The Covenant of Brotherhood

The idea of brotherhood is found in at least two of the war oracles of Amos 1:3-2:16. In Amos 1:9, Tyre's transgression involves not remembering the "covenant of brotherhood." In Amos 1:11, Edom's transgression involves pursuing his brother with the sword. While we may know what we mean by "brother," a look into Ancient Near East (ANE) culture may give a bit of insight into what Amos meant by "brother."

Joe Hellerman, Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Talbot School of Theology, has done considerable research into the patrilineal kinship group system practiced in that culture. Duane Warden's review of Hellerman's book, Ancient Church as Family, provides a useful summary of Hellerman's findings.
The PKG, characteristic of many societies on the world stage, differs in significant ways from the North American kindred family system. Belonging and interpersonal relationships in the PKG system are determined by descent, i.e. on the basis of shared blood. A kindred family system, by contrast, defines itself in terms of the relationships of members to one another and a single living individual. Descent group families understand marriage primarily in contractual rather than affective terms. The strongest bonds within the descent group are expected to be between siblings, not husband and wife. Members of the PKG perpetuate the family name through inheritance, support one another by sharing material and spiritual resources, function as a producing and consuming unit around a patrilocal residence, and uphold the honor of the family vis-a-vis the outside world even at the expense of truth. Given such values, the needs of the family take precedence over the needs of the individual. [1]
The PKG system provides a cultural context in which to understand "brother" in Amos. Because "The strongest bonds within the descent group are expected to be between siblings..." breaking the bond of brotherhood is a particularly heinous act. It goes against the very foundations of human existence and dishonors the highest of human values. In this context, the offenses of Tyre and Edom are particularly contemptible. For the northern kingdom of Israel, the recipient and focus of this prophetic work, these transgressions of brotherhood by Tyre and Edom place their transgressions of the covenant with Yahweh as even more heinous and contemptible. As central as the PKG system was to ANE culture, Israel knew full well that the covenant with Yahweh, the one who delivered them from slavery in Egypt, was even more basic. It was the very foundation of their existence. It was the most central part of their identity that they had scorned and against which they had rebelled. Therefore, punishment was justified and certain.

[1] Ancient Church as Family, The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Jun 2003 by Warden, Duane


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“Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”


  1. Thanks for posting this :-)

    Jesus has covenanted himself to us as a brother. Can I truly get my heart and my head around that?

  2. Indeed. Not only that, but we are all siblings. When you keep in mind how the original readers of the NT understood this, it says a TON about how church ought to be.

    I sat thru 16 weeks of class, have thought about it since, and it is too big.

  3. We were actually discussing this at the dinner table tonight - when one of my eight year olds said "Dad ... if we all came from Adam and Eve ... then why aren't we one big family?". They get you like that sometimes, kids. I thought of this post about brotherhood.