What Can We Learn from Amos’ Message to Damascus?

A man from a neighboring city attends a city council meeting. Stepping to the microphone, he delivers a passionate speech about all the things you are getting wrong as a town. He points out every injustice you’ve committed. His words, though true, are deeply offensive. “Who does this guy think he is?” the angry and defensive crowd wondered.

We don’t like to hear from others how we’re blowing it. If confronted at the proper time, when all the stars align, and the price of eggs is below a dollar, we might be in a position to receive a minor critique from someone who has known us for a couple of decades. We especially will not hear a rebuke from an outsider. “What do they know,” we parry.

Such is the situation that the prophet Amos faced when he, a shepherd from Judah, was tasked with speaking to the house of Israel. To do this, Amos pulls them in through a favorite human pastime—judging others. He begins with the sins of Damascus and then narrows in toward Judah and finally to Israel.

Each of these nations, while their sin is very real and very painful, are used as a foil to get Israel to look at themselves. To really understand the beauty of what Amos is doing and to feel what Israel must have felt, it’s helpful to dig into what each of these nations did against the Israelites.

First to the docket: Damascus.

Where Was Damascus?

If you aced world geography, then you likely know where Damascus was in the Bible. It’s in the same place today that it was back then. Damascus, the capital of Syria, is one of the oldest cities in the world. During biblical times, this nation was also known as Aram.

Damascus is located about 130 miles northeast of Jerusalem. The territory east of the Jordan—that occupied by Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh were the closets neighbors to Damascus. The most well-known land mentioned in the Bible, which the Arameans sought, was the land of Gilead. That was the mountainous northern part of the region. This region became somewhat of a buffer zone between the ever-expanding Arameans and the Israelites.

Because of its importance in international affairs, the region of Damascus is mentioned several times in Scripture.

Where Does Damascus Appear in the Bible?

If Damascus sounds familiar to you, it is likely because it was on the road to Damascus where the apostle Paul had his saving encounter with Jesus. But this isn’t the only time where this region is mentioned in the Bible.

It is first mentioned in Genesis 14:15 in connection with Abraham rescuing Lot. These were some of the kings that Abraham defeated when Lot had been taken captive. It appears again during the time of the Kings of Israel. In 2 Samuel 8:5-6, we see that David conquered Damascus and made it part of his kingdom. But control of the region was regained by the King of Syria during the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 11:23-25)

The dividing and warring between the kingdoms of Israel was most welcomed by Syria. While Israel/Judah languished, they thrived. At varying points in their history, both Israel and Judah made treaties with the kings of Damascus. This entanglement led to some of the shocking prophetic words in both Isaiah and Jeremiah—speaking of the destruction of the Northern Kingdom as well as their enemies in Damascus.

It is this perpetual warring that Amos focuses upon in his denunciation of their nation.

What Did They Do in Amos’ Day?

This is the message Amos delivered for Damascus:

For three transgressions of Damascus,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have threshed Gilead
with threshing sledges of iron.
So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. 

I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir,”
says the Lord. 

The specific sin which is mentioned of Damascus involves “threshing Gilead.” To thresh something is to separate the seed from the stalk. At times, this was accomplished by an animal, usually oxen, walking back and forth with grain that had been harvested. But this time-consuming process could be sped up by using a sled with iron spikes driven through them.

Certainly, it is not the threshing of land or grain which the Lord is concerned with. But rather a metaphor for cruel and inhumane conquest during war. Though not from Damascus, consider these words from an Assyrian King who ruled around this same time period:

I burnt many captives from them. I captured many troops alive; I cut off of some their arms [and] hands; I cut off of others their noses, ears, and extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made a pile of the living [and] one of the heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city. I burnt their adolescent boys [and] girls. (Royal Assyrian Inscriptions, 126)

Threshing, then, is the brutal treatment of those conquered through war. Harvested grain is helplessly trampled by oxen. It is further decimated when iron sledges are used. How horrendous would it be if this agrarian method was employed upon the backs of helpless prisoners? As one writer phrased it:

Used metaphorically, the image evoked is one of destruction in which the enemy had so thoroughly ridden roughshod over the Israelite army that their battered and lifeless corpses were left split and cracked, the ephemeral trappings of glory blowing away in the wind. (Hutton, 264)

It is this brutality which the Lord will judge.

How Should We Respond?

Ultimately, what matters most in this passage is not how we respond but how God is responding to the atrocities committed by Damascus. This reminds us of the goodness and the holiness of God. He doesn’t turn a blind eye to these injustices.

We can take comfort in the character of God when we have been treated unjustly. Certainly, as the Israelites first heard this word from Amos, they would have received it happily. We like to know that God is just and will judge those who have harmed us. But Amos’ primary message isn’t to Damascus…

Amos is stirring up their sense of justice in regard to the pain that they’ve felt. They are encouraged that God is just and doesn’t overlook sin. But they’ll need to apply the same principle to their own life. God doesn’t turn a blind eye to the sin of His people either. Our sin will also be judged.

The call here is a call to repentance. But it’s also a call to fly to Jesus. It is only through Him that any of us, Damascus and Israel alike, will be able to stand on judgment day. God will not overlook any sin, which is why we need to be covered by the blood of Christ.

K. Grayson, Royal Assyrian Inscriptions, II (Wiesbaden: Harrosowitz, 1976), 126.
Jeremy M. Hutton, Amos 1:3-2:8 and the International Economy of Iron Age II Israel, as quoted by John Goldingay, Hosea–Micah, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021), 264.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/FotoDuets 

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.

LISTEN: Let Our Bible Study Expert Help You Start the New Year Right!

Have you ever chosen a word for the year? Whether you pick a word each year or never have before, I think this episode will help you order your life in the year to come. If you don’t know what your word is, today might be a great day for you to hear some of the things that we are promised in Christ that you in faith can claim for yourself for 2024. Keep in mind, each of these words requires faith.

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.

WATCH: 5 Verses on Strength for When You Feel Weak

Video stock video and music probided by SoundStripe

Previous ArticleNext Article