for which Israel had to give answer to God.

a. The oppression of the poor

We have seen (in study 2) that the time in which Amos lived was a time of peace and prosperity for Israel. At least it was a time of prosperity in that the rich people became richer, but they became more selfish and heartless too. Originally in Israel each tribe had its own land, and each family its portion, but then the rich got into their hands more and more of the land of those who were poorer -just as King Ahab got Naboth's vineyard into his hands (see 1 Kings 21). They even caused many of the poor to become their slaves. Poor people might owe a debt of no greater value than a pair of shoes, and they had to be sold as slaves to pay it (see also 8:4-6 and 2 Kings 4: 1). In many different ways the rich 'trampled the head of the poor into the dust of the earth'. They only cared to get more money for themselves. They oppressed the poor, taking away both their land and their liberty. This was sin, grievous in God's sight; and the people knew it but did not care. The word of Amos was that they must answer to God for it.

b. Sexual immorality

The second of Israel's sins named here was the misuse of sex. When verse 7 says 'a man and his father go in to the same maiden', it may mean that in the household there was a servant girl kept so that the master of the house or his son might have sexual intercourse with her. Or it may be that there was the influence of Canaanite religion in which there were prostitutes at the sanctuaries, and in the name of religion and to promote fertility a man and his father might both have intercourse with the same prostitute (see Deuteronomy 23:17 and Hosea 4:14 which refer to this kind of thing). If so, this profaned the name of the Lord, because it profaned the worship of Him in the sanctuary. But all such sin, committed by those who call themselves God's people, profane His name, bringing it into shame in the sight of others.
The Bible is very clear that sex is a beautiful and lovely gift of God, but it is also very clear that sexual intercourse, in its wonder and beauty, should be between one man and one woman in marriage. As Genesis 2:24 puts it, 'a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh'. Polygamy is against the purpose of God. Men of faith may be polygamists - this is true in the Old Testament and true today. Polygamy does not prevent a person receiving God's salvation. It is clear, however, that the family life that is God's plan and purpose is that where there is one man, one wife, faithful to each other. The Bible shows plainly the difficulties that come where wives are multiplied (see Genesis 16:1-6, 21:1-14). No Christian man should want to have more than one wife. The Bible also makes it clear that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is contrary to God's purpose. Sexual intercourse is the expression of love and the sign of unity between those pledged for life each to the other, and who establish a home in which children can be conceived and born and brought up. Birth control methods are such today that sexual intercourse may be indulged in without much possibility of a child being conceived, but where there is intercourse outside marriage both the man and the woman suffer, and the purpose of God is spoilt. The perversion of sex, Amos declared, was one of Israel's sins; by it they profaned the holy name of God, and they had to answer for their sin.

c. The perversion of justice

Israel had courts, and magistrates or elders to give justice, but bribery and corruption were common, and the poor were 'afflicted' and turned away from their rights (see also 5:12 and Isaiah 10:2). It was the 'righteous', those who were innocent of crimes, who were sold for silver. Moreover, there were laws from early days in the life of Israel which not only upheld the right of the poor, but which forbade the rich to cause suffering to the poor. If a man owed money, he might give something as a 'pledge' or promise that he would repay it; but if a poor man in debt gave his warm outer garment as all that he could give in pledge, the law said that it must be given back to him before night time (see Exodus 22:26-27 and Deuteronomy 24:12-13). That was all that he had to keep himself warm (see Job 22:6 and 24:7). This law was neglected, and the poor suffered while the rich lay down in comfort 'beside every altar upon garments taken in pledge'. Then the magistrates fined men in the courts, and took this public money and used it for their own feasting and living in luxury. They feasted and drank 'in the house of their God', but they had no real thought of God. They neither worshipped Him from their hearts, nor did they want to obey Him. They despised His law. They oppressed the poor. They corrupted the justice that God commanded should be given to small and great alike. This was sin, grievous sin, in God's sight, and for this too Amos declared that the people must give answer.


Lord, help us who are Your people, called by Your name, to live in purity and in justice, showing true compassion for those poorer and weaker than we are, and never taking advantage of them, for the sake of Jesus Christ who loved the poor and the weak and the outcast. AMEN.

For further thought and study. 1. In what ways does the New Testament tell us that faith in Jesus Christ should be shown in purity of life and in concern for the poor? See especially James 1:27, 2:14-18 and 1 John 3:16-18. How does this apply to the attitude of the rich to the poor in our own situation today?

2. Consider further Bible teaching about God's purpose in sex and marriage, looking particularly at the passages quoted above, and Matthew 5:27-32, Mark 10:2-12 and Ephesians 5:22-33. For the application of this Bible teaching to our situation today, the books of W. Trobisch can be specially recommended, I loved a girl, I love a young man, and I married you (published by Lutterworth Press).

Note. The older translation in verse 7 speaks of these rich people as those 'that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor'. If this is right, it may refer to the custom of people throwing dust on their heads in sorrow (see Lamentations 2:10), and be saying (in an exaggerated picture) that the rich were so land-hungry that they would even want for themselves that dust on the heads of the poor. But it may be right to take it as our translation does, or as Phillips, 'they grind the faces of the poor into the dust'. In any case, the oppression of the poor by the rich is certainly what is meant.