Many years ago there was a small time, insignificant farmer and rancher who was busy taking care of his sycamore fig trees and tending to his sheep while the big world around him was carrying on business as usual. Amos never thought of himself as a man of the cloth. He had never been to seminary. Never sat at the feet of one of the great religious teachers of his day. He was content doing what he had always done and had never thought of a career change, but something happened. Amos found himself in the grip of God and God filled his mouth with words that were not his own. He could not hold them in no matter how hard he tried. He could not go back to tending sheep no matter how bad they needed him. The sycamore figs would have to wait for someone else to tend their fruit. There was a message that had been given to Amos that had to be declared to the nations. The Lion had roared and the nations were standing at attention. The Word of the Lord had to be spoken.
Amos lived in the Judean hill country, in the southern Kingdom during the time when Israel was divided into Israel in the north and Judah in the south. He lived in the small town of Tekoa, just to the south of Bethlehem. Amos was a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea, the prophet that we took a look at last week. These men were speaking the same message at the same time given by the same God. If you will remember our study last week then you will remember that Israel and Judah were living large. Economic prosperity was widespread. The market was soaring. The GNP was higher than it had been in generations. The threat from enemy nations was simply not there since the super powers of Assyria and Egypt were at rest. The people were enjoying their weekends, going about their business, and enjoying their success with security and serenity.
Life was good. Life was so good that some of the upper echelon of society had winter homes in Sarasota, Florida or some other beach front property as well as their normal home, according to Amos 3:15. Life was good – or so they thought. The churches were full. Since prosperity was widespread the offering plates were piled high. The religious leaders of the day didn’t challenge the people to live for the Lord, they didn’t preach about sin and repentance, they just enjoyed the good times with the people. The preachers saw the shrines and altars to false gods, but why ruffle feathers while the getting is good? The cupboards were overflowing. The merchants were busy. The shoppers were many. The sound of cash registers filled the air like Christmas carols in Wal Mart during the holiday season. Religious songs sprang up on every corner. The people were living in the lap of luxury. Or so everyone thought. The message that God gave to Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah was quite different than what the people were expecting. Prosperity was understood by everyone in the land to be a sign of God’s favor. Or so they thought. The full churches and the abundance of priests and shrines and altars were signs that things were going well with God’s people. Or so they thought. But that’s not what God was thinking.
God was watching. While the market soared and people were getting rich there were other folks who were languishing in the lowlands. Those who had money and could hire the best to represent them in the bought-and-paid-for court system got off “Scott-free” — if the price was right. While there were well heeled criminals getting off clean in court there were others who were being sold down the river on a rail because they couldn’t afford an Israeli version of Johnny Cochran or Allen Dershowitz to represent them.
The churches were so full that “building campaigns” were being talked about in all of the churches. The people of God were so busy building their elaborate, ornate structures of sanctimonious smugness that they never even recognized their neighbors who were struggling to find something to eat, a place to live, or some sense of security as they foraged for a friend who would truly understand their loneliness or hopelessness.
Those who had were not content with what they had – they had to have more and more and more. They were always trying to cut costs so that they could boost their bottom line. They hired workers who had no other options and paid them a pittance. While the successful prospered they never gave a thought to helping their workers who were struggling to simply put food on the table for their families. They lied and cheated and stole in order to prosper, but they never missed church on Sunday. With injustice flooding the streets of Israel and Judah – The Lion roars!
Amos was a true believer, a man of faith, who knew it wasn’t possible to walk into the presence of the Living God on the Sabbath with praise and worship abounding and then walk according to the ways of the world the rest of the week. God was watching as Amos went about his business. Finally, God had seen enough so He roared His message to His prophets who had to speak.
The days of Amos are much like our own day my friend, God is watching. As followers of Jesus, as ambassadors of Christ, we cannot turn a deaf ear or close our eyes to what is taking place in our own society. The Lion continues to roar with the same authority and volume as in the days of Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, and throughout history. God has not blessed His people so that we can sit back in our comfort and forget about those who are hurting, those who are lost, those who are just trying to get by while everyone is trying to get over on them. We must always ask the Lord to show us if our hearts and the way we live are reflecting the heart of Him who chose as His first sermon,
18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)
When Jesus spoke those words He was merely echoing the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 61. Jesus wasn’t creating a new message, He was fulfilling the heartfelt passion of God who had always called His people to stoop down to help the “least of these,” those trapped in poverty, those oppressed by their circumstances, and those taken advantage of by the rest of society.
When Amos arrives on the scene with his mouth full of the word of the Lord, he brings the Lord’s charges against His people. I want you to imagine with me for a moment the day that Amos laid down his shepherd’s staff and sack full of figs and raised his voice to the nations. The people of Israel are listening when he brings charges against the neighbors of Israel and Judah. He pointed out the sins of Damascus and the people of God said, “Amen!” He pointed out the sins of Gaza and the people of God shouted, “Hallelujah!” He brought charges against Moab and the people of God wagged their heads in disgust at their devilish neighbors. Then Amos turned and looked at the crowd and spoke these spine tingling words from the mouth of the Lion.
4 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because they have rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed, 5 I will send fire upon Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.” (Amos 2:4-5 NIV)
When Amos uses the phrase, “For three sins of Judah, even for four…” he is letting those in Judah know that have heaped sin upon sin. God has been patiently calling them back to Himself, but they would not listen, so He roared His charges against His people. What was Judah’s sin? Great question. Judah has sinned in rejecting the law of God and in not keeping His decrees and commands. They weren’t living the way that God had called them to live. They may have been going to church on the Sabbath, but it was having no affect on their lives. They may have observed God’s command to refrain from work on the Sabbath, but they were so busy watching their watches to see when they could get back to making money that they never learned a thing about God. Amos says in chapter 8,
4 Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, 5 saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”- skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, 6 buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. 7 The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done. (Amos 8:4-7 NIV)
God bought charges against His people because they had been led away by false gods from the God who loved them and had provided for them. The false gods promised them even more prosperity, they promised the fertility of their crops, and even more good times. God’s people thought they were getting away with it all because they were still going to church, some of them even attended Sunday school.
While Amos is bringing God’s charges against Judah, their neighbors, the Israelites to the north patted themselves on the back and whispered to one another that they always knew Judah wasn’t sincere. Then Amos turned to them and said,
6 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. 7 They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. 8 They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines. (Amos 2:6-8 NIV)
The sins of Israel were piled one on top of another. “For three sins of Israel, even for four…” What were the sins of Israel? Evidently it wasn’t that they didn’t know God, at least in some cognitive, cerebral sort of way. God doesn’t charge them with forgetting His law, but He does charge them with not living it. God says,
* They sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.
* They trample on the heads of the poor.
* They deny justice to the oppressed.
* Father and son are using the same girl for their own pleasure.
* They lie down beside every altar; altars not to the one true God.
* They drink the wine of their false gods that they have obtained by issuing fines.
My friends, I will assure you that it is no accident that God brought the charges against His people that He did. Throughout Scripture you will find that God charges His people, He commands His followers, and He empowers them to seek Him with all of their heart and to show compassion on the poor, the broken, the lonely, the prisoner, and the outcast. In Proverbs we read,
31 He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31 NIV)
Again in Proverbs we see the Lord warn us again concerning how we treat those who are poor and marginalized in society. Listen to this powerful verse,
5 He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 17:5 NIV)
The very first charge against Israel is that they were selling the righteous as slaves for silver and the needy for a pair of Air Jordans. John MacArthur says of this passage,
Greed was so all-consuming that they, for insignificant debts, would sell another into slavery in order for him to pay his debt.
It has to remind you of the story Jesus told when Peter asked Jesus how many times we should forgive our brother when he sins against us. Turn to Matthew 18 and follow along with me.
21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35 NIV)
Now, we all know that the Bible is an “ideal” for living life. When all factors are working right, and if everyone could be trusted, then we could utilize the teachings of the Bible to their full extent. The fact of the matter is that you can’t trust people so you had better get what you can, any way you can, right? Jesus will never buy that line my friend. The man who owed much should have forgiven the man who owed him a little instead of trying to get out of him what he could so that he could get ahead. What is the precedent for that type of action? How can you and I be so forgiving when the rest of the world demands a pound of flesh? Great question! We are not only called to forgive, we are commanded to be forgiving because we have been forgiven in Christ.
There were those in Israel who had fallen behind with their bills; they couldn’t pay the rent when it was due. Instead of working with the one who had fallen behind, the landlords, the creditors, sold them into slavery to get what was “rightly” theirs. God would not forget what they had done.
This was not the only grievance God had with His people. God saw what happened in the court system every day. He saw the attorneys in $5,000 suits at the side of smooth, but confident criminals who could buy the best representation in the land. He saw the money slipped under the table when nobody was looking. God would not forget the denial of justice to the poor. While the wicked, but wealthy were getting acquitted the poor were denied a voice and decent representation and were rotting away in jail or sold into slavery to pay their debts. Again in Amos 5:12 we read,
12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. (Amos 5:12 NIV)
I have to tell you that this week, as I was studying the prophet Amos I thought of a friend of mine, a member of our church who I went to see at the County Jail on Friday morning. He is a good man, not a criminal. He is a father, not a crook. He is not a drug dealer, embezzler, murderer, or rapist. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, but he committed a crime of oversight, a sin of neglect, and therefore he sits in a cell waiting for his day in court.
I went to visit him down at the County Jail last Friday, but he does not belong there. He has no money to access the services of a high dollar attorney, so he is at the mercy of the court system. A court system that is so backlogged and bogged down that a person like my friend and yours will never draw the attention of those in high places. So he sits. So he waits. When will he get out? Great question? I wish I had the answer. This is not justice. I tell you that Amos is walking the streets of America today crying out against the injustice of our own land.
God is not pleased with the way His people are living their lives. The Lion thunders from Zion with displeasure as He watches them live day to day. But the churches are full. The people are singing songs of worship and making their offerings throughout the week. Surely this is pleasing to the Lord?
In Amos 5, God speaks to His people, those He has chosen as His own. Those He delivered from slavery and oppression and set them free. Those He loves with an undying love. Those He has shown mercy time and time again. As they take comfort in their church attendance and offerings, God roars His judgment.
21 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! 25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? 26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god – which you made for yourselves. 27 Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty. (Amos 5:4-27 NIV)
Our worship flows from our hearts not our presence. Let me explain to you what I mean. Throughout God’s Word we find that what God truly desires is a pure heart that is set on loving Him, pleasing Him, and allowing His grace and mercy to overflow from our lives into the lives of those around us. We can attend church every day, study the Bible every moment, but if our lives don’t reflect the heart of God then our worship is despised by God. He says, “I hate, I despise, I cannot stand, and I will not accept your worship.” When will God accept our worship? When is our praise pleasing to the Father? I can tell you from God’s Word. Look at verse 24, 24 “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” If we want our lives to be pleasing to the Lord, if we want our worship to be acceptable to the Lord then we must let “justice” roll on like a mighty river and righteousness like a never ending stream. The Hebrew word for “justice” is “jP’v.mi” (mishpat). The word means, “judgment, proper, fitting, measure, fitness, right, lawful, custom, manner, or plan.” Simply put, “justice” is doing what God would do. The word appears in many places in Scripture, but I only have time to share a few instances where this word is found. Read along with me.
1This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2″Stand at the gate of the LORD’S house and there proclaim this message: “‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. 3This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” 5If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. 8But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. 9″‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”-safe to do all these detestable things? 11Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 7:1-11 NIV)
God’s House is no protection for those who cling to Him like a rabbit’s foot, but refuse to allow Him to shape their lives and burden their hearts for doing what is right in God’s sight. In Isaiah we see another place where the Hebrew word is used.
8 “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity. In my faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them. (Isaiah 61:8 NIV)
God also charged His people with living righteously. He says, “let righteousness roll on like a never-ending stream.” The Hebrew word for “righteousness” is “hq’d'c”. (tsedaqah). The word means, “to be rightly related to God and those around you.”
If we will seek in this way before God then He will glory in our worship and bless us as we seek to be a blessing to those around us.
You need to know that God does not point our where we are straying so that He can destroy us. God shows us where we are leaving the road of godliness so that He can bring us back. Notice what He says to the Israelites in Amos 5,
4This is what the LORD says to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live… 15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:4; 15 NIV)
I want to encourage you this morning to allow the Lord to search your heart. If you have accepted Christ as Lord of your life then ask Him to show you if your living reflects His loving. Do your words match His grace when you deal with your enemies and those who have hurt you? Is your goal to get more or to reach out to those who need mercy and grace? If you have never accepted Christ then today is the day of salvation. Won’t you cry out to Jesus and ask Him to come into your heart, forgive you of your sins, and lead you into His future for you?
We can’t cry out for God’s help and protection while our hands and hearts are dirty and expect Him to run to our rescue without changing our hearts. God allows these difficult days to turn us around, to show us how desperately we need him. Won’t you invite Him in this morning?