[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.