Many people struggle finding God in the accounts of the Old Testament, but as we continue our study of Amos, we find the title of this week’s lesson: Seek the Lord and Live! a true picture of a loving and just God. What seems like punishment to us and them was just the end result of their own actions or inactions. Israel had failed God, not the other way around. Sometimes an early demise is the only merciful way to deal with intense corruption and evil. And the suffering endured by God’s people at that time through the various captivities and invasions were permitted by God, as a final chance for them to repent and return to Him.
Memory Text: “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the Lord God of hosts be with you, just as you have said!” Amos 5:14 NASB
Chapter 5 of Amos is called a funeral song; it was surely God’s lament over the fate of Israel. Its purpose was to shock the people into seeing the reality of their situation. Several times previous to our memory text in v. 14, they are reminded to seek the Lord. And thankfully, there would be a remnant who would cling to the promises of restoration.
Sunday: Hate Evil, Love God
Romans 12:9 reminds us of the memory text: “…Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.” Evidently, our search for God must include some very strong emotions when it comes to good and evil. At some point in our Christian experience, we must not only stay away from sin and evil, but we must actually come to hate it.
Most of us have struggled with some kind of addiction. I dare say most of us have at least felt drawn to “junk” foods to some degree, and some of us have really struggled with trying to avoid them. It’s a lot harder to stay away from them, however, if you haven’t found some healthier choices just as satisfying to your misguided taste buds. It takes a firm resolve and making it a daily choice for us to be able to re-train our taste buds and actually like a meal of lentils and broccoli over our favorite fast food order.
In The Acts of the Apostles, p.431, we are told that in order to seek God and serve Him, as Amos is imploring us to do, we “need courage, firmness, and a knowledge of God and His word…Satan will work with all his deceptive power to influence the heart and becloud the understanding, to make evil appear good, and good evil.”
Isaiah also warned about this deception that makes good appear evil, and evil appear good. [“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20 KJV]
None can deny that we see this confusion in our society today. Evil actions, things that God has called sin, are made into sitcoms or drama series on our televisions, just to make them more palatable and acceptable to our shrinking consciences. Things that would have utterly shocked us, even a few decades ago, barely get a shrug of our defeated shoulders now as we dismiss them nonchalantly as just “signs of the times”.
Yes, our world is becoming increasingly confused about what constitutes good and evil. And it’s not just a knowledge of God’s word that will save us. The quote above said “a knowledge of God and His word”. We have to KNOW GOD, as well as His word, for this confusion to stop. And unless our moral compasses are made well through the Holy Spirit, we are not going to be effective witnesses and servants of our Lord.
Monday: Religion as Usual
After reading Amos 5:23-24 I was stymied by the word “viol” but after seeing its definition in Strong’s as a six-stringed musical instrument, I was enlightened. Oh, yes, as in “violin”!
The Living Bible states the verse more clearly: “Away with your hymns of praise–they are mere noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is. I want to see a mighty flood of justice–a torrent of doing good.”
This immediately brought to my mind David’s pronouncement about what sacrifice God expects from us. He said in Psalm 51:16-17 “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifice of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou will not despise.” KJV
I think it’s valuable to consider these passages together. Amos seems to be encouraging good actions, kind deeds, and the practice of true justice in the land, but it almost appears that David is only concerned about having his heart in the right place. How do we reconcile these two views?
It seems to me that in God’s eyes, the only good actions that He accepts as worshipful sacrifice are the ones that spring from a good heart. As humans, we think that if we can just “clean up” our messy lifestyles, it will make us clean on the inside too. And we also conclude that if we are living “a good life”, we automatically must have our hearts in the right place. Neither premise is valid and will not lead to the kind of sacrifice God accepts. With God, it’s all or nothing.
On a side note: I must say that after reading what Amos has to say about our music in church, I, for one, will be making a special effort not to make my singing just “noise” to the Lord’s ears. Deuteronomy 10:16 tells us to “be no more stiffnecked”. I’m afraid my careless, mind-wandering singing has sounded pretty “stiffnecked” at times. Music is intended to touch the emotions, both ours and God’s. It is not a sacrifice we should offer carelessly in church or anywhere.
Tuesday: Called to Be a Prophet
One has to feel some pity for Amos. Not only did God call him out of a simple farmer’s life in Judah (he had no prior experience at any of the schools of the prophets), but he was sent to prophesy in another neighborhood, the bordering nation of Israel. Therefore we sense some of his opposition in chapter 7, especially verse 10 which says “…the land is not able to bear all his words.”
Not to be surprised, he received many of his rebukes from Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, who ordered Amos to go back to the land of Judah, where he came from. God’s call for him to preach against the king’s sins boldly and openly, however, finally led to him being accused of treason.
Personal Thought Questions: Am I too timid in my witness for God, not wishing others to reject me or simply not like me? We are ALL called to serve God in some capacity. Am I fulfilling all the plans He has for me? On the other hand, how do I react when someone points out some weakness or fault of mine? Instead of denying it, defending myself, blaming others, or making excuses, wouldn’t it be smarter to use the information to improve myself and my relationships?
Wednesday: The Worst Type of Famine
Perhaps one of the most quoted texts from Amos is Amos 8:11. [“Behold the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”]
This text brought immediately to mind for me one of the Beatitudes in which Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Is this saying that God’s people will already have been filled when the famine happens? The one way not to be hungry or thirsty is to have a full belly, right?
There are also a few more verses we should look at, in order to understand God’s silence during this famine. Proverbs says in v. 28-30: “Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose fear of the Lord: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.” KJV This clearly states why God did not answer their cries.
Evidently there is a cutting-off point where God can no longer reach us, referred to as the unpardonable sin, spoken of in Matthew 12:31, 32. Saul, the first king of Israel, experienced this famine, or silence from God. I Samuel 28:6 says “And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.” KJV
Amos’ far-reaching warning: Will this famine that Amos refers to happen also on a worldwide basis in the final days? Revelation 8:1 says “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” If this were prophetic time (a day for a year), some have concluded that this half hour time period would be roughly one week. It’s rather unclear to me how this will all play out in that final countdown of earth’s history, but I find it interesting that Amos, a prophet in Old Testament times, was used, not only to give warnings to God’s people back then, but to raise up an alarm for us today.
Thursday: Judah’s Ruins Restored
The last verses of Amos speak of the restoration of Israel and includes glorious promises that they would enjoy on the “day of the Lord”. Some have concluded that this would happen to the literal nation of Israel, but could it not refer to spiritual Israel, all of the redeemed (Galatians 3:29), and thus be referring to the world in the last days?
The prophet Joel concluded his book with very similar promises, which are more conclusive in relating it to the Second Coming (he even mentions the sun and the moon being darkened). Indeed the ultimate fulfillment of these verses will be seen only at that time.
Another way these promises have seen fulfillment for Israel though was in the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:32-33), and in the gospel going to the Gentiles after Pentecost. Acts 15:15-17 [“And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down: and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.” KJV]
From The Desire of Ages we read on p. 28, “Had Israel been true to God, He could have accomplished His purpose through their honor and exaltation…But because of their unfaithfulness, God’s purpose could be wrought out only through continued adversity and humiliation.”
We can either be used of God, or allow Satan to ab-use us. Is it really that hard to choose?
Next week, we’ll look at the fascinating story of Jonah!