Patient & Just Judgement
Sermon Text: Amos 7:1-9
Sermon Theme: The outcome of living by any standard other than the LORD’s Word is just judgement.
God bears long, but he will not bear always with a provoking people. The remembrance of the mercies we formerly received, like the produce of the earth of the former growth, should make us submissive to the will of God, when we meet with disappointments in the latter growth. The Lord has many ways of humbling a sinful nation. Whatever trouble we are under, we should be most earnest with God for the forgiveness of sin. Sin will soon make a great people small. What will become of Israel, if the hand that should raise him be stretched out against him? See the power of prayer. See what a blessing praying people are to a land. See how ready, how swift God is to show mercy; how he waits to be gracious. Israel was a wall, a strong wall, which God himself reared as a defense to his sanctuary. The Lord now seems to stand upon this wall. He measures it; it appears to be a bowing, bulging wall. Thus God would bring the people of Israel to the trial, would discover their wickedness; and the time will come, when those who have been spared often, shall be spared no longer. But the Lord still calls Israel his people. The repeated prayer and success of the prophet should lead us to seek the Savior.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- The term repent at its root means “to change one’s mind.” To repent of sin means to change your mind about sin. At one time you thought sin was good and acceptable and even fun. When you repent, you see sin as evil and harmful. Any change of mind can be described as repentance. But the difference with God is His repentance happens in spite of perfect foreknowledge — and that is what it means to be God — while most human repentance happens because we lack foreknowledge. God’s way of repenting is unique to God. God is not man that he should repent, Scripture says; meaning God is not man that he should repent as a man repents in his ignorance of the future. For God knows all along what He will or will not do, and He never changes His mind because He never gets new information that He has to consider. However, as He interacts with people, He interacts in real time. God does not interact with us today on the basis of the sin that we may commit in the future. He deals with us now, in the situation we are in. James 1:17 declares, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Similarly, Numbers 23:19 tells us: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” Based on these verses, God does not change. God is unchanging and unchangeable ― He is all-wise. So, He cannot “change His mind” in the sense of realizing a mistake, backtracking, and trying a new tack. How then do we explain verses that seem to say that God does change His mind? Verses such as 1 Samuel 15:11, “I regret that I have made Saul king” and Exodus 32:14, “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened” speak of the Lord “repenting” or “relenting” of something and seem to contradict the doctrine of God’s immutability. When the Bible says God “changes His mind,” it is speaking of God in human terms ― the technical term is anthropomorphis. Anthropopathism is a figure of speech in which the feelings or thought processes of finite humanity are ascribed to the infinite God. It’s a way to help us understand God’s work from a human perspective. For God to say, “I regret that I made Saul king” is not the same thing as saying, “I would not make him king if I had to do it over.” Yes, he would. God is able to feel sorrow for an act in view of foreknown evil — foreknown pain and sorrow and misery — and yet go ahead and do it for wise reasons. And so, later when he looks back on the act, he feels the very sorrow for the act that he knew was leading to the sad conditions, like Saul’s disobedience. One of the great implications of all of this is that when God makes a promise to us, he does it with complete foreknowledge of all the future circumstances and is never caught off guard by anything. Also, we must make a distinction between conditional declarations of God and unconditional determinations of God. In other words, when God said, “I will destroy Nineveh in forty days” (Jonah 3:4), He was speaking conditionally upon the Assyrians’ response. We know this because the Assyrians repented, and God did not administer the judgment. God did not change His mind; rather, His message to Nineveh was a warning meant to provoke repentance, and His warning was successful. The fact that God changes His treatment of us in response to our choices has nothing to do with His character. In fact, because God does not change, He must treat the righteous differently from the unrighteous. If someone repents, God consistently forgives; if someone refuses to repent, God consistently judges. He is unchanging in His nature, His plan, and His being. He cannot one day be pleased with the remorseful and the next day be angry with the remorseful. That would show Him to be mutable and untrustworthy. For at one time, we were all enemies of God due to our sin (Romans 8:7). God warned us of the wages of sin (Romans 6:23) in order to cause us to repent. When we repented and trusted Christ for salvation, God “changed His mind” about us, and now we are no longer enemies but His beloved children (John 1:12). He loves mercy and forgives the penitent.
- Have you considered that God’s relenting is something more than that? It is a reminder that the Old Testament never makes Yahweh an arbitrary despotic ruler but always regards Him as a God who sympathizes with man. Theologically, God’s relenting is an expression of his compassion, of his commitment to covenant and of his freedom. When God chose to work out his salvation in history by calling human persons to covenant obedience to him, he freely opened himself to the implications of their historical actions in either turning toward Him or away from Him. From a biblical perspective, God is always free to relent of the evil that he said he would do to Nineveh (or Israel) and not do it. For every man’s cry of repentance and call for mercy presupposes this freedom of God to forgive and deliver from judgment. Even more remarkably in this passage (as in the intercession of Moses for Israel at Sinai ― Exodus 32:11-14), God withholds his wrath not in reply to the people’s call for mercy but in response to the plea of a solitary prophet, as though Yahweh is open to any feasible reason to stay the judgment. For Amos, a minority of one, faced the nation’s power structure. But he proved to be the majority opinion because he knew God’s mathematical formula — one plus God is always a majority.
- What is this mystery in the power of prayer? In Amos 7:1-6, it is revealed that it is by prayer that the will of God is wrought on earth. Even though God determined who should be His and that He would make and keep them as His, yet here that eternal, unchangeable, infallible decision is brought to pass only by the agency of prayer. And it is as if the Lord wanted that prayer to be made, for otherwise why should He have allowed Amos into the secret of what He was doing? As Pusey says, “Prayer suggested by God, moves God, the Ruler of all.” Prayer being the means by which the Lord of all brings His determined purposes to pass. Here is a prayer which God prompted and certainly a prayer which He heard and answered. In its way, it is a model for effective praying. There are two noteworthy things at least. First, it adopts the divine estimate of the situation: “How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” That is, Jacob is so weak, so helpless, so pitiful. But this is the people who boasted in their pride of their security and wealth, their military prowess and their lavish cult. However, prayer needs to start by adopting God’s position, seeing things and people as He does. Prayer also looks up to the divine mercy and almightiness. Amos’ two intercessory words are forgive and cease. In the former case he acts from the point of view of man’s sin and deserving: there is that in the nature of God to which appeal can be made, a pardoning mercy. The verb forgive is used only of God in the Old Testament. It points therefore to what in its proper sense belongs exclusively to Him — the power and readiness to forgive. By the word cease Amos starts from man’s weakness and helplessness, and he looks to that in God which is able to cope, no matter what the crisis is. Amos is saying that the will of God is no harsh, unfeeling fate but is rather to be thought of as His loving concern for His frail and needy people. The revelation of the locusts and fire is a statement of our deserving — now and always. Equally, it represents a perpetual element in the divine nature: God’s ceaseless wrath against sin — the automatic reaction of a holy nature faced with rebellion and unholiness. But equally eternal is His determination to take, save and keep a people for Himself. This is what the Scripture means when it has been revealed to us that it is the blood of Jesus, the great divine gift of love, which satisfies the divine wrath (Romans 3:25). He represents Himself as hearing prayer and turning from wrath to mercy in order that we may understand something of what is involved in His love for us.
- We see that the incoming judgment for Israel, when the closer it comes, is revealed as all-destructive. The question therefore is no longer who belongs to the people of God but, when all comes to all, is God prepared to stand by His promises and put a defense round the elect in the day of universal, irresistible and inescapable wrath? Scratch the surface of the prophecy of Amos and out comes the doctrine of eternal security, which in fully biblical terms, means that the people of God, chosen by Him of His own deliberate and free will, are also kept by Him through all the chances, falls and failures of life, and are finally brought by Him into eternal and complete enjoyment of all the benefits and blessings which He, from all eternity, purposed should be theirs. Amos would not have had to make any changes in this wording were he to frame it in a creedal form for his own times. He did not possess the knowledge of the full divine working in Christ Jesus, but he possessed the principle of that work in the revealed religion of the people of God. The Bible indeed speaks with one voice, not least in its insistence that God will never let His people go. For this determination of God to have a people for Himself and to keep them secure is entirely mysterious to us. The only explanation offered by the Bible is that the Lord set his love upon you and chose you because the Lord loves you (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). This is no explanation at all, but it is a mighty assurance. His love is an outgoing of His nature; there is some reason which makes sense to God why He should love and choose, and, since He is God, that reason can never be anything but good.
- Are you testing God’s patience and limits when you refuse to repent or obey? God has often turned back the judgment that was due Israel (and is often due us) for sin. What we experience in life as the result of God’s judgments is always far less than we actually deserve. This does not mean that God is unjust. Every sin will eventually be punished, either in Christ or in the person of the sinner himself. But it does mean that God is merciful and that he customarily withholds judgment, giving only warnings of it for long periods, in order that the wicked might have time to repent. This is a theme that we have seen throughout the Scriptures and which we can easily apply to our own country. Have we been going through times of difficulty? Are there shortages, natural disasters, inflation? These things are warnings from God, and God’s people especially should be in the forefront of those who repent of their sins, humble themselves, seek the Lord, and pray so that he will repent of even greater disasters and heal our land.
- Why would God measure his own creation? Surely he had created it plumb and true? God had created everything perfectly. But he gave his people the gift of freedom. They can choose to live in faithful obedience to him, or they can choose to go the way of the world and ignore God. When we choose the world’s way, our lives become warped and out of plumb. We no longer mirror God’s perfect image. We no longer serve his purposes. We become useless just like an out-of-plumb wall that is about to fall. So Amos learned in his vision that Israel had reached the point of no return. No longer could the prophet pray and expect God to “relent.” The day of compassion was past. Israel was untrue and faithless before God. The day of judgment had been announced. Israel’s days were numbered. God is in the business of hearing prayers and showing compassion, but He is also in the business of measuring His people and bringing judgment on those who do not stay true to Him. We may think it would be nice if we could change Him — if we could get Him to be less holy, less upright, more indulgent. But we cannot change Him. God is who He is. Consequently, we must come to terms with Him rather than He with us. So ask yourself, “What would God find in our lives and in our church if he held a plumb line beside us?”
- What are you comparing your life to — God’s standard or man’s standard? It is as if a person thinks that they can measure up to God’s perfect standard, if his or her life is as upright as the divine plumb line. But if that is not the case, then the one whose life is not upright will be condemned by God’s standard, and judgment will come. The difficulty here is that we do not think as God thinks and therefore constantly measure ourselves by other human standards. Before God steps in, the lines we have been drawing by the making of many small ethical decisions seem fairly straight. When we compare them with other people, they seem even better because we naturally tend to compare them with those who do worse than we do. We rate ourselves highly. But then God steps in, and we all look crooked. That is the trouble with appealing to God’s justice. Many think that all they want from God is justice. They say, “God, it isn’t right for you to judge us with your locusts and fire. Some of us are better than others, and we demand that you take those differences into account.” So God says, “All right, we’ll see who really measures up to being good.” He sends his plumb line: Jesus Christ. He says, “This is what’s good. Who measures up to that?” No one does, of course. We are condemned. Learn this great lesson: an appeal to justice will save no one. All will be condemned by God’s justice. But if you will forget your pride, abandon such arrogance, and instead ask, not for justice, but for mercy, you will find that the same Christ by whom our corruption is revealed is also the Christ who died on Calvary that our sin might be covered and we might receive a new life.
- C. S. Lewis tells the story of an English schoolboy who, when someone asked him, “What is God like?” replied, “As far as I can tell, God is the sort of person who is always snooping around to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.” Then Lewis goes on to explain: “I am afraid that is the sort of idea that the word morality raises in a good many people’s minds: something that interferes, something that stops you having a good time. In reality, moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine… When you are being taught how to use any machine, the instructor keeps on saying, ‘No, don’t do it like that,’ because, of course, there are all sorts of things that look all right and seem to you the natural way of treating the machine, but do not really work” [Mere Christianity]. Take a moral inventory of your attitudes and actions — as well as those of your church. Be prepared to turn from anything that God shows you is wrong.
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