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Mosaic Spokane

Outside-In Living

Inside-Out

#5 in Mining the Prophets Series

Amos 1-9

November 18, 2018

Q:  So what country in the world do you hate the most?

For most of us, that might seem like a presumptuous question.  “I don’t hate,” you might be thinking.  And hopefully that is true when it comes to individuals, real people. 

But if you’ve had a family member wounded, maimed, killed or significantly affected by PTSD in some conflict with another country, that might change. 

  • B.’s father’s in WWII
  • Visit to the 9-11 Memorial in NYC 3 weeks ago. Saw the pictures and could pull up on a touch screen room full of monitors every story of the 2,996 victims. 
  • S.’s brother in Iraq

I must confess that I don’t feel particularly disposed to see God bless ISIS or Al-Qaida or Saudi Arabia (where 15 of the 19 terrorist hijackers were from) or Syria. 

If I was honest, I would have to say that I feel somewhat the same animosity towards other nations that imprison my fellow Christians by the thousands as well as their own people by the millions.

            Just imagine if you had relatives in one of those places.  Just imagine instead of Canada to the north and Mexico to the south we were a nation the size of our state surrounded by North Korea and China to the north, Iran and Saudi Arabia to the East and Russia and Syria to the south? Wouldn’t you want to hear God speak some promises of judgment against those evil, repressive and barbaric nations???  I would! 

            That is the setting in which Amos, the prophet and prophecy we are looking at today, found himself in.  Only Amos was not from the northern region of Israel.  He was from south of Jerusalem, in the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  It was considered a different nation to Israel, a competing and inferior people who had been oppressing Northern Israel with onerous taxes and heavy-handed rulers for years. 

            Amos is not your professional prophet type either.  He’s a sheepbreeder by trade.  That was not a prestigious nor coveted occupation.  In fact, it was a rather discounted and despised calling.  Some 750 years later, angels would appear in the very same region south of Jerusalem to announce one dark winter night to a bunch of non-name shepherds that the Christ had been born in a stable and was lying in a feeding trough somewhere in Bethlehem. 

            Just imagine an undocumented immigrant from Mexico coming to the U.S. to hold public meetings claiming that he had a message of judgment from God for our entire nation.  How seriously would you take his call to drastic repentance?  How much would you rearrange your life to fit his warnings?  This was the task…the mountain…that Amos had to face if he was to be responsive to his Lord and God, Yahweh. 

            So let me give you the general “lay of the land” when it comes to this 9-chapter book. 

  • Chapters 1-2:3, prophecies against the enemies surrounding and afflicting God’s people—Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Ammon, Moab, etc. Israel had been suffering under the repeated and brutal atrocities of these pagan peoples for years.  So we can imagine that prophecies against them were probably applauded by the Israelite audience listening to promises of their impending judgment. 

Amos is really going to be working “outside-in” on his prophecies.  He’s starting with promised judgment on Israel’s enemies.  But he won’t stop there…unfortunately for Amos.

  • Chapters 2:4-9:15 are all about Judah (S. kingdom) and Israel (N. kingdom), God’s chosen people. It would be like a modern prophet telling us he has a message and prophecy of judgment for everyone outside the true church of Jesus Christ but also he has a message and prophecies of judgment for us who claim to be true followers of Jesus Christ.  Which message would you be most apt to not want to hear?  (The one targeted at US!)  But that is the bulk of the prophecy in this book:  it’s targeted at God’s own people, not the pagan world.

APP:  As Andrew so powerfully reminded us last week, this is precisely the way God continues to work with His people and the world.  Who is most of the N.T. directed to, a lost world or the people of God called “the church”?  Of course, the church.  BUT so much of the church seems to want to focus on God’s warning of judgment to the world instead of focusing on his admonitions and warnings to us, His people.  Things have not really changed all that much with human nature and even God’s people in 2700 years!

            What’s interesting is that the 6 pagan nations and their judgments addressed in chapters 1-2 all have to do with how they treated God’s people whereas the 7½ chapters spoken to God’s people all have to do with how they are treating each other and the true and living God Yahweh. Again, isn’t this the emphasis of the N.T.?  When God talks to the nations in Matthew or Revelation and gives any kind of judgment, it’s all about how they are treating God’s chosen people, the church.  But when he speaks to the church (which is most of the N.T.) it’s all about how we are treating each other, God himself and a lost world around us.   

[Andrew was absolutely right last week in concluding that the God of the O.T. is the same God of the N.T. And the way He works with this world is a continuation of the way He has worked in this world from the beginning of time.]

            So very briefly, WHAT is it for which God is judging pagan people’s afflicting His people?  Amos is going to give 6 little “oracles” or speeches, one for every pagan nation that has been bothering Israel. Here they are in a nutshell:

  1. Speech against Damascus (Aram), 1:3-5: “…because she has threshed Gilead [Israel’s territory east of the Jordan] with sledges having iron teeth.”  What do sledges with iron teeth do to flesh?  God is condemning brutal & cruel warfare that crushes, destroys, tortures and obliterates people. 
  2. Speech against Gaza (Philistia), 1:6-8: “…because she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom.”  The Philistines, when they triumphed, would take God’s people as slaves and sell them to the highest bidder.  Human trafficking is something for which God judges people.
  3. Speech against Edom (1:11-12): “…Because he pursued his brother with a sword and slaughtered the women of the land, because his anger raged continually and his fury flamed unchecked….”  Unchecked anger leading to continual slaughter and abuse of others.  NoteEdomites were descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob.  Numerous times Edom took advantage of Israel/Judah’s misfortune to help others attack them. 

APP:  Anger will do ugly things.  We’re seeing it in our culture today politically and racially; we’ve been seeing it in the church for far too long as people hold and nurse grudges against brothers and sisters in Christ.

  1. Speech against Ammon (1:13-15, descendants of son of Lot): “…because he ripped open the pregnant women of Giliad in order to extend his borders.”  This is unrelenting greed, racial prejudice and hatred that led to active genocide—an attempt to limit or destroy the future generations of neighboring people. 
  2. Speech against Moab (2:1-3), also one of the sons of Lot. “…because he burned to ashes the bones of Edom’s king.”  This was a pagan desecration of the remains of a non-Jewish king.  It was a way of showing hatred and prejudice towards a different ethnic group (still not God’s chosen people). 

APP:  What does this tell us about how God even views racial or ethnic hatred and prejudice between godless people (let alone between His children)?  There is something very evil about doing anything that is designed to denigrate others of a different race/culture.

Where do we run that risk most in our culture?   [Native Americans, Hispanic, Blacks, Asians….  Talk about the make-up of the kids at the YFC drop-in center—Marshallese, Sudanese, African-American, etc.]

Chapter 2 ends with God speaking to His people…something that will consume the rest of the book

First He addresses Judah, the Southern kingdom, in 2:4-5.

This is what the Lord says:

“For three sins of Judah,
    even for four, I will not relent.
Because they have rejected the law of the Lord
    and have not kept his decrees,
because they have been led astray by false gods,
    the gods their ancestors followed,
I will send fire on Judah
    that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.”

With the rest of our time this morning in Amos, I don’t want to focus on all the different kinds of judgment God promises to bring upon both Judah and Israel.  You’ve got an example of what that is in verse 5 here—“fire on Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.” 

This is, in fact, what happened about 586 B.C. after a 2 year siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II.  The city was starved to such a point that women ate their children and eventually it was completely burned and the wall around it pulled down.  It would take another 128 years (458 B.C.) before Ezra would return to help rebuild the Temple and another 14 years after that (444 B.C.) before Nehemiah would come back to reconstruct the fortress walls around Jerusalem.  But all that was future to Amos’s prophecies of destruction.

Rather than talk about the prophesied destruction, I would like us to look at what it was that God was trying to wave His people away from that could have avoided these horrific judgments.  This is precisely, I believe, where the people of God in every age find ourselves. 

God’s hatred of sin hasn’t changed.   

What God considers sin hasn’t changed.

The sins that continues to lure us away from intimacy with God hasn’t changed much.

And according to 1st Peter 4, God’s dealing with sin through divine judgment doesn’t start with the godless; it always starts with God’s children, His chosen people.  This is what Peter said about it:

17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

So let’s take the foundational sin and failure God addresses here with His children, the Jews.  In Amos 2:4 he says,

Because they have rejected the law of the Lord
    and have not kept his decrees….

It is not the unbelieving world that has such a great responsibility to not “reject the law of the Lord.”  It is US!  It is not the secularist or postmodernist that has a moral responsibility to “keep His [God’s] decrees.”  It is US!  Those who have not either come to a knowledge of God through Jesus Christ or have rejected what little knowledge they may have of Him, will be judged first and foremost on what they did with Jesus. 

            But WE, the redeemed people of God, will be accountable for what we have done with God’s word, his truth, His “decrees.”  Don’t confuse that with “salvation by human effort…”  It has absolutely nothing to do with that.  Anyone, Old Testament believer or New Testament believer, is saved by faith in God and His redeeming work for us, not our own moral efforts. 

            But once saved, we are now called into a love-relationship with God our Savior that has some real “truth” in it.  Loving God and loving people, the 2 greatest commandments, looks very different from the life everyone apart from God lives.  And the first part of that different life is placing the word of God over our lives in every way, at every moment, in every circumstance of life. 

            The Apostle John puts the life and lordship of Christ over us with his alignment of the person of Jesus with the Word of God.  In John 1, “Jesus Christ” and the “Word of God” are virtually one in the same.  Jesus is the living Word that both speaks and lives God and His truth out to anyone wanting to know God’s will. 

            All the sins Israel and Judah ever committed were first and foremost against God’s word.  Our relationship to and attitude about the word of God is the beginning point of either walking in truth or living in sin.  That may be why God begins His address of various sins of His people, Israel, with this very sin in 2:4“Because they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees….” Amos prophecies impending judgment.  The NKJV translates it this way, Because they have despised the law of the Lord, and have not kept His commandments….” 

“Reject” or “despise” both lead to the same result: we will not value or heed or obey God’s specific calls upon our life for obedience. 

This theme of the importance of God’s word and our response to it as God’s people is laced throughout even this book. Go to Amos 8:11-14.

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
    and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
    but they will not find it.

13 “In that day “the lovely young women and strong young men
    will faint because of thirst.
14 Those who swear by the sin of Samaria—
    who say, ‘As surely as your god lives, Dan,’
    or, ‘As surely as the god of Beersheba lives’—
    they will fall, never to rise again.”

This illusion to “the word of the Lord” could be two things:  the already given and written word the people of God had in the Law of Moses AND the prophetic word even then being shared with His people through the prophets

Amos was predicting that, even if in the future handsome Jewish men and beautiful Jewish women were hungry for truth, they would not find it.  God would make the reading, the teaching the practicing of His Word rare…difficult to find…almost extinct.  The sad effect would be that even the privileged “beautiful people” of the land would perish. 

            Isn’t that what we see happening in our day?  While the U.S. of A. certainly isn’t Israel, we’re living through a change in how this nation and thus our culture treats God’s word. 

When I was a kid, the Word was respected even in public schools.  It was spoken about in books and speeches.  The majority of people were encouraged to memorize a few basic things such as the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Golden Rule, etc.  Liberal theologians had been chipping away at the public’s “trust factor” in God’s word through “higher criticism” and attacks on the trustworthiness/inerrancy of God’s word.  That has led to denomination after denomination moving away from faithful adherence to the Bible which has led, in every single case, a moving away from biblical morality and godly living. 

            There is a famine of God’s word in our culture today.  If you don’t believe it, just ask a group of young people today to name the 10 commandments…or the Lord’s prayer...or the Greatest Commandment…or the 23rd Psalm.  The not only don’t know them; they don’t understand the importance of living them out in their lives.  In less than 50 years, we have become a culture where there is a “famine of God’s word.” 

            And even more dangerous is that the Bible has, in many evangelical and charismatic churches today, been replaced by entertaining talks/speakers and professional-level musical concerts (i.e. “worship”). People choose churches based on their “felt needs” for sermons that help them “live better” and pastors who are amazing speakers rather than on whether or not they are hearing God speak to their hearts through His word…or hearing God address tough subjects in their lives…or feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit through the power of the Word. 

            Don’t misunderstand me:  I’m not looking at this as “us-and-them.”  I think Mosaic is in danger of creating a famine of the word in the next generation.  I think it is highly likely that my grandchildren will not love God’s word…or even read it daily and carry it with them in Bible-form anywhere (be it school or church or work).  If they do not experience the living Word of Jesus through the written Word of God in Spirit-moved study or reading or preaching that changes their lives daily, then the chance they will “reject” and “despise” the word of the Lord is terribly high! 

            At the same time, if we think that simply “teaching” this word as a set of facts or morality or theology without the Holy Spirit moving on us to actually APPLY it to our lives every time we engage with it, we will not be doing anything to change equation. 

I commented to someone this week that I grew up in the “Bible church movement” where teaching of biblical truth was honestly more important than making the kind of disciples Jesus said He wants, namely those who “observe/obey all that I have commanded you”  (Mt. 28:19). We must be returning constantly to this Word…and we must be doing it with hearts eager for change, committed to obedience and dedicated to loving Jesus more through it.  

APP:  That makes me ask of myself, “What is my attitude/ feeling/heart towards God’s word at present?” 

  • Indifferent? Then I certainly won’t be taking the first step in loving God’s word which is reading it often.  I won’t be taking time to be in a Bible study group that seeks to be changed every week by its truth.  I won’t be journaling about what God is asking me to do with it when I do read it. 
  • Irritated with its demands? Then I will consciously avoid it, avoid listening to it on the radio, avoid being with the people of God who are going to remind me of it and talk about it, avoid being with the church either listening to it preached or studying it in a group. 
  • Dismissive of its standard? This can happen so subtly.  I’m dismissive of God’s word when, knowing God calls me not to “set any vain thing before my eyes” nor “fulfill the lusts of my flesh,” I push away those nudges of the Holy Spirit when I’m, say, watching a movie or reading a story or scrolling through on-line news or viewing a compromising web site.  Either I will love God’s call/word over my life and order my reading and entertainment accordingly…or I won’t.  There is no middle ground. 

Our relationship with this WORD/Bible must be the foundation of any genuine and right relationship with God.

Now I want us to go to the central call, the theme and even the center of this book of Amos.  It is chapter 5 and the call so clearly given there. It is a phrase that has had tremendous power and use in our recent American history.  It was quoted in perhaps the most famous civil rights speech of all times, that made by Rev. Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capital on August 28, 1963.  Listen.

We’ll get to that passage in just a moment.  But before we do, I want you to see one of the central reasons God warned Israel He was going to judge them.  Let’s pick it up in 5:4ff—

This is what the Lord says to Israel:

Seek me and live;
    do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal,
    do not journey to Beersheba.
For Gilgal will surely go into exile,
    and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.”
Seek the Lord and live,
    or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire;
it will devour them,
    and Bethel will have no one to quench it.

Then skip to vs. 21:

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
    forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
    the pedestal of your idols,
    the star of your god—
    which you made for yourselves.
27 Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
    says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.

Here’s the focus of the portion we’ve read.  God is asking them to STOP doing what?  [Worshipping at Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba—places that substituted for where God had asked them to worship.]

So seeking God involved not just doing the same thing they were used to doing the same way. It meant worship in a different way.  It meant repentance in a fresh way.

APP:  What would fresh, more obedient worship look like for you or me? 

  • Maybe giving my Saturday night to the Lord to help me prepare my mind, heart and body for worship rather than staying up late watching empty entertainment, showing up tired and distracted Sunday morning.
  • Maybe it means volunteering to offer something of your time and energy on a weekend service as a fresh gift to God—serving food, being a greeter, joining the Children’s Team ministry, joining a worship team, serving on the Safety Team.

APP:  What might fresh repentance look like for you right now?

  • Maybe if you’re having trouble with spending too much time with electronics or on-line content, you decide to take a fast from it for a week and invest that time in something that builds your heart for God and people—preparing and serving a meal at YFC afternoon outreaches, reading a good book you’ve had trouble getting to, coming to a mid-week prayer meeting, memorizing some Scriptures, taking better care of your body (God’s temple) by taking a walk every evening when you would normally be on-line.  

Back to the reason renewed and revived worship meant so much to God and people’s ability to experience God? 

WHY does God want us to seek Him, according to vss. 4 & 6

So that we might “live”!  Seeking God is what gives real life to our lives.  That’s what worship is all about:  seeking…and finding… and experiencing God in the rhythm of a day, a week, a season or a year. It’s finding our life in God…the only relationship that was ever designed to bring us nothing but real life!

            God was fed up with their sacrifices and festivals because not only were their hearts not in it; their daily lives and relationships with even their fellow citizens made a mockery of worship.  They weren’t “living”; they were exploiting.  Worship wasn’t reflecting the life-priorities/relationships God wanted them to have all week or month long.  Their hearts and heads were someplace else—with making money…or building their own homes…or ignoring the needs of others around them.

Listen to their priorities.  Amos 5:7, 10-15, 24.

7 There are those who turn justice into bitterness
    and cast righteousness to the ground.

Now skip to vs. 10.

10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
    and detest the one who tells the truth.

11 You levy a straw tax on the poor
    and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
    you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
    you will not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your offenses
    and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
    for the times are evil.

14 Seek good, not evil,
    that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
15 Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
    on the remnant of Joseph.

24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream
!

This is the theme of Amos: how I treat people displays what I actually think of God.  

How we treat each other and especially the poorer, less powerful, less influential, more challenged among us is more of an act of worship to God than any month of Sundays, any size of offerings, any hours of worship music, any series of entertaining speakers or any clean, comfortable or even majestic building.

            Can I be very candid?  This is why we’re SO blessed to be downtown!  I can live in the suburbs all week long, greet my middle-class neighbors, send my kids to nice public schools, commute to some comfortable place of work 5 days a week and even “go to church” in most places around Spokane and NEVER have to carry out God’s heart for those in need around me

            In any truly healthy church, there should be a fair number of people who just don’t have enough and need the love, time, attention, prayers, hugs and sometimes resources of God’s people who have more.  A truly Spirit-led and filled church will be like the early Jerusalem church in Acts 4:33-35 but in more areas than economics.  It is said of them, “And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.  For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”   

Every one of us here today can, in about 30 seconds or within 300 feet of where you are sitting, find someone who needs something of the blessings God has poured out on us to share.  Some need to know the love of a truly righteous person, the justice of a truly honest person, the compassion of a truly caring person, the truth-telling of a genuinely gracious and God-fearing person.  We ALL need those less fortunate than us around us, especially in the church.  Because we all need to learn to live the life of Christ to them in all the areas of life Jesus wants to meet them… whether their need is social, economic, mental, physical or relational justice.    

APP: 

  • What do you have to give to someone here or near today to show them the goodness, kindness, justice, generosity, love of God?
  • Will we come to God’s people, the church, every week looking to BE Christ to someone needier than us? That’s the church Jesus longs to see.  That’s the worship He delights to receive. 

Let’s “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”  Let’s decide to do that here and now with our worship week after week.  That’s the “people of God” whom God can bless rather than judge.  That’s the “holy nation” God will defend rather than abandon to the dust bin of history.   

 

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