Amos 1:3–15 (NKJV)
3 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron.
4 But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, Which shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad.
5 I will also break the gate bar of Damascus, And cut off the inhabitant from the Valley of Aven, And the one who holds the scepter from Beth Eden. The people of Syria shall go captive to Kir,” Says the Lord.
The format of the next section of Amos follows a particular pattern. These oracles are messages from the Lord to various nations in the Syro-Palestinian region. Their pattern follows this form:
In Amos 1 and 2 the general format of a given oracle is:
1. The messenger introduction (כה אמר יהוה “This is what Yahweh said”).
2. Certainty of deserved punishment.
3. Evidence (specification of crimes).
4. Announcement of curse (punishment).
5. A concluding formula (אמר יהוה “Yahweh said”; or נאם יהוה “oracle of Yahweh”).
Stuart, Douglas. Hosea–Jonah. Vol. 31. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.
It is interesting that every oracle begins, continues, and ends with the basic same framework. The “for three transgressions, and for four” indictment is just as easily translated, “for multiple crimes.” The numbers are not specific, but rather a tool to state that these nations have committed multiple atrocities against God’s people.
In the case of Damascus (Aram), God names their crimes, including pride, arrogance, and violence with threshing tools. A closer look at the Hebrew shows that they may have even killed expectant mothers by stabbing them in their abdomens. This violence against the innocent has drawn the discipline of the Lord.
6 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they took captive the whole captivity To deliver them up to Edom.
7 But I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza, Which shall devour its palaces.
8 I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, And the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon; I will turn My hand against Ekron, And the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,” Says the Lord God.
The Lord moves His messages from the Northeast of Israel (Damascus) to the southwest (Philistia). The judgment against Gaza is due to the Philistines role in capturing Israelites and selling them into slavery. This was a capital crime in the days of Israel, and thus drew the ire of Yahweh.
9 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, And did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.
10 But I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, Which shall devour its palaces.”
Yahweh then turns his attention to another point on the compass, the northwest of Israel, and judges Tyre for basically the same crimes as Philistia. They sold some of God’s people to Edom as slaves. There had been a covenant between Israel and Tyre during David’s reign, and Tyre had broken that covenant, drawing God’s judgment.
11 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because he pursued his brother with the sword, And cast off all pity; His anger tore perpetually, And he kept his wrath forever.
12 But I will send a fire upon Teman, Which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.”
13 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of the people of Ammon, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they ripped open the women with child in Gilead, That they might enlarge their territory.
14 But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, And it shall devour its palaces, Amid shouting in the day of battle, And a tempest in the day of the whirlwind.
15 Their king shall go into captivity, He and his princes together,” Says the Lord.
Verse 11 begins a section of judgment that extends into chapter two, judgming three nations to the southeast of Israel and Judah, completing the 360 degree trip around the people of God. The first two of them are mentioned here in the conclusion of chapter one, Edom and Ammon. Edom was literally a brother to Israel (Esau and Jacob), and waged war against Israel, tearing at them and waging war. This brings God’s actions against Edom, specifically with the burning of Teman. Ammon specifically is charged with “ripping open the women with child” which elicits the response of fire, with the tempest added in their case.
One could go many ways with these particular judgments. In today’s world, abortion is tantamount to the charges against Ammon concerning pregnant women, and the fire and whirlwind are reminiscent of the fog or war, the stormy nature of warfare in the Middle East of recent years. However you look at this prophetic message, it is also easy to see the protection and help of God for His people. Even when surrounded on every side, God will fight for those who love Him and serve Him. Don’t be dismayed, but believe!