An Indictment of Breach of Covenant: An Oracle Against Judah (Amos 2:4-5)
Yahweh says:“For three transgressions of Judah, yes, for four, I will not turn away its punishment; because they have rejected Yahweh’s law, and have not kept his statutes, and their lies have led them astray, after which their fathers walked; – Amos 2:4 (WEB)
Amos’s seventh oracle steps over the covenantal boundary and breaks new ground in its judgment. Up until now, Amos has reserved his indictments for the nations surrounding Israel, nations that served other gods, nations that did not follow the Law of Moses or claim its heritage.
So when that boundary is broken and Yahweh indicates that his judgment can be against the covenant people as well, Israel should have taken notice. Instead, it is likely that the opposite would have happened, that their exclamations heralding Amos’s words would have reached a fever pitch. R.B. Chisholm writes that Israel:
“must have listened with delight to this series of messages, especially when their long-time rival Judah appeared, like a capstone, as the seventh nation in the list.”
Seven is the number of completion in Hebrew thought and symbolism. God created the world in seven days, therefore seven was representative of a completed whole. To the Israelites, it seems as if God has built up all of these convictions against the nations and now completes it with this indictment of their sister nation, Judah.
The Hebrew word for Law is Torah. At its broadest, Torah refers to the entirety of the five books of Moses. It is the entire corpus of Israelite law. It especially refers to the sort of unifying spirit behind the law. It is the summation of the law and the overarching theme of every individual decree and that is what Judah was guilty of breaking. Theologian Billy Smith writes:
[Torah] is the embodiment of justice and righteousness…the rejection of which results and consists in all manner of religious and social wickedness.
So when Yahweh indicts Judah for their failure to uphold the covenant, he is actually indicting them twice: first for their sin against him, second for their sin against man. The surrounding nations aren’t indicted for their failure to uphold any law because they weren’t under the covenant of God. Judah is indicted for their failure to uphold to covenant—a violation of God’s rights as God—which leads to their failure to uphold the dignity of human life—a violation of humanity’s rights as God’s creation.
Judah’s sin is weightier than the sin of the other nations because their indictment has an added plaintiff. The other nations sinned against humanity. Judah had sinned against both God and man.
The Judgment of Covenant People
oracle against Moab, which indicts them for their behavior toward a dead Edomite king. That showed that Yahweh was not sitting in judgment just in defense of his covenant people, but that he judged sin objectively, regardless who did it and regardless of the victim.First, Judah’s indictment shows us that the covenant people are not immune from God’s judgment. In fact, that is the basis on which they are judged. Amos had sort of set up this shift in the
In Judah, the shift completes and we find that Yahweh is no respecter of persons. He judges sin where he sees it, even when—and perhaps especially when—he finds it in his covenant people. Israel and Judah both learn through this indictment that their relationship with Yahweh does not exempt them from the same judgment that has befallen the surrounding nations.
Nor will he exempt us. God will not gloss over our sin simply because we claim to be a Christian nation. He will not ignore our failures just because we go to church on Sunday and sing some songs to him. Yahweh is not the prosecutor of “the other” and the defender of us. He is the Judge of all.
And this seems simple enough to say and we even pay lip service to understanding it, but we rarely ever attempt to work it out in its practicalities. Quite often, we agree with God’s universal authority to judge when it involves his commendation of us and his condemnation of the other. We get a little uncomfortable when the roles reverse and we find ourselves in the middle of judgment and the other being brought into his Kingdom.
The prevailing perspective in Judah, and perhaps the prevailing perspective in the church today, is that God is for me. We live in a Christian culture that demands a lot out of its God and not a lot out of its people. We live in a Christian culture heavy on words and short on action. We want God to answer our prayers. We want God to intervene in our lives. We want God to save us eternally. We want God to provide for us financially. We want God to make our kid obey us better. We want God to do this, we want God to do that. We want God to bless America regardless of whether or not America is glorifying God.
We treat Yahweh like he’s a genie in a bottle rather than a God outside the universe. We reduce him to an entity we try to control rather than acknowledge him and revere him as Judge over all the earth.
God’s not on your side. God is the Judge and he is the Savior. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah who roars judgment and he is also the Lamb of God who was slain in order to save. The people of Judah failed to realize that. They saw him as their God, and thus they were immune from his punishments. They would soon find out how wrong they were.
Your Religious Heritage Doesn’t Save You
One of the reasons that Judah saw themselves as immune from judgment was that they had this grand religious heritage. The people of Judah felt safe in their familial identity as a covenant people. But their heritage could not save them. Just because the Lion is from the tribe of Judah doesn’t mean he won’t hesitate to roar his judgment down. Your heritage cannot save you. The faith of your parents or grandparents cannot save you. Your family traditions surrounding Easter and Christmas cannot save you.
There are a lot of people today that claim Christianity because it’s in their background somewhere. They grew up going to church. Perhaps they even attended a Christian school. Their parents are still faithful in attendance to that church. If you asked them, they’d probably say they believe in God. When answering religious surveys, they’ll even check that box that says Christian.
But there’s nothing in their lives, either in internal attitudes or external action that vindicates that claim. So many seem to just rely on the hope that being a good enough person, knowing the Sunday School stories, and having a God-fearing grandma is enough to get you in.
Yahweh’s indictment of Judah makes it clear that Grandpa’s faith doesn’t save you. It saves Grandpa. It influences you. But you do not get grandfathered into heaven. Your relationship with anyone—except for Jesus Christ, who is God Himself—cannot get you into heaven and cannot save you from your sin.
We must be careful not to assume that because our children or even ourselves were raised in Christian homes that they can claim the name of Christian. If we make that assumption of our children, they will make that assumption of themselves and believe that a cultural Christianity is a saving Christianity.
There was this assumption in Judah that because they were descendants of Abraham, they were saved. This attitude persists into the first century in Jesus’ day as well. Yahweh shuts that down, definitively and categorically: your religious heritage will not save you.
Your National Heritage Doesn’t Save You
Second, the people of Judah felt safe in their national identity as a covenant people. But their culture could not save them. This point is quite related to the first, but not entirely.
Especially here in the United States, the label of Christianity is still the cultural default. I’m a Christian by default because I’m not a Muslim, not a Buddhist, not a Hindu, and not really an atheist.
This was true for a lot of people in Judah in Amos’s day. Of course they were followers of Yahweh, they live in Judah. That’s where Yahweh’s Temple is. It’s what we are. Lot of Christians love to refer to the United States as a “Christian Nation.” I have news for you. There’s no such thing as a Christian nation. Nations cannot give themselves to Jesus. Nations cannot be saved. It’s not a package deal. Your faith is individual, based on your relationship with Jesus.
Now here’s where the issue lies. When the culture is predominantly Christian, you tend to have social norms and laws that reflect Christian belief and teaching. That’s not a bad thing. It’s exactly what Yahweh calls his people to by giving the law in the first place. If you believe in me, here’s the laws that uphold my values.
But you can uphold the values independently without following or worshipping the God behind them. And that’s America for you. For so many decades, the cultural views of America aligned with the cultural views of Christianity, so there was just this assumption that American values were Christian values and therefore Americans were Christian. But they weren’t. And as American values shifted, Christians soon found themselves at odds with the culture they thought reflected them.
Christians had focused so much on retaining the culture of Christianity that they failed to actually retain the Christianity. This is where Judah was in the days of Amos. They had the Temple sacrifices going. Sure, they worshipped other gods too, but Yahweh was still in the mix. The veneer of religion was there, but it didn’t have any substance.
Your culture cannot save you. Just because you come from Christian culture doesn’t mean you’re a Christian.
In their 2016 Survey, State of the Church, 41% identified as non-practicing Christian. Non-practicing Christian. Due respect to Barna, but there is no such thing. Either you are a practicing Christian or you are not a Christian, regardless of what you want to call yourself.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus attacks this philosophy:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. – Matt. 7:21
Your family can’t save you. Your culture can’t save you. Only your relationship with Jesus Christ can save you.
What We Can Do
When Amos brought this oracle of destruction against Judah, he was preaching against his own people and his own land. When he declared that their land would be destroyed and overrun, his own farmland, his own descendants, would have been included. It is so easy to bring condemnation and judgment on “the other,” but shy away from preaching that same judgment or holding ourselves to that same standard.
As Christians, we must be willing to call out our own. We must be self-reflective, not just of ourselves but of the institutions we are a part of—of our local church, of evangelicalism, of whatever we are a part of. We must be willing to call out our corporate sins, whether they are the sins of our nation, of our political parties, or of our churches. Reform must begin from within.
And yet it is often quite difficult to criticize or condemn an institution you’re a part of. When you’re part of an institution, you tend to idealize it, to only see the good side of it, to ignore or downplay any negative elements. It’s not easy to pick at something you otherwise like to point out its flaws.
Instead, any criticism or condemnation of any institution we’re a part of is all too readily taken personally. Amos wasn’t involved in Judah’s sin. Quite obviously he was a true worshipper and follower of Yahweh. And yet he still recognized that the sinful parts of his tribe would lead to its destruction. He didn’t try to downplay it. He preached it loud and clear.
The church needs more prophets like Amos, more prophets willing to hold the line and call out the sin within, even if it costs them personally and professionally. We, as a church corporately, and as Christians individually, have a duty before God to his watchmen at the gates. If we do not call out sin where we see it, we bear the responsibility of the consequences.
Daily, we must work to ensure that our own lives and our own churches are not hollow and empty automatons going about a meaningless ritual, but vibrant and overflowing conduits of the Spirit seeking to embody justice and righteousness on this earth.