The first two verses of Amos are the introduction of the prophet and set the mood of the rest of his book. To a shepherd like Amos, the roar of a lion would be just about the most frightening sound he could ever hear. The Lord wanted to be the Shepherd of Israel, but because of their behavior he would now be a lion that roared before he devoured their nation.
What follows over the next chapter and some of the next is a round-robin of condemnation. The inspired prophet turns his accusatory word towards the nations which surrounded Israel on every side. As expected, none of these neighbors had especially good relations with Israel, and most if not all of them were openly hostile.
Each of these short passages has the same pattern: The Lord (speaking thru Amos) says that “for three sins. . .even for four,” he'd punish the nation/group in question, then proceeded to name both their crime and their punishment. The term “for three sins. . . even for four” was a Hebrew idiom that indicates that a careful count has been made and we can be sure of it. Up until the “third” sin the Lord had been patient, but the “fourth” sin is roughly equivalent to saying “but this is the last straw.”
So what did Damascus do that was so horrible? Damascus was the capital of Aram, now modern Syria. Israel and Aram clashed, and the Arameans brutally attacked Israel’s territory east of the Jordan, especially Gilead. For people like me who have zero experience with farming, threshing was the process of separating grain from straw, done in that day by driving a wooden sledge with sharp teeth over the cut stalks. Damascus “threshed” the people of Gilead like wheat, either figuratively or possibly literally: It certainly wouldn’t be out of character for them to literally run the sledge over the peoples’ bodies. Basically the Lord is condemning them for cruelty and brutality in their conquest.
As we’ll see hammered home over the next few days as we read Amos’s accusations of the nations, there’s an underlying issue. God revealed thru the Torah that all people are created in his image. This truth should inform all our dealings with others. People die in warfare—that’s a given. But there’s a difference between killing soldiers in the midst of a battle and displaying cruelty towards people whom you’ve conquered. All people are to be treated with respect and some measure of dignity, just because they’re image-bearers of our Creator.
And whatever else he is, the Lord is just. They disregarded basic human decency towards those they’d conquered, and he would revisit this crime back onto their heads. Hazael was the name of one of their great kings, the father of their current one. The “house” which he had built up, his dynasty, would go up in flames like gasoline-soaked kindling in the summertime, and this fire would spread to the fortresses of Ben-Hadad, the current king. Their gates would be broken down, and the king—the symbol of their nation and strength—would be destroyed.
So how can we apply this? Most of us aren’t soldiers, and the ones I’ve known would never even think about committing war crimes against enemy soldiers, much less non-combatants. But notice what the people of Damascus were putting their faith in: Their king and his dynasty, and military resources like fortresses and gates. And since they weren’t following the Lord, they’d see for themselves just how fragile these defenses could be.
And do I see other people as created in the image of my Lord? I might not cut with a literal sledge, but my tongue can be just as sharp at times.
As we’ll see over the next few days, before I write off those pagans as being barbaric and cruel, I might want to think twice about myself.
Father God, everyone around me is created in your image, and as such carries infinite value and worth. May my words and thoughts reflect that, please.