A Message for the Present
Part 2 of a five part series
In part 1 we saw why the judgement of God fell on Judah and Israel and why by implication it falls on the world and much of the church today – Amos 2:4-8.
Judah: 1) Despised and rejected God’s Law 2) Failed to keep His commandments; 3) Walked after lies; 4) Erred and went astray like their fathers.
Israel: 1) Perverted Justice; 2) Oppressed the poor for personal gain; 3) Engaged in sexual uncleanness, immorality and incest; 4) Committed idolatry by profaning the Name of God.
Amos 2: 9-16 illustrate both the ingratitude of the people of Israel, and their outright defiance of God’s ordinances. One verse stands out as a clear indication of their attitude.
But you gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying, do not prophesy - Amos 2:12.
This is unbelievable. Simply put, a Nazarite took a solemn vow before God which included not drinking any alcohol. Samson was a Nazarite. Prophets MUST prophesy as God leads them. These people were being told to defy God and break their vows. Is it any wonder that God was displeased?
These themes are continued in Amos chapter four with the underlying biblical lesson of sowing and reaping viz "as you sow so shall you reap". God will bring His wrath and His judgement on those who practise unrighteousness.
God’s principles are never negated; sometimes He stays His hand through His great mercy and grace, but the principle will always be in operation. There is a passage of time between sowing and reaping, the one will inevitably follow the other. It may sometimes appear that no matter how much you sow, nothing comes to harvest, but just as night follows day, so will a harvest follow a planting (unless it is in hard and stony ground, or damaged by adverse weather). He is the God of the harvest and will bring it forth in His good time. Harvest and reaping comes to all. Scripture indicates that the person who sows may not reap in the same field.
Sowing and reaping applies not only to that which is pleasing to God, but also to that which is not pleasing to God. Those who today are taking advantage of the poor and the needy are sowing the seeds of destruction and damnation into their lives. There will be an accounting before the Judgement Throne; what they have sown, they WILL reap.
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, who say to their masters, Bring wine and let us drink - Amos 4:1.
Matthew Henry says this:
They are compared to the kine of Bashan, which were a breed of cattle very large and strong, especially if, though bred there, they were fed upon the mountain of Samaria, where the pastures were extraordinarily fat. Amos had been a herdsman, and he speaks in a dialect of his calling, comparing the rich and great men, that lived in luxury and wantonness, to the kine of Bashan, which were wanton and unruly, would not be kept within the bounds of their own pasture, But broke through the hedges, broke down all the fences, and trespassed upon the neighbouring grounds; and not only so, but pushed and gored the smaller cattle that were not a match for them. They oppress the poor and needy themselves; they crush them, to squeeze something to themselves out of them. They took advantage of their poverty, and necessity, and inability to help themselves, to make them poorer and more necessitous than they were. They made use of their power as judges and magistrates for the invading of men’s rights and properties, the poor not excepted; for they made no conscience of robbing even the hospital.
Verse 3 is interesting.
And you shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and you shall cast them into the palace, says the LORD.
Where do these breaches come from? God places a wall, or hedge of protection around His people. The enemy cannot get through this wall; that would make them more powerful than God. How then do the breaches appear that the enemy is able to use? The answer is simple. We make the breaches ourselves, through our disobedience and sin. We let the enemy in; we allow him to attack and even defeat us. No one else can do it.
I like what Matthew Henry has to say about this verse:
What is got by oppression cannot long be enjoyed with satisfaction. Once again, you will reap what you sow; there will be nowhere to hide from God.
Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years: And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the freewill offerings: for this you love, you children of Israel, says the Lord GOD. - Amos 4: 4-5.
God is NOT giving them a licence to sin here. He is being sarcastic. He is describing their actions, in contrast to what their attitude should be. Note especially the beginning of verse 5, where they use leaven in their bread offering. Leaven, in the Bible, is symbolic of SIN. Jesus said that He was the living bread come down from heaven. At the Last Supper, He equated unleavened bread with His sinless body and with His coming sacrifice. Bread has this application in the Bible. The Passover is another example. Even the manna in the wilderness was a type of Jesus. Yet, here we have the people of Israel, offering leavened bread; to God; offering in effect a “sin filled” Christ as a sacrifice. That sort of sacrifice could never be acceptable to God.
These people liked their own creations and actually thought that God would like and accept them too. How similar is this message to the so- called faith/ prosperity gospel of today. They too have created their own sin-laden offering that is far from what the Bible teaches. They like their message too, but God doesn’t; it’s another gospel. Sin, greed and oppression of the poor and needy are at its heart, not the love of the sinless Lamb of God. What God is concerned about here, is an issue that dominates much of scripture - Repentance. All that He had done was intended to bring His people to repentance and once more they had spurned His pleas. Five times had He made His displeasure with their attitude and behaviour known to them, and five times had they refused to turn to Him and make their peace with an increasingly angry God.
Five is an interesting number in Bible numerics - the number of Grace. It is by Grace that we are saved, according to Ephesians. God was, through Amos, outlining His plan of Salvation, even though it was hidden from their understanding. These have both a physical and a spiritual significance. As we consider the five charges God lays against His people, let us remember how important these things are in our own lives. Where God withholds for disobedience, He can also give blessings for obedience. All these things are a part of His saving grace.
The five charges are set out in verses 6-11; note their increasing severity. God, as always, was patient and longsuffering with His people.
And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD. And also I have withheld the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece where it did not rain withered. So two or three cities wandered to one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD.I have blasted you with blight and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the locust devoured them: yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD.I have sent among you the plague after the manner of Egypt: your young men I have slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stench of your camps to come up into your nostrils: yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD. I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD - Amos 4: 6-11.
The first of these charges, in verse 6, is a lack of food, or famine. Their clean teeth did not come from God supplying toothpaste and a toothbrush, but rather from lack of food, which would stain and rot the teeth. Again, bread has a twofold meaning, physical and spiritual.
Trusting in the provisions of God, especially in times of famine, was a basic tenet of Jewish faith. Likewise, it forms part of our basic Christian foundations. The converse was also true. God used famine as a punishment for sin. Frequently, in the OT, we see God using it as a means of bringing His people to repentance. The following is a good example of this:
Then Elisha spoke to the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, Arise and go, you and your household, and sojourn wherever you can sojourn: for the LORD has called for a famine; and it shall also come upon the land for seven years - 2 Kings 8:1.
Today, we are seeing a famine of the Word of God in our society; not surprising is it? This too was spoken of by Amos.
Behold, the days come, says the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:- Amos 8:11.
In the OT, famine was primarily associated with a physical need for physical food, but in the NT, and in the society in which we live, it is associated more with our spiritual needs. Only as we become aware of this, will we turn to God with a repentant heart and come under His outstretched Hand of grace. The Bible is our spiritual food. Jesus, Himself, said that, that He too is our spiritual food. If we are not to experience famine in our lives, we need more of the Word, more of Jesus. God uses famine to bring us to repentance, in our case, spiritual famine. I pray that He won’t lay His first charge on us - “Yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD.”
The next charge from God; there is a lack of rain.
And also I have withheld the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece where it did not rain was withered. So two or three cities wandered to one city to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD - Amos 4:7-8.
See how it is linked to the first charge and again, we have a physical event with a spiritual meaning. Rain was essential to the harvest in the dry climate of the Middle East. Rain speaks of God’s blessings and provision, so the withholding of the rain always reflects His judgement, usually for disobedience. In the NT, rain generally refers to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Today we need God’s rain, His Living water, His Holy Spirit for an end- time harvest. Unfortunately, there are many ‘churches’ that are as dry as a desert. Continue to pray for God’s life- giving rain in your lives.
The third charge is in verse 9.
I have blasted you with blight and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the locust devoured them: yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD.
God had spoiled their fruit. The Bible tells us that by our fruit we will be known. What is the message then, if our fruit has been spoiled, destroyed. As Christians, we are called to be fruit inspectors. You don’t find good fruit on bad trees or vines. Spoiled fruit is not the sign of a healthy Christian or church. In fact, God gives several warnings about people with either no fruit in their lives, or bad fruit.
Fourthly, He sends plagues and war.
I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stench of your camps to come up to your nostrils: yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD - Amos 4: 10.
Consider the world today and what do you see? Are people taking any real notice? What was AIDS, but a plague from God! Why are our newspapers filled with stories about war and terror? We have this not only in places like Afghanistan, but on our local streets as we hear about crimes and murders almost every day. Rarely does a day go by when we don’t hear about someone being shot; people don’t even feel safe in their homes anymore. Nothing has changed. "Yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD".
Have things been happening in your life that could equate to any of these? May be, these things apply more to nations and groups of people, than to individuals. However, if God is in control as the Bible teaches, then there must be a purpose behind it. Is God trying to get our attention today, as He did in the time of Amos? Is greater judgement still to come? I think the answer to both questions is the same.
Finally, in verse 11, the fifth charge. He offers the people a clear choice; Mercy, or Judgement and still they would not return to Him.
I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD - Amos 4:11.
Sodom and Gomorrah are names synonymous with the judgement of God, and yet even there He was willing to extend mercy. However, only the family of Lot was eventually and saved. How is our society much different. Will there be a reckoning? Is it still possible to ‘return to the Lord’?
That choice is still there and thanks to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, it will remain until the day of His return for those who repent. Yet, still, the people will not come; they will not repent, they will not obey God nor walk in His ways.
Five areas of Grace are presented to the people and five times the offer is refused. There will be no more. Is there a famine of the Word of God in your life? Have the blessings, the REAL blessings of God dried up in your life? Have you inspected your fruit recently to see if it has been spoiled? Wars and Plagues affect nations, but nations are made up of people just like us. Are we at war in a spiritual sense? Are we under attack? Which option have you chosen - Judgement or Mercy? Why is this important?
Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel: and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel - Amos 4:12.
Are you prepared to meet your God?
About The Author
David Yarwood is a retired high school teacher, a semi-retired church pastor and a foundation member of CWMF. After many years with both CLC and the AoG he and wife Margaret became associated with Philip and Kathleen Powell about 11 years ago and recently completed his current preaching series on the Book of Amos. David and Margaret have two adult children. They live in Tanah Merah, Queensland.