A Wrong Response to Grace
Sermon Text: Amos 2:6-16
Sermon Theme: God’s own people cannot escape judgment when they forget Him, His teachings, and all He has done for them and practice injustice, immorality and false religion.
The worst abominations and most grievous oppressions have been committed by some of the professed worshippers of the Lord. Such conduct leads many to unbelief and vile idolatry. We need often to be reminded of the mercies we have received; which add much to the evil of the sins we have committed. They had help for their souls, which taught them how to make good use of their earthly enjoyments, and were therefore more valuable. Faithful ministers are great blessings to any people; but it is God that raises them up to be so. Sinners’ own consciences will witness that he has not been lacking to them in His grace. They did what they could to lead believers aside. Satan and his agents are busy to corrupt the minds of young people who look heavenward; they overcome many by drawing them to the love of mirth and pleasure, and into drinking company. Multitudes of young men who bade fair as professors of religion, have erred through strong drink, and have been undone forever. The Lord complains of sin, especially the sins of His professing people, as a burden to Him. And though His long-suffering be tired, His power is not, and so the sinner will find his actions costly. When men reject God’s word, adding obstinacy to sin, and this becomes the general character of a people, they will be given up to misery, notwithstanding all their boasted power and resources. May we then humble ourselves before the Lord, for all our ingratitude and unfaithfulness.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- How do you usually respond when you hear someone talking about the injustices in society today? What do you think moves people to stifle their compassion for those who need help? The people of the Northern Kingdom were guilty of injustice (Amos 2:6-8). Supported by corrupt judges, the rich were suing the poor, who couldn’t pay their bills, and forcing them into servitude and slavery. Even if they couldn’t pay for a pair of shoes, the poor were neither forgiven nor assisted. Instead, they were trampled like the dust of the earth. Mercy was being destroyed by the abandonment of mercy, and fellowship was corrupted into carousal (Amos 2:8). The fundamental law shines through: it is impossible to be right with God if we are wrong with men. That is, if our attitudes and actions towards men are not patterned on the attitudes and actions of God to us, then we cannot in reality claim to belong to Him. Consider the law in Exodus 22:26-27 as to the plain fact that a cloak might be taken as security against a loan but could be held only by day and must be returned for the night; and it is plain as to its motivation: the cloak was used by night as a blanket; to deprive its owner of this necessary protection was an act of unfeeling thoughtlessness, the essence of the pitilessness of covetousness for money, and it offended the compassionate God. In other words, when the divine compassion finds no reflection in human compassion then the altar is visited in vain. Those who are not interested in mercy when it lies within their own sphere cannot in sincerity concern themselves in receiving mercy from God, nor will He extend mercy to those who hate it (Matthew 18:32-35).
- Are you profaning God’s holy name by your sexual actions? The gross sin of immorality by fathers and sons in visiting the same girl (Amos 2:7) caused God’s name to be profaned. She may have been a “cult prostitute” who was part of the heathen idolatrous worship. Thus, there was a double sin involved: immorality and idolatry. Or the girl may have been a household servant or a common prostitute. The father should have been a better example to his son by obeying the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 22:28-29; Deuteronomy 23:17-18). Perhaps what’s described here is a form of incest, which was, of course, strictly forbidden by Moses (Leviticus 18:7-8; Leviticus 20:11-12). Regardless of what the act of disobedience was, it was rebellion against God and defiled His holy name. Such disobedience to specific divine commands are sins against the revealed Word of God. When people do that which they know to be offensive to God, the Bible openly insists that they do it in order to offend Him. Behind all deliberate, volitional sin there is this careless effrontery towards God. God and His law, God and His word cannot be separated. When the word is rejected, God is rejected (cf. 1 Samuel 15:23). And when the Word is knowingly, deliberately rejected there can be no evasion of the charge of wanting to shut off God from your life. But Amos was not addressing Canaanites, but people who had been given a clear statement of the divine will and who had allowed Canaanite principles and practices to erode the distinctive standards and practices of their holy religion. The father was untrue to his marriage vow and committed the sin of adultery; the son violated the law of God against fornication; both alike transgressed the divine prohibition of sexual relations outside of marriage. They sinned against the revelation of God. Thus, it was not only in the social manifestation of their sins that the people of God had become like the heathen, but also in their assiduous cultivation of the principle of self-pleasing. Sexual gratification had replaced the holy name of God as the guiding principle of life; even divine revelation had to bow to the superior demands of insistent self-centeredness. (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).
- Are we remembering to be thankful and humbled by God’s grace and provisions? Amos reminded Israel of their glorious past (Amos 2:9-11). God had led His people out of Egypt, cared for them in the wilderness, and destroyed other nations so the Jews could claim their inheritance in Canaan. He gave them His Word through chosen prophets, and He raised up dedicated people like the Nazirites to be examples of devotion to God. What a glorious past they had! But instead of being humbled by these blessings, the people rebelled against the Lord by rejecting the messages of the prophets and forcing the Nazirites to break their holy vows. The Jews wanted neither the Word of God nor examples of godly living. We need to pause and ask ourselves whether we truly fear God and seek to obey His will. Just because we enjoy a measure of peace and prosperity, it doesn’t mean God is pleased with us. For that matter, the goodness of God ought to lead us to repentance, as it did the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:17; Romans 2:4). “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The LORD will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30-31). However, we can still claim the promises of and experience the forgiveness of the Lord as we seek His face and turn from our evil ways (2 Chronicles 7:14; 1 John 1:9). But it was too late for the Northern Kingdom. Amos’ message was the announcement of their terrible future (Amos 2:13-16). Israel would be crushed by their own sins. Judgment is coming, and nobody will be able to escape. The swift won’t be able to run away; the strong won’t be able to defend themselves; the armed will be as if unarmed; and even the horsemen will be unable to flee. The bravest soldiers will run away while shedding their equipment and clothing so they can run faster. Yes, Assyria would invade Israel (720 BC) and the nation would be no more.
- Are we taking the warning signs of our national moral decay seriously? We may well be acquainted with God’s goodness, but how do you see God displaying His “severity” today? This oracle against the covenant Northern Kingdom serves as a warning to Christians and all others who profane God’s holy name by trying to make Him less than God. For there is certainty in God’s judgment when God’s own people forget Him, His teachings, and all He has done for them. Freedom is a key word for human beings. We celebrate our freedom to make choices and our freedom to relate to God and to other people. Sometimes we forget that God has freedom, too. He has the freedom to call his people to mission and the freedom to discipline those who refuse to carry out his mission. Israel regarded themselves as the people who had been chosen and blessed by God. They exercised their freedom to gain enjoyment from life and to display their greatness. But what a surprise Amos sprang on them! He talked not about their freedom but about God’s freedom. God was free to exercise control and discipline over all Israel’s neighbors. To that Israel cried, “Amen. Get them, God.” God is also free to exercise control and discipline over his chosen people. That message Israel did not want to hear. Turning a deaf ear to the message brought extinction for the Northern Kingdom. It can bring the same to us unless we are faithful to God. These thoughts can perhaps be summarized by excerpts from a prayer of John Calvin, prayed as he lectured on the prophecies of Amos: “Grant, Almighty God, that since we see so grievous punishments formerly executed… we may be warned by their example, so as to abstain from all wickedness, and to continue in pure obedience to thy word; … grant that we may ever be attentive to that rule which has been prescribed to us by thee in the Law, as well as in the Prophets and in the gospel, so that we may constantly abide in thy precepts, and be wholly dependent on the words of thy mouth, and never turn aside either to the right hand or to the left, but glorify thy name, as thou hast commanded us, by offering to thee a true, sincere, and spiritual worship, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
- Israel heard the revelation on how to be separated to the Lord as a holy nation (Exodus 19:4-6) but choose instead to walk in the ways of the heathen nations ― the culture of their day. As Israel followed the example of the culture of its day, are you walking in the way of today’s culture? The Lord, however, is the true God, all-powerful, faithful, providing and guiding, who delivers the oppressed and needy, including those so afflicted within his covenant people and those who will not let God’s word be silenced by any human power, or God’s name be profaned by any human sin. Israel cannot be permitted to diminish God, the one Lord of heaven and of earth. Therefore, God has no choice but through his prophet Amos to manifest His lordship and to bring His judgment upon a people who, in complete ingratitude for God’s grace, have totally abandoned their history, their calling, and their Lord. For Israel had comfortably forgotten the vengeance of the covenant, the jealousy of God at work within the confines of His chosen people to punish transgression, to discipline unto greater holiness and to purge out evil. The words “the vengeance of the covenant” occur in Leviticus 26:25 — the truth being that God’s saving work, bringing people into His covenant of grace, is not intended to induce a spirit of moral complacency but of moral ambition after holiness through obedience to the divine commands. Disobedience will be visited with punishment, even to the point of apparent destruction of all that God had built up, yet in the end, since salvation depends on the will of God and not of man, divine faithfulness will never break the covenant. Amos could never have been guilty of proclaiming the end of the covenant relation between the Lord and His people. Passages such as Leviticus 26:31-38; Deuteronomy 28:58-68; Amos 2:13-16 and others may appear to destroy the entire covenant relationship between the Lord and His people, but if they are held within their own contexts (Leviticus 26:14-45; Deuteronomy 28:1-29; etc.) as well as within the context of the whole Bible’s teaching on the covenant, it becomes clear that these fearful destructions are to be accounted among the covenant-keeping acts of God. They purge out pretended members and purify true members. “The vengeance of the covenant” warns us never to allow our membership to give in to moral complacency, for though the promises of God can never change, the reality of our possession or inheritance of those promises are forever subject to assurance in His saving grace. For “God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice” (Romans 11:29). Special privileges, special obligations; special grace, special holiness; special revelation, special scrutiny; special love — the church of God cannot ever escape the perils of its uniqueness.
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