The man from the sticks showed up on the steps of the temple in Bethel and began handing out flyers announcing an open air revival. He handed out flyers to those who passed by, nodded, and said, “Yall come!” He wasn’t wearing clerical robes or a priest’s collar. He looked like he had just come in from the fields. People were curious. The priests at Bethel huddled to try and figure out who he was, what he was doing, and what they should do about it. No one recognized him. He didn’t seem to be a threat. I mean, after all, look at how the poor guy is dressed. The religious authorities decided they would just sit back and wait, and watch. Why cause a fuss when things were going so well in Israel.
God had done amazing things while Jeroboam II was the king of Israel. The king would sit on the seat of power, the throne of the nation, from 793-753 B.C., and it was like he had hit the lottery. Israel’s most feared enemies, the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians had all become weak allowing Israel to grow strong and expand its borders. By the time Jeroboam II was done, the borders of Israel were the same as they were back in the glory days of King Solomon. It was an unprecedented accomplishment. Jeroboam II used the weakness of his enemies and the expansion of the nation’s borders to usher in prosperity like Israel had never experienced before. All of the citizens of Israel just knew that the unparalleled prosperity that was being enjoyed was the blessing of God. Jeroboam II even had his state sanctioned religion to reinforce the idea.
You really need some background information on Jeroboam’s temples in Bethel and Gilgal to help you understand the root cause of God’s judgment against Israel. Amos, a simple man from the south, ministered in the northern kingdom of Israel and visited the temple at Bethel between 760-750 B.C. Almost 200 years earlier, in 931 B.C., Jeroboam I was the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. He didn’t want his people to have to travel into the southern kingdom of Judah to visit the temple in Jerusalem. He was afraid that if his people made the long journey to Jerusalem that they would stay there, the population of the northern kingdom would decrease, and he would lose his power. What’s a king to do? Well, Jeroboam I decided to set up his own worship centers in Dan and Bethel. You can read about it in 1 Kings 12:26-33. Read along with me.
26 Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. 27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” 28 After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 29 One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. 30 And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there. 31 Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites. 32 He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made. 33 On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings. (1 Kings 12:26-33 NIV)
Jeroboam I established an alternative faith, a man made religion. The man made religion of Jeroboam I was still in operation almost 200 years later as Jeroboam II continued to use his temples in Bethel and Gilgal, and his priests, men like Amaziah that we will meet later in our study, to accomplish his purposes rather than God’s. I’ve got news for you, the man made religion of Jeroboam I is still thriving almost 3,000 years later. Oh, we use the name “God” as the object of our worship, but we have altered God’s character and will so that they reflect what we desire rather than what Scripture teaches us about God. Just as God came against Israel for their idolatrous worship, God still comes against any and every nation that forsakes Him.
So Amos made his way to Bethel, the counterfeit congregation of King Jeroboam II, and he began to gather a crowd to hear the word of the Lord. As the people gathered from near and far Amos began to speak. Read along with me beginning in Amos 1:2.
2 He said: “The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Carmel withers.” 3 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth, 4 I will send fire upon the house of Hazael that will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad. 5 I will break down the gate of Damascus; I will destroy the king who is in the Valley of Aven and the one who holds the scepter in Beth Eden. The people of Aram will go into exile to Kir,” says the LORD. 6 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Gaza, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom, 7 I will send fire upon the walls of Gaza that will consume her fortresses. 8 I will destroy the king of Ashdod and the one who holds the scepter in Ashkelon. I will turn my hand against Ekron, till the last of the Philistines is dead,” says the Sovereign LORD. (Amos 1:2-8 NIV)
All of the flyers had been handed out. The curious crowd began to gather and mingle waiting to see what the country preacher would say when he stood up to speak. There was no warm-up act. No music to stir the people’s emotions. There was no video montage to familiarize the people with the unknown preacher. He just stood up and said, “The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Carmel withers.” That was not what they expected. Strong words from an unassuming looking man who wore a straw hat instead of a priest’s mitre. They hadn’t heard anything like that in years. “The LORD roars…” They were use to Amaziah’s Sunday sermons—sermons full of stories of God’s blessings, dotted with illustrations of health, promised wealth, and assurances of continued abundance. Amos had their attention. They were sitting on the edge of their seats wondering what was coming next. Amos didn’t disappoint.
As Amos’ sermon continued he listed Israel’s enemies one-by-one—Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. Amos preceded the naming of each of these enemies by saying, “For three sins…even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.” The people loved it. God was going to drop the hammer on Israel’s enemies once and for all.
I want you to notice something about what Amos said about these foreign nations that surrounded Israel. He said God was going to judge them because of their sins. Their sins against whom? That is a great question. Was it their sins against Israel? Not all of the crimes listed are against Israel. That can’t be it. Was it sins committed against other countries? That would certainly fit, but we need to look deeper. The Hebrew word translated, “sins,” in the NIV is “???????” (pesha`) and it means, “transgressions, rebellions, or going off course.” Amos uses the word over and over again throughout his sermon. He uses the word to describe what the enemies of God’s people have done and he uses it to describe what God’s own people have done. They have all rebelled. They have all sinned. They have all gone astray. God’s people have rebelled. The foreign nations who never claimed to be God’s people have rebelled. They have harmed other people, but their rebellion is against God. There is an important lesson in this for you and me.
Let’s think about our own day. Japan is a Buddhist nation. They make no claim to the God of the Bible. 97% of Iraqis are Islamic. They say they owe their allegiance to Allah, not the God of the Bible. There are secular nations like Sweden, China, and Norway that would totally reject any idea that they are accountable to the God of the Bible. The nations that Amos names would have surely said the same things as these modern-day nations. They had their own gods, they didn’t claim any special relationship with YHWH, but Amos says their sins are first and foremost a rebellion against God. God is Lord over all the nations. In Amos 9:7 we read,
7 “Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?” declares the LORD. “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? (Amos 9:7 NIV)
The Israelites would have never put themselves in the same category as the Cushites, Philistines, or the Arameans, but God sure does. All nations of the earth are God’s nations. He calls them to bless and not to harm. He calls them to execute justice and not stand for injustice. He holds them accountable for their actions. We, as the United States of America, should take this truth very serious. We are accountable to God, not to the American people, not to the United Nations, but to God alone.
As Amos begins to talk about the nations who are being called on the carpet by God, he begins with one of Israel’s most fierce enemies—Damascus. The capital of Syria today, or Aram as it was known in Amos’ day, is Damascus. Amos says, “For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.” It was for repeated sins, for repeated rebellion, that God was going to judge the people of Damascus and Syria. The tipping point was reached when the people brutalized the people of Gilead. How did they brutalize them? In ancient times farmers would thresh grain, separate the heads of the grain from the hulls, by pulling a wooden sledge, something like the underbelly of a wagon with iron teeth, over the stalks that were laid out on the ground. Evidently this is what the people of Damascus did to the people of Gilead. They pulled the sledge over their bodies and cut them to ribbons. Brutal.
What is really interesting about this is that God had earlier used the people of Syria, or Aram, to discipline His own people. Beginning 100 years before Amos showed up in Bethel, God began to reduce the size of Israel because of their idolatry and rebellion. God’s chosen instrument to accomplish His purpose was Hazael, the king of Aram, and his son, Ben-hadad, who was his successor. God raised up King Hazael, the Aramean king, to be the rod of judgment against His own people because of their disobedience, but Hazael took it too far. Read along with me from 2 Kings 13:1-4.
1 In the twenty-third year of Joash son of Ahaziah king of Judah, Jehoahaz son of Jehu became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned seventeen years. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit, and he did not turn away from them. 3 So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel, and for a long time he kept them under the power of Hazael king of Aram and Ben-Hadad his son. 4 Then Jehoahaz sought the LORD’s favor, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel. (2 Kings 13:1-4 NIV)
Did you hear that? “The LORD listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel.” Wait a minute. Didn’t God raise up King Hazael to punish Israel? No question. God gave him power to accomplish His will, but the king used the power that was given to him and his army to brutalize God’s people. That should give our leaders and our military something to think about as we go about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq don’t you think? Some people say that in war you have to hit the enemy as hard as you can and with everything you’ve got. There are no rules in love and war. People may think this is the way to conduct a war, but God does not. God had given Hazael power, but it was not given so that he could treat people like things and brutalize them.
As Amos went through the log of nations that were under God’s judgment the people of Israel were with him. As Amos pronounced judgment on Damascus the people said, “Amen! Preach brother! Go get ’em Lord!” Then he went on to Gaza. Gaza was one of four Philistine cities named by Amos. There was Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron—all Philistine cities. Everyone in Bethel, everyone in Israel, knew how evil the Philistines were so they began to applaud when they heard what God was going to do to the hated Philistines.
Why was God going to judge the Philistines? Amos said that they had sold whole villages as slaves to the people of Edom. Gaza was a port city. It was located on the Via Maris, a trade route that went from North Africa all the way up to Damascus. The selling of people wasn’t anything personal, it was just business. J.A. Motyer, in his commentary on Amos, writes,
Where money talked loudest it was often best to learn to hold your tongue, and where the margin between solvency and bankruptcy depended every day on making a proft-margin over your nearest rival, or finding a market for what he had thought unsaleable, why, then, best to turn a blind eye and get on with it. If life is hard, business is even harder. And, as we can well imagine, nowhere was this philosophy more thoroughly known and practiced than in the emporia of the slave-trade. (J.A. Motyer. The Message of Amos. IVP Press. pg. 40.)
That’s just the way it is in business. Really? You listen to God’s Word being taught. You hear God say that we are to use “honest scales” in dealing with others, that we are not to cheat our brothers or sisters, that we are not to without justice from the poor or show partiality to the rich, and that we are to defend the widows, orphans, and aliens. You hear those messages, but you have so compartmentalized your faith that you forget about what God has taught the minute you walk into your office. You may say you believe God’s Word, but you deny it with your business practices. You say that in the marketplace, in the job market, the strong will survive. You have to gain the edge on your competition any way you can, by any means necessary. You who work in the marketplace might be taught things like this at the Harvard Business School, the Columbia Business School, or the Yale School of Law, but you will never find this teaching in God’s Word. God values people over profit.
God’s law allowed the taking of prisoners of war, but there is no mention of a war going on between Gaza and another nation. The forced slavery of innocent people was nothing but pure profit for those who enslaved them. Where was the William Wilberforce of the Philistines to stand up for the innocents? He was nowhere to be found. I’m sure there were those in Gaza who knew about what was going on. They saw the women and children being sold along with the men, but think about what it would do to the economy if the slave trade simply went away?
This past week I was thinking about the people of Gaza and their justification of what they were doing because of the economic benefit to the city and nation. Is that not one of the main arguments used by those who fought against the abolition of slavery in our own country? They, including some Christians, said that the economic impact of abolishing the slave trade would be catastrophic for the south. They tried to find references in God’s Word to justify what they were doing. They tried to prove that Africans were less than human. In 1857, Dred Scott, sued the United States government for his freedom. He was denied. The Supreme Court ruled that slaves, even freed slaves, and all their descendants, had no rights protected by the Constitution. Christian slave traders and owners saw no contradiction between their faith and their owning slaves. They may have not seen a contradiction, but God sure did. If you take a look at history it will not take you too long to recognize that people will read into God’s Word or dismiss God’s Word if it stands in the way of their benefitting economically or if following God’s Word is too costly.
Let me give you another example of what I am talking about. I read an excerpt from Erwin Lutzer’s book, When a Nation Forgets God, this past week. The excerpt is a story told by a man who lived in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Let me read his story to you.
I lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because, what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars! Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us. We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it anymore. But I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me; forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene. (Erwin Lutzer, When a Nation Forgets God.)
Can you imagine? On many Sundays you and I can hear the whistle of the train coming down the tracks just outside of our church doors. Can you imagine what it would be like if we knew those trains were filled with men, like your brothers, dads, and grandfathers? Can you imagine what it would be like if you knew the cars on that train were filled with women and children, like your sisters, moms, and grandmothers? Would we simply sing louder to try and drown out the noise of the train? I pray that if that were to ever happen that we would stop singing and do something…even if it cost us our lives.
The little church by the train tracks in Germany might have tried to distract themselves by simply singing louder, but God saw what was going on and He put a stop to Hitler’s evil inhumanity. The people of Gaza might not have done anything to stop the inhumanity of the slave trade, but God saw what was going on and He announced, through Amos, that the end of the slave trade was at hand. Those Christians in America who justified the slave trade because of economics or theology found out that God was on the side of the slaves. The LORD would roar from Zion and judgment would be carried out on the Philistines in Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekon. The Lord continues His roar even to this day.
God cares immensely how we treat others. Those in Syria and Philistia came under the judgment of God, not because they worshipped idols, but because they brutalized people. You may say, “But Mike, God doesn’t approve of our worship of false gods or idols.” I would agree with you, but I want to ask you to show me one place in these verses we have studied today where God condemned the people of Damascus or the people of Philistia for their following other gods. You won’t find it. Why? Not because it didn’t matter; it matters immensely. But there is a burning within the heart of God, a passion for His people, all of His people, and when they are brutalized, ravaged, and oppressed He will rise to their defense.
Over and over again in God’s Word you will find God calling us to care for people, to stand up for the marginalized and mistreated, and to defend the defenseless. These are those who are taken advantage of more than any other in every society.
Next week we will move on in our list of nations that came under the judgment of God, but I want us to keep in mind what was happening as Amos shared his sermon with the people of God in Israel, at Bethel. They were loving it. They were loving every minute of it. God was on the heels of their enemies and they never even thought that they might find themselves on God’s list. I pray that we don’t make that same mistake.
If a modern-day Amos were to come to Britton Christian Church and begin to share a sermon like this he might begin his list with Iran and North Korea. Nominal Christians who don’t even read God’s Word, much less seek to live it out, would stand and applaud. Those are some evil nations in our book and it is high time that they get what’s coming to them don’t you think? Hold tight. Don’t leave your seat because God’s not through with His list. We might even find the United States coming under the watchful gaze of God and we might find out that He has some issues to address with us.
I mentioned to you last week that before a nation can ever be found in rebellion against God there must first be a rebellion by its citizens. That’s you and me. Before I ever place the United States under the microscope I need to first take a long hard look in the mirror. I must pray,
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)
Let’s do that this morning. Let’s allow God to search our hearts, to examine our ways, and to show us what He is calling us to do this very morning. If you are not a Christian, a follower of Jesus, then won’t you confess your rebellion to God, ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin, and begin to walk with Him. If you are a follower of Jesus, but you have not been following too closely, won’t you confess your sin to God and ask Him to restore you to the path that leads to life?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 30, 2011