This is our eleventh study in the little prophesy of Amos. When we were winding down our study of Romans I began praying about what book of the Bible I would study next. I was reading and praying, reading and praying, and waiting. I knew that eventually, if I would continue to read, pray, and wait…it would come. How did “it” come? Well, God works in all kinds of ways. I was talking to my friend, David Darnell, on the phone one day when I asked him a question about the prophet Hosea. David said, “You need to preach through the book of Amos.” I had read Amos before. Didn’t get much out of it to be honest, but I went back and read it again. Slowly. I began to study Amos, dig beneath the surface, study the history, and my heart became hungry to learn more and more and more. I’m sharing this with you to encourage you to never, ever pass over any book of the Bible, or simply skim through it and say, “Why is that book in the Bible?” Take your time. Slow down. Ask questions. Don’t just read it, study God’s Word.
We’ve been working through this study for about three months now and I have to tell you that each week I am simply amazed at the relevance of each lesson for our day. Today’s study is no different. We live in a day where if things are going good for me then it’s all good. We live in a day where as long as there is calm and plenty in my house, for those I love, then it’s all good. A serious study of Amos 6 will cause us to rethink this simple American cliché, “It’s all good!” Let’s read our chapter and you will see what I mean.
1 Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come! 2 Go to Calneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? 3 You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror. 4 You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. 5 You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. 6 You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. 7 Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end. 8 The Sovereign LORD has sworn by himself–the LORD God Almighty declares: “I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it.” 9 If ten men are left in one house, they too will die. 10 And if a relative who is to burn the bodies comes to carry them out of the house and asks anyone still hiding there, “Is anyone with you?” and he says, “No,” then he will say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the LORD.” 11 For the LORD has given the command, and he will smash the great house into pieces and the small house into bits. 12 Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow there with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness– 13 you who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar and say, “Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?” 14 For the LORD God Almighty declares, “I will stir up a nation against you, O house of Israel, that will oppress you all the way from Lebo Hamath to the valley of the Arabah.” (Amos 6:1-14 NIV)
In Amos 6:1-6 there is a stark contrast drawn by Amos. The lifestyles of those he was addressing would have been captured on film for future episodes of MTV Cribs, or a generation ago, they would have made it on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” They were living large! Put another way, “It’s all good!” for the elite of the northern kingdom. Just look at how good things were going for these folks.
• They were secure, invincible in their own eyes. Amos says, “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria…” (Amos 6:1) They didn’t think there was a nation in the world that could threaten their peace and security.
• Their self-esteem was through the roof! Amos says, “…you notable men from the foremost nation…” (Amos 6:1) God doesn’t find them notable, but in their own eyes they were larger than life. Later in this chapter God says that He abhors the pride of these people.
• They had more money than they knew what to do with. Amos says, “You lie on beds of inlaid ivory…” “You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.” (Amos 6:4) You need to know that this was not the typical meal of an Israelite. Most Israelites ate fruits, grains, and vegetables. Any kind of meat would be a delicacy to most Israelites, yet these folks were eating the equivalent of Kobe beef for every meal.
• They were having fun, lots of fun. Amos says, “You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.” (Amos 6:5) David played on his harp and sang the praises of God, but these folks were playing not for the glory and praise of God, but for their own entertainment.
• They were partying like there was no tomorrow. Amos says, “You drink wine by the bowlful…” (Amos 6:6) Did you notice? Amos didn’t say they were having a glass of wine; these folks were drinking wine by the bowl-full.
• Last of all, they had so much time and money on their hands that they became consumed with themselves. Amos says that they used the “finest lotions.” (Amos 6:6) They spared no expense in caring for themselves. They frequented the finest spas and had their bodies lathered with the finest oils, exotically scented and perfumed.
Some of the people in the northern kingdom had it made. If you would have been there and asked them, “How’s it going?” They would have given you the “thumbs up” and said, “It’s all good!”
I’ve thought long and hard about this during the week as I’ve been studying Amos 6. These verses and the lifestyles of the people have stirred questions in my heart and mind about my lifestyle. “How much is enough? Should I move out of my house and buy a house that is much smaller? Should I sell my car and truck and buy only one vehicle for us to use? Should I give all of my money to ministries that help the poor and oppressed, except that which I need to meet the basic needs of my family? Should I never take another vacation? Should I never take my family out to eat at restaurants because even cheap restaurants are far more expensive than eating at home? Should I never “waste” my money by going to concerts, ball games, or movies? Should I buy all of my clothes at garage sales?” I could go on and on sharing with you the questions I have asked of myself during this past week. Before you answer any of the questions I have just shared with you, let me say that there are no easy answers to any of these questions. Neither are there answers that are a one-size-fits-all for everyone. I believe with all of my heart that all of us need to constantly ask ourselves, and pray, about these questions, as well as others. Let me also point out to you that these questions are not questions that only need to be asked by those who are wealthy. There are many folks who are not wealthy, but they are consumed with having the things that say to those around them that they are wealthy. Money is not the problem, we are.
The problem of the people of the northern kingdom was twofold: One, they saw their wealth as a means to lavish themselves with everything they could ever want in life. When they were discouraged or depressed they bought another bowl-full of expensive wine instead of crying out to God. If their hearts were troubled they took another trip to the spa where they could have Calgon take them away. Their money enabled them to numb themselves to their most urgent need, a living, vibrant relationship, and dependence, on God.
I read this past week where Charlie Sheen was in Chicago on his “Torpedo of Truth Tour.” Someone from the audience asked Charlie, “Why did you spend all of that money on prostitutes?” Charlie said, “I had millions to blow. I ran out of things to buy.” Charlie has issues, but making $2 million a week has enabled him to avoid his issues. He has numbed himself to his most urgent need.
I read the foreword to Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, this past week. In the foreword he contrasts the ideology of George Orwell’s book, 1984, with Aldous Huxley’s book, Brave New World. Listen to this.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right. (Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death. Penguin Books, New York, New York. 1986)
Long before Aldous Huxley ever wrote, Brave New World, the people of the northern kingdom were ruining themselves and their nation with what they loved.
The second problem I see with the people of the northern kingdom and their money is that it desensitized them to the larger community. They lived in a section of the city with their friends, friends who had it made as well. They read the same books for their weekly “Book Club” meetings, listened to the same music that all of their cultured, aristocratic friends listened to, frequented the same upscale restaurants where a “tunic and tie” were always required, and used the same day labor to do the work they would never be caught doing. Their neighborhood was pristine so why wouldn’t they be led to believe that every other neighborhood was just like theirs? All of their friends were of the same slice of life that they were from and they never ventured outside of their socio-economic bubble. Their money insulated them and isolated them from the larger community.
Well, I mentioned to you at the beginning of this study that Amos drew a stark contrast between the good life of his audience and the reality that God saw present in the nation. The contrast that I was speaking about earlier is found at the end of the description of just how good the people thought their life was. Amos says, 6 “…but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.” I want to take just a minute and give you a little insight into what the people of Bethel, Gilgal, and all of those in the northern kingdom should have been doing instead of basking in their luxurious lifestyles.
Amos says, “…but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.” “Joseph” is used to describe the area of land that was given to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the area where, in Amos’ day, the temples of Bethel and Gilgal sat, the northern kingdom. Amos says the nation is “ruined.” The word for “ruined” in Hebrew is “??????” (sheber) and it means, “breaking, fractured, crushing, ruin, or shattering.” The word is used in 206 verses in the Hebrew Bible, but for the sake of time, I want to show you how it is used in Jeremiah. Listen to what God says in Jeremiah 6:13-14.
13 “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. 14 They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:13-14 NIV)
Jeremiah uses the same word although it is translated as “crushed,” in this instance. Let me read to you from Jeremiah 8:21-22.
21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. 22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? (Jeremiah 8:21-22 NIV)
In Jeremiah 14:17 we read where God tells Jeremiah to deliver a message to His people.
17 “Speak this word to them: ” ‘Let my eyes overflow with tears night and day without ceasing; for my virgin daughter–my people– has suffered a grievous wound, a crushing blow. (Jeremiah 14:17 NIV)
In Jeremiah 30:12, the LORD says that His people’s wound is incurable. There is no hope of recovery. Listen in.
12 “This is what the LORD says: ” ‘Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing. (Jeremiah 30:12 NIV)
Just three verses later, in Jeremiah 30:15, God points out to His people that their sins have brought about the affliction they were suffering.
15 Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure? Because of your great guilt and many sins I have done these things to you. (Jeremiah 30:15 NIV)
I hope that all of these verses help to show you just how dire the situation was in the northern kingdom. Can you see how, with the state of affairs looking so grim, it was totally inappropriate for those with the power to live with no concern for everyone else in their community? The truth of the matter is that they were not simply uninformed or ignorant of the plight of others, they were the ones crushing those with no power. Amos says, in verse 12, “But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness…” (Amos 6:12 NIV)
You may ask, “Well, what should they have been doing instead?” That is a great question and we can find the answer to that question in verse 6 where Amos says, 6 “…but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.” The Hebrew word for “grieve” is the word, “?????” (chalah) and it means, “to be or become weak, to be sick, or to become grieved.” The same word is used many times in the Hebrew Bible, but there is one place in Psalm 35:13-14 that I want to show you. In this Psalm, David was disturbed because of how his friends were treating him. Listen to how David had responded to them when they were going through their trials.
13 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, 14 I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother. I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother. (Psalm 35:13-14 NIV)
Now that is a beautiful picture of what it means to “weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) The people of the northern kingdom should have been grieving with those who were being robbed of justice in the court system. The people of the northern kingdom should have used at least some of their money and time to help those who were struggling just to survive. They should have stood with those who had no power rather than using them to gain even more power. They should not have been secluding themselves, insulating themselves, from the problems of those around them. They should have been seeking justice for all people; seeking righteousness with all people.
I know that there had to be people in the community who saw what was going on and knew that it shouldn’t be going on, but evidently there was nobody who was bold enough to stand up until Amos arrived. Amos let the people know that God was taking notes and those who thought they were “notable,” those who felt that they were the grand prize, the head of the class, they would be the first ones to be judged and go into exile. Amos writes,
7 Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end. (Amos 6:7 NIV)
Does the teaching of the prophet Amos have relevance for our own day? You better believe it does. Those of us who “have” should intentionally get involved with those who do not. Those of us who learn about some injustice taking place in someone’s life should involve ourselves in helping them gain justice. I have a friend who has a friend who is looking at doing many years in jail for something that you or I would never serve a day for, if we had a really good lawyer. This man has no money and therefore he is vulnerable. My friend has hired a good lawyer to help this man. He is paying for the lawyer out of his own money. If Amos were here he would stand in honor of my friend who believes that justice is for all, not just for those who can afford a good lawyer. This is what Jesus calls us to do—we are to stand with those who are powerless. Failure to do so will bring about judgment on a nation today just as it did for the nation of Israel. The Jewish Bible teacher, Shalom Paul, writes,
While devoting themselves to all their creature comforts of personal pleasures and delights—banqueting and imbibing, music making and cosmetic ointments—they nevertheless remain totally indifferent, apathetic, and oblivious to the perilous situation of Israel. …Amos’ contention is that this type of living, with its concomitant lack of care and concern for the rest of the people, is the very beginning and cause of the devastation and ruin of Joseph in Israel. (Paul, Shalom. Amos: A Commentary on the Book of Amos. 1991. pg. 209)
I am afraid for our nation. Every time we stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance we say, “with liberty and justice for all.” Really? We should either change the Pledge of Allegiance or change our ways. Those in the northern kingdom were complacent; they were living a life of ease with no concern for others. There are many of Jesus’ followers in the United States of America who are complacent as well. There is an “ease” or a “peace” that we should be seeking, but it is not the peace and security that comes from possessions and power. Jesus said,
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29 NIV)
Jesus does more than promise us rest, He is our rest. The rest and peace that He instills in our hearts is the only rest and peace that will endure regardless of what you are experiencing. We will either find our security and seek our rest in Jesus or we will spend our entire lives trying to find that elusive something to give us the peace and security that we are all longing for in life. Proverbs 1:32-33 says,
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; 33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” (Proverbs 1:32-33 NIV)
When we are secure in the rest that Jesus gives us then we can be at ease with the twists and turns, ups and downs, and trials and triumphs that we will go through in life, but we will never be at rest with the injustice and pain of others. Jesus will so thoroughly change our hearts that we have no choice but to get involved in the lives of those who are hurting, those who are being trampled and taken advantage of by others. Let me assure you, this will never happen, not in any sustainable way, outside of a living, vibrant relationship with Jesus. Won’t you invite Him into your heart today?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 10, 2011