[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.