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Friday, February 10, 2017

Amos and the Judgment of Gaza


Introduction

In our first two Bible studies on the book of Amos, we learned Amos was from Tekoa, a small town ten miles from Jerusalem. He was a shepherd and a sycamore fig grower/caretaker. God called Amos, a man from the southern kingdom of Judah, to deliver prophecies to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos spoke to the Israelites during the reigns of King Jeroboam II of Israel and King Uzziah of Judah between 760-750 BC. Amos and Hosea were contemporaries. They were the sixth and seventh prophets sent by the LORD to Israel.

In last week’s lesson, we learned of Amos’ prophecy to Israel about God’s judgment of Damascus. Amos used a familiar prophetic pattern denoting completion. He used the words, “for three transgressions and for four I will not revoke its punishment.” In biblical numerology, three plus four equals seven and seven is a number denoting completion. It means they had multiplied sin upon sin and God would most assuredly execute His judgment on them. In our study, we will realize Amos used this pattern for each of the eight prophecies in this book.

God charged Damascus with “threshing Gilead with implements of sharp iron” in Amos 1:3-5. The people of Aram, of which Damascus was the chief city, battled Israel and forcibly took lands in Gilead, east of the Jordan River and part of the Promised Land. When God charged Damascus, the capital city of Aram, He charged the whole nation of Aram. Damascus represented the whole nation. God’s judgment then was against the whole nation. Because He is faithful to His covenant with the Israelites, He would protect and defend them against other nations and people. In this case, Aram fought against Israel and stole some of the land so the LORD defended them and their covenant with Him by pronouncing His judgment against them.

This week we will learn about God’s judgment on Gaza. Gaza’s history with the Israelites showed their antagonism of the Israelites throughout generations. The LORD would challenge them with their aggravation of Israel and pronounce judgment on them because they continually harmed and harassed the Israelites. Besides Amos, other prophets pronounced God’s judgment on the Philistines, whom Gaza represented in Amos’ prophecy- 1 Samuel 6:17, Jeremiah 47:1, 4-5, Ezekiel 25:16 and 35:5; 2 Chronicles 21:16-18; Joel 3:6; Obadiah 1:11.

·         Do you remember a time when your parent, guardian, or teacher stood up for you to make bullies or hateful people cease harassing you? How did it make you feel knowing someone cared enough to fight your battles?

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The Charge against Gaza

Who were the people of Gaza? What was their issue with the Israelites? Why did they continually harass and harm them, the people of the LORD?

The people of Gaza were Philistines. Many scholars believe the Philistines descended from Cyprus or Crete (Amos 9:7). Zephaniah 2:4-7 calls them "sea peoples". They were sea-faring people who traded with countries on the Mediterranean Sea such as Egypt. Gaza was the primary shipping port for the Philistines as they dealt with great commercial traffic with Egypt and other nations. Gaza’s location was the extreme southwest part of Canaan. It was diagonally opposite of Damascus in the north central and eastern area above the borders of Israel. (Remember Amos created a woven net on the map with his prophecies that would draw closer to Israel with each pronouncement he made against their neighboring nations.) The Philistines had four other main commercial cities-Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. Just as in the prophecy against Aram, Amos used the name of the capital city to denote the whole nation; here he used the name of the biggest city, Gaza, to denote the entire nation of Philistia as the recipient of God’s judgment. In verse eight, Amos used the remaining chief cities of Philistia to show the prophecy encompassed the whole nation.

Of what did God charge the Philistines? Amos stated it in verse six. He said,

“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.’”

What do Amos’ words mean? Did the Philistines kidnap and sell the Israelites as slaves? When we study the Hebrew words of this text, we learn “deported” comes from the word galah meaning take to exile or carry to captivity. “Deliver” comes from the Hebrew word cagar meaning to shut up, imprison, and deliver over or hand over. “Edom” means “I will praise him,” but their actions did not show praise of the LORD. It showed praise of themselves in their cunning against their blood relations. Remember the nation of Edom descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Amos prophesied God’s judgment would come upon the Philistines because they captured and delivered for sale the Israelites to their blood relatives, the Edomites.

·         Have you ever experienced a betrayal by someone close? How did you feel about it? Did you have someone who stood up for you and called that person on his or her actions?

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History of Gaza

What does the history of the Philistines’ interaction with Israel show us regarding this charge by God? In 2 Chronicles 21:17, the chronicler recorded,

“They [Philistines] came against Judah and invaded it, and carried away all the possession found in the king’s house together with his sons and his wives, so that no son was left to him except Jehoahaz, the youngest of his sons.”

The chronicler during King Ahaz’s reign recorded in 2 Chronicles 28:18,
“The Philistines also invaded the cities of the lowland and of the Negev of Judah, and had taken Beth-shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, and Soco with its villages, and Gimzo with its villages, and they settled there.”
 As a side note that will be important later in this chapter when Amos dealt with the Edomites, we must recall the Philistines often used Edom as their intermediary to sell their slave captives (2 Chronicles 28:17).

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King Saul, the first king of the Israelites, and his son, Jonathan, continually battled the Philistines as they tried and sometimes captured Israelite territory (1 Samuel 13, 14, 29, & 31). David, while still a young shepherd, fought the giant of the Philistines, Goliath, with a sling and rocks. With the power of the LORD, he slew him (1 Samuel 17). The chroniclers of the Bible noted other instances of the Philistines harassment of the Israelites.

As the Great Shepherd, Jehovah remained faithful to His covenant with the Israelites and defended the enemies of His children. Yet, when the Israelites broke their covenant relationship with Him, He allowed other nations to rise against them to punish them as punishment from Him to cause them to seek Him and return to a right relationship with Him. The LORD was always faithful to His children, the Israelites, though they turned their backs on Him. His faithfulness to His covenant with them required His charge and judgment of their enemies. The LORD’s charge against Gaza and the whole nation of Philistia began this prophecy given to and spoken by Amos. The judgment and fulfillment of it lay ahead of them.

·         Have you experienced God’s presence in your life guiding and protecting you? Has He provided a defense for you against your enemies?

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The Judgment of Gaza

As the righteous and just God, the defender of His children-His sheep, the LORD judged nations and people for harming the Israelites. Against the Philistines, Amos, God’s prophet, proclaimed His judgment. He said in verses seven and eight,

“So, I will send fire upon the wall of Gaza and it will consumer her citadels. I will also cut off the inhabitant 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.”
You may remember God pronounced a similar judgment against Damascus. For Damascus’ sin, the LORD said He would send fire upon the house of Hazael and it would consume the citadels. For Gaza, a fire would come upon the wall of Gaza and consume her citadels. “Send” comes from the Hebrew word shalach meaning to let loose or direct. “Fire” comes from God and represents the flames of war, either real fire or the wrath of God on them through armies of other nations. Numbers 21:28 and Isaiah 26:11 speak of fire in this same way. The LORD, the One who defends His children, would release and direct His fire, His wrath, upon the walls around the city of Gaza. He would send it through battles with their enemies. The walls around Gaza would collapse and the fortress would fall. Remember the walls around a city of the time were similar to Jerusalem’s wall, which was thirty-nine feet tall. That protective wall consisted of two thick walls extending to an eight foot breadth. The people filled in the space between these two walls with rocks and soil to add strength during battle. The fire God would send upon Gaza and the whole nation would destroy the walls they relied upon to protect them. Their fortress/citadels/palaces would succumb to the fire of the LORD. The manmade things of this world are no match to the strength and power of the LORD of all creation. The Philistines were human. God’s righteousness and power could judge and punish them. They were not immune to enemy threat or to almighty God.

With verse eight, Amos’ prophecy reached the remaining chief cities of Philistia. The LORD said He would “cut off”, eliminate, and utterly destroy the inhabitants of Ashdod. Even the ruler of the land would experience the might and punishment of God as noted when Amos said, “and him who holds the scepter”. God named Ashkelon as ones who would receive punishment, too. He would unleash His power against Ekron, and the remaining few people of Philistia would die. God charged and pronounced His judgment against each person of Philistia, low-ranking and high, and in the major cities and outlying areas-the remnant.

The word “perish” found in verse eight comes from the Hebrew word ‘abad. It means to be absolutely destroyed, exterminated, and annihilated. Moses used this same word when he gave God’s command to the Israelites. God commanded them to destroy utterly the people of Canaan when they claimed the Promised Land for themselves so there would be no one remaining to lead the Israelites to follow other gods.

Just as the other nations of Canaan succumbed to the LORD and His people, the people once called the nation of Philistia would no longer exist. They would become a dispersed people once called Philistines existing around the middle and near-East.

One other thing you may note is that in the list of cities Amos spoke against, it did not include Gath, a chief city. Scholars believe Gath was not included because it had lost its position as a chief city earlier in King Uzziah’s reign before Amos prophesied. Uzziah destroyed Gath and rebuilt it and the surrounding areas into Judean cities and villages. Gath did not exist as a Philistine city at the time of Amos’ prophecies.

·         What do you feel when you consider that God loves you enough to protect and defend you? How do you feel to know He would go so far as to remove completely the person or people who are harassing or harming you, His child?

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The Fulfillment of God’s Judgment of Gaza

Was this prophecy fulfilled? How did it happen and by whom? God used many rulers to bring the downfall of the Philistines. These rulers came from the presiding empires during the centuries-Judean, Assyrian, Egyptian, Babylon, and Macedonian.

King Uzziah of Judah, who reigned 790-740 BC, warred against them. He broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. Uzziah built cities for Judah there in their place. Second Chronicles 26:6-7 says,
“Now he [King Uzziah] went out and warred against the Philistines and broke down the wall of Gath and the walls of Jabneh and the wall of Ashdod and among the Philistines. God helped him against the Philistines, and against the Arabians who lived in Gur-baal, and the Meunites.”
Tiglath-Pileser III, ruler of Assyria (745-727 BC), and Sargon of Assyria (721-705 BC) fulfilled part of God’s judgment. The Assyrians were merciless warriors. They tortured, killed, or took prisoners from cities and nations to be slaves. Tiglath-Pileser and Sargon tortured, killed, or dispersed the Philistines as exiles throughout the Assyrian empire. It weakened the nation of Philistia.

King Hezekiah of Judah, who reigned 716-687 BC, warred against the Philistines. Second Kings 18;8 records his triumph over them. It says,
“He defeated the Philistines as far as Gaza (the southwestern-most city of Philistia) and its territories, from watchtower to fortified city. Hezekiah destroyed the strongholds under God’s power and direction. He and his army destroyed their walls and citadels.”
Other nations battled the limping people of Philistia to bring about their absolute extermination. These nations and their rulers were Pharaoh Psammetichus of Egypt (664-610BC), King Nebuchadnezzar of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (605-562 BC), Alexander the Great of Macedon (336-323 BC), and the Asmoneans (Hasmoneans or Maccabees) of Judea and surrounding regions (140-116 BC).

God’s instruments of judgment caused Philistia the land-grabbers, kidnappers, and slave-sellers to go out of existence. Jehovah proved His prophecy by fulfilling it. He showed Himself greater than the great thinkers of the time and stronger than any manmade fortress or wall. By being greater than the enemies of the Israelites, the LORD showed His omniscience. This reminded the Israelites once again of the greatness of their God, I AM.

·         Has there ever been a time when you saw or experienced something and you stood back and realized only God’s power and might could have accomplished that? Did you praise God when you experienced it?
·         Did that experience cause you to remember the greatness of God?
·         Did it cause you to return to a closer relationship with the LORD?

Recap

When God called him, Amos was just a shepherd, but he was a shepherd who obeyed Him. He had the heart of a shepherd and of an Israelite who cared about his people. Amos could have, but did not omit this prophecy against Gaza. He realized God had a reason for him to proclaim it to Israel.

Ø  One reason was to remind the Israelites God is still supreme, and He defends His people.
Ø  Another reason was God sees what each person of the world does, not just the actions of our enemies.
Ø  Besides this, God wanted the Israelites to recall their own sins and return to a right relationship with Him before He fulfilled His judgment against them. God is merciful and did not want to punish His people by fulfilling His judgment of them.

The Pharisees took Israelites and sold them. Surely the Israelites did not do that, they thought. Later though, in God’s charges against Israel, they would hear they did that, too. The necessary charge and judgment against Gaza applies to the Israelites. God’s resultant judgment was punishment of Philistia and incentive for the Israelites.

Relevance and Conclusion

As we continue to read the prophecies of Amos against the nations, we will see the web woven closer to Israel. The first prophecy was against Damascus, a city north of the northern border of Israel. The next prophecy was against Gaza, the southeastern-most city in the Canaan region. A diagonal crisscross began the weave of this web. The third prophecy of Amos, against Tyre of Phoenicia, secures the western side of Israel’s borders before crossing over to the eastern borders. How long will it take before the people of Israel understand God is leading them closer to their own homes and hearts with Amos’ prophecies? He wants them to search their own hearts, and repent and return to Him before He must fulfill His judgment for their sins.

·         How long does it take for God’s nudges and ideas to prick you to return to Him?
·         What will it take for you to allow Him to be your God, the One who defends and provides for you, and whom you solely worship?

Now is the time to stop, pray, and listen for God’s voice.
He’s calling to you just as He did to Israel.