At Ease in Zion
At Ease in Zion (Amos 6)
On national holidays Christians ought to be patriotic, but not in a heedless manner. The United States is not God's chosen people. Only Israel in the Old Testament and the worldwide church in the New Testament era are God's chosen people. Nevertheless, our government embodies more biblical principles than many others. Abraham Lincoln may have been right when he called America "the last, best hope of the earth" and her people the "almost chosen people."
Amos has a word for us this July Fourth. To the extent our nation reflects the people of God, to that extent Amos's word applies to us. His word is not a comforting word but a sobering word. He spoke to Israel forty years before her history ended. He warns us against the heedless security in the face of God's certain judgment.
Misplaced Trust Gives a False Security
An entire nation can be recklessly at ease. Amos' generation lived in contentment with a shallow optimism founded on a false sense of security. This baseless, false security extended from the first citizens of the nation to the rank and file of the population. The nation founded after the exodus had only forty years remaining. Yet they were a group of people who lived in carefree arrogance.
We may place the trust that belongs to God alone in our own way of life. Amos indicts those "who feel secure on Mount Samaria" (v. 1). Forty times the same word is used for the trust that belongs to God alone. We may habitually put our ultimate confidence in our own way of life rather than in God. This happens when we trust our government, economic system, military complex, educational system, or social system with the trust that belongs to God alone.
While bragging about our own country, we should consider the destiny of other nations. Calneh, Hamath, and Gath (v. 2) were once great nations felled by the same enemy approaching Israel. During the 212 years of United States history, other mighty powers have fallen because of the same sins of our country. Patriotism must be informed with the reality that God does not play favorites.
False Security Leads to Indulgent Living
We may fight off thoughts of judgment by an indulgent life-style. Verses 4-6 are unlike anything else in the prophets. They picture a society consumed with self-indulgence. Amos gives a panorama of a life of luxury to the point of brutishness, an animalistic approach to life. Every item in the list represents what had once been available only to royalty but now is available to everyone. That generation reclined on beds of ivory. They draped themselves across couches, sprawled in a stupor, unable to control their limbs. They ate the choicest lambs out of the flock—only the very choicest veal would satisfy their voracious appetites. They amused themselves by extemporizing musical stringed instruments. The Hebrew word suggests the howling screeching quality of their songs. (I am reminded of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's indictment that the Western soul is shriveled by intolerable music.) They drank their wine not in goblets, but in large bowls. They anointed themselves with ointments of the chiefest kinds.
No one or two of these items is in itself worthy of condemnation. The picture is one of unbridled luxury that has tenderized the moral muscle of society. The awful irony of their position is that they do not see the wound in their midst. Immersed in the vortex of pleasure, they do not see the flagrant sore in the mind of their society.
No Nation Can Win Making Odds with God
You do not gamble with God and win. Verse 12 asks if the absurd can happen. Verse 12 also states that the absurd did happen. Some used common sense in the natural realm and refused wisdom in the spiritual area. The Hebrews had turned the world upside down morally and claimed they could not fall off. They could not say that and neither can the United States.
How should an American Christian celebrate the national holiday? We should celebrate with patriotism and pride, but that is not enough. Christians must also celebrate with repentance and prayer. We must place that trust in God alone which belongs to Him, not in our own way of life. Our only security must be that which comes from God alone not from a groundless reliance upon our own way of life.