We’re going to look at a little book which is tucked away in the Old Testament which is the book of Amos. And this little book in the Old Testament asks a very important question which is simply the question “Does God care about anything?” And it’s good that the Bible raises the question:
- Does God care what happens in cruel corners of the world?
- Does he care when terrible things take place, and we just are lost for words?
- Does he care about things that happen to you, terrible things that have been said or done to you?
- Does he care about things that have been to you or by you?
- Does he care about stuff that takes place in churches that are dishonest, abusive?
- Does he care about anything?
And in case you think, well the preacher is going to obviously say “YES” but God is pretty helpless, you know he wants to do something, but he can’t do anything. He feels terrible that he just can’t do anything – Amos is about to completely obliterate that thought, and we will see in these great chapters of Amos exactly what and why God works.
And I wonder if you’ll follow this little book with me for these next five Sundays you’ll find this is a very valuable book to have in your head and in your heart. It’s not a comforting book totally, but it is very comforting. It’s a slightly unsettling and comforting book, but it does us good.
On my desk at home and in the office, I have mugs with pens and pencils and all sorts of weird things in them, and on each desk, I have somewhere a fairly cheap razor knife. And the reason I have a fairly cheap razor knife on my desk (and you may have one on yours) is that there are things that come my way that I just can’t open with my fingers or my teeth and the razor knife comes out and does its great work. And it’s a fairly lethal weapon. If children are in my office, it’s probably the one thing I will want to make sure they didn’t get their hand on.
And if I might use the illustration – every book of the Scriptures, Old and New Testament is a razor knife. Every single book – we may ignore some of them – we may not know what some of them are saying, but every single book in the Old and the New Testament is a razor knife. And Amos is a razor knife and extremely useful.
So I want you to look with me at verse 1 where we discover that Amos was a shepherd, that is he wasn’t a classic prophet – he was a shepherd. We might say he was neither a layman nor a clergyman. And he came from a place called Tekoa which was about 10kms from Bethlehem down in Judah. His ministry, however (verse 1) was to Israel up in the North.
I think most of you this morning know that the Promised Land after King Solomon died was divided into two fairly rivalling halves. North/South – Israel/Judah. And Amos came from the South, but he went up to the North, so he’s a kind of a missionary prophet or a missionary shepherd bringing a message from the South up to the North.
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And when he came to the North, he came in the time of two Kings, one in the North and one in the South who had both been on their thrones for a very very long time. One was King for about 40 years, and one was kind for about 50 years, and they had long and prosperous reigns.
It says in verse 1 that he spoke two years before the earthquake. We don’t know what the earthquake exactly did by way of damage but it was certainly recorded somewhere between 760-750BC, and it is a reminder I guess to the people after Amos had spoken that God knows how to shake his world. So it was probably a reminder to them that when God speaks, it’s not just hot air.
And that brings me to verse 2 which is the big issue where Amos stands up in Israel (and remember he’s just a country man) and he says “The Lord roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Mt Carmel withers”.
Now the big issue is that Amos declares God to be a Lion who roars. He says the same thing in chapter 3 verse 8 and the question we have to ask is ‘do you mean that God roars like a lion at the zoo”? Because the last time I was at the zoo, I couldn’t work out if the lion in the corner was a real lion or just an old antique rug. It was far off, every little kid was belting the glass as best they could, adults were longing for the lion to do anything, just move, and just a yawn would be great.
And here is Amos saying “The Lord roars” and we, therefore, ought to be asking ourselves the question – whether we are thinking of that lion in the zoo or someone else.
I don’t know if you read recently, but a Polish Dentist is facing three years in jail for pulling out her ex-boyfriend’s teeth. Apparently, he had a minor toothache, and he booked an appointment with his old girlfriend, and after giving him a heavy dose of anaesthetic, she extracted all 32 teeth!
She said I tried to be professional, but when I saw him lying there, I thought you!
I didn’t really know whether to tell you that story because it’s all you’ll remember from this morning but I’m telling you the story because I want to ask you the question – “is God dull as the lion in the zoo and is God as toothless as that poor man walking out of the surgery”? I’ll tell you about my dentist if you want a good dentist. She comes here to this congregation.
Amos says “God roars, and the pastures go yellow – they dry out when he roars”. God roars, and the top of Mt Carmel which is a very lush or was a very lush part of that world in the Middle East – that lush top of the mountain withers when God speaks. And I suspect that Amos is referring to Mt Carmel because they would remember that when Elijah conducted a contest on Mt Carmel between the living God and the false gods, the living God sent fire and burned what needed to be burned.
And so Amos is saying ‘God roars like a lion and when he roars like a lion he affects the ground and he affects the mountain tops’. And his breath, his roar is hot, savage, scary and not weak and not small.
And if you saw a lion in Israel or Judah it was probably not at the local zoo; it was probably a terrifying experience. As you can imagine if somebody was to let down the back doors a lion from the outback into the middle of this building, it becomes a terrifying experience, and if you’ve ever heard a lion roar in the wild and many of you have I’m sure, it sends a chill down your spine.
So if you think small thoughts of God, says Amos, know that when he speaks, he can dry out what is lush and fresh. And if you check your history books, you’ll discover that all the things that Amos went on to say that God was going to speak to the nations of the world took place. Did he speak to nations to bring them down? He brought them down.
I want to look at Chapter 1:3-2:16 this morning under two brief headings.
- The Lion and the World
- The Lion and the Church
The Lion and the World
Amos is going to stand in the middle of Israel, and he is going to announce God’s judgment on the nations around them. Remember my question at the beginning
- Does God care about anything?
- Does he see what’s happening in the nations of the world?
Well, Amos says God has been watching the nations of the world, and his patience with the nations of the world is over.
The key to understanding this patience of God being over is the little phrase “for three sins, even for 4”. And it’s there in verse 3, verse 6, verse 9 and verse 13 and it comes eight times. For three sins and 4 – says the Lord. And this three even for four doesn’t mean that God watches people and waits until they have three things wrong and then four things wrong and then steps in. It’s a formula that tells us that God sees everything, counts everything, watches, records, and judges everything but that his patience has a breaking point. There is a certain time where his patience turns to action. Just like a lion which is being provoked will turn to attack – so God has a limit to his waiting, and it will turn into a response. It’s as if God says ‘I may wait for a while, but there is going to come to a certain point somewhere around 3 or 4 where I will move into action’.
And the mistake that people make with God, easily make with God is that they interpret his patience as harmlessness and they assume that there is some big thick wall of glass between them and God which can mean that God can never really do anything. Unbelievers and believers easily miss the fact that although God shows a merciful face to the world and is very patient, he is also a God of wrath and justice.
And I hope there are people here today who get angry with certain evils. If you don’t get angry with any evils, you are not well. There are certain evils that ought to make you angry. And God gets angry at all evils because he is perfect.
Here is Amos speaking of the fact that God has got a breaking point and his word comes first of all to 3 nations, and they are neighbours of Israel. You see verse 3 – Damascus and then down at verse 6 – Gaza and then on to verse 9 – Tyre.
Now Damascus is Syria
Gaza is the Philistine area
Tyre is Sidon.
These are three neighbours of Israel, and you can imagine that as the Israelites heard Amos saying “The Lord says I am going to punish Damascus, the Lord says I am going to punish Gaza,the Lord says I am going to punish Tyre” that the Israelites would say ‘that would be great,we’d love that,it’s just what we hoped you would say’.
And what Amos says that God is going to do this for is because (verse 3) Damascus has provoked God to anger by threshing or ploughing God’s people. We don’t know exactly what this means – we don’t know whether it means that Damascus did something that essentially cruel and nasty by driving sledges over people or whether this is just a metaphor for the fact that Damascus kind of guttered the people. But God watched it, and they took as one Commentator says ‘the battle that may have been necessary to the point of it becoming nasty’. And God saw it – they had crossed the line.
And then says Amos, God is going to rise up as a lion and punish Gaza in the Philistine area. And the reason that he is going to do this (verse 6) because Gaza took whole communities captive operated a slave trade. A ruthless profit before people slave trade and God saw it.
And again one Commentator said ‘when the slave trader heard a mother asking if her children could go with her and she would not be separated from her children as she was taken off to slavery and the answer came back – No we will get more for you on your own’ but God listened and was angered and is now taking action.
And then in verse 9, we are told that God is going to take action against Tyre, the city of Tyre which was the capital of Sidon because (verse 9) they did the same slave trading, but they broke a treaty to do it. And God expects people to keep their treaties, he expects people to keep their promises, he hears promises, and he expects people to keep their promises unless of course you make promises that shouldn’t have been made and you should repent of the promise. But if you break a treaty, God notes it.
And all of these three – Damascus, Gaza and Tyre – they are neighbours, and they are going to experience what Amos calls the “fire of God”. And all of them did experience the fire of God because all of them were brought low. Of course, when the local papers saw what was happening to their local cities, they would report that this is all because of political expertise on the part of some enemy, but Amos knew, and Bible readers know that behind all the political schemes is the sovereign God. Nothing happens unless God ordains it.
Well after the three neighbours, Amos begins to warn three cousins. The first one is verse 11 – Edom. Edom was the nation that came from Esau. Esau was the brother of Jacob, and they were the sons of Isaac. And Edom was a kind of a cousin of the people of God, but you will notice in verse 11 that what God is fed up with is that Esau has maintained a rage or hostility against Israel for decades, and decades and decades. And it is this animosity which God is finally fed up with. And all the relationships that Esau has conducted towards Israel have been angry and nasty and vengeful, and God says “that’s it”!
Verse 13 – another cousin is Ammon who goes back to Lot in Genesis 19, and the Ammonites were a brutal people as you see in verse 13. This is the sort of verse you don’t know whether you want to read in church, but it talks about people ripping open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend their borders – a brutality, terrorism – a nastiness. God who defends the widow and is a Father to the fatherless and his concern for every single child in the womb, this is a very very dreadful thing.
And then there is Moab (chapter 2 verse 1) – again traceable back to Lot, and the crime that Moab committed was either that Moab insulted a rival king by burning the corpse of the rival king or burning alive the rival king. It’s hard to work out exactly.
But these cousins around about Israel have also been watched by God, and he has seen what they are like, and he has seen what they have done, and he has seen what their hearts are like, and he is going to step in. It’s 3; it’s 4, it’s time.
Now I say some of this to you this morning because the Bible tells us that God is not a pacifist. I know there are people in churches who take a pacifist line. But God himself is not a pacifist; he knows that there is a time for war. In a fallen world there is a time, sometimes to take property and sometimes to defend property and Romans 13 tells us that soldiers and warfare are part of this world.
But when that warfare tips over to atrocities or war crimes, that’s where God steps in, and that’s where God takes note and sees that something has been done by an individual or a nation which is just basically gone too far. God expects the nations of the world to acknowledge him, he expects them to acknowledge him – it doesn’t matter what the nation is, he expects them to acknowledge him because he has given enough information that he the Creator is real. Romans Chapter 1 – every individual and every nation is capable of working out that behind the creation is a creator. He should be somebody that they seek, he should be somebody that they respect, he should be somebody that they honour and if they seek him, they will be lifting up their voice in prayer and they will be taking up every evidence that God has given.
And God also expects the nations of the world to acknowledge him because he has put into every individual a conscience (Romans chapter 2). Every individual in the world has a conscience, on the heart of every individual is written something of the law of God.
So if anybody thinks the secular leaders or the secular nations have escaped God’s justice by their behaviour, if anybody thinks that Adolf Hitler by blowing out his brains and suiciding has escaped accountability to God, that’s impossible, it’s just impossible.
Isaiah chapter 40 tells us that God sits enthroned above the earth and he sees every thought, every action, every word, every deed, every motive and Amos tells us that at some point 3,4 at some point God’s patience will turn to judgment. It will be in this world or the next for sure, but he will bring down his justice and his reward on the world.
So that’s The Lion and the World. Now the second point The Lion and the Church (from chapter 2 verse 4) and this is the real climax of this section this morning.
The Lion and the Church
One of the men at the Men’s Dinner we were at on Monday night was telling me or telling the table we were sitting at that he’d crossed the world with a Pastor for a father but he himself not in a very good spiritual condition and he’d crossed the world and come down to this particular part of the world. He entered a church with a handful of people hoping that it would be a ‘safe place’ for him to come and not have to do serious business with God.
The speaker was raising the question in that service with just a small number of people “Who do you say Jesus is?” And he said he realised that he could travel across the world hoping that he would be able to escape the God of the world and the God of the world is inescapable because somebody is going to raise the questions – what sort of business are you doing with God?
Now thinking that you can escape God even if you are religious is a big mistake and that’s what Amos is about to say to the people of Israel. And he starts off in verse 4 doing a very brave thing by telling the people of Israel that God is about to bring down the judgement of Judah down in the south. And again you can imagine the Israelites saying “well that fine we don’t like Judah, we are separated from Judah”, and you will see the cause or the reason (verse 4) what’s the crime of Judah.
What’s the crime of Judah? The crime of Judah is that they have rejected the Law of the Lord and they are following false gods.
Alec McTeer says in his little commentary on Amos (which is an excellent commentary if you want to study the book), that all of these announcements by Amos that God is going to judge the nations around and the cousins around and Judah below – that all of these nations are being drawn in a circle. But actually what Amos is doing is he is drawing a noose, and the noose is going to be tightened around Israel.
So eventually in verse 6, Amos announces judgment of God on Israel. There he is standing in the very middle of the church, so to speak, of God’s people and he says God is going to judge these people, and these people and these people and he is going to judge YOU.
This is like having the preacher get up at St Thomas this morning and say “I bring you an announcement from God of God’s judgment on St Thomas – 10 o’clock congregation”. That’s how sobering it is and that’s how serious it is. And the crime as you see as you look from verse 6 is not slave trading, not cutting people up but it’s mistreating one another so that there is injustice in the fellowship and it’s taking on the patterns and the behaviour of the world so that there is the same morality.
And Amos says (verse 10) “you people are saved people,God has saved you,he has brought you out of Egypt,he’s looked after you and you are breaking the Covenant that you have with God by abusing each other and by copying the evils that are being done by the rest of the pagan world”.
Verse 7 – trampling the poor – there’s no equality.
Verse 8 – co-operating in evil
And the great cause of all of this in Israel is in verse 12 that they have told the prophets ‘not to prophesy’. They have put their fingers in their ears, they have closed their Bible, they have stuck their Bible on their shelf, they have made sure nobody speaks to them and if they do speak to them, they have told the prophets ‘don’t say things that will change us or challenge us – just say things that are nice,that will let us do exactly the things that we want’. That’s what they have done and that’s why they have gone astray.
Now the Israelites would have absolutely hated hearing this. Not just because Amos is daring to speak to them but what he is doing is he is implying that their safety is not as safe as they thought. They think that their salvation is some kind of ticket in the back pocket. That they have got a kind of a covenant agreement with God – they have ticked the box.
It reminds me of the sort of people that I talk to every now and again and I ask them a basic question:
- Have you got a Saviour? – Yes it’s Jesus
- Why don’t we ever see anything?
- Why is your life unrelated to this?
- Why is there no sign that you are a praying, reading, witnessing, fellowshipping, serving, growing and impacting person?
- What’s the problem?
Oh I have a ticket.
Amos says the ticket isn’t a ticket unless it works. And these Israelites who are listening to Amos say ‘you thought you were safe to do what you like but you are safe to do what God wants’ would be angry. And even if they hated the message, the fact of the matter is that within 40 years, God did exactly what he said he would do. He brought the Assyrians in and they absolutely mowed Israel down and they took over.
Now I want to finish this morning by asking two questions which will give you some relief from what I just said because we need relief and we need mercy.
- How can covenant people get judged? Surely you must ask that question. Come on Mr Preacher just tell me – am I safe or am I not safe? Is the judgment gone or is the judgment still to come? There has got to be an easy answer.
- Doesn’t it break the covenant if God judges his people? Wouldn’t that be wrong for God to judge his people? Hasn’t he promised to be in covenant with his people? Isn’t the essence of being in covenant with Jesus that you are safe and judgment is over and all is well?
Now the simple answer – stay with me – the simple answer is that God judges people who are outside the covenant with his justice, with his wrath but God judges the people who are inside the covenant with his discipline. Just as a father exercises discipline in a home for the purpose of training and strengthening and if possible improving, so God exercises judgment within the covenant by purging or disciplining. And when he disciplines his people, it maybe that he is doing things in your life or my life which are just causing us to take him seriously again. Something is happening which is a ‘wake up’. Things are just not going quite so well down the sinful path. That’s the kindness of God bringing up back to take him seriously, to walk with him because he deserves it and because we need it and that’s where our joy and our usefulness comes from.
So unbelievers who think that God is like the lion at the zoo, need to go back to the Bible and know that when God roared, things happened to nations and individuals. He’s not a sleepy, toothless tiger!
And Christians who think that God is tamed, domesticated and basically just a butler on a leash (as I have said so often) need to realise that God is a very great king and a very great father and will exercise some kind of discipline and purging for our good within the covenant.
The second question I want to ask is Where does wrath and mercy connect? Isn’t it true that God is just but merciful? And you can see as you read the book of Amos that Amos represents God as lion and saviour – wrathful and merciful. He represents him perfectly.
And friends the very fact that God sends Amos to announce the problem is a sign of God’s mercy to his people because he wants his people to hear the danger respond and be safe. It’s in mercy that he sends Amos and that’s why all the prophets came mostly at the time of the Kings because the Kings were so powerful – they had too much power and they could easily lead the people of God down some dreadful road and God would send a prophet in the time of the Kings who would not fear the King but would basically say to the King and the people “Thus says the Lord…… cut my head off if you like……… thus says the Lord”.
And that’s what Elijah did to Ahab and
That’s what Nathan did to David and
That’s what John the Baptist did to Herod
And prophets would speak to kings. And their message was very simple – “Come back to the covenant”.
My old lecturer at Moore College would say that the prophets were like Covenant Watchdogs. As soon as the covenant showed signs of being broken, they would bark and the barking of the covenant prophet was to say – come back to the covenant, walk with your God and there will be great future but if you walk away from your God and abuse the people of God,well there will be some kind of judgement and some kind of discipline.
Now the greatest sign of course that God has shown wrath and mercy is the sending of the Lord Jesus. And there’s no greater example of God’s good wrath than when Jesus dies on the cross and God shows that he takes our sin seriously by punishing his own Son. That’s how serious he is about our sin.
But he also shows us at the cross his great mercy because there at the cross as Jesus suffers for our sin is the mercy of God saying:
‘I want you to be forgiven,
I want you to be safe,
I want you to be secure,
I want you to have eternal life,
I want you to have a future’.
So the wrath and the mercy of God come beautifully together in the Book of Amos but they come perfectly together in the Person of the Lord Jesus, the one who made it possible for us to hear the Gospel and repent and the one who has made it possible when we repent to be forgiven and adopted into the family of God forever.
So question at the beginning – Does God Care? The Book of Amos says he absolutely sees, notices and cares every detail of the world that he has made and there will come a time, short or long, where he will deal with exactly what has taken place in your life and in others lives and in the nations of the world.
And therefore we can take great comfort from this book. Nothing has escaped his detention, nothing has escaped his justice and nothing that you have done is outside his mercy. The thing we need to ask ourselves are we going to ignore the voice of the prophets or are we going to listen carefully,turn back to our God and say ‘please forgive me for anything which is breaking the covenant,anything which is wounding the fellowship and help me to walk with you, love your people, rejoice and be your useful servant.
Let’s ask him for that, let’s pray –
Our gracious God, we thank you for putting in the Scriptures this very timely and important little book reminding us that you are a God who greatly cares and that you see the details of the world in the nations and in the church, that you know the things that have happened. We thank you that you have promised to be a God who rises to take action and that things will not be neglected or forgotten.
We thank you for giving to us a solution for our own sins in sending the Lord Jesus and making provision of mercy. We pray that you will incline our hearts to walk with you. We pray that you would give us the strength to put away those things that grieve you.
We pray that you would help us to be the people that you have called us to be. We ask this for your great Name sake – Amen.