Sermon preached on Amos 1:13-2:3 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/17/2017 in Novato, CA.
For Three Transgressions of Ammon and Moab
A visitor recently described my preaching as having a lot of fire and brimstone in it. It was one of our Amos sermons. I’m not sure if they meant that positively or negatively, but surely many in our culture don’t want to hear fire and brimstone preaching. I did find the comment interesting, since I don’t think people typically describe me as a fire and brimstone preacher. If I had to characterize my preaching I would like to do so by quoting 1 Corinthians 1:23 which says, “We preach Christ”! That’s what I want to be known for: preaching Christ! That being said, I’m not against preaching fire and brimstone when the text is about fire and brimstone. As a preacher, I want us to work through the Bible and its content. When a passage doesn’t have a lot of fire and brimstone in it, then my sermon won’t likely have that much in it. But when a passage does have a lot of fire and brimstone in it, then my sermon will reflect that. The content of a sermon should come from the Bible passage you are working on. That’s Biblical preaching. And if we do that, and are working our way through a well diet of Scripture with different books of the Bible and different genres of Bible passages, then that should give us a well-balanced diet of doctrines. It should give us a biblical balance of those doctrines. Over time it should highlight the doctrines that need to be highlighted and ones that are less foundational will get less attention.
And so, we are working through Amos and this section on judgment oracles against these various wicked nations. There has been a lot of fire in this section. Today we’ll look at the oracles against Ammon and Moab and see quite a bit more fire of God’s judgment again. Let’s not shy away from that. Let’s continue to be eager to see what God’s Word has to say even on the topic of the coming judgment. In fact, in Hebrews 6:1-2 it says that the eternal judgment of God is one of the elementary or foundation principles of Christ. So, it is important to have a solid understanding of God’s judgment. It’s something foundational for our faith.
So then, we begin today with some background on Ammon and Moab. The territory of Ammon was directly east of Israel, and the territory of Moab was southeast of Israel, west of Judah. You’ll notice that this is the first time in our Amos series that I’ve chosen to handle two nations at a time. There are these seven judgment oracles against the nations and so far we’ve had a sermon for each nation. But this time I thought it fitting to handle them both together. That helps us to keep a good pace as we move through Amos. But also, there are many places in Scripture where the Ammonites and Moabites are seen together. We’ll do that ourselves here.
In fact, the reason to treat them together goes all the way back to their beginning. The nations of Ammon and Moab are the offspring of the brothers named Ammon and Moab. They were both sons of Lot. Lot, if you recall, was the nephew of the patriarch Abraham. So, from the perspective of the Israelites, the Ammonites and the Moabites were distant relatives, family through Lot. Unfortunately, Scripture records the rather shameful origins of Ammon and Moab through Lot. You can find this in Genesis 19. Lot’s daughters through the use of alcohol take advantage of their father. The result is Ammon and Moab are born. The text of Genesis 19 reports it without much comment, but its point to an Israelite reading it would have been clear. The point is this: Israel had a long history of troubles interacting with the Ammonites and the Moabites. And so, as an Israelite reads about their shameful origins, surely they’d make a connection. An Israelite would probably think something like, no wonder these Ammonites and Moabites have been so evil to us over the years, given how shameful their origins were. Their origins were steeped in sin from the start. I’m sure that’s how the typical Israelite would have thought of them as they read of their origins in Genesis 19. Of course, a side application there is that this is story for all humans. Yes, the backstory of Ammon and Moab rightly shocks us. But all humans after the fall have been steeped in sin from birth. We are all born to fallen parents and we all are born with fallen natures that are prone to sin. Original sin and total depravity is a reality. It’s more abundantly clear when you read about the Ammonites and the Moabites but it’s true in general for all of us.
At any rate, the history then of these Ammonites and Moabites with the Israelites was generally one of conflict. A notable example is during the time after the Exodus during the Wilderness Wandering of Israel. On their way into the Promised Land these distant family members did not meet Israel with kindness but curse. Deuteronomy 23:3 says that Israel shall not allow an Ammonite or Moabite to enter the assembly of the LORD even to the 10th generation for this reason: “Because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.” When they weren’t able to get Balaam the wicked prophet to curse Israel, they came up with plan B. They had Moabite women seduce Israelites at Peor to worship the false god Baal. Revelation 2 reflects back on that as a great wickedness of Moab against God’s people.
Also, later on in Israel’s history we see more conflict. For example, in the book of Judges we see the Ammonites and the Moabites again team up against Israel under the leadership of the obese King Eglon. They subjugated Israel for 18 years at that point. As history goes on, we see continued fighting of Israel with these two nations. Jephthah, Saul, David all have notable encounters with Ammon and/or Moab. There is even non-biblical archeological evidence that records such conflict. For example, there is the Moabite Stone which is currently housed in the Louvre Museum, in France. That stone records the conflict during the time of Kings Omri and Ahab from the Moabite’s perspective. It’s account lines up very close to the Biblical account in 1 and 2 Kings, particularly 2 Kings 1:1 which records Moab rebelling from Israel after the death of King Ahab.
This is not to say that there was never any measure of peace between Israel and these other two nations. For example, I think of the story of Ruth and how it records an Israelite family able to immigrate to Moab and marry Moabite women and then later return in peace to Israel. David, who was a descendant of that family, brought his parents to Moab for refuge from King Saul in 1 Samuel 22. And yet such examples of peace seem to be more the exception than the norm in terms of Israelite interactions with Ammon and Moab.
So then, let’s turn now to look at the sins mentioned her for Ammon and Moab. For Ammon, it’s in 1:13, “Because they ripped open the women with child in Gilead.” This sounds similar to what we discussed in the oracle against Damascus and the Syrians. We talked then about the brutality nations would sometimes do to another nation; they’d try to wipe out the next generation by ripping open the wombs of pregnant women. It was an act toward genocide. We mentioned then that if the Syrians had succeeded in killing off all the Israelites, then the line of promise would have been destroyed and Jesus would never have been born. But in God’s providence, God prevented things from getting that far. But in both that case and this case we see the Gileadites suffering such atrocities, this time at the hand of the Ammonites.
What’s added this time, however, in this oracle against the Ammonites, is a motive. It’s there at the end of verse 13. They tried to kill all these unborn babies in Gilead so they could get more land. We mentioned it with Syria, that they were just north of Gilead, and so that would be prime territory to try to annex for themselves. Well, here with the Ammonites they are coming from the other direction. Ammon would have been east of Gilead and were evidently trying to expand their territory all the way to the Jordan river, at least for starters. And so with Ammon, not only are we told the specific sin, but we’re told why they were doing this sin. This is a helpful reminder that when looking to confront our sin we need to consider what’s the heart of the problem. If we are only looking to deal with the specific behavior of the sin, we might only be dealing with the symptoms of the root problem. It’s like trying to clear out smoke from the air when the fire is still raging. It’s a vain effort. We need to get to the root of our sin, and look to confront that. In this case, it was greed and a coveting spirit that fueled Ammon’s atrocities. They wanted this land that was not theirs to have. They were willing to try to annihilate a distant relative in order to get it. There’s an interesting history lesson given by the judge Jephthah in Judges 11. When the Ammonites are trying to attack the Gileadites all the way back then, there Jephtah tells the Ammonites that they don’t have any claim to that land. The Ammonites had tried to make it sound like they were taking from the Israelites land that the Israelites had stolen from them. But Jephthah makes a damning historical case against them that the Ammonites were inventing history that didn’t exist. Israel had never taken that land of Gilead from the Ammonites. But the Ammonites definitely tried repeatedly to take it from Israel. Greed and coveting. That was the heart of the Ammonites’ sin mentioned here.
Well, looking at the oracle against Moab, we see their sin mentioned in 2:1. God says they were guilting for burning the bones of the king of Edom to lime. This appears to be describing how Moab desecrated this king’s bones after his death, possibly after his burial as well. They possibly exhumed his grave to do this. And so Amos basically describes Moab burning this king’s bones until they are completely nothing but ash. One ancient Jewish commentary understood that this was done to then use the king’s ash as an ingredient in paint used to whitewash walls. Why would they do this? Well, it was surely as an affront to pagan religious ideas. Many of these pagans at that time believed in an afterlife, but often believed the burial rituals were important for the afterlife. As an example, just remember the Egyptian Pharaohs with the Pyramids and all they did to prepare the Pharaohs for the afterlife through their burial customs. And so surely Moab did this to the King of Edom’s bones as a desecration and as a way to prevent or hinder the Edomite King’s resurrection into the afterlife.
This is interesting and wrong in so many ways. First off, it’s interesting because there is no explicit command that I know of in the Bible that would forbid such an action. Yet, this verse calls it sin and surely it is sin. Surely, we all recognize that it would be wrong to desecrate a grave like this. If nothing else, it would fall under the golden rule requirement to love and treat our neighbor as we would want to be loved and treated. Second, this is wrong not only for this reason, but Edom would have also been distant family to Ammon and Moab. Remember, the Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother. So, the Edomites have the same exact degree of family connection with the Ammonites and Moabites as did the Israelites. Third, this is interesting because God’s concern here is not about a sin against God’s people, but a sin by a pagan nation against another pagan nation. That’s important to remember that God sees all sins, even ones done by one unbeliever against another unbeliever. In other words, God’s not only concerned about sins done against his people or by his people. God is the judge over all, over all the nations, and will judge between person and person and nation and nation, whether or not they are followers of God or not. God is a God of justice and we see that expressed here. Fourth, this is interesting because God obviously doesn’t believe in pagan rituals. God can certainly resurrect someone even if their body is burned up completely and the ashes spread everywhere. God is able to resurrect even that, but nonetheless he says their intention and aim here was evil and sinful, even if their intentions are rooted in part in pagan, superstitious beliefs.
Lastly, I point us to the punishment that is stated here for Ammon and Moab. This is verses 1:14-15 and 2:2-3. There are several common elements that we see again here as with the other judgment oracles. More references to fire as before, an imagery of military destruction as we’ve been saying. More references to palaces being destroyed and their leaders being punished and removed. These themes are pretty consistent in these judgment oracles. Though there are some elements, some nuances, that especially stand here compared to the other oracles.
First, notice in 1:14 the reference to God kindling a fire. That’s the only judgment oracle that uses that language. It’s been clear in all the oracles that God’s behind the fire that is coming upon these nations. When another nation fulfills this by destroying the condemned nation, we should still recognize God behind it. God can use other nations to fulfill his judgments against a nation. But verse 14 very much brings that out with the colorful language of God kindling the fire. He stokes the flames and gets the fire roaring against these nations. God can kindle such fire even through the use of means, through the use of other nations.
Second, notice in both judgment oracles here the aspect of sound. In 1:14 against the Ammonites he mentions the shouting in the day of battle. He follows that by a mention of the tempest in the storm. Though he might have in mind an actual storm that he sends on them, I think it is more likely that this is poetry, further describing what the shouting on the day of battle will be like. It will be like the roar of the wind when a big storm comes upon you. Similarly, in 2:2, there is the description of the tumult, and the shouting, and the trumpet sound. War is loud! It is noisy! The language of shouting there, we should think of war cries. Think of the enemy nation attacking and crying out and blowing the trumpet as they surround the city and overwhelm it in a decisive victory and slaughter. If you are the one being attacked and on the losing end, all this noise and tumult only heightens the fear and terribleness of that day.
And that’s the last thing to note here in these judgment oracles. 1:14 speaks twice of a “day” that this judgment will happen. There is a day when they will lose their peace and prosperity that they’ve enjoyed. There is a day when this prophesied judgment will come upon them. It will be a terrible day for the Ammonites and the Moabites on such a day.
And so, its usually about here in my sermons when I turn this toward Christ. How does all this look toward Christ and his work? Well, I intend to do that right now again, but maybe not as you might expect. You see, as we hear about a coming day of judgment for Ammon and Moab, when we hear of the sound of that day of judgment, I think of the many Old Testament passages about the great and terrible coming day of the Lord. The judgment language here in Amos makes us think forward to the final day of judgment. These judgments against Ammon and Moab are typological of that final terrible day. And so, think what the prophets said that day would be like. Isaiah said it will be a day the that proud and lofty will be brought low; that people should wail who will experience this judgment (2:12; 13:6). Jeremiah speaks of it as being a day of vengeance from God on his foes (46:10). Joel says people should tremble in light of coming day of the LORD (2:1). Obadiah says that day would be a day of judgment, when someone’s evil deeds will return back on their own head. When will that day be? How will God bring that judgment? Passages like Malachi chapter 4 help us to see that it will be when God sends his Messiah, first sending Elijah to prepare the way. Of course, that happened, Elijah returned through John the Baptist, and the Messiah came. But at his first coming he did not come in this day of judgment. But he said he’s coming again. That’s when that day will be.
Remember how he described it. In Matthew 24:30, Jesus spoke of his return; of when he returns, coming in the clouds. He said that he will come in power and great glory and that it will result in all the tribes of the earth mourning. He goes on to say that he will sound the trumpet at his return. Similarly, we find the Apostle Paul describing this day in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, saying “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” Notice the reference to the sound in these references. The trumpet; the shout; the voice of an archangel! Here we see an aspect of Jesus’ return. It’s a war cry. The trumpet sounds his victory while tells his enemies that that terrible day of reckoning has arrived. That’s why they will mourn at his coming! That’s when he’ll fulfill Psalm 2 and “break them with a rod of iron” and “dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel”. Remember the prophecy of Revelation 6:16, that then Christ’s enemies will say to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Of course, the mountains and the rocks won’t be able to protect them. Terrible will be that day for the enemies of God.
And so here this is preaching Christ! Christ as the one who will come on the final day in judgment against the nations. That day of the LORD is the day of Christ! Is this fire and brimstone preaching? Well, it is biblical preaching. To preach Christ must also include preaching about what Christ will do at the end. The good news, however, is that there is way for this day of the LORD to not be terrible for you. You see, the Scripture says that when Jesus blows that final trumpet he will gather his saved unto himself. You see, he blows the trumpet as a war call that gathers his people to himself as part of his army. So, this is the question. At that final trumpet call, whose side do you want to be on? The Lord’s side, or on the side of God’s enemies? As the hymn goes, “Who is on the Lord’s side?”
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers, other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go?
By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side—Savior, we are Thine!
We who have put our faith in Jesus Christ and become his disciple, we are on the Lord’s side. We who have joined his church in faith and repentance, we are on the Lord’s side. We who have trusted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he has already had the wrath of God poured out on himself for us; so that he’d take on this terrible judgment in our place. That we would be saved with him on the day of his return.
Let us then look forward to this great day of the Lord. For the world will mourn in that day. But if we prepare ourselves now for that day, then that day will be for us a day of victory and vindication, a day of joy and celebration, a day of healing and blessing. Let us keep trusting and hoping in Christ today. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.