We are taking our second look at the Book of Amos. Amos was an Old Testament Prophet, and his book is found near the very end of the Old Testament. We saw last week if you were here that Amos was a farmer and he came from the South. He came up to the North – it would be a little bit like a farmer from Victoria coming up to speak to the churches in New South Wales, and Amos was a layman.
And the message of Amos, in a nutshell, is that God is extremely committed to his people, probably more committed than his people realise.
During the week I caught up with one of my neighbours in my street, and I went to visit him at his work, and he works as an animator for some of the very large budget movies – $100 – $200 million movies. And he showed me around his company, and I saw all the people sitting there with their large screens perfecting a tiny sequence of a movie. He explained to me that often it would be a whole day’s work of the team to see two seconds of the movie progress. The day’s work will be for two seconds of a movie.
And I realised that if you give this man your project, your animation project, he’s not going to let it get worse. He is going to make sure that it is as close to perfect as you can want. That’s his commitment to the project.
If you invite a good builder into your house, you must expect that he will do a little demolition before he does some restoration.
If you ask somebody to take over a football team and they are serious, they will be serious with the team.
If you ask somebody to conduct the orchestra or be the director for a play of actors, you expect them to take things on seriously.
If you ask a doctor to fix your back, he will be serious.
If you ask a plumber to improve your home, he will be serious.
If you ask a pastor to come and join a church, he will be serious.
It’s unlikely that these people will say ‘well let’s just everything drift – who cares if things get better’.
How much more is it the case when God takes over a project of people that he’s going to let us just decay, decline and drift? He is not going to. And if I might put this more bluntly, if God decides to become the father of the family, he is not going to let us turn into a lot of ‘brats’!! That’s the message really of Amos. The shock of Amos and the good news of Amos is that God is more committed to his people and their progress and their growth than we are.
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And that’s why Amos is telling the people of Israel what God is going to do for that progress and now why he’s going to do it.
Last week we saw Amos announce that God’s patience had run out with the nations around but he’d also run out of patience with Israel. You remember too that Amos was not a loony. He wasn’t just standing up in Israel and spouting crazy ideas and having nobody listen to him. The fact is that he had been given the words of God to speak and just as Jonah was able to walk into Nineveh and cause the Ninevites to repent as a nation, churches”God obviously backed the words of Amos and gave them very great power.
Amos called out in the middle of Israel to the nations around and said ‘Woe to the nations’ and then zeroed in on the church of Israel.
It’s a little bit like someone standing up very effectively on the Town Hall steps of Sydney and calling out in a loud voice –
“Woe to Iran” – and everybody thinks great.
“Woe to North Korea” – well that’s fine.
“Woe to Afghanistan”
“Woe to China” and then suddenly
“Woe to New Zealand”
“Woe to Australia”
“Woe to Sydney”
“Woe to the churches.”
“Woe to St Thomas”
So you start by listening and thinking – well the atrocities out there are terrible and then you discover that this prophet speaking for God is talking about the hypocrisies in here, of course in the same breath, of course, we think the atrocities are terrible and what we are doing is fine and God is looking at the two and seeing there is great sin in both.
Now God speaks this way not because he’s a loose cannon but because he watches the world, he registers what’s taking place, he feels, he decides that he will settle things and he also watches the church, and he is dissatisfied with careless in the church. Where there is lifeless orthodoxy – he will change it. And he will, if necessary, sift the church, he’ll refine it, he’ll purge it, he’ll weed it. And he’ll do this because he is committed to having a real people who walk with him and rejoice with him and delight in him and grow like him.
And that’s the point again of Amos chapters 3 and 4 which we come to this morning. We are going to think about chapter 3 under the heading What Will God Do? and the second head Chapter 4, Why Will God Do It?
What Will God Do?
Verses 1 & 2 – “Listen Israel, listen family (there is a loaded word ‘family’ in verse1) because he would think the family of his people as being Israel and Judah even though they are separated – he sees them as one family, and he says “I chose you” (verse 2) of all the families of the earth and I brought you out of Egypt (verse 1) “I saved you” and therefore “I will visit you (verse 2). Our translation says “I will punish you” which is, of course, the purpose of his visit. But he says to the Israelites ‘you are my family, I chose you, I saved you, and therefore I am going to visit you, and I am going to visit you because you need to be visited – I need to turn up’.
This is the only time in the Old Testament that God calls Israel his family and as I say it’s a loaded phrase. He loves the people enough to visit them because they are going off track and his commitment means that even if it’s going to be a difficult visit, he’s not going to avoid it, he’s going to make the visit, and unfortunately it’s going to be a costly visit.
Chapter 3 verse 11 says “an enemy will overrun the land” – I’m going to visit you in the form of an enemy. I’m going to cause an enemy to visit you – I’m going to bring Assyria as the one who will visit you. And then he begins a series of riddles in chapter 3 verses 3-6.
And the riddle was a favourite way to get attention. I don’t know if many of you remember some years ago the British Footballer Eric Cantina left the field and somebody abused him as he was leaving the field, and he went crazy and kicked out at a spectator and had to front up the media and as he sat facing the cameras and the microphones, he uttered the famous and memorable words:
“When seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea – Thank you very much.”
And this became the stuff of T-Shirts and legends because nobody had a clue what he was talking about, and I actually asked my nephew who was staying with me to look this up for me as I could get the quote right and he paced the house intrigued by this quote trying to work out what it was all about. I’m not sure that anybody ever really knew what it was all about.
But here is Amos with seven riddles in chapter 3 verses 3-6 designed to get the attention of the people of Israel and the seven riddles are riddles of logic. They are not all that complicated.
The riddle is asking the question: “Do you think “B” is happening without “A” causing it?
So look at verses 3-6:
Do you think two people are walking together without a decision behind it?
Do you think a lion roars for nothing?
Does a bird get trapped if there is no trap?
Does the trumpet sound for no reason?
Does disaster hide a city and God is not behind it?
And then says Amos (verse 7) “God has revealed his plan” (verse 8) “He has roared” – there is a reason why I am here.
I think this is very clever because Amos is saying to the people of Israel, do you realise why I’ve come up from the South, do you think I’ve come for no reason, do you think I’ve just turned up for a whim? – No, no, no. God has spoken, and I am the messenger, and there is logic.
Well, not only is there logic in the riddles but there is also something sinister because each of these riddles is speaking about a lion or a trap or a trumpet or a disaster, so they are not just fun riddles, but there is something unsettling about them except the first one (verse 3).
And this one I think is full of pathos and full of emotion where the Lord says “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” And behind this is the reminder that God amazingly agreed to walk with these people and he did walk with them. And they agreed to walk with him, and God said to them “Walk before me and be blameless, walk in the way that I command you”. “Didn’t we agree to walk together?” says the Lord.
And we could ask this question this morning, couldn’t we? There are many here who at some stage in the past decided that they would walk with the Lord but in a strange way and for some strange reason, are not walking with the Lord. And the Lord knows, and although he’s asking us to walk with him and agreed to walk with us and we promise that at some stage we would walk in the light and have fellowship with him and his people, we’ve stopped and so the Lord says “I’m going to get you back on track because you are not walking with me anymore. I know outwardly you are doing religious things occasionally, but you are not inwardly walking with me.
And because he is a shepherd he’s going to bring them back on track. No wonder he gets a shepherd called Amos to be his spokesman. Amos,I guess, understands this and Israel are so far off track, they are so resistant to God as we read back in chapter 2 that they didn’t like the word of God and they didn’t want to read or listen to the word of God or do the word of God.
And so the Lord says in this remarkable section that follows from verse 9 that he’s going to call on two witnesses who will come and watch his behaviour and they will testify to his decision to bring in an enemy to sift his people. And of course, 2 witnesses would always establish the truth of something and make sure that nobody could doubt that what was taking place was talking place and as I say, the truth that God wanted witnessed was that he was going to bring Assyria in to sift his people. But look at the 2 witnesses he chose- it’s unbelievable – he chose one called “Ashdod”, the Philistine city – think Goliath – think brutal enemy and he’s going to have “Egypt” come in as another witness – that’s the prison they left a long time before – think captivity – think Pharaoh – think godlessness. These are the two cities that God says ‘I want you two to come and watch the sifting of my people’.
And the result is (verses 10-12) that there is going to be a remnant of God’s people, a small left over reduced few (verse 12) just like a bit of a sheep, a portion of an animal is left over.
The other think God is going to do is that he is going to remove the “security blankets” (verse 14). “I will destroy the altars of Bethel” – I am going to destroy those places which you have made (they are man-made religious shrines) where you go for your spiritual refuge but they are not a shelter, so whatever religion you have been hiding behind, I am going to remove it – says the Lord.
(Verse 15) “The mansions that make you feel so safe and sturdy and at east, I am going to remove those as well”. So the religious refuge and the non-religious refuge are going to be taken away, and it was taken away. What Amos said in 760-750BC all took place in 722BC when the Assyrians came in, and they removed the places of refuge and what God said he would do, he did.
Now he didn’t do this to be cruel; he did this because he is committed to his people and they are not listening to the prophets, and so he’s going to speak to them the hard way by bringing in the Assyrians. And his people will be eventually purified and respond to him in a way that they never have.
Now I don’t know whether this ever happens to you but does it ever happen to you that just God changes your circumstances, and so you come back to a position of desperation? Have you ever noticed in your own Christian life that you are travelling along and things are quite casual and you are busy, and you are still doing the religious essentials – so you say ‘grace’ at meals, turn up to church, if you have kids, you are still reading the stories to them but your heart is actually somewhere else, and it’s gripped by something else, and nothing is really getting through? It’s not as though you are suddenly turning to God and saying ‘look things are bad, I want to be serious’, it’s just a drift and it’s a decline.
What God does in the middle of that is to bring a change of circumstances. I’ve experienced this, and I am sure you have as well if you have been a Christian for a while. Suddenly he intervenes in such a way that you experience a new sense of desperation and helplessness. And you find yourself looking at the sin that was attractive and thinking ‘that’s stupid’ and you find yourself looking at the priorities that you had and thinking they are inadequate and then you find yourself looking at the God who you knew and know and walked with and now don’t walk with and you say to yourself ‘I’ve got to get back’, and you go back and find that he welcomes and restores and renews and you are back to your senses – that’s what Amos is talking about – he is doing it on a national scale, or we might say on a church scale or perhaps even on a personal scale. That’s what God will do.
Now the second chapter that we are looking at this morning (chapter 4) is Why God Will Do It? We didn’t read the first 3 verses because I wasn’t quite brave enough and I couldn’t think of anybody brave enough (perhaps Peter would have been the right person!) but if you ever doubt that Amos was a brave man or if you want proof that he did not fear man or woman, just look at the first few verses of chapter 4 where he takes aim at the wealthy women.
The men, incidentally, will get their message in chapter 5 – but these wealthy women are careless towards each other,they are superior even in the home,they are ordering everybody to wait on them and Amos calls them “cows” – “cows of Bashan” which I presume is a little bit like saying ‘the cows of the Hunter Valley”. It is a famously lush area.
One commentator tries to make out that this is a flattering term since cows were peaceful and contented animals but I think that’s a long shot myself.
I once sent an e-mail to a lady in this church with initials of “CW”, and my spell-check said “try cow” and I thought this is not going to help the e-mail.
I think the point that Amos is making is that the women in this particular situation are well off and they are absorbed in themselves. They graze peacefully for themselves, they don’t have a care in the world, they are disinterested in everybody, but themselves and they have no time for God.
Amos says very courageously (because it’s much easier to take on men today than women isn’t it?) – he changes the metaphor in verse 2 and he says ‘God is going to yank you away like fish – hooks will carry you far away and you will go out of the city, and your peaceful apathy is going to become a very painful wake-up for you’.
He goes on in verse 4 to mock the religion of the Israelites. He says in verse 4 “go to Bethel and sin – go on go to Bethel and sin”. Bethel was a spiritual Mecca for the Israelites; it was a place where God had appeared to Jacob and then says the Lord “go to Gilgal” – another spiritual Mecca and sin. Gilgal was the place where they had crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, and you’ll see what Amos is saying on behalf of God is a ‘send up’.
He’s saying to these people ‘why don’t you go to your church and sing your hymns and keep sinning.’
And then ‘why don’t you go to Katoomba, go to a Conference and listen to your heroes and keep sinning.’
And then ‘why don’t you go to Moore College and SMBC and learn your verses and learn your doctrines and keep sinning’ and brag about your success,who you know and what you know and boast about your progress because it’s all a fake – it’s just a game that you are playing because, says the Lord, the outward stuff doesn’t fool me – I watch the heart.
I think this is such a sobering thing that we deal with a God who is so loving – it’s heart to heart. It’s like being married to the most serious bridegroom in the world. He’s out for our progress; he will not settle for mediocrity or decline.
And it is a sobering thing, isn’t it, imagine if somehow a light was able to be brought down from the roof and it lit up the people in the pews and in the pulpit whose heart this morning was inclined seriously to God. And I just wonder how many people that light would settle on? It would shock us, wouldn’t it?
To suddenly realise that in the pulpit or the pew, we’ve been seen as people who are here are singing, and saying and preaching and listening and there’s no light because God knows that our heart is somewhere else. That’s the God that we deal with. He knows us, and he doesn’t play our games, and he can see through us just as we can see through very, very bad acting. And what he simply looks for is a broken heart, a contrite heart, a humble heart and a genuine heart – that’s who he loves and lives with.
Well, Israel, of course, has no inward reality, and therefore God is coming. And it’s not as though he has not been trying to bring them back because in verses 6-11 he has been using a whole series of ‘wake-up’ calls to get them to return to him. And I think these verses in chapter 4:6-11 would make a remarkable passage to preach on in a public event in Sydney.
But it’s also very important for the church where Amos lists about 7 – what we would call ‘natural events’ – which God caused to make the people respond to him and return to him. So this is not just pagans in our street, this is the people in the pews. You would think that they would wake up and listen and return.
We read in verse 6 that he sent a famine (that should have reminded the believers, shouldn’t it?)
Verse 7 – he held back the rain – he caused it to fall in one place but not in another.
Verse 9 – he struck down their business.
Verse 10 – he sent plagues – they should have been saying to themselves at that point – why would we be getting plagues, don’t plagues go to Egypt?
Verse 11 – he scorched their towns – and again they might have said to themselves, I thought this has what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, but now it’s happening to us.
And all of this was to cause the people, his people, and his family to return to him but there was no response. Again and again and again in these verses, there was no returning, there was no repenting, and there was no response.
And now since Israel is not coming back to God, God is coming to Israel, and he’s coming to visit them, and he’s coming to visit them seriously. And verse 12 is maybe the most famous verse in the Book of Amos which says “Prepare to meet your God”.
And this is the verse which you will be familiar with on the back of sandwich boards of crazy people in the streets who normally are preaching this text “Prepare to meet your God” as if the end of the world is just around the corner. Well, we don’t know if the end of the world is around the corner, but the arrival of God to sift is anytime, anytime.
Well, all of these events which the Lord caused – the famine, the drought, all of these things are the opposite of natural causes – they are all divine causes. Amos does not believe in good luck or bad luck or coincident. He doesn’t believe that nature is a person who goes around doing things. Every event which is listed here and everything that takes place is traceable to God because God you see doesn’t sit in a grandstand and just watch matter move about. God causes and ordains matter to move about.
And there are sometimes where he delights in the way things go
And there are some times where he doesn’t delight but he just decrees it.
And that’s the challenge for the Christian to be watching all the things that are taking place in the world,some of which God delights in and some of which he just decrees but he stands behind all of them without compromising a character of love and faithfulness and gentleness and goodness and we hold these things together as Amos does.
Of course, the Newspapers in Egypt and the Newspapers in Assyria and the Newspapers in Israel may have put it down to natural causes because that’s because they operate in a little human framework. They don’t understand the Biblical, Scriptural framework.
So these Amos chapters are painting a wonderful God who won’t settle for spiritual deadness in his people. I am so thankful for this. When the great Psalm 23 says “The Lord is my Shepherd,he leads in paths of righteousness” and then at the end “Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” – that little word ‘follow’ has got built into it the idea of snapping at the heels.
The Lord, the Shepherd, causes out of his goodness and mercy, certain things to bring us back to him. That’s why things don’t always go well. That’s why some things do go well and we respond with gratitude and wholeheartedness and that’s, why some things don’t go well and we are, being pushed back into a proper response. And God tells us through Amos what he will do to the Israelites and why he will do it. What Will He Do? He will sift them. Why Will He Do It? Because they are marked by pretence. This is not so much idolatry, this is dead orthodoxy and he is so committed to his people that he will not save us for nothing – he will save us for close fellowship which honours him and gives us joy.
Nobody, of course, was more critical of pretence than Jesus. Nobody had more trouble with pretenders than Jesus. Nobody spoke more strongly than Jesus to the Pharisees and he saw, their behaviour as tragic because they were working the ritual and missing the re-birth and the joy.
And then occasionally somebody would come who would just be an ordinary person and yet they had realised what it meant to be whole heartedly devoted to Christ and that would, of course, give him great joy.
And the God of Israel, the God of Amos is our God and if you’ve put your trust in the Lord Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, he’s going to love you and bless you and work on you and shape you and inwardly renew you and perfect you all the way until you see him. That’s who we are dealing with. If you want a God who’ll just leave you alone, don’t pick the God of the Bible but if you pick the God of the Bible, you’ve picked somebody who is going to work on you and work in you. And we know how serious he is because he sent his Son to pay the maximum price and he sent his Spirit to make us new.
And the question we need to ask ourselves again as we look at this second section of Amos this morning is in the light of this do we realise how committed to us and maybe before he takes some steps to remove some unhelpful props in our life or maybe before he sends some serious alarm bells to get us to wake up and return to him,we should be removing the pretence ourselves and returning with some fresh reality and some fresh humility and walking with him again which is why he invited us and saved us and it’s what he is working on.
Well, let’s pray together –
Father, we thank you this morning for bringing us into fellowship with you through the Lord Jesus. We thank you that you are a good and committed shepherd. We pray that you would have mercy on us for being so wayward and neglectful sheep.
We thank you for sending your word through Amos and the word through all the Scriptures calling us to walk with you in humility and penitence and faith. We pray that you would help us to do this and please incline our hearts to you, open our minds to your word, unite our wills with you and please cause us to be satisfied supremely with you.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen