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Friday, February 3, 2017

Amos and the Judgment of Damascus

Introduction

Last week we had an introduction to the book of Amos in the Old Testament. The time of Amos’ prophecies occurred during the time of the divided kingdom when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam II was king of Israel. All the kings of Israel were evil and provoked the LORD to anger, as Chronicles, 1 Kings and 2 Kings state. They followed the sins of Jeroboam I even though God sent His prophets to judge Israel and call them to repent. Jeroboam I brought idol worship into Israel by having two golden calves made and put in Dan and Beth-el. He influenced the Israelites and led them to idol worship. This continued until God’s judgment allowed the Assyrians to capture and disperse the Israelites throughout its kingdom in 722 BC. Jeroboam II continued in idolatry like the kings before him. He gained fame because he led the Israel army to retake the land the Arameans took from Israel. Jeroboam II attacked and retook Damascus and Hamath. Though he gained fame for that, he stole God’s glory and God judged him.

Before Jeroboam II became king, God sent five prophets to call Israel to return to a right relationship with Him. From Jeroboam II’s reign until their captivity 72 years later, God sent two more prophets to Israel, Amos and Hosea. Amos' prophesies for the LORD most likely occurred between 760 BC and 750 BC. He came from the southern kingdom in a small place called Tekoa, which was about ten miles from Jerusalem. Amos was a sheepherder (Amos 1:1) and a grower of sycamore figs (Amos 7:14). He was a physical laborer and understood what it meant to take care of things. Amos understood the role of a shepherd and his ministry for the Great Shepherd was familiar to him. He called God’s sheep to return to Him, just as he expected his own sheep to follow him. God calling Amos to prophesy to Israel used his understanding of being a shepherd. He had a heart for his straying Israelite brothers and sisters. God called upon Amos’ faithfulness to Him and his love for his brethren to help lead them back to Him. Something interesting to note about Amos’ job, the Israelites looked down upon shepherds. The Jews considered shepherds dirty and religiously unclean. They did not allow them in the temple of God. We must take note that God calls even those we consider too base, filthy, and low for His service. Every person is equal in His sight. Often the people who others despise and cast down more readily hear and obey God’s call. The people who fall within the acceptable margin of society and who have everything they need often are deaf to God and are disobedient to Him.

One other thing we should remember about Amos’ prophecies is that he did not prophesy only against the northern kingdom. God sent him to prophesy against Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, and then Israel. He wove a web around Israel and got their attention. As God wove the web around Israel, the thread drew closer to Israel’s physical location.
With today’s lesson, we will look at the form of the prophecies. Besides this, we will look in depth at the prophecy made about and to Damascus. Amos spoke God’s charge against them and His judgment on them. With these two things, we will need to understand the history behind God’s charge against Damascus. Finally, studying biblical and historical sources will show God’s fulfillment of His judgment.

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The Prophetic Form

Amos’ prophecy against Damascus of Aram (later called Syria) began with a mighty roar. He said in verse 2a,

“The LORD roars from Zion and from Jerusalem He utters His voice.”
Amos used a word the people of Israel understood. He called Yahweh “LORD”. LORD means Jehovah, the existing One. The people of Israel knew who the LORD was because of their history. Amos reminded the Israelites of the LORD’s great power by likening Him to a lion. Other prophets like Joel and Jeremiah used this same metaphor for God.  At this point in time, Amos would have drawn the Israelites’ attention and they would have pointed their fingers at the enemy nation, Damascus. The sins of someone or another nation are much easier to see than one’s own sins.

  • Can you think of a time when you realized your pointing out the character flaws of someone made you remember you had done that same thing? Maybe you heard someone gossiping about another person and thought that was not a good thing, then remembered you had said the same thing about a person yesterday.

Next Amos reminded them the LORD’s voice came from Zion, the name used to refer to  Jerusalem, where God resided in His temple. This reminded Israel of who God has been for them and their ancestors. It, too, reminded them the One True God’s true worshipers worshiped in Jerusalem at His temple, not in Dan and Beth-el where Jeroboam I placed the golden calves and designated worship. God put Israel on notice He still resided in Jerusalem-in Zion-and their worship elsewhere was false worship. Amos reminded all the nations who God is, and that He is the strong and only true God.

  • Have you forgone worshiping the Lord at church by convincing yourself you can worship Him anywhere? Did those times of worshiping Him anywhere eventually lead you to not worshiping Him at all?

Before we continue with the prophecy against Damascus, we must consider one other prophetic form Amos used. He used in verse three a formula he would use against all the other nations in this writing. He said in verse 3a,

“For three transgressions and for four I will not revoke its punishment.”
What does this mean? Is there anything important we should understand about these numbers? Biblical numerology speaks through this verse. Three plus four equals seven. Seven is the heavenly number connoting completion. God spoke through Amos saying the people against whom He speaks have a complete measure of their guilt from sins. They had multiplied sin upon sin and God would most assuredly execute His judgment on them. God would surely bring justice against them.
These two phrases then reminded of who God truly is; the LORD Jehovah is sovereign, powerful, and omniscient. He sees and will exact judgment on them. God had a relationship with the people of Israel. He would exact punishment on the people who went against His children. God would exact punishment on His children for being disobedient and rebelling against Him. He is the Father and Shepherd who guards and guides His children. His punishment is just and it will occur. Just as Amos said, God would not revoke it.

One final thing we must note is when God’s punishment occurs, it is felt. The people whom He judged in Amos would experience the antithesis of the way they were living. Where people had abundance and lived in a luxurious manner, God would show He has power over those things. He would remind them He has power over those things and they are only blessings He gave them and can take them away. This punishment, this antithesis to a way of life, would happen as Amos described. He said in verse 2b,

“And the shepherds’ pasture grounds mourn and the summit of Carmel dries up.”
The LORD’s roar, His judgment, against these nations would cause the opposite of fertility in the lands He judged. For Damascus, Amos said the grazing lands for the sheep would dry up and there would be nothing for the cattle to eat. The mountain they saw in the distance, Mt. Carmel, was a symbol of beauty and fertility. The people of the region knew of it and it became synonymous with fertility. Mount Carmel provided a fruitful land with olives, vines, and plentiful grazing. God said it would become dry and barren. That which the people trusted to provide for them would no longer produce, Amos prophesied. The people of Israel and Damascus would know God is greater than Carmel and their lands from which they expected a bounty. The dryness and barrenness of Mount Carmel at the time of God’s judgment would contrast starkly to what the people grew to expect from it. God would remind Israel and Damascus He provided their produce and fertility, and He could and would take it away in His judgment against them. Even if they tried to hide from God’s judgment at the highest point of Mt. Carmel, He would find them. Amos said further in Amos 9:3, even though they go to the depths of the sea, God would find them. The judged people could not hide from the LORD. The Great Shepherd who guards, guides, and blesses would find them and correct them. He would give corrective punishment for their disobedience and lead them back to Him.

  • Do you recall a time as a child when you disobeyed your parents, and they disciplined you? Were you blatantly rebellious and refused to do what they told you to do? Did you refuse to clean your room? Did you take money from their wallet without asking? Their punishment was a disciplining of you so you would grow up to be a productive member of society and have a renewed relationship of love and trust with them. God’s punishments are also disciplining trying to bring you back into a right relationship with Him. They are to correct your behavior and attitudes so you will renew your relationship with Him.

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The Charge Against Damascus

Because God is just and righteous, His judgments and punishment are just according to His holy Laws. To whom did God speak in His judgment of Damascus? What was the charge He brought against the people of Damascus?

When we read these judgments against the other cities, we notice God singled out capital cities of the nations. By prophesying against the people of the capital city, Amos intended the whole nation understand God prophesied against them. In the prophecies against Philistia, Amos mentioned the five capital cities. In the nation of Phoenicia, he mentioned the two main cities. At the time of this prophecy, Damascus was more than a city. It was a region within the nation of Aram, which gets its name from the people called the Arameans. After Aram escaped from Assyrian captivity, the nation’s name changed to what we know today, Syria. From this we know God’s judgment on Damascus was a judgment upon all the people of Aram, the region above the northern border of Israel.

Amos spoke God’s charge against Damascus/Aram in verse 3b. He said God’s judgment would come on them “because they threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron.” What does that mean? “Threshed” comes from the Hebrew word duwsh. It means to tread out or trample on. It meant to cut out or cut off from the main part, like a farmer does to his land or an attacking army does to its enemy. The word “iron” comes from the Hebrew word barzel connoting harshness, strength, and oppression. From this, the charge God laid against Damascus was they trampled on Israel with diligent, determined harshness and oppression by their might. Basically, Damascus used warfare against Gilead. 

  • Does God have a reason to charge us with disobedience? Did we trample on someone to get what we wanted? Did we make a person go against his will so we could have what we wanted? This happens in everyday life.

What did Damascus do to Gilead? We must look at their history. Let’s read about it in 2 Kings 10:31-33.

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History of Damascus

In 2 Kings 10:31-33, we read  King Jehu of Israel continued to follow in the ways of Jeroboam I and caused Israel to worship idols at Dan and Beth-el. Because of that, God “began to dismember Israel” (vs. 32). He allowed King Hazael of Damascus/Aram (843-804 BC) to defeat the Israelites in Gilead, the Promised Land east of the Jordan River. Joshua gave Gilead to the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh. Threshing Gilead with sharp iron meant Hazael battled Israel for Gilead, a part of Israel. He hacked off part of Israel’s territory like a farmer cuts into the ground to divide fields. King Hazael oppressed Israel and took part of its land for his kingdom. The northern kingdom’s defeat by Hazael caused Israel’s territory to decrease in size. This prophecy by Amos from God was God’s judgment and punishing of Damascus for taking part of the land of Israel He gave the Israelites.

  • Does this happen today? Do people usurp a leader’s power and gain the admiration of that leader’s people? I can think of presidents of African nations who do everything in their power to gain control of a nation and to keep it. They take by force of a coup and keep power by killing their real and imagined adversaries.
  • Have you ever usurped someone’s power, maybe a spouse, relative, colleague, or boss? That may not have been God’s will. It may have been personal greed that drove you to do that.

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The Judgment of Damascus

God allowed Damascus to invade and claim part of the Promised Land for itself as His punishment of Israel. Yet He, as the righteous covenant God of the Jews, required justice against Damascus. God, the Good Shepherd, would defend His sheep. With verses four and five, God pronounced His judgment on King Hazael and his people. He said,

“So I will send fire upon the house of Hazael and it will consume the citadels of Ben-hadad. I will also break the gate bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from the valley of Aven, and him who holds the scepter, from Beth-eden; so the people of Aram will go exiled to Kir.”

Amos prophesied extensively against Aram in these two verses. Let’s break it down to understand better.

Amos told the people of Israel God’s judgment on the house of Hazael would come as a fire consuming everything in its path. Nothing of Hazael would exist after God’s judgment. His dynasty would not endure. Besides this, the citadels of Ben-hadad, his son, would be consumed. A citadel is a palace or fortress on high ground protecting a city. God’s judgment would come as fire destroying that which they thought could withstand all assaults. God, the One whom they did not worship, would utterly destroy all manmade safeguards showing He is greater and exacts vengeance for His people.

Amos further stated in verse five God would break the gate bar of Damascus, the citadel city of Aram. The massive walls and gate to Damascus was probably typical to that of other major cities in the region at the time. For mental picture, consider the walls around Jerusalem during the time of Solomon. The average height of the wall around Jerusalem was about thirty-nine feet. It was about 8 feet in breadth made of two walls with a space between that the people could fill with dirt and rocks during times of siege. It had thirty-four watchtowers and seven main gates. Each gate had a gate bar made of a strong metal like iron or bronze. Jerusalem sat on a high point in the region just as Damascus did. The dimensions of Jerusalem’s walls give us an idea how big the walls of Damascus were. It helps us understand why the capital cities of the surrounding nations felt they were impenetrable. Yet, in God’s judgment of Damascus, He stated He would break the gate bar of Damascus. The gate was the weakest point of a city’s wall and took an enemy months and even years to break open with siege engines. God stated He was more powerful than their most clever architect and builder. Nothing would stop Him from avenging His children.

Besides this, Amos prophesied God would “cut off the inhabitant of the valley of Aven and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden.” When he spoke of the inhabitant, he spoke about every person in Damascus and the nation of Aram. Amos even included the ruler, King Hazael or whoever reigned when God’s judgment came to pass. He noted this by using the phrase “holds the scepter.” “Aven” means “vanity”. So Amos spoke about a valley of vanity. The Arameans were idol worshipers, just as the other nations around the Israelites were. [The Israelites were idol worshipers, too. They should be aware of what God was going to do.] When Amos spoke of the valley of Aven, he used this phrase contemptuously to mean the valley of idolatrous worship. It referred to Aven in Egypt, a place dedicated to sun worship (Ezekiel 30), and to Beth-el, the Beth-aven Hosea 10 spoke about in Syria, now called Baalbek. Beth-el was a place that had a temple for sun worship.

Amos created a mocking name for Damascus, too. He called it Beth-eden, which means house of delight. He said the one who holds the scepter from Bethe-eden would receive God’s judgment, too. The inhabitants and the ruler of Damascus/Aram sought only to delight themselves, and not to worship and obey God. Eden, a place for being in a right relationship with God, became used this way to mock the king and the nation as followers of their own desires, not God. God would hold the king and the people of the nation accountable for “threshing Gilead” and worshiping idols.

God judged the Arameans because of battling Israel, His children, and taking part of the Promised Land. While pronouncing judgment, he reminded the Israelites, Amos’ hearers, the Arameans were idol worshipers, too, and it was a vanity. Worshiping things made by man is useless because they have no power. The LORD, Jehovah, is the One True God, and He wields power as Damascus and Israel would see when His judgment occurred.

What would occur when God’s judgment came to pass? Is this prophecy of God pronounced by just one prophet? So far we have read Amos prophesied that God would utterly destroy the lineage of King Hazael. The LORD would consume the fortress of Damascus. He would break the iron or bronze gate bar keeping the fortress secure. As a final judgment, God told Israel the people of Aram would go into exile to Kir. No one goes into exile or captivity willingly. It happens at the will of another person and/or nation. This means God would use another nation to fulfill His judgment on Aram and its king. Stating the name of the place, Kir, told Israel the place to where God would exile the Arameans and whom God would use to make this happen, too. At that time, the people who lived in Kir of Mesopotamia, were the Assyrians, a violent nation of warriors. Kir stood east of the lower Tigris River. Because the military tactic of the Assyrians was to disperse captive people throughout their empire, the people who called themselves Arameans would no longer be a nation or Arameans. The nation of Aram would be no more. That is the ultimate consuming of the people of Aram. God’s judgment would make them be utterly consumed and no more be a nation in history. Isaiah 8:4 & 17:1-3, Jeremiah 49:23-27, and Zechariah 9:1 proclaimed God’s judgment against Aram, too.
  • In your life, have you seen a nation consumed? The Syrian nation of ten years ago no longer exists. Those who were not killed have fled their country. Their cities have been destroyed. Their nationhood is no more. They are a dispersed people. Was this God’s judgment or was it power-hungry greed by a person and his group?
  • God allows people to make choices. They can be in alignment with His will or not. Their choices can negatively affect other people. God’s judgment for going against His will eventually occurs. Not all negative situations are God’s judgment. Some could be due to other people’s choices.
  • Have there been times when decisions you made negatively affected other people? God will judge each of us. When we do these things, we deserve God’s judgment just as Damascus and Israel did. We need to use this lesson Amos prophesied to Israel to keep from making the same mistakes as Damascus and Israel made.

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The Fulfillment of God’s Judgment of Damascus

Often people will proclaim judgment on a person because of a wrong done to them. Sometimes people fulfill their own judgment-avenge themselves-and sometimes they do not. We must remember God’s prophecies always come to pass. When did God’s judgment on Damascus get fulfilled?
Let’s consider 2 Kings 16:9. The compiler of this history of the kings wrote,

“So the king of Assyria listened to him [King Ahaz of Judah]; 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 [king of Aram] to death.”

King Ahaz reigned in Judah from 732-716 BC. King Pekah reigned in Israel at the beginning of Ahaz’s reign and King Hoshea reigned through the end of Ahaz’s rule. From this passage in 2 Kings 16, we realize God fulfilled His judgment against Damascus/Aram during King Ahaz’s reign at the time the Assyrians marched on Damascus capturing the people and overthrowing Aram. Later in history, the Babylonian empire acquired Aram from Assyria at the rise of their empire. The Arameans would no longer call themselves a nation or a people. They lost that identity with God’s fulfillment of His judgment against them.
  • Have you seen or heard of something bad occurring to a person who has done evil things to people? Did you think it could have been God’s judgment on the person?
  • Have you done something bad to a person? Did you feel God punished you later for that action?
  •  Because God is righteous and loving, He will judge and discipline/punish people for wrongdoings. In His grace, He will also forgive when the person confesses and repents.  Just as He gave the people of Israel and Judah hundreds of years to repent and return to Him before His judgment fell on them, so He calls us repeatedly to repent and return to Him. He gives us what we do not deserve-His grace and mercy. He does not give His children what they deserve-death and eternal separation from Him.

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Recap

God’s judgment upon Damascus and the whole nation of Aram fell upon them because they overtook the tribes of Israel on the eastern side of the Jordon River in Gilead. They oppressed the Israelites and took their land apportioning it to themselves by using weapons. God allowed the Arameans to enter and take the land. He did not stop them because Israel disobeyed Him by worshiping idols. The practice of idol worship began with Jeroboam I, the first king of the northern kingdom. God sent five prophets before Amos. Some of the people would repent, but eventually they broke their covenant with the LORD again. Because of their disobedience and broken relationship with Him, God allowed the Arameans to overwhelm the northern kingdom and take part of the Promised Land He gave to their tribes.

God was faithful to His Word and covenant with the Israelites. He defended their inheritance of the Promised Land and pronounced judgment upon the Arameans. Through Amos, the LORD declared the walls of the citadel would be consumed with fire and the gate bar would be broken because of Aram’s oppression of the Israelites. Jehovah would show Aram that those things in which they put their trust were nothing compared to the power the LORD. Neither idols nor barriers would save them from their due judgment from Jehovah. Second Kings 16:9 records Assyria besieged Aram and took their people and rulers into exile, dispersing them throughout their empire.

Relevance and Conclusion

Amos, the prophet of God, did not speak before Damascus’ inhabitants. He prophesied before the people of Israel. He brought the sins of other nations and God’s judgment of them to their attention. God wanted the people of Israel to know He is ruler over all people and so He will judge each nation. He showed the people of Israel He is their mighty God who would avenge them. Finally, God announced to the people of Israel the sins the other nations wallowed in were similar to their own sins. That for which God judges people who do not have His Laws, He will judge His children who have His Laws. The people of Israel should have realized their sentence for the same sins as Aram deserved a greater punishment because they knew what God required. Pointing fingers at other people does not take our guilt away for the same or worse actions and attitudes. It should highlight for us our shortcomings and instill in us a need for repentance and renewing a right relationship with God.

As we will learn at the end of these prophecies of Amos, God never leaves His child hopeless. The LORD provides a way for His children to return to Him after their punishment and disciplining. Does that mean sinning can continue because God will always accept us back afterwards? In no ways is that what it means! Paul speaks specifically about this. He says in Romans 6 when a person is saved from his or her sins, he/she is buried in Christ, baptized into His death, and raised from the dead through the glory of the Father to walk in newness of life. He/she has freedom from sin through Christ. As we live in the power of Christ, the grace God gives us increases. It does not increase each time we sin. So we should consider ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Because we are no longer under the law, but under grace, we are no longer slaves to sin. We are freed from sin. Therefore, Paul says, 
“Now present your members as slaves of righteousness, resulting in sanctification. Now having received freedom from sin and enslaved to God, you derive the benefit resulting in sanctification and the outcome, eternal life.” (Romans 6: 19b & 22) 
Our hope comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will sin against God, just as Israel did, but we have a hope just as God gave Israel, to return to Him and receive His forgiveness and restoration upon our confession and repentance of our sins.

The questions remain for each of us–
Ø  Will you allow the history of the judged nations to deter you from straying from and disobeying God?
Ø  Will you choose to be in a right relationship with the LORD through Jesus Christ, the Savior?
The history of the nations in the book of Amos shows us the judgment we, too, deserve.

God provides us the mercy, grace, and hope of eternal life we do not deserve.