Sermon preached on Amos 1:9-10 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/3/2017 in Novato, CA.
“For Three Transgressions of Tyre”
Last week we studied the oracle against the Philistines. It dealt with issues of slave trading and human trafficking. Today, we look at the oracle against Tyre and find that the language is extremely similar. The issue of slave trading is again the main sin identified, and the pronounced judgment is similar. Overall, this oracle deals with the same concern though in a slightly more compact way. In other words, this oracle seems like a shorter form of the same concern as last week. Because of this, I was tempted at first to treat this oracle at the same time as last week’s oracle. Yet, there is one place where today’s oracle against Tyre is exactly expanded. In verse 9 another sin is mentioned that was not mentioned last time in the oracle against the Philistines. It’s the sin there of not remembering the covenant of brotherhood. And so since we dealt with the sin of slave trading last week, I won’t spend much time talking about that today with this oracle. But I did want to focus on this new item that is highlighted here in this oracle against Tyre. So today, we’ll get a chance to think about the betrayal and breach of contract that is described here with Tyre.
We begin then today with a little background on Tyre. At that time, Tyre was the chief city of the Phoenicians. Phoenicia would have also included the city of Sidon. Tyre and Sidon are often mentioned together in Scripture. Sometimes the people collectively were referred to as simply Sidonians. Both Tyre and Sidon are right along the coast just north of Israel, port cities on the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, this would have been along the coast of modern day Lebanon. Though the Phoenicians are not mentioned specifically here, given how the other oracles reference chief cities and then the people in general, likely this oracle has application to all Phoenicia. Tyre, and the Phoenicians in general, were renowned sea merchants. If you read Ezekiel 27, you can see a long list of some of the different items they traded as well as a list of the many nations and peoples they traded with. In other words, Tyre specifically was a major hub of a vast trading network. Unfortunately, as we see here and elsewhere in Scripture, at some point their trading commodities began to include humans.
For much of Israel’s history, Tyre had fairly good relations with Israel. I’m thinking of, for example, during the time of King David and King Solomon. The Lebanon area was known for its cedar trees, and so during King David’s time we see David trading with Hiram, King of Tyre, for cedar. This is found in 2 Samuel 5, where David received not only cedar, but also carpenters and masons from Tyre who then built David a royal palace. The sense you get is that Tyre and Israel had great relations together at that time. Those relations continued to grow positively under King David’s son. When Solomon first became King, King Hiram of Tyre immediately reached out to Solomon, per 1 Kings 5. Solomon, in turn, engages with Tyre for a new building project. Remember, what God did not allow David to do, he did allow Solomon to do. I’m speaking of building the temple of God in Jerusalem to replace the tabernacle. Well, surely Solomon knew that if you are going to build a great temple for the Lord, you better use those choice cedars of Lebanon! And so, Solomon bought cedar and cypress logs from Tyre. It sounds like it became an ongoing trading relationship. Not only that, but 1 Kings 5:12 says this about their relationship: “There was peace between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty together.”
Looking forward in Israel’s history, there seemed to be good relations later on as well, even after the nation of Israel split into the northern and southern kingdoms. In 1 Kings 16:31 we see that King Ahab married Jezebel who was a Sidonian princess. Now, of course, that was problematic because in marrying a foreign wife, she led his heart astray to worship the false god Baal. So, from that perspective it was not good for King Ahab to marry Jezebel, and of course Jezebel in general was a wicked queen. But the point here is that their marriage demonstrated positive relations between Israel and the people of Tyre and Sidon even later in Israel’s history.
One last thing to mention about Tyre is that eventually in history it will become infamous for its great evil and sin. Remember what Jesus says later on in the New Testament about Tyre and Sidon. In Luke 10 he chastises some of the Israelite towns for rejecting his gospel preaching. Jesus said in Luke 10:13-14 that if the miracles he did in Israel had been done in Tyre and Sidon, that they would have ended up repenting in dust and ashes. Jesus says that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for these Jews who had Jesus come to them but rejected Jesus. Realize what Jesus was saying. He was using Tyre and Sidon there because they were examples of really evil pagans. In that same chapter in Luke, Jesus said something similar with the example of the notoriously evil pagan city of Sodom. In other words, Tyre and Sidon’s evil would eventually become so bad, that Jesus could talk about them like that, even comparing them with Sodom. Some of Tyre’s evil is under consideration right here in Amos.
So, that’s a little bit about the history and background on Tyre. Let’s turn now to consider the specific sins that God accuses them of. This is found in verse 9. As mentioned, there’s a couple sins noted there. The first is the same one mentioned last week for the Philistines. These people of Tyre are also guilty of selling humans as slaves against their will. We saw last week this slave trading and human trafficking condemned in Scripture so I won’t survey the Bible again on that today. But I will point you to Joel 3:4-6. There it also has an oracle against Tyre and Sidon. There it also mentions capturing and selling a people into slavery. But that passage is more specific. It mentions how they had captured some of the people of Judah and Jerusalem and sold them into slavery to the Greeks. Of course, in our passage it doesn’t mention who they sold into slavery, though probably it has in mind this done to Israelites. And here the mention is that had sold such people to Edom. So, if Joel mentions them selling people to the Greeks, and Amos mentions them selling people to the Edomites, it means they were doing a lot of slave trading to various customers. This was evil in the sight of God and they are under divine condemnation because of it.
That being said, that’s a sin and topic we discussed last week with the Philistines. As I said, I want us to focus on is this other sin in verse 9, that they “did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.” What does this refer to? Some have wondered if it had something to do with the reference of Edom since as we said last week, the Edomites were the descendants of Esau, brother of the Israelite’s forefather Jacob. Yet, it can’t refer to the Edomites, because this is speaking of a covenant that Tyre broke. Now, to confirm, the people of Tyre were not blood brothers of Israel. The people of Tyre apparently found their lineage through Ham from Noah, and a clan of Canaanites, whereas the Israelites came through Shem from Noah. So, there would not have been any real familial connection at this point between Tyre and Israel.
So, why does it talk about a covenant of brotherhood? In what sense is there a brotherhood between Tyre and Israel? Well, it’s surely covenantal language. As mentioned, they had made a covenant with Israel all the way back in Solomon’s day. Surely, the more recent marriage with a Sidonian princess would have only reinforced that. But even back in Solomon’s day, already that covenantal relationship elicited that language. 1 Kings 9:13 records King Hiram of Tyre calling King Solomon his “brother”. The idea is that when you enter into a covenant of peace like they did, it makes a connection with the two parties. There is a bond of covenantal friendship that is enacted. The expectation is to promote one another’s welfare and good. Thus, it seems that’s what this covenant of brotherhood refers to here in the Hebrew.
So, think about this then. Amos is saying that not only did these people of Tyre sin in a similar way that the Philistines did, but they did something even worse. Not only did they capture Israelites and sell them into slavery, but doing so broke covenant. It was a breach of contract. It was a betrayal. This is a great evil. That’s what this means when it says they didn’t “remember” the covenant. That language of remembering is also covenantal language. To not remember the covenant doesn’t mean that they forget about the covenant. It means that they chose to disregard it. They violated the peace treaty and sold Israelites into slavery to Edom. Again, this is a great evil, a betrayal of those who had become brothers by covenant.
The opposite of not remembering a covenant is embodied in the Hebrew word hesed. Often just translated as steadfast love, or mercy, or kindness, the idea in Hebrew is also one of covenant faithfulness and loyalty. It’s a loyal love, especially when use in terms of a covenant relationship. For example, Ruth is described as having this hesed, this loyal love. Certainly, we can think of all the loyalty Ruth showed her mother-in-law Naomi as seen with all her kindness and love Ruth gave Naomi. My point is simply to say that the opposite of forgetting a covenant is remembering a covenant. The opposite of betraying a covenant is loyalty to the covenant. The opposite of breaking a covenant is faithfulness to a covenant. Amos says that Tyre broke their covenant with Israel by selling them into slavery. They should have been loyal and faithful instead. The Philistines were bad to kidnap and sell people into slavery. Tyre was even worse when it did this to people who they were in covenant with.
As we think about the evil of breaking a covenant, I’d like to remind you that covenants back then were not “made”, they were “cut”. This is usually lost in English translations, but the reason why they were “cut” refers to the fact that they often were ratified with some sort of blood. Often it was animals that were cut up and their blood spilt in some fashion, where basically the parties of the covenant were saying “may it be to me like these slaughtered animals if I break the covenant.” In other words, when covenants were made, the parties would voluntarily threaten themselves with curses for breaking the covenant. It’s like if you tell a lie, then that is bad. But if you tell lie under oath, when you have sworn in the name of God that you are telling the truth, that is an even worse sin. The point is that covenants were made with such covenant curses upon them. Well now, Tyre had broken covenant. Now, they were under judgment by God who would hold them accountable to their broken covenant.
Verse 10 declares the judgment by God upon them. He would send fire upon them to destroy their palaces. They would taste the wrath of God. Sin deserves God’s punishment. Here we have another oracle in Amos against a nation whose sins had caught up with them and God was declaring their guilt and their punishment. Historical records tell us that the Assyrians would later subdue them and enslave them. After that, the Greeks conquered them, and finally the Saracen’s destroyed them completely.
In our last point for today, I’d like to talk a little further about the nature of covenants and the obligation to covenant faithfulness. This passage reminds us that we need to generally keep our covenants. If we enter into covenants or contracts or partnerships, we need to honor our commitments. We need to be faithful and loyal to these contractual obligations. This is true for the covenants we make with believers. But it is also true for the covenants we make with unbelievers. This covenant with Tyre and Israel was where believers covenanted with unbelievers, but this passage reminds us that both sides were expected to keep that covenant. It would be sin otherwise.
As an aside, we should take extra care when thinking about entering into covenants with unbelievers. There is the command to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers mentioned in 2 Corinthians 6:14. Surely, that can’t mean that there is never a time or place to enter into a covenant or contract with an unbeliever. We see the patriarchs, for example, making covenants at times with unbelievers, think of Abraham and Abimelech making a covenant regarding a well. Or, I think of Deuteronomy 20 which speaks of covenants of peace that God’s people could make with other nations. Though, interestingly, in Deuteronomy 7 God forbade Israel from entering into covenants with Canaanites in the Promised Land. Scripture doesn’t comment explicitly on whether or not Solomon should have made this covenant with Tyre, but it appears that Phoenicians were Canaanites. So certainly, there is an argument to be made against them making such a treaty. At the time, it seemed to work out okay, but later it obviously didn’t. And yet, once Israel did enter into a covenant, it had to keep it. I think of their covenant they made with the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites were Canaanites in the Promised Land and thus they would have been included in one of the peoples banned in Deuteronomy 7 from making a covenant with. Yet, after Israel foolishly made a covenant with them, God required Israel to keep that covenant. God even punished Israel when they didn’t treat the Gibeonites properly. What’s my point? Two applications actually. First, be careful making covenants and contracts, especially with unbelievers or different core convictions from you. Second, if you do make a covenant or a contract, you need to keep it; that’s righteousness. Be faithful to your covenants and contracts and commitments. Be loyal. Show integrity.
Well, in thinking about such covenant faithfulness, I point you to God’s faithfulness to his covenants. This is at the very heart of God’s character. He has revealed himself as abounding in hesed, in steadfast love, in covenant faithfulness, in loyal love (Exodus 34:6). That means when God made a covenant of grace, he was binding himself to keep that covenant. That’s why in Genesis 15 when he had Abraham cut up animals and lay them out, he didn’t have Abraham pass through the parts of the animals. God passed through the parts of the animals, effectively saying “may it be to me like these animals” if he didn’t keep his covenantal promises to Abraham. Hebrews 6 emphasizes how, with Abraham, God could swear by no one greater so God swore by his own name in making his covenant with Abraham.
God has kept his promises made in the covenant of grace. He promised to save a people unto himself. He did this through his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection brought a way of forgiveness and grace to all who would place their faith in him. God was faithful to his covenant promises by sending Jesus. Jesus accomplished this salvation, even while he himself experienced betrayal by his supposed friend and disciple Judas Iscariot (a fulfillment of Scripture per John 13:18-19). It’s this same Jesus that made a way for gentiles to be made brothers in covenant with him and all God’s people. We see this beginning even during Jesus’ early ministry, like in Matthew 15:28 when he did ministry among Tyre, healing a Canaanite woman who had great faith.
Find this forgiveness and grace in Jesus Christ. Find it through faith in him. Repent of your sins and turn to him for mercy and grace. In Christ, we can find forgiveness even for the sins of betrayal and breach of contract. That is good news for us humans who have lived lives where we’ve committed such sins. Because on the one hand, passages like this tell us that such betrayal and breach of covenant is sin and worthy of God’s judgment. But the grace that is in Christ says you can be forgiven of such things.
Maybe in the past you have divorced a spouse without biblical grounds; there is forgiveness in Christ. Maybe you have cheated someone in a business contract; there is forgiveness in Jesus. Maybe you have betrayed a close friend; Christ offers you grace. Jesus says to you to come to him and find forgiveness and grace, and then go and sin no more.
That means that for us who’ve come to know this great salvation, may we look to live righteously in terms of our covenants, and contracts, and commitments. May we put off “forgetting” these obligations, and instead put on “remembering” such obligations. May we put on loyalty and faithfulness. May we be people of integrity where our yes is yes and our no is no. May we seek by the grace of God to reflect and image our Lord in this. Our Lord is the keeper of covenants. May we reflect him in this, even while we await the final keeping of his promises. He has told us as brothers that he is coming again to bring us to the place he has prepared for us. He will not betray us in this. What a great day that will be when he faithfully fulfills that promise. Let us wait in faith! Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.