You only have I known among all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your wrongdoing.
They will argue that at the time of the prophecy of Amos — about 750 BC — the Lord had known only Israel among all the families of the earth — therefore, the Lord will only ever know Israel among all the families of the earth. According to their argument, this verse constitutes “smoking gun” evidence of their doctrinal beliefs.
However, just a cursory critique of this line of reasoning will suffice to debunk the view: Why is it that the Lord having known only Israel at that point in history necessarily means He will ever know only Israel forevermore? Since there is no logical reason to believe this within the verse itself, Amos 3:2 does not at all constitute prima facie evidence that God will ever save only Israelites.
For this reason, this usage of Amos 3:2 appeals only to those who wanted to believe that only Israel will be saved in the first place. When we accept erroneous logic based only on what we want to believe, we tend to suspend and disable the logical faculties of our reasoning towards that end.
That being said — having addressed the central point — and the matter all but resolved — we will continue to study Amos 3:2 in more detail and provide a counterargument. In other words, what does Amos 3:2 really mean within the context of the New Covenant and other peoples whom the Lord didn’t previously know?
PROVOKED TO ANGER WITH A FOOLISH NATION
First, let us reinforce our critique above by considering the grammar of the verse. In the Hebrew Masoretic text, “have I known” was written in the perfect tense. Now ancient Hebrew tenses did not relate to time — as with modern English — but rather they related to whether an action was completed or not. Perfect tense means the action was completed — while imperfect tense means the action is incomplete — or ongoing.
In the Greek Septuagint, “have I known” was written in the indicative mood and aorist tense. When rendered as such, the verb becomes past tense — such as “knew.” Most translations acknowledge this and render it in the past tense in English.
Thus we can be perfectly sure that Amos 3:2 does not mean, “You only will I ever know” — except to those who want it to say that. The verb for “know” definitely refers to a past event at the time Amos received his prophecy. Now let’s consider what it means to “have known” Israel out of the families of the earth. Amos 3:1-2 says,
1 Hear this word which the Lord has spoken against you, sons of Israel, against the entire family which He brought up from the land of Egypt: 2 “You only have I known among all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your wrongdoing.”
Amos 3:1 qualifies what it means to have known Israel in verse 2 when it said, “the entire family which He brought up from the land of Egypt.” Likewise, Deuteronomy 4:34-35 says,
34 Or has a god ventured to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, just as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him.
God knew Israel by taking them out of Egypt and giving them the Law of Moses in the wilderness — making them His personal cherubim — or the executors of His will. Now we see a causal link found in Amos 3:2: considering God knew Israel by taking them out of Egypt and giving them the Law of Moses in the wilderness, He will therefore punish them accordingly for all of their wrongdoing.
The Law of Moses specifically warns Israel of many punishments if they do not keep that law. We can see one such punishment in Deuteronomy 32:21,
They have made Me jealous with what is not God; They have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation
In Israel’s relationship with God, He is their God and they are His people — just as Exodus 6:7 says, “Then I will take you as My people, and I will be your God…” In this rather poetic punishment, the logic goes that Israel would make God jealous and provoke Him to anger with idolatry — something which should not be considered God or actual gods. Moreover, God should have been their god — not other gods.
Therefore, in order to bring Israel back to Him, God will make Israel jealous and provoke them to jealousy with a people who should not be considered a people — and who shouldn’t have been God’s people. According to Deuteronomy 32:21, God would specifically punish Israel by making “them jealous with those who are not a people” and provoking “them to anger with a foolish nation.”
EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD
Paul quotes this very verse in Romans 10:19, but let’s start a little earlier with Paul’s words in verses 12-13,
12 For there is no distinction between Judean and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Paul has established the context of his own argument — he means to prove that there is no distinction between Judean and Greek — Israelites and non-Israelites — and that “the same Lord is Lord of all.” When he says that there is no distinction between Judean and Greek, he qualifies the statement by saying that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
When he says “everyone,” we take him to actually mean “everyone.” Those who believe that only Israelites are saved would interpret this as saying, “everyone out of Israel who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Yet they are begging the question — and they presume the verse means something other than what the words actually say. The Bible never actually says that only Israel would be saved. Conversely, we are content to merely accept it for what it says — “everyone” means all legitimate descendants of Adam and Eve.
In verse 13 Paul was quoting Joel 2:32,
And it will come about that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Will be saved; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem There will be those who escape, Just as the Lord has said, Even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.
Those who believe that only Israelites are saved would argue that Joel 2:32 was written only to Israelites — therefore, Paul must be talking to only Israelites — a logical error we have addressed in the past. Furthermore — as we have also explained previously, we must always consider Obadiah 1:15-17 when we read Joel 2:32,
15 “For the day of the Lord is near for all the nations. Just as you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head. 16 For just as you drank on My holy mountain, All the nations will drink continually. They will drink to the last drop, And become as if they had never existed. 17 But on Mount Zion there will be those who escape, And it will be holy. And the house of Jacob will possess their property.
Obadiah relates to us the destruction of the Genesis 10 nations — calling them “all the nations.” Then it says that they will become as if they had never existed — meaning the nations will cease to exist. After telling us they will cease to exist, it says that there will be those of the nations who escape to Mount Zion.
Verse 17 makes clear to us that “those who escape” are the nations — not the Israelites — because Obadiah says that “the house of Jacob will possess their property.” If “the house of Jacob” — meaning all twelve tribes of Israel — will “possess their property,” then that same “their” must refer to something other than Israel. That conclusion is simply inescapable.
The passage already referred to “all the nations” more than once — therefore, from two distinct angles within the same passage we can conclude that “those who escape” are “all the nations” — not “the house of Jacob.”
We’d also like to note the thought-for-thought translation in the NASB above — as opposed to the more literal translation of Obadiah 1:16-17 in the KJV,
16 For as ye have drunk upon my holy mountain, so shall all the heathen drink continually, yea, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been. 17 But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.
More modern translations render “deliverance” as “those who escape” for good reason — although they really mean the same thing. If the nations will become “as though they had not been” (v16), then the “deliverance” (v17) which follows could only be deliverance from that destruction. Moreover, verse 16 is literally addressing the nations when it says, “For as ye have drunk…” In other words, the nations may escape from — or be delivered from — their due punishment and destruction if they place themselves on mount Zion in holiness.
We now have three reasons to believe that Joel 2:32 was not referring only to Israel:
- Paul said that there is no distinction between Judean and Greek
- “Everyone” is a term which does not exclude anyone
- Cross-referencing Obadiah 1:17, some of the survivors — or those delivered — on Mount Zion in Joel 2:32 would definitely not be Israelites
Therefore — given Paul’s use of Joel 2:32 — and his own wording in Romans 10:12 — we can say for sure that Paul’s discourse which followed in Romans 10:14-21 — including his quote of Deuteronomy 32:21 in verse 19 — was definitely not limited to Israel itself. Paul was definitely talking about Israel and the Genesis 10 nations.
When Paul continues in his argument, we must remember that when he refers to “they,” he is referring to “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” (Romans 10:13).
Then Paul says in Romans 10:14-15,
14 How then are they to call on Him in whom they have not believed? How are they to believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? 15 But how are they to preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”
Here Paul gives us a syllogistic string to support his argument in verses 12-13:
- For anyone to call on God, they must first believe the message
- For anyone to believe a message, they must first hear the message
- For anyone to hear the message, there must be a preacher to preach it
- For there to be a preacher to preach it, a preacher must be sent
Then Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7 — “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things” — and we should briefly point out that Isaiah 52:10 says,
The Lord has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, So that all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God.
The very scope of Isaiah 52 includes salvation to the ends of the earth — in the sight of all the nations. Paul continues in Romans 10:16-17,
16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Here we find further context for Paul’s syllogism: “The word of Christ” was the preacher who was sent. Christ preached the message and so they were able to hear it. Some believed Christ and so they called on God in faith from hearing the word of Christ.
Yet Paul uses Isaiah 53:1 — “Lord, who has believed our report” — to prove that merely hearing Christ’s word does not guarantee that one would call on God in faith. In other words, some people heard the report and didn’t believe it. Not everyone calls on God in faith — despite having heard the Preacher — proving again that not all Israelites are saved.
18 But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? On the contrary: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.” 19 But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous with those who are not a nation, With a foolish nation I will anger you.”
Here Paul specifically argues that “they” — “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” — could not possibly be limited to Israel. Paul asks a rhetorical question — “surely they have never heard, have they?” He implies that the reader may suspect that “they” might include a portion of people who had in fact not heard the message of the Preacher. To answer his own question, Paul then quotes Psalm 19:4 showing that everyone must hear the message, because it must go “out into all the earth” and “the ends of the world.” Therefore, there cannot be anyone of the “generations of Adam” who has never heard.
If Paul meant us to take “they” in verse 18 as only Israel, then why would he say “surely Israel did not know, did they”? If “they” meant only Israel, then he could just as well have continued to say “surely they did not know, did they?” Thus Paul creates a distinction between “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” and Israel by virtue of specifically naming Israel in verse 19.
Paul begins verse 19 with the Greek word “alla” (Strong’s G235) — which, according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon means, “other things namely, than those just mentioned.” Strong’s Concordance says, “otherwise, on the other hand, but.” Therefore, Paul’s logic in verse 19 is referring to something other than what was just mentioned.
In other words, when Paul says “Israel did not know,” he means to say that the message having gone out into all the world was something other than what Israel knew. If Israel did not know, then he must be referring to a message which went out to something other than Israel. Thus when Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:21, the “foolish nation” could refer only to something other than Israel.
Moreover, “Israel” could not refer to only a subset of Israelites — because the term “Israel” — unless it is specifically qualified — refers to all twelve tribes. Therefore again, when Moses says “I will make you jealous,” he could be referring only to all Israel — because Paul preceded the quote by saying, “surely Israel did not know.” If the jealousy belongs to the twelve tribes of Israel, then those who are “not a nation” must be something other than Israel or a subset of Israel.
NOT A PEOPLE
Those who claim that only Israelites are saved may turn to Hosea 1:11 which says,
Yet the number of the sons of Israel Will be like the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or counted; And in the place Where it is said to them, “You are not My people,” It will be said to them, “You are the sons of the living God.”
They conflate “sons of Israel” (Hosea 1:11) with the “house of Israel” (Hosea 1:6). Thus they believe that Hosea 1:11 is a prophecy about the house of Israel specifically. They will say that though the house of Israel will be like the sand of the sea after their deportations by Assyria, they will still be call God’s people later.
First — and most clearly — the “sons of Israel” and the “house of Israel” do not refer to the same thing. The “sons of Israel” represents all twelve tribes of Israel — not merely the northern kingdom house of Israel. If that were the case, verse 11 would have actually said “house of Israel.” Furthermore, God said to Abraham in Genesis 22:17 and Genesis 32:12 that He would multiply Abraham’s descendants — all twelve tribes of Israel, not just the northern kingdom — as the sand of the seashore. We have further witness in Isaiah 10:21-22,
21 A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. 22 For though your people, Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness.
Here Isaiah prophecies to all twelve tribes of Israel — the remnant of Jacob — that they will be as the sand of the sea. The sand of the sea prophecy always refers to all Israel — and Hosea 1:11 speaks of the “sons of Israel” — not the “house of Israel.”
Next they will claim that the phrase “not My people” could refer only to the allegedly divorced northern kingdom of the house of Israel — as opposed to the Genesis 10 nations . They will then say that “not a people” in Deuteronomy 32:21 could refer only to the house of Israel, because “not My people” refers to the house of Israel.
Given that “sons of Israel” refers to all twelve tribes, this interpretation has already been cut short of proceeding to this point — however, let’s continue under hypothetical concession that “sons of Israel” could mean the same thing as the “house of Israel.”
The error in this reasoning lies in incorrectly interpreting the meaning behind Hosea’s third child — “Lo-ammi” — or “not my people.” Hosea 1:6-9 says,
6 Then she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer take pity on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them. 7 But I will take pity on the house of Judah and save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, sword, battle, horses, or horsemen.” 8 When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and gave birth to a son. 9 And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, because you are not My people, and I am not your God.”
They have assumed that when Hosea 1:9 says, “you are not My people, and I am not your God,” that the passage is referring specifically to the northern kingdom house of Israel. Yet where does it say that? According to Hosea’s second child — “Lo-ruhamah” — God would not pity the house of Israel while He would pity the house of Judah.
There’s nothing to logically suggest that “not being pitied” necessarily means that they would become “not a people.” Jeremiah 13:14 says of Judah and Jerusalem, “I will not have compassion nor be troubled nor take pity so as to keep from destroying them.” Does that mean that God will make Judah “not a people” because He didn’t pity them? No, not pitying the house of Judah (Jeremiah 13:14) and the house of Israel (Hosea 1:6) means simply that they would be conquered.
The house of Israel was conquered in the Assyrian invasions (2 Kings 17) while the house of Judah was spared (2 Kings 18-19) — fulfilling Hosea 1:6-7. Sometime after the Assyrian invasions, God no longer had pity on the house of Judah — and so they were conquered by the Babylonians. If we were to conclude that the house of Israel were divorced due to Hosea 1:6-7, then we must conclude that the house of Judah was also divorced according to Jeremiah 13:14.
Therefore, we must conclude that Hosea’s third child — who represents “not My people” — symbolizes something other than the house of Israel and the house of Judah — because at no point did either of them become “not My people.” In other words, those who believe that only Israelites are saved have concluded the logical opposite of what they should have.
What we can then logically conclude is that if Paul quoted Hosea 1:10 — and “not My people” couldn’t refer to any Israelites — then Paul simply couldn’t have been talking about Israelites. This conclusion harmonizes with the rest of our interpretation because — as we have already shown in Romans 10:19 — Paul was literally comparing Israelites with non-Israelites.
If the matter weren’t sure enough, Romans 10:20-21 continues,
20 And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I was found by those who did not seek Me, I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me.” 21 But as for Israel, He says, “I have spread out My hands all day long to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
Here Paul quotes Isaiah 65:1 in verse 20 and Isaiah 65:2 in verse 21. Those who believe that only Israelites are saved argue that both verses must be referring to Israelites — despite the fact that Paul emphatically tells us that each verse speaks of a different people when he opens verse 21 with, “But as for Israel”. If he had to qualify verse 21 as addressed to Israel, then it logically follows that verse 20 simply could not addressed to Israel.
Moreover, the context of Isaiah 65:1-2 alone shows us that verses 1 and 2 must have been referring to different peoples. In the midst of God’s exasperation and pronounced judgments against Israel (Isaiah 65:1-7), He permitted himself to be found by those who didn’t seek Him.
How could God spread His hands out to an obstinate people yet simultaneously let Himself be found by them? The prophecy simply doesn’t make any sense if verses 1 and 2 refer to the same people.
According to Paul, God allowed Himself to be found by those who did not seek Him specifically because He had spread His “hands all day long to a disobedient and obstinate people.” This perfectly aligns with Deuteronomy 32:21 which we’ll quote again,
They have made Me jealous with what is not God; They have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation,
Yes, He made Israel jealous and provoked them to anger specifically because they made Him jealous and provoked Him to anger with their idols — a direct violation of the first and second Commandments.
As the final nail in the coffin, Paul follows his argument in Romans 11:1 by saying, “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He?” Yet those who believe that only Israelites are saved claim Paul’s entire argument in Romans 10 was all about God bringing the house of Israel back into the covenants — because He had indeed rejected His people.
If that were the case, why in the world would Paul feel the need to reassure his audience that Israel had not been rejected?
It should be clear by now that’s simply not the case. Paul needed to reassure his audience — whom we have previously identified as both Israelites and non-Israelites — that Israel had not been rejected because he had just made the argument that God brought in the Genesis 10 nations because of Israel’s own failure. Just as Paul says in Romans 11:11,
I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? Far from it! But by their wrongdoing salvation has come to the nations, to make them jealous.
Ultimately, then, we can conclude that if Israel were to be punished according to the Law of Moses (Amos 3:2) — then that punishment necessarily means that God would have to know other non-Israelite people according to Deuteronomy 32:21.
CONCLUSION — PAUL’S WITNESS
That being said, we will leave off with something to consider in Paul’s works from Acts 14:16-17:
16 In past generations He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.
Note how here Paul says “all the nations” — meaning all of the Genesis 10 nations — and those who believe only Israelites are saved will readily acknowledge this fact. Why then did God leave Himself a witness for them if His goal was never to know them? What could that witness possibly have been for?
If He had known only Israel (Amos 3:2) — yet specifically planned to bring the Genesis 10 nations in as punishment for Israel’s failure (Deuteronomy 32:21) — then doesn’t it stand to reason that He would leave a witness to those nations?
Now those who claim only Israelites are saved will surprisingly claim that Paul didn’t preach Christ to the nations in Acts 14:16-17. Yet in verse 15 — immediately prior — Paul says to them,
Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men, of the same nature as you, preaching the gospel to you, to turn from these useless things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything that is in them.
If those who say that only Israelites are saved admit that Paul spoke with the nations in Acts 14 — and Paul definitely preached the gospel to them according to verse 15 — then they tacitly admit that the gospel must have come to non-Israelites — thus contradicting their own premise. If the gospel came to non-Israelites, then it came to them despite God having known only Israel at a prior point in time (Amos 3:2).