Last week the prophet Joel gave dire warnings about the disasters that would fall upon the Lord’s people. He gave a stunning vision for the last days too that included the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling God’s remnant to spread the gospel. Deliverance was promised to all who call on the name of the Lord. In Joel 2:28-32 we find the promise that “…I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy…”
This week we see that Amos has a similar warning of destruction for the surrounding nations, but it encompasses even those God has called out of Egypt, His beloved people. And Amos is bold in describing just what their sins are.
Memory Text: “A Lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” Amos 3:8 NKJV
I like it that the New King James Version has used exclamation marks for this verse. It should indeed be exclaimed with strong emotion. I have been to zoos many times, but cannot recall ever hearing a lion roar in its cage, let alone in its natural environment. It must be an emotional, spine-tingling experience. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in very close proximity to this king of the forest when he lets out one of these attention-getting roars. It would sure get my attention!
The end of this verse, which says, “Who can but prophesy?” sounds a bit awkward to our ears, but my Bible cross-referenced Acts 4:20, which gave me a better feeling for Amos’ meaning here. This story in Acts illustrated the boldness of Peter and John, who were commanded by the city magistrates not to speak or teach about Jesus any more. But these two brave apostles replied, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” KJV (These minor prophets seem to be cut from the same cloth, don’t they?)
My Thought Question: Have we experienced enough of God to be able to proclaim Him to others, even at the peril of our own lives? If we frequently neglect speaking of Him now, what makes us think we will have the strength or the desire to do so when times are not so favorable?
Key Thought of This Week’s Lesson: Acts of inhumanity are sins against God and we will be judged accordingly.
These words, or reflections of them, seem to be echoing from many people these days in reference to the Boston Marathon bombers of last week. This was clearly an act of inhumanity, and we aren’t at all timid about wanting those responsible held accountable for their actions.
Amos describes precisely what these acts of inhumanity are and who are guilty of committing them. Both revelations must have caused God’s people to roll back on their heels with remorse. Or at least, one would hope.
Sunday: Crimes Against Humanity
We find that the first two chapters of Amos revealed seven prophecies concerning the neighboring nations, with one final one about Israel. The crimes that warranted Amos’ condemnation were surprisingly the absence of loyalty and pity that all these nations exhibited. Not the presence of certain acts, but the absence of two character traits that God must value very much.
As a matter of fact, Tyre, a merchant city on the Mediterranean coast north of Israel, was not directly responsible for being inhumane to captives they took away, but for handing them over to be tortured by Israel’s enemies, the Edomites. Evidently, God sees the person who assists and supports a crime as guilty as the one who commits it.
My Thought Question: Do we also support wrong acts by just standing by and witnessing them? If someone is bullied or ridiculed at the workplace or school, does our silence in not defending them make us as guilty as the attackers? When we see little children, women, the poor, or any marginalized individual mistreated in public, or know of their abuse at home, are we as guilty as the abusers, if we don’t take steps to intervene for their safety and well-being?
Monday: Justice for the Oppressed
Spiritual decay is displayed as social injustice, according to the prophet Amos. He taught that there is a living God who cares about how we treat others. Social justice is therefore not just an idea or a cause to consider, but justice in any garb is a divine concern.
While some churches and congregations tend to move away from these social issues, we might do well not to “throw the baby out with the bath water”, as the saying goes. As God’s representatives, we must be forthright in standing up for humane causes and do all we can to uplift and defend those who are rejected by society, as Christ no doubt did all through His earthly ministry.
In Exodus 22:21-24 we find Moses insisting on fair treatment of foreigners, widows, and orphans. We ceremoniously nod our heads in agreement that these oppressed groups deserved justice and assistance.
But who are we willing to speak up for and reach out to today? The foreign immigrant, but only if he has obtained citizenship? Single moms, but only if they “clean up their act” and stop having so many children and get a job? School dropouts and drug users, but only if they dress up and come to church first?
The oppressed are not always as pretty as we’d like them to be, but Jesus didn’t hesitate to approach the masses, eat with them, pray with them, accept them for who they were. We shouldn’t be timid in our love for others either. After all, it’s love that makes people better, isn’t it?
We must remember that God measures our love by how much we love our enemies, not our friends. Have you reached out to the “least of His brethren” lately?
Tuesday: The Peril of Privilege
Amos 3:1-3: “Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. Can two walk together except they be agreed?” KJV
The idea of “knowing” indicates a very close relationship in the Bible. In this case with His nation Israel, it could be compared to Jeremiah 1:5 where God says of Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” KJV
I like the way the lesson puts it though…”Israel had a unique but not exclusive claim on God.” Therefore God was trying to explain why His punishments seemed so harsh. With privilege comes responsibility. Israel had failed to witness to the world about the Lord, who had blessed them so abundantly. They, above all nations, must be held accountable for their prideful actions.
We are directed to Luke 12:47-48 for New Testament verification of this principle: “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” KJV
This sounds like true justice to us. Our country’s judicial system today is based on this premise. That’s why judges are given a variety of options when it comes to sentencing those who are found guilty of breaking the law.
At the same time, it may seem a bit intimidating if we are found to be one of those favored with an abundance of God’s blessings. Whether we are born into wealth or acquire it with through our own hard work and thrift, we are responsible for sharing it with those around us who are in less fortunate circumstances.
We may feel it our “right” to keep it all to ourselves, but God does not reckon it so. Whether it’s material possessions, or spiritual knowledge, it MUST be shared. Because giving from a loving heart is a basic tenet of God’s will. When we fail to do this, we are not living according to His will.
Wednesday: Israel’s Rendezvous With God
Most of us would shudder upon hearing the words “Prepare to meet thy God”, spoken to Israel in Amos 4:12. It sounds like a phrase one would hear in a hospice setting. Our days with a terminal illness are limited, yes, but the good news is we have time to prepare. And so did Israel.
The supreme “bad news, good news” dichotomy is expressed in Romans 3:23-24:
“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; [bad news] Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:” [good news]
We are all, the righteous and unrighteous, going to meet God someday. The question is how are we preparing for that meeting.
Through Jesus, we have access even now to the Judge’s court room. Our Advocate knows the Judge intimately. How well do we know our Advocate? Are we taking advantage of all our jailhouse visitation privileges with Jesus? I hope so. It could make all the difference in our trial.
Thursday: The Pride That Leads to Fall
Just so we don’t leave the little book Obadiah out of our quarter’s study, we are encouraged to read its meager 21 verses this week.
This shortest book in the Old Testament is packed with a spiritual lesson for us though. It finds Obadiah pronouncing judgment on Edom, the nation descended from Jacob’s twin brother, Esau.
Even though it appeared that Jacob and Esau were finally on good terms, as far as Scriptures tell us, there was evidently much family feuding going on in the generations that followed.
It must have been from both sides too, because the Israelites were admonished “not to abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.” in Deuteronomy 23:7 KJV
On the other hand, it seemed the Edomites rejoiced during the Babylonian captivity and even helped plunder Jerusalem after they were gone. (Psalm 137:7)
Obadiah was warning them that their sins would catch up with them. As Lamentations 4:22 puts it: “…he will discover thy sins.”
We may once have had a relationship with Jesus, like Jacob and Esau, but has that relationship deteriorated over the years, or has it grown and blossomed?
My Closing Thought: “Against the marked oppression, the flagrant injustice, the unwonted luxury and extravagance, the shameless feasting and drunkenness, the gross licentiousness and debauchery of their age, the prophets lifted their voices…” Prophets and Kings, p. 282.
Wait a minute, isn’t this describing our society today?
Continue reading the last half of Amos for next week.