The Old Testament prophets wrote some of the most rhetorically powerful literature in Scripture. Amos 1–2 illustrates this as the prophet builds a case for his audience before giving a twist at the end. In Amos 1:2–2:3, the prophet records his oracles against the Gentiles' sins. Jewish readers would have cheered Amos on as he preached against Moab, Philistia, and other pagan nations. But in Amos 2:4, the prophet turns the tables, directing his ire against self-righteous Judah and Israel, God's chosen people.
The prophet condemns the southern kingdom, Judah, for rejecting "the law of the Lord" and being led astray by "lies" (v. 4). He seems to speak of idolatry, as other texts combine rejecting God's law and following false deities in a manner that anticipates and echoes Amos 2:4 (Deut. 8:19; 2 Kings 17:15; Jer. 11:10; Ezek. 20:16). Amos likely describes false prophets who, in the name of other gods, lied about Judah's security. Judah faced a fiery end for believing these liars (Amos 2:5). Amos later took his prophetic oracles in writing to Judah, but most Judahites did not heed him or the example of Israel's fall to Assyria in 722 BC. About 150 years after Amos prophesied, Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon invaded Judah, destroying Jerusalem in 586 BC (2 Kings 25).
Amos ministered primarily in the northern kingdom, Israel, so his condemnation of that nation is more extensive than his condemnation of Judah. As in the other oracles of Amos 1–2, the "for three transgressions of Israel, and for four" pattern indicates that while the nation's sins were sufficient to cause its downfall, an "overabundance" of sin tipped the scales decisively, making the nation more than fit for destruction.
The sins Amos condemns in 2:6–8 are largely sins that manifest the abuse of power. Selling "the righteous for silver" probably refers to some kind of judicial malfeasance, the condemnation of righteous people in exchange for a bribe, which God hates (Deut. 16:19). Exodus 22:25–27 calls those who take a poor person's cloak for collateral to return it before the sun goes down so that the impoverished person might have something to keep him warm. Instead of obeying this command, the Israelites kept these garments overnight, using them as makeshift beds and places for illicit sexual activity (Amos 2:8). The nation committed all these sins and more, forgetting the Lord who brought them out of Egypt and made their enemies flee in terror (vv. 9–10).
Forgetfulness is a major contributing factor to sin for the people of God. When we forget all that the Lord has done for us, it becomes easy to take Him for granted and to commit the very acts He condemns in His Word. If we do not regularly remember and thank Him for His great redemption, we are likely to fall into the sins of the pagans around us, just like ancient Israel did. Let us, as individuals and as a corporate body in worship, meditate regularly on God's great acts.