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Prepare to Meet God

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Amos 4…I Will…
September 2, 2007

 

You may be aware of the writings and rantings of Richard Dawkins, an Oxford biologist, and Christopher Hitchens, a well-known journalist.  They both espouse the atheist cause – very effectively to be sure.

Dawkins’ book, the God Delusion and Hitchens’ book God is not Great say it all!  Dawkins thinks religious believers are deluded; while Hitchen’s claims that religions are positively dangerous!

Many of their critics have pointed out that at least on one point, they are correct.  Religion means an outward expression of belief, not the content as when we contrast the Christian religion with Buddhism.

 

Hesitance today in using the word ‘religion’ either of the content of the Christian faith or of its expression in worship and service, is due to the conviction that Christianity is not simply one among many religions, but differs from all others in that its content is divinely revealed and its outward expression by believers is not an attempt to secure salvation but a thank-offering for it.

 

So, religion, as understood by Dawkins and Hitchens can be a problem.  It was for Jesus who denounces the religious people, and shows more tolerance for the heathen.

The criticisms of Hitchens and of Dawkins could be leveled at the Jews in Amos’ time.  For them, religion had become that which was self-pleasing and one which was helpful, where as God wants from them that they turn from their self-centered ways and return to him. 

 

If they will not turn back to him, he will turn against them.

 

The Lord has given ample reason why he is bringing them to ‘book’ – He has been doing that for several chapters; but in chapter 4,  from rather broad, wide ranging indictments of the previous chapters, Amos narrows down his focus on really one thing or perhaps 2. Their Self-seeking and self-preservation.

 

He focuses his attention on both the house of God, and the house of men and finds both dominated by attitudes and actions of self-seeking and self-indulgence.

We will look at chapter 4 today, and see that religion for Israel ceased to bring them to the Lord in humility and penitence, but had become for them another means by which they could seek to enhance their own lives.

 

We’ll look first at his indictment in verses 1-5; then his judgment in 6-13…

Point One:  His Indictment of the House of Men and the House of God v 1-5

Bashan was a fertile area E of the Sea of Galilee known for its sleek, fat cattle.—New Unger's Bible Handbook, The.

He’s speaking about the self-indulgence of the women.  Why?  One commentator said that the women showed the heart-beat of religion which was?  Me, me, me.

What can I get out of it?

He makes the same criticism of men in Amos 6:1-2

Amos 6:1-2 (ESV)
1 "Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel comes! 2 Pass over to Calneh, and see, and from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is their territory greater than your territory,

And how have they obtained their wealth, in which they relish?  The poor.  They were only concerned for their own welfare and comfort.

But in the end, self-seeking and oppressive behavior will not go unpunished. 

And as for the punishment, I’ll let Amos speak.  Amos 4:1-2 (ESV)
1 "Hear this word, you cows of Bashan,  2The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. 3 And you shall go out through the breaches, each one straight ahead; and you shall be cast out into Harmon," declares the Lord.

The people’s opulent homes and their oppressive lifestyle will come to an abrupt end.  The image of hooks could mean several things; all bad.  Relief maps found picture Assyrian captives marched off into exile with each prisoner being connected with to a rope through a hook in his or her nose or lip. 

They will be treated as if they were animals.

The House of God

Look again at verses 4-5:

Amos 4:4-5 (ESV)
4 "Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; 5 offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel!" declares the Lord God.

Just as their in their personal lives, they are out for no 1, so too in their religious lives.  It is no different.

They attend the temple services (northern kingdom at Bethel and Gilgal), and the Lord mocks them.  Their worship has become a mockery.  It is an exercise in self-congratulation. It is formal and empty.  In fact, it simply adds to their list of transgressions. 

They ignored the word of God.  In verse 5, we read they offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened – Levi 2.11 and 7.11 where they are to use un-leavened bread.  Leaven was a symbol of something which permeates either positively – as in Mt 13.33 or negatively as in Mt 16.6, 11 – referring to the false teaching of the Pharisees.

Here, it indicates that they ignored the Bible which was pretty clear about the nature of the offerings. 

Their worship was also self-satisfying rather than God-glorifying.  There was no humility, no sense of awe at the presence of God.  Their ritual is punctilious and empty and in fact, it is therefore, offensive to the Lord.

Ex.  The comedians love to mock politicians – and their worship is a joke to God.

And why is God doing this?  Look at the word holiness in verse 2 a.  God is holy, and he will continue to reveal himself and thus continue to call his people back to lives of holiness.

James 2:13 (ESV)
13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

 

Point Two:  The Judgment:  Prepare to Meet Your God

They have been at work, living, indulging themselves at the expense of other; but so too has the Lord. 

8 times God is mentioned in the 1st person.  It was I…Five times, the phrase ‘yet you did not return to me’ hammers against their rebelliousness.

Israel has failed to learn that God is sovereign over history.  Nothing, absolutely nothing that happens is beyond him. 

The troubles of life are spread before us here:

famine, drought, blight and epidemic, troubles caused by opposition.  All the troubles of life apparently falling by chance – rain here, draught there, seemingly haphazard, but they come from God who rules and reigns over all from heaven.

Alec Motyer writes:  We do ourselves an immense disservice and we weaken our ministry to each other as soon as we dismiss or diminish this great doctrine.  Amos writes of catastrophes small and great, as chancy as rainfall, things as indiscriminate as the death toll in battle, but non of these things separates us from God.

This is why nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.  Further it is no way diminishes human responsibility; it increases it. 

Sennacherib was an Assyrian general, proud, arrogant and strong.  He was moved by his own impulses to plunder and kill and to take Jerusalem.  Yet, in his doing of this, there was another person involved – the Lord.  But the Lord was not the author of pride and sin – that belonged to Sennacerib; but the Lord was at no po9int absent from His post of direction and control. 

The purpose of these events were to turn the people back to the Lord, but they were hardened.

Finally, look at last two verses of this section.

They have tried to avoid God; but they can’t.  They will meet him, but it appears that they will meet him as their judge.

Yet the God they are meeting is preeminently a God of grace.  He is your God v 12 c.  He God who personally chose Israel to be his people.  They are reminded of this great privilege once again. 

Further, whenever the idea of meeting God is found in the Bible, it has a connotation of grace – as in Exodus 19:17 (ESV)
17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.

Where the Lord in great condescension and grace came to speak to his people.

Finally, the Lord is spoken of by Amos as Yahweh, the God of hosts.  Yahweh, the omnipotent. 

It is as if the Lord, Yahweh, is calling for their eleventh-hour return.  Yet, in the end, the Lord will judge his people if they remain rebellious.  The way is wide open for the penitent; but they must respond.

The Conclusion

Amos 4:13 (ESV)
13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

The conclusion of this section is a doxology.  It calls us to praise the Lord; his goodness, his condescension, his grace.  Here is a description of true worship, the very thing Israel refuses to do.

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