Judgement Has Come
Sermon Text: Amos 9:1-10
Sermon Theme: Coming face to face with the sobering clarity of the LORD’s judgement.
The prophet saw in a vision the Lord standing upon the idolatrous altar at Bethel. Wherever sinners flee from God’s justice, it will overtake them. Those whom God brings to heaven by his grace, shall never be cast down; but those who seek to climb there by vain confidence in themselves, will be cast down and filled with shame. That which makes escape impossible and ruin sure — for God has set his eyes upon them for evil, not for good. Wretched must those be on whom the Lord looks for evil, and not for good. The Lord would scatter the Jews, and visit them with calamities, as the corn is shaken in a sieve; but he would save some from among them. The astonishing preservation of the Jews as a distinct people, seems here foretold. If professors make themselves like the world, God will level them with the world. The sinners who flatter themselves, shall find that their profession will not protect them.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- In his great praise of the love of God in Christ Jesus, Paul writes, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and he assures us that nothing in all creation can separate us from that love — neither “famine” (cf. Amos 8:11-12) nor “sword” (cf. Amos 9:1; Amos 9:4), “neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth …” (Romans 8:31-39). But is not the other half of this also true: that no one can escape God when he sets his eyes on his people to judge them? What Israel learns in this vision and its oracle is that none of those things can separate it from God’s wrath. When trust and obedience are missing, when the name of the Lord has been profaned by empty worship and oppression of the poor and helpless, when human pride has thought to form its own means of security, when responsibility within the covenant with God has been totally ignored, then the divine love takes the form of essential judgment, and there is nothing in all creation that can rescue Israel from that judgment ― there is no place in all creation which affords shelter to the fugitives once God has set his judgment in motion. For the Lord of Hosts controls creation and rules over it without opposition. If God is against it nothing and no one can be for it.
- God describes himself as the Sovereign Lord, who builds up and tears down. But will such a Builder destroy the earth, which serves only as the foundation for His home? Will He destroy an earthly temple built with human hands? Of course, he will. The sovereignty in judgment is made clear. Showing the divine power to judge by showing features of cosmic might so completely beyond human understanding, not to speak of competence, that they stagger the imagination. After all, He is the One who is called the God of Hosts, who controls the march of heavenly and earthly armies (cf. 1 Kings 22:19-36) and can jolt the earth to its very foundation. And this is the sovereign Lord who controls every body of water on earth. He can pour them out on earth to supply the water His people so desperately need, or He can pour them out to flood the world and bring havoc and destruction. He can build a habitat that spans the gulf between heaven and earth. Let us be in full awe of the thoroughness of this judgment; its utter inescapability (Amos 9:1-6). And lest there linger any doubt as to who can do all this, remember what Israel learned from Moses ― Yahweh is His name. His majestic “I wills,” are not bravado or bluff. All that he has advertised in judgment he will produce. And don’t be fooled into worshipping any other god. This is the only God with power.
- God says that the Israelites are to be judged as the pagans, so far as He is concerned. They are no different than the Philistines and the Syrians. They are to be judged utterly. No one will escape. They will be like grain shaken in a sieve, but “not a pebble will reach to the ground” (Amos 9:9). The sieve, like the plumbline in another context, is an instrument of discrimination. No matter where they run to hide, from there the hand of God will take them. He has set his eyes on them “for evil and not for good” (Amos 9:4). These words are so terrible that one tends to pass over the image of God standing by the altar, which introduces them. But when carefully considered the image is even more terrible than the words. What is the point of the altar? The altar is the place where sacrifices are made for sin, where God through the sacrifice is reconciled to the repentant worshiper. It is a place of mercy, an emblem of God’s great love. But what do we have in this scene? This is not a scene of mercy. On the contrary, it is a scene which is no longer a warning; no longer an opportunity to plead for divine patience and grace. God has no more patience or leniency with the guilty. In the day of this judgment grace is ended. For the Lord of grace has become the Judge of those who have spurned salvation. However, it is still the day of grace for us, but that day will end, and the time will come when we will see Christ by the altar. How will you meet him in that day? He will be your Judge or your Savior, and you will meet him either as one of his redeemed people or as one of the condemned. If you are not in Christ, you are condemned already (John 3:18). Flee to him now, while there is yet hope.
- Does God sometimes use evil to accomplish His plans? Normally Israel would thank God for his presence among them. Not this time because God would fix his eyes upon them for evil and not for good (Amos 9:4). The person who disobeys God, who refuses to repent and turn to God for forgiveness — that person finds God’s acts to be evil. Not evil in the sense of absolutely bad, but evil in the sense of bringing harm and destruction to the people who are suffering God’s judgment. The contrast between the evil (i.e. harm) that God promised and the good (i.e. blessing) that the Israelites expected was exactly the punishment that they merited. They had disregarded the admonitions “seek good and not evil” and “hate evil and love good” (Amos 5:14-15). Their love of evil (i.e. injustice and corrupt worship) was to be satisfied by the righteousness of God’s judgment: he would see to it personally that evil (i.e. disaster) and nothing else was their appointed lot. For evil is usually thought of as that which is morally wrong, sinful, or wicked; however, the word evil can also refer to anything that causes harm, with or without the moral dimension. The word is used both ways in the Bible. Physical evil is the trouble that befalls people in the world, and it may or may not be linked to moral evil or divine judgment. Ecclesiastes 11:2 counsels us to diversify our investments, for this reason: “you do not know what evil will be on the earth” (NKJV). The word evil in this case means “disaster,” “misfortune,” or “calamity,” and that’s how other translations word it. Sometimes, physical evil is simply the result of an accident or causes unknown, with no known moral cause; examples would include injuries, car wrecks, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Other times, physical evil is God’s retribution for the sins of an individual or group. Sodom and the surrounding cities were destroyed for their sins (Genesis 19), and God “made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6). Many times, God warned Israel of the calamities that awaited them if they rebelled: “[The LORD] also is wise, and will bring evil, and will not call back his words: but will arise against the house of the evildoers, and against the help of them that work iniquity” (Isaiah 31:2). There is an important distinction to be made between God controlling evil and God creating evil. God is not the author of sin, but He can use sinful men to attain an objective. Romans 8:28 says, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” “All things” includes both good and bad things. God can use struggles, heartbreaks and tragedies in ways to bring about His glory and our good. Such events, even though we don’t understand the reason for them, are part of His perfect, divine plan. If God could not control evil, He would not be God. His sovereignty demands that He be in control of everything, even “dreaded” nations. And, yes, God may even allow a certain measure of freedom to evil forces in our world to bring about His design.
- In the day of their affluence the Israelis wrapped the comforts of false religion and heathen gods around them, but in the day of their calamity they find that there is no god but One. This disastrous and inescapable judgment is underwritten by the very nature of God Himself. For what can the Lord think of this pretense? What is His reaction to it? What is His judgment upon it? The essence of the pretense is the throwing of a cloak of religion over a life motivated towards self. This was the sin of the first Jeroboam and of the last Jeroboam (2 Kings 14:23-24). God and religion were tools whereby self could be secured and life made secure for self. Look on whom the eyes of the Lord are set with such hostility, we discover that it is precisely those who are living in a spiritual dream-world, forgetful of holiness, sin and its reward, fancying that a date in history (i.e. the Exodus) has put God eternally in their debt and that irrespective of character they may count on His co-operation. To the Israelis, as to the two Jeroboams, God is a prop of the establishment. But there is One divine government that rules all, and One moral providence observes all, and judges all. The Lord does not look on people in the light of their historical past but in the light of their moral present. Every nation is equally under this moral scrutiny. Again, there is no difference between Israel and the nations. But once more let us stress that this is not a negative, as if to say, “You do not possess the special relationship you once enjoyed.” Amos is not talking about privileges removed. It is positive: You stand where you have always stood, alongside every other kingdom, subject to the moral enquiry of a holy and all-seeing God. Again, there is no benefit gained by appeal to the remote and historical past of the Exodus. The Lord is not looking for a lesson in history, He is examining the facts of life and character. And at this point, as Amos has already taught (Amos 3:2), Israel is in fact worse off than any of the nations, for alone Israel had been taught how sinners might become aware of their sin, through the law of God, and be cleansed from their sin through the grace of God in the blood sacrifices.
- Let us observe the pledge which God makes: I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob (Amos 9:8). This, of course, is what we should expect from the teaching of the total context, for this part of Amos began with the repeated assurance that the mind of God was not set against a total destruction of His people (Amos 7:1-6). Thus, we should expect that there are some people having the possibility of living conformably to a holy God and passing the plumbline test? Is not this something that we would expect of a sovereign God whose name is Yahweh: though He must sovereignly judge, can He fail sovereignly to save? It stands to reason in every way that He will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob. There will always be a remnant according to grace. Allowing the Lord to purposely deal with His people: tossed they shall be, but it is purposeful, discriminatory and purgative. Thus, His edict is not against sinners as such, but against one particular category of sinner: who say, “Evil shall not overtake or meet us” (Amos 9:10). These look into the past and they see nothing to make them alarmed, nothing in their past to give rise to a calamitous judgment from God to overtake or catch up with them. They are sinners, but they are not aware that sin constitutes a threat or needs a remedy. They are sinners, but they think nothing of the law of God before which they stand condemned nor of the grace of God by which they could be redeemed. They are complacent, careless sinners living in a world of pretense and make-believe. By contrast, what of the Israel within Israel? How would they be distinguished? The true people of God are a company of sinners bearing the mark of moral and spiritual concern. They know about the sieve and are concerned to be found making the grade; they know about the plumbline and are concerned ever to hold their sinful selves within the compass of grace and to live lives conformably to law. They will remain sinners, but they will be sinners desiring a good war against their sin, longing for holiness, loving the law of their God and resting on His grace. And they will be found worthy. The war which rages against pretense, fought with all the power of divine omnipotence, never hurts their final destiny.
- God led Amos to make the bold claim that God directed the history of the Syrians and the Philistines just as much as He did Israel’s. The prophet rejected Israel’s claim to fame as the one nation whose history the Lord planned and directed. God directs the history of every nation. No nation can claim pride of place and set demands on God because they are an elect nation — the people whose history God oversees. God can pronounce judgment on all nations, and he can claim to be Lord of the history of all nations. No nation is exempt from God’s discipline or destruction. However, God’s eyes are now focused on the sinful kingdom of Israel (Amos 9:8). Normally Israel would rejoice at such words. They would mean God was about to punish Israel’s enemies. But chosen Israel has become sinful Israel. Delivered from Egypt, Israel is about to become exiled to Mesopotamia. But all is not lost. I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob. God will leave a remnant — that is a good sign. But first judgment must come. And God puts that judgment in plain terms, “All the sinners among my people will die” (Amos 9:10). That should cast fear into us and make us ask questions. When God comes to judge, am I the one who dies? Have I fooled myself into thinking I am part of God’s faithful people when he knows I am on the list to die in judgment? Just as Jesus surprised people as he identified the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, so God surprised Israel by bringing judgment on people who felt secure in the divine arms of love.
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