These devotions were recently published as a series in The Biblical Recorder.
The book of Amos opens with the prophet delivering a series of oracles proclaiming that no one can escape the consequences of their actions – not Israel (2:6-6:16) or Israel’s neighbors (1:2-2:5). In these first chapters we see a brutally honest portrait of universal justice coming from the omniscient and all-powerful God of the universe. Amos 4 is crystal clear; God is the sovereign King over all creation.
When the prophet unseals God’s indictment against the guilty, one might expect to see judgment visiting the foreign pagan nations. But Amos, as Professor Heath Thomas argues, looks past the whitewash to expose the decay of God’s people underneath. Contrary to all external appearances God’s people were guilty and “ripe” for God’s judgment. Amos proclaims that God’s people cannot do anything right (3:10).
But the good news is that God comes to Israel with both judgment for sin and promises of restoration. Prof. Thomas says God’s judgment is not to irradiate but to reconcile. In a very real sense Israel’s salvation is found through their judgment. As we look back from this side of the cross we read Amos and see very clearly that the judgment and restoration of God’s people anticipates the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Jesus fully consumed the judgment of God for our sin so that we could be restored back to God.
The demand for righteousness was fulfilled in Jesus who did everything right! Because of Jesus’ imputed righteousness Christians stand not under God’s wrath, but in the safe shadow of Jesus’ cross. The universal justice of God that we experience in Amos 1-4 is still a haunting reality today, and salvific escape is found only in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:13–14; Rom. 3:9–31). Unless there is true repentance, no one can escape the judgment of God.
This section of Amos’ prophecy is centered on God’s pleading for His people to return to Him. It is clear that Israel faces impending destruction. It is also clear from the lamenting tone of the passage that God does not take delight in these pronouncements of disaster, but grieves at what lies ahead for unrepentant Israel.
In God’s righteous court Israel had no case. God’s justice is pure and upright, unlike Israel’s shady gatehouses where justice went to the highest bidder. And Israel’s sin flooded well beyond their city gates. They had been prostituting themselves in pagan religious activities and had become narcissistic and self-indulgent. To make things worse, they continued in their own religious activities with no regard to how they were living their lives. But God hated and despised their hypocritical, religious activity because they were so unrepentant.
The only hope the Israelites had was in the power of God made available through repentance, but Israel saw no need for that. Instead of mourning and grieving over their sins the Israelites were living extravagant lives. Prayerfully, we would never be so blinded by our own sin. But if we ever find ourselves there, we can always find hope in God. All throughout these passages we hear the same call – “seek the Lord and live.” God graciously extends His fellowship and forgiveness to those who repent and turn to Him. Idolatry, pride and self-indulgence are the same today as they were then. And God is the same, judging righteously.
The only hope we have is in Christ who was slaughtered on the wood of a cross and walked out of a cold grave three days later. It is through Christ that we are presented pure and righteous before the great Judge. And if we seek Him we will live. This is the power of the gospel.
At this point in the Book of Amos the nation of Israel is too far gone to avoid judgment. Even so, Amos pleads to God on behalf of the nation for mercy. But, God repeatedly showed mercy to His defiant people only to have them continue in their smugness toward Him. God does not desire to destroy His people. He is very patient and has promised to relent in response to repentance.
But the only thing left for Israel was judgment. Judgment would fall on Israel like a plague of locusts, like a fire so intense it would evaporate the sea and char the land. The sin of Israel was so terrible that the high places and sanctuaries had become dens of snakes. One would think that the priesthood would have held Israel accountable to the Torah. But, the priesthood itself was corrupt. There was no standard being applied by which Israel’s true condition could be recognized.
Plus, all the people wanted to hear were the messages of blessing and success, not messages about sin, obedience and judgment. Sometimes it is hard to let God’s Word sift through our souls. Spiritual enlightenment and reflective Bible reading has a jarring effect on us. God uses the truth of His Word to show us our sinfulness, and most people are not comfortable with that.
Any casual walk through a Christian book store makes it apparent that we, like Israel, want to hear about blessing and success. But the only true blessing is Christ. And the only success that matters is His victory on the cross over our sin. Because of the gospel we can finally see ourselves for who we really are – broken sinners dependent on the mercy and grace of God. That is good news that refreshes the soul.
The end of Amos recalls “the long summer” of God’s patience had come to an end. There was no harvest of repentance from Israel, only silence. Ironically, Israel had become so hardened by their sin that their consciences had been easily appeased by empty ritual. In other words, God’s people still saw themselves as devoutly religious while at the same time trampling and killing the needy – people who are close to God’s own heart.
Amos stands and declares that because of their hypocrisy, destruction would rush in over Israel like flooding from the Nile. What a horrible picture! But the people had continually rejected God’s Word and ignored His warnings. In fact, the Israelites had actually attempted to manipulate God with their sacrifices. At this point judgment was inescapable.
Yet there is pause, because God declares that He will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob (Amos 9:8). And, again we are reminded that God had committed Himself to bless His people and eventually the world through the family of David (2 Samuel 7:15-16). This promise sees its fulfillment in Jesus Christ – who is from the line of David and is the eternal King of Kings (Matthew 1:1, Hebrews 1:1-5).
As Christians we can look back at this Old Testament passage and see its fulfillment in Jesus Christ whose reign is inaugurated in His resurrection, or to use the words of Amos, “when David’s fallen tent is raised” (9:11). Moreover, 9:12 points us to see that when Jesus is raised, the nations become included in God’s blessings, in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3).
For now we wait for the consummation of His kingdom where we experience abundant blessings much like those described in Amos 9:13-15. But for those who do not turn from their sin, there waits an eternal judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). As the “summer ends” proclaim the Good News because the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.