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September 14 Today’s Reading: Amos 1-5
“Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.
750 years before our Lord’s incarnation the nation of Israel was a rich, thriving, prosperous kingdom. During the reign of Jeroboam II, the nation was peaceful, stable, strong, and very, very religious (Amos 3:12, 15; 4:1, 4; 5:5, 21-23; 6:4-6; 8:3-10). Many enjoyed such wealth that they had winter houses and summer houses. Others were even more wealthy, living in ivory houses on great estates. But all was not well in Israel. The nation was morally degenerate. The land was filled with greed and corruption. Bethel, the house of God, had become Bethel, the house of transgression (4:4). Amos came storming into Samaria with a message of Divine judgment, a message of impending wrath upon a people who had abandoned God and His worship, crying, “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!” Judgment had already begun; but it had no effect upon the hearts of the people. It would, therefore, increase and continue to increase until the nation was altogether destroyed. The Lord God swore by his prophet that because they repented not when He sent famine to their bodies, He would send a far worse, far more destructive famine, a famine of spiritual food (8:11-12).
Amos began his message to Israel in a strange way. In chapters 1 and 2 Amos describes the judgments the Lord would bring upon the nations around Israel. These were the Gentiles among whom the children of Israel lived. At the end of chapter 2 (vv. 6-16), he speaks to Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and declares that God will judge them for their corruption and for injustice, corruption and injustice greater than any of the other nations. The Lord God was pressed under them, as an over-loaded cart is pressed with its load (2:13). But the people of Israel were totally undisturbed, absolutely complacent. From verse 1 of chapter 3, Amos deals with these people exclusively, driving his message home to Israel. He begins by pointing out that they were a people who had a special, privileged position before God (3:1-2). That is exactly what they wanted to hear. You can picture them swelling with pride and arrogance. “We are God’s elect, His chosen, favored, special people. We have a great history and a great heritage.” Then, the prophet hits them right between the eyes with a sledge-hammer. ― “Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
Privilege and Responsibility
You see that which was their great pride was the very reason for their great judgment. Light despised brings great wrath. Privilege creates responsibility. And the greater our privileges are, the greater our responsibilities are. The nation of Israel had been given the greatest revelation, the greatest privileges of any nation. But they turned from them to walk in utter darkness and idolatry. Israel was the very house of God. But they had turned the house of God into a house of iniquity. They had the Gospel revealed to them. ― The Passover ― The Feasts ― The Sacrifices ― The Priesthood ― The Temple ― The Altar ― The Mercy-Seat. But they willfully rejected God’s revelation. Therefore, they were sentenced to the outpouring of God’s wrath. This is exactly what Peter means when he says, “Judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). It always begins there. God always starts with His professed people, and then He moves out to those round about them. Israel despised God and his Word. For this reason, the prophet says, God is going to send judgment (3:3-8).
The Golden Calves
Do you remember the two golden calves that were erected by the first King Jeroboam in the cities of Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:28)? Israel was sent to worship there; and the people called those calves Jehovah. And they worshipped and bowed down before those golden images. Those two calves represented three basic evils in Israel, for which God was set in judgment against them, evils for which the judgment of God is manifest today. Those golden calves symbolized material greed, shameless pride, and sensuality. One might conclude (and rightfully so) that the Holy Spirit intended Amos’ prophecy for our own generation.
Call to Repentance
Yet, God ever remembers mercy, even in the midst of providential wrath and judgment. So Amos delivers a message of mercy. As God’s ambassador, he calls Israel to repentance. He calls for them to turn from their idols to God. The sinner’s only hope is reconciliation to God (5:4-8). But Israel continued to harden their hearts, taking refuge in their refuge of lies (5:18; 6:1). Sooner or later, either in grace or in judgment, the Lord God will destroy every sinner’s refuge of lies.
God sees through us. He sees through our religion and our rituals. He sees our hearts. He demands truth in the inward parts, not a mere outward conformity to religious codes. God sees through all the sham and pretense, without the slightest difficulty. He is not impressed with the “bodily exercise” of religion. He requires “godliness.” ― “Thou desirest truth in the inward part” (Psalm 51:6).