The scope of these verses is to convince the people of Israel that God had a controversy with them. That which the prophet has to say to them is to let them know that the Lord has something to say against them, Amos 3:1. They were his peculiar people above others, knew his name, and were called by it; nevertheless he had something against them, and they were called to hear what it was, that they might consider what answer they should make, as the prisoner at the bar is told to hearken to his indictment. The children of Israel would not regard the words of counsel and comfort that God had many a time spoken to them, and now they shall be made to hear the word of reproof and threatening that the Lord has spoken against them; for he will act as he has spoken.
I. Let them know that the gracious cognizance God has taken of them, and the favours he has bestowed upon them, should not exempt them from the punishment due to them for their sins. Israel is a family that God brought up out of the land of Egypt, (Amos 3:1), and it was no more than a family when it went down thither; thence God delivered it; thence he fetched it to be a family to himself. It is not only the ten tribes, the kingdom of Israel, that must take notice of this, but that of Judah also, for it is spoken against the whole family that God brought up out of Egypt. It is a family that God has bestowed distinguishing favours upon, has owned in a peculiar manner. You only have I known of all the families of the earth. Note, God’s church in the world is a family dignified above all the families of the earth. Those that know God are known of him. In Judah is God known, and therefore Judah is more than any people known of God. God has known them, that is, he has chosen them, covenanted with them, and conversed with them as his acquaintance. Now, one would think, it should follow, “Therefore I will spare you, will connive at your faults, and excuse you.” No: Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. Note, The distinguishing favours of God to us, if they do not serve to restrain us from sin, shall not serve to exempt us from punishment; nay, the nearer any are to God in profession, and the kinder notice he has taken of them, the more surely, the more quickly, and the more severely will he reckon with them, if they by a course of wilful sin profane their character, disgrace their relation to him, violate their engagements, and put a slight upon the favours and honours with which they have been distinguished. Therefore they shall be punished, because their sins dishonour him, affront him, and grieve him, more than the sins of others, and because it is necessary that God should vindicate his own honour by making it appear that he hates sin and hates it most in those that are nearest to him; if they be but as bad as others, they shall be punished worse than others, because it is justly expected that they should be so much better than others. Judgment begins at the house of God, begins at the sanctuary; for God will be sanctified either by or upon those that come nigh unto him, Lev. 10:3.
II. Let them know that they could not expect any comfortable communion with God unless they first made their peace with him (Amos 3:3): Can two walk together except they be agreed? No; how should they? Where there is not friendship there can be no fellowship; if two persons be at variance, they must first accommodate the matters in difference between them before there can be any interchanging of good offices. Israel has affronted God, had broken their covenant with him, and ill-requited his favours to them; and yet they expected that he should continue to walk with them, should take their part, act for them, and give them assurances of his presence with them, though they took no care by repentance and reformation to agree with their adversary and to turn away his wrath. “But how can that be?” says God. “While you continue to walk contrary to God you can look for no other than that he should walk contrary to you,” Lev. 26:23, 24. Note, We cannot expect that God should be present with us, or act for us, unless we be reconciled to him. God and man cannot walk together except they be agreed. Unless we agree with God in our end, which is his glory, we cannot walk with him by the way.
III. Let them know that the warnings God gave them of judgments approaching were not causeless and groundless, merely to amuse them, but certain declarations of the wrath of God against them, which (if they did not speedily repent) they would infallibly feel the effects of (Amos 3:4): “Will a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey in view? No: he roars upon his prey. Nor will a young lion cry out of his den if the old lion have taken nothing to bring home to him; nor would God thus give you warning both by the threatenings of his word, and by less judgments, if you had not by your sins made yourselves a prey to his wrath, nor if he were not really about to fall upon you with desolating destroying judgments.” Note, The threatenings of the word and providence of God are not bugbears, to frighten children and fools, but are certain inferences from the sin of man and certain presages of the judgments of God.
IV. Let them know that, as their own wickedness was the procuring cause of these judgments, so they shall not be removed till they have done their work, Amos 3:5. When God has come forth to contend with a sinful people it is necessary that they should understand, 1. That it is their own sin that has entangled them; for can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth where no gin is for him? No, nature does not lay snares for the creatures, but the art of men; a bird is not taken in a snare by chance, but with the fowler’s design; so the providence of God prepares trouble for sinners, and it is in the work of their own hands that they are snared. Affliction does not spring out of the dust, but it is God’s justice, and our own wickedness, that correct us. 2. It is nothing but their own repentance that can disentangle them; for shall one take up a snare from the earth, which he laid with design, except he have taken something as he designed? So neither will God remove the affliction he has sent till it have done its work and accomplished that for which he sent it. If our hearts be duly humbled, and we are brought by our afflictions to confess and forsake our sins, then the snare has taken something, then the point is gained, the end is answered, and then, and not till then, the snare is broken, is taken up from the earth, and we are delivered in love and mercy.
V. Let them know that all their troubles came from the hand of God’s providence and from the counsel of his will (Amos 3:6): Shall there be evil in a city, in a family, in a nation, and the Lord has not done it, appointed it, and performed what he appointed? The evil of sin is from ourselves; it is our own doing. But the evil of trouble, personal or public, is from God, and is his doing; whoever are the instruments, God is the principal agent. Out of his mouth both evil and good proceed. This consideration, that, whatever evil is in the city, the Lord has done it, should engage us patiently to bear our share in public calamities and to study to answer God’s intention in them.
VI. Let them know that their prophets, who give them warning of judgments approaching, deliver nothing to them but what they have received from the Lord to be delivered to his people. 1. God makes it known beforehand to the prophets (Amos 3:7): Surely the Lord Jehovah will do nothing, none of that evil in the city spoken of (Amos 3:6), but he reveals it to his servants the prophets, though to others it is a secret. Therefore those know not what they do who make light of the warnings which the prophets give them, in God’s name. Observe, God’s prophets are his servants, whom he employs to go on his errands to the children of men. The secret of God is with them; it is in some sense with all the righteous (Prov. 3:32), with all that fear God (Ps. 25:14), but in a peculiar manner with the prophets, to whom the Spirit of prophecy is a Spirit of revelation. It would have put honour enough upon prophets if it had been only said that sometimes God is pleased to reveal to his prophets what he designs to do, but it speaks something very great to say that he does nothing but what he reveals to them, as if they were the men of his counsel. Shall I hide from Abraham, who is a prophet, the thing which I do? Gen. 18:17. God will therefore be sure to reckon with those that put contempt on the prophets, whom he puts this honour upon. 2. The prophets cannot but make that known to the people which God has made known to them (Amos 3:8): The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy? His prophets, to whom he has spoken in secret by dreams and visions, cannot but speak in public to the people what they have heard from God. They are so full of those things themselves, so well assured concerning them, and so much affected with them, that they cannot but speak of them; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak. I believed; therefore have I spoken, Acts 4:20. Nay, and besides the prophetic impulse which went along with the inspiration, and made the word like a fire in their bones (Jer. 20:9), they received a command from God to deliver what they had been charged with; and they would have been false to their trust if they had not done it. Necessity was laid upon them, as upon the preachers of the gospel, 1 Cor. 9:16.
VII. Let them know that they ought to tremble before God upon the fair warning he had given them, as they would, 1. Upon the sounding of a trumpet, to give notice of the approach of the enemy, that all may stand upon their guard and stand to their arms: Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people be not afraid, or run together? so some read it, Amos 3:6. Will they not immediately come together in a fright, to consider what is best to be done for the common safety? Yet when God by his prophets gives them notice of their danger, and summons them to come and enlist themselves under his banner, it makes no impression; they will sooner give credit to a watchman on their walls than to a prophet sent of God, will sooner obey the summons of the governor of their city than the orders given them by the Governor of the world. God says, Hearken to the voice of the trumpet; but they will not hearken, nay, and they tell him plainly that they will not, Jer. 6:17. 2. Upon the roaring of a lion. God is sometimes as a lion, and a young lion, to the house of Judah, Hos. 5:14. The lion roars before he tears; thus God warns before he wounds. If therefore the lion roars upon a poor traveller (as he did against Samson, Jdg. 14:5), he cannot but be put into great consternation; yet the Lord roars out of Zion (Amos 1:2), and none are afraid, but they go on securely as if they were in no danger. Note, The fair warning given to a careless world, if it be not taken, will aggravate its condemnation another day. The lion roared, and they were not moved with fear to prepare an ark. O the amazing stupidity of an unbelieving world, that will not be wrought upon, no, not by the terrors of the Lord!