Amos – Three And Four
I might call this study a little unusual for me. As a matter of practice I like to make an effort to keep verses in their textual context, but today I have purposely pulled eight verses out of their respective textual positions in order to consider them as a whole. But wait, it gets worse! I’m not even looking at the whole of each verse! Before you stone me for breaking the “context, context, context” rule, I promise lumping these non-contiguous verses together for consideration will in no way pollute the original meaning. As a matter of fact, considering them together only strengthens the concept of context. You would certainly benefit from reading the first two chapters of Amos as a whole before continuing.
Here are the eight verse fragments grouped together for your consideration.
Amos 1:3 For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment…
Amos 1: 6 “For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment…”
Amos 1:9 “For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment…”
Amos 1:11 “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its pun ishment…”
Amos 1:13 “For three transgressions of the people of Ammon, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment…”
Amos 2:1 “For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment…”
Amos 2:4 “For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment…”
Amos 2:6 “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment…”
The first part of all eight verses is word for word the same with the exception of the name of a place. It is highly probable the prophet Amos traveled to each location in order to proclaim the message pertaining to each people group.
Too often the modern day reader focuses on the fact that God will not “turn away punishment” on each place. They ask the misguided question “how could a loving God do harm to so many people?” It’s like asking the question “how could a loving judge issue a death sentence to a mass murderer.” The murderer brought the punishment on himself. The question once examined seems nonsensical. However, the answer is our loving God is also a just God. It is Yahweh’s justice that demands an answer to the transgressions. By asking the wrong question of this text the reader will miss a beautiful truth. The truth is even though the transgressors mentioned here deserve the pending judgement, God in His mercy and great love warns them ahead of time, giving them every opportunity to repent.
Then there is the phrase “For three transgressions…and for four”. If Amos meant that each of these groups were being punished for four transgressions, why didn’t he just say four and skip mentioning the number three? How likely is it that all eight places are guilty of exactly four transgressions? What does the phrase mean? Some have suggested that the number seven in the Bible very often represents completeness. If you add three plus four you get seven. It is therefore argued the reference is not counting the number of sins, but rather saying when each group “completed” their sinfulness God poured out His wrath.
The Faithlife Study Bible says it this way, “The formula uses number juxtaposition parallelism (n, n+1) to represent an increasing but indefinite number of offenses. The number four can represent completeness, especially in reference to judgment.”
Barry, John D. et al. Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016. Print.
I am inclined to agree that in each of these verses sins are not being enumerated. There are not just four sins. A literary device is being employed to communicate the on going, unrelenting, unrepentant commission of transgression against God and His law. Their sinfulness has reached its pinnacle and it is now time for God’s judgement.
Under God’s law sin always demands judgement. The bearer of the sin will suffer God’s wrath. Is there then no hope for the sinner? Consider Galatians 4:4-5.
Galatians 4 “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
Jesus Christ bore our sins on the cross. The Bible tells us that He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). If you are a believer in Christ, your sin has been put on Him. Out of love, He bore your sin and judgement. This is the one and only way to be restored back into relationship with God. That’s what I call love!
All Scripture quotations taken from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.