Today, we are going to begin a new study on the life and times of a man named Amos. I would venture to guess that many of you have never heard of Amos. By most people’s measuring stick he was an insignificant prophet. He’s even placed in our Bible in the section we know as the “Minor Prophets.” I want you to know that would be just fine with Amos. He was not nearly as concerned with his position among the great men and women of God as he was with the message he had been given to deliver to the people of God.
Amos the man was much more like you and me than you can imagine. He had a very common, ordinary life before God called him. Take a look at Amos 1:1 and we can learn a little about the man Amos.
1 The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa–what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel. (Amos 1:1 NIV)
Amos tells us that he was “one of the shepherds of Tekoa…” Tekoa was only about 12 miles south of Jerusalem, but it was light years from the hustle and bustle of the big city. It was a farming community, a great place for a small town shepherd like Amos. We can learn some more about Amos in Amos 7:13-15, after Amos had left his home in Tekoa and traveled north into Israel, to Bethel, to deliver his message from God. The official priest who served the counterfeit congregation in Bethel was named Amaziah. He didn’t appreciate a small town, insignificant preacher coming onto his home turf and speaking such harsh words. Amaziah said,
13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.” 14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ (Amos 7:13-15 NIV)
Amos told Amaziah that he wasn’t a prophet and neither was he a prophet’s son. He was a shepherd and he took care of sycamore-fig trees. Some have pointed out that the word Amos uses for “shepherd” in Amos 1, “??????” (noqed) is also used of Mesha, the king of Moab, who used 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams to pay the king of Israel. (2 Kings 3:4) They use this to try and make Amos out to be a businessman who owned herds of sheep and cattle as well as orchards of sycamore-figs, but I think that is a stretch. Amos was a common ordinary man who was called by God to deliver an extraordinary message.
The fact that God uses the common for His uncommon purposes is really a theme that we see throughout Scripture isn’t it? Amos’ background fits perfectly with the background of another man we find in Scripture before God called him for His purposes. Remember David? What was David doing when God called him? He was a shepherd wasn’t he? He wasn’t even the most promising in his family much less in all of Israel. There is another man who comes to mind when I stop to think about the humble, common life of Amos. Remember Gideon? He was a young guy threshing wheat in a winepress, hiding from the Midianites when the Lord called him. When the Lord called Gideon, He said,
14 …”Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (Judges 6:14-15 NIV)
Gideon wasn’t anything special, but his God sure was. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. We need to stop focusing on what we have to offer God as we contemplate what He is calling us to do and instead focus on God. He is our strength, He is our competence, and He alone can use common, ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things if we will simply trust Him and follow His lead. It is not our pedigree, our intelligence, our powers of persuasion, or ability that is important. Paul wrote to the people of Corinth and reminded them of this truth in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NIV)
God can do great things with grateful, humble people. Not great people, but grateful, humble people. Don’t ever let what you lack keep you from responding to God’s call my friends. Trust Him and watch Him work in extraordinary ways through your life. F.B. Meyer wrote these words,
God does not hesitate to employ a herdsman, if only his heart is pure and devoted to his service. He calls such a one out of the midst of his fellows, designating him for his sacred ministry. And when the fire of God burns within, very common clay becomes luminous and transparent. An ox-goad, a ram’s-horn, a sling of stone, will serve his purpose. It is not what a man has, but what he is, that matters. (F.B. Meyer, Our Daily Homily)
Today, I simply want to lay the groundwork for you and me as we prepare to study Amos over the next few weeks. Now that we have a better understanding of the man, Amos, let’s turn our attention to the message of this common man.
The prophet Amos has written a prophecy that is divided up into 9 chapters containing 146 verses. Amos’ message was directed to those who lived in and around the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. In Amos 1:3-2:16, Amos delivered eight judgments against six nations that surrounded Israel and Judah before he turned his sights on God’s own people. Let’s take a brief look at each of the judgments.
• The first judgment was against Damascus, the capital of Syria. Damascus was coming under judgment because its people were brutal in their treatment of the people of Gilead.
• The second judgment was pronounced against the Philistine city of Gaza which was a gateway city for the slave trade between Africa and Asia.
• The third judgment was pronounced against Tyre whose sin was much like the sin of the people of Philistia. They sold whole villages of captives to the Edomites as slaves.
• The fourth judgment came to the people of Edom who came under God’s judgment because of their persistent pressure against the Israelites. Their sin was particularly bad because the people of Edom and the Israelites both descended from Isaac, the son of Abraham. The people of Edom came from Isaac’s son Esau and the people of Judah came from Isaac’s son, Jacob. They should have been allies not adversaries, but that wasn’t the case.
• The fifth judgment was pointed right at the people of Ammon because, as Amos writes, “Because he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders…” (Amos 1:13 NIV) I don’t think that needs an explanation.
• The sixth judgment came to the people of Moab. They had gone to war against the Edomites and evidently won. To add insult to injury, they captured the king of Edom and desecrated the remains of Edom’s hero by burning his bones to ashes.
• After these six judgments pronounced on the surrounding nations, Amos turned his voice to God’s own people and delivered, “Thus saith the Lord…”
We aren’t going to spend any time digging into it now because we will do that in the next couple of weeks, but I want us to notice something about all of the judgments that came to the nations that surrounded God’s people in Judah and Israel. What kind of sin did they commit? Do you see a theme? Sure you do. Their sin was against people. Crimes against humanity. I wanted us to take note of that because now we are going to take a look at the judgments levied against the people of God, the folks in Judah and Israel.
• The judgment pronounced against the people of Judah comes from the mouth of Amos, but from the heart of God. Read along with me in Amos 2:4.
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… (Amos 2:4 NIV)
They rejected the law of the LORD. As a result of rejecting the law of the LORD they were led astray by false gods. There is a great lesson in this that we will get to in the coming weeks, but I can’t wait until then, I must at least touch on it now. Don’t think that if you and I reject God that we will not serve someone or something else.
• The judgment pronounced against the people of Israel is a continuation of his indictment against the people of Judah.
They have rejected God, served other gods, and as a result their ethics and morality were transformed so that they began to act just like their pagan neighbors. They were taking advantage of the poor, they were abusing power, they had turned what should have been an intimate dependence on God into a religious charade that God said He wanted nothing to do with. What made Israel’s sin worse than all of the sins of the pagan nations was the fact that they knew better. They were God’s people. To whom much is given, much is required.
As we work our way through this powerful sermon from the prophet Amos we will come to understand the reasons why God sent Amos to deliver his message to the people, the result of God’s judgment, and finally we will see that God promises to restore His people in the end.
I mentioned to you earlier that we know very little about Amos because he was not concerned that people knew about him—He was concerned that people hear from God. Amos had a very high view of God. I want to point out some lessons we can learn from Amos that will prove to be very valuable for you and me.
Amos believed in the absolute Sovereignty of God.
Let me show you what I mean. Amos believed that his mission and his message were God’s and not his own. Amos was minding his business taking care of the herd and tending to the sycamore-fig trees when they were in season. Suddenly the Lord got his attention and “took” him from what was familiar and set him on a new course. He told Amaziah, in Amos 7:15,
15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel. (Amos 7:15 NIV)
The word Amos uses, “took,” is the Hebrew word, “?????” (laqach) and it means, “to take, lay hold of, to choose.” Let me show you a couple of other places in the Hebrew Bible where the word is used so that you can see the force of the word. In Genesis 5 we read about a man named Enoch who was a godly man. Read along with me.
24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. (Genesis 5:24 NIV)
What happened to Enoch? Did he simply get old and die? Was he ill and lying on his death bed when he decided that he had had enough and decided to breathe his last? Hardly. God took Enoch.
Ezekiel wrote during some of the darkest days of Judah’s history. During Ezekiel’s ministry the Babylonians came in and raided Judah. Ezekiel was one of the people of Judah who was taken captive and carried back to Babylon. It seemed like all hopes were dashed, but God put a message on Ezekiel’s heart that he delivered to the people of God. In Ezekiel 37 the prophet wrote about a day that would come in the future when God would bring back the captives and reunite the people of Israel and Judah into one nation. Listen to this.
20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. (Ezekiel 37:20-21 NIV)
How did it happen? Did the power of the Babylonians wane to the point where the exiles could overpower them? That wasn’t the case. The reunification of Israel happened just over 60 years ago and it happened because God took His people, scattered all over the world, and planted them once again in their homeland. God did it.
In the same way that God took Enoch, in the same way that God took His exiled people, in the same way that God took Amos from the fields and the orchard, God also took the Apostle Paul. You can read about it in Acts 9:3-6.
3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:3-6 NIV)
God then went to a man named Ananias and told him to find Saul and pray for the restoration of his sight. Ananias was hesitant because Saul was no friend of Jesus’ followers. In Acts 9:15 we read about what God said to Ananias.
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. (Acts 9:15 NIV)
Amos not only believed that his calling was from God, but he believed his message was as well. Over and over again we read, “And the LORD said…” Amos was given God’s message to deliver to the people and delivering God’s message was of utmost importance to Amos. We have been given the Word of God and it is this Word that should be of utmost importance for us. We are called to deliver God’s Word to a lost and broken world my friends. How can we deliver what we do not know? We must learn and know God’s Word so that we can share God’s Word with others.
By reading Amos we can also learn some of Amos’ other beliefs about God. His beliefs are nothing new. They are the truths about God that we find throughout God’s Word. Let me share four with you.
Amos knew God as Creator.
From the opening verse of Genesis 1 all the way through the book of Revelation, God reveals Himself as the Creator. In Amos 5:8-9 we read,
8 (he who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns blackness into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land– the LORD is his name– 9 he flashes destruction on the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin)… (Amos 5:8-9 NIV)
Amos knew God as the Lord of history, all history.
I mentioned to you that God sent Amos to pronounce judgment on the nations surrounding Israel as well as His chosen people in Judah and Israel. He is familiar with their ways as much as He is familiar with the ways of the Israelites. God is not the property of the Jews or of us Christians; He is the Lord of history. He is working in every nation and in every age. I want to read to you from Psalm 22:27-28 and Psalm 47:7-9 so that you can understand what I am talking about.
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28 NIV)
7 For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. 8 God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne. 9 The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted. (Psalm 47:7-9 NIV)
God is not Israeli. God is not an American. He is God and every nation belongs to Him and is accountable to Him.
Amos knew God as deeply concerned with the sin of people, all people.
In Amos 1:3-2:16 we find a phrase repeated over and over again. When God has Amos address the Moabites he says, “For three sins of Moab, even for four…” He uses the same phrase for each of the eight judgments that are delivered. God doesn’t call their actions “missteps” or “mistakes,” but He calls them sin. God is concerned with our actions. God is concerned with how we treat one another. When we live counter to God’s Word and His teaching it is called sin. This belief of Amos is echoed throughout God’s Word. In Romans 3:23 we read, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23 NIV) In Hosea 14:1, the prophet announced to the people of God.
1 Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God. Your sins have been your downfall! (Hosea 14:1 NIV)
Just as the sins were the downfall of God’s people, so the sins were also the downfall of the other nations that surrounded God’s people, and they are the downfall of our nation as well. Before sin can ever be the downfall of a nation it must first be the downfall of the individuals who make up that nation. When will we recognize that our sins are not a private matter? When will we recognize that our sins are not only an affront to God, but they guaranteed to bring about our own demise?
Amos knew God as the Savior, the only Savior, of sinful people, all sinful people.
If you wanted to summarize Amos in one verse you would have to go to Amos 5:4 where the Lord says, “Seek me and live.” Let’s take a look at Amos 5:4-5 because the Lord sets this statement in context for us.
4 This is what the LORD says to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live; 5 do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.” (Amos 5:4-5 NIV)
We will take a look at Bethel and Gilgal in weeks to come, but for now you simply need to know that these were the centers of man-made religion. God says to the people who were so devoted to religious ritual, “Seek me and live.”
Once Amos arrived on the scene, the people of God found themselves standing at a crossroads. Would they cling to their man-made religion, their system of self-righteousness, or would they return to God? If they continued on the path they were on they would face judgment. If they would return to God they would find forgiveness, grace, reconciliation, and experience the salvation of God.
I want you to think about our own day. Are we not standing at the same crossroads this morning? America is a very religious nation. I wouldn’t say that we are a Christian nation as much as I would say that we are a very religious nation. Most people wouldn’t use the word, “religious;” they would say they are “spiritual.” Our spirituality consists of “rules made by men” as Jesus quoted Isaiah in Matthew 15:9. Here is what Jesus actually said,
9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. (Matthew 15:9 NIV)
Think about it. If you want to be a “good” person then society will teach you how to be a “good” person. To be a good person you must embrace environmental causes. That would be a good start. You should be for a woman’s right to choose which means you are against a babies right to live. You should be a member of PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. You should be against war and put a bumper sticker on your car that says, “You Can’t Hug Your Child With Nuclear Arms.” You should be against corporate America and anyone who is rich because, after all, all good people know that these people are evil. If you are a good person you will be for gay marriage. I’m sure that I’ve left some things off the list, but, if you want to be a good person by society’s code of goodness, then this will give you a good start.
The tragedy is, according to God, you can do all of these things and feel passionately about all of these causes and still never be “good” according to His standards. He wants you and me to lay down our man-made religion and return to Him. Jesus put it this way,
6 …”I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NIV)
There is only one way for sinful people to experience salvation and it is by returning to God. Amos never got to see the day when God’s promised Messiah arrived on the scene, but you and I know Jesus to be God’s gift, His sacrificial gift for you and me. He took our sins, all of our sins, upon His own shoulders when He hung on Calvary’s cross. Will we return, will we turn from our ways, and turn to Him? Won’t you do that this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 23, 2011