Monday, 15 December 2014

(350) December 16: Amos 4-6 & Revelation 6

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

To discover:­
As you read consider how the people wrongly presume all is well with them and God.

To ponder:
We begin with women who oppress the needy and demand their husbands feed their drunkenness. They are described as cows from the cattle country of Bashan. This stresses they are beast-like, fattened for slaughter. So Amos declares the Sovereign and so ruling LORD has sworn they will be taken away with hooks, through breaks in the wall no doubt created by conquest (4v1-3). In the light of this, Amos tells Israel to carry on with their religion at the key sites in Bethel and Gilgal. It seems this is called sin because it was hypocritical, as they are told to continue with daily sacrifices, tithes, and offerings, while boasting in them (4v4-5). The point is that no amount of religiousness puts us right with God. He looks for loving obedience.
            He continues noting how they did not return to him despite his holding back food and rain, despite limiting their harvests, despite ruining them with disease or locusts, despite sending Egypt-like plagues, and despite causing military defeat and sending natural disaster (4v6-11). The sense is that all these things, as expressions of covenant curse (Deut 28-30), should have awakened the people to the fact they were under judgement for sin and so brought them to repentance. Yet because they refused this, God declares he will unleash these same things in an unrestrained way. And we are reminded he is well able to so as the almighty creator who reveals his thoughts and turns dawn to darkness. So he warns the people to prepare to meet their God (4v12-13). For us, all suffering in some sense should bring us to repentance in signalling our whole race is under the curse of Eden for sin (Rev 9v20-21). And without such repentance, suffering will be experienced in fullness within hell.
            Amos now turns to lament Israel’s fall. The title “virgin” stresses her vulnerability, like that of a young woman. We are told she will be deserted – without help from allies, nor from God. And she will never rise again, not being re-established as a nation as Judah would be. Indeed, only a tenth will remain after battle. God therefore calls the people to seek him rather than their religious sites, with the promise that they will live if they do – ie. he will not bring this disaster. Yet if they don’t, he promises to devour their previous religious sites and the people themselves with fire. Here “house of Joseph” refers to the north under the representative tribe of Ephraim, Joseph’s eldest son (5v1-6).
            The LORD then addresses those who reject justice and righteousness, reminding them of his name as the creator of the stars and commander of the seas, who turns light to darkness and destroys strongholds. He charges them with hating those who correct sinners and who speak truth, and with forcing the poor to give them grain. He states they will not live in their mansions or enjoy their plush vineyards. He adds that they oppress the righteous, take bribes, and deprive the poor of justice, making the times so evil that prudent people are too fearful to speak out. Again, God therefore calls them to seek good and so live, promising that then God would be with them in the way they say he already is, and might even show mercy on the remnant that remains after the coming disaster. However, he affirms this disaster will occur nevertheless – bringing wailing in every quarter of city or land as the LORD passes through (5v7-17). This all shows how readily people can delude themselves in claiming God is for them when in reality he is against them. Moreover we see that in the church (and perhaps even nations) people can so persist in refusing to repent that judgement becomes inevitable even if there is then a sudden change of heart.
            In what follows we see the religious self-delusion once more. As many Christians today, the people long for the day of the LORD in which God would come to them, assuming that will mean light and joy. But God asks why they long for it, when it will actually mean the darkness of judgement because of their sin. Those who think they have found safety, will find only that harm strikes them nevertheless (5v18-20). So God declares he “hates” and has no regard for their religious activity and worship, calling them instead to persistent and abundant justice and righteousness. Speaking of Israel’s time in the desert, 5v25 must mean that they didn’t only bring sacrifices and offerings (which they did bring to the tabernacle), but also loving obedience to his law. Yet now, their religion is not only unrighteous, but idolatrous. So although they lift up their idolatrous motifs as if to follow in procession, such processions will end in exile beyond Damascus (5v21-26). Christians must recognize that no matter how much they might sing their songs, attend their conferences, and presume God is present with them, if they are not living in loving obedience to him, he hates and gives no regard to it at all.
            Chapter 6 therefore begins addressing the complacent In Zion (Jerusalem, the south) and Samaria (the north). They are complacent because they presume God’s favour. Having addressed the women, God now addresses the notable men, with the north in particular in mind. He tells them to see how better off they are than Syria or Philistia. Yet they put off the evil day, probably in the sense of not facing up to its immanence. Instead they enjoy their wealth seen with images of laziness (bed) and greed (food). They enjoy their song, drink, and fine lotions, but do not grieve over Joseph’s (the north’s) sins. So the north will be the first to be exiled. It’s a challenge to ensure we grieve over those of our day rather than just enjoying our wealth on the presumption all is well.
            God continues by swearing that he detests Jacob’s (Israel’s) pride, and her fortresses that she presumes will withhold attack. He then stresses how he will totally destroy the city of Samaria with the picture of a hidden survivor being warned not to mention God’s name, presumably because he might hear and act against them (6v1-11). 6v12-14 notes that people don’t risk riding or ploughing in dangerous places, but Israel have corrupted justice and righteousness and taken pride in their own strength. The point is probably that this is far more dangerous and foolish. And so God declares he will stir up a nation (Assyria) that will oppress Israel (the northern kingdom).
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he is slow in judgement, warning us in the trial of life to turn to him. Pray that you would not be complacent about God’s favour, but live in true repentance.

Thinking further:
None today.

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