Amos turns, finally, to look to the west, at the end of his first chapter. We’ll go with him there. He looks at another ancient, neighboring nation: The Phoenicians. You may remember them—sailors and ship builders. He addresses them in Amos 1:9 by speaking to their capitol city, Tyre. He knew what we have come to learn. Amos learned the same thing that we have come to learn: The spirit of the capitol city will saturate the nation. So, speaking to the part for the whole, he speaks to Tyre.
Amos 1:10–11, 10 So I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, and it shall devour her strongholds.” 11 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.
When Amos looks to the west, he pronounces God’s judgment on the people who played the middleman at the expense of others. The Phoenicians had not thrashed or harrowed refugees to death. Nor had they raided villages and carried away slaves. They simply let their place serve as the neutral staging ground for many of these things to take place. They were not experiencing the sin of commission, but the sin of omission. They omitted standing up for what was right in the midst of wrongness. They played the middleman at the expense of others.
The God who actively speaks out against those who are inhumane, or barbaric, or who perpetrate atrocities and injustices, has a word to those who say, “Well, we were just caught in the middle of the situation.” God’s words concerning His judgment are “I will not revoke the punishment.”
It took a century for Amos’ word about Tyre to come to pass. It was not until 664 B.C. that the Assyrians, under Ashurbanipal, overwhelmed that city.[i] It messed up by straddling the fence at the expense of others.
There is a word here for us. Has not our generation seen leaders across our land claim time and time again, “I was caught in the middle, and I was not responsible.” Perhaps the lengthy-cast shadow of a Pontius Pilate, caught between a Christ whom he feared, and Jews whom he feared more, said “I wish my hands of this matter” (Matt 27:24–26).
The prophecy of Amos is a call to national and individual responsibility. The God of Amos is not a God who will accept our feeble, “Excuse me. I was caught in the middle.” He is the God with the plumb line in His hand measuring His people to see that they always act out of responsibility.
There is another message to this ancient city of Tyre. This is the first word to all of these nations that doesn’t involve the people of God. In the message to Damascas, the Syrians were attacking northern Israel. In the message to the Philistines, they were attacking Judah. Here, the living God is concerned with inhumanity one pagan to another. The Phoenicians were blood-curdling, Baal-worshiping pagans. Yet, the living God, even there, is active for humanity.
Everywhere in creation, there is cruelty and insensitivity of contempt for inhumanity. There are middlemen who exist at the expense of others. God is not silent and is not still.