There is lots of talk over the airwaves, in corner coffee shops, corporate Board rooms, and neighborhood living rooms. The topic of conversation is, “Is there any hope for America?” The stream of conversation varies depending on the company you keep, but regardless of the crowd, there is real concern for the future of our nation. Economists worry because of the incredible debt each of us as Americans are carrying on our backs. Some educators are wringing their hands because of the continuing failure of our educational system. Politicians and political party proponents worry that the other party is running us into the ditch. Those who keep an eye on our judicial system are quick to point out a growing corruption in the halls of justice. It seems like Lady Justice isn’t blind after all. She sees only what she wants to see. Someone once said, “In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.” Even the Church, called to be the visible representation of Jesus in the world today, has come under the scrutiny of watchful eyes and been found sorely lacking. There are scandals that are exposed on a weekly basis, there’s compromising God’s Word to try and appease our culture, and a grow-at-any-cost mentality invading our churches. While the spotlight is shining bright upon the Church exposing our hypocrisy, the Church responds by pointing out the moral decline of our nation. Is there any wonder why so many are wondering out loud if there is any hope for our nation?
Ours is not the first nation that has found itself on the decline. Our people are not the first to have turned their back on God. What are God’s people to do at a time like this? How are we to respond? Better yet, how are we, the followers of Jesus, responding to these perilous times that are taking place in our nation right now? Well, the responses are varied. Some casual Christians have too much to do to give much thought to what is going on. Others see the end in sight. They see parallels between our nation and other nations that have gone before us that once were great, but who met their end in humiliation and judgment. Dr. John MacArthur is one of my favorite preachers. In his sermon on Isaiah 6, Dr. MacArthur sees some similarities between the fall of the nation of Israel and the decline of our nation. Dr. MacArthur writes,
It’s time, I think, for us to begin to sing the funeral song…for our own nation, because we are guilty of the very same sins. Grasping materialism, drunken pleasure seeking, defiant sinfulness, moral perversion, arrogant conceit, and corrupt leadership mark our own nation. They are as thoroughly endemic and systemic in the life of America as ever they could’ve been in the life of Israel. And we, too, have had immense spiritual privilege, though we are not a covenant people, though we have not been given our land, as it were, by divine covenant and divine mandate. We have, nonetheless, had great foundations built on the Christian faith from which we have turned. We had in the early years of this nation a commitment to the Word of God. We have abandoned that with alacrity, with eagerness. We want nothing to do with God. We don’t want Him intruding into our lives. And we, therefore, as Israel of old, stand under God’s punishment. (MacArthur, John. Warning to a Nation in Crisis. 2010)
I happen to agree with Dr. MacArthur that the path we have been following is leading to the end if we do not turn around, repent of our sins, and cry out to God for forgiveness and restoration.
There are still others, followers of Jesus, who seem to be pleading with God for His judgment to fall on those godless reprobates who have corrupted our society, mocked the holy name of God, and deserve the judgment of God. In these people’s minds the sooner God wipes them out the better off we will all be. I’ve been thinking about this mindset as I’ve been studying Amos 7 this past week. I believe that if we will spend time trying to understand Amos 7 that we will all have a better understanding of how we should respond to what is happening in our nation. Let’s get started by reading this powerful chapter.
1 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested and just as the second crop was coming up. 2 When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” 3 So the LORD relented. “This will not happen,” the LORD said. 4 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: The Sovereign LORD was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land. 5 Then I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” 6 So the LORD relented. “This will not happen either,” the Sovereign LORD said. 7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. 9 “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.” 10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying: “‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.'” 12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 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.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the LORD. You say, “‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac.’ 17 “Therefore this is what the LORD says: “‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword. Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country. And Israel will certainly go into exile, away from their native land.'” (Amos 7:1-17 NIV)
Amos 7 begins a new section of Amos’ message to the people of the Northern Kingdom which runs all the way to Amos 9:10. In this section of Amos we find God showing Amos five visions of the judgment that He has planned for His people. We will cover the first two of those visions this morning. Three times in Amos 7 we read the phrase, “This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me:” (Amos 7:1; 4; 7) God showed Amos what he wanted him to see concerning the judgment that He had planned for the people of the Northern Kingdom. What did Amos see? Well, we need to read Amos 7:1-2 to learn the answer to that question.
1 …He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested and just as the second crop was coming up. 2 When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” (Amos 7:1-2 NIV)
This is a very troubling verse for those who cling to their belief that God has nothing to do with the hard times that we experience in life. Here, in Amos 7, we see that God is “preparing swarms of locusts” to come in and decimate the most important crop for the people of the land. The Hebrew word for “preparing” is “?????” (yatsar) and it means, “to form, fashion, or to create.” The same word is used in Genesis 2:7 where God made man. Genesis 2:7 says,
7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 NIV)
God created us and God also showed Amos a vision of His creating swarms of locusts for the purpose of judgment. Not only did Amos see a vision of God preparing swarms of locusts, but God showed Amos the timing of the locust’s descent upon the Northern Kingdom. It was after the King’s harvest and just before the time of the second harvest. The “King’s share” was the first harvest, which was basically a tax paid by the farmers. The “second crop” was the crop that grew after the spring rains of March and April. This would be the food that would support the families throughout the year. If locusts destroyed the “second crop” then the farmers and their families would starve. These locusts were not going to destroy just the farmer’s crops, but they were stripping the land clean of all vegetation. What the Lord allowed Amos to see was the absolute devastation of the land of the Northern Kingdom.
What is really interesting is that this vision echoes something that God had done earlier, in Egypt. Turn with me to Exodus 10:12 and let’s read together.
12 And the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts will swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields, everything left by the hail.” (Exodus 10:12 NIV)
God was going to punish His people just like He had punished the Egyptians before He led His people out of Egypt. This vision was overwhelming to Amos. We read in Amos 7:2,
2 When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” (Amos 7:-2 NIV)
Amos pleads with God. Did you hear that? Amos pleads with God. He raised his voice and cried out, “Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” God responded to Amos’ plea. We read in Amos 7:3, 3 So the LORD relented. “This will not happen,” the LORD said. (Amos 7:3 NIV)
In the second vision that God showed Amos the judgment is by fire. The fire was so intense that it dried up the sea as well as devoured the land. Read Amos 7:4-6 with me.
4 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: The Sovereign LORD was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land. 5 Then I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” 6 So the LORD relented. “This will not happen either,” the Sovereign LORD said. (Amos 7:4-6 NIV)
Amos responds to the vision he had just seen in the same way that he responded to the vision of the devouring locusts. Amos cries out, “Sovereign Lord, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” Once again, God decides not to do what He had planned. Now, I have to tell you, the nation is still going to come under the judgment of God because they refuse to turn back to Him, but the lesson I want us to focus on this morning is Amos’ love and compassion for people who could care less about him. They wanted to be rid of Amos. Let me show you what I’m talking about. If you will take a look at Amos 7:10-13 with me.
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying: “‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.'” 12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.” (Amos 7:10-13 NIV)
Amaziah was the king’s priest in the king’s sanctuary doing the king’s business. Amos was God’s man raised up to speak a word from the Lord. Amos left his home, he left his occupation, to go where the Lord told him to go and say what the Lord told him to say, but he was not wanted and the message was not welcome. Why would Amos appeal to God on the behalf of those hard-headed folks in the Northern Kingdom? Before we get an answer to that question let me make it known that Amos was not the first man of God who would intercede for those the Lord was getting ready to judge.
I want you to turn with me to Genesis 18:20-25. While you are turning there let me give you a little background on the Scripture. God blessed Abraham and his nephew, Lot, as they followed God’s lead and left their homeland. They were so blessed that their herds became too big for them to go together. Abraham gave Lot his choice of the land and Lot chose the fertile plain of the Jordan. He made his home in Sodom. Long story short, Sodom and Gomorrah were corrupt, ungodly places filled with people who had no regard for the Lord. The Lord determined that He would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Let’s read together beginning in Genesis 18:20.
20 Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” 22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:20-25 NIV)
Abraham continued to intercede and God said that if 50 righteous people could be found then the cities would not be destroyed. Abraham knew the Lord wouldn’t find 50 righteous people in all of Sodom and Gomorrah so he continued to intercede: “What if there are only 45? How about 30? Or maybe 20? What if you can find 10 righteous people? Wouldn’t you spare the cities if you could find 10 righteous people?” The Lord said that if 10 righteous people could be found then He would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but 10 righteous people couldn’t be found—Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.
Let me show you one more example. If you would turn with me to 1 Samuel 12:19-23. When Samuel was old and his life was quickly fading away he spoke to the people of God. Samuel reminded them of the great things the Lord had done on their behalf and how they had turned away from Him time and time again. Samuel asked the Lord to make it rain even though it was the dry season. This was to be proof from God that their asking for a king to serve over them was an evil thing. Sure enough, it began to rain and the people were terrified. Then, we read in 1 Samuel 12:19-23.
19 The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.” 20 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own. 23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. (1 Samuel 12:19-23 NIV)
Wow! Samuel’s words humble me like I can’t even begin to describe to you. Samuel had tried to speak some sense to the people when they asked for a king, but they wouldn’t listen. Now, they are asking Samuel to intercede for them. I’m sure glad they went to Samuel instead of me because I might have said, “You have got to be kidding me right?! I tried to tell you knuckleheads, but you wouldn’t listen. Pray for you? The time for prayer is long past; you better put your crash helmets on because God’s judgment is coming!” How different was Samuel’s response to what most of us would have answered to the desperate cries of the people? Samuel says, “…far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.” “Oh God, give me a heart like Samuel. Give me an undivided heart that is wholly committed to praying for those who have forsaken You, those who have abandoned You, those who have refused to bend their knee and hand over their hearts to You O God.” Is this your prayer today?
We live in a nation that is sick. We live among people who are broken, defiant, angry, twisted in their thinking, depressed, and despondent. We live among people who are violent, greedy, unapologetically promiscuous, willing to steal from their own mothers, and corrupt to the core of their soul. We live among those who know God, or rather, know about God. Some go to church and even attend Bible study, but you will find no evidence of Jesus’ life in them outside of their time within the four walls with a steeple. Others were raised in Christian homes, they use to read their Bible and sing the songs of faith, but that which glitters caught their eye and they turned their hearts away from the Lord. We live among people are addicted: Drugs, sex, alcohol, money, fame, adrenaline, the list goes on and on. They could care less about anything other than their next buzz and they will do anything to get it. Then there are those who want absolutely nothing to do with God. They want to live their own lives how they want to live them and they are going for it. We live among those who shake their fist in the face of God and think that religious people are the most weak humans on the face of the earth.
What should be our response to these folks? How should the Body of Christ respond? Should we pray for the Lord to judge them swiftly and as harshly as possible? Should we ridicule them, belittle and berate them, and let them know that they are nothing more than a mess? That is the approach of Jonah. You remember Jonah don’t you? He hated the Ninevites. When God announced that He was going to judge the Ninevites because of their sin, Jonah jumped up and down, gave it a fist pump, and could not have been happier. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and announce the coming judgment. Jonah eventually made his way to Nineveh announcing the coming judgment, the Ninevites repented, and God forgave them. What a story! Jonah wasn’t happy. In Jonah 4:1-4 we read.
1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?” (Jonah 4:1-4 NIV)
Jonah might have been happy about the possibility of the destruction of the wicked people of Nineveh, but judgment wasn’t God’s desire. God takes no delight in punishing. He takes no delight in the death of the wicked. In Ezekiel 18:23 we read,
23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:23 NIV)
God takes no delight in the death of the wicked and neither should we. There is this beautiful verse in 2 Peter that I read long, long ago. It speaks so clearly to the love of God for those have no interest in Him whatsoever and for those who are defiantly living their life in rebellion to God. Peter writes,
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
I asked this question earlier, “Why would Amos appeal to God on the behalf of those hard-headed folks in the Northern Kingdom?” I hope that as we have gone through this study that the answer has emerged for you. The answer is this: If we are going to walk in obedience to God’s call on our lives, if we are going to allow Christ to live in and through us, then we have no other option but to put down our fingers of ridicule and fall on our faces in intercession for the grace of God to be shed on our nation and for the hearts of the rebellious to be changed.
Those that I have been describing as rebellious, those like the people of the Northern Kingdom, like those of Nineveh, they are like some of us seated in this sanctuary this very morning. God has brought you here instead of condemning you because He desires that you would turn from your ways and live in the fullness of His grace and mercy. Won’t you recognize your need to turn from your ways and cry out to the Father this morning? He takes no delight in your demise, but He will rejoice over you with songs of deliverance if you will just turn to Him. Won’t you do that now?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 15, 2011