Sermon Text: Amos 3:1-15
Sermon Theme: God expects a higher degree of obedience and moral living from his chosen people than from other nations, so he punishes his people more severely for their sins.
The distinguishing favors of God to us, if they do not restrain us from sin, they shall not exempt us from punishment. They could not expect communion with God, unless they first sought peace with him. Where there is no friendship, there can be no fellowship. God and man cannot walk together, except they are agreed. Unless we seek his glory, we cannot walk with him. Let us not presume on outward privileges, without special, sanctifying grace. The threats of the word and providence of God against the sin of man are certain, and certainly show that the judgments of God are at hand. Nor will God remove the affliction he has sent, till it has done its work. The evil of sin is from us, it is our own doing; but the evil of trouble is from God, and is his doing, whoever are His instruments. This should engage us patiently to bear public troubles, and to study to understand God’s meaning in them. The whole of the passage shows that natural evil or troubles, and not moral evil or sin, is meant here. The warning given to a careless world will increase its condemnation another day. Oh the amazing stupidity of an unbelieving world, that will not be wrought upon by the terrors of the Lord, and that despise His mercies!
That power which is an instrument of unrighteousness, will justly be brought down and broken. What is got and kept wrongfully, will not be kept long. Some are at ease, but there will come a day of visitation, and in that day, all they are proud of and put confidence in, shall fail them. God will inquire into the sins of which they have been guilty in their houses, the robbery they have stored up, and the luxury in which they lived. The pomp and pleasantness of men’s houses, do not fortify against God’s judgments, but make sufferings the more grievous and vexatious. Yet a remnant, according to the election of grace, will be secured by our great and good Shepherd, as from the jaws of destruction, in the worst times.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- What kind of religion did Israel invent in Bethel? The religion of Bethel had its origin (1 Kings 12:25-33) in the attempts of Jeroboam to wean people’s affections away from the Jerusalem temple and the dynasty of David. Politically he acted astutely, for if his newly rebellious people continued to attend the religious festivals at Jerusalem, he could not hope to consolidate the national sovereignty of the Northern Kingdom and the position of his own royal house. In turn, therefore, he became a political rebel (against the house of David), an apostate religious (against the Jerusalem Cult) and a theological heretic (against the truth of God). He was moved by political expediency, but he chose to extend his rebellion into the religious and theological fields. When Jeroboam set up his golden calves (1 Kings 12:28) he succeeded in confusing the visible and the Invisible. Without a doubt he intended the calves, not as representations of the divine nature, but as a visible pedestal on which God sat invisibly enthroned. But in the mind of man a visible object inevitably projects its nature on to the nature of the being who adopts it as part of his outward manifestation. So, Yahweh became identified with the bull-calf, the Creator with the creature. In Canaanite practice the bull-calf was the symbol of fertility, and the god Baal identified with the bull-calf was sought because of his supposed capacity to bring fertility and therefore prosperity to the nation. In this, the moral (holy) became exchanged for the non-moral (natural). Thus, the visible replaced the invisible, the creature the Creator and the unholy the holy. And it all happened so easily, so sensibly, so in accord with sound national policy. In other words, religiously and theologically the mind of man had taken the place of the mind of God. Revelation was adapted, distorted and trimmed until it matched human wisdom. But the hand of God goes out against such religion which has adapted revelation to its own likes and dislikes, and makes the truth of God into its own sort of lie. For the God of Scripture has to be taken whole, or else He will be estranged from us, and we shall know nothing of His power and saving grace. But if we are like the people of Jacob, Isaac and Joseph, then we have inherited truth received by revelation in Scripture. Therefore, our religious and theological position is entirely different and aligned with the truth of God. We have no liberty to invent and innovate; we can do so only by rebellion with consequent forfeiture of privileges.
- Why ever is the individual believer powerless against his foes, or why is the whole church powerless? We have forgotten that our God can turn and become our enemy (Isaiah 63:10) and with all our talk of taking care not to fall into the power of Satan we have become blind to the much more dangerous possibility of falling out of the power of God. We dismiss it, ignore it or forget it to our peril. Is it because God has lost His power? No, but because we have lost His power. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or His ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). But in all this powerlessness, it is the Lord who is Israel’s enemy. They are powerless because they have lost Him. The vengeance of the covenant is a reality, and we would do well to ponder what it is which alienates God from His people and renders them helpless before their foes. Does it help us to identify what Amos is saying about the conduct opposite to that which in humility counts others better than yourselves, looks to the interests of others and displays the mind … which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3-5)? So often the things which Amos condemns openly and Paul condemns by contrast are the things which fail to be categorized as sins at all in the general run of life, but they are on God’s list and the Lord roundly condemns them as not right. Their God defined His name and nature to them by His concern for them in their slavery, oppression, humiliation and hopelessness in Egypt. Can He do other than stand aloof from people who claim to know His name but refuse to imitate in life the very things the name stands for — human and humanitarian concern, good social order, even-handed justice, the dignity and well-being of men and women?
- What sort of people are represented by the rescued evidence of parts of beds and couches? Imagine that these are the vestiges of the people of God. In spite of the abundance of their religion (Amos 4:4-5) it is not in temple ruins or shattered altar-stones that Amos finds evidence of the character and concerns of the people who once lived there. Beds, couches, pillows summarize their life and habits. Sensuality, luxury, idleness, bodily care — but no evidence of religion, spiritual mindedness. Why would God withdraw from such a people? Because there was nothing in their lives corresponding to a heart-concern for spiritual things; their character could be written without mention of God, or prayer, or holiness; their legacy to the future was wholly a testimony to a life lived for self. And these claimed to be the people of God! Here then is the second reason for the alienation of God, the second reason why His people lose touch with Him and His power: personal spirituality had disappeared from their lives. Sleep and ease, luxuriousness and body-care, indolence and indulgence — but not prayer and the Word of God, no self-mortification, no dying to sin, no love of God, no discipline or battle for holiness. Thus, God departs and the people of God go down in defeat.
- We are capable of corrupting God’s holy name. How? We give the world a false meaning of God — that He is not holy. When we sin, we warp the image of God to the world. If we hide a brother’s offensive behavior for the sake of unity, we become hypocrites. Don’t be afraid of what the devil might do with it! Carry out justice. Let the world see us act rightly, deal out good and pure justice in love. It is not the justice that turns the world off, it is the hypocrisy that is allowed in our Christian communities that turns them off. The world wants to see us do right; they know that we know how to do that. They are disgusted that we refuse to do what we know is right. When we became Christians, we took on all the standards of right and wrong in God’s Word too. Christians are unique in that they are the only ones in the world who do. We are in God’s eye view ― we know it and the world knows it. We become a scandalous spectacle if we don’t acknowledge right from wrong. Would you do something bad or hide a brother’s offence if you knew your earthly father would be soiled by it? A hateful child might, but not one who loves his father. So, don’t be among those that corrupts God’s holy name.
- How do the people of God expect deliverance if they act as Israel acted — as oppressors? Why would it be a big surprise if God as set a day of judgment for them? They forgot the basic lesson God had tried to teach them throughout their history. “‘They do not know how to do right’ declares the LORD, ‘those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds’” (Amos 3:10). They could no longer distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong. The result was that they hoarded plunder and loot in their fortresses. Violence (ḥāmās) refers to mortal attack, to assault against life and limb (Job 19:7; Habakkuk 1:2). Robbery (šōd) refers to the destruction and plunder of material goods (Hosea 7:1; Isaiah 13:6). They were so bound by their greed and idolatry that it was impossible for them to do what was right. Like many people today, they were addicted to affluence. They didn’t care that others lacked the necessities of life so long as they themselves enjoyed luxuries. No wonder there was unrest in the land, for the possession of wealth never satisfied the hungers of the heart. Israel used violence and robbery of the poor to gain their wealth and then carefully hid the money away in the strongest military fortress, thinking it was safe from all intruders. Thus, the strongholds were bastions where criminal activities piled up with seemingly immunity to punishment. But God had another thought. What they hid was not wealth but violence and oppression — two sins that God must punish (Ezekiel 45:9). Oppression frequently describes various forms of social injustice by which the rich in Israelite society oppressed the poor. People most likely to be mistreated and socially oppressed were those without adequate defense of their rights — widows, orphans, sojourners, and the poor. For a society that forgets how to do right can only do wrong, and it deserves God’s judgment.
- God does not roar without reason — it doesn’t just happen. Something sets it off. God did not bring disaster on His people at the spur of the moment. He announced his intentions to his people, and he announced them by revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. Do we hear the lion’s roar? Do we have the one reaction needed — true fear? God is no patsy! He is no weak-livered, pathetic figure wringing his hands on the ramparts of heaven as he witnesses our sin, wondering what he is going to do. He is the Lion-God! He is the God who marches at the head of the alien armies to judge his unholy people — He sends the disasters. Christian people seem very reluctant to admit this, and instead of admitting it they seem to be trying to get God off the hot seat by blaming the devil, distinguishing between primary and secondary causes, or referring to the simple but impersonal “acts” of nature. The strange thing is, the Bible does not teach this. No doubt there are primary and secondary causes. There is a devil. But the Bible teaches that God controls the secondary as well as the primary causes and that he even controls the devil. The story of Job is an example of the latter. Although the devil wanted to injure Job, he was unable to do so until God called attention to Job and actually gave the devil permission to remove his possessions and inflict him with boils. Even in this, God fixed the points beyond which the devil could not go: “Everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger” (Job 1:12); “He is in your hands; but you must spare his life” (Job 2:6). And we find the claim that God controls and sends disasters: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).
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