The Judah Prophecy
After proclaiming judgment against Israel’s neighboring nations—which, no doubt, all the people joyfully applauded—Amos 2:4, 5 then prophesies against Judah, saying,
4 Thus says the Lord, “For three transgressions of Judah and for four, I will not revoke its punishment, because they rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept His statutes; their lies also have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked. 5 So I will send fire upon Judah, and it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem.”
Keep in mind that Amos was from Judah, but he had been sent with a message to Israel. His message against Judah probably caused no serious opposition, because Judah and Israel were separate nations and were often at war with each other. Yet his prophecy about Judah may have started to hit too close to home. Perhaps his audience began to suspect that Israel was next on his hit list.
Indeed, it was. But for the moment, let us look at his condemnation of Judah’s lawlessness.
Why Judah was Judged
Judah was to be judged “because they rejected the law of the Lord.” The temple was in Jerusalem, not in Samaria or Bethel—cities in Israel. Amos prophesied during the days of Uzziah, King of Judah, who was also known as Azariah. The account in 2 Chron. 26:4, 5 says of him,
4 And he did right in the sight of the Lord according to all that his father Amaziah had done. 5 And he continued to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding through the vision of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God prospered him.
However, later in life, he attempted to usurp the place of the priesthood, and God smote him with leprosy. In the second account, given in 2 Kings 15:3-5 we read,
3 And he did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. 4 Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. 5 And the Lord struck the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death….
According to this account, the main cause for divine judgment was in the fact that the king did not enforce the First Commandment to have no other gods before Him. He allowed freedom of religion, which was also a violation of the law of redemption in Lev. 25:53. Having purchased Israel from Egypt, the Redeemer had the right to expect them to serve and obey Him.
Because the king did not enforce the most important and basic laws of God, it seems (by the wording) that God exposed Israel’s judicial rebellion by inducing the king to usurp the priesthood as well. For this reason, the king tried to offer incense to God in the temple.
God judged him by inflicting him with leprosy, a sign of mortality and death, which also caused him to be separated (quarantined) from society during most of his 52-year reign. So his son Jotham became co-regent in the years that his father was a leper. It was during these years of Uzziah’s leprosy that Amos prophesied. Amos knew that many in Judah worshiped false gods freely in violation of the divine law.
Freedom of Conscience
In chapter 1 of my book, The Ten Commandments, I show that God allows freedom of conscience in personal applications of the law, but does not allow anyone to violate the law with immunity or to set up alternate gods to worship. On page 4, I wrote:
“In essence, to obtain citizenship in the Kingdom of God, one must make a commitment even as Ruth did when she said in Ruth 1:16, “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” This is the essential requirement for Kingdom citizenship, and to maintain such citizenship one must comply with the laws of the Kingdom. Violation of the law will be judged and corrected.
“Within that context, men have freedom of conscience. But one cannot use conscience as an excuse to break the law. Such lawbreakers are Kingdom criminals. There is to be one law for the whole nation, and all men are equally bound to be obedient to the law of God. But men have the right to be wrong in doctrinal matters, as long as they do not violate the First Commandment.”
There has seldom been a time in Israel’s history when they kept the First Commandment. Judah had a few godly kings who enforced it to the best of their ability, but it is apparent that in those times, many idolaters simply went underground and worshiped false gods in secret. We know this, because as soon as a king rose up who allowed false gods, many people immediately flocked to the groves to sacrifice to false gods in public.
On Being God’s People
Israel’s forefathers had sworn allegiance to God at the foot of Mount Horeb (Exodus 19:8). This covenant was like their Declaration of Independence; that is, it was the oath on which the nation itself had been established. The law was their agreed-upon Constitution and legal system, by which society was to function with equal justice for all. These laws ensured freedom, peace, and prosperity, if the people would follow them (Lev. 26:3-13).
It was also the basis of their “chosen” status as God’s people, for Exodus 19:5 says,
5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you will be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…
Likewise, we read again in Lev. 26:12 that if they were obedient,
12 I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.
Being God’s people was conditional upon their obedience. Hence, whenever Israel was disobedient and lawless, they were no longer His people, nor were they “chosen.” This is why Paul distinguishes between Israel as a nation and the remnant of grace (overcomers). He tells us in Rom. 11:7,
7 What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen [ekloge, “chosen, elect”] obtained it, and the rest were hardened [or blinded].
Paul distinguishes between Israel as a whole and “those who were chosen,” that is, the remnant of grace. In the days of Elijah, there were just 7,000 chosen ones out of millions of Israelites. In Paul’s day, once again, there were relatively few believers out of millions of Jews and Israelites.
The remnant of grace, however, was chosen by God, not by men. Under the Old Covenant, men had attempted to become God’s people by the power of their own choice, their own will, their own vow of obedience (Exodus 19:8).
But the New Covenant shifted the burden from men to God. So the second covenant (Deut. 29:1) was an oath that God Himself made, not only with Israelites, but with non-Israelites (Deut. 29:10-12) and even with all who were not present at the time (Deut. 29:14, 15). In other words, God vowed to make all of mankind His people and to be their God, so Deut. 29:12, 13 says,
12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In other words, God took an oath to turn the hearts of all mankind, so that they would indeed become His people. Moses says that this is the same covenant that God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Hence, it actually preceded the Old Covenant that was made at Mount Horeb. This second covenant was a reiteration of the Abrahamic covenant, and this was also the basis of the New Covenant.
The scope of this covenant in Deut. 29 was universal, and it was specifically designed to benefit the aliens and all who could not be present to hear about God’s oath that day. Likewise, Abraham was to be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3). So Deut. 29:13 defines the Abrahamic covenant in greater detail, showing that the blessing was to make them all His people and to be their God.
The “chosen” ones—that is, the remnant of grace—are the ones whose hearts have been turned FIRST in the ages prior to the establishment of the Kingdom. They are not the only ones to be saved but are the first to be saved. All others who die without faith in Christ will bow their knees to Christ at the Great White Throne (Phil. 2:10). God will turn their hearts, and then they will learn righteousness and come to spiritual maturity through divine judgment (Isaiah 26:9).
Paul’s prime example of God’s sovereignty in regard to the remnant of grace is in the story of Jacob and Esau. Rom. 9:11, 12 says,
11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”
All will eventually become God’s people. Being “chosen” is a special endowment of faith in this life, which sets people apart in the present age. But in the end, God made the same promise to all mankind, and its fulfillment depends fully upon God’s ability to turn the hearts of men and to instill faith by speaking to them.
In their blindness, the world (and much of the church) has no faith that God is able to do this, for they see the will of man as an impediment to the power of God. But God has imposed this blindness upon them. Rom. 11:7, 8 says,
7 What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened [or blinded]; 8 just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day.”
Paul also says in Rom. 11:32,
32 For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.
Some complain about this, not understanding the mercy of God, for in blinding the people and shutting them up in disobedience, He has taken the responsibility upon Himself to set them free and to make them all His people. This He must do in order to remain a just and good God.
Some complain about God’s lack of fairness as well. But God is the Creator and Owner of all. He does not have to be fair. He has the right to be unfair and to choose a few today and save the rest tomorrow. He is only obligated to be just, for justice is in His nature, and He must be true to Himself.
Fire Upon Judah
Recall that Amos 2:5 says,
5 So I will send fire upon Judah, and it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem.
Judah was judged under the Old Covenant for failing to keep their vow at Mount Horeb (Exodus 19:8). Jerusalem’s citadels were consumed by literal fire when Babylon laid siege to the city about 150 years later. The same took place again in 70 A.D. for the same reason (lawlessness). It will happen again soon—still for the same reason. Destruction will not cease until the city is no longer repairable (Jer. 19:10, 11).
So will God cast out “Hagar,” as Paul called the earthly Jerusalem in Gal. 4:25, 30). Hagar-Jerusalem has been contending with Sarah-New Jerusalem to be known as the mother of the “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). But even as Hagar could only produce a child of flesh, so also can the earthly Jerusalem only bring forth fleshly children. Though they claim to be chosen, Paul says that the children of the earthly Jerusalem cannot inherit the Kingdom, but must be “cast out” in favor of the children of the New Jerusalem—the believers in Christ who follow Abraham’s example of New Covenant faith (Rom. 4:21, 22).
The same fire that consumes the citadels of the earthly Jerusalem will also be the fire of the Holy Spirit that sweeps throughout the whole earth, turning the hearts of the people to Jesus Christ. The fire of God, says John the Baptist, is designed to consume “chaff” (Luke 3:16, 17), which represents fleshly things. All flesh is combustible.
Yet God’s purpose is not merely to consume flesh, but to prepare the way for something greater that will encompass the whole earth. When this fire consumes the wicked at the Great White Throne, their hearts will be turned as their fleshly works are consumed. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess their allegiance to Christ in that day (Isaiah 45:22-24; Phil. 2:9-11).
Hence, the judgment upon Judah, though terrible in its earthly manifestation, will work together for good, and so God will make them His people by turning their hearts and imparting faith to all. He has chosen to do so, and no man can stop it by the power of his own will.