Amos 1-2: For Three Transgressions and for Four
December 8, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Preaching for conviction of sin is no easy task. Our hearts are too often self-deluded, and our ears tend to strain out sounds that bring conviction in place of noises that bring affirmation. And when we do hear conviction, we too easily mistake it for condemnation, instead of the necessary word that will bring us to the feet of Jesus and to renewal, salvation, and joy.
Amos, in these first two chapters, exhibits the masterful art of preaching for conviction. He is nothing but a shepherd—or so it would appear (1:1). Amos—no professional, not trained in all the proper schools, without credentials and letters after his name. But because he was given a vision from God (1:1), he spoke God’s word. And he spoke it with power (“The LORD roars from Zion,” 1:2)
In particular, he did it with canniness, getting “under the radar” of his hearers, so that somewhat caught by surprise, they suddenly realized that they were the focal point of the sermon when they had assumed all along that it was their neighbor. The repeated refrain is “for three transgressions and for four” (1:3), and he starts with well-known “rebels” that his prime audience of Israelites would have cheered him for critiquing. He goes from Damascus (1:3) all the way down to Moab (2:1), listing their well-known transgressions and citing the judgment that would come their way if they did not repent. All his audience would have been grinning with pleasure, punctuating his sermon with applause, and egging him on to keep denouncing the “nations” for their sins.
And then he turns the screw one more turn and the word penetrates: “For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment” (2:4). And if Israel was thereby smirking in their sleeves, one final turn of the screw: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment” (2:6). His hearers now realize that God is speaking to them—not to those pesky neighbors who had caused God so much trouble. Not to other people. But to them. For three transgressions and for four.
It is all too easy for us to cast the pattern of “sinners” as only fitting other people, particularly people we do not like, especially if they have indeed done things that are sinful. But it is much harder to hear conviction ourselves. But if Paul is right that there is no one righteous, not even one, and if Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is right that our righteousness must be greater than the Pharisees and we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, then for sure we all must be convicted of our sins. And thereby turn once more to Christ and find in him new life, joy, peace, and hope.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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