Lesson Eight (Amos 3:9–12) – Divine Irony

God employs various means to make his message clear to men. At times he will even use irony, a light sarcasm, to make his word unmistakably clear. We have only to think of Elijah’s words to the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel as an example. Amos uses this method very effectively at times.

Amos is here speaking to imaginary heralds. He tells them to go to Egypt and Ashdod (Philistia) to bring a message. They are to tell these heathen nations to come to Samaria. They should station themselves on the mountains around Samaria so that they may be able to see the things which the children of Israel do. They will stand amazed. Here they will learn something. Egypt had been the oppressor of Israel in early years. The cruelty of Egypt was great. A decree had gone out to slay all the male children of their slaves, the Israelites. Philistia had been Israel’s oppressor several times after Israel had come to Canaan. Their cruelty was proverbial. Samson had been blinded by them and then compelled to work as an animal for them. But, if these nations want to know what real moral confusion and oppression is, let them come to Samaria! God’s people have out-done the heathen!

When evil is committed by God’s people, it is best that the matter should not be noised abroad. We should not give publicity to these things. But God tells these heralds to stand on the roofs of the palaces of these heathen lands and publish the evils found in Samaria. That is divine irony.

The world always looks closely at God’s people. They look critically at them. They expect more from them than from themselves. We are a “gazing stock.” The world is often unfair in its evaluation of the lives of God’s people. Yet God now tells them to look at them and see the evils which they have committed.

God’s people know not to do right. This people, which has received the law and has been instructed as no other people, knows not the difference between right and wrong. Seemingly, all the instruction has been in vain. Violence and robbery are stored up in their palaces. They store it up as one would store up treasures. But Israel doesn’t realize that it is walking the road to ruin. They are very religious and believe that all is well. Yes, Egypt and Ashdod should come and see what is going on in Israel. They will be shocked. Therefore it will also be more tolerable for them in the day of judgment than for the people of Israel.

In verse eleven the prophet speaks directly to Israel again. He speaks concerning the judgment which is coming upon the evils which he has described. An adversary, an enemy, is going to come. Who this enemy is he doesn’t say. No doubt, this is a reference to Assyria. When this enemy comes, he is not going to sit on the mountains around Samaria and look, as Egypt and Ashdod are to do; he will go through the land to rid it of its evils. This enemy of Israel will be used as a servant of God to cleanse the land. Samaria’s strength will be broken. The palaces, where violence and robbery had been stored up, will be plundered. This will be Israel’s future, unless it repents.

In the concluding verse of this section Amos speaks of rescue. Is it beginning to dawn? Have his judgments and warnings been exhausted? Notice carefully the “rescue” of which he speaks. As a shepherd rescues two legs or a piece of an ear out of the mouth of a lion, so shall Israel be rescued. When a shepherd tears the lower parts of two legs or a piece of an ear out of a lion’s mouth, we cannot say that he has rescued or saved the sheep. No, these pieces are evidence of the fact that the sheep has been devoured. Why then bother about the two legs or the piece of an ear? In Exodus 22:10–13 God had commanded the Israelites that a shepherd should present evidence that an animal had been tom by a wild beast. If no evidence was presented, there would be the suspicion that the shepherd had stolen the animal. So will Israel be rescued. It will be made evident to all that the Shepherd has not been negligent. He has not stolen. God is the Shepherd of his people. He has been faithful. These two legs and piece of an ear are mute testimony to that fact.

This “rescue” is not glorious. The tabernacle of David falls (Amos 9:11). Only a “root” is left of the mighty tree which God had planted. Only two legs and a piece of an ear are left of the large Bock of Israel. A remnant is left. This remnant he rescues. In that remnant he has upheld his own honor. From that remnant comes the “Good Shepherd.”

The closing words of verse 12 are rather difficult to translate. Here the prophet pictures the people who are to be “rescued.” They seem to be oblivious to the dangers surrounding them. Do they still sit in their “easy chairs” while the world is on fire? Apparently they do, according to the common translation. Others (e.g. Van Gelderen) believe that the preposition translated “in” should be translated “with.” Then the meaning becomes clear. As they are “rescued” in the day the calamities come on Israel. they will be found wandering about with a pillow or some other piece of bedding. It will be with them as it was with the refugees and displaced persons in Europe during the last war. As they flee, they take the first thing they see. If they have been awakened out of sleep, they will take pieces of bedding. So they will wander about. So will they be rescued.

What a graphic description Amos gives of Israel’s judgment! As they listen to this man they can already picture the things which are going to come. Amos warns. It is a warning to repent. How can anyone harden himself against such prophecy? Yet, Israel did!

Questions for discussion:

1. What should be our reaction when the world gazes at our lives and conduct critically?

2. When God’s people fall into sin do they become greater sinners than the people of the world? If so, why?

3. How does God use the world to cleanse his church?

4. Who belong to the “remnant”?

5. What is the relationship between the term “remnant” and divine calling and election?