This three part series on the book of Amos was preached at Forge Road Bible Chapel, Perry Hall, MD on May 20, 2012 (Part 1), June 3 , 2012 (Part 2), and June 24, 2012 (Part 3). The series includes the sermon manuscript, power point presentation, and audio.
[Editor’s Note: This Sermon was preached at Forge Road Bible Chapel, in Perry Hall, MD on 5/20/12. The author uses the marker *!* to indicate a slide change on the corresponding PowerPoint file.]
Good morning. Open your Bibles with me today to the Old Testament Book of Amos, and chapter 7.
The Old Testament is organized 5 – 12 – 5 – 5 – 12 – five books of Moses, 12 books of history, 5 books of poetry, 5 books of the major prophets, and 12 books of the minor prophets. Amos is one of those Minor Prophets, meaning it’s a shorter book, and it comes right after the Book of Joel and right before Obadiah.
The book of Amos is great stuff, and as the schedule here at the Chapel happens to break out, for better or for worse, you and I will be together like this 3 times in the next 6 weeks, so I thought we would use that time to do a short three week series in the Book of Amos.
If you are not familiar with the Book, Amos is a little bit hard on a first read. To be appreciated, the text needs to be understood against the history of the period; and it is not a happy, comforting, warm and fuzzy book. There is essentially no good news in it until you get to the very last part of the very last chapter.
But when the Book is seen against its historical context, it becomes very relevant, very current, and I think very profitable to us in our Christian lives.
We are going to begin here in Amos 7:1-15.
Thus the Lord God showed me: Behold, He formed locust swarms at the beginning of the late crop; indeed it was the late crop after the king’s mowings. 2 And so it was, when they had finished eating the grass of the land, that I said:
“O Lord God, forgive, I pray!
Oh, that Jacob may stand,
For he is small!”
3So the Lord relented concerning this.
“It shall not be,” said the Lord.
4 Thus the Lord God showed me: Behold, the Lord God called for conflict by fire, and it consumed the great deep and devoured the territory. 5 Then I said:
“O Lord God, cease, I pray!
Oh, that Jacob may stand,
For he is small!”
6So the Lord relented concerning this.
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord God.
7 Thus He showed me: Behold, the Lord stood on a wall made with a plumb line, with a plumb line in His hand. 8 And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”
And I said, “A plumb line.”
Then the Lord said:
“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
In the midst of My people Israel;
I will not pass by them anymore.
9The high places of Isaac shall be desolate,
And the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste.
I will rise with the sword against the house of Jeroboam.”
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said:
‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
And Israel shall surely be led away captive
From their own land.’ ”
12 Then Amaziah said to Amos:
“Go, you seer!
Flee to the land of Judah.
There eat bread,
And there prophesy.
13But never again prophesy at Bethel,
For it is the king’s sanctuary,
And it is the royal residence.”
14 Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah:
“I was no prophet,
Nor was I a son of a prophet,
But I was a sheepbreeder
And a tender of sycamore fruit.
15 Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock,
And the Lord said to me,
‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel.’
Every book of the Prophets has a particular personality, a particular tone that conveys its message as much as do the words themselves.
The prophet Isaiah wrote about God’s salvation of His people through Messiah. The prophet Jeremiah wrote about God’s despair over lives gone wrong in sin. The prophet Hosea wrote about God’s forgiveness and restoration.
The prophet Amos wrote about God’s expectation and demand for righteousness – His expectation of righteousness in our individual lives; His expectation of righteousness among the people who know His salvation; and His demand for righteousness in our society at large.
*!* Perhaps the greatest and most famous speech of the 20th Century was given on August 28, 1963 from the Lincoln Memorial by Dr. Martin Luther King, during the March of Washington.
This is from that speech:
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.
*!* We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.
*!* No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
This was actually intended to be the climax of the speech – the next line in Dr. King’s prepared text for that day, which line he never delivered, is the strangely flat conclusion And so today, let us go back to our communities as members of the international association for the advancement of creative dissatisfaction.
That would have never made the history books. Instead, entirely extemporaneously, came the famous line I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream, and then, again extemporaneously, the famous coda that gave the speech its name.
But what was to be that climatic line, justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream, is itself among the most famous lines of the civil rights movement. *!* It is inscribed on the King Memorial in Washington DC; and it is inscribed and attributed to him in other places as well. He used the line very often, as early as his 1955 speech during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
But the line is not original to him – no more than A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand was original to Abraham Lincoln.
*!* That great call for social justice is from the Book of Amos 5:24 – a verse so powerful, words so contemporary, that they are inscribed on the newest statute in the seat of our national government. This Book of Amos has a lot to say to us today.
To understand the power of the book, we have to do some ancient history; *!* and in particular we have to talk about two kings of Israel, both of whom conveniently for us, have the same name – Jeroboam.
The Nation of Israel was united for only two generations under the family of David. David’s son Solomon died in 976 BC, and the nation split into two parts. What was still called Israel in the north, and Judah in the south.
There is much more in the Old Testament about the history of the southern nation – Judah made up of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and the Levites. That is where the descendants of David continued to rule; *!* that is where Jerusalem was; that is where the temple was; that is where most of the prophets were, like Isaiah and Jeremiah; and they survived as a distinct people. Eventually, the northern kingdom is destroyed by the Assyrian empire and disappears into history – the so-called ten lost tribes of Israel.
But Judah survived. Even to today – the word Jew means someone from Judah.
The book of Amos takes place in the northern kingdom – what was still called Israel. The ten tribes who rebelled against the Family of David, established their own king and then their own capital in the City of Samaria. Over the 250 years of its history, there were only two of the writing prophets that went to the northern kingdom, they were Hosea and Amos.
When the ten tribes set up their kingdom, their first king, as I suggested, was a man named Jeroboam – Jeroboam I, the son of Nebat. [1 Kings 12].
*!* As Jeroboam surveyed the political situation, he saw a big problem. The Law of Moses called upon his citizens to worship in Jerusalem, and Jeroboam did not think that is such a good idea. If his people all go south to Jerusalem, they will reminded of past glories, they will see the temple of Solomon, and they might start to yearn for the good old days when the Family of David ruled throughout the land – and his very young kingdom might not survive one generation.
So Jeroboam gets an idea. *!* He makes two golden calves. He sets up one up north in Dan; and he sets the other just north of Jerusalem in Bethel; he builds shrines and appropriate supporting structures around them. He holds a ceremony, and then he says something that, in my opinion if I can be so bold, changed the history of the world. The slightest suggestion of an earth shattering change. He said It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt.
Notice the way Jeroboam sells this – he sells this as a matter of your personal convenience – it is too much trouble to go to Jerusalem. God is asking too much of you. This faith in Jehovah stuff is too much work, it requires a devotion and a lifestyle that doesn’t fit with your schedule or with your intentions.
For the first time in the recorded history of the world, religion becomes a matter of convenience. It was no longer about seeking what is true, it was no longer about God’s righteousness, but rather its about what works best for you. Bethel is a shorter journey, so we’ll worship there – it was shorter journey physically; and it was a shorter journey spiritually -- it is a religion more accommodating to your lifestyle. And as an added bonus, its now also politically correct.
And as the goal of religion becomes convenience, then for the first time, religion also becomes non-judgmental. Jerusalem is fine – so is Bethel, so is Dan – what’s really the difference? It all started to sort of look the same.
*!* The Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be in Jerusalem on the 15th day of the first month of the year. The Feast of Tabernacles was to be in Jerusalem on the 15th day of the seventh month of the year.
Jeroboam ordained a feast in Bethel, for the 15th day of the eighth month of the year. It was like the feast that was in Judah. First month, seventh month, eighth month – Bethel, Jerusalem, Dan does it really matter?
Yeah, God thought it really mattered – let me tell you why. Jesus Christ would be crucified in Jerusalem on the 15th day of the first month – the very day of the Feast. The Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who knows the end from the beginning, established a feast day in Israel commemorating the death of His Son 1,600 years before it happened. And the Lord felt very strongly about it – He wanted everyone there. There was a sacrifice consumed by fire, and Moses said of it Remember This Day! If you forget everything else, Remember This Day! This is the day that brings your salvation, this is the day that Jesus Christ died for you – and now Jeroboam thinks that is just inconvenient?
Don’t ever say to God, concerning the death of His Son, this over here is just as good, and it fits my lifestyle better so I’ll do that instead. That Feast in Jerusalem was about God’s Only Begotten Son, about Christ’s obedience unto the death of the cross, about how He bore the fire of God’s judgment for our sins, about how He wrought the salvation of the world.
And Jeroboam comes up with something, devised in his own heart, fashioned for public expediency, and says what’s the difference, this is just as good?
The God of Israel did not think so – and the emotions ran very deep. *!* This is from Amos, the words of the Lord:
21 “I hate, I despise your feast days,
And I do not savor your sacred assemblies.
22 Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.
Don’t ever say to God that I think that this religion over here or those good deeds over there are just as good as Jesus Christ and His death on Calvary’s cross.
People today say that to God a lot. It really doesn’t matter what religion you are, they are all about the same, somebody once said that all religions are just guilt with different holidays, and --- you’ve heard the argument -- all the roads go to same place.
I’ve said before -- that doesn’t even make sense if you are trying to go to the grocery store, so how can anybody think it makes sense if you are trying to go to heaven? How do I get to the Forge Road Bible Chapel, what road should I take? Well, it really doesn’t matter, take any road you want they all go to the same place. Just obey the rules, drive the speed limit and you will get there, no matter what road you drive.
If people know that isn’t true on the earth, then what possible logic compels the conclusion that its true if you are trying to get to heaven?
So, with that start, this northern kingdom is going in the wrong direction. Now, we are going to fast forward the story 200 years to our second king Jeroboam – Jeroboam II who was reigning when the Book of Amos was written, and who we got a glimpse of in Amos Chapter 7.
*!* By all earthly accounts, Jeroboam II was a fantastic king. He reigned for 41 years, and was the most prosperous king the northern tribes had ever had. We know of him not only through the Book of Second Kings and here in Amos, but by archeological records found in Samaria.
Under him, the economy boomed. The trade in olive oil, wine, and horses brought great prosperity to the nation. The Book of Amos is filled with references to the nation’s wealth.
Militarily, the nation was strong and victorious. Jeroboam fought and won wars with Moab and with Syria, expanding territory and reaching to the city of Damascus. You can read in Amos Chapter 6 (AMOS 6) about Israel doing the ancient equivalent of trash talking about how they won this battle or took that city.
Jeroboam II’s job approval ratings were through the ceiling. Amos is writing when things all seem to be going very well.
But there can be a lot of spiritual danger when things are going well. We don’t talk about that so much. We talk a lot about what to do in times of sufferings, how to get closer to God in times of trouble and trial, and that is a good right for us to do – even as Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail in the time of trial.
Bad times can test your faith – but good times can test your faith as well. *!* Moses counseled Israel [Deuteronomy 6:10-12]
10 “So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, 11 houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant— when you have eaten and are full— 12 then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
Moses says that when everything is going right – that is the time to be on guard, for it’s a time when you are spiritually vulnerable, and all the more because you don’t know it.
*!* Jesus told a parable about a man whose lands brought forth abundantly, so much so that his barns could not hold the produce.
And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
This guy seems like a very good businessman, building, expanding, profiting – but spiritually, he is a mess. His ultimate goal is to be at ease – that is what he thinks life is all about – lay up many goods for many years so I can take it easy.
He has more wealth than he can possibly use – his barns cannot hold it all. His problem is – what I am going to do with all this money?
He has a lot, and his goal is to keep all of it – he says there I will keep ALL my crops and my goods.
He thinks that if he can keep all of it, then his soul will be happy, I guess thinking that your soul feeds on grain like it was a cow.
God says that your soul is required of you tonight – somebody else will have the barns and the grain; and somebody else will eat, drink and be merry.
Christians are not immune from this; churches are not immune from this – this collection of wealth. Israel under Jeroboam II, was not immune to this.
For as the nation grew stronger in their military, they grew weaker in faith. As they richer in material things, they grew poorer in spiritual things. *!* We read in Amos 8 I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. [people will starve for something real, something that is not just spiritual junk food] … They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, But shall not find it. [Amos 8:11, 12]
And that spiritual poverty manifested itself in sin that brought forth condemnation and outrage in the words of the Lord through Amos.
It manifested itself in a rampant sexual immorality throughout society, which God hates. [Amos 2:7]
It manifested itself in pride and self-indulgence. [Amos 6:8].
It manifested itself in religion that was a lot of big show and no substance – Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. [Amos 5:23]
Most of all, the social ill that gets the most attention in this book, by far, by a mile, Israel’s spiritual poverty manifested itself in a tidal wave of materialism, and a massive gulf of inequality between rich and poor.
One of the reasons this book was so popular with the leaders of the civil rights movement, is because it is full and overflowing with the Lord’s condemnation and outrage of the amassing of wealth in the few, and the poverty of the many, and the seemingly insatiable appetite of the rich for more. *!* [Amos 2:6-7]
2: 6, 7 For three transgressions of Israel, and for four,
I will not turn away its punishment,
Because they sell the righteous for silver,
And the poor for a pair of sandals.
7 They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor,
All the poor have left is dirt and they want that too.
*!* Amos looked at the rich women – you know today they would be stars of Real Housewives of Samaria – and Amos called them fatted cows [Amos 4:1]
4: 1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria,
Who oppress the poor,
Who crush the needy,
Who say to your husbands, “Bring wine, let us drink!”
Through Amos, the Lord condemned what we call the 24/7 economy, and condemned the manipulation of the markets by the wealthy for their own gain – this Wall Street stuff you see on the news is not a 21st Century phenomenon: *!* [Amos 8:4-6]
8:4 Hear this, you who swallow up the needy,
And make the poor of the land fail,
“When will the New Moon be past,
That we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
That we may trade wheat?
Making the ephah small and the shekel large,
Falsifying the scales by deceit,
6 That we may buy the poor for silver,
And the needy for a pair of sandals—
Even sell the bad wheat?”
Amos spoke to a people of unrivaled economic success, the wealthiest nation of its time – and it should have made them thankful; and instead it made them materialistic.
Amos spoke to a people with the strongest military, nobody could stand against their army – and it should have made them responsible, and instead it made them arrogant.
Amos spoke to a people proud of their religious heritage, a people who understood that they were something special – but who had somehow lost their historic connection the Lord and with His Word and could not figure out how to it back, and really didn’t seem to care very much.
Amos spoke to a people where religion had become easy, and convenient, and politically correct – but found that it left them far from God and starving for something real.
This is a book written three thousand years ago – and its words are inscribed in the newest statute dedicated in our nation’s capital; an Old Testament prophet of God’s righteousness, whose words have been channeled by our nation’s greatest heroes of social justice, and who speaks to issues as current of tomorrow’s newspaper. This book is great stuff.
The epicenter of the book, I think is here in Chapter 7.
*!* The events of Amos Chapter 7 happen in Bethel. Actually, most of the book happens in Bethel, that is where Amos is preaching and prophesying – right there at the center of things. And he is causing quite a stir – the land is not able to hear his words.
The powers that be thought that the righteousness of God was politically incorrect – the righteousness of God always is. It was for the Apostles who preached in the days of Rome; it was for the Pilgrims who left England. It was politically incorrect for the Abolitionists who stood against slavery in the 19th century; and for the civil rights leaders in the 20th century; and it is today.
And all of a sudden this nonjudgmental religion that the nation had created for itself -- becomes very judgmental.
Amaziah – he is a priest there in Bethel where they worship this statute, tells Amos to leave. What he says is actually rather insulting. In verse 12, he calls Amos a seer – Go you seer, flee to the land of Judah. There eat bread and there prophesy.
A seer is someone who does this for money. Amaziah, having no real religious faith of his own, can’t understand that Amos really does believe God, and assumes that Amos is doing this for the money.
Amaziah tells Amos that he would do better in the southern kingdom of Judah. You are not going to get much of a following up here taking on Jeroboam. They have prophets down there in Judah. They will be more receptive to your message down there. You will make a better living down there. It apparently does not occur to Amaziah that Amos might not in doing this for the money.
Amos replies – I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet. Now, the Sons of the Prophets were men who studied the ways of God – we read about Elijah and Elisha and they trained young men who were called the Sons of the Prophets.
Amos says that was not me. I didn’t attend divinity school, I don’t have a degree. I was a sheepbreeder. I followed the flock.
Amos sort of comes out of nowhere. He shows up in history and we know nothing about him except what in the text itself. His public career is very brief.
We started here in Chapter 7 reading three visions of Amos. The first was a vision of locusts – one great pillar of Jeroboam’s success was the economic wealth of the nation, and now that would be destroyed. Swarms of locusts would descend on the crops and eat all the grass of the land – and in an agricultural society, the wealth of the nation would be gone.
And Amos cries to God for His mercy – O Lord God forgive I pray! Oh that Jacob may stand for he is small!! Jacob in the Old Testament is renamed Israel by God, and that is how the nation gets its name. Calling it Jacob is a word of intimacy, of personal connection to the Lord. Oh that Jacob may stand for he is small.
The Lord heard, the Lord relented – it shall not be.
The second vision was the vision of conflict by fire. The first pillar of Jeroboam’s success was economic wealth, the second was victory in battle.
Now, there would come conflict by fire – a wildfire that would spread out and consume the great deep and devour the territory – suggestive of the wars that could sweep over the land.
Again, Amos cries out – Oh Lord God, cease I pray! Oh that Jacob may stand, for he is small. Again the Lord hears, again the Lord relents.
I think that it might have surprised Amaziah – who thought that Amos was such a contrary influence in Israel – to learn that while Amos had such harsh words for the nation, he was also diligently praying to the Lord for it.
*!* Then the Lord shows Amos a plumb line. A plumb line is a weight, usually with a pointed tip at the bottom for marking a point. The weight is suspended from a string; gravity pulls the weight down and pulls the string tight. It is used by builders as a vertical reference point – to make sure what they are building is straight.
It is also used by builders for testing walls that are already built – to see if they are still straight, to see if they are bowing, or bulging, or sagging, or crooked, and if so they need to be torn down.
Now the Lord is using that image as one of righteousness and justice in Israel. He says that He will not pass by them any more.
A plumb line does not deviate, it does not provide excuses, it does not just tell you what you want to hear, it does not change. It is unerringly straight and right. The Lord is going measure Israel like that – the Lord measures us like that.
This is not the only time in the Bible that the image of a plumb line is used. The Bible often pictures the Lord God as a builder. *!* In the Book of Isaiah, chapter 28, we read this [Isaiah 28:16-17]:
16 Therefore thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation,
A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation;
Whoever believes will never be dismayed.
17 Also I will make justice the measuring line,
And righteousness the plummet;
You probably recognize that verse – because that was the verse that Apostle Peter used when he wrote about Jesus Christ *!*. [1 Peter 2:4-6]
4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,
“Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious,
And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”
I’m not a carpenter or a mason. Long ago, I figured out that with so many outstanding carpenters and tradesmen here at the Chapel, I didn’t need to own a toolbox – I just needed to know your telephone number.
But I know that the best carpenters and the best masons are constantly checking their work, to be sure it is straight, and be sure it is plumb.
And I know that a structure that is not straight will eventually collapse. Israel did, just as Amos said.
*!* In the midst of unprecedented prosperity, Amos has said … Israel shall surely be led away captive from their own land.
And so it was – before that generation had passed, the nation had gone from being a super-power, to being the ten lost tribes of Israel.
22 For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, 23 until the Lord removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day. [2 Kings 17:22 – 23]
*!* This book was written a long time ago – this is all very ancient history. But the Lord God is still builder, and what He is building He intends to stand. So He uses a plumb line. His tape measure is justice; His plummet is righteousness; and His cornerstone, on which everything is based, is Jesus Christ – whoever believes on Him will never be dismayed, will never be ashamed, and will never fall.
Everything built by God is built on Him. Everything built by God is built up around Him – you and I are like living stones build as a spiritual house unto God’s Glory. And the plumb line of God’s Word the Bible keeps us straight and true.
I’ll tell you honestly – if you think that being a Christian is about you rather than being about Jesus Christ; or if you think the goal of all this on Sunday is getting in and getting done to satisfy some obligation; or if you think that God says things in the Bible but doesn’t really mean it; or if you think that you can leave all the nice talk about a righteous life here when you go home; or if you think that God is the least bit interested in being politically correct – if you think any of those things – then you are missing the point of it all; and you are missing the best thing, and the greatest adventure in the whole world.
*!* Next time we are together like this, which is in two weeks, we will come back to this book, part two of our discussion – The Lord is His Name.
Israel had gotten so far away from the God of their Fathers, the Lord almost has to introduce Himself to them – and we get a remarkable picture with how active the Lord really is in our lives.
[Editor’s Note: This Sermon was preached at Forge Road Bible Chapel, in Perry Hall, MD on 6/3/12. The author uses the marker *!* to indicate a slide change on the corresponding PowerPoint file.]
Good morning. We are in the second part of a three week study from the Book of Amos, and we will start this morning in Amos Chapter 5.
In our first session, we talked the core message of the book, and the events in Israel that took Amos from being a herdsman to a prophet of the Lord.
Amos was a prophet to the northern tribes of Israel, during the reign of King Jeroboam II. It was a time of prosperity in Israel. Its economy was strong, its military was triumphant, its king was popular.
But as the nation grew stronger in their military, they grew weaker in faith. As they richer in material things, they grew poorer in spiritual things. The religion of the day, centered in the city of Bethel, sought to be popular rather than seeking God’s righteousness; and was more concerned about being politically correct than it was about being true.
So the Lord said that He hung a plumb line of righteousness in Israel. They were a people of unrivaled economic success, the wealthiest nation of its time – and that should have made them thankful; and instead it made them materialistic.
They were a people with the strongest military, nobody could stand against their army – and it should have made them responsible, and instead it made them arrogant.
They were a people proud of their religious heritage, a people who understood that they were something special – but who had somehow lost their historic connection the Lord and with His Word, and they were starving for something real.
This book was written almost 3,000 years ago, and it speaks to issues as current as tomorrow’s newspaper.
This morning is Part Two of our study – The Lord is His Name.
I will pick it up in Amos, Chapter 5 and verse 4, and read through verse 15. [Amos 5:4-15]
For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:
“Seek Me and live;
5 But do not seek Bethel,
Nor enter Gilgal,
Nor pass over to Beersheba;
For Gilgal shall surely go into captivity,
And Bethel shall come to nothing.
6 Seek the Lord and live,
Lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, And devour it, With no one to quench it in Bethel—
7 You who turn justice to wormwood, And lay righteousness to rest in the earth!”
8 He made the Pleiades and Orion; He turns the shadow of death into morning And makes the day dark as night; He calls for the waters of the sea And pours them out on the face of the earth; The Lord is His name.
9 He rains ruin upon the strong, So that fury comes upon the fortress.
10 They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, And they abhor the one who speaks uprightly.
11 Therefore, because you tread down the poor And take grain taxes from him, Though you have built houses of hewn stone, Yet you shall not dwell in them; You have planted pleasant vineyards, But you shall not drink wine from them.
12 For I know your manifold transgressions And your mighty sins: Afflicting the just and taking bribes; Diverting the poor from justice at the gate.
13 Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time, For it is an evil time.
14 Seek good and not evil, That you may live; So the Lord God of hosts will be with you, As you have spoken.
15 Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the Lord God of hosts Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
Before we consider the substance of this study, I want to take five minutes and discuss these verses as literature, for they are I think the best example in all the Bible of a certain literary style sometimes used by the Old Testament prophets.
*!* There is a sort of symmetry in this proclamation – there is a working inwards towards a center, and then a working outward from it.
*!* The center is verse 8 – The Lord is His Name.[Amos 5:8]
*!* Look at the verses immediately around that center, and see how similar they are – proclaiming the power and works of the Lord. He made the Pleiades and Orion; He turns the shadow of death into morning And makes the day dark as night; and then on the other side – He rains ruin on the strong, and fury comes upon the fortress.
*!* Back up again, and see again how similar are the words, now in condemnation, particularly upon those of the society who amass wealth to themselves, without concern for the poor – you will remember from our first session that the Lord through Amos condemned their unchecked materialism, and the loss of social justice for the poor. You turn justice to wormwood and lay righteousness to rest in the earth – and then below They hate the one who rebukes in the gate and abhor the one who speaks uprightly; you tread down the poor and take grain taxes.
*!* Back up again, and now there is the promise of the Lord’s judgment. Breaking out like fire in the House of Joseph – and below you have built houses of stone but not live in them, planted vineyards but shall not drink the wine from them.
Back it up again, and there is an exhortation to Seek the Lord, and the assurance of His goodness if you find Him. Seek the Lord and Live! And then down below Seek good and not evil – the God of Hosts will be with you.
Exhortation, judgment, condemnation, proclamation, center – The Lord is His Name – then back out – proclamation, condemnation, judgment, exhortation.
If you are alert to this, you will see this pattern in other writings by the prophets. Now when I first learned this, I thought it was mildly interesting, nice to know – but I became much more interested in this style when I realized that one prophet to Israel who most definitely picked it up, was Jesus of Nazareth.
We know so well, or should know so well, that Jesus is the Christ, that we sometimes forget that He is also a prophet. We read in Luke that He was a prophet mighty in deed and in word before God and all the people. Jesus used this pattern of preaching. Let me give you an example – and I am going to try to do a 90 minute discussion in 90 seconds.
*!* This is from Matthew 13 – where Jesus gave six parables all about what the Kingdom of God was like. Step way back and look at them –
*!* Parables 1 and 6 – the Parable of the Tares in the Wheat, and the Parable of the Dragnet that pulled in fish of all kinds – they are very similar -- both are about good and evil mixed together, and both about good and evil separated at the end of the age.
*!* Parables 2 and 5 – the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Pearl – both about something small and singular.
*!* Parables 3 and 4 – the Parable of the Leven hidden in the meal and the Parable of the Treasure hidden in the field – both about something hidden.
*!* The first three parables were told the multitudes, the last three told to the disciples privately – mirror images of each other told from two different perspectives – working in, and then working back out.
I don’t have time to develop the doctrinal points, we could do all day on this – my only purpose right now is to show you the literary devise being used, because if you are alert to it, you will see it used by the prophets, you will see it used by the Lord, and it will help you in your own studies.
*!* OK – lets look back at the center of Amos’ proclamation – The Lord is His Name. Actually, three times in this book, we read that.
Here in [Amos 5:8] Chapter 5 verse 8 – The Lord is His Name. And earlier in Chapter 4 verse 13 [Amos 4:13] – The Lord God of Hosts is His Name. And again in Chapter 9 verse 6 – The Lord is His Name.
It had been 200 years since King Jeroboam I – remember that there were two kings important in Amos, but named Jeroboam – Jeroboam I had established a counterfeit religion in Bethel. It looked something like the worship of Jehovah in Jerusalem. It had feast days like in Jerusalem, it had priests like in Jerusalem, it had offerings and an altar like in Jerusalem.
The problem was that Law of God was nowhere to be found. The righteousness of God was nowhere to be found. The faith in Bethel proclaimed as true whatever was the fashionable thing to believe at the time; and it supported whatever was the political trend of the day; and it demanded whatever was the least commitment of its adherents.
And so over the years, Israel had lost touch with the Lord, each generation further away. So much so, that Amos almost has to introduce them to the Lord all over again. They have to start with His name.
When you meet someone, probably the first thing you learn about a person is his or her name. And, if you are like me, the first thing you forgot about a person is his or her name.
*!* The Lord first made Himself known to Israel as a nation in Exodus 3, when He appears to Moses in a bush burned with fire but not consumed.
The Lord sent Moses to Egypt, to stand before Pharaoh and to lead Israel to freedom. Moses asked – when I go to Israel, and say that the God of their fathers has appeared to me, they are going to ask me: What is His Name? What do I say then? I certainly cannot say that I have known You, but I don’t know Your Name.
A little later in Exodus, the Lord has this rather remarkable discussion with Moses:
2 And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Lord I was not known to them…. 6 Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord;…
The Bible is a story of progressive revelations of God. Abraham knew more about God than did Adam; now Moses and Israel would know more than Abraham. They are going to know more than His power, they are going to know His name.
There are many people like that today – indeed you might argue that most of the world is like that today. They sort of know God Almighty. Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly displayed, even His eternal power and godhead – but they don’t know His Name – and so they don’t really know Him, and as Paul said in Athens, they grope around trying to find Him.
*!* Jesus Christ said I have declared to them Your Name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.
And again in Psalm 22 I will declare Your Name to My brethren.
There is nothing more personal to you than is your name. To execute a legal document, you sign your name. You are not obligated when you put down your date of birth or your social security number – you can fill out everything else, it does not matter – until you sign your name.
Again the words of Jesus, speaking of those He redeems:
I will write on him the name of My God and … I will write on him My new name. [Revelation 3:12].
When you were saved, the Lord God and the Lord Jesus Christ, put their signatures on your life – claiming you and binding themselves unto You.
In Daniel Chapter 1, King Nebuchadnezzar brought young men of Jerusalem to Babylon to learn the language and literature of the Chaldeans, to serve in his government. To make them Chaldean, and to indoctrinate them in their studies, he changed their names, taking away the references to the Lord, and substituting the names of Chaldean gods – like the godness Shak, the Chaldean goddess of the earth. Today, Shak is the god of basketball, but then Shak was the Babylonian goddess of the earth.
So Mishael – hear the El – becomes Meshach. Hananiah becomes Shadrach. Changing their names – because the name identifies them with their god.
Well, when you were saved, Jesus Christ took it the other way. I will write on you the name of My God, and My New Name --claiming you and binding themselves unto You.
Your name is what binds you, your name is what identifies you.
Your name is also your reputation, the standing of your character.
*!* A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches says the Scripture [Proverbs 22:1]. People associate your name standing of your character.
Here in Baltimore, we are very proud of the Baltimore Colts, and in particular the 1958 Championship Game, called the Greatest Game, and certainly the most important game, ever played in the NFL.
One man who played in that game was Kyle Rote, he played for the New York Giants – a great football player out of SMU. As good as he was as a player, he was even better as a teammate and a man.
Frank Gifford was his teammate. Frank Gifford’s son is named Kyle. Pat Summerall was a teammate on the New York Giants. Pat Summerall’s son is named Kyle. Altogether, 14 players on the Giants, 14 teammates, named their sons Kyle. They wanted to associate with the character of the man by associating with his name.
He named his own son Kyle as well – Kyle Rote, Jr. who is very active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and I’ve met Kyle Rote, Jr. and heard him speak, and he told a remarkable story about his father.
As I remember the story, after his playing days, Kyle Rote had taken a small interest in a business, he was not involved in the management, but had a minority ownership position. The business ran up large debts, went broke, and could not pay its creditors or other shareholders who had invested in it.
Now, to me the lawyer, this is unfortunate, but not a problem. Corporations shield you from personal liability. The company files bankruptcy and you walk away.
Kyle Rote would not do that, and worked for years to pay back the debts and the investors. When asked why, he said that he knew that his business partners had raised money using his name – the famous Kyle Rote is a partner in our business. I know they used my name – so I am going to pay all the debts.
*!* Well, the Lord feels strongly about His Name as well; and just as good men will act to preserve their good name, so we read in Ezekiel that the Lord will act to preserve His Holy Name.
And we should too. The Third Commandment given at Sinai is that you shall not take the Name of the Lord in vain – for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, who takes His Name in vain.
Today, people do that a lot. I imagine that people did it a lot back then as well, or else it would not be the Third Commandment. And let me pause for a moment in our discussion and say it is not something that should be ever found in the discourse of any Christian. We read in Ephesians 5 that no filthy, foolish or coarse language should come out of our mouths, and if other people are doing it – do not be partakers with them.
On June 16, 1775, the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, appointed George Washington of Virginia as commander in chief of the -- still to be created -- Continental Army, to oppose the British. Salary $500/month, which he declined to accept. Washington left Philadelphia, and rode to Boston, where was the collection the Minute Men and the Militia of Lexington and Concord and Bunkers Hill, from which he would make an army. He formally took command on July 3, 1775.
The next day, July 4, 1775 – Washington issued his first General Order to this army. *!* This is the way we are going to run this army. It’s a great document to read, as Washington believed that God's favor would be determined not only by the righteousness of the cause but the behavior of the soldiers and citizens. In the midst of his First General Order was this:
The General most earnestly requires, and expects, a due observance of those articles of war, established for the government of the army, which forbid profane cursing, swearing and drunkenness; And in like manner requires and expects, of all Officers, and Soldiers, not engaged on actual duty, a punctual attendance on divine Service, to implore the blessings of heaven upon the means used for our safety and defence.
Now, while I’m here, let me step out of the message for a minute, and say, with a smile to you my brothers and sisters of Forge Road Bible Chapel whom I love – George Washington not only expected you to attend church – divine Service he called it -- he also expected you to arrive on time.
I remember being struck by this the first time I read it. General Washington is introducing himself to 16,000 thousand men – the operative word in the sentence being “men.” They are in the army – meaning that they will have to eat bad food, sleep on the ground, march in the rain, pull cannons through the mud, and in addition get shot at.
And Washington says – there is to be no cursing and no swearing in this army – its totally unnecessary and out of place. I think that is great.
He actually wrote another General Order about this *!* – on August 3, 1776:
The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish, and wicked practice, of profane cursing and swearing (a Vice heretofore little known in an American Army) is growing into fashion; he hopes the officers will, by example, as well as influence, endeavour to check it, and that both they, and the men will reflect, that we can have little hopes of the blessing of Heaven on our Arms, if we insult it by our impiety, and folly; added to this, it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man of sense, and character, detests and despises it.
Foul language is offensive to God – you cannot expect God to bless your life if you insult His name. And added to that, it is just a brand of stupidity and ignorance.
So, the next time you might think it masculine to talk like you are a character in a Martin Scorsese gangster movie, remember that when you do so, every person of sense, every person of character or education or dignity, will think less of you for it.
*!* But Amos wants to do more than reintroduce Israel to the Lord by name. He wants Israel to know that the Lord is at work, the Lord is involved in their lives, the Lord is involved in their history, and the Lord is serious about His demands for justice and righteousness in society.
This book of Amos is remarkable for how active the Lord is. In this short book, 52 times the Lord says I Will. I counted them – 52 times the Lord says that I will act, I will judge, I will bless.
Since the beginning of time, men and women have sought to convince themselves that God is far enough away – or that they could get far enough away – to live their lives apart from Him.
In Biblical times, people convinced themselves that the Lord as territorial – that you could get out of His jurisdiction. Jonah famously tried to run. You see the same idea in Amos Chapter 9, where the Lord says that He will reach into the seas, He will reach to the top of Mt. Carmel, His reach extends from the top of heaven to the bottom pit of hell. You cannot get away from the Lord geographically.
People today understand that God is omnipresent, but convince themselves that He is rather passive, not involved, very forgiving, and disengaged from our world. There – but a long way from my life.
*!* So, let me ask you what you think.
How active was the Lord in creation? How active is the Lord in nature? How active is the Lord in history? How active is the Lord in your life?
And perhaps a more topical question -- How do you know when it is the Lord who is acting?
*!* You know that many people contend that there was no creation as the Bible describes it – that the matter and the energy of the universe exist because they do, and that all things can be explained by chemistry, physics, and biology – rendering God a now superfluous and supplanted theory of original causation.
But the Bible presents the Lord as extremely active in creation – not only as the first cause that brought all things into being; but also the architect and designer of the worlds and of life itself.
And so we read in Amos, as in Chapter 5 verse 8 [Amos 5:8] – He made the Pleiades and Orion – the great constellations of the heavens exist to declare the majesty and handiwork of the Lord.
*!* Many people think that God, having created the world, stands apart from it --- that nature is a force unto itself, evolving, eroding, and changing all things both the living and the innate, in ways that are maybe predictable, but cannot be controlled.
But the Bible presents the Lord as very active in nature, bending it to work His Will, by storms at sea or even stopping the sun in the sky.
And so we read in Amos, Chapter 4: 7 – 9. [Amos 4:7-9]
7 “I also withheld rain from you, …I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. . … Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the Lord.
9 “I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, Your vineyards, Your fig trees, And your olive trees, The locust devoured them; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the Lord.
The Lord uses nature to work His will among men.
Many people contend that God watches history but does not intervene in it. Some would deny moral lessons of history, seeing as it driven by economic forces; or would draw a moral equivalence between cultures. Everybody says that they want God on their side, but politicians on all sides are quick to ignore portions of God’s Word that do not comport with their political philosophy.
But the Bible displays the Lord as very active in history, raising up empires and then destroying them, preserving Israel, and then sending upon the earth His Only Begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to win our salvation.
The Book of Amos presents the Lord has extremely active in history. The first two chapters of the book detail the judgments of the Lord coming in succession upon Syria, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, and Israel.
*!* How active is God in your life? And more to the point – how do you know when it is the Lord who is acting?
This is an important question.
Lets honest about this: The Lord works in nature, but not everything that happens in nature is His active work. *!* Jesus of Nazareth – and you can’t get a higher authority than that – said The wind blows where it wishes – the wind blows where the wind blows. He compared the wind to the Spirit of God – it is as independent, it is as autonomous as is the Spirit of God.
Sometimes there is some natural disaster – like a hurricane in New Orleans and predictably somebody will make some unfortunate comment like that this is God’s judgment on New Orleans – but Jesus says that the wind blows where it will.
Sometimes there a natural disaster like an earthquake in Haiti, and predictably someone will make some unfortunate comment like this is God’s judgment on Haiti.
But if you look at the very first verse in the Book of Amos, chapter 1 verse 1 – you see reference to an earthquake. This was some earthquake. The prophet Zechariah refers to the same earthquake when he wrote 200 years later – and everybody knew what he was talking about [Zechariah 14:5]. And earthquakes are associated with the judgment of God. But not this earthquake – Amos is clear that the judgment of God would come from foreign invasion, not a natural occurrence. How do you know when an earthquake is the intervention of God; or when its just an earthquake?
The Lord works in history, but not everything that happens in history is His active work. Jesus of Nazareth – and you can’t get a higher authority than that – said in Luke 13:
There were … some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus … said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Here were two recent historical events – an atrocity by Governor Pontus Pilate and the collapse of a building. But Jesus says that neither event, notorious as it was, was not an act of God.
How about in your own life? A few weeks ago, Norris Gorman stood here and gave an excellent and inspiring word about the time when Jesus came to His disciples, walking on the water. Peter says Lord if it is You, command me to come to you on the water. How do you and I know – Lord that’s You.
Respectfully, that is an important thing to know, before you get out of the boat. If it is the Lord, you will be walking on the water. If its not the Lord, you are going to drown.
I know, I’m a lawyer, and there are lots of people that come into my office confident that the Lord has told them to do this in business or do that in ministry, only to find out to the contrary – a lot of people who expected to be out walking on the water, who are now rather anxious for me to pull them get back up into the boat.
So how do you know when the Lord is at work?
*!* Well, lets start with the easy stuff. When it comes to big natural events, or when it comes to climatic historical events, and is it from the Lord – Amos makes it plain. Amos 3: 7 – Surely the Lord does nothing, unless He reveals His secrets to His servants the prophets.
To claim with credibility that something of nature is the sovereign act of the Lord, or that something of history is the sovereign act of the Lord, you have to make an honest argument from Biblical prophesy. Other than that – there are two things I can tell you for certain – one –I don’t know. And two – nobody else knows either.
But laying aside those natural and historical occurrences, is the Lord active and acting in your own life.
In a word – yes. The Lord is very active in our lives. I believe and contend that the Lord is much more active than what we realize or what we commonly imagine.
Sometimes it is not clear in the confusion of the present, but when you look back over your life, you can see that the Lord was there.
*!* This is from Amos 2:9-11
9 “Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, Whose height was like the height of the cedars, …
10 Also it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, And led you forty years through the wilderness, …
11 I raised up some of your sons as prophets, And some of your young men as Nazirites. Is it not so, O you children of Israel?”
The Lord has them looking back – that victory over the Amorites – that was Me. Coming out of Egypt – that was Me. Those prophets, those Nazirites – do you think they just showed up out of nowhere? Do you think that person who lead you to faith in Christ just happened to show up? Do you think that person who was there when your faith might fail, just happened to be there? That was Me.
I can look back over my life, and I’ll bet you can too – and see things that happened, and say that was the Lord. I did not know it at the time; I didn’t understand or appreciate it or even want it – but that was the Lord.
That does not mean we can presume on the goodness of the Lord – decide that we are going to step out in faith and just expect the Lord to be there because we think He should be.
James goes so far that as to tell us that we should never say we are going to this or that city, spend a year there, buy and sell and make profit – for very your life is a vapor that vanishes away. James says that even to make such plans is arrogant and is boasting against the working of God. Instead we should say if the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.
But, I think that when it is all over, and when we know even as we are known, we are going to be amazed to find out how active the Lord was in our lives – and there will be many instances the Lord will show us and say – see there – that was Me. You did not know it, but that was Me.
The patriarch Jacob woke one morning – Genesis 28 -- and said Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it. I expect that when the Lord shows me my life, I will understand, and smile and say – the Lord was there -- I did not know it – but the Lord was there.
Some of us will find out that we entertained angels unawares. Some of us will find that we were like those praying for Peter – the Lord had answered our prayers, without us knowing, even while we were still praying.
*!*We read in Romans 8 that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him. In everything – God is working. Jesus said that My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.
Right now, right now, the Lord God is at work.
Sometimes Christians want to particularize that, and I’m not sure that is a good exercise – some make up spiritual sounding sayings thinking that they can harass the working of God for their own good. Clichés come and go like the flavor of the month.
Find out what God is doing and meet Him there.
Attempt something so large it is doomed to failure unless God is in it – and I could on and on and on, and probably insult some people, and maybe already have.
The Spirit of God is like the wind that blows where it will. You can no more chase down the working of God, than you chase down the wind.
But you hear the sound of it, and you see its power – even if you cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.
*!* Next time we are together on this subject, we will talk about the working of God in history and in our salvation, as we complete our study from Amos -- A People for His Name.
[Editor’s Note: This Sermon was preached at Forge Road Bible Chapel, in Perry Hall, MD on 6/24/12. The author uses the marker *!* to indicate a slide change on the corresponding PowerPoint file.]
Good morning. This morning we are in the last of a three week study from the Book of Amos, and we will start this morning in Amos Chapter 9 [Amos 9], which is the last chapter in the book.
Amos was a prophet to the northern tribes of Israel, during the reign of King Jeroboam II. It was a time of prosperity in Israel. Their economy was strong, their military was triumphant, their king was popular.
But as the nation grew stronger in their military, they grew weaker in faith. As they grew richer in material things, they grew poorer in spiritual things.
They became more and more materialistic, it was always about money, the poor were forgotten, pushed aside, pushed away, the rich accumulated more and more to themselves.
The religion of the day, centered in the city of Bethel, sought to be popular rather than seeking God’s righteousness; and was more concerned about being politically correct than it was about being true.
So the Lord said that He hung a plumb line of righteousness in Israel – that is the essential image of the Book. A plumb line is used by builders as a vertical reference point – to make sure what they are building is straight – or for testing walls that are already built – to see if they are still straight, to see if they are bowing, or bulging, or sagging, or crooked, and if so they need to be torn down.
Now the Lord is using that image as one of righteousness in Israel. A plumb line does not deviate, it does not provide excuses, it does not just tell you what you want to hear, it does not change. It is unerringly straight and right. The Lord is going measure Israel like that – the Lord measures us like that.
The Book of Amos is about the Lord’s expectation of righteousness straight and true – His expectation of righteousness in our individual lives; His expectation of righteousness among the people who know His salvation; and His demand for righteousness and justice in our society at large.
This morning, we are going to look at the end of the book, which contains the final words of the impending judgment, but then looks ahead, beyond those words of judgment, to Lord’s restoration and eventual blessing of the nation – when a new kind of righteousness covers the land – and in doing so, this Book suddenly elevates, and gives us some very important words that foreshadow our own salvation.
Amos Part Three -- A People Called By His Name.
Chapter 9, and I will start at verse 5 – [Amos 9:5-15]
The Lord God of hosts,
He who touches the earth and it melts,
And all who dwell there mourn;
All of it shall swell like the River,
And subside like the River of Egypt.
6 He who builds His layers in the sky,
And has founded His strata in the earth;
Who calls for the waters of the sea,
And pours them out on the face of the earth—
The Lord is His name.
7 “Are you not like the people of Ethiopia to Me,
O children of Israel?” says the Lord.
“Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
The Philistines from Caphtor, [CAP-TOR]
And the Syrians from Kir?
8 “Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom,
And I will destroy it from the face of the earth;
Yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,”
Says the Lord.
9 “For surely I will command,
And will sift the house of Israel among all nations,
As grain is sifted in a sieve;
Yet not the smallest grain shall fall to the ground.
10 All the sinners of My people shall die by the sword,
Who say, ‘The calamity shall not overtake nor confront us.’
11 “On that day I will raise up
The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down,
And repair its damages;
I will raise up its ruins,
And rebuild it as in the days of old;
12 That they may possess the remnant of Edom,
And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,”
Says the Lord who does this thing.
13 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord,
“When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
And the treader of grapes him who sows seed;
The mountains shall drip with sweet wine,
And all the hills shall flow with it.
14 I will bring back the captives of My people Israel;
They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them;
They shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.
15 I will plant them in their land,
And no longer shall they be pulled up
From the land I have given them,”
Says the Lord your God.
The Book of Amos is not particularly popular for Bible studies, in part because it is a hard read unless you know the historical context, and in part because it is not a happy book – its a book of the Lord’s sore displeasure with Israel.
Amos is nine chapters long, and the first eight and a half of those chapters are a non-stop litany of everything they have done wrong. There seems to be total disconnect, a total estrangement between Israel and the Lord – so much so that they essentially had to start all over again – they have to be introduced to the Lord all over again – and they have to start with His Name. We talked about that last time we were together -- three times in this book we read sort of an introduction – The Lord is His Name.
So, I began reading here at one of those times, and what we just read in Chapter 9, sounds much like what we saw last week from Chapter 5 [Amos 5] -- the Lord is very active – active in creation and active in nature, the One who builds layers in the sky, the strata in the earth, and pours out the waters of the sea.
The Lord is active in history – He reminds Israel from their own history that He was the one who brought them up out of Egypt – we are know that story – Moses and the Passover and the Red Sea.
And, by the way, He says in verse 7 – its not just you and not just your history. I was also the one who brought the Philistines up out of Caphtor [CAP-TOR] – I formed that nation too; and I was also the one who brought the Syrians up out of Kir – I formed that nation too.
The Lord is moving history, forming nations, raising them up and putting them down -- even as He has used the power of nature to shape the oceans, so He has used the power of history to shape the nations of the earth for His own purposes. As Paul preached in Athens He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and boundaries of their dwellings. [Acts 17: 26]
And the Lord leaves not doubt that He is active in our lives. Then in Israel, and today, people tend to think that God is there, but kind of far away, or sort of disinterested, or just very, very tolerant. That one generation passes away and another comes -- that stuff happens, and life go on, and it always have and it always will, and that life is just sort of getting through and making the best of it.
But here in Amos, as the Lord re-introduces Himself, it is not as some disinterested spectator in the sky. We read in verse 8 that the eyes of the Lord were on His people, and He did not like what He was seeing. And in verse 9, as the Lord speaks of the coming judgment, describing it as shifting the House of Israel – He says that not one grain – not the smallest grain – shall fall to the ground.
Yes, the Lord made and knows the expanse of the heavens and the earth; and yes the Lord made and knows the sweep of history and the rising of nations – but the Lord also knows us individually, each one, from the greatest of us to the smallest of us. Not a sparrow falls to the earth but that our Father in heaven knows of it. The Lord knows your life, and the Lord is far more active in our lives than what we expect or think.
Now, throughout all of history, men and women have tried to excuse themselves from God’s standards of righteousness – that is why we need a plumb-line. People look to justify themselves, they listen to what they want to hear, they explain away what the Lord has said. You see that in verse 10 – you who say the calamity shall not overtake nor confront us.
People then and now sort of rethink what God is like, conforming their image of God to someone or something that they are more comfortable with. The French Enlightenment philosopher Rousseau said that “God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.”
*!* The ancient Greeks and Romans imagined gods in their image, or at least what they wanted to be their image, physically beautiful, living in a society all their own, forever young, forever lusty and full of life – the men like Apollo and the women like Venus.
The Chinese imagined gods as inscrutable; the Aztecs and Incas imagined gods as extremely angry, violent, and warlike – each one fashioning their image of God to be like them, or what they wanted to be.
Israel was not immune from this; people today are not immune from this; and Christians are not immune from this. Paul wrote to Timothy that time will come when people will no longer accept sound doctrine but will instead according to their own desires, heap up for themselves teachers who tell them what they want to hear [2 Timothy 4:3] – today some of the largest churches and some of the most successful televangelists have reimaged God as somebody who is there to help you get rich.
*!* Who knows what this slide is – what do these four pictures have in common?
God looks sort of OK.
*!* The Greeks thought that God looks like that – they asked their most creative and artistic people what God looked like and that’s what came back. The Aztecs asked their most creative and artistic people what God looks like – and that’s what came back. The Chinese asked their most creative and artistic people what God looks like – and that’s what came back. *!* We asked our most creative and artistic people what God looks like – and that’s what came back. Compare any of that to the Bible, and I’ll tell you that left to ourselves, we couldn’t find the truth if we tripped over it.
The Lord’s rebuke of Israel in Amos sounds very modern in my ears. You have reimagined what the Lord is like, to justify what you want to believe and what you prefer to be true. And in your reimagining, you have lost complete touch with who the Lord really is. We read in Amos 9, verse 7 [Amos 9:7] – the Lord said you are like the people of Ethiopia to Me. How can you have the Scriptures and how can you have the prophets, and end up with that idea? Where did that idea come from?
*!* In Amos Chapter 3 [Amos 3], the Lord asks a rhetorical question – Can two walk together unless they are agreed? We don’t agree on some basic precepts, says the Lord.
You think that morality is a rather fungible idea, defined by societal norms, changing with the circumstance. Well, I don’t says the Lord. The Commandments read thou shalt not – they don’t read I’d rather if you didn’t.
You think that religion is all obligation and ceremony; and I don’t.
You think the accumulation of massive wealth in the hands of a few is a good societal thing and that the poor are on their own; and I don’t says the Lord.
Can two walk together unless they are agreed?
I live in downtown Baltimore City, and something I love about living in the city, are the walks that my wife Vicky and I take together. We will walk from our condominium in Spinnaker Bay, and head out around the harbor, either west towards Fort McHenry, or east towards the Korean War Memorial – sometimes going as much as 10 miles together.
For the 2 ½ hours that we walk, we will talk – and we will talk about all sorts of things. We will talk about future plans, everything from later this afternoon, to 20 years out. We’ll remember old times. We will fill one another in, about what each of us has been doing over the past week. We will talk out things where we have differences of opinion and work to a consensus – or if we cannot reach a consensus, we negotiate a deal – and by the way, Vicky can be a tough negotiator. Sometimes we will talk about what we should talk about on our next walk. We have never run out things to talk about.
We walk together, because we are agreed. We have the same goals, we see the world the same way, we trust one another. We know each other well enough, that we keep an open mind when we listen. We walk together, because we are agreed.
*!* The Bible describes our relationship with Lord as a walk. It started right at the beginning – right in Eden. Adam and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening.
Enoch walked with God. Noah walked with God. Abraham walked with God.
We read to walk in faith [Romans 4: 12], to walk in newness of life [Romans 6:4], to walk in the Spirit [Galatians 5: 16]. We sang about the Lord Jesus Christ – He walks with me and He talks with me, along life’s narrow way.
Ok – let me ask you -- if the Lord walks with you and He talks with you – what do you talk about? This is a real question – how do you talk and what do you talk about? Is it all great big formal religious stuff – or do you walk and talk together like two who are agreed?
When you read the Bible, do you really try to listen to it – or do you just tune it out because you have read it so much? When you need to make a decision, do you talk it out with the Lord? Do you keep an open mind as you listen for the Spirit of God?
Do you think the Lord listens to you? Do you think the Lord keeps an open mind when you talk? Do you think that since the Lord is all wise and all powerful, He just tells you what to do and that’s it? Or does the Lord really, honestly listen to you? Does the Lord value your opinion? Is the Lord really, honestly interested in what you think?
*!* Jesus says [John 15: 15] that I don’t call you servants any more. There is a wonderful account in the Gospels when Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion, in the midst of which the Centurion said to Jesus, I know what it is the exercise authority – I have people under me and I say to one do this, and he does it, or go there, and he goes. That is the way you talk to your servants, you tell them what to do – you should do it politely – but you just tell them what to do. Jesus said that’s not our relationship. I don’t call you servants. You now have the Holy Spirit of God. You now have a redeemed mind. I did not save you just to make you my servant. I call you friends.
We read in Exodus that the Lord spoke with Moses as a man speaks with his friend [Exodus 33: 11]. He described Abraham as my friend [Isaiah 41:8]. The Lord listened to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and changed His mind – the Old King James says that the Lord repented – changed His mind. The Lord listened to Abraham on the plains of Sodom and changed His mind. In the first week of this study, in Amos 7, the Lord listened to Amos, and changed His mind.
The Lord will listen to you. Actually, the Lord is easy to talk to; the Lord is a good listener. The whole concept of intercessory prayer – is that the Lord will listen to you. The two of you can walk together, if you are agreed.
*!* This is from Genesis Chapter 18, it is a great example of this concept, and I will throw in a personal comment and say this is verse that deeply impressed me when I was a boy, and just has been a very special to me during my life. The scene in one I just mentioned, on the plains of Sodom – by end of next day Sodom will be heap of ashes, and Lot’s wife will be pillar of salt. The Lord is speaking with Abraham, and the Scripture gives us a window into the thought process of the Lord God.
The Lord said to Himself – should I tell Abraham about this – what I am going to do? Yes, I’m going tell him. Then the Lord says why – because I know him. I know this guy.
In your life, there are people that you know, and then there are people that you know. People that you’ve really worked with, people that you really understand, people that you really trust.
That is the way the Lord spoke about Abraham. I can trust Abraham with this information. I have confidence in what He is going to do with this. This guy gets it. You can see it in the way he raises his children; you can see it in the way that he orders his affairs; you can see it in the way he keeps the My way – this guy understands what I am talking about. He doesn’t just obey – he understands. I know him.
Then the Lord says this – words that come off the page and smack you in the face. The Lord says, I am going to be able to bring upon Abraham what I have spoken about him.
There are a lot of Christians today, and they know the Christian speak, but they just don’t seem to get it. The promises of the Bible are just words on a page, they lay unused, not real in their lives, what the Lord has spoken about them never comes to pass until they get to heaven.
The Lord said about Abraham, I know this guy, this guy trusts Me, and I trust him. I can give him a job and know its going to get done; I can tell him something and know He will use the information wisely; I can bless his life and have confidence that he will use those blessings in a wise, mature, spiritual way. We can walk together because we are agreed.
From my earliest days, that has deeply impressed me, and if you ask what I aspire to be in my Christian life – that is what I aspire to be in my Christian life.
In the days of Amos, that is not what Israel was. They are not getting it at all. They think all the rules were made somebody else.
Look at Chapter 1 – the very beginning of the book. Chapter 1, verse 3 [Amos 1:3] – Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment.
Then in verse 6 [Amos 1:6] – very similar for three transgressions of Gaza and for four, I will not turn away its punishment.
Again in verse 9 [Amos 1:9] for three transgressions of Tyre and for four, I will not turn away its punishment.
This phrase – for three and for four – does not mean there are three or four things on the lists of transgressions. *!* Rather, taking a number and then adding one -- is a literary devise used often in Scripture to convey a sense that it just goes on and on. I’ve put up here two examples.
The Lord will deliver you in six troubles, yes in seven no evil shall touch you – it does not mean that in trouble number 8 you are on your own – it is a sense of the Lord always being there and again.
Same thing from Proverbs 6 – there are not just seven things the Lord hates – but the six and seven gives the sense of ongoing.
That is what the Lord is saying about the nations – for three transgressions and for four -- it just goes on and on and never stops.
*!* This goes on for the whole first two chapters – and this is best understood looking at a map. *!* Judgment upon Damascus; *!* then upon Gaza; *!* then upon Tyre; *!* then upon Edom; *!* then upon Ammon; *!* then upon Moab; *!* then upon Judah. Admittedly it is not an easy read without knowing the historical context, but as you read it, you see a litany of things that the Lord hates – that violations not so much against God’s law written in stone on Sinai; but against God’s natural law established in nature itself.
You will see condemnation of Damascus for violence, condemnation of Gaza for slave trading; condemnation of Ammon for abortion – essentially seeing abortion as a genocide against unborn children.
As I have commented throughout these three weeks, the societal sin that gets the most attention and the strongest condemnation in this book – by far -- is the rampant materialism, the 24/7 business cycle, and the massive inequality of wealth in the society.
I can picture Amos as a fire and brimstone preacher – condemning all the heathen out there – he essentially makes a circle around Israel. His crowd grows, the listeners cheer, the Lord is righteous, the Lord is not going to put up with this, God’s judgment is going to bring down all the nations around.
Then in Chapter 2, verse 6 [Amos 2:6], Amos brings it home. Now that I have your attention, now that I’ve talked about everyone all around, now lets talk about you. For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment.
So great is the Lord’s sore discontent that He will bring upon that generation a terrible judgment. *!* Maybe the most famous verse in Amos, is also the most frightening – Thus will I do unto you O Israel – prepare to meet your God. [Amos 4: 12]. Today we talk about meeting the Lord, and it fills our hearts with joy and expectation. The tone here is quite different.
The Lord will raise up the nation of Assyrians, they will come down upon Israel and destroy their trusted military might. They will plunder their economy; they will take captive the people. They will leave the land empty, bleak and barren.
And so it was. In 724 BC, the terrible fate foretold by Amos came upon those 10 northern tribes of Israel. *!* This is from 2 Kings 17:
I5 Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years…. took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria….
7 For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, … and had walked in the statutes of the nations … Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone.
So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day.
And so it was, and so it is. In one generation, they went from saying the calamity cannot overtake us – we’re safe, we’re strong -- to being the ten lost tribes of Israel – Reuben, Manasseh, Asher, Dan, Zebulon. So far as history knows – they are gone.
History may not know where they are, but the Lord still does. History may have forgotten them, but the Lord still hasn’t. History may have shifted them like wheat among all the nations of the world – but the Lord knows each one and says that not the smallest grain falls to the ground.
In his last verses, back in Chapter 9 where we started this morning, Amos points them towards their future – on the other side of judgment. Behold the days are coming when I will bring back those captives, when they will rebuild those cities, when Israel will be planted in their land and never pulled up again.
*!* In that day, a redeemed earth will bring forth an abundance unimagined even by agro-science today. The harvest will be so big, it will take so long to bring it in, that by the time those reapers are finishing up, the plows will be right behind them getting the next crop ready.
The vineyards on the mountains will drip wine. It is just come right off the vines. The land will flow with good things.
These verses in Amos 9, became very important to the Apostles in the Book of Acts, and very important in our salavation. Amos is only quoted twice in all the New Testament. Psalms is quoted more than 80 times, Isaiah is quoted more than 40 times – Amos just twice.
*!* In Acts, Chapter 15 [Acts 15], occurred one of the most important meetings ever – what we call the Council at Jerusalem. Here is what happened.
Barnabas and Saul had gone out on their first missionary journey, preaching the Gospel primarily in the Roman province of Galatia –and many people were being saved, and most of them were Gentiles.
Now, this was a new development. There had been gentiles before who had gotten saved, but they were sort of acceptable. Men like the Ethiopian, who worshipped in Jerusalem and read Isaiah. Or people like Cornelius, who gave alms and prayed to God faithfully, and besides the Spirit of the Lord had expressly told Philip it was OK to talk to the Ethiopian, and had expressly told Peter that it was OK to go talk with Cornelius. They were sort of OK.
What was going on up in Galatia was a whole different ball game – it was the full throttle evangelism in the streets of pagan cities – and God bless these new believers, but when it comes to knowing God’s Word they couldn’t find their way across the street if you painted a crosswalk for them. They bring a mess of religious baggage with them.
In the city of Lystra, they started calling Barnabas Zeus and calling Paul Hermes, and wanted to sacrifice oxen to them. These are the people you are bringing into the fold? The Gospel is not some come-as-you-are party.
So, it raised a huge question – are gentiles coming to Christ by faith, required to keep the Law of Moses. Now, you and I know the answer to this – because you and I can read in the Book of Ephesians that Christ has abolished in His flesh the law of commandments written in ordinances – but they can’t read Ephesians – it hasn’t been written yet.
You and I can read in Revelation of the scene in heaven of a great multitude that no one could number, drawn from every tribe and tongue and people and nation – but they can’t read Revelation – it hasn’t been written yet.
The men who gathered to consider this question were all Jews, they were all raised on the Law of Moses, and they devoutly zealous for it. The division between Jew and Gentile ran very deep. We read there was much debate – there were strong feelings on both sides. The world would be exceedingly different today, if those men had come to a different conclusion.
*!* After there had been much dispute, and everyone had said their piece – James stood to speak. Men and brethren listen to me.
Now James is a very, very Jewish guy. Notice that when he mentions Peter – he calls him Simon. [Acts 15:14-19]
14 Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:
16 ‘After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;
17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the Lord who does all these things.’
18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works. 19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God.
James does something that I very much respect. He looks to the Scriptures with intellectual honesty, to find an answer. And he finds the answer in verses that we read in Amos Chapter 9 [Amos 9].
James says – look, right here in Amos, the Lord who knows all things from eternity, said that His purpose was that the rest of mankind would seek Him, no exceptions, and that all peoples could find Him, and that the Lord would take out of the world a people who are called by His name.
The Lord who forms nations is going to do a new thing. Rather than have one nation, separate from the world, defined by their ancestry or by their heritage, instead the Lord would draw out of all nations something brand new – a people not created by blood, not created by heritage, not created by geography – but a people created by an allegiance to a common name – His Name – the name of Jesus Christ.
That’s what we are – you and me, us here at Forge Road Bible Chapel – we, together with believers the world over -- are the direct fulfillment of those words from Amos -- we are a people called by His Name – we are Christians.
We, even just us here today – not to mention around the world – just right here -- we are different in our ethnicity, we are different in our eco-status, we are wildly different in our life experiences. The life experiences of the people here even today are as diverse as any group of people I have ever known anywhere – and praise God for that – I am a better person, I am a better Christian because of that.
We are a people who are called by His Name, called out of the world. Some are called out of the polite world of corporate America, while others are called out of the hard world of the street. Some called from the world of athletic achievement, some called from crushing physical infirmity. Some called from days of rigorous educational study, some called from the school of hard knocks. All drawn together by just one thing – by just one Man – by just one Name.
A people called by His Name – and there is nothing in the whole world, better than being of that name – nothing in the world better than being a Christian.