This is our fourth look in the book of Amos. A little book which comes towards the end of the Old Testament but it’s helpful to remember that Amos spoke before the people of God were overtaken. So although the book comes late in the layout of the Old Testament, Amos’ ministry was about 760 BC.
I am appreciating going through Amos. Yesterday at a wedding somebody told me that at their church, they are also going through the book of Amos and their congregation were pretty fed up with Amos. And I felt the opposite, maybe that’s because I have been preaching the sermons. I hope you appreciate that there is a book in the Scriptures which tells us that there is a God in the universe who is deeply committed to you and is not going to put up with distance or game playing or superficiality or emptiness or deadness but wants a close and joyful walk with you.
If you Google ‘The Hound of Heaven’, the great poem by Francis Thompson, that’s what Amos is telling us that God is the Lion of Heaven who pursues his people with a great devotion and a great passion and a great concern.
So we’ve looked so far at:
- the first two chapters where God the Lion roars
- the second two chapters we saw that God declares that he will visit his people
- in chapters 5 & 6 God makes an appeal to his people to return to him so that he will not have to visit them in some judgement.
And you wonder as you come to chapters 7 & 8 whether there’s anything more to say from the book of Amos. And the answer is, there is because otherwise, the book would finish at chapter 6.
What we discover in chapters 7 & 8 is something very precious. We are going to see a little window into the turmoil that takes place in God’s heart as he wrestles with the decision to be just or compassionate and it’s a struggle. Imagine a President or a Prime Minister who wrestles greatly with the issue of whether to join a war for the good, knowing the cost or you think of a parent who lies awake at night trying to work out what to do with a wayward son or daughter – whether to really step in or whether to keep back, whether to speak or whether to keep quiet.
The same with a pastor, Bible study leader or a Youth Leader concerned about somebody under their care who is walking in sin. Do you say something, do you strain the friendship or do you just keep quiet and keep it in prayer?
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It’s the kind of turmoil that takes place in the human heart and it’s a microcosm of what is going on in God’s heart, because God is trying to work out whether to exercise great justice which of course has repercussions for his reputation in the world and of course the suffering of people, or whether to continue in compassion and patience.
What we are going to look at in Chapter 7 is, What God’s compassion looks like and then we are going to look in Chapter 8 What God’s justice looks like. I want to begin by reading Chapter 7:1-6.
What God’s Compassion Looks Like
Amos 7:1-6 (NIV) Locusts, Fire and a Plumb Line
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 late crops were coming up. When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
So the Lord relented.
“This will not happen,” the Lord said.
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. Then I cried out, “Sovereign Lord, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
So the Lord relented.
“This will not happen either,” the Sovereign Lord said.
First of all, let’s think this morning about what God’s compassion is like. In the first half of Amos chapter 7, there are three brief visions. There are three things the Lord shows Amos and shows us because we are reading Amos.
The first vision, as I’ve just read, is a locust plague, getting reading to eat the crops and they eat the crops, and they eat the crops before there can be a proper harvest. This is a tragedy; it’s the No.1 tragedy for an agrarian economy and the response from Amos (chapter 7 verse 2) “Lord forgive, Jacob” that is Israel is so little, and the Lord relented and said ‘this catastrophe will not happen.
The second vision is a fire (verse 4). It’s obviously not an ordinary disaster because this fire swallows the oceans and the land. And again Amos’ response ‘Sovereign Lord stop, Israel is so little’. And the Lord relented that this catastrophe will not happen.
Now it must have been terrifying for Amos to see the visions because they were so comprehensively terrible and what we are seeing is that there is a struggle going on inside the very heart of God to be just and to be compassionate. He wants judgment to go out for sin (that’s right), but he wants compassion to stop the catastrophe.
So I will make three quick comments on this, and I hope this is very helpful for you.
The first is that Jacob in these visions looks little. That’s surprising because the nation of Israel, was prominent and prosperous but in the face of the judgments of the locusts and the fire, Israel looked pretty little.
It’s like the man who we see in some sphere who is being very proud and scoffing at the idea of God, shaking his little fist at God, and they seem to be a very impressive and influential person, and then you get in an aeroplane and you fly up in the sky and you look down, and you can hardly see that person. And then you go into space, and you can barely see the earth that they are standing on and it all falls into perspective.
So that’s the first thing. Jacob in the face of what God could do looks very little.
The second thing is Amos cares for Israel, and that’s unusual because Israel is the Northern land and not a friend of the South and Amos comes from the South and so why should he care that this Northern land of Israel which they are not particularly close to would get into trouble. You would think that he would be delighted.
And the reason that Amos cares for Israel is that God has made him a caring prophet. God has put his truth into Amos and he has put something of his love into Amos and Amos becomes a little representative of what God is like. So God who is the Shepherd of his people has selected a little shepherd called Amos and made him a model of truth and love to represent this great God of the universe. And when Amos perhaps gets down on his knees and begs for Israel’s safety, he’s the instrument of God calling on the compassion of God which is the delight of God.
So Amos is not a better person as though God is harsh and unyielding and Amos comes in as a nice person to persuade the nasty God to be gracious – not at all. Amos is somebody who God has raised up to speak to men about his compassion and then to pray to God for compassion. And I think it’s crucial for us to see this.
God does not stop being compassionate, ever. There is not a second of an hour of a day of a week of a year of a decade of a century where God stops being compassionate. You can’t take compassion out of him as if he suddenly moves from the compassion channel and moves on to the just channel. He’s always compassionate, and he’s always just at the same time. And everything he does involves compassion whether he is, so to speak, leaning down with a spoon to feed someone or whether he’s leaning down with a scalpel to operate on someone. It’s all driven by compassion.
So if Amos calls out ‘forgive and stop’, it’s because God has put him in a position to call down his purposes because God is the inventor of the mediator. The New Testament tells us that there is One Mediator who God has put in place, the Man Christ Jesus – 1 Timothy 2:5 – who gave his life as a ransom because God is the God of mediation and Amos is a little preview shadow of the great mediation done by Jesus.
Now the third comment is that God relents and that is confusing to some people, but it doesn’t mean that God is being talked out of his top priority which is to be vengeful – it means that God is being talked into his top priority which is to be merciful.
Let me see if I can explain a little of this as I think I’ve done in the past, but it may be worth going over this again. Theologians talk about God as having two wills at the same time. This is not unusual, this is not inconsistent, and a good parent has got two wills at the same time;
- A parent has a will that my child will not suffer – that’s a genuine and excellent will to have
- A parent will say in a given situation; I am willing for my child to be cut and operated on.
The will that they would not suffer is real.
The will that they will suffer is real.
They are both operating at the same time.
So God has a will that theologians call “his will of decree” – this is what I decree – this is what will happen. And it may be that the decree is that something would happen which is very painful and costly.
- God ordered that his own Son, Jesus would be murdered
- God ordered that his people Israel would be overrun by the Assyrians and what was a large group became a small group
- God sometimes decrees that a faithful Christian will experience sickness or sadness or grief or loss or trouble, that is his decree.
And this order may overrule his Will of delight, that is what he loves to see happen.
- He loves to see his Son honoured and spared
- He loves to see Israel repent and not be run over
- He loves to see his children joyful and spared
But the decree will of God overrule the delight will of God without cancelling the delight will of God. The two of them are operating at the same time, but the decree overrules the delight.
And it overrules the delight because a greater purpose is taking place.
- Jesus will suffer because there is a salvation plan taking place
- Israel will be overrun by the Assyrians because there is a purifying process taking place
- Somebody is suffering or struggling or in trouble because God is working out a greater purpose.
And that’s where the Christian has to learn to trust God if the higher purpose is a secret because there are things that God reveals (and they are easy to follow), but there are things that he keeps secret. And we may experience the things that God has decreed to take place in our life which are very difficult, and they are not explained to us but he continues to delight in our welfare, and he continues to delight with great love for us.
How do we know this? Because the rest of the Bible tells us that he never stops loving his people, he has loved his people at the cross and he loves his people all the time.
So the two visions that take place in Amos chapter 7 verses 1-6 give us a little window into this inner turmoil or struggle that takes place in the character of God between the justice of God which he has got every right to execute, the sending of locusts and fire, and the compassion of God which he delights to provide which is to prevent a real catastrophe from taking place.
And then we come to the third vision in verse 7, and this is where the Lord holds a plumb line. Amos sees the Lord holding a plumb line, and we assume that that’s what the word in the Hebrew says because it’s the only time it comes in the whole Bible and therefore it’s always difficult to be exactly precise, but it looks very like a plumb line.
Here is the Lord holding a plumb line which is showing as clearly as clearly that his people are crooked. And because his people are dishonest, this is what he is going to do (verses 7-9).
“Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
“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.””
Now, do you see, therefore, that the first sign of God’s compassion is a desire to hold back justice for as long as he can? And the second sign of God’s compassion is that he is speaking, warning, communicating and appealing as long as he can.
The person who keeps silent when they are watching somebody move toward danger doesn’t seem to care about the person running toward danger. The person who speaks up when someone is walking toward danger appears to be the person who speaks up, and God speaks up as he watches his people move towards this danger.
And what we have in the second half of Amos chapter 7 is a little struggle that takes place between speaking and not speaking because a man called Amaziah that is a priest, a priest who was obviously just a professional priest and apparently not a very godly priest. We might say that Amaziah was like an ungodly Archbishop who has an Office and Power but doesn’t care about the Word of God.
Amaziah stepped forward mainly to say to Amos – “Keep Quiet and Go Home”. And he writes to the king, Amaziah writes to the King (7:10) with a series of lies.
- King. You may be interested to know (7:10) that Amos is raising a conspiracy against you – well that’s not true
- You may be interested to know that the land is being threatened by Amos – well that’s not true; the land is going to be threatened if you don’t listen to Amos
- You may be interested to know that Amos says you are going to be killed with the sword – that’s not true. Amos has merely said that God would bring the sword on the nation.
So there’s a little clash taking place here of the false and the true prophet. The false prophet is twisting the words and ordering Amos to go home and earn his money back in Judah. And it must have been somewhat scary for Amos to be told ‘go home’ by somebody who has high Office.
But Amos knows who is behind him, and I love what he says in chapter 7 verses 14-15 – how’s this for a way of establishing your credentials.
I am not a prophet, I am not even a prophet’s son, I was a shepherd, I used to take care of fig trees, and God took me and put me into this position. He stands behind me, and that’s why I am going to continue to speak, and I have a word for you and that it that your own family are going to suffer dreadfully as a result of you turning your back on the Word of God (7:17).
This is a picture of utter desperation because Amaziah is going to be taken off into exile, his wife is going to have to turn probably in desperation to prostitution and sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Now, this is not Amos just being abusive, personally offensive; this is Amos passing on what God has said to him. So it is a beautiful thing to see Amos stand, a simple man that he is, with the living God who speaks behind him. And because God is a speaking God and he stands behind us who believe in him and belong to him and seek to serve him, we can speak on behalf of him with great authority.
You will see the effect of this on Amos as first of all he is a strong man in the face of pressure. He is set free from the No.1 priority to be popular – he speaks the truth.
And the second thing is that he has an answer for the person who says ‘who says so?’ Because Amos’ answer is ‘God says so’.
One of the difficulties when you throw out the Word of God which can be done by a nation like Australia or can be done by some churches or can be done by some individuals, if you throw the Bible out – if you throw out the Word of God, you no longer have an answer to the question ‘who says so?’ It just becomes ‘I says so’ opposed to ‘you says so’.
And one of the great difficulties of losing the objective Word of God is that we fall into the loss of universals. We are no longer able to raise the voice of a universal command which doesn’t, of course, stop individuals from choosing to be upright citizens but it stops the community from being able to raise a universal for the community in which case the community must fragment into a whole series of individualism. And here is Amos who can speak the Word of God, the Lord says so’ because the Lord stands behind him.
So don’t miss the compassion here in Amos 7 – God waits, and waits, and waits until he can wait no more. And he speaks, and speaks and speaks until he can speak no more. And the thing that he is seeking is true fellowship and not just a kind of a fake nominalism.
We must be very grateful that God having chosen us
and called us
and saved us
and forgiven us
and adopted us
Who has plans for us is not going to let his people fall into a fake nominalism and may be why he sends certain fires to warm us and to purify us and to bring us into a very rich fellowship with him. Not because he doesn’t love us but because he does love us.
What God’s Justice Looks Like
Now the second point – much more briefly this morning is What God’s Justice Looks Like, and you’ll see if you look at chapter 8 verse 1 that there is a fourth vision and the fourth vision is a basket of ripe fruit.
The reason that Amos sees a basket of ripe fruit he is told is because the time is right for God’s people to be disciplined. And remember the discipline is going to take place within the covenant. And the proof that the discipline needs to take place and that the fellowship between God’s people and God is SICK, the proof is that the fellowship between God’s people and God’s people is SICK. And you can see that if you look at chapter 8 verse 4.
“You trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land” and look at verse 5 “they don’t really like spiritual things,they say when will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, when will the Sabbath be over that we may market skimping the measure, boosting the price, cheating with dishonest scales…….”
You see what the people are saying – how quickly can this service be over? Come on, how quickly can this sermon be over? Let me out of here to do the stuff I want to do! It’s a good warning, isn’t it?
And of course our minds wander in sermons but you ought to be concerned about the mind that is always absent, because if your mind is always moving away from spiritual things and is always moving to business, you’d really start to ask yourself, wouldn’t you – has God given me a new appetite for spiritual things?
Well if you want to know what justice looks like when it falls on the guilty
- Verse 7, God takes an oath, he won’t forget anything, and everything has been noticed
- Verse 8, Israel, the land, is going to be flooded. It’s not going to be flooded with water; it’s going to be flooded with the Assyrians
- Verse 9, there’s going to be darkness, probably not literal darkness but some kind of great spiritual darkness even in the middle of the day
- Verse 10, there will be great mourning, weeping, sadness like losing an only son and most serious of all
- Verses 11 & 12, there is going to be a famine but it’s not a famine of bread, it’s going to be a famine of the Word of God. God is going to be silent and stop speaking.
Now you know from your own home what it’s like when somebody stops speaking. You know what’s is like in friendships or family – wider family – where somebody stops talking to you – it’s unsettling, it’s distressing, it’s perplexing. And when God, the God of the Universe, stops speaking, that’s the ultimate in the breakdown. The people who have despised the truth now discover that the truth walks away.
I remember John Chapman preaching on the book of Amos in a series of Minor Prophets Sermons at CMS Summer School in Katoomba once and he was given Amos, and he just spoke on Chapter 8 verse 11. A famine of hearing the words of the Lord – that’s all he spoke on. And he pleaded with the people of Sydney not to think that it was our right to have a faithful Bible College or two or to have faithful pulpits or 100 but to see them as the mercy of God because we don’t deserve it.
And we ought, therefore, to show our great God, a great humility before his word because you know where nations throw out the Word of God as some of the European nations have thrown out the Word of God, they experience great moral darkness.
When churches have turfed the Word of God out, they experience a great spiritual darkness. When individuals have got no room for the Word of God – I’m too busy – straight to the computer – non-stop business. If you despise the Word of God and God stops speaking to you, you are in very very great darkness, we should not despise the Word of God.
And you will see as you look at verse 13 that the people that God loves, lovely women, strong young men who trusted falsely (verse 14) in idols and rituals will fall and that’s what justice looks like.
When justice falls, says the Scripture, it looks like being overtaken, overwhelmed.
- It looks like falling into darkness
- It looks like falling into sadness
- It looks like falling into silence.
These are the things Jesus warned of when he spoke of hell hoping people would never go there.
Now I don’t think we can miss as we read these verses the reminder that what these phrases describe –
- The loss of an only son
That’s Calvary – that’s what’s taking place at the Cross.
You can’t read the end of the Gospels and not see Jesus going through an overwhelming judgment. What he called a Baptism of Fire and the darkness at midday and the death of an only son and the silence because he calls out “Why have you abandoned me?” and gets no reply.
That’s the judgment of God falling on Jesus. Why is the judgment falling on Jesus back at Calvary? Well because God would rather die than see you get judgment. And he has made a provision through Jesus which is so wonderful that all of that has fallen on his Son so that the person who believes in him would escape it and enter into the refuge of God forever. That’s the God of the Bible, the very great compassionate and just God of the Bible.
There at the Cross we see the justice fall on Jesus and the compassion extended to the world – that’s the God of the Bible.
Now I thought about this as I was preparing – and I thought what am I going to do with this myself? And perhaps you might like to take up some of these simple Applications as a result of this part of Amos.
This is what I am seeking to do, and I am asking God to help me.
- I want to be a thankful person
- I want to be a more thankful person that God would save me from darkness and from grief and from silence – I want to thank him for that
- I want to be a more faithful person
- I don’t want to test his patience
- I don’t want to play at Christianity. It’s even easier to play at Christianity when you are in professional Christianity because I know that God will bring fire to game playing.
- I also want to be a godly person
- I want to be a little bit like Amos concerned for the lost
- Patient with sinners (because God has been very patient with me)
- And to be truthful – saying what needs to be said
- I also want to be an integrated Christian – the Spirit of God who dwells in my heart ruling everything so that there is not a ‘no go area’ in my heart.
Have you got a ‘no go area’ in your Christian life?
If you have a ‘no go area’ in your Christian life where God is as it were forbidden, if that were possible entry, the ‘no go area’ will mean that you will become a ‘no grow Christian’. And if the ‘no go area’ continues forever, you have to ask yourself whether you are a ‘no no Christian’? Whether you don’t know him?
And I want to be an integrated Christian, one who if Amos was to visit me, would see that there was a seeking to be real because that’s what God is seeking. And in a real Christian life, God is somewhat honoured and served, and people are helped, and I am peaceful.
Well, let’s pray for that –
Father, we give you our thanks, this morning for revealing your compassion and your justice. We see this supremely at the Cross of Calvary where the justice which we deserve fell on the Lord Jesus, and the compassion that he deserves is extended to us.
We pray that in the light of what you have shown us in Amos and perfected at Calvary, that you would cause us, your people, to be thankful for what we have received. We pray that you would cause us to be faithful in walking truly with you. We pray that you would help us to be godly, something of an ambassador for the Lord Jesus and we pray that you would also help us to be integrated, that your Holy Spirit would fill and rule our heart and bear the fruit of joy and peace and faithfulness and helpfulness.
And we ask it all in Jesus’ Name – Amen.