Amos, Missionary to Israel, Part 2
Issue No. 350
Amos 1:2 introduces his message to Israel, saying,
2 And he said, “The Lord roars from Zion, and from Jerusalem He utters His voice; and the shepherds’ pasture grounds mourn, and the summit of Carmel dries up.”
This establishes that Yahweh is the source of his revelation. In this case it is the voice of divine judgment “from Zion and from Jerusalem,” the place where He had placed His name at that time. The roaring depicts Yahweh as a lion.
It is known that when lions roar, it is too late to get out of their way. Lions roar as they leap upon their prey. As a shepherd, Amos well understood the roar of a lion.
The Hebrew verb sha’ag describes the roar of a lion as he leaps upon his prey. It expresses the immediacy of the judgment; for when the shepherd hears the roar, he knows that the attack is already taking place, and it is too late to save the sheep. (The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 830).
It appears that Amos was writing his book after he had been forced to leave Israel—after Israel had rejected his message. The judgment, therefore, had been set in the divine court, because the people and priests had refused to repent.
Amos knew how pastures would “mourn” in times of drought. Droughts often brought famine. There are thirteen famines mentioned in Scripture. Most, if not all, are prophetic in some way, the most notable, perhaps, being the famine that occurred in the days of Elijah.
The prophet also says that “the summit of Carmel dries up.” Carmel means “garden land.” The gardens were to dry up, as it were. Mount Carmel is best known as the place where Elijah had his showdown with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:19) after the 3½ year drought. That showdown took place about a century before Amos prophesied.
There is little doubt that Amos was familiar with Elijah’s ministry. In writing about drought in his introduction, he suggests that divine judgment upon Israel, which had been avoided earlier (through repentance), was now about to devastate the unrepentant nation of Israel.
This prophecy was certainly fulfilled a short time later, when “the king of Assyria carried Israel away into exile to Assyria” (2 Kings 18:11). Yet there is a timeless aspect to this prophecy as well, for toward the end of his book, Amos speaks of a spiritual drought that was to cause a famine of hearing the word of God (Amos 8:11, 12). This famine has persisted to the present day.
The famine in the days of Elijah essentially prophesied of this famine of hearing the word. This suggests that another Mount Carmel showdown was to occur in the future, ending the long-term spiritual drought. The final words of Amos set forth this great hope of restoration in the end.
However, in Amos’ own time, such restoration was for a future generation. The immediate danger was the pouncing lion, the mourning pastures, and the dried up garden land of Mount Carmel.
Amos then began to prophesy about the nations in that part of the world.
The Syria Prophecy
Amos 1:3 begins with a prophecy about Damascus.
3 Thus says the Lord [Yahweh], “For three transgressions [pehsha, “rebellions, revolts”] and for four I will not revoke its punishment, because they threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron.
The expression “for three transgressions and for four” is a Hebrew idiom that refers to numerous times Damascus had revolted against God’s rule and violated His laws. But since Damascus (or Syria in general) had not been with Israel when the laws were given through Moses, one may wonder why and how God could judge them for violating the law.
The answer is that all the nations originally knew the laws of God, if you trace their history back far enough. Paul says in Rom. 1:19, “that which is known about God is evident within them.” He goes on to explain that “they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
They may not have had a complete revelation of the law, but they were accountable for that which they ought to have known and remembered. Their problem was not that they were without the law, but that they forgot it. In other words, their problem was the same as with Israel, who received the law, but soon forgot it.
Syria was founded by Terah, Abraham’s father, and settled by Haran, Abraham’s half-brother. It was from Haran that Abraham himself was called to immigrate to the land of Canaan. Isaac and Jacob both got their wives from the land of Haran, later called Aram, or Syria. So there was always a close family connection between Syria and Israel.
From a spiritual perspective, Terah and Haran were willing to leave Ur of the Chaldees, but they were not willing to go all the way to the Promised Land with Abraham. One might say they were partial or lukewarm believers, and for this reason, they strayed from the truth of the word as time passed.
God also told Elijah to anoint Hazael king over Aram (1 Kings 19:15) shortly toward the end of the prophet’s ministry. To receive such an anointing did not endorse Hazael’s subsequent actions; rather, it showed that Hazael was under God’s authority and was supposed to be obedient to His laws and instructions.
But when Elisha told Hazael in 2 Kings 8:13, “God has shown me that you will be king over Aram,” the prophet wept, knowing that Hazael would misuse that God-given authority to make war on Israel (2 Kings 8:12).
Hazael means “one who sees God.” With a name like that, he made the claim of seeing God and thereby claimed to know His will. If he saw God, he was disobedient, but more than likely this was simply a false claim.
Hazael’s dynasty continued into the next century when Amos gave the word of God to Damascus, the capital of Aram/Syria. So it is clear that God was holding Damascus accountable for its rebellion against God and for not implementing the laws of God as they should have known them.
In the next generation after Amos, the prophet Isaiah also prophesied about Damascus. Isaiah 17:1 says,
1 The oracle concerning Damascus. “Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city, and it will become a fallen ruin.
The reason given is found in Isaiah 17:10, “For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the rock of your refuge.”
These prophecies of destruction were fulfilled only partially over the years. Even today, Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the world. In the first century, shortly after the ministry of Christ, King Abgar V of Edessa (in Syria) became the first of a long line of Christian believers. He had written a letter to Jesus, inviting him to Edessa, where He could be protected from His enemies in Jerusalem.
Jesus declined, but told him that when His work was finished, He would send a disciple in His place. Hence, Thaddeus was sent to Edessa, first to heal Abgar’s disease, and also to preach the gospel to the king and the entire city.
This exchange of letters was mentioned by Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea in the early fourth century (Eccl. Hist., I, xiii). Apparently, the letters were available to him at that time, but are now lost. I reproduced them in Appendix 3 of my book, Lessons from Church History, Vol. 1.
The Syrian church is one of the oldest in the world, predating the Roman church and perhaps even the British church.
But later, Damascus was overrun by the Muslims, who made it their cultural capital for many years. Today, it has come to near ruin with the recent war. Whether or not there is more “ruin” to occur in Damascus remains to be seen. What is apparent is that Amos’ prophecy, as well as Isaiah’s oracle, applies to present-day Damascus.
Hazael and Ben-hadad
Amos 1:4 says,
4 So I will send fire upon the house of Hazael, and it will consume the citadels of Ben-hadad.
In the days of Elijah, Hazael responded to the word of the Lord by killing Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, and taking his place as king (2 Kings 8:15). Hazael’s son, who was probably born while Hazael was still the king’s steward, was named Ben-hadad, probably in honor of the king that he had been serving.
So there is more than one Ben-hadad, but in Amos 1:4, “the citadels of Ben-hadad” were the castles or palaces built by Ben-hadad, son of Hazael.
Amos 1:4 tells us that the house of Hazael (that is, his family line or dynasty) was to be judged. God was to “send fire upon the house of Hazael.” Perhaps the prophetic metaphor could be viewed in terms of God sending a fire upon the house of one who sees God. God Himself is said to be a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24), so it is as if Hazael was consumed by the fact that he claimed to see and serve.
Amos continues his prophecy about Damascus, saying in Amos 1:5,
5 I will also break the gate bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from the valley [bika] of Aven, and him who holds the scepter, from Beth-eden; so the people of Aram [Syria] will go exiled to Kir,” says the Lord.
The gates of walled cities in ancient times were closed and barred at night and during times of siege. So “the gate bar of Damascus” is a metaphor for the city’s defenses. A broken bar was of little use in defending the gate.
The valley (or plain) of Aven was a four-hour journey west from Damascus, but north of Israel. Today it is known as the Beka’a valley in Lebanon. Amos calls it the Bika Aven. Bika means “a split, divide, tear, or cleave.” This valley is part of the fault line (rift) extending from Turkey south through the Jordan Valley, and the arabah to the Gulf of Aqaba.
Aven itself means “vanity, empty (words), lies.” So Amos uses this term to add to the meaning of the prophecy. Those who inhabit the Valley of Aven will be cut off from “him who holds the scepter” (i.e., the king in Damascus), but also they will be cut off from truth. In other words, they will be left in their vanity to believe the lies of false gods.
The king holding the scepter had a summer residence not far from Damascus in a place known as Eden. This is the “Beth-eden” in Amos 1:5. This is not the Eden of Gen. 2:8. Eden means “pleasure, delight, luxury.” Beth-eden was the Syrian’ king’s luxurious summer residence.
Nonetheless, there can be no doubt that Amos referenced this summer residence with the original Garden of Eden in mind. The Syrian king pretended to be in Eden, as if he could get past the cherubim guarding the way to the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:24). The irony was not lost on Amos.
Just as Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden and were prevented from returning to the Garden by the flaming sword of the cherubim, so also will the people of Vanity Valley be cut off and be sent into exile to Kir.
The precise location of Kir is unknown, but we know that eventually, the Assyrians took Damascus and exiled the people to Kir. 2 Kings 16:9 tells us,
9 … and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus and captured it, and carried the people of it away into exile to Kir, and put Rezin [the king] to death.
In fact, Amos 9:7 seems to say that the Syrians (or Arameans) had come originally from Kir.
7 … Have I not brought up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?
If we may identify the original Arameans with Terah and Haran, then perhaps Kir is really Ur in the land of the Chaldees south of Babylon. Ur is called Urumma, Urima, or Uru in the inscriptions. It is far to the south of Babylon along the lower Euphrates River.
The Syrian city of Edessa, which I mentioned earlier, was the Greek name for Urfa, or Oorfa, before the Greeks renamed it. It seems feasible that when Terah and Haran moved from Ur in Chaldea, they eventually founded a city named Urfa (New Ur?), as men have often done in history.
At any rate, it appears that the Assyrians repatriated the people of Damascus to the southern city of Ur. If so, this could mean prophetically that those who had followed the command of God in a partial manner ended up returning to their place of origin.
The Philistine Prophecy
Amos 1:6-8 continues,
6 Thus says the Lord, “For three transgressions of Gaza and for four I will not revoke its punishment, because they deported an entire population to deliver it up to Edom. 7 So I will send fire upon the wall of Gaza, and it will consume her citadels. 8 I will also cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod, and him who holds the scepter, from Ashkelon; I will even unleash My power upon Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines will perish,” says the Lord God [Adonai Yahweh].
There were originally five great Philistine cities. In addition to the four that Amos mentions above, there was the city of Gath, best known for its resident giant family, Goliath and his brothers.
Amos does not include Gath in his list of Philistine cities, probably because the city had already been destroyed by King Uzziah of Judah. Recall that Amos prophesied during the reign of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel.
Uzziah had an army of 307,500 men (2 Chron. 26:13) and built mobile towers for his archers to shoot arrows more effectively at the soldiers on the walls (2 Chron. 26:15). We read in 2 Chron. 26:6,
6 Now he [Uzziah] went out and warred against the Philistines, and broke down the wall of Gath and the wall of Jabneh and the wall of Ashdod, and he built [fortress] cities in the area of Ashdod and among the Philistines.
Gath is Missing
Gath, which had already been weakened by Hazael who conquered the city around 830 B.C., appears to have been permanently destroyed by Uzziah a century later.
Jabneh and Ashdod survived and were rebuilt. Jabneh was later known as Jamnia and was the seat of the Jewish Sanhedrin after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Ashdod became known as Azotus, the city where Philip found himself after being transported supernaturally in Acts 8:40 after ministering to the Ethiopian eunuch.
Gath, however, was so totally destroyed that even its location was lost until the 20th century. Archeologists now believe it to be near Tel es-Safi, where they discovered evidence of a huge city gate that suggests the presence of giants.
The Philistine Cities
Gaza was in southern Philistia along the trade route to Egypt. This made it an important slave-trading city. When the Philistines were powerful, they often raided Israelite cities and communities and sold the people into slavery to the Edomites south of Israel. This is Amos’ chief reason for condemning Gaza—“because they deported an entire population to deliver it up to Edom” (Amos 1:6).
Dagon was the chief god of Gaza and of Ashdod. Dagon was the fish god, the equivalent of Neptune, the merman. Dagon’s female counterpart was Atargatis, the mermaid goddess who was worshiped in Ashkelon (located between Gaza and Ashdod). She figures prominently in my fourth novel on the ministry of Samson entitled, Power of the Flame, because Atargatis is essentially the goddess who overcame Samson by the power of seduction.
Amos 1:8 also mentions the city of Ekron, where Baal-zebub was worshiped. 2 Kings 1:2 records how Ahaziah, king of Israel, had an accident, falling through the floor of his upper chamber. Instead of inquiring of Yahweh, he told his servants to “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness.”
Elijah chided him for it, saying, “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?” (2 Kings 1:3).
Baal-zebub means “Lord of the Flies.” The Jews later altered the name as a parody, calling him Baal-zebul, “Lord of the Dunghill.” So we read in the New Testament how the Pharisees made the claim that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Matt. 12:24 says,
24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”
Jesus refuted this claim in Matt. 12:26, 27,
26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand? 27 And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently, they shall be your judges.
This shows that the common view at the time was to link the “flies” with “demons.” Even as flies swarmed around dunghills, so also demons swarmed around the dunghills of the heart—which are the high places of heart idolatry. (See my book, The Laws of Wormwood and Dung.)
Philistines are Children of Flesh
The Scriptures speak of children of God and children of the flesh. Throughout the history of Israel in the land of Canaan, the idolatrous nations are spiritual types of those children of the flesh. Perhaps the most prominent nation representing the flesh is Philistia. So when Samson fought the Philistines by the power of God, he pictured the sons of God overcoming the flesh. But when Samson himself was overcome, it was a tragic picture of the way in which even men of faith can succumb to the power of the flesh.
The lesson is that when Israelites (believers) follow the leading of the flesh, or when they place their confidence in the flesh, they give power to the children of the flesh. Then judgment comes, as those fleshly people are given authority over the people of God.
In this case, Amos was gearing up toward his prophecy against Israel and Judah and how they would be judged and deported for being children of the flesh. But even as the Philistine cities were to be overthrown, so also will heart idolatry itself be eradicated by the New Covenant.