Saturday, September 27. Amos 6 – 9

God’s mighty hand of judgment looms, and there will be no escape. “Not one will get away; none will escape. Though they dig down to the depths of the grave, from there my hand will take them. Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. . . Though they are driven into exile by their enemies, there will I command the sword to slay them. I will fix my eyes on them for evil and not for good” (9:1-4).

Israel’s sins all spring from their blessings: They are all out to “get theirs” and they will oppress all who get in their way. They despise authority and correction and love to revel in the finest the world has to offer. But they have no time for God, and no time for the needy. Such a people, in the eyes of God, do not deserve to live.

God will not, however, do away with them all. They are, after all, God’s people. And so, after a time of great trial and destruction, God promises to restore his people and show the world that, while subject to his justice, are not subject to obliteration (9:11-15). This latter text is cited in the New Testament to refer to the Christian Church (Acts 15:16-17).

How do we make an application of this book? After all, it is addressed to the nation of Israel, not to our nation.

We cannot say if our nation imbibes the same sins of Israel, we will fall like she did. Our nation does not, as a nation sustain the same relationship to God Israel did, nor is it in covenant with God to receive its promises. The people of God, today, are Christians. The message of Amos is that God is serious about justice and mercy and fairness and true spirituality. If we buy into the value system of the world, we will suffer the adverse judgment of God no matter what our nationality in this world.

On the other hand, the beginning of Amos makes plain that God holds all nations accountable for the way they conduct themselves. Failure to pay attention to God’s standard of conduct will surely usher in an earlier demise. It is in the best interests of the world for Christians, in whatever nation they reside, to live and promote the ways of God, both for our own future, and for the benefit of those among whom we live.

Friday, September 26. Amos 3 – 5

The judgment of Israel, the northern kingdom, extends from chapter 3 to the end of the book (9:10), and surprisingly, his condemnations remind us of our own times.

He accuses Israel of turning justice into bitterness” and “throwing righteousness to the ground.” He condemns their lives of indolence with these words: “You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David . . . You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph” (6:4-6).

Israel is a society whose people are determined to “get theirs” no matter who it hurts, and God is furious. In chapter 4 God lists all the horrible things God had done to get the people to look to Him and repent, yet, five times He repeats, “you have not returned to me.” In chapter 5, the Lord says: You get what you have given: Since you have oppressed the poor, you will become poor. The judgment is certain. Like a man who comes upon a lion, only to meet a bear, who escapes the bear and finds shelter in his home only to be bitten by a snake, there will be no escape for Israel.

God’s people have but one hope: seek good, hate evil, promote justice. This is not a way to escape the judgment, only a way to find mercy in a judgment sure to come.

Saturday, June 29. Amos 7 – 9; 2 Kings 16

Israel has several names in the Old Testament and a new one is seen in chapter seven. In fact, it only occurs this way in that chapter. Israel is called “Joseph,” and “Ephraim” in other places, but in Amos 7 she is called “Isaac.” Perhaps the Lord does this because Israel is stuck in the past as well as in idolatry. She makes regular pilgrimages to Beersheba (Amos 5:5; 8:14) where Isaac was born and where he also witnessed an appearance of the Lord and built an altar.

Israel holds to the faith of her fathers, but not to the way of her Heavenly Father. It is a problem in every generation. Early on, the generation seeks its own way, innovating as it goes and wandering further away from what God wants. Eventually it seeks to return to the “old paths,” but the old ways are but the ways they grew up with, their religious traditions – idols, which were also forged by their wandering forefathers. In Israel’s case, she has journeyed so far from the Lord she no longer knows the way back, and God is not inclined to forgive.

God plans punishments for Israel. The first one is so destructive Amos begs for forgiveness on her behalf. God doesn’t forgive, but He does relent. Then another punishment is seen. This time, Amos doesn’t pray for forgiveness, only that God will stop before Israel is destroyed. God does, but a third punishment is contemplated and from this, there will be no reprieve.

God doesn’t forgive forever, and there is an end to his patience. Each generation must seek the will of the Lord, a will that leads not to comfort with the familiar (the past), but the discomfort of the holy. The way of the Lord has been revealed and it can be known, at least by people who seek to know it above all else.

Friday, June 28. Amos 4 – 6

Chapter six opens with an address to those in “Zion,” which is strange because Amos is a prophet to the northern kingdom, not the southern (where Zion – Jerusalem – is the capital).  But this point allows us to make an observation about biblical interpretation.  There can be a difference between whom words are spoken to, and who they are for.  Amos was the prophet sent to Israel, but the book of Amos was not written for Israel, but for Judah.  And so Judah is supposed to learn from the message and experience of her sister nation to the north.

This is an important point for the study of the gospels.  While they record what Jesus said, the message may not have the same point Jesus had because the book in which the words are recorded was written by someone other than Jesus with perhaps a different emphasis.

In the prophets, “Joseph” is another name for “Israel” (see Ezekiel 37:16 and Zechariah 10:6), and in chapter six Israel’s great sin is that she has immersed herself in her luxuries and cannot feel the sorrow she should feel for her own (Joseph’s) spiritual decay.

If she believes she is impervious to destruction because of her financial acumen or her military might, she should consider the then disappeared economic greatness of Calneh, the military might of the Hittite city Hamath – both lying far to the north – and the superb glory of Gath to Israel’s south.  All these were now far from their heyday.  It could, and would, happen to Israel too (and Judah).

The most difficult time to remember God is when things are going well and yet, it’s when things are going well that we are most vulnerable.

Thursday, June 27. Amos 1 – 3

Amos was a “southern” prophet sent to the northern kingdom. He wasn’t exactly the sort of person the northern kingdom was going to listen to. After all, he was but a shepherd and a gardener. The northern kingdom was going through the period of her greatest economic prosperity. Unimaginable wealth had become hers. What notice would they pay a shepherd?

Not much.

But then again, they weren’t going to listen to God, so it didn’t matter who He sent.

Having spoken about the surrounding nations of the northern kingdom (Israel), and having spoken to Israel herself in chapter two, the prophet turns his attention to the entirety of the descendants of Jacob in chapter three, “the whole family I brought up out of Egypt.”

In chapter seven you will find a story of opposition against Amos, but you find hints of that opposition in chapter three. Notice these questions: “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? Does a lion roar in the thicket when he has no prey? Does he growl in his den when he has caught nothing? Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground where no snare has been set? Does a trap spring up from the earth when there is nothing to catch? When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble?”

Each of these refer to a cause and effect. Two people walk together because they have agreed to do so. The lion roars because he has caught prey.

So “when disaster comes to a city,” it must be the Lord who has caused it (vs. 6).

And, when God’s servants the prophets speak, the Lord must have given them the message.

Amos’ hearers should not question or oppose Amos. He is the Lord’s emissary.

Israel is the recipient of Amos’ message, but in his presentation he calls on the Egyptians and the Philistines (Ashdod) to come witness the poor behavior of God’s people as well as their impending destruction for that behavior. The implied message is that if God will do this to His “chosen” people (3:2), He is not likely to spare the “not chosen.” But the plain message to the proud and rich of Israel is that the people they disdain and despise with be the witnesses of their impending embarrassment.

Thursday, June 28. Amos 7 – 9

Newer translations help us to see the connection between  “ripe fruit” and the ‘ripeness’ of Israel.  Older versions referred to “summer fruit” and the “end” of Israel, and the reading was more difficult.  In Hebrew, it’s a word play really where the word for “ripe summer fruit” sounds very much like the word for “end.”

In any case, the end has been decreed, and there will be no going back.

The reasons for Israel’s punishment are summarized and rehearsed in chapter 8: She not only has no feeling for the poor, she believes the poor are there to be abused.  She is religious, but only ritually so and frankly finds religion a hindrance to commerce (can’t wait for the Sabbath to be over so she can get back to making money).  She is a nation of cheats who package the chaff with the grain and sell the result as grain.  Her end is sealed.

Two thoughts come to mind on this chapter about how to apply it.

First, surely our main application will be to living the Christian life.  Christians cannot cover up their sinfulness by church attendance or any other important ritual associated with our faith.  Rituals do not balance our sins and make us square with God.

But it would be well to consider a second application.  Christians cannot expect the pagans around us to buy our ethics without buying Jesus.  But we should remember from the first two chapters that God holds even pagan nations (and that’s what ours is) responsible for bad behavior.  Our only way to change our nation is by bringing its people to Jesus.  But absent change and filled with immorality, cruelty, materialism, oppression and a lack of concern for the least of its citizens, no nation can survive.  It will fall, never to rise again.

Wednesday, June 27. Amos 4 – 6

Amos 4 is an interesting chapter.

It would appear that Israel has gone through some really tough times.  There has been famine (verse 6), drought (vss.  7-8), blight and plague (vs.  9), and war (vss.  10-11).

They must have been absolutely horrible days.

You’d think Israel, the people of God, would have turned their eyes heavenward and prayed for deliverance.

In fact, they did.  They were very religious, scrupulous about offering the right sacrifices at the appropriate times and giving their tithes to God.  And sure enough, their fortunes did turn around.  Amos speaks of their great luxury repeatedly in his book.  But in spite of this, God says they have not “returned” to Him.

Their blessings were deceptive.  They led them to believe they were ok with God.  But they weren’t and while they were very religious, their ritual faith did not bring them closer to the Creator.  What God wanted was a changed life, a value system that mimicked His own.  He wanted not just religious lives, but holy lives and that, Israel was unwilling to give.

Don’t get the wrong idea: religious ritual is required by God, it’s just not the only thing.  Jesus will put it like this: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”

In our own time, people often reject religion (bound up in such rituals as church going and church involvement, Bible reading, communion taking, baptism etc.)  in favor of living a good life.  And some embrace the same facets of religion and ignore holy living.  Both ways stand condemned by God in Amos, and they continue condemned even to this day.  God requires both.

Tuesday, June 26. Amos 1 – 3

The book of Amos begins (chapters 1-2) somewhat deceptively in that it addresses the sins of the nations surrounding Israel.  From all the bad things Amos writes about them, the northern kingdom of Israel, Amos’ hearers and readers, could not help but believe that they were God’s favored nation.  Just look at all the bad things he had to say about the other nations – even Judah!

I think it is interesting that God condemns these nations.  After all, they are not His nations.  They have no covenant with Him.  With the exception of Judah, He has offered them no blessings.  On what basis then does He condemn them?  It is purely on the basis that God is sovereign over all.

Note the reasons for His condemnation.  Notice that condemnation does not come against these nations for their idolatry (not mentioned until He addresses Judah).  Instead, it is a matter of ethical behavior for which God holds everyone accountable – believer and non-believer alike.  The other nations are condemned because they ruined the land of others, enslaved their conquered, broke treaties, exhibited hatred, and were cruel.

Less often now, but folks still talk about a “Christian” nation.  I know what they mean, but I shy from that title because there is no such thing.  A nation is only “Christian” if it imbibes the behavior of Christ, but even if it did, you could not call the nation “Christian” and there would be no reward to that nation, as a nation.  The reward would belong to the Kingdom of God within that nation – the Church.

And yet, a nation does not get to ignore the ethics of God just because it chooses not to recognize Him.  God holds every nation accountable for its behavior, even in its defense of its citizens.

Tuesday, June 26. Amos 1 – 3

    The book of Amos begins (chapters 1-2) somewhat deceptively in that it addresses the sins of the nations surrounding Israel.  From all the bad things Amos writes about them, the northern kingdom of Israel, Amos’ hearers and readers, could not help but believe that they were God’s favored nation.  Just look at all the bad things he had to say about the other nations – even Judah!

    I think it is interesting that God condemns these nations.  After all, they are not His nations.  They have no covenant with Him.  With the exception of Judah, He has offered them no blessings.  On what basis then does He condemn them?  It is purely on the basis that God is sovereign over all.

    Note the reasons for His condemnation.  Notice that condemnation does not come against these nations for their idolatry (not mentioned until He addresses Judah).  Instead, it is a matter of ethical behavior for which God holds everyone accountable – believer and non-believer alike.  The other nations are condemned because they ruined the land of others, enslaved their conquered, broke treaties, exhibited hatred, and were cruel. 

    Less often now, but folks still talk about a “Christian” nation.  I know what they mean, but I shy from that title because there is no such thing.  A nation is only “Christian” if it imbibes the behavior of Christ, but even if it did, you could not call the nation “Christian” and there would be no reward to that nation, as a nation.  The reward would belong to the Kingdom of God within that nation – the Church.

    And yet, a nation does not get to ignore the ethics of God just because it chooses not to recognize Him.  God holds every nation accountable for its behavior, even in its defense of its citizens.