Judgment, The Great Equalizer

Scripture Focus: Amos 1:3
3 This is what the Lord says:
“For three sins … even for four, I will not relent.

Reflection: Judgment, The Great Equalizer
By Erin Newton

Is there escape from God’s judgment? The prophets seem to declare escape impossible. Amos uses formulaic language—for three sins, even for four. It is not a mathematical theology of sin as if to say, “God spares two sins but three is too far.” No, this is a poetic (and memorable) way to speak about the surety of judgment against sinful people.

The “three-four” punch is also an equalizer. The numerical description does not increase or decrease between the places. (In fact, Judah is included in the same language and foreboding promise of judgment in the next chapter.)  

The cities listed in chapter 1 create a perimeter. Damascus was northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Gaza was on the southern coast of the Mediterranean. Tyre was a northern coastal town. The region of Ammon was centrally located east of the Jordan River. This perimeter was a way to show that universal judgment was coming.

I need to pause here for a moment. Considering the ongoing and escalating war between Israel and Gaza—we must remain steadfast to read the Bible in its context. Nowadays, we will watch people take a word or two that has meaning today and infer that meaning back onto books like Amos. Let us pause to read more carefully.

Yes, there is an ancient town of Gaza and a present-day Gaza. But thousands of years have passed; worldviews and populations have changed. If Amos condemns an ancient town, it is a message about the civilians’ hearts, not the dirt under their feet. And that is how God deals with us today. It is the stance of our hearts, not the land we stand on, that determines God’s judgment or mercy.

This is why the repeated introductory phrase is necessary. It levels the playing field. The message is not “God will save me because I am a citizen of _____,” but “God will judge sin unbiasedly.”

Judgment is universal. According to Amos, not even Judah escapes. But with Jesus, the formula changes from “for three sins, even for four” to “leave the ninety-nine for the one.”

I hope we can read the Old Testament, including stories about similarly named places, and imagine a New Testament perspective. For one repentant sinner, even for ninety-nine, in his mercy, God will relent. 

God judges the heart within us, not the dirt we live on. Judgment equalizes us all, but so does his mercy. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; I call upon you all the day long. — Psalm 86.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Amos 1 (Listen 2:38)
Matthew 21 (Listen 7:10)

Read more about Nineveh’s Regression
God’s still in the business of forgiving those we would condemn and having mercy on those we would castigate.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Please consider becoming a donor. Support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.

Burden Bearers

Scripture Focus: Amos 1.1-2
1 The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel. 
2 He said: 
“The LORD roars from Zion 
and thunders from Jerusalem; 

Reflection: Burden Bearers
By John Tillman

Amos, the fig picker and shepherd prophet, was an outlier. He was not trained as a prophet, was not a part of the priestly lineage or profession, and was not a part of the higher class of educated people from whom most prophets came. And even if all of that were not the case, he was an out-of-towner. He came from the southern kingdom of Judah to the northern kingdom of Israel to confront one of Israel’s most powerful and successful kings.

Financially and militarily, Israel was at a peak of power when Amos arrived. 

Because of God’s compassion for the people, God had used Jeroboam II to save them militarily, despite him being an evil king. (2 Kings 14.23-27) But God would also remove him. Bad news was coming. The good times were about to be over. The country was proud, powerful, and profitable but the stench of spiritual rot was real and the wealth of the few was squeezed from the poor. (Amos 4.1-2)

Amos would have been comfortable among the fishermen-followers of Jesus. When these men confronted the religious elite of their day, the Sanhedrin were astonished that “they were unschooled, ordinary men…” (Acts 4.13

Amos shared the background of the shepherds in the fields who heard of Jesus’ birth. He would have been more familiar with the smell of the sheep and the fields than temple courts and palaces. But instead of carrying “good news of great joy,” Amos carried news of great suffering, judgment, and disaster.

Amos’s name means “burden” or “burden bearer” and he certainly bore a burden. He was burdened with bad news. Yet, the Lord was still willing to relent. (God turned back two judgments due to Amos’s prayers. Amos 7.1-6) Amos was burdened with a love for Judah and Israel. Yet, he would be accused of being an unpatriotic outsider and a conspirator against the king. (Amos 7.10-17)

Often, part of the “good news” of the gospel is the “bad news” of our sins. This is a part of the burden we bear toward others to speak this truth to them in love.

May we, like Amos, be burdened to intercede and intervene. 

May we bring to others the news that Jesus Christ will, if we ask him to, bear our burdens of sin and spare us as a remnant from the judgment to come.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me. 
Let none who look to you be put to shame. — Psalm 25.1-2

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings

Amos 1
(Listen – 2:38)
Psalm 144 (Listen – 1:56)

Read more about Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit
The trees in the kingdom of God will bear fruit that heals the nation, redeeming the “strange fruit” of oppression and hate.

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
Even under a “good” king Micah spoke of the leaders of Judah when he said, “Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field…