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The Gospel According to Amos

Again, Read Amos 9:8b-15

HOPE! Part 2 of 3

Two more days until we celebrate Jesus’ coming! Amos is really helping us see how significant this coming, and the establishment of Jesus’ new Kingdom on earth, truly is.

In verse 8b, the ray of hope peeps in at the conclusion of Amos’ prophecies of judgment on Israel. The Gospel! … Do you see it? The house of Jacob will not be utterly destroyed!

Okay, that’s great … for the house of Jacob. But that ain’t me, is it?

God never has, isn’t now, and never will be dealing with Israel strictly in terms of their national interests. No, since the call of Abraham, this whole “chosen-nation thing” has had everything to do with the whole planet, not just the Jews. Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). Sometimes called “The Great Commission of the Old Testament”, this call and promise encourages Abraham to rise above his ethnic and familial ties, and go on a mission that will (don’t miss this!) bless “all the families of the earth”!

God’s relentless mission to redeem for Himself a people now plays itself out in His word to Israel through Amos, in two Ways:

 “For behold, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the earth” (v. 9). God is dealing with Israel, but is not doing so privately. Their judgment is not intended to go unseen by the watching world. They are being shaken “among all the nations”. As Abraham was a blessing to Canaan … as the Israelites were a blessing to Egypt … as the Ark of the Covenant was a blessing to the house of Obed-Edom … as the people Judea would be a blessing even to Babylon, while in Exile … and, of course, as the Messiah Jesus would come to bless all mankind, they have this in common: All were shaken among the nations. God has always paraded His suffering people around the world, as a testimony of His grace and truth to all, and as a means of His blessing to the world through their sacrifice.

“In that day I will raise up the booth of David … that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name” (v.11-12). When was the booth of David raised up? When Jesus, of the line of David, came to establish His Kingdom. This Kingdom, though, is far bigger, wider and inclusive than the political nation of Israel, and the ethnic clan of the Jews. It will even include “the remnant of Edom”, now “called by My name”. (Edom … remember “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”? Here, we have Esau’s tribe being included in the new Davidic people.) Not only the Edomites, but “all the nations” who are called. Jesus’ command that the gospel be preached to the four corners of the earth displays that His Messianic Kingdom is, literally, for all the nations.

When Jesus comes, He will be born into a lost people, Israel. One people among many lost peoples in a lost world. He will come to save them … and us. Now, we, too, will be a part of the people of God. Now, we, too will be shaken among the nations for the glory of God and the blessing of mankind. And we will be the ones who will receive an amazing inheritance when we return! (That’s the finale…see you tomorrow!).

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos

 

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Amos’ Last Judgment

Today, it’s one last look at Amos’ pronounced judgment on Israel … tomorrow, we get three days of grace before Christmas!

Amos 9:1-8a

“I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said ‘Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, and shatter them on the heads of all the people; and those who are left of them I will kill with the sword; not one of them shall flee away; not one of them shall escape.”

Get the picture? God is standing in the worship center, where the syncretistic, back-slidden worship has been taking place. As we have learned throughout this book, God hates it. He in essence says, “bring it down.” Those who don’t die from the building’s collapse will be slain by the sword. Such was the flood in Genesis 7. Such will be the retribution experienced by unbelievers at Jesus’ return. So sad that these think they believe – they’re actually “at church” when their destruction comes. A specter of the future?

“If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them.

If they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down.
If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search them out and take them;
If they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.
If they go into captivity before their enemies, there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them. I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.”

Hell, heaven, mountain top, sea bottom, in a far-off nation … there’s no getting away from God’s will. (See Romans 8:35-39 for the flip side of this story. God has His eyes fixed on you … one way or another.)

“The Lord God of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who dwell in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt; who builds his upper chambers in the heavens and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth—the Lord is his name.”

When John the Baptist wanted to know if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus said, “tell John what you hear and see” (Matt. 11:4). God the Father? Same. Just look at the power of creation – “That’s Me”, says the LORD.

“Are you not like the Cushites to me, O people of Israel?” declares the Lord. “Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir? Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground.”

All this is happening to “God’s chosen”. They think they’re special, and that God could never bring judgment like this upon them. But God reminds them of the gospel truth: All the nations have always been in the hand of God. Israel is certainly no better – they just have a different purpose, and enhanced expectations. Unforgiven sin is unforgiven sin, no matter who commits it. Without repentance, and the shedding of blood, there is no salvation.

No question Amos was an unpopular preacher. He and his message were, like so many prophets before him, rejected. “We’ll roll the dice, and hope that he’s wrong. Our worship, and the way we spend our money … it can’t be that bad, can it?”

Yes, God came. Israel vanished for two millennia. He’s coming again, soon, and promises judgment on sin. And grace to those who believe, and are born of the Spirit (we’ll get to that tomorrow!) Are you ready?

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos

 

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“Just Sayin’?” Uh…no.

Read Amos 8:1-3

The Amos reading tonight reminds me of the advent verses in the first chapter of John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:1, 14).

Jesus is the Word. Christians, like the Jews, have always been people of the book. We believe that a primary way that God has communicated to people is through words, through language.

The modern understanding of “objective truth” has driven many people, both believers and non, to a different type of relationship with words. We analyze everything. We treat our sentences and word choices like the matter in a physical science experiment. When we approach the Bible this way, we end up parsing, mincing and mining the texts – their history, grammar, authorship – in a pursuit of “the facts”. (So immersed our we in this brand of Bible reading that we cannot even see how unusual it is in the grand thousands-of-years history of the faith.)

When it comes to our Advent eschatology, we do the same. We rip into Daniel, Revelation, and all the other prophecies, trying to extract some sort of pre-history of upcoming events that is “valid”. Then we argue over our findings…

…As though this was the purpose of the prophets, and of the written words their revelations produced.

But … what does this have to do with Amos 8?

God has another word for Amos. As the book moves to its final chapters, the prophecies are getting all the more grim. God has more tragic news to share through His prophet … but His approach is very curious.

“This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. And he said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A basket of summer fruit.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,’ declares the Lord God. ‘So many dead bodies!’ ‘They are thrown everywhere!’ ‘Silence!’” (Amos 3:1-3).

We don’t get this in English … but in Hebrew, God is doing a play-on-words. The word for “fruit” in Hebrew is pronounced kay-EETS. The word for “end” is KEETS. Get it? It’s a basket of kay-EETS, Amos, but what it really is is a healthy serving of KEETS … “the end” … the destruction of Israel.

Seriously? This is God almighty, informing Amos of a catastrophe that will leave bodies strewn everywhere … and He’s presenting it with a clever double entendre? One might consider this, well, kind of inappropriate. At the very least, it’s interesting.

I find it wonderful, for a few reasons. First, God is good, all the time. He doesn’t have to shift from being at once creative, artistic and engaging, and then become somber, sterile and matter-of-fact. The same God who playfully carved out the Grand Canyon is, with complete joy and goodness, bringing about His judgment on His own faithless people. No apologies. No change in character.

Second, it affirms again how important the creative use of language is to God. The way God speaks to His prophets reinforces to me both the truth and the beauty of God, and His Word. And we, made in His image and likeness, are the only creatures on the planet who are also users of language. What we say, and how we say it, are of enormous importance! We don’t just deal in “truth”. We deal in divine-image communication, which should be handled with great care, and for the most noble purposes.

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in[d] blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God (Rev. 19:11-13). He is coming!

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Eschatology

 

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Don’t Criticize Our Worship!

Read Amos 7:9-17

A bit more on the plumb line text from Amos…

God shows Amos that he is “setting a plumb line in the midst” of the people. And it’s clear that the people won’t measure up. Destruction is imminent … but where will it be centered? “The high places”, “the sanctuaries”, that’s where (v. 9).

When it comes to worship, the people of God have, throughout the scriptures, always had the propensity to drift. Specifically, we tend to want to incorporate what we think are attractive additions to God’s prescriptions- either things we dream up, or things we pick up from the culture around us. Golden calves. Unauthorized fire. The high places. But why would we go beyond what God has called for? Almost always, it’s because we want to enjoy His worship more.

In today’s text, the high priest Amaziah has had enough of Amos. Amaziah is the leader of the worship program at Bethel – a brand of worship enjoyed by the wealthy Samarians, which incorporates some of the most attractive, diverse, intercultural elements of the neighboring religions. This bumpkin Amos has already declared Bethel’s worship offensive to the very God it claims to honor. Now, he has the gall to say that the sanctuary building will actually be ruined? Who would say such a thing about a fine, successful, religious man, his organization, his services, and his facility? So, Amaziah rallies the political support of the King, and then tells Amos to go home to Judah, and never return*.

It is almost impossible to speak prophetic correction into someone’s worship experience: there is so much self there. Worship can be very emotional. The use of the arts helps us express that emotion. When it comes to one’s heart and art, it gets very subjective, very personal. To say to someone “your worship is wrong” can, and does, elicit a violent reaction.

But Jesus is coming! In Luke 18:8, Jesus asked cryptically: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” The very fact that Jesus asked that question should make us cautious and reflective about our faith practices as we await His return. Are we willing to hear Amos-like challenges to the way we express ourselves to God? Or are we so confident in what we’re doing (after all, I picked this church because I really like the worship!) that we, too, would be dismissive of corrective criticism?

Because we need it! We need a plumb line for our worship more than ever. Because, like lemmings to the sea, our contemporary church has let the influences of our secular culture not only infect, but even set the agenda for our gatherings. They are now far less for God, and far more for people – often for unbelieving people. We do this in the name of “evangelism”, which is often simply a pseudo-spiritual redefinition of business development and procuring market share. Most church leaders have given little-to-no thought about the actual divine prescriptions for their people’s worship. Oh, that Amos would come to us today … and that we would not just send him away, but would hear his voice, repent, and do what is needed to be found pleasing Him in our worship when He returns!

(You…you want me to go now?…)

– EO

*(By the way, Amos could have said, “Okay, sorry, I went too far, I’ll just go.” Instead, Amos tells Amaziah that his wife will become a prostitute, his kids will be killed, his country will be taken over, his people Israel will be exiled, and he himself will die. Talk about doubling down!)

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Eschatology, Worship

 

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It’s Not the Economy, Stupid.

Read Amos 6:1-10

It’s election campaign season. And what are the two most important issues in the mind of most voters? The economy, and security. We want the prosperity of the “American dream” to be accessible, and we don’t want to have to worry about any threats to that good life from the outside.

I grew up thinking that the U.S. is far away the best country in the world. Why? Because the U.S. has experienced unparalleled success in both its economy and its military. For the most
part, we feel like we can advance ourselves if we choose to, aconfidence of americansnd that our borders are safe. Members of the upper class, with their aristocratic networks and endowments, feel particularly confident.

The Israelites of Amos’ day felt the same. But God wants them to watch out. “Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria, the notables of the first of the nations.” (6:1). The “first of nations”? God calls this into question: “Cross over to Calneh…to Hamath…to Gath…Are you better than these kingdoms?” And, in case they think their riches will save them, God points out that their expensive furnishings, lavish diets, extensive wine cellars, fancy cosmetics, and hip music scene are all at risk because of one thing…

They’re not grieved over their internal decay. They are unaware of the heart and standards of God, and how disappointing their lifestyles are to Him.They don’t even see their actions for what they are.

But the LORD does. God abhors their pride, and hates the all the military strength that the people are putting their hope in. “I will deliver up the city and all that is in it” (v.8).

During Advent, we should be grieved over our sin, and do something about it. Perhaps it’s an addiction to worldly stuff. Maybe it’s an overconfidence in anything besides God Himself. Whatever our sin is, God wants us to be aware of it, feel godly sorrow about it, and repent of it. That would be an appropriate preparation for His coming. Instead, I fear that too many of us treat the holidays as a time to throw conviction to the wind. We indulge ourselves, knowing that the new year is right around the corner. We can wait until then to make some resolutions to live better (though we know that seldom bears any fruit).

Lord, heal us of that which truly ruins us. Forgive us for our addiction to material things, and our over-confidence in our national security. You hate those things. By Your Spirit, help us to hate them, too. Let us be found being humble, generous and full of faith when You return. Amen.

– EO

 
 

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Is Our Amos Moment Coming?

Second Monday of Advent

Read Amos 3:9-15

The prosperous, wealthy kingdom was about to be brought low by the Lord.

(Interesting: God does everything He does in order for the world to see and understand Him. Even as He’s about to bring Israel down, he invites the power brokers from rival nations (Philistia, Egypt) to gather on the hillsides of Samaria – like festival seating – and watch the collapse.)

Their impending doom is coming from the outside – from the Assyrians, who will break them down and seal their possessions. But, make no mistake: The primary cause of Israel’s downfall is internal. “See what great tumults are within it, and what oppressions are in its midst. They do not know how to do right, says the Lord, those who store up violence and robbery within their strongholds.”  They were rich and strong, but their moral compass was lost.

(Grace: A central theme of the Old Testament is tucked into v.12. The word “rescue” leaps off the page with some unexpected hope. It won’t be most, and it won’t be many, but there will be a remnant from this beleaguered nation that will live on in fulfillment of God’s covenant. Amos uses the gruesome analogy of a few limbs remaining after being eaten by a lion. He also says that their beloved prosperity will be whittled down to “a corner of a couch, and part of a bed”… but they will live on.”)

Back to the judgment at hand. Two specific targets of God’s wrath are highlighted in vs. 13-15. First, Amos says God is going to “punish the altars.” He’s angry at the compromised religious practices. Second, God is going to tear down the residences and riches of the upper class. He’s angry at the economic inequality made possible through oppressive economic practices.

Can I just say it? I don’t see how 21st century citizens of the U.S. can read this, and think that we’re in some way different than Amos’ Israel. The inequity between the riches of the upper-middle class and the experience of the national poor (much less global) far exceeds that described in these Old Testament verses. We enjoy opulence that would make the Caesars envious. And the corruption of our faith practices is as plain as the growing noses on our faces. How does God feel about “His people”, cruising to their prosperity gospel churches in their expensive clothes and cars, to hear a message about “God’s favor”, while glorying in the “God-given” strength of our super-power nation? I’m sure the idea of a nationwide internal implosion would be scoffed at just as it was in Amos’ day. But might it be inevitable?

More to our Advent point: Is there anything we can do to repent and turn the tide before the destruction commences? Could we return to the rigorous truths of God in His Word? Could we cease striving for the prosperity of the American Dream, and instead live for the Kingdom of God, and its righteousness?

May we be part of the solution … or at least a part of the remnant of grace.

– EO

 

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“Prepare to Meet Your God.”

“Prepare to Meet Your God.”

Advent Monday 1
I’ve decided to spend Advent with one of my favorite “uncles” from our spiritual heritage. His name is Amos. He was a prophet from Judah – Tekoa to be precise, a hick-town about 10 miles south of Jerusalem.

And Amos … well, he was a hick. A small-town shepherd and fruit-gatherer. As God is wont to do, He raises up a very humble, unlikely man to go to the prosperous halls of power in Israel and Judah with a very challenging message.

Why Amos and Advent? What caught my imagination is one of the most famous verses from Amos: “Prepare to meet your God” (4:12), or “prepare to meet thy maker” as it has been translated and quoted often in the past (though I can’t find out why or where).  Getting ourselves ready to meet the coming of God, in the ways He has prophesied … that is what Advent is all about. So I thought this verse, and this prophet, may have something for us as we get ready this Advent season.

When the people of Israel were confronted with the likes of Amos, they didn’t change much. When the world was confronted with the small-town carpenter from Nazareth, most had a hard time acknowledging His Word to be true. How about you this Advent? Are you ready to let a raw, simple, sharp and powerful Word from God lead you to “prepare to meet your God”?

We’ll start tomorrow. Amos has some choice words for Israel’s neighbor nations. It seems this preparation for God’s coming is taking place in a world full of problems …

– EO

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2015 in Advent 2015, Uncategorized

 

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