‘For three transgressions … and for four”
This poetic formula is repeated eight times to preface the announcement of ensuing judgment. This is not to be taken mathematically, but idiomatically – that is, the cities indicted by Amos have not merely sinned three or four times, but transgression has mounted up upon transgression.
God is patient, in fact more so than any man. He does not judge haphazardly based upon emotion; He is very calculated as He distributes wrath upon those He finds guilty. He watches over the career of man’s sinfulness. Though God may bare long with wickedness, He will not be mocked. In Amos’ day, the nations, as well as Judah and Israel have all crossed the line, exhausting the patience of a longsuffering God, and as a result He judges in His wrath, and chastises in His mercy.
The fourth transgression is the outward sign of the desperately wicked heart of man. When human values get cut loose from a solid foundation upon God and His Word, and become based upon the free choice of each person, selfishness will be the inevitable result. The sin that runs like a sinister thread throughout the transgressions of these six nations is that of living for self. We find the self trampling on others, intent on its own profit, ignoring obligations, indulging in secret pleasure, and callous and indifferent to the need of humanity around them. The outcome of such selfishness is manifested in persecution, slavery, divorce, and abortion.