There is a tragic story in Genesis 4 about two brothers, Cain and Abel. We are all too familiar with sibling rivalry, but Cain went way too far. Cain got mad because God looked with favor upon Abel’s offering, but not his own. In his anger, Cain killed Abel. He killed his own brother! God showed up after Cain had killed his brother and asked, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain, guilty as sin, shot back, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God never answered Cain’s question directly although God’s judgment on Cain made it clear that, yes, he was most definitely his brother’s keeper. (Genesis 4:2-10 NIV) We hear of modern-day stories like Cain and Able where some family member will kill someone they should have loved and cared for, but these stories are hard for most of us to imagine. How could someone hurt a family member?
“Family.” We love the word. Whether you are a follower of Jesus or not, the word “family” means something to most everyone. We are not that much unlike Cain and Abel. We have to deal with sibling rivalry; we have to deal with family relationships. We get jealous, angry, and hurt. We feel misunderstood and unappreciated. Every family has to deal with disagreements, but most of us try to forgive and reconcile. Nobody can stir a more broad range of emotions within us than our family members. At the same time, for most of us, there is no greater grace given than to our own family members. What would you do to help your mom or dad if they called in a crisis? What sacrifices would you be willing to make for your brothers or sisters if you heard they were in trouble? Most people that I know would spare no expense, travel across land or sea, and drop whatever they are doing to get to their loved ones if they needed them.
Our understanding of “family” is very narrow. For some it is as narrow as their immediate family. For others, “family,” reaches out further, to their extended family. I feel very confident in saying that none of us has as far of a reach as Jesus when it comes to understanding “family.” Jesus, over and over again, extended the idea of family for those who listened to Him speak. In Matthew 12:47-50, He was speaking to a crowd when someone recognized his mother and brothers, His family, standing outside. Listen to what happened.
47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:47-50 NIV)
Jesus said that His family is made up of those who do the will of His Father in Heaven. Now that stretches our idea of family doesn’t it? If Jesus is right, and those who do God’s will are part of my family, then that means I’ve got family members living all over the world. I’ve got brothers living in slums in Calcutta, India, sisters living in South America, mothers who live in Egypt, England, as well as Eufaula, Oklahoma. I’ve got fathers who live in South Africa as well as Southern California. If Jesus is right then I’ve got family members who live both within my house and around the world.
Jesus doesn’t stop with our brothers and sisters in the faith, those who are followers of Jesus. My favorite parable in the Bible is the parable of the sheep and goats found in Matthew 25. If you are familiar with the story then you know that Jesus tells the story of the final judgment of God when people will be separated into two groups, like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Those on His right will inherit eternal life and those on His left will spend eternity separated from God in hell. Jesus tells the sheep that what they did for the “least of these” was critically, vitally, important. Then, in Matthew 25:37-40, those Jesus calls “sheep” ask Him a question.
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40 NIV)
Did you hear what Jesus called those who were hungry, thirsty, strangers, sick, or in prison? You did didn’t you? He called them “brothers.” Now that is taking family to another level. I don’t know anybody who would define “family” in the same way that Jesus defines “family.” I think we would do well to redefine our understanding of family and begin to treat others like they are our moms, dads, brothers, and sisters.
I’ve taken the time to share this with you because it has everything to do with the sermon Amos has been delivering to the people of Bethel. If you will remember our time together in God’s Word last week, Amos began preaching to the people of Bethel, in Israel, and he began listing the names of nations that were located around Israel. Amos only made it through two of the nations, Damascus, the capital of Aram or Syria, and Gaza, before we had to stop last week. This week we are going to take a look at the final four neighbors of Israel that came under the judgment of God. Let’s read Amos 1:9-2:3 so we can see what Amos has to say next.
9 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Tyre, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because she sold whole communities of captives to Edom, disregarding a treaty of brotherhood, 10 I will send fire upon the walls of Tyre that will consume her fortresses.” 11 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Edom, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because he pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion, because his anger raged continually and his fury flamed unchecked, 12 I will send fire upon Teman that will consume the fortresses of Bozrah.” 13 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Ammon, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders, 14 I will set fire to the walls of Rabbah that will consume her fortresses amid war cries on the day of battle, amid violent winds on a stormy day. 15 Her king will go into exile, he and his officials together,” says the LORD. 2:1 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Moab, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because he burned, as if to lime, the bones of Edom’s king, 2 I will send fire upon Moab that will consume the fortresses of Kerioth. Moab will go down in great tumult amid war cries and the blast of the trumpet. 3 I will destroy her ruler and kill all her officials with him,” says the LORD. (Amos 1:9-2:3 NIV)
As Amos continued his sermon the people in Bethel grew more and more excited. By the time he reached the end of his sermon, Amos would nail most of Israel’s greatest enemies. For those of us who are reading his sermon in a different place and time, we have the opportunity to take a closer look than those who heard the sermon in real time.
In taking a closer look over the past few weeks I have noticed that there is a difference between Damascus and Gaza and the four nations that we will take a look at this morning. Damascus and Gaza committed crimes against their neighbors which God saw, first and foremost, as rebellion against Himself. The difference between what the people of Damascus and Gaza did compared to the four nations we will look at today is that they had no relationship with those they abused and mistreated. What they did was sin, it was rebellion against God, and they were accountable for their inhumane treatment of their neighbors.
There is an added layer of tragedy in the log of nations that we will look at this morning. Let’s take a look at those nations listed in our Scripture for today and you can see what I am talking about.
Tyre and Gaza were accused of the same crime. They both dealt in the slave trade and they both were involved in the selling of slaves to Edom. Where Tyre differs from Gaza is that they betrayed a covenant they had with their brothers. There is no way to be certain which nation Tyre had a brotherly covenant with, but I can tell you that one possibility is the nation of Israel. Tyre had a long history of good relations with Israel.
Going all the way back to King David we find that King Hiram of Tyre was more than gracious in helping David build the royal palace. He provided him with timber as well as skilled laborers. In 2 Samuel 5:11 we read,
11 Now Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar logs and carpenters and stonemasons, and they built a palace for David. (2 Samuel 5:11 NIV)
After David’s son Solomon took over the throne King Hiram heard that Solomon wanted to build the temple that his father never got to build. King Hiram provided Solomon with all of the cedar and pine logs that he needed for the temple. In 1 Kings 5:1 we read,
1 When Hiram king of Tyre heard that Solomon had been anointed king to succeed his father David, he sent his envoys to Solomon, because he had always been on friendly terms with David. (1 Kings 5:1 NIV)
Tyre had a cooperative relationship with Israel and possibly other nations as well. There is no way to know with absolute certainty which nation Amos had in mind when he said that Tyre was guilty of “disregarding a treaty of brotherhood…” (Amos 1:9 NIV) Tyre and the nation they had betrayed weren’t really related, they weren’t brothers by birth, but they had an agreement. Tyre broke the agreement and betrayed her friend.
The betrayal by a friend is something we can all relate to isn’t it? The betrayal of a friend does more than sting. We expect random people to try and take advantage of us or use us for their benefit, but not our friends. You offer some intimate detail about your life to a close friend because you’ve got to tell someone, but you can’t tell just anyone. Next thing you know it is all over school. You know that nobody could have known except your friend and she told everyone. You find out your wife is having an affair, but you don’t have any idea who she is seeing. Then you find out it is your best friend. I could go on and on with the scenarios. You know stories of betrayal that you’ve endured, but maybe you also know stories of how you have betrayed your own friend. David knew how it felt. He wrote in Psalm 41:9.
9 Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9 NIV)
We need to honor our covenants. They may be covenants of marriage, agreements as business partners, or simply friendships, but we need to know that it is vitally important that we honor the treasured relationships that God blesses us with in life.
If you’ve been paying attention then you’ve noticed that Edom has already appeared in Amos’ sermon. Edom had received slaves from both Gaza and Tyre. You had to know that Edom would be called front and center at some point to receive its sentence from God. Amos said that Edom was being judged “Because he pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion, because his anger raged continually and his fury flamed unchecked…” (Amos 1:11 NIV) I mentioned to you last week that the people of Edom and the people of Israel could trace their family tree back to Isaac. The people of Edom were descendants of Isaac’s son, Esau. The people of Israel were descendants of Isaac’s son, Jacob. They should have been allies rather than adversaries. In Deuteronomy 23:7, God had told His people, 7 “Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother…” The truth of the matter is that the Israelites did hate the Edomites and the feeling was mutual.
The anger, hostility, and bitterness between the Edomites and Israelites culminated in the people of Edom handing the people of Jerusalem over to the Babylonians when Jerusalem fell. The Psalmist writes,
7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!” (Psalm 137:7 NIV)
The prophet Obadiah, the shortest of all the Minor Prophets, prophesied against Edom because of this horrible act of betrayal. Listen to the description of Edom’s sins against their own people, the Israelites.
8 “In that day,” declares the LORD, “will I not destroy the wise men of Edom, men of understanding in the mountains of Esau? 9 Your warriors, O Teman, will be terrified, and everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter. 10 Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. 11 On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. 12 You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. 13 You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster. 14 You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble. (Obadiah 1:8-14 NIV)
How can relationships turn so sour that family ends up gloating over the misfortune of other family members? How can relationships go so wrong that we end up setting up for failure those we are called to love? We are given a glimpse into the process by the phrase Amos uses, “stifling all compassion.” (Amos 1:11 NIV) Be careful my friend if you are one of those people who allows bitterness, jealousy, and anger to linger. What is at first an irritation or an offence can easily grow into a monster that kills the compassion God has put in your heart.
The people of Ammon were next in line to be called on the carpet by God. The Ammonites were also distant cousins of the Israelites. The Ammonites were descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The sins of the Ammonites were numerous, but in Amos 1:13 we can read about the sin that was the final straw, the sin that finally exhausted God’s patience.
Because he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders… (Amos 1:13 NIV)
Why would anyone, even during war-time, take a sword to abort the babies of innocent women? Hard to even talk about isn’t it? The practice was done by other nations as well as the Ammonites. We read about Hazael, the king of Syria, Menahem of Israel, and the Assyrians doing the same thing. (2 Kings 8:12; 15:16; Hosea 13:16)
What is the logic behind such a horrible act? Well, Amos says that the culprit was ambition. The Ammonites wanted to extend the borders of their country. Wouldn’t it be much easier to extend your borders and enlarge your kingdom if the population of your enemies decreased dramatically? Wouldn’t the future be much more secure if there was no future generation for your enemies?
Ambition can be good. We can possess the ambition to better our lives, our community, or the lives of those around us. We can possess the ambition to grow in our relationship with God or to utilize the abilities He has given us to bless the lives of others. At the same time, we can allow our ambition to lead us into ungodly behavior. We can lie about a co-worker to try and get them fired. We can cook the books and pocket the money to try and improve our own personal bottom line. We can engage in illegal behavior, if only for a little while, if it will benefit us in the long run. We can spread rumors around school about someone that we see as competition. We can allow our ambition for a better life to rob our families of precious time as we work unceasingly to try and grab that golden rung on the ladder. There is no limit to the evils of ambition if it is not controlled and contained by God’s Word.
The people of Moab were also distant cousins of the Israelites. They descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot as well. The sin that finally brought about God’s judgment was the burning of the bones of the king of Edom. Evidently there was a war between Edom and Moab in which Moab won. It wasn’t enough to win the war; the Moabites took the bones of the slain king and burned them until they were ashes. We don’t know which war between the Edomites and Moabites Amos is referring to, but we do know from 2 Kings 3 that there was a time when Israel, Judah, and Edom went to war against Moab because Moab had rebelled against Israel. When Moab was being overtaken, the king of Moab took 700 swordsmen and set out to destroy Edom. He wasn’t able to accomplish what he had set out to do so he sacrificed his oldest son to the Moabite god Chemosh to try and gain some power over the Edomites. It failed.
It is evident that the war between Moab and Edom, that we find in 2 Kings 3, is not what is referred to in Amos’ indictment against Moab, but it does show the long history of tension between the two nations. The event in 2 Kings 3 took place 100 years before Amos ever spoke in Bethel. When Moab finally got the upper hand on the Edomites they rubbed it in their face. They not only conquered the nation, but they took the king’s bones and burned them in the fire until they became ashes. A Jewish Targum, used to explain God’s Word, says that the Moabites “burned his bones to lime” which was used in whitewashing buildings.
To do what the Moabites did to the king of Edom would humiliate the entire nation. Being defeated in war would be terrible, but to have the king’s bones burned to ashes while the enemy gloated over their victory would pile humiliation upon humiliation.
Vengeance is a deadly poison isn’t it? When we feel we have been done wrong, mistreated by someone, the more we allow those feelings to simmer and linger, the more demonic they will become. When we suffer from injustice, when we feel like we have been done wrong by someone, we cannot allow anger and bitterness to take root in our hearts or we will watch them grow into an all-consuming passion for vengeance.
I don’t know if you see it, but as we have taken a look at Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab it scares me because I see my own propensity to sin highlighted by these nations. The betrayal of a friendly nation by the people of Tyre is equivalent to the betrayal of a friend by an individual. I know what it is like to have a friend betray me, but I have to be honest and say that I also know what it is like to betray a friend. There is no excuse for my behavior, no justifying what I have done; it is plain and simple “sin” in the eyes of God. We read that Edom “stifled all compassion” and it led to their hating those they were called to love. How many times have I stifled the compassion of God in the relationships I have been blessed with by God? I have allowed little irritants, flashes of disappointment or anger, to grow into a cold callousness. I am not alone. I meet with married couples often that are at a place where they are on the verge of divorce. Those who once stood at the altar, madly in love, not imagining spending another day without their Prince of Princess, can now barely stand to be in one another’s presence. How does that happen? Is it not the process that Amos describes for us–a “stifling of compassion?” The unbridled, unchecked ambition of the Ammonites that led them to the slaughter of the next generation of people in Gilead so they could gain power is equivalent to our allowing ambition to lead us to do ungodly things. I know the enticing power of ambition to better my own life. When I have allowed my desires to run rampant with no boundaries I have taken advantage of and used others. There is no other way to explain my actions other than to describe them as sin. The vengeance of the Moabites that led them to totally humiliate the Edomites by burning the bones of their king is equivalent to our stopping at nothing to seek vengeance on those who have hurt us. Oh, the thoughts that have gone through my head! I am ashamed!
What is the answer? How can we avoid the downward spiral of allowing our emotions to run unchecked by God? That’s it. Don’t allow them to go unchecked by God! We are to allow God to search us, to convict us, and correct us at every turn. The first step is to admit our sin before Him, invite Jesus into our hearts to save us from ourselves, and lead us in the path, the will of God. Won’t you do that?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 6, 2011