We have been working our way through Amos – a Minor Prophet towards the end of the Old Testament and we have been seeing that he has a major, major message which we’ve been appreciating. This is the last of our five mornings in the Book of Amos, and the title is “Down and Up”. In chapter 9 verse 2 God is going to bring his proud people down. And then in verse 11, he is going to build his people up.
One of my favourite short stories is the man who buys a new parachute and is testing it, and he finds that as he falls from the aeroplane that it’s not working – nothing is working and as he hurdles to the ground, strangely another man goes shooting up beside him through the air. The man who is hurtling to the ground calls out to the young man “you wouldn’t happen to know how these new parachutes work, would you?”
And he calls back “I’m having enough trouble with my new gas b-b-q”! And that is the down and the up – and that’s what we are looking at today.
Now the down has been a very big part of Amos. God has been threatening chapter after chapter to humble his people. Not because he is sadistic or it gives him any delight but he has been holding back as long as he can, but the people are two faced, and they are faithless, and although they are still very religious, it’s just empty.
God is thankfully unhappy with that deadness. That’s one of the things I have loved about studying Amos is to realise that the God who enters into covenant with us wants a lively, joyful, genuine, enthusiastic relationship, not a separate, sleepy, dull, comprised, half-hearted, unhappy relationship. That’s why he’s so great.
And he sent Amos from the South (Judah) up to the North (Israel) just a shepherd to call out to Israel who is basically his church that God is not fooled by the way they are behaving. He can see the complacency inside them as Alec McTire says in his Commentary “they are in spiritual dreamland”. God is going to insist that they return with all their heart and if they don’t, he will visit with all his discipline.
I love the comment of John Piper who says in one of his books – “O unbeliever, God is speaking in your pain to warn you and in your pleasure to woo you – do not misread the voice of God”.
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God is speaking in your pain to warn you and your pleasure to woo you – so God is communicating thousands of times to people using the circumstances of life.
But now the sad thing is that time is up for the Israelites, and they are going to learn the hard way. God is going to bring the Assyrians in like a fire, and all the garbage of Israel is going to be removed. And what is going to be left behind is a genuine, faithful remnant – a minority – and we’ve seen in the Sundays so far that
God is a Lion that roars,
He decides or declares that he is going to come and visit his people – (it won’t be an easy visit)
He then appeals that they return and repent
He wrestles within himself, as we saw last week, whether to wait a little longer or whether to come in judgment
and that’s why I love this Book of Amos because Amos is a shepherd representing a Shepherd and what we are going to see this morning as we look at the Down and the Up is that we are going to see that God is going to do some demolition and then God is going to do some rebuilding.
So let’s look at The Demolition and The Rebuilding (chapters 9 verses 1-10). Look at verse 1 –
“I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said:
Strike the tops of the pillars
So the thresholds shake,
Bring them down on the heads of all the people;
Those who are left I will kill with the sword.
Not one will get away; none will escape.”
This is the last of the visions that Amos has in the book of Amos, and the vision is simply – seeing the Lord beside the altar of what is probably the Shrine of Bethel. Now Bethel was a little city down at the very southern border of Israel, and that’s where the king had built a shrine so that his people would not go south to Judah and leave the country, down to Jerusalem, but they would stop and go to Bethel instead. So the Bethel Shrine was like a rival shrine.
And in his vision, Amos sees the Lord beside the altar of what is probably the rival shrine. And instead of seeing God in the Temple in a comforting way, Amos sees God in the Temple in a terrifying way. And God says he is going to bring that shrine DOWN and it’s going to fall on the heads of the people.
Now, where have we heard this sort of language before? And the answer is that this is the story of Samson – when Samson pushed the pillars and caused the temple of the Philistines to come on the heads of the Philistines – and now God says ‘I am going to push the pillars and I am going to cause this shrine to come down on the heads of the Israelites, and nobody will escape’ (verse 2). Even if you go to the grave, you won’t escape. I’m sure some people think that if they die they escape God but NO says God, you don’t escape.
Verse 2 – ‘if you go up into the heavens’ which we might call ‘space’ you won’t escape God.
Verse 3 – ‘if you go to Mt Carmel (a very famous and wonderful mountain where God greatly blessed his people), you won’t escape God there.
Verse 3 – ‘if you go to the sea – you won’t escape God there’.
Verse 4 – ‘if you go off into exile in another country – you won’t escape God there’.
And the shock is (verse 4b) that God is going to fix his eyes on them and you expect him to say ‘for good not evil’, and it says ‘for evil not for good’.
Now this is the omnipresence of God, and we are used to thinking of the omnipresence of God as a very wonderful doctrine (and it is a very wonderful doctrine). You think for example of loved ones who are cut off from you, separated by distance or for some other reason, and you can’t get to them, and of course we all have family members who are in different parts of the city or the world, and we can’t get to them but thank God – he is omnipresent, and we can pray – “Heavenly Father, be with these people”.
And when we send Missionaries off we say to them in the words of the Commission in Matthew 28 – Jesus says ‘I am with you’ – it doesn’t matter where you go – the Lord Jesus is with you.
Or think of Psalm 139 where the Psalmist says ‘where can I hide from you O God – will I go to the grave, will I go to the heavens, will I go into exile? Even there your hand guides me.
So the omnipresence of God is a comfort. Romans 8 ‘nothing will separate us from the love of God’. We all get in our cars or buses or trains or on foot at the end of this particular gathering, and we all go different places, and the Lord God goes with his people – it’s absolutely wonderful – you go back to your room, you sit, perhaps you will open your Bible, you will read, you will pray, and the Lord God will be with you, he will meet with you.
Think of the love of Christ in Ephesians 3 –
How long is it, you can never get away from the love of Christ.
But what do you do if the omnipresent God is against you and is out to attack? That’s the difficulty, isn’t it? A person who sets themselves against God has picked a terrible enemy not because God loves to be an enemy but because he is perfect at seeking out what needs to be justly dealt with and his justice, whether it’s aimed at the lawbreaker or the covenant breaker will be done. And no one will escape, and no one will turn around at the end of the judgment day and say ‘no, God missed a whole lot of people’ because the justice of God is going to reach everybody and the praise of the whole universe will go up to God – not only are you gracious to save but you are also just, and you do it all perfectly and wonderfully and completely and totally.
So there is the omnipresence of God, and that’s why verses 5-6 are so amazing where Amos seems to burst into a little hymn of praise:
“The Lord, the Lord Almighty, he who touches the earth, and it melts,
Builds his lofty palace in the heavens
Who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land
The Lord is his name”.
This is what somebody has called a “Doxology of Judgment”.
Chapter 9 verse 2 – nobody escapes
Chapter 9 verse 6 – praise God, nobody escapes.
You see the same thing when you get to the end of the whole of the Bible, and you come to Revelation 18-19, and there you see that evil is going to be dropped into what is called The Lake of Fire and it will all be destroyed. The evil of the world will be destroyed – the evil of the devil will be destroyed – this terrible demolition of evil (or wonderful demolition of evil), and you know what immediately takes place in chapter 19?
Hallelujah! Hallelujah Hallelujah! Hallelujah
Four times the word “Hallelujah” appears in the Scriptures, and there it is in Revelation 19 celebrating the judgment of God. And although the day will be a very costly day and a very sobering day, it will be done so wonderfully the whole universe will turn around and say “Be glorified in the way you have saved people and in the way you have executed your justice”.
Now one writer wrote about this some years ago, and I have never forgotten it. It made a big impact on me – it’s a Commentary on the Book of Amos, and I hope that you can absorb this because I think we need it in our spiritual and Biblical framework. This is a little paragraph written to the sort of person who thinks that God is just SOFT.
“A student said to me once; my God would never send anyone to hell. No, of course, he wouldn’t, that student said God would never say ‘boo to a goose’. He was nothing but a spiritual teddy bear, a play thing, and fantasy that existed nowhere but in the student’s imagination. Neither Jesus nor Amos had any interest in such hypothetical deities. They tell us about the real God who is a Lion and not a kitten. It would have amazed Amos to hear the way some people today complain of hell as if it were a huge theological problem. How can God allow it, they demand?
Such a place of punishment would surely be a source of eternal embarrassment to a loving God, why the mere thought of its existence would spoil heaven’s bliss.
To Amos that would have seemed an appalling sentimental nonsense, and he knew the thought of tolerating sin rather than of punishing it which is the embarrassment to God. He is no more embarrassed about hell than he was embarrassed about the fall of Samaria. Judgment is not some dark skeleton in God’s cupboard which nobody in heaven is allowed to mention. God is glorified in judgment.”
I think that’s very important – if any of us are tempted to think that judgment is embarrassing it’s much more the tolerating of sin which is embarrassing to God. It is his patient wait which is embarrassing to him. It’s not his dealing with things and so I’ve often said that God’s judgment is rejected by many unthinking people outside the church but also inside the church but it’s actually something that people outside the church and inside the church deeply long for and crave that there would be justice in the earth and that somebody would deal with all the wrongs and set them right, and someone would vindicate all the right and establish it and Amos tells us (and the rest of the Bible tells us) that God will do it and when he does it we will absolutely praise him for it.
Well, notice the last few verses of this downward comparison (verses 7-10) where God addresses his people in verse 7 and says “Are you not Cushites?” Cushites are a long far away from people and then “didn’t I bring Israel up, didn’t I bring the Philistines up, didn’t I bring the Arameans up?”
And the Lord is saying – have you not just turned into any other nation? Something as tragically happened where you are no longer my special people, but you are now just like the rest of the world.
And God says (verses 8-9) that he is going to sift his people with a sieve and he’s going to end up with a remnant who will fall through the sieve into the land and the rest will be thrown away.
This ‘remnant thinking’ has been all the way through the book of Amos. You may remember in chapter 3 he said ‘as a shepherd finds that there are just two leg bones and a piece of ear left of a sheep, so the Lord will find that his people have been greatly reduced”.
He says in chapter 5 verse 3 “city of a thousand will become one hundred, and one hundred will become ten”.
He says in chapter 5 verse 15 “Return to God, so he’ll have mercy on the remnant”.
Here in chapter 9 verse 8 he says “I will not totally destroy, but I will take a sieve and the true grain, the true people will land in the land and the false will not”.
Chapter 9 verse 10 sadly the false person physically present but inwardly absent, physically involved but spiritually dead will not survive. And that judgment, of course, will be very inconsistent with the love if God if God had not been so loving as to send circumstances to wake people up and a prophet to wake people up and of course we know in the New Testament he sent the Lord Jesus. Finally, says the parable, I will send my son and they will respect my son. And they take his son, and they put him up on a cross.
So it is the great patience of God and the compassion of God holding back the day of justice. Now, this is not meant to depress us this morning; it’s just supposed to check ourselves. It’s a good thing to check ourselves.
It’s a good thing just to stop every now and again and ask – Is the eternal life in me? This is not to frighten you, but it’s just to check yourself.
- Do I have the signs of life?
- Do I speak to God as my Father?
- Do I speak to Jesus as the Lord?
- Do I love His Word?
- Do I relate to his people?
- Do I serve his people?
- Has my life changed?
There are the questions and many others that we ought to ask.
I was very struck to see in the newspaper the other day that there is a little column called “Books That Changed Me”. And these people are normally asked to mention five books that have had a significant impact on them.
And one particular person had picked as one of the five books “Lord of the Flies”. This is a book you may have read; it was written after World War II to show the savagery that lays inside the human heart. And it’s a group of fairly well-off British school boys who land on an island, and very very quickly they turn into savages. This shows us really what we are like when all the restraints are removed.
This lady who picked the book said: “Childhood and adolescence are jungles; life can be hard when you are at the mercy of other people”. I thought, and I just wondered if she had ever worked out the point of the book. Is the point of the book that somebody out there is a difficult person? Isn’t the point of the book that in here we are quite strange and savage people?
Therefore when we read the book of Amos it would be a great pity if we thought well this all just applies to someone else and doesn’t do the proper job of causing us to check ourselves and see whether we have a heart that is inclined to God. A mind that is open to his Word, a will that is often united with his, and that he is the treasure of our lives because God sees immediately who the false people are.
We can sometimes see gradually who the false people are but we need to look at ourselves very carefully and it won’t do us any harm in the light of Amos to examine and see whether we have that real walking, talking and close fellowship with God which he seeks and if we are really his people he will work on and work for using everything that he possibly can.
Now the second section which is a delightful section just more briefly this morning is The Building (verses 11-15). Don Carson calls these “almost magical verses”. And if Amos is good as he is in describing judgment, he’s brilliant in describing blessing. Look at verse 11 –
“In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent”. In other words, I will take things back to the days where David met with the people of God, and the temple had not been built, and there was just a tent, but they were very keen faithful days. “I will take you back,” says God “to the keen faithful days”.
And then in verse 12 “So they may possess the remnant of Edom”. Who is Edom? Edom is the nation that traces back to Esau – Jacob and Esau – Jacob (the people of God) and Edom (enemies of God). And God says that they may possess the remnant of the enemies. In other words, is Edom going to be obliterated? NO says God; I am going to pick people from my enemies.
Look at the rest of verse 12 ‘all the nations that bear my name, declares the Lord, who will do these things”. So God is going to work to build up his people to health, and he is going to bring in people from all the nations to share in this particular kingdom.
Now when is he going to do this? And the answer is; he is going to do this as soon as the Lord Jesus lives, dies and rises – and he does. As soon as Jesus lives, dies and rises, the message of the Gospel goes out to the nations “Go into all the world” says Jesus “and make disciples of all peoples and lo I am with you always even to the end of the age”. And the Gospel has been going out for 2000 years to the nations – we prayed for some of them this morning – because God is bringing his people from all the nations into his family.
We know that these verses in Amos do apply to the spread of the Gospel because in the New Testament these verses of Amos are quoted, and they are cited in the book of Acts chapter 15 when the believers are getting together for the Council of Jerusalem to discuss the inflow of the nations. All these believers from the nations and James, the leader of the church, stands up and says ‘don’t be surprised – this is what God promised’ and he quotes from Amos chapter 9 verses 11-12. This is what God said he would do – he would bring in the people from the nations.
Here is Amos in verse 12 promising there will be a rebuilding and in a physical sense there was a rebuilding when they came back from exile and they rebuilt the city and they lived in the city for a while but in a spiritual sense, the rebuilding is the gathering of the people from all the nations through the Gospel of Jesus and in a perfect way, the rebuilding will take place down the track further when God perfectly rebuilds and brings all his people into a heavenly kingdom face to face with himself.
So the promise of Amos “I will rebuild” back after the exile, onward through the Gospel and finally upward face to face in heaven. And if you don’t think that’s attractive, look at verses 13-15. God is going to work so that his people are secure in their home with food and drink and gardens and fruit and security never again to be uprooted (verse 15).
Now, these are lovely verses (verse 13) ‘the days are coming when the reaper will be overtaken by the ploughman’. What does this mean? It means that the guy is out there reaping the harvest, bringing in all the produce and suddenly he finds hot on his heels is a man ploughing behind him. And he says ‘hold on, hold on, I’m just bringing in the harvest’.
And the guy with the plough says ‘and I’m ploughing for another harvest because it’s coming, and it’s coming, and it’s coming’.
Verse 14 – the planter of vines is working and putting in the vines, and he looks over his shoulder, and the grape treader has turned up. And he says ‘shouldn’t you come back when the vines have grown and the grapes have grown and we’ve picked the grapes?’ And the treader says ‘it’s all going to happen SO fast, everything has been sped up, the blessing is abundant, a super blessing.
And when God’s people are settled (verse 14) never to be removed, obviously this is not the land of Israel but is the great and permanent home that God has for his people. And the Old Testament saints like Abraham and Moses looked forward to the day when they would not just be on the soil of Israel, but they would be in the City of God.
I love the comment of Lloyd-Jones the great Welsh preacher, who tells us that when he was a school boy, he was terribly homesick, and home sickness never left him all his life. He said sometimes I would be sitting at home and just great pains of home sickness would come over me.
And I think for the real believer there are pangs of home sickness that just come over you where you think if only I could be “home” – I just don’t quite feel home. Working on the house, planning for the holiday house but you are never really going to be home until you walk through the doors of glory.
C.S. Lewis said, “at present, we are on the outside, the wrong side of the door but all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the noise that it will not always be so – someday we shall go in”.
Now as we come to the end of Amos, friends, I just want to finish by asking you this question:
- Why do you and I think that there will be good news to follow the difficult news?
- Why do we think that in the days of struggle and suffering and trial and fire? (“In the world, you will have trouble,” said Jesus)
- Why do we think that Amos says about the future is going to be true and real for us?
There are lots of unbelievers out there who think that whatever happens when they get to the end of their lives they are going to be up there with some splendour and heaven and all will be well, and they think it’s because they want to think it.
- Why do you think it?
- Why do you believe it?
- Why are you confident about it?
And the answer is that we are not just talking fiction or fantasy or wishful thinking, we are building out hope on the person called Jesus who came down into the world and then went so far down with all our sins on his back that he ended up in the judgment and took the judgment away from the believer.
Then God raised him up, and the door of the resurrection opened,
and the door of the eternal Kingdom opened,
and we find ourselves because of simple faith in Jesus as belonging to the one who has not only taken away and our judgment and our danger but who has opened the door of glory and eternity.
Do we deserve that? We do not deserve that.
Are we confident about it because we are great? We are not confident about it because we are great, but we are confident about it because He has done it and He has promised it as a gift to the believer – not to the achiever but to the believer.
That’s why I hope today and everyday you will say to yourself – ‘how wonderful it is to have someone in the Lord Jesus who came so far down for me and further than I’ll ever go and took away the danger and the judgment and who rose again and has opened the glory and gives this eternal life as a gift and I have taken it – praise God for that.
“The days are coming,” says Amos – we look forward to them.