Tuesday, 16 December 2014

(351) December 17: Amos 7-9 & Revelation 7

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 God’s mercy is evident.

To ponder:
Chapter 7 begins affirming God’s judgements can be restrained. First, in a vision Amos sees him preparing a swarm of locusts to strip the second crop at harvest, after the king seems to have taken the first as some form of tax. This would have left the people with nothing. The sense is that in his vision Amos sees the locusts strip the land, causing him to cry out for God to forgive Jacob (Israel), fearing the people would not survive if this actually happened as they are so small a nation. And God relents. Second, he sees God calling for a supernatural sort of fire to devour the land and even dry up the sea. Again, Amos cries for God to stop, and he relents. Nevertheless, in what follows we learn that Jacob will still be judged. A plumb line is a weight hung on a string that was used to ensure walls were vertical when built. By saying he was setting a plumb line against Israel, God is saying he is measuring them for uprightness. And it is clear he finds them lacking as he declares he will destroy their high places and sanctuaries of worship, and bring his own sword against the kingly house. The point of the whole section is that despite this, the judgement could be a lot worse (7v1-9). We should remember that in experiencing some degree of good in life, none actually get what their sins deserve.
            Just as we saw happened to Jeremiah, we then read of a priest telling the king (Jereboam) that Amos is conspiring against him by saying he will die and the people be exiled. The priest also told Amos to return to Judah and not prophesy at Bethel, which was the place of the temple for the northern kingdom – created as an alternative to the rightful one in Jerusalem (the south). Amos responds by outlining his call from being a shepherd and carer of trees. His point must be that this proves he is a true prophet as there was nothing that disposed him to taking on this role. He then proclaims God’s word in response to the priest who had told him not to preach against Israel. It is a prediction of what Assyria’s oppression would mean for him: His wife would become a prostitute, his children be killed by the sword, the land divided, he himself die in a pagan country, and Israel suffer exile. It’s a terrible future, but reflects the seriousness of opposing those who preach God’s word (7v10-17).
            Amos now sees a basket of ripe fruit that signifies Israel is ripe for being picked in judgement. God’s declaration that he will spare them no longer once again reminds us that he has been immensely patient with them in not acting sooner. His outline of what “that day” will bring is sobering: The songs of the temple will become wails, followed by bodies everywhere and silence. God then addresses those who oppress the poor in the land, who long for the end of their religious feasts so they can get back to dishonestly making money, enslaving the poor, and selling bad products. These are the key sins Amos has opposed. And to those who commit them, God swears by Israel’s pride (probably the land - her greatest possession) that he will never forget what they’ve done. This is a way of saying his judgement is certain. He therefore speaks of the land itself trembling, the sky being darkened, the singing at religious feats becoming a time of mourning as for an only son – implying a more intense grief than when one has numerous children (8v1-10). Here we have to recall the earthquake and darkness, when God’s only son died upon the cross. The implication is that there he experienced this punishment so that those who come to him would not have to.
            God continues by promising a famine of the word of God, when people would wander in all directions seeking it but not finding it. This implies 8v13 is speaking of Israel’s young men and women thirsting for God’s word. And without it, they will follow the false gods of Samaria, Dan and Beersheba, and so fall, never to rise again (8v11-14). In one sense this lack of the word of God is the most serious judgement, because it means people are not called to repentance, but handed over to believe whatever false views are being propounded. This was fulfilled in some sense when prophecy ceased from the time of Malachi to that of John the Baptist. But it applies more broadly too. When God removes faithful evangelists or Bible teachers from his church, the implication is that it may be an act of judgement on that church and the nation it inhabits.
            Chapter 9 begins with Amos actually seeing the Lord standing in a temple. This implies some human-like form – perhaps that of God the Son. Because Amos has been speaking predominantly to the northern kingdom (7v12-13), this probably refers to the northern temple in Bethel. The point is that the Lord is supervising its destruction. He commands it be brought down on the heads of the people, and declares that he will kill with the sword any that survive – stressing in vivid language that this will be inescapable wherever they seek to hide, and even if they go into exile. In stating he will fix his eyes on them for evil not good, he means for “harm” as a fitting punishment, rather than for evil per se, as God never does what is wrong (9v1-4).
            Amos then declares that “the Lord” in the temple is the “LORD Almighty,” using language to stress his power and majesty as creator (9v5, see 8v8). This should bring awe – but also conviction that he can and will do just as he says. And so he now speaks of the Israelites being to him no different than the pagan nations, who he also brought into their various lands. This comparison would have been a shock, implying that Israel had lost her privileged relationship with God because of her sin. Indeed, God declares the north to be a sinful kingdom which he will utterly destroy, despite the fact that the people say disaster will never overtake them. However, he qualifies this by saying he will not destroy all Jacob, presumably as he will keep some descendents alive in the south (Judea). This is probably the meaning of the sieve illustration. As the nation is sieved by the nations, the imperfect pebbles (sinners) would be separated from the grain (repentant). This took place as the righteous from the north travelled to the south, and reflects how times of trial often reveal those with genuine faith (see 1 Pet 1v7).
            Compacting this destruction with God’s future for his people as the other prophets do, Amos ends with hope in Christ. God will restore David’s fallen tent (kingdom), and it will possess the land of Edom (Israel’s great enemy) and all nations, which bear God’s name because they are ultimately his. The reference to a “remnant” from Edom may imply the inclusion of some of its people in God’s kingdom. Whatever the case, Israel’s land will so flourish that it is pictured with harvesters overtaking those planting, and mountains dripping with wine from the vineyards! The sense is that God will bring his people from exile to rebuild and be replanted, never to be uprooted again, but to enjoy an existence of abundance, peace and joy (9v11-15, esp, v14). We share in this future.
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his mercy in providing evangelists and preachers. Pray that you would heed and never oppose those who faithfully teach the scriptures.

Thinking further:
None today.

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