Sermon preached on Amos 1:11-12 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/10/2017 in Novato, CA.
“For Three Transgressions of Edom”
Sibling rivalry. If you are a parent with multiple children in your home you’ve surely seen it. If you have siblings, you’ve surely participated in it. Brothers and sisters can compete with each other, they can argue and fight with each other, and sometimes just be mean to each other. Unfortunately, and sadly, sometimes the rivalry can turn into something more than just some healthy competition. Sometimes there are lasting wounds that damage the relationship in an ongoing way. Sometimes it can even turn violent. This passage reminds us of some sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau that went too far and too long, extending down through many generations.
In general, brothers can compete and fight with each other. But when Jesus was here on earth, he alerted us to a specific reason why they might fight with each other. In Mark 13:12, Jesus warned his disciples that in the future brother would betray brother to death, because of his name’s sake. In other words, Jesus was describing how an unbelieving brother might persecute his believing brother, because he is a Christian. Certainly, this passage in Amos prefigures some of that through the types and shadows of the Old Testament. The conflict of believing Jacob with unbelieving Esau carried its way down through the generations. The result was that Esau’s descendants were persecuting and even murdering Israelites. This is what we will consider today as we look at this oracle against Edom.
Let’s begin then with some background on Edom. As alluded to already, the Edomites were descendants of Esau. Remember, Esau was the firstborn twin of the patriarch Jacob. Abraham begot Isaac, and Isaac begot Jacob and Esau through Rebekah. From the very womb, those two were competing. Rebekah could feel the turmoil within her womb. And so, she inquired of God and he told her this in Genesis 25:23, “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.” So, Esau was born first, but as Jacob was born, he came out grabbing the heal of Esau on the way out. That described their relationship. Jacob kept reaching for the status and benefits of the first born. Ultimately, as God had told Rebekah, Jacob would receive the better position. Jacob would get the birthright, Jacob would get the blessing, and God would carry on his covenantal line of promise through Jacob. Jacob would get a new name from God, Israel. And his twelve sons would become the twelve tribes of Israel.
Of course, Jacob’s ambitions throughout much of this were not good. He without pity bought his brother’s birthright from him for a bowl of soup. He deceived his father into blessing him over his brother Esau. This of course resulted in Esau hating Jacob and wanting to kill him. It resulted in Jacob having to flee for his life, even leaving the Promised Land for a time. Yet, God used these troubles that befell Jacob to bring Jacob to the end of himself. God used these tribulations to work a real faith in Jacob in the one true God. This became the foundation for God to work his redemptive plans through Jacob’s house as the nation of Israel came from him. Esau on the other hand was no saint through all of this. Hebrews 13:16 describes Esau as profane or godless for how he was willing to sell his birthright for a single meal. Esau himself married pagan Canaanite wives which Scripture spoke against. Scripture does not paint Esau in a very good light in terms of his relationship with God. Commendably, many years later he would apparently let go of his anger that wanted to put his brother Jacob to death. They reunite in peace in Genesis 33. Though, Jacob seems still uncertain if he should trust them, and ultimately they end up settling in separate places, away from each other.
So, I think it is important to note that though God clearly worked in Jacob’s life and brought him to a real faith, Jacob shared much of the guilt in their troubled relationship. Yet, that doesn’t excuse how Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, would later treat Israel. In fact, as you go down through the history after Jacob and Esau until the time of Amos, there is an ongoing record of various conflicts between the two nations. For example, King Saul battles them in 1 Samuel 14; David in 2 Samuel 8; Kings Solomon, Jehoram, Amaziah, and Uzziah also have conflicts with them. The record between the two nations fulfills the blessings that Isaac had given both of the two sons. When Isaac blessed Jacob, he included a blessing that Jacob would be master over his brothers. But when he then blessed Esau, Isaac said this to Esau, “By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass, when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck.” These blessings characterize the relationship of their descendants. It very much describes the national relationship between Israel and Edom.
One more clarification. Though these blessings of Isaac were prophetic of how things worked it, it didn’t mean that the Israelites were supposed to treat the Edomites badly. In fact, I find the book of Deuteronomy helpful here. In fact, listen to what God told the Israelites as they were about to finally come into the Promised Land after the exodus from Egypt. Deuteronomy 2:4-6, God told them, “You are about to pass through the territory of your brethren, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully. Do not meddle with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as one footstep, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. Or similarly in Deuteronomy 23:7, God told Israel, “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.” I think this is really helpful to see. As Israel takes its place in the Promised Land, God begins by reminding them of their brotherhood to the Edomites. That brotherhood was supposed to count for something. I’m not saying that Israel did this perfectly. I don’t think they did. But I want us to see that this is what God says was supposed to be their attitude. They were to see Edomites as brothers and treat them well because of it.
This then brings us to the oracle for today and to see what Amos is saying against Edom. Verse 11 tells us the sin of Edom. “Because he pursued his brother with the sword, and cast off all pity; his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.” There’s several related concerns here. The first being the pursuit of his brother with the sword. This is of course what Isaac predicted in that blessing to Esau. So, realize then that the text here is making the point about being brothers. This isn’t just about Esau engaging in war. It’s about them warring against Israel when Israel is their brother. Just like when Israel entered the Land and God told them to respect their brother Edomites, so too the Edomites should have done the same. But they did not. Edom pursued Israel with the sword. They murdered Israelites when it suited them. Of course, we also mentioned in the previous oracles of how Edom acquired Israelites as slaves from both the Philistines and the Phoenicians. So, none of that was the way to treat a brother. I think of Cain who ruthlessly murdered his brother Abel, and then had the gall to tell God that he wasn’t his brother’s keeper.
The text delves deeper into Edom’s heart when it says that they didn’t have pity. They cast off all pity for their brother Israel. Pity here is the Hebrew word for mercy or compassion. This is something God is known for in the Scriptures. God is a God of pity, of mercy, of compassion. On the other hand, it is something humans can struggle to show. I think of King David when given the choice of punishments for his sin chose the one that came directly from the Lord instead of through men. His reasoning was this, “Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man”, 1 Samuel 24:14. God is a God of great pity, mercy, and compassion. Men are so often not. Evidently, the Edomites were an example of such lacking pity. Think of how ruthless you have to be, how pitiless, to pursue and slaughter with the sword, those whom you know are your distant family members. Edom had no pity, no mercy, no compassion toward Israel as they killed one after another.
The text continues to deal with the heart of Edom when it speaks of anger and wrath. Edom had anger and wrath for Israel. We can remember all the historical reasons why Edom might have been angry with Israel. I’m sure we only scratched the surface from Edom’s perspective. I’m sure if you spoke with Edom about why they were angry with Israel, they would give you a long list. But they didn’t deal with their anger in a good way. They unleashed it in violent slaughter of their brothers. And not only that, notice how the text is emphasizing that they kept up their anger. Their anger and their wrath didn’t end. It was perpetual; continual; ongoing. Remember how Scripture tells us to not let the sun go down on our anger. We aren’t supposed to harbor and hold on to anger. We are supposed to recognize our anger and look to deal with it in a righteous way. Used properly, anger in conflicts can be a powerful ally, helping us to promote real reconciliation in relationships. But if we hold on to that anger, it becomes either bitterness or it unleashes itself in violence. For Edom, it seems there was no quenching of their anger. Their anger was a grudge of grudges. There was never enough revenge they could afflict on Israel. They just kept pouring out their anger upon them day by day.
It’s unclear from the oracle here if God had in mind a specific incident where Edom did this pursuing and slaughtering of Israel. Given the description of their ongoing anger, God probably didn’t have a single event in mind. Though, one example of this attitude from Edom came right at the start of Israel coming into the Promised Land. In Numbers 20, Israel wanted to peacefully pass through the edge of their borders on the way to the Promised Land. They kindly made request of Edom before doing this. But Edom refused. Numbers 20:18, Edom said to them, “You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword.” Israel tried to plead with them and assure them of their peaceful intentions. But per Numbers 20:20, Edom continued to refuse and then came out with many armed men to make their point. That initial event between the two nations shows the heart of Edom toward Israel that’s described here in this oracle in Amos.
Because of this sin, God declares here in Amos that Teman and Bozrah will be destroyed. Again, the warfare imagery of fire is employed, with again a reference to palaces being destroyed. A lot of similarity with the specific judgments uttered against these different nations here in Amos. Teman and Bozrah were key districts in Edom, Teman in the south, and Bozrah in the north. Thus, this judgment speaks of how the nation as a whole will be destroyed. In fact, the Assyrians would later conquer them in 732 BC, and they were finally destroyed by the Nabateans in history. Though at least during the time of the New Testament there was some remnant of Edomites, as the Herodian dynasty was of Edomite lineage. Paul even got to evangelize to one of them, hoping for his conversion to Christ; but I digress.
In our last point for today, I’d like to spend a little more time contrasting the pity versus the anger and wrath that was mentioned here in this oracle. That is an important contrast. The Edomites didn’t have pity. They did have anger and wrath. When you think of the put off, put on, idea in Scripture, the Edomites seems doing the reverse of what they should be doing. They appear to be putting off pity and putting on anger continually. As those who didn’t know the Lord, they obviously didn’t see the need to do otherwise. Yet, it’s important for us to recognize the relationship of these two.
Clarifications are important here, of course. I already stated how Scripture says that God is full of pity and mercy. Though, Scripture also speaks of how God is one that employs anger and wrath at times too. God in his justice, deals with his anger in a just way, bringing a righteous judgment against someone. Essentially, that is what is going on here today in Amos. God’s anger against the Edomites is justified and the punishment that he will bring against them will be appropriate. Surely, the issue with the Edomites is that their anger is not in accordance with justice and righteousness. God, on the other hand, has a perfect way that he can be all these qualities in the right way, full of pity, angry at the right times and in the right ways, just and righteous, yet merciful.
But again I digress. My actual point here is that there is a relationship of contrast between pity and anger. We can see this contrast in Psalm 77:9. There, the psalmist asks as a plea, “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?” The Hebrew word there for mercies is the same word for pity here in Amos. And so the psalmist sees the contrast between pity and anger. In that case, he calls for God to replace his anger with pity. That’s what Edom needed to do. They needed to meet their anger and wrath with pity and mercy and compassion.
We find a similar contrast in Ephesians 4:31-32. That’s one of those classic put on, put off passages. It says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” That passage tells believers what to do with their anger. We can’t just store it up and hold on to it. We need to deal with it. Obviously, dealing with it often involves working through biblical reconciliation principles with people. But a lot of it will involve replacing it with pity; showing the mercy to forgive others. Why should we do this? It tells us there. Because God in Christ forgave you.
And so, as we think of this judgment oracle against Edom, we remember again Jesus Christ. I remember how he referred to his disciples as brothers. Mark 3:34, pointing to those sitting there under his teaching, declared, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” And yet, we know we have not treated this brother Jesus properly. In fact, none of us have done the will of God perfectly. Jesus is essentially that older brother who was offended and betrayed by his younger siblings. As John’s gospel says, Jesus came to his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet Jesus knew this would be the case, but he came anyways. He came not in anger and wrath, but he came in great pity and mercy. He came even in order to turn away the wrath of God toward us for our sin. Jesus came and accomplished this through the cross. In Jesus, mercy has triumphed over judgment!
So then, all of us who have repented of their sins and put their faith in Jesus, we are the younger brothers and sisters of the Lord. We are joint heirs with him in Christ, adopted into that divine family and household. Let us praise our elder brother, the firstborn from the dead among many brothers (Col 1:18, Rom 8:29)!
So then how will we treat an unsaved brother, or any unsaved loved one, who gives us evil or treats us badly? Will we hold on to our anger? Or will we have pity for them? That’s my concluding exhortation. Have pity for such. Recognize that these unsaved loved ones who would attack us need Jesus. They need to know the mercy and grace we’ve come to know. Show them the pity from God that you’ve known through the cross of Jesus Christ. And as you do that, recognize as well the ways you’ve contributed to the conflict with your unsaved loved ones. Jacob wasn’t perfect by any means in how he treated Esau. Surely, we too have sinned against our earthly brothers and other unsaved loved ones. See how some of their anger toward us may be because of that. So then when you come to them in pity and mercy, do so as well acknowledging your sins and shortcomings to them. Show them what it looks like to be a Christian: not someone who is perfect. But a sinner saved by grace even as we confess those sins and look to turn from them unto the way of Christ. This even is part of that way. Be a peacemaker in your family even if they want to bring a sword against you. Keep showing the mercy of Christ as you look to point those unsaved loved ones to the Lord. And let us keep praying for them that they’d join with us as not only brothers according to the flesh, but also as brothers according to the Spirit. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.