“Because of the three great sins of Israel
—make that four—I’m not putting up with them any longer.
They buy and sell upstanding people.
People for them are only things—ways of making money.
They’d sell a poor man for a pair of shoes.
They’d sell their own grandmother!
They grind the penniless into the dirt,
shove the luckless into the ditch.
Everyone and his brother sleeps with the ‘sacred whore’—
a sacrilege against my Holy Name.
Stuff they’ve extorted from the poor
is piled up at the shrine of their god,
While they sit around drinking wine
they’ve conned from their victims.
“In contrast, I was always on your side.
I destroyed the Amorites who confronted you,
Amorites with the stature of great cedars,
tough as thick oaks.
I destroyed them from the top branches down.
I destroyed them from the roots up.
And yes, I’m the One who delivered you from Egypt,
led you safely through the wilderness for forty years
And then handed you the country of the Amorites
like a piece of cake on a platter.
I raised up some of your young men to be prophets,
set aside your best youth for training in holiness.
Isn’t this so, Israel?” (Amos 2:6-11)
Ingratitude can be startling. Hebrew poetry is created by rhyming ideas rather than sounds—that is, by writing parallel lines that use synonyms. Numbers, however, lack synonyms and so the convention for poets when they chose to use numbers, was to give two sequential numbers—as here, three, then four. The poet intended all along to list four things, of course. So what four sins was Israel guilty of?
Judges took bribes to punish a people for crimes they were innocent of. They oppressed the poor and suffering. They profaned the name of God when both a man and his father used the same prostitute. And finally, they got drunk in the temple from the wine they had taken unjustly.
God took this bad behavior as ingratitude. Look at what he had done for them in rescuing them from Egypt and giving them a country. Rather than being thankful, they treated each other the way the Egyptians who had enslaved them had.
The consequence, of course, would be God’s discipline. He intended to help them learn to be thankful, to help them learn to be loving to one another and to God. Likewise, God punishes us in order to make us better people more like him. God punishes us to keep us from hurting the people we should be loving.