The prophet Amos arrived in Bethel, at the king’s temple, and began his sermon. It was not a “feel good” sermon although it probably did make the people of Israel feel really good as they heard about the judgment that God had planned for Israel’s enemies. They nodded their heads when they heard that God was going to deal with Damascus. They said “Amen!” when they heard Amos speak about the judgment that was going to bring Gaza down. They clapped enthusiastically when they heard that Tyre would never be free to act tyrannical again. The crowd rose to their feet, stuck out their chests, and applauded like a bunch of beer guzzling, nacho-eating, college football fans as Amos made his way through the list of Edom, Ammon, and Moab and the fate that would befall them all. What they didn’t realize was that God really had His sights set on His own people. The judgment of God was fixing to fall like an avalanche on Judah and Israel. More than 700 years after the ink had dried on Amos’ sermon, Jesus said,
48 …From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48 NIV)
God had blessed Judah and Israel with every conceivable blessing and yet, with all that they had been given, they had squandered it all and become just like the nations that surrounded them.
After Amos had chronicled the sins of the nations that surrounded God’s people in Judah and Israel, he began to speak of the sins of God’s own people. Let’s read Amos 2:4-16 so that we can get a picture of what had been going on with the people of Judah and Israel.
4 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. 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, 5 I will send fire upon Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.” 6 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. 7 They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. 8 They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines. 9 “I destroyed the Amorite before them, though he was tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks. I destroyed his fruit above and his roots below. 10 “I brought you up out of Egypt, and I led you forty years in the desert to give you the land of the Amorites. 11 I also raised up prophets from among your sons and Nazirites from among your young men. Is this not true, people of Israel?” declares the LORD. 12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy. 13 “Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain. 14 The swift will not escape, the strong will not muster their strength, and the warrior will not save his life. 15 The archer will not stand his ground, the fleet-footed soldier will not get away, and the horseman will not save his life. 16 Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,” declares the LORD. (Amos 2:4-16 NIV)
The smugness and satisfaction written on the faces of the people of Bethel was suddenly silenced as a collective “Uh oh…” filled the congregation. “Uh oh!” you know the meaning of the expression don’t you? Sure you do. Remember the first time you ever rode a rollercoaster and your heart raced as the cars slowly climbed the tracks to the top of the first hill? Just as it began to inch its way over the edge you looked down, you knew it wasn’t going to be good, and you said, “Uh oh!” as you felt like you were in a free fall. I have a vivid memory of an “Uh oh” moment from my past. I was a senior in high school. On the last day of class some kids had planned a huge food fight in the school cafeteria. I didn’t think it was going to happen, but right in the middle of lunch someone yelled, “Food fight!” and it was on. I didn’t throw anything. No really, I didn’t throw anything…until someone hit me with some mashed potatoes. What happened after that I would rather not discuss.
Teachers were scrambling, the Principal was yelling, and it was utter chaos. I slipped out of the cafeteria, went to the restroom to dispose of all of the evidence I could find on my clothes and in my hair, and headed to class. As the afternoon went on I heard that some of my friends had been called to the office. I wondered if I would be next to get the call. I went from one class to the next and no call. The end of the day was just around the corner. I let out a sigh of relief. As the final bell rang I headed to the parking lot, got in my car, and headed home. When I got home my dad was waiting on me. The principal had called my house. My dad is a big man. When I saw the look on his face I said, you know what I said don’t you? I said, “Uh oh!” I knew it was not going to be good.
Wikipedia defines “Uh oh” this way. “Uh-oh is a ubiquitous interjection or expression of dismay in the English language, usually said in anticipation of something bad about to happen, with the sly admittance of guilt that one may have caused something bad to happen, or perceiving that something bad has already happened.” I honestly didn’t need to look it up. I know what the expression means. I know what an “Uh oh” moment feels like. You do too. And so did the people of Judah and Israel.
The people of Bethel were still sitting pretty smugly in their seats when Amos turned the spotlight on Judah. There was no love lost between the people of Judah and the people of Israel. The people of the northern kingdom of Israel simply tolerated the people of the southern kingdom of Judah. Amos said,
4 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. 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, 5 I will send fire upon Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.” (Amos 2:4-5 NIV)
The judgment of God was coming upon God’s own people because, as Amos says, “They rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods…” If you will remember, God’s judgment upon the six nations that surrounded Judah and Israel had nothing to do with their worship of idols or their rejection of the law of the LORD. They didn’t have the law in the same way that the people of Judah and Israel had the law. What they did have was the “law” written upon their hearts. J. A. Motyer writes about the six pagan nations that were listed before Amos began denouncing the people of Judah and Israel,
They have one negative common denominator: none of them had ever received any special revelation of God or of His law; He had never sent prophets to them; there was no Moses in their historical past; the voice of God had never sounded in the ears of their founding-fathers. Yet Amos presents them as nations under judgment. They were without special revelation but not without moral responsibility; they were without direct knowledge of God but not without accountability to God; they were without the law written upon tables of stone but not without the law written upon their conscience. (J.A. Motyer. The Message of Amos. Inter Varsity Press, Downer’s Grove, IL. 1974. pg. 36-37.)
The pagan nations called on the carpet by God were not provided with the special revelation of God, but this could not be said for the people of Judah or Israel. Yet with all that God had provided for His people they had rejected His law, they had turned away from His decrees, and they had been led away from God by idols, the idols their fathers had followed. As a result of their ceaseless disobedience God said that He would burn Jerusalem to the ground. The message to God’s people: “If you want to live like the pagan nations who reject Me, then you will suffer the same end as the pagan nations.” What is really interesting is that over 150 years after Amos preached this message; Nebuchadnezzar marched into Jerusalem and burned every significant building to the ground, including the king’s palace and the temple of the Lord. Turn to 2 Kings 25:8-10 with me and let’s read the account of the fulfillment of God’s judgment on His people.
8 On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. 9 He set fire to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. 10 The whole Babylonian army, under the commander of the imperial guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. (2 Kings 25:8-10 NIV)
When you read 2 Kings 25 with the knowledge of Amos’ pronouncement of judgment on Jerusalem and the southern kingdom then you know that Jerusalem didn’t fall, apart from God’s watchful gaze. God used Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the “holy city.” That’s a tough pill for many to swallow, but have we not read over and over again throughout Scripture that God doesn’t play favorites? I would go a step further. God holds those who have been blessed the most with an even greater accountability than others. “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48)
That should give us, those of us who live in the United States, something to think about. Is there any nation in modern history that has been lavished with God’s blessings like the United States? We gather here this morning to study God’s Word with no fear of losing our freedom, or our lives, because of our commitment to Jesus while we have brothers and sisters around the world who daily risk their lives to gather for worship. Over 3 billion people in our world live on less than $2.50 a day. We spend more than that on coffee each day. Many Christians around the world do not have their own Bibles. Each of us has multiple copies of God’s Word, yet for many of us, they are rarely if ever opened. Today, 26,000 kids will die because of a lack of clean water or a preventable disease. We have enough water to fill swimming pools and water our yards. We have churches on every corner, but if you and I were to get honest, what difference are they making? Do Christians in America really live any differently than our unbelieving friends? Don’t we use the time God has given to us to do the same things they do? Don’t we spend the money that God has given to us on the same things that they do? How are you and I any different than the unbelieving world around us?
The people of Judah went to the church. They had the temple of God sitting in Jerusalem and it was filled when the doors were opened, but God said He despised what they were doing in His Name. In Amos 5 we read,
21 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24 NIV)
Never convince yourself that because you go to church you are “good” with God. Never convince yourself that because you go to Bible study you are “good” with God. Should we do those things? Yes. Absolutely. Our study should lead to a changed life. We should grow increasingly more like Christ and less like the world around us. That leads me to Amos’ indictment against Israel. In Amos 2:6 he is no longer talking about others, but he is speaking directly to those who had gathered to hear him preach. He says,
6 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. 7 They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. 8 They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines. (Amos 2:6-8 NIV)
Israel had also rejected the law of God, they had rejected His guidance and counsel, and followed other gods. As a result, look what they had done. They had mistreated the poor, denied justice to the oppressed, used others to increase their own wealth, and committed sexual immorality. What was Israel doing? They were doing exactly the same things as their pagan neighbors. They had their sights set on building their own little kingdoms and they would stop at nothing to do it. They used people in any and every way possible for their own advantage. God would not stand for it any longer. They had been warned over and over again, but the warnings were over and the time of judgment had come. God had said, “Do not exploit the poor…” They were exploiting the poor. They viewed a few pieces of silver or a pair of sandals as more valuable than the poor in their community. In Exodus 22:25-27 we read,
25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, 27 because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate. (Exodus 22:25-27 NIV)
The wealthy and powerful in Israel weren’t making “no interest loans” to the poor to try and help them, they were taking their neighbors garments as collateral. In Amos we find that those who took their neighbors garments as a pledge were lying down on them at night while they were doing their carousing. God would stand for it no longer.
If there is anything I have learned in all of the years I’ve studied God’s Word it is this: I had better see the poor, the weak, the widow and orphan, and the needy as God sees them. The poor are the most vulnerable, the most often mistreated and used in our society and every society. The poor are easy prey because who are they going to get to defend them when they are done wrong? What powerful attorney will they hire to plead their case? Who will they get to defend them? Well, Proverbs 22:22-23 says it best.
22 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, 23 for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them. (Proverbs 22:22-23 NIV)
In our society we are no different than those who were present in Amos’ day. For most of us, we look at the poor as being a product of their own choosing, as being lazy, or simply a source of cheap labor when we need them. We are willing to take advantage of them if it will benefit us. I have a friend who mows yards and he has told me story after story of how wealthy people are hardest for him to work for because of how stingy they are with their money. I know waiters and waitresses who say that Sunday is their worst day to work because Christians are the worst “tippers” of all. Proverbs 14:31 says,
31 He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31 NIV)
The Israelites were not only being judged for their mistreatment of the poor, but they were being judged for their sexual immorality as well. Amos writes, “Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.” In the Hebrew text the word, “same,” is not present. The father and son are chasing after the young girls. They are womanizers. Some say that the father and son are going to the temple of Baal where there were female prostitutes, “holy women,” and they were engaging in their immorality with these young women. Regardless of whether the young girls were temple prostitutes or simply “hook ups,” God says that His men were profaning, polluting, and defiling His name.
Is this not what we are still doing today? Sexual immorality among the followers of Jesus is not that much different than sexual immorality among non believers. Sexual infidelity is rampant. Christian singles say that remaining sexually pure, being abstinent, before they are married is just too much to ask. Pornography among pastors and lay people alike has destroyed marriages, families, and our witness to an unbelieving society. Most importantly, it is defiling the name of our God. Case in point. Just this week, New York Congressman, Chris Lee, resigned his seat in Congress because he was looking for love in all the wrong places. Chris Lee is married. He has a son. He is a “family values, Christian, Republican.” Really? God has a different description. He has profaned the name of God. He has polluted the name of God in the eyes of an unbelieving society that watches you and me to formulate their understanding of God. Paul wrote to the people of Thessalonica and warned them of this kind of behavior.
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 NIV)
“God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” This was God’s call upon the lives of His people in Amos’ day, it was the call upon the lives of His people in Paul’s day, and it remains His call upon our lives today. We live in a sexually charged, sexually promiscuous, sexually perverse society, but we are not to conform to the ways of those around us—we are to reflect the holiness and purity of our God.
In verses 9-12, Amos points out why the sins of the people of Judah and Israel are so much worse than the sins of the other nations. Read along with me.
9 “I destroyed the Amorite before them, though he was tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks. I destroyed his fruit above and his roots below. 10 “I brought you up out of Egypt, and I led you forty years in the desert to give you the land of the Amorites. 11 I also raised up prophets from among your sons and Nazirites from among your young men. Is this not true, people of Israel?” declares the LORD. 12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy. (Amos 2:9-12 NIV)
The Amorites occupied the land before the people of God ever arrived there. As a matter of fact, in Genesis 15, God told Abram what the future would look like. He said that Abram’s descendants would go into slavery, but then God would deliver them, but not until the “sin of the Amorites” reached its full measure. God was patient with the Amorites. He gave them at least 430 years to repent of their sins, but they would not. God judged the Amorites and cleared the way for His people to live in the land free from the ungodly influence of the Amorites.
Once the Amorites had exhausted the patience of God, God freed the Hebrew slaves, and led them to the Promised Land. Once in the Promised Land, God raised up prophets and Nazirites to remind them of God’s will and to help keep them on track. Yet, God’s people took for granted all of His many blessings, they rejected His counsel, and killed His prophets. They maintained a semblance of religion, but they did not know God. They said they were God’s people, but the truth is that they had rejected God and now God was rejecting them.
Oh, my friends, we desperately need to hear this message. This message should drive us to our knees in repentance. We display a thin veneer of faith. We talk a good game. We go to church at least two Sundays out of four, when there is nothing more interesting being offered on television or in our community. We give some money to good causes, when we have some money left over after we have indulged ourselves. Our faith is a thin veneer which only covers our hardened hearts. When God’s will conflicts with what we want then we’ve figured out ways to justify our refusal to deny ourselves and follow God’s lead.
What we have in our society is an ever-growing group of people who are followers of Jesus in name only. They say they are followers of Jesus, but there is no evidence to back up their claims. If you doubt what I am saying then I want to challenge you to answer these questions: Is what we do more in line with the lifestyle of Jesus or those around us in society? Are our passions more in line with what burned in the heart of Jesus or what entertains and excites those around us in our society? Is what angers us more in line with what angered Jesus or what angers those in our society? Last of all, is what we believe lived out in our daily lives or is it merely what we believe?
One final thing before I sit down. These past few weeks, as I have been studying and praying through Amos’ message, I have not been able to get this thought out of my head. “If God did not spare His chosen people, then why would I ever think He would spare me, or the country I live in?” God brought an end to the northern kingdom of Israel just like He said He would. He brought an end to the southern kingdom of Judah just like He said He would. Will God bring an end to the United States of America? We had better wake up, turn around, and repent of our sin.
Who will lead the revival of the nation? Will it be Billy Graham, Beth Moore, Kay Arthur, T.D. Jakes, or Joel Osteen? No, it must be me. I must not wait on others. I can’t wait for some leader. I must repent of my sins now and turn back to God. If all of us would have this mindset then we would witness the revival of our crumbling nation.
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February 13, 2011