Sunday, 14 December 2014

(349) December 15: Amos 1-3 & Revelation 5

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read note the particular sins Amos condemns.

To ponder:
In being a shepherd Amos’ call demonstrates how God often uses ordinary people for great purposes. His ministry is dated by a famous earthquake that took place during Uzziah’s reign (1v1, see Zech 14v5). He speaks of God roaring with wrath sufficient to cause the land to shrivel up (1v2). In what follows, the repeated phrase “for three sins…even for four” stresses how fitting judgement would be for three sins, let alone four. The point is that the nations have persistently done wrong. The description of judgement in terms of “fire” is a figurative description of destruction under God’s burning anger.
           First, God promises destruction on Damascus and its king, with its people being exiled, and all for their attacking Gilead with sledges usually used for cutting down crops. Total destruction is then pronounced against the Philistines in Gaza for enslaving whole communities (probably from Judah) and selling them to Edom. We are also told Tyre did the same, breaking a treaty, and so will receive the same punishment. Edom are to be consumed for pursuing their brother nation Israel (Edom stemmed from Esau, Jacob’s brother) without compassion. The same is declared for Ammon in the context of a battle, in which their king and officials will be exiled. Their sin was to do violence even to pregnant women in Gilead. Moab is condemned not for action against Judah, but for the evil if doing violence to the corpse of Edom’s king. She will be consumed in war and her king and officials killed (1v3-2v3). These sins have a contemporary ring. So we can be certain of God’s outrage today at violence committed against his people, forced slavery and people trafficking, and evil done to the dead.
            The shock to God’s people hearing Amos is that God now turns to speak against Judah (the south) and Israel (the north). The point is that they will be treated no differently from the nations. Judah is charged with rejecting God’s law in following false gods (2v4-5), but the major portion refers to Israel. It seems judges were condemning the righteous for material gain, and denying justice to the poor and oppressed. And not only did the people break God’s law by keeping other people’s garments taken in pledge for debt (against Ex 22v26f), but they lay on them by their so called altars. Perhaps it was there that fathers and sons had sex with the same girl (probably a prostitute of the Canaanite religion). At their pagan temples they also get drunk on wine taken as fines, which were probably unjustified. The picture is of a nation seeped in injustice, immorality, greed, drunkenness and idolatry (2v6-8). And these can still be found in God’s church and even amongst his ministers.
            To this God rehearses his kindness in redeeming Israel from Egypt and leading her for 40 years through the desert to inherit her land. He also speaks of the prophets and Nazirites he raised up to serve him, but who the people have corrupted by forcing the Nazarites to drink and commanding the prophets to be silent. God therefore says he will crush the kingdom, with none able to escape no matter how capable or brave (2v10-16). This demonstrates how serious it is for those who have experienced God’s mercy to turn from him into such sin, or to cause those who serve him not to. There will be no escape from his judgement.
            The “whole family” of Israel brought from Egypt is now addressed – north and south. It is because they alone were chosen by God that they will be punished for all their sins – implying a greater judgement than that on the other nations. The sense of 3v3-6 seems understood from 3v7. God only acts when he has first revealed his plan to his prophets. So the two agreeing to walk together are God and his prophet, the roar and growl, God’s word of judgement through him, the snare and trap, what is coming on the people, and the trembling and disaster, what he will cause for the city. The logic is that what God says through Amos is certainly going to occur – just as all he as spoken throughout scripture and in Christ is. So God declares he has roared and all should fear, and he has spoken, so prophets can only pass on what he has said (3v8).
            Here we see from where God’s judgement will come. He speaks as if to send emissaries to Ashdod (in Assyria) and Egypt, to assemble in Samaria (the north of Israel) and witness her unrest, oppression and plunder as those who do not know how to do right. God therefore states that the land will be overrun and strongholds pulled down and plundered. He adds that just as a shepherd might save barely anything of a devoured sheep from a lion’s mouth, so barely anything from the wealthy in Samaria and Damascus who have beds and couches will be saved (3v9-12). Again, God tells Amos to testify against Jacob (ie. Israel) that on the day he punishes them for their sins, he will destroy their idolatrous altars, and the wealth gained through oppression – whether it is two homes or a mansion that are richly adorned (3v9-15). This urges us to ensure our wealth is not gained at through the oppression of others, and resonates with Jesus’ and James’ challenge to those who seek money but are not rich towards God.
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his concern for justice and standing up for the oppressed. Pray that people would turn from the sins Amos highlights in your country and church.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Amos, click here.

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