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Brought to Book

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Brought to Book

Amos 1.3-2.16

August 17, 2007

A friend and founder of a Missionary Society called Anglican Frontiers Mission Tad de Bordenave recently wrote that:

 According to Barrett and Johnson, measured over decades there are an average of 160,000 martyrs per year. One result of severe persecution is often explosive growth. This is most evidently true in China where in 1949 there were about one million Christians. Today the church in China is estimated to be ninety million.

I also regularly receive a newsletter from a group called the Voice of the Martyrs.  Here is a typical report: 

India:  Molvis Al-Hadis Mosque in Baramulla threatened Pastor Bashir Masih, and other believers preparing for Sunday worship.  The five men threatened the believers and instructed them to vacate the house, which is also used as a house church.  In the past Muslim extremists have assaulted Pastor Masih’s diabled son; they have blocked drinking water to his home.  Pastor Masih’s offense?  He converted from Islam to Christianity.

This is the tip of the iceberg.  We feel outrage at such things.  Suicide bombings killing hundreds are a daily occurrence in Iraq.  Few doubt the reports concerning Iranian complicity in the war in Iraq.

Will God not hold people and nations accountable for their wickedness?  Will he simply allow them to continue?  Will he not bring them to book (as the English say!).

He will.

Amos reveals God’s concern with the atrocities that were and are a regular feature of a world which has rejected the Lord God as ruler and judge of the world.

While Amos’ chief concern is the precarious welfare of his own people; in our section today he also shows a concern for the whole world.  Why?  Because God is the Lord not just of Israel, but of the whole world.  He made the world, he is directing history, and through his prophets, through whom he has spoken.

As we look at this section, we need to keep something in mind. 

Matthew 7:3-5 (ESV)
3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Because as we will see, Amos’ survey of the surrounding nations leads him finally to an examination of his own people who think of themselves as superior to the surrounding pagan nations – but are they?

Point One:  Surrounding Nations Will Be Punished

Amos begins his survey with six nations surrounding Israel.  They occupy land that was given to Israel by God.  The first three are not blood relatives of Israel, whereas the final 3 are. These nations will be punished for their wickedness.  In particular:

Syria will be punished for her savage cruelty.

Philistia (Gaza) for her slave trade

Phoenicia for her slave trade and treaty-breaking.

Edom for revenge without mercy.

Ammon for sadism and mad aggression.

Moab for violent and vindictive hatred.

Notice the phrase For 3 transgressions and for 4

This phrase reveals the patience of the Lord.  He does not immediately punish these nations.  He waits and gives them time for repentance.  After he uses this phrase, he then gives an account of their sins, and then their punishment – which looks very related to their sins.

For instance, the first indictment is for Syria.  They have threshed Gilead.  (v 3c) – It is undated, but both Hazael and Benhaded are mentioned in 2 Kings.  The atrocity involved the threshing of the people in Gilead (NE) like grain.   It is as if they ran over the people with threshing planks that had iron teeth protruding out of them to separate the grain from the stalk.  In that Hazael and Benhadad were particularly responsible, the fire will come on the house of Hazael and devour the strongholds of Benhadad.  The punishment is appropriate to the crime.

None of these countries is called idolatrous – although they are.  They are called to account for their behavior, not their beliefs. 

There is in the Bible, and in these oracles, Divine revelation communicated through God's spokesperson (prophet, priest, or king), usually pronouncing blessing, instruction, or judgment—Tyndale Bible Dictionary

a sense of the value of human life and the anger of God against those who treat it with contempt.  We have been made in the image of God, and the Bible also teaches that all humanity has a general sense of right and wrong.  These actions are wanton and deliberate acts which they know are wrong; but which they do anyway.

So, no, the wickedness of all nations incurs God’s anger, and no, they will not get away with it. 

However, as we see, that isn’t where Amos leaves his sweeping indictments.  No, after the pagan nations come in for their ‘thumping’ Judah in 2.1-3, and Israel (Northern Kingdom come in for theirs).

Point Two:  Judah and Israel

Remember:  Amos is in the northern kingdom of Israel, so when he begins his indictment of Judah (their southern neighbor), you can feel a sense of relief, since he isn’t talking about Israel.  But, in verses 6-11, Israel, the country where Amos is authoring God’s word in these oracles, stands condemned as much as any country around.

If you look ahead to chapter Amos 3:1-3 (ESV), we read this:

1 Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: 2 "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. 3 "Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?

They are privileged, unlike their neighbors, to be God’s chosen people, those whom God has known of all the families of the earth.

Therefore they are more responsible than all the others, and since they have rebelled as much as anyone else, their punishment will even more severe.

A)  Judah:

Amos 2:4 (ESV)
4 Thus says the Lord: "For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked.

Unlike the nations, Judah has rebelled against the law of the Lord.  They have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray.

From the OT, we know that often the lies were from the prophets themselves. 

Isaiah 3:12 (ESV)
12 My people— infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths.

Micah 3:5 (ESV)
5 Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry "Peace" when they have something to eat, but declare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths.

I’m reminded of James 3.1

James 3:1 (ESV)
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Not only have the teachers of Israel not taught the way of the Lord properly, but they have also said nothing about following the corrupt practices of their neighbors.  They have been silent.

They have disregarded the word of the Lord; therefore they will be treated like all the other nations.  Like Syria, the Lord will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.

B)  Judah

Now, Amos turns to his immediate audience, and adds to the above indictment which I think applies equally to Israel as to Judah the following in verses 6-16.

Indeed this is longest and most scathing indictment.  Israel’s behavior is shameful: her practices are corrupt (6-8); her justice is perverted by bribery; the poor are sold into slavery for debts incurred at the hands of greedy landlords; the people are so greedy and land-grabbing that ‘They would even steal the dust off the head of the poor man who put on the traditional sack-cloth and ashes to bemoan his fate.’ 

They participate in ceremonial prostitution; they violate God’s law and cause unnecessary suffering; there is alcohol abuse among women (4.1)

While the Lord is consistent, it does seem that his judgment on his own people is more severe than that on the nations. 

Having rejected the word of the Lord, Amos now focuses on its evidence; the failure to love their neighbor.  Or to put it another way.  To treat others in this way demonstrates that we do not love the Lord. 

Alec Motyer sums up Israel’s indictment in this way:  Amos exposes Israel by a sweeping exposure of the sins of God’s people:

They have sinned against others, against revelation and against grace.

…against others

Amos 2:6 (ESV)
6 Thus says the Lord: "For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—

There is from 2.6 some form of exploitation of the poor.  Chapter 2.6 may refer to an unnecessary foreclosure on small loans by money lenders.  Israelites were to take no interest for loans, and they were to have an open hand to the poor.  They have none.  They have de-humanized them and treated them with contempt. 

In 2.7, the powerful overwhelm the weak, and every man is a womanizer – the meaning of 2.7. 

God’s word is mocked; and their behavior is a testimony to that.

Their wickedness and oppression of their own countrymen is made even worse when set against the grace and love of God for them.

Look at verses 9-11

Amos 2:9-11 (ESV)
9 "Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars and who was as strong as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. 10 Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. 11 And I raised up some of your sons for prophets, and some of your young men for Nazirites. Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?" declares the Lord.

It was II destroyed his fruitI who brought you up out of the land of Egypt…I raised up some of your sons for prophets…

 

And what have the Israelites done in response?

Amos 2:12 (ESV)
12 "But you made the Nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying, 'You shall not prophesy.'

They have in fact forced their fellow Israelites to violate the law of the Lord – we would expect foreign nations to silence God’s people, and to make them violate sacred vows they make to the Lord; but Israelite oppresses Israelite.

And the result?

Amos 2:13-16 (ESV)
13 "Behold, I will press you down in your place, as a cart full of sheaves presses down. 14 Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not retain his strength, nor shall the mighty save his life; 15 he who handles the bow shall not stand, and he who is swift of foot shall not save himself, nor shall he who rides the horse save his life; 16 and he who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day," declares the Lord.

There will be a battle and God’s people will not survive.  The strongest and bravest will have no fortitude for the battle, and will not survive.  Perhaps part of the damage will be done by the earthquake, mentioned in verse 1.

Point Three:  Application

1.  No nation will get away from its inhumane behavior.

2.  The church, (Judah & Israel) will be held to a much higher standard.  We will be held accountable for what we know.

3.  Rejection of God’s word is rejection of God himself.

4.  Repentance is our way back to the gracious Lord. 

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