The prophet Amos describes three major sins: the sins of covetousness (verse 6); indifference and oppression of the poor, the needy and the weak (verse 7); and unrestricted promotion of self-advantage (verse 8). These are the effects of rejecting the Teacher, the Instructor.
As Israel's destruction neared, conditions worsened drastically. The courts were totally corrupt with the judges in collusion with the lawyers, selling their verdicts to the highest bidder! Amos says, "Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time, for it is an evil time" (Amos 5:13). God advises that the best thing to do was to remain silent and go on with one's life because one could not get a good judgment from the judges! The best thing to do was to settle out of court, if possible.
All the while this corruption ran rampant in Israel, people were worshipping God in droves! A high percentage of the people attended services and kept the festivals. They pilgrimaged to the centers of religion in Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba where the people kept the feasts. The commentators concede Israel may still have been keeping some of the holy days of God.
Notice what God says:
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings [worship] and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. (Amos 5:21-23)
God hated their feasts, their offerings, and their singing in His name. The wording indicates nausea! Compare this to Revelation 3:16.
Most likely Israel blended the worship of the true God with the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth and other local deities. Despite their worship, this syncretism caused a separation from God. They were at odds with Him, even though, in their minds, they worshipped Him. Society immediately degenerated because the people's love waxed cold. Their worship produced no good effect because it came from an unrighteous source.
When one studies the New Testament, the pattern unfortunately continues. The history of the true church has been one of waxing and waning purity as well. Generally, brief periods of unity and growth precede longer periods of disunity and stagnation. Small, scattered congregations barely hold themselves together during these times and do no active work.
The pattern is very similar to that established in ancient Israel. God would raise up a man, and he would lead a Work and establish what would be orthodox. As time went by, two groups would emerge. One group would be more conservative, disposed to maintain orthodox doctrine and to hold on to their traditions. The other element would be broader-minded, not bound by orthodox or traditional forms.
The appearance of these two groups presents a Christian with a complex question: "I see it, but what do I do?" Christ answers: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-16).
Such fruit as an increase in marital and relationship problems, uncertain judgment regarding what is right and wrong, a lack of discussion of God and His Word, indifference toward prayer and Bible study, relaxation toward making an effective and powerful work, and similar attitudes are ones of which to be wary. In such an atmosphere, if a Christian is not careful, he can take on the enveloping and smothering attitude that invariably arises, which will eventually snuff out his spiritual life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
The Israelites' immorality fell into three major areas:
1) Indifference to and oppression of the poor.
2) Covetousness displayed by placing primary importance on material possessions.
3) Unrestricted promotion of self-advantage—doing anything to anyone to get their way.
The Hebrew words for poor are very similar to our "underdog." Amos uses two different words, 'ebyôn and dal, to designate the poor (see Amos 4:1). 'Ebyôn usually designates the very poor, and dal describes the lowest social class. However, both words connote "wanting because of oppression or exploitation" and refer to the weaker members of society. To God the poor are those without the worldly resources or connections to defend themselves. As a result of their weakness, the wicked look upon the poor as fair game to exploit (Isaiah 10:1-2). Today, "poor" could refer to the small businessman or consumer at the mercy of the huge corporations, or the "little guy" under the thumb of "big" government.
One of the means of oppression was the courts, and Amos frequently shows how the poor "took it on the chin" within the "justice" system. In a lawsuit the guilty party, one of the "strong," bribed the judge, who found the innocent person—the weak—guilty (Isaiah 5:23). As so often happens today in America, the ancient Israelites shunned out-of-court settlements. They went to court even over minor matters because their chances for a larger settlement were better.
When a person was found guilty by the court, he, of course, had to pay a fine. If he did not have enough in his pocket to pay it, he could pay in produce. For example, a vintner could pay in wine. The victors then took their winnings—"the wine of the condemned"—and partied (Amos 2:8). They had turned into self-centered parasites who lived by the code, "get the other guy before he gets you." Israelites can be a mercenary, unmerciful lot of people.
Obviously, God was not happy with this system of justice, and it is even worse now. Today's "wine of the condemned" awarded to the injured party—reaching into the millions of dollars—goes mostly for exorbitant lawyer and court fees. Governments of all sizes include expected fines from lawbreakers in their budgets.
In addition, Israelites coveted real estate to the ridiculous extent that the buyer begrudged the small amount of dust the seller threw on his head to symbolize his grief over losing his ancestral properties (Amos 2:7). In a similar vein, God accuses the Jews of moving the boundaries between parcels of land (Hosea 5:10). In those days, instead of driving a stake into the ground to mark their property lines, landowners set up pillars of stones on the boundaries. God pictures the Jews kicking the boundary stones over a few feet when no one is looking. They may have justified it with, "Doesn't everybody do it?" but it was still outright theft.
Because the strong could so easily exploit the weak, land and wealth in Israel fell into fewer and fewer hands. God cries, "Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, till there is no place where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!" (Isaiah 5:8).
It is no different than today's big international combines buying up farmland and displacing farmers, who must then find jobs, usually in urban areas. How soon we have forgotten that small family farms played a large role in keeping the United States economically and socially stable for generations! America's agrarian heartland was the backbone of the nation. We need to be aware that the resulting instability will lead us down the same path of destruction as it did Israel!
"They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge" (Amos 2:8). Under the Old Covenant, a person's cloak could be taken as security for a loan, but Exodus 22:26-27 shows that it was to be returned every evening if it doubled as his blanket at night. God considers keeping a poor man's coat overnight as taking advantage of him.
Remember, our judgment from God largely depends on how we treat our fellow man (Matthew 25:33-46). Good relationships with others are vital to maintaining a good relationship with God (Matthew 5:23-24). This means we must always do the right things toward others no matter how much it hurts us (Psalm 15:4) or how they might react (Matthew 5:44-45).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
God judges the other nations guilty of gross and vicious cruelties in warfare. Israel's sins, though, largely involve national and personal deceit, disobedience to God's commandments, and creating social injustice by being faithless toward fellow man to get for the self.
It is not that other nations do not have these characteristics, but Israel has less excuse to be this way because God gave the Israelites His Word. They should know better! Amos 3:2 drives this home: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." God has given no other people the privilege of being faithfully responsible to Him to keep His commands.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment (1997)
The conduct of the average Israelite becomes glaringly apparent. In ancient Israel the social conditions during the reign of Jeroboam II had reached the proportions of what is extant in the United States today. A tremendous disparity between the rich and the poor existed just as in modern America, where most of the wealth is concentrated in only about two percent of the population. Soon, if the elimination of the middle class continues on course, only two classes of people will live in the U.S., the rich and the poor. A similar situation was developing in Israel during Amos' day.
Amos shows that those who had the money and power treated the weak, called "the poor," very harshly. Though they were not destitute, the poor had no strength in society. They had no power to change their situation for the better, while the rich and powerful manipulated the government and the courts to their advantage. The rich squeezed every penny out of the poor, even requiring them to relinquish overnight their outer garments, often used as a cover when sleeping. To top off the list, they were also guilty of sexual perversions and idolatry.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Amos 2:8: