God of the nations
Amos 9: Am I not involved with all nations?
Amos might as well have been speaking in another language so far as his audience is concerned. Without question, they have the corner of God. Hadn’t Moses been called by God to lead them out of Egyptian slavery? Hadn’t their great King David been chosen by God, himself? They’re the chosen people even if they don’t act like it. The prophet shatters their theology, telling them that God has an interest in all peoples, not just Israel. Even as his gracious hand was seen in the creation of Israel, it could also be seen in the creation of their neighbors: the Philistines and the Arameans. Granted, Amos goes right on to promise that unique blessings the Lord will pour out on Israel when he makes “everything right again for my people Israel.” Still, the point has already been made that God loves all his creation and that he’s working in the lives of all people, accomplishing his purposes. Of course, I want to enthusiastically endorse this message with a big “Amen.” Otherwise, I’m an outsider, blundering along, blindly feeling my way through life. God’s work among the nations may be different than what he was doing with Israel, but it’s just as real. I find it both interesting and encouraging that even in the book of Amos which is quite focused on Israel and Judah that I find this missionary element. Thank God!
Take Away: The Lord has an interest in all peoples
Amos 8: They’ll go anywhere, listen to anyone, hoping to hear God’s Word.
God warns that a famine is coming to the nation of Israel. This time, it won’t be a famine of food or water, but a famine of God’s Word. Now, Amos isn’t talking about a lack of leather bound Bibles. He’s talking about a time when God, Himself, goes silent. When that happens, the prophet says, people will roam the land seeking a message from the Lord. Amos ties this to the Judgment, a time when the God who has been available to them, reaching out to them, calling them to return withdraws the invitation. Many have abused the prophets, even murdering them in an attempt to silence their voices. Now, one of those prophets warns that they’re going to get their wish and that they won’t like it when they do. I’m reminded today that there’s a measure of God-hunger in every human being. There are times when people long for the touch of God on their lives. In their ignorance, they’ll substitute something else but whatever it is will fail to satisfy. Realistically, why settle for a poor substitute when the Real Thing is available? Happily, we aren’t living in the day Amos describes. Right this moment God is speaking, reaching out to all who’ll come. This isn’t an invitation to join a church. Rather, it’s an invitation to respond to the call of God to fellowship with him.
Take Away: Right this moment the Lord is speaking, reaching out to all who’ll come.
Amos 7: I never set up to be a preacher, never had plans to be a preacher.
Amos starts out as an unknown, coming out of the fields near a small town to proclaim God’s message. His sermons are rough and tumble, filled with condemnation. They’re also specific: Amos names names. Now, he’s gotten the attention of some people who they don’t like what they’re hearing. In fact, they see his warning that a pagan army will “make hash of you” to be a threat to national security. One of the important priests, Amaziah, sends word to king Jeroboam that there’s a traitor in their midst who’s sowing seeds of fear. Amaziah then confronts Amos. He wants this farmer to go back to where he came from and do his preaching in that backwater place. The context of this confrontation is that Amaziah thinks Amos is just in it for the money and notoriety he’s getting and that he’s come to Bethel with his preaching show for more of the same. Amos stands up to the powerful priest and declares that he had no desire to preach in the first place. Unlike Amaziah, Amos has no family tree of ancestors who are clergy. He’s a mere farmer who’s heard from God and has been told to proclaim God’s message. To this day the Lord is still sending people into the ministry. Some of us heard that call while we were still young children. Others battled with it as teens, and still others, like Amos, were established in their lives and, in response to the call embarked on a whole new career. Amos is a poster child for all who are called by God, but he’s especially an example of how God sometimes calls adults who must walk away from one life and obey God in another.
Take Away: To this day the Lord is still sending people into the ministry.
Worshiping to please the right Person
Amos 5: When was the last time you sang to me?
Toward the end of Amos 5 the Lord challenges almost everything about their church services. He says he can’t stand their meetings, conferences, and conventions. He washes his hands of their projects and goals and he says he can’t stand their singing which is more focused on what they like than on him. This message may be buried deep in the Minor Prophets but it should be right at the top of our concerns as Christians who go to church each Sunday. It isn’t that their services and conferences should be discontinued and it isn’t that their projects aren’t worthwhile. Also, this is no call to change the music style of the church (whatever it may be). It is, though, a powerful reminder of what (better stated, “Who”) it’s all about. The Lord says that what they’re doing is worthless, not because it’s worthless activity, but because they’re ignoring him and his purposes for their lives. God states, “Do you know what I want? I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it. That’s all I want.” If I refuse God’s priority of caring for the poor, of helping the one who’s down and out then God will refuse my acts of worship. Maybe this passage needs to be read before we have our church planning meetings!
Take Away: If we’re missing the Lord’s priorities for the church the other things we do aren’t worth much.
Amos 5: You talk about God…being your best friend.
I was talking to a car salesperson about a car. He was a friendly guy, a bit rough around the edges, using a few words I don’t have in my vocabulary. Then, he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was the pastor of a church. Guess what happened? Suddenly, he was a very faithful Christian man. He told me about his church and his pastor and some words disappeared from the conversation. Amos complains about people who claim God as their best friend but live very different lives than what the Lord demands. The big issue to Amos is how the poor are treated. He says that in his society “justice is a lost cause” and people are “kicking the poor when they’re down.” God’s man says that won’t cut it. I can’t expect to get away with giving the Almighty lip service while ignoring his directions on how I’m to live. Amos says, “You talk about God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, being your best friend. Well, live like it, and maybe it will happen.” By, the way, I bought my car elsewhere.
Take Away: Live like it.
Before it’s too late
Amos 4: Prepare to meet your God!
I’ve heard a few sermons based on these words of Amos. In fact, I’ve even seen them lettered on homemade billboards erected along a few country highways, declaring (in King James language) “Prepare to meet thy God!” Frankly, I’m not all that impressed with the sermons or the signs and I believe that John 3:16 has more life changing potential than do these words from the prophet Amos. Still, here they are, so I have to concede that there’s a time and place for this message. So what is the time and place? According to Amos, God is tired of being ignored by his people. In an effort to get their attention the Lord has sent pestilence and disease, earthquakes and fires. Each time, when it seems that this is the “big one” that will end it all, they, like a stick snatched from the fire, are brought back from the brink of disaster. Now, though, the clock has run out. God, Himself, is appearing and the God they’re meeting is angry with them. In the context of this message, “prepare to meet your God” is a statement of judgment and not hope. These words aren’t intended to be a final warning. Instead, they’re a sentence of condemnation. When Amos says this, he isn’t saying, “It’s time to start getting ready.” Rather he’s saying, “It’s too late, the Judge is here!” Having said all that, obviously, I need to prepare now for my coming encounter with the Judge of the World. I don’t want to arrive at that day and hear the words of judgment: “Prepare to meet your God.”
Take Away: Now is the time to prepare for the certain coming encounter with the Judge of the World.
Amos 4: But you never got hungry for me. You continued to ignore me.
The people Amos preaches to are religious people. They’re faithful to attend worship services, to make the correct sacrifices, and to pay their tithes. The casual observer might conclude that they’re just the sort of people God wants. However, that isn’t the case. Amos complains that all they’re doing is putting on a religious show. At the core of all their religious activities is, not God, but themselves. Even as Amos delivers his sermons the Lord is acting to bring a stop to it all. The fact is that God won’t be ignored! He, who created me, demands that I focus my life on him. That’s true in all of my life, and it’s especially true in my religious life. The issue of what I “like” or “don’t like” is, ultimately, unimportant. God isn’t looking at the show I put on. Instead, he’s looking at my heart. The issue in play in my worship activities is whether or not I hunger for him. I want to do church “right.” I want the worship services I attend to be well thought out and intentional. However, beyond all of that, I want the Lord to see that more than anything else, my worship activities are a reflection of my hunger for him and of my rejoicing in his presence. God won’t be ignored and a God-ignoring worship experience is a waste of time.
Take Away: The Lord isn’t looking so much at how we do church as he is looking at our hearts.
The lion’s roar
Amos 3: The lion has roared – who isn’t frightened?
Amos is a shepherd and his message is filled with illusions to his livelihood. He talks about birds and cattle and snakes, of shepherds and their unending battle to protect their flock against the predators. Some things, he says, are as plain as the nose on your face and it doesn’t take a genius to recognize them. If one hears a lion growling in pleasure, for instance, you know that it’s killed its prey. This stuff, he explains, is just how it is. Then Amos makes his application. When people rebel against God the Lord will act to remedy the situation. It doesn’t take a degree in theology to know that God won’t put up with sin forever. As a prophet of God, Amos is responsible for speaking God’s message. His sermons aren’t made up fiction or the rants of someone who’s stuck in the past. When you hear a lion roaring nearby the sane reaction is to be frightened. When God’s prophet says God is tired of his people living in rebellion it’s time to straighten up. If the roar of a lion gets our attention, how much more should words of warning from the spokesmen of God.
Take Away: It doesn’t take a degree in theology to understand that when people rebel against God the Lord will act to remedy the situation.
Selling grandma for a buck
Amos 2: They’d sell their own grandmother.
The prophet begins his message by characterizing God as a prosecuting attorney who’s making his case against the accused. The Lord has been keeping records of the sins he’s seen and now he makes his case against them. Amos starts this prosecution by focusing on the nations surrounding Israel. I can imagine the cheers of agreement from his fellow countrymen as he does this. They have bones to pick with Tyre and Edom and Moab. Nothing pleases them more than hearing God pronounce his judgment on them. Then God’s man turns his attention to Israel. The formula “for three great sins, make that four” that was used in judging other countries is applied to Israel too. The meaning is that the more God looks into their affairs the more he finds wrong and worthy of condemnation. Concerning Israel, in particular, all the failures God mentions are clustered around how they treat poor people. The Lord charges that they see people as only “things – ways of making money,” he then adds, “They’d sell their own grandmother!” The Lord has a history of caring about people who are down and out. He also has a history of opposing those who take advantage of such people. As I read these words I find myself examining my own attitude toward the poor. I want to be on God’s side of this issue.
Take Away: The Lord cares for those who are society’s outcasts – his people are to join him in that concern.
Just one of the shepherds
Amos 1: The Message of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa.
Aside from the few words of introduction found in the opening of his writings, we know nothing of Amos. He isn’t a member of the royal family or priesthood and he doesn’t have any famous relatives. He describes himself as “one of the shepherds” of an unimportant town. Amos numbers himself with the poor and unprivileged people of his society. That standing flavors his entire ministry. When he speaks of poor people being mistreated he does so as one who has experienced that mistreatment. In about 40 years Israel will fall, rejected by God and defeated by her enemies. One of the reasons for that fall is that God’s people have separated themselves from the compassion of God to their poor. The book of Amos is an important book for people of all periods of history because, as Jesus said, “the poor you will always have among you.” How does God expect a prosperous nation to treat its poor? How does he expect we who live in comfortable, secure homes to treat those in our community who live in want? Finally, what if we fail at this point? Amos gives us a first-hand response to these questions.
Take Away: As a people of the Lord we can never separate ourselves from his compassion on the poor.