Amos is a prophet sent to the nation of Israel. We know that the prophets don’t speak much positive of Israel, and Amos doesn’t surprise us by doing anything different. However, for a prophet sent to Israel, Amos doesn’t start out in the way that we might normally assume: he opens his prophecies by condemning nations around Israel. Why does he decide to do this?
Think about the locations of these nations, and I’d suggest looking at a map while doing so. Damascus is Syria’s capitol, up on Israel’s northeastern border. Gaza next, along with Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron: Philistia. They’re located to Israel’s southwest. Then Tyre, an important city located on the coast to the northwest. Fourth, Edom. They live directly south of Judah. Now Ammon: south of Damascus, directly east of Israel. Next we have Moab, south of Ammon, due east of Judah. And, at the very end, Amos calls out Judah.
Finally, in the middle of chapter 2, Amos focuses on Israel. If you know the book of Amos, you may remember that he spends the rest of the book talking about them. So why did it take Amos so long to get to Israel? Similarly, why did Amos spend so much time on other nations if he’s going to focus all the rest of his book on Israel?
Think about the nations Amos named. These are Israel’s enemies, located all around them. These are nations that have threatened Israel and their territory time and time again. These are nations that God disapproves of, because of their obvious evil. Right? Won’t God be judging them? Don’t they deserve it?
Remember that Amos is addressing Israel when he’s speaking these words. Put yourself in their place. Here comes one claiming to speak for God, proclaiming condemnation against all their enemies! Isn’t God on their side?
What Israel has failed to notice is the root of the problem. They haven’t seen the core that the evil at the heart of the evil. Do you? Amos names nations centered around Israel itself. If all the nations in that circle are going to be condemned, the center is going to get it the hardest: that center is Israel. One reason Amos starts his prophecies in this way might be to bring attention to Israel’s own evil, at least as bad (and worse than) the other nations’.
I think the same idea applies today, and I’m not talking about the physical location. Israel was “God’s people” then; we, the church, claim to be God’s people now. How easy would it be for us to fall into the trap of condemning those around us, totally ignoring that we could be at fault as well? I believe that this verse should be a warning for God’s people (of any time) to look to themselves. If we ever think we cannot be wrong, then—like Israel—we will fall under their same condemnation.