And now for something completely different. We have been in 1st and 2nd Kings, and now we’re not. We’re in the book of Amos today, one of twelve minor prophets in Israel.
What always strikes me when we read history of the Israel people is all the stupid things they did. Despite the many miracles God provided for them, Israel regularly turned their back on the Lord and invited the judgement of God. This judgement would bring them to repentance. But then the Israelites would again turn from the Lord.
Why do we read these Old Testament histories? Because this “sin cycle” isn’t limited to Israel. It repeats itself throughout history with every people that follow Christ, though the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Protestant Reformation, the English Empire, and the USA. Most of disturbing of all, it repeats itself in your life and my life.
The apostle Paul was very familiar with this cycle. In Romans 7:19, Paul wrote,
For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do.
So let’s look at the message from Amos, see the warning to Israel, and see if we can find our own connection.
Amos was just a shepherd and a farmer from the Judean village of Tekoa, just south of Bethlehem. He tended sheep and he picked fruit for a living. He had no training as a prophet, wasn’t related to other prophets. The Lord called and Amos answered. The year is about 760 BC.
The times were prosperous. The Babylonians would not conquer Judah for another 160 years. The people of Israel and Judah ate fine food, wore fine clothes, drank fine wine, lived in grand houses. Amos 3 says many of them even owned second homes.
But while they had outward wealth, inward they were spiritually and morally bankrupt. They didn’t love God, they didn’t love their neighbors.
II. Ignoring God
Amos 1:2 says,
The Lord roars from Zion and raises His voice from Jerusalem.
God is not silent, and judgment doesn’t come without a warning from the Lord. Through the prophet Amos, the Lord is sending a loud roar to all people to wake them from their morally bankrupt stupor. Amos 1:2-4,
“The Lord roars from Zion
And from Jerusalem He utters His voice;
And the shepherds’ pasture grounds mourn,
And the summit of Carmel dries up.”
Thus says the Lord,
“For three transgressions of Damascus and for four
I will not revoke its punishment,
Because they threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron.
“So I will send fire upon the house of Hazael
And it will consume the citadels of Ben-hadad.
God’s roar in Amos 2 provides prophecies of impending judgment on the neighbors of Judah. Each judgement follows the pattern, “The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing … for three crimes, even four.” It’s not a single transgression, but repeated and willful disregard for the Lord. God knows their sins and plans to punish them.
Most of the first book of Amos must have had the Israelites nodding their heads. All of Amos 1 is judgement on the neighbors of Israel and their wickedness. Destruction of Israelite cities, lying, human trafficking, slaughtering of innocents and even the murder of pregnant mothers. “Good,” they may have said. “We are God’s chosen people, and they should be punished for their evil.”
These neighboring countries were enemies of God and His people. God condemned them because they committed acts of wickedness that any human made in the image of God should have known were evil. Romans 1:18-20 says,
For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.
In other words, everyone has an accountability to God, believers and non-believers alike, based on what God has shown them through His creation. Everybody stands before the judgement of God. Ignorance is not an excuse. This verse says that anybody that does evil things is suppressing the truth that is already inside them.
Our society will claim that there is no god, that we can all do what is right in our own eyes. They may say, “there is no such thing as truth.” But then ask them – “Is that true? That there is no truth?”
There is a moral code written on the hearts of each one of us because we are all made in the image of God. We know what is right and what is wrong. But why? Why is it wrong to steal? Why is it wrong to lie? Even people without faith know when they are being treated unfair. It’s because the Creator wrote it on their hearts and they cannot deny it.
God’s judgment of Israel’s unbelieving neighbors in Amos 1 is justified, just as God’s judgement against all unbelievers is justified.
Imagine the people of Israel nodding their heads that others have what’s coming to them, and then Amos changes the message. God’s judgement isn’t coming just for the evil neighbors. God’s judgment is on Israel, too.
In Amos 2:4, God turns to Judah.
The Lord says:
I will not relent from punishing Judah
for three crimes, even four,
because they have rejected the instruction of the Lord
and have not kept His statutes.
The lies that their ancestors followed
have led them astray.
Therefore, I will send fire against Judah, and it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem.
Unlike the ungodly lands judged in Amos 1, the population of Judah were God’s chosen people. But the people of Judah didn’t follow the God who chose them. They “rejected the instruction of the Lord.” The people knew God and knew His commandment, but they lived selfishly, pridefully, in contempt of the God who had created them.
There’s a song on Country Christian Radio that illustrates it perfectly. The singer says he buys a plastic Jesus from a shelf at Wal-Mart. It was on sale. The chorus goes –
We got crosses on our necks
Bibles in hand
When the sun comes out
We make our own plans
We pull him out when we need him
Put him back when we’re done
Ain’t no way to treat god’s only son
If we only wanna hear him
When his words will please us
Then we might as well be prayin’ to a Plastic Jesus
From the outside, the people of Judah looked well-behaved – they did not hurt people like their non-Jewish neighbors. But Judah is guilty of ignoring God’s instructions. Amos 4:4 says,
“The lies that their ancestors followed have led them astray.”
These lies from their ancestors were experiments in false religions and it had compromised their relationship with God.
What were these lies? Jeremiah 9:13-14 says,
The Lord said, “It is because they abandoned My instruction that I set in front of them and did not obey My voice or walk according to it. Instead, they followed the stubbornness of their hearts and followed after the Baals as their fathers taught them.”
Who was Baal?
Baal was a Canaanite deity. According to the Canaans, Baal was a fertility god that caused the crops to grow and for the people to have children. Sometimes, to appeal to Baal, people sacrificed children.
You might remember a few weeks ago, studying Elijah, during the height of the Baal worship. Elijah called for a showdown on Mt Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal called on their god to send fire from heaven, something that should have been easy for a god in charge of lightning bolt. Elijah taunted them, saying, perhaps Baal is asleep or on vacation. The Elijah prayed a simple prayer and God sent fire from heaven, destroyed the sacrifice and burned up the altar and the ground. We know Baal today as Beelzebub.
Our God is the only God and is worthy of our praise, yet we as a people continually give praise to others. False gods, pagan philosophies, eastern meditation, polytheistic practices, secret healing, New Age mysticism, or something we watch on a Youtube channel. As a people, we are still following Baal. Our society desperately wants to believe anything non-Christian, unbiblical lies about God, humanity, creation, revelation, and salvation.
This applies to non-believers, but also so-called believers. Millions of people – with Bibles in their hands – have been led away from God by Christian heretics such as Unitarianism, Universalism, Christian Science, Unity School of Christianity and many others.
Why don’t want people want to follow the one true God? Because all those other false gods promise something for nothing. Our God requires a changed heart. Heretical so-called Christian sciences reject the instruction of the Lord. But we have a Bible, we know God’s Word, and ignorance is not an excuse.
III. Ignoring God’s Truth Angers God
Amos 2:6-8 says,
The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Israel for three crimes, even four, because they sell a righteous person for silver and a needy person for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the poor on the dust of the ground and obstruct the path of the needy. A man and his father have sexual relations with the same girl, profaning my holy name. They stretch out beside every altar on garments taken as collateral, and in the house of their God they drink wine obtained through fines.
After hearing God roar against five gentile neighbors and the kingdom of Judah, the people of Israel must have felt like they had escaped God’s notice. Instead, God reserves His loudest roar for them. God roars at His people Israel for the rest of the book of Amos.
Israel’s unbelieving neighbors were guilty of ignoring God. Judah was guilty of ignoring God’s Word. They corrupted the truth from God to justify evil. They did this in at least four ways:
- They corrupted the courts. God established human justice in Deuteronomy 16 & 17, but now the people received bribes to abuse innocent and poor people. Amos says, “they sell a righteous person for silver and a needy person for a pair of sandals”
- They corrupted taxes – something God allowed on a limited basis from Exodus 30 & Deuteronomy 17:17). But now the people oppressed the poor with excessive taxes. Amos says, “they trample the heads of the poor on the dust of the ground and obstruct the path of the needy.”
- They corrupted marriage – something God invented from the beginning in Genesis 2. But now the people promoted prostitution and the abuse of women. Amos says, “A man and his father have sexual relations with the same girl, profaning my holy name.”
- They corrupted worship – something God implemented for people to enjoy Him in Psalm 84. But now the people required the poor to give their clothing and wine just to attend services. Amos says, “they stretch out beside every altar on garments taken as collateral, and in the house of their God they drink wine obtained through fines.”
God wants the best for His people, but His people corrupted the very words for their own benefit. Poor and vulnerable people were being mistreated, yet God said in Deuteronomy 15:11,
“Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’”
Selective understanding. Taking verses out of context. Justifying a “name it and claim it” philosophy by just quoting verses we like and ignoring the ones we don’t.
Matthew 27:5, Judas went and hanged himself.
Luke 10:37, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
By misquoting scripture, taking things out of context, people can make evil out of God’s beautiful truth. By memorizing a few out-of-context Bible verses, a person can justify almost any ungodly behavior. But Jesus says in John 10:35,
“Scripture cannot be broken.”
We must not pick and choose what we like. The bible, properly applied, should and will make us uncomfortable. God wants us to understand every single line in scripture and how all of it points to our savior Christ Jesus.
If we have God’s truth and choose not to live by it, it is because we are either chasing a lie like ancient Judah, or corrupting God’s Word like ancient Israel.
We still sacrifice to Baal. We chase the lies our parents and grandparents chased: materialism, greed, laziness, unfaithfulness, social status, physical appearance, the occult – just to name several. We still sacrifice our children. People have chased these lies for ages but they never deliver. These lies cannot save. But if we ignore God’s Word, if we selectively claim only the parts we like, we are able to believe our own lies or corrupt God’s truth to justify our sins.
IV. God’s Merciful Justice
God will not be silenced. God roars His perfect mercy and justice to us through His word. Amos 2:9-16,
Yet I destroyed the Amorite as Israel advanced; his height was like the cedars, and he was as sturdy as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. And I brought you from the land of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness in order to possess the land of the Amorite. I raised up some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as Nazirites. Is this not the case, Israelites?
This is the Lord’s declaration. But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets, “Do not prophesy.” Look, I am about to crush you in your place as a wagon crushes when full of grain. Escape will fail the swift, the strong one will not maintain his strength, and the warrior will not save his life. The archer will not stand his ground, the one who is swift of foot will not save himself, and the one riding a horse will not save his life. Even the most courageous of the warriors will flee naked on that day—this is the Lord’s declaration.
The end of time approaches. God’s mercy will give way to God’s justice when the Tribulation comes.
God requires justice to correct evil. Justice means getting what you deserve, and all God’s ways are just. God also desires mercy. Mercy means not getting what you deserve, and God is full of mercy.
God’s mercy and justice do not oppose one another, nor do they cancel each other out. They operate in perfect harmony. Psalm 85:10b says “righteousness and peace kiss each other.” In Amos 2:9-16, God reveals His mercy and justice to Israel and Judah. God has been merciful in the past, the present, and the future.
a. Merciful Justice in the Past
First, God reminds Israel that He “destroyed the Amorite as Israel advanced.” When Israel conquered Canaan, God enabled the small to defeat the larger group, both in number and in size, so big God says the Amorites were as sturdy as oaks.
Israel experienced mercy. Israel was unfaithful to God throughout the exodus, the wilderness wanderings, and the conquest itself. For the Amorites, they experienced justice since they had antagonized the Israelites for hundreds of years.
God also reminds Israel that He “raised up some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as Nazirites.” Through the prophets, God gave Israel His Word. Through the Nazirites, God gave Israel an example of how to follow His Word. In His mercy, God ensured that people would know His just ways, and in His mercy God ensured they would know how to apply His ways to their lives.
Have we considered all the ways God has been merciful and just to us in the past? He often gives people success when they deserve failure. He sometimes allows us to see wicked people finally get what they deserve. He sends people into our lives to tell us about His ways. He sends other people into our lives to show us what it looks like to follow Him. This is all part of the merciful justice of God.
b. Merciful Justice in the Present
But as we have seen, the Israelites rejected God. They ignored His Word, chased lies, corrupted the truth, and mistreated the people God sent to give them His Word and example.
God would have been just to wipe them out, but instead He showed patient mercy. In fact, these were among the most prosperous years in Israel’s history.
Why do evil people succeed? The only explanation for why anyone succeeds at sinning is God’s merciful justice. He is merciful with sinners, patiently withholding a penalty until a proper judgment can be given. God’s mercy and justice can be shown in 2 Peter 3:9-10,
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
The Lord is just with sinners, promising that every single one of us will be judged perfectly – not by an imperfect human judge – but by the perfect divine judge Jesus Christ.
c. Merciful Justice in the Future
The last four verses of Amos 2 are a warning to Israel. God announces that He will “crush” them “as a wagon crushes when full of grain.” After the Holy Lion roars, He will pin Israel under His mighty paws. Speed will not help them escape. Strength will not deliver them. Weapons and horses will not help them. Courage will not matter.
The full arrival of God’s justice is a terrifying thing to imagine. But God’s mercy always rides close beside His justice. If we look closely at God’s act of judgment here, we see His mercy present in Amos 2:13.
- “Look/Behold…” – God is mercifully getting His people’s attention. There is a chance to listen to God.
- “…I am about to…” – God has mercifully delayed His final judgment against them. There is still time to avoid judgment.
- “…in your place” – God is mercifully telling the people exactly where His judgment will fall. There is a chance to seek safety.
Although Amos does not call Israel to repent in chapter 2, we can see the opportunity for repentance in Amos 2:13. Anyone who listens to the lion’s roar could change course and be spared the lion’s crushing paws. But would anyone listen?
Amos 2 ends on a warning of God’s impending judgment. Ignoring God and His truth put Israel in a dangerous place. It puts all of us in a dangerous place.
Remember this warning from Amos was not just to the unbelieving nations. The warning from Amos to Israel and Judah was this – you have the truth because God has provided the truth. Wrath and judgement will come to those who corrupt that truth. The temptation to corrupt truth is rampant in our society, but it creeps into our church, too. We must remember that God created man and woman. We must remember God’s love for the sanctity of life. We must remember there is no free or slave, black or white in God’s eyes. God’s judgement has already come to the world.
Jesus Christ endured God’s judgment sin, taking the place that each one of us deserve. He went to the cross for justice for our iniquities and we could flee to God and find mercy. God’s justice and mercy meet perfectly at the cross of Jesus Christ. We find grace. Grace we do not deserve, and freedom from the wrath we do deserve.
God roars His judgement. God roars His perfect mercy. Amos 5:4 ends in this glorious roar from God –
“Seek me and live!”
The roar of God demands our attention.
All glory to God through Christ alone. Amen.