At the peak of the expansion, wealth, power, and ease of the Kingdoms of Judah in the south and Israel in the north, God sent a bevy of prophets to turn His people from sin. These prophets identified the failings of the kingdoms’ leadership and people, chastised them, and recounted visions of destruction; they also encouraged them with powerful visions of hope for the future. A contemporary of Hosea in Israel and Isaiah in Judah, Amos prophesied in the Northern Kingdom during the reign of the wicked Jeroboam II. Amos primarily lambasted its mistreatment of society’s weakest, also touching on its idolatry and other sins.
At the beginning of his book, Amos turns his prophetic voice against six of Israel’s neighbors as well as Judah. He uses the same phrase each time (“For three transgressions, but not four…”) to introduce one or two of each nation’s respective cruelties or failures that God will punish. The Haftarah is the climax of this address, with Amos turning the formula against his primary target, Israel. In seven ways, the powerful and wealthy kingdom has gone “above and beyond” in mistreating its poor and vulnerable, and in its sexual brazenness. As Joseph’s brothers did in the Parashah, they have sold righteous men for cash. Instead of being grateful for God’s protection throughout history, Israel has defiled the sanctity of prophets and nazarites God sent to return them to Him. God will therefore punish Israel which, weighed down by these sins, will be unable to escape His wrath. Likely in response to his critics, Amos clarifies that God is punishing Israel more severely than its neighbors because of - not despite - His choosing them as His family from among all Earth’s families. Over and again, God shows Amos Israel’s coming violent destruction. Amos cannot but warn them of this, with hope they will return to Him.
Verses 2:6-8: Although God forgives, He will not forgive the wealthy Northern Kingdom’s sins against their poor, their brazen sexual depravity, or even their disrespect for their idolatrous temple.
Thus says the Lord: “For three of Israel’s transgressions [I will not punish] but for the fourth I will not turn away [from punishing]. For they sold a righteous person for silver, and a poor person for a pair of sandals.”
כֹּ֚ה אָמַ֣ר ה' עַל־שְׁלֹשָׁה֙ פִּשְׁעֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָ֖ה לֹ֣א אֲשִׁיבֶ֑נּוּ עַל־מִכְרָ֤ם בַּכֶּ֙סֶף֙ צַדִּ֔יק וְאֶבְי֖וֹן בַּֽעֲב֥וּר נַעֲלָֽיִם׃
Verses 2:9-12: God destroyed the nations of Canaan, redeemed His people from Egypt, sustained them in the wilderness, and gave them the land of Canaan. God even sent prophets and nazarites to inspire them - yet the Northern Kingdom intentionally defiled them and rejected God.
But you gave the nazarites wine to drink, and commanded the prophets, saying, “Prophesy not!”
וַתַּשְׁק֥וּ אֶת־הַנְּזִרִ֖ים יָ֑יִן וְעַל־הַנְּבִיאִים֙ צִוִּיתֶ֣ם לֵאמֹ֔ר לֹ֖א תִּנָּבְאֽוּ׃
Verses 2:13-16: “Weighed down” by their sins, the Northern Kingdom will not be able to escape God’s coming punishment.
“[Even] the [most strong-hearted among the mighty shall flee away naked on that day,” says the Lord.
וְאַמִּ֥יץ לִבּ֖וֹ בַּגִּבּוֹרִ֑ים עָר֛וֹם יָנ֥וּס בַּיּוֹם־הַה֖וּא נְאֻם־ה'׃
Verses 3:1-2: God chose Israel from among all other nations and redeemed it from Egypt. The resulting intimate relationship means that God is more - not less, as some of his listeners thought - exacting regarding Israel’s sins.
You alone have I known from among all Earth’s families. Therefore, I will visit upon you [punish] all your iniquities.
רַ֚ק אֶתְכֶ֣ם יָדַ֔עְתִּי מִכֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּח֣וֹת הָאֲדָמָ֑ה עַל־כֵּן֙ אֶפְקֹ֣ד עֲלֵיכֶ֔ם אֵ֖ת כׇּל־עֲוֺנֹתֵיכֶֽם׃
Verses 3:3-8: Since God is showing the prophet clear signs of His forthcoming punishment of the people, he is compelled to warn them of their grim future if they do not return to God.
The lion has roared, who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken, who can but prophesy?
אַרְיֵ֥ה שָׁאָ֖ג מִ֣י לֹ֣א יִירָ֑א אֲדֹנָ֤י ה' דִּבֶּ֔ר מִ֖י לֹ֥א יִנָּבֵֽא׃
The Talmud uses Amos’s words to highlight a similarity between personal and communal forgiveness by God.
R. Yosei bar Yehuda says: “When a person commits a transgression the first time, he is forgiven; a second time, he is forgiven; a third time, he is forgiven; but the fourth time, he is not forgiven, as it is stated: ‘Thus says the Lord: “For three of Israel’s transgressions [I will not punish] but for the fourth I will not turn away [from punishing].” (Amos 2:6)’ It is also stated, ‘Behold, all these God does twice or three times with a man.’ (Job 33:29)”
Why did [R. Yosei] cite [a second additional verse when the first suffices]? Lest you say that [Amos’s] words apply to the community but not to an individual, come and hear [that] “Behold, all these things God does twice or three times with a man,” [implying the same rule applies even to an individual.]
רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר: אָדָם עוֹבֵר עֲבֵירָה פַּעַם רִאשׁוֹנָה — מוֹחֲלִין לוֹ, שְׁנִיָּה — מוֹחֲלִין לוֹ, שְׁלִישִׁית — מוֹחֲלִין לוֹ, רְבִיעִית — אֵין מוֹחֲלִין לוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כֹּה אָמַר ה׳ עַל שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ״, וְנֶאֱמַר: ״הֵן כׇּל אֵלֶּה יִפְעַל אֵל פַּעֲמַיִם שָׁלֹשׁ עִם גָּבֶר״.
מַאי ״וְאוֹמֵר״? וְכִי תֵּימָא: הָנֵי מִילֵּי בְּצִיבּוּר, אֲבָל בְּיָחִיד — לָא, תָּא שְׁמַע: ״הֶן כׇּל אֵלֶּה יִפְעַל אֵל פַּעֲמַיִם שָׁלֹשׁ עִם גָּבֶר״
Verse 3:6 refers to the fear inspired by a shofar blast in a city. This is a source for the custom of blowing the shofar throughout the month of Elul.
Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 128:2
It is customary to blow the shofar during this month [Elul]….The reason for the blowings during this month is to awaken the people to repent, for the shofar [blow]’s nature is to awaken and to inspire fear, as the verse says, "If a shofar is sounded in a city, will the people not tremble?" (Amos 3:6)
נוֹהֲגִין לִתְקֹעַ שׁוֹפָר בְּחֹדֶשׁ זֶה....וְטַעַם הַתְּקִיעוֹת בְּחֹדֶשׁ זֶה כְּדֵי לְעוֹרֵר אֶת הָעָם לִתְשׁוּבָה, כִּי כֵן הוּא הַטֶּבַע שֶׁל הַשּׁוֹפָר לְעוֹרֵר וּלְהַחְרִיד, כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמַר הַכָּתוּב, אִם יִתָּקַע שׁוֹפָר בָּעִיר וְעָם לֹא יֶחֱרָדוּ.
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