“For three transgressions … and for four”
This poetic formula is repeated eight times to preface the announcement of ensuing judgment. Amos employs a common poetic technique used often in Biblical literature called ascending enumeration or x/x+1 parallelism (see Psalm 62:12, Proverbs 6:19, Micah 5:4 for other examples). This is not to be taken mathematically, but idiomatically – that is, the cities indicted by Amos have not merely sinned three or four times, but transgressions have mounted up upon transgression.
God is patient, in fact more so than any man. He does not judge haphazardly based upon emotion; He is very calculated as He distributes wrath upon those He finds guilty. He watches over the career of man’s sinfulness. After the first evil He rebukes; the second time He threatens; the third time He raises His hand to smite; but then upon the proverbial fourth transgression – He smites! Though God may bare long with wickedness, He will not be mocked. In Amos’ day, the nations, as well as Judah and Israel have all crossed the line, exhausting the patience of a longsuffering God, and as a result He judges in His wrath, and chastises in His mercy.
The fourth transgression is the outward sign of the desperately wicked heart of man. When human values get cut loose from a solid foundation upon God and His Word, and become based upon the free choice of each person, it is not hard to predict what will happen. Soon the thoughts and attitudes that motivate people will be based on what is important to them at the moment; the inevitable result being that man will value himself over others, pleasure over work, spending instead of saving, and freedom to do his own thing in place of commitment. The sin that runs like a sinister thread throughout the transgressions of these six nations in Amos 1:3-2:3 is that of living for self. We find the self trampling on others, intent on its own profit, ignoring obligations, indulging in secret pleasure, and callous and indifferent to the need of humanity around them. The outcome of such selfishness today is manifested in famine, disease, immorality, poverty, terrorism and oppression.
How are we going to react to international atrocities in our day? Will we process them as merely, more bad news about our troubled planet, and then go back to eating our dinner? Or will we attempt to defend people created in the image of God, and therefore worthy of dignity, as well as our respect, compassion and aid? Isaiah 58:6-7 calls upon the people of God to loose the bonds of wickedness, undo heavy burdens, free the oppressed, break yokes, feed the hungry, house the poor, and clothe the naked. James 1:27 calls it pure religion to visit orphans and widows in their trouble. God manifests a peculiar care for the poor, defenseless and deprived. Do you?
There are several venues to which Amos’ indictment of the nations apply in today’s international society, but one need look no further than the holocaust of unborn babies in our own nation to find the same hideous evil doing described by Amos. Every individual is created in the image of God, and it is the responsibility of the church to uphold the sanctity of all human life, in particular the most defenseless of human life. While our legal system greatly hampers our efforts to protect them, one way that we can take positive action in their defense by supporting the efforts of pregnancy centers that save lives.
Again this week consider how you can be practical ‘salt and light’ in making an effort to defend the defenseless people for whom God is concerned.