The day of the Lord, what we would call the second coming of Christ, is always a day that we much anticipate. Although here, Amos describes the day of the Lord, the day when God will come to judge, as one that is not really something we should wish for. God describes it as a day of destruction and a day when things will be shook and the pillars will fall and be broken down. Those who are not killed by the collapse will be killed by the sword of God.
Throughout this entire chapter we find ourselves wondering who can escape the day of God's coming? But then we see a transition in vs.11. This is also a great way to end our Challenges. As we have made our way through the entire Scripture over these last five years we have learned so much, and primarily we have learned that the authority in which we find in Scripture is one that we do not have a choice to overlook.
Starting in vs.11 we see good news proclaimed that God will not entirely forget the people of Israel. God will repair the breaches and raise up the ruins. God will not allow Israel to fall completely into ruin and disappear from the history of the earth. In fact, vs.15 states that the time is coming when they shall never be plucked up out of the land that I have given them. We are currently living in a time when just over the past 75 years Israel finds itself as a nation. That is a drop in the bucket of time. Who knows how history will evolve and if that promise has come true now, or if it is reserved for a future time?
Often in prophecies the Lord chooses to use images and object lessons to describe what God's desires and wishes are and what is about to happen next. Here Amos is shown a fruit basket to demonstrate that just as quickly as it comes, so as quickly will it go away. Did you notice what the Lord was the most upset about?
As you get to vs.4 you see that the prophet is speaking strongly against those who trample on the rights of the poor and the needy. This is a group of people who have no one to speak on their behalf. No one is going to provide resources for them to make sure that their needs are met. We often have an ideology that the poor are poor because of their decision making. But how short sighted that is to not take into consideration the multiplicity of variables that go into someone being poor. There is absolutely systemic favoritism to those who have will continue to have and have it even more abundantly. The lower you start on the totem pole, the harder it is to rise to the top and have your needs met. The higher you are on that pole, the easier it is to have your needs met. It is simple societal truths that make this reality something that Hosea dealt with and something that we deal with as well.
In theory a prophet is supposed to serve the King by bringing the Word of God. But over history we see that the prophet when they do bring the Word of God to the king, it tends to conflict with what the king wants. This is especially the case here with Amos and the king and the kingdom of the North, Israel. Amos speaks about all of the terrible things that God has said he would do against Israel, and Amos pleading on behalf of the people that they would be spared.
God shows him the locusts that he has prepared to go against the land, Amos asks that he would not, and God does not. God shows him the fire he is about to bring down on the land and Amos asks that he would not, and God does not. God finally shows him a plumb line, which is used to define that which is level and uses it as an example of how he is going to destroy the city eventually.
It is after this last example that the upper echelon of Israel, the priest, the king, ask Amos to take his words and go South, to Judah, where he can prophesy terrible things against them. Amos' answer is unique. He says, I'm actually not even supposed to be a prophet. I just tend trees, sycamore trees, and God called me to come and speak. So, no, I'm good, I think I'll stay here.
We continue to find ourselves assaulted by the words of Amos as they press upon the pride of Jacob as being the downfall of the people of Israel. Again, the issue with those who do not follow or obey the way of the Lord is because the people of God have turned toward idols and have not maintained their faithful devotion to God.
We read a few times the prophet say "Alas", and that is for the state that the people of God are in. He especially is speaking out against the ruling class, those who are "at ease" and have the ability to lie on beds of ivory and sing idle songs, you know, the type that David used to sing but not nearly as good. As a result of their complacency they are going to be the first to go into exile (vs.7).
What we find here is really one recognition of how God has turned his back on His people time after time simply because the people of God have turned their back on Him time after time. I think all you need to hear is the last verse which states: "Indeed, I am raising up against you a nation, O house of Israel, says the Lord, the God of hosts, and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath to teh Wadi Arabah." Now, those are fighting words.
Here Amos emphasizes the need to seek out God and God alone. Nothing else within our religious life can be a substitute for the seeking after God. Being a follower of Jesus should entail spiritual disciplines and a discipleship that is serious and consistent. But nothing can substitute for seeking after God. Our desire to do God's will and to be in God's grace needs to be the priority in our life. Nothing can replace our desire to be a follower of Jesus.
We see in this passage the repetition of the phrase: "Seek the Lord and live..." What does seeking the Lord look like? Well, for sure we can tell you what it doesn't look like. It isn't trampling on the poor, it is speaking the truth, it isn't taking bribes and using your power to extend your own desires, it is keeping silent. He follows seek the Lord with seek good so that you may live. God is good, we know, that, all the time.
He then transitions to those who would be complacent and pretty self confident in their status before the Lord. Who of us looks forward to the day of the Lord? He says be careful, because we think the day of the Lord is the day that we will be reunited with Jesus, but in fact the day of the Lord will be darkness and not light, it will be gloom with no brightness in it. Our complacency could be our downfall.
Amos is not happy with how Israel and Judah have turned their backs on God. What is especially interesting is about what he is most upset. Look at vs.1 where we read that they oppress the poor and crush the needy. This is enough to force God to draw people out of the land and into captivity, which is indeed what happened. You can see what God is able to do and the lengths to which God would go in order to bring his people back. He tries with the old carrot and the stick approach.
God has given enough bread for everyone, but they did not attribute their needs being met as coming from God. They were able to see that some cities received rain and others were in drought, but they did not attribute that to God. They were able to see the terrible things that happened to them: pestilence, young men killed, horses carried away, towns overthrown and devoured with fire. Yet even in all of this there is not attribute to God as the one who is behind all of it. It just happened by chance, goes the thinking. There is nothing to see and nothing to learn in all of this.
I wonder if once we make our way through all of this if we will have the same thoughts. Look at what has happened around us: a plague has come upon our people in the form of a virus, families are divided among themselves, the nation is eyeing fracture that is so serious it makes us wonder how long can this last? Is God at work, and if so, how do we learn from it? And if not, why not?
Amos continues his warning to Israel and he uses rhetorical questioning in order to do it. He begins by reminding us that God has spoken out strongly against the people of Israel. He puts a historical context to it, in case people forget who the people of Israel are. You know, the ones that God brought out of Egypt, you, people of Israel. He speaks to Israel as the one, the only one, whom God has known, and as loved, and has considered His people. No others were given that title, no others were considered the children of God in the way that the people of Israel were considered the people of God. As a result, they will be punished in a unique way as well.
He gives a whole series of questions that allow only for answers that would consolidate what he has planned. The reason why God is going to act in such a way is because Israel has acted in such a treacherous and unfaithful way. It should be clear to everyone and plain to see that God's plans are a result of Israel's actions. God, in many ways, has no choice, just like a lion only roars in the forest when it has prey, so God can only strike against Israel when Israel has been unfaithful. The consistency and the predictability of God should not be underestimated.
But just in case those in Judah are feeling pretty secure and smug because this prophecy is against the north, is against Israel, God includes the south, Judah, here as well. When Israel is punished, then the altar shall lose its power, the horns will be cut off. The protection that Judah had from the presence of God will disappear.
Just when you thought that you were safe the prophet speaks directly to your problems and to your issues which you were hoping would be overlooked as God denounces your neighbors. So here we find Amos speaking to Moab first, great, we think, we are safe, he is continuing the rants against the neighboring countries and all the things that they have done wrong. But then he pivots to Judah and it starts to get a bit uncomfortable. Judah is much closer to us, and they are basically our kindred. But at least they haven't gone to Israel our home state, to denounce anything. Maybe we will skate clear. Then we get to vs.6 and everything changes.
This is where we find ourselves as Amos begins his words against Israel. The list of complaints against Israel are legion and they are of a most heinous degree. Look at vs.7 and shudder. Can you think of anything worse than the immorality of turning your back on the poor and devolving into sexual debauchery? God speaks strongly against the Israelites and tells them that they are going to lose their position as God's people as a result of what they have done. What a horrid message, but it is prophetic. I'm currently attending the Festival of Homiletics and here is what one speaker said about prophetic speaking: Speaking prophetically is not telling the future, it is telling the truth.
We begin our final book of the Bible, the prophet and the prophecy of Amos. It is interesting that while the book of Chronicles gave us the history of the kingdom and the kings of Judah, the south, Amos was a prophet to the north, Israel. There is some contextual explaining to do in order to understand what this shepherd boy, Amos, had to say about the current situation. Because there was prosperity abounding in the north it created a very large separation between the rich and the poor. The poor, as in all societies, were having their rights trampled on and did not have anyone to speak on their behalf. It is in this context that Amos comes speaking about the day of the Lord and how these inequities will be fixed as a result of the coming of God. Let's look at the first chapter of Amos.
What we find here after the introductory verse on Amos is a speech against the nations. But let's pause on verse 1 if we can. Amos is called a shepherd of Tekoa which was just below Jerusalem and so obviously a part of Judah. But he addresses the kings of both Judah and Israel. Here is a map of the kingdoms against these speeches went against just so that as you read through it you can get a feeling for where they are located.
Here we find Amos indicting their neighbors for ethical transgressions on the order of war crimes. The prophet condemns their actions not only against Israel and Judah, but against other neighboring peoples. Keep in mind that throughout this chapter all of the nations mentioned were at one time allies of Judah and Israel.
We come to the end of the book of II Chronicles and we find our friend the prophet Jeremiah ends the book. Remember Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet because over his 40 year ministry he does not have a single convert. We find another cyclical turn over in rulers with Josiah who was a righteous king leaving and his son, Jehoahaz taking over and once again a continual cycle of those doing evil in the sight of the Lord begins. There is no one who comes out strong and brings the people back. It is so bad that even Jehoiachin who was eight years old and only reigned for 3 months is described as someone who did "evil in the sight of the Lord." What can an 8 year old do that can be described as being evil?
This continual reign of bad rulers continues and it includes both Egyptian and Babylonian exile by the the people and those in command. We see that both Egypt and Assyria have the chance to not only take the people in to captivity but they also get to choose who stays behind in Jerusalem to rule over the people, or at least those who remain. It can easily be said that the ending of II Chronicles gives us probably one of the worst times in Israelite history.
We end the chapter with a bit of a potential promise as King Cyrus of Persia encourages people to go back to Israel and rebuild the city and the walls. This is after Jeremiah and probably around the time that Nehemiah is the prophet.
We close this book of the Bible and move on to one that is no longer a history of the rulers. We must remember that people of God have a tendency over time to do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord. May God protect us as we look to break that cycle.