Amos begins his prophecy by condemning the nations that surround Israel. Each time, the prophecy begins with the same refrain. It’s almost like a song. The literal Hebrew rendering of this chorus would be, “For three sins and for four…” But this idiom probably means “again and again.” 1:3 says, “The people of Damascus have sinned again and again, and I will not turn back my anger.” Verse 6 says, “The people of Gaza have sinned again and again, and I will not turn back my anger.” Verse 9 says the same thing about Tyre, and then comes Edom, Ammon, and Moab. Each passage begins with the exact same phrase. Israel and Judah would explode with applause at such a prophecy. They had been persecuted at the hands of each of these enemies. Just as God promised to curse the nations that cursed His people, Israel, that promise was now about to be fulfilled, and the evil nations around them were going to get what they deserved. They offered their children to Baal as burnt sacrifices. They tortured and murdered the children of Israel.

Everyone was in favor of God judging their evil neighbors. The Northern Kingdom of Israel, at this time, was especially alienated from the Southern Kingdom of Judah. As Amos’ prophecy continues to point out, Judah has sinned time and time again, and God will not hold back His anger. Israel would have rejoiced, and there would have been raucous applause. But then there would be dead silence in Israel when Amos continues in Chapter 2 and Verse 6. He says,  “The people of Israel have sinned again and again, and I will not turn back my anger.”

It’s so wonderful to see people get what they deserve! Right?  It’s not that way with God. He does not take pleasure in the destruction of the wicked; rather, he delights in forgiving sinners! MacArthur writes, “But to make friends from enemies; to transform the children of wrath into children of adoption; to accomplish such a mighty and a wonderful change from the state of guilt to the state of justification; to make servants of sin into willing servants of God; to chase away the darkness of sinful nature and make everything light and comfort around the redeemed; to take people who are slaves of their feelings and invest them with a preference for the things of eternity; to pull down the strongholds of corruption within and raise one who was spiritually dead to a life of new obedience—this is the victory that God delights in! The destruction of the wicked brings Him no pleasure.”[1] Jesus referred to those who pointed with delight at the sins of others while ignoring their own sins. It was displeasing to God. He deeply dislikes us playing God.  Using the similar Hebrew phrase about “turning away His anger, “ God tells us in Proverbs 24:17-18 “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.” The “Handbook for Translators” explains this phrase from Proverbs, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls: The warning Do not rejoice means “don’t be happy” (as the Contemporary English Versions puts it) don’t take pleasure, because of what happens to someone else.”[2] The Contemporary English Version translates this idea, “Don’t be happy to see your enemies trip and fall down.” The force of this proverb includes the idea that joy at the fall of others turns God’s attention from them to you. This is what Amos was telling Israel. Jesus taught us to pray, “Father, forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

[1] MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1996. The God Who Loves. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Reyburn, William David, and Euan McG. Fry. 2000. A Handbook on Proverbs. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.