Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions… and for four, I will not revoke punishment,”
Amos 1:3,6,9,13; 2:1,4,6
Amos begins with a distinct poetic device: the repeated phrase “for three transgressions, and for four, I will not revoke punishment.” As usual, the helpful folks at gotquestions.org provide a wonderful article about what’s behind this unique literary device. The whole article is great, but here’s the summary:
Three sins” represents fullness or completeness; “four” represents an overflow or a sin that is the tipping point for God’s judgment.
Interestingly, “for three sins . . . even for four” is not followed by four specific sins. In fact, the typical pattern is to list one or two sins and move on. Therefore, the expression is not meant to imply a specific number of sins but to communicate that there is an excess of sins that have led to God’s judgment.“Why Does Amos Keep Repeating ‘For Three Sins… Even For Four’ in chapters 1-2?”on gotquestions.org
Each of the nations the Lord calls out would be deserving of God’s judgment for just one transgression. But God allows sin to reach its fullness. Even then, sin hits an overflow point before it is judged.
In the New Testament, the Greek word orge is used to describe God’s wrath. It is the idea of indignation, anger, or hostility toward sin that is held back and stored until it matures and bursts forth. This is the word used in Romans 1:18:
18 For the wrath [orge] of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
What is true of the nations in Amos is true of every single person on earth as well. One transgression is enough to deserve God’s judgment. We are all objects of God’s settled indignation against sin. And left to our own devices, we would all receive God’s righteous wrath against our sin. Revelation 14:19-20 really captures this word picture of wrath [orge] as something that bursts like a ripened grape:
19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse's bridle, for 1,600 stadia .
So why does God delay the punishment we deserve? Why did he allow the sins of the nations (and our sins as well) to reach a tipping point before He executed His judgment? The Apostle Peter gives us the answer in his second letter:
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9).
God’s love and desire for all to come to repentance has been what has stayed His hand. It was true for the nations surrounding Israel; it was true for Israel; and it is still true for us. He holds back His wrath so we will repent. But He won’t hold it back forever. Peter goes on to say,
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10)
Indeed, God’s judgment against sin has already been poured out on God’s only Son. At the cross, all God’s righteous wrath against sin was taken by Jesus:
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Beloved, don’t mistake God’s patience for indulgence! While it is still called today (Hebrews 3:13), repent, and trust in Jesus. He has already borne the wrath your sins deserve.