May 14, 2012 David Balzer

Amos 1-3:8: The God who roars

My favourite sports journalist is Peter Fitzsimons. He’s got a relaxed, distinctive way of writing that’s easy to read. The only time I DON’T enjoy reading him is when he starts to harp on about his belief that there’s no God.

And one of his favourite targets is the Australian golfer, Aaron Baddeley, who’s happy to tell whoever will listen how important following Jesus is for him.

But Fitzsimons thinks that’s RIDICULOUS. That there’s no evidence that God exists. In fact, the evidence says God DOESN’T exist. Let me give you a couple of examples I’ve read.

First up, Aaron Baddeley plays poorly in a tournament, and Fitzsimons writes

And so you see, Aaron Baddeley, I was right AND THERE IS NO GOD. I don’t just mean because you didn’t make the cut at the British Open, after yet more pious posturing on your part beforehand about how God gave you the gift of golfing talent so you can spread the Word, etc, etc, etc …

I mean because if there really WAS a greater being up there surveying the scene and deciding who would win the British Open, then there was only one choice. See, I reckon He would have looked down there and seen Greg Norman on that fourth day, and said…, You, Greg Norman, at the age of 53 are holding a two-shot lead on the final day of the British Open, … You, who have so often been denied when right on the edge of victory, are due some of my favour this time. I’ll sort it out.”

 

But it didn’t happen, Aaron, did it? No, no, no, don’t tell me He moves in mysterious ways. Had enough of that. In that situation, if He existed, He should have, just one lousy stinking time, organised for Norman to get the miraculous victory that he may not have quite deserved, after denying him so many times the great victories he did deserve.

I can see the funny side of that. But behind it, he’s saying that God can’t exist, because if he did he would do a certain thing, or act in a certain way.

Here’s a more SERIOUS comment. Aaron Baddeley’s parent’s house catches fire. And he tweets “2 min to get out. 2 rooms were untouched! Family photos and my golf room with memorabilia! Amazed by God’s protection. 22 years of memories there.”

Fair enough. Aaron can see God’s hand in what was spared and what wasn’t. But he’s Fitzsimons’ cynical response. “Good old God. A pity he couldn’t stop the Christchurch earthquake though, what while saving your photos?”

There’s something IN that, isn’t there?

In other words, if God was REAL, he would have ACTED. He would have STEPPED IN and STOPPED THE DESTRUCTION. Why would he act in something so insignificant, but NOT act to stop something so DEVASTATING?

And it’s the same argument people have ALWAYS used for why they don’t believe in God. “If God really existed, he’d ACT. He’d stop the tsunami! Or he’d end wars. Or he wouldn’t have let my relative die of cancer. Or he would have stopped the car crash. What sort of a God would let stuff like THAT happen?”

If God was real, he’d DO something!

The LORD roars

But what if God DID do something? What if he SEES all the injustice and pain and suffering? And he STEPS IN TO FIX IT?

That’s what the prophet Amos comes to say. That God’s SEEN it all. And he’s HAD ENOUGH.

And he says, “Be careful what you WISH for. Because when God steps in to FIX the mess, he might come looking for YOU!”

He says, “God’s REAL, alright. And he’s SPEAKING. And he’s going to ACT!” Look at his first words, there in v2,

“The LORD ROARS from Zion and THUNDERS from Jerusalem;

You thought he wasn’t REAL. That he’d DIED, or RETIRED, or wasn’t interested anymore. But he’s going to ROAR. And when God ROARS, you better WATCH OUT!

Amos lived around 770 BC. Israel had split into two kingdoms after Solomon’s reign. The NORTHERN kingdom had taken the NAMING RIGHTS. It was called Israel, it’s capital was Samaria. The SOUTHERN kingdom had kept Jerusalem and the temple. It was called Judah.

And that’s where Amos was from. A town called Tekoa, less than 20km from Jerusalem. He’d been a shepherd, but God had given him a message to tell.

It was a message that God WASN’T dead. That he was ALIVE. And WORSE, that he was ANGRY. FURIOUS at sin. And he wasn’t going to overlook it anymore.

The ring of fire

And Amos launches straight into what’s effectively A SONG. Complete with verses and choruses. We could call the song “Ring of Fire.” But it was around a bit earlier than the Johnny Cash version. V3, he begins with the CHORUS. “This is what the LORD says”.

For three sins of Damascus, even for FOUR, I will not turn back my wrath.

And then the VERSE. What Damascus has done that’s got God so angry. She threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth. Some sort of brutal war crime. It might be a farming METAPHOR, or it might be LITERAL. But, either way, because of their violence, God’s going to send FIRE on Damascus.

Then the chorus is repeated, v6.

6 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Gaza, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath].

And then the VERSE. First the SIN. “Because she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom.” And then the PUNISHMENT. “ I will send FIRE upon the walls of Gaza.”

And again. V9, the CHORUS. This time sung for Tyre.

9 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of TYRE, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath].

For the same sin as Gaza. They sold whole communities of captives to Edom. And the PUNISHMENT. Once again, FIRE.

And the dreadful song continues. “For three sins even for four. I will not turn back my wrath”. V11. Against EDOM for stifling all compassion. V13 against AMMON for ripping open pregnant women of Gilead. Ch 2 v1 Against MOAB for burning the bones of Edom’s king.

And each SIN is accompanied by God’s promised PUNISHMENT. He will NOT turn back his wrath. He WILL send FIRE.

God HATES that sort of behaviour. The hatred and the violence and the callous disregard for human suffering and dignity. And he’s not going to sit back and be silent. Not going to sit on his hands.

All around the people of Israel, God’s promising judgment FIRE. A RING of fire. North, south, east and west.

So much for the scoffers who, like Peter Fitzsimons, say, “Where’s God? If God was REAL, he’d DO something about the suffering!!” Well, God’s GOING to. He WON’T turn back his wrath. He WILL bring FIRE.

And as Israel HEARD Amos’ words, they’d be CHEERING. This is just the sort of action people want to see from their God. Bringing justice on those who deserve it. On the war criminals. On the terrorists. And the murderers. On those who really DESERVE it.

A little closer to home

But then the mood changes. Because God’s attention turns a little closer to home. Ch 2 v4. The familiar chorus, but this time with a sting.

4 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of JUDAH, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath].

And the cheering stops. You could hear a PIN drop. Because it’s ONE thing to judge the nations around. Those who DESERVE it. The war criminals. But ANOTHER THING ALTOGETHER to be angry with THE PEOPLE OF GOD. We’re not sure we want God acting LIKE THAT.

And look at their SINS. It’s ONE thing to get angry for selling whole communities into captivity, or ripping open pregnant women. God gets angry at that stuff no matter WHO does it.

But this is DIFFERENT. It’s PERSONAL. They were HIS PEOPLE. He gave the command: “Stay faithful to me, and don’t follow other gods, or I’ll turf you out of the Promised Land!” That was the deal.

But what had they done? Ch 2 v4.

I will not turn back [my wrath]. Because they HAVE REJECTED THE LAW OF THE LORD AND HAVE NOT KEPT HIS DECREES, because they have been LED ASTRAY BY FALSE GODS, the gods their ancestors followed,

If there’s one thing that gets God hot under the collar. It’s IDOLATRY. Worshipping other gods. When people make “number one”  stuff made out of stone or gold or metal or plastic. Instead of keeping the ONE TRUE GOD as number one.

He HATES it. Because he’s a JEALOUS God. And he can’t stand anything else receiving the honour and worship and obedience that HE deserves. He hates it when his covenant people start to look just like the people around them.

And so God’s going to JUDGE his people JUST LIKE THE REST. “I will send fire upon JUDAH that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.”

You can imagine the shocked silence at Amos’ words. But he’s not finished. He sings the chorus, v6. And the people can’t bear to hear it.

6 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of ISRAEL, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath].

And then the charges. It’s not just JUDAH who’ve rejected God and his covenant. It’s ISRAEL TOO. South AND north. The whole divided nation.

And Amos paints the picture in excruciatingly fine detail. Not just the broad brushstrokes of Judah. (“Rejected the law of the LORD”).

Here we get the horrible specifics. From v6 onward.

In Deuteronomy 24 God spells out the covenant. What the people are TO KEEP. But here Amos spells out how they BREAK it. God says in Deuteronomy, “PROTECT the poor, make sure they get justice. If you take their cloak for surety, make sure they get it back by nightfall.”

Israel’s FORGOTTEN it all. Because, instead (v6) they sell the righteous for silver, they deny justice to the oppressed.

And then, in v8, they’re mixing them all up together. Instead of returning the clothes of the poor at night, they heap them altogether right next to the altar they sacrifice on, and father and son take advantage of the same girl right there. Religious, civil and sexual sin – all rolled into ONE.

It’s a sad list of offenses. Worse than a credit card statement for an official of the Health Services Union.

And this is God’s HOLY PEOPLE! The sins of the nations – at least they’re all happening in WAR TIME. It’s almost EXPECTED. But to violate YOUR OWN PEOPLE?

It’s not surprising God’s going to act. What’s surprising is that he’s overlooked it all for so long!

And now, finally, the song draws to a close. And the pattern is broken.

“How COULD you?” says God, “After all I’ve DONE for you. V9. Destroyed the giant Amorites who’d lived in the land. V10. Brought you out of Egypt, given you the land. V11. Raised up prophets to SPEAK holiness to them. Raised up Nazirites to LIVE OUT holiness.

And THIS is how you repay me? V11. You command the prophets not to speak. And you force the Nazirites to drink wine. Making a joke of a holy life dedicated to me.

And instead of FIRE. God’s got something DIFFERENT planned for Israel. V13. They’ll be ROADKILL. Squashed flat. Crushed like a cart loaded with grain squashes something. A B-double running over a cat.

No good being FAST (v14). You can’t OUTRUN God. Or STRONG. You can’t out-MUSCLE him. Warriors can’t out-FIGHT him. Archers aren’t safe because they stand at a distance.

I will not turn back my wrath

This is what the LORD says. I will NOT turn back my wrath.

And the reality was these WEREN’T just vain promises. God KEPT his word. He DIDN’T turn back his wrath. Within about 30 years, Assyria would invade the northern kingdom, and carry her off into exile. Never to return.

And then a little over a hundred years later, Babylon would repeat the dose for the SOUTHERN kingdom. And THEY’D be carried off into exile. And even though they returned, they would never again be the same.

And that same refrain rings down through the ages TO US. “I will not turn back my wrath!” God’s character hasn’t changed. And PEOPLE certainly haven’t changed. And God’s judgment still hangs over his world. One day he WILL bring his wrath against people who continue to ignore him. Who choose IDOLS over God. Who choose THEIR way over HIS.

It won’t be military defeat. It won’t be exile. It will be final, definitive judgment. And eternal separation from God.

God WON’T stand back forever and overlook the pain and the injustice. One day he WILL act, and the scoffers of the world will be silenced.

But we stand at a much better place in history than God’s people then. Because we stand this side of Jesus. We saw how God’s wrath WASN’T turned back. How he chose to spend all his anger and justice in the death of his Son.

Jesus died IN OUR PLACE. He took God’s wrath for anyone who would accept it. So that we wouldn’t HAVE to bear God’s just judgment.

And the result is that we can ESCAPE what we rightfully deserve.

And, instead, begin to live the life God CHOSE us for. A life of responsibility, not privilege. A life bearing testimony to the goodness and love of the God who saved us.

You see that’s exactly what ISRAEL were chosen to do. But they FAILED SO MISERABLY.

Chosen for responsibility, not privilege

Moving into Ch 3. Judgment’s coming on Israel. Just in case you think God’s going to relent. Change his mind. That Israel’s special status as his people is going to delay the inevitable?

3:1 Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel-against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: 2 “YOU ONLY HAVE I CHOSEN OF ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH; THEREFORE I WILL PUNISH YOU FOR ALL YOUR SINS.”

And it’s THIS FACT that gets to the HEART of why God’s so angry with Israel. God CHOSE Israel. Not for PRIVILEGE, but for RESPONSIBILITY.

In Exodus 19:4-6 God says

4’You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, THEN OUT OF ALL NATIONS YOU WILL BE MY TREASURED POSSESSION. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 YOU WILL BE FOR ME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION.’

That was God’s design in choosing them. Set apart for the RESPONSIBILITY of being a kingdom of PRIESTS to the nations. To introduce the nations to God by means of their obedient covenant-keeping. By means of their behaviour towards each other and towards God.

And behind all the specific sins, this is the overarching one. NOT LIVING UP TO THEIR CALLING. Treating their election and privileged position with contempt.

Again and again through the song Amos repeated the line, “For three sins and for four, I WILL NOT TURN BACK MY WRATH.”

That was the verdict for the NATIONS. And it was no different for ISRAEL. There was no taking it easy for Israel. If anything the burden was HEAVIER because the RESPONSIBILITY was greater.

Amos is often applied in terms of military violations, and social injustice and immorality. That God’s angry with THAT stuff. And it’s TRUE. And there WILL be judgment for that. But the MAJOR condemnation is for those who FAIL TO LIVE UP TO THEIR CALLING AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD.

From those to whom much has been GIVEN, MUCH will be EXPECTED.

And just like ISRAEL was called to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, so God’s NEW TESTAMENT people are called AS WELL. Called for a PURPOSE. Called to be HOLY.

Listen to how the Apostle Peter describes the Christian church. At the START of his first letter he says. (1 Peter Ch1 v1)

To God’s ELECT, (there’s the “CHOSEN” bit) strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been CHOSEN ACCORDING TO THE FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD THE FATHER, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, FOR OBEDIENCE TO JESUS CHRIST AND SPRINKLING BY HIS BLOOD (there’s the “PURPOSE” bit):

People all over the known world. From every sort of background. But CHOSEN for A REASON. Chosen for obedience to Jesus and for sprinkling with his blood. Elected by God to be washed clean and forgiven. And then called to LIVE THAT OUT in OBEDIENCE to Jesus.

Just like ISRAEL was called to live out their calling.

A bit further on (Ch 2 v9) Peter describes these scattered elect people in a way that’s meant to remind us of how Moses described ISRAEL (back in Exodus 19). And notice TWO THINGS. Their ELECTION, and their CALLING.

9 But you are a CHOSEN people, a royal PRIESTHOOD, a HOLY nation, a people belonging to God, THAT YOU MAY DECLARE THE PRAISES OF HIM WHO CALLED YOU OUT OF DARKNESS INTO HIS WONDERFUL LIGHT.

No different, really, from ISRAEL’S calling. A royal PRIESTHOOD. Standing between humanity and God. Introducing one to the other.

A HOLY nation. Different, pure, distinctive, attractive. Reflecting God’s own holiness to a world that knows nothing about it. But longs for it anyway. Longs for intimacy and honesty and acceptance and love.

And called to DECLARE his PRAISES. Declare it in song. Declare it in word. Declare it in action. Declare it in PRIORITIES. By what we spend our time on. And our money. And our energy.

And he’s called us to declare HIS praises by the things we choose NOT to praise. Choose NOT to honour and worship. By turning AWAY from fortune and success and influence. Turning away from popularity and pay rises and comfort. Turning away from keeping up and getting even.

God had done SO MUCH for Israel. He listed it all. By LISTING it, it made their betrayal EVEN WORSE.

“I destroyed the Amorite before you. I brought you up out of Egypt. I raised up prophets. You only have I chosen.”

And they REFUSED to live up to their calling.

HOW MUCH MORE has God done for US, in the Lord Jesus?

He’s made us his children. Given us a new heart. Given us His Spirit, a down payment of eternity. He’s given us an inheritance. Given us life and forgiveness and a relationship with our Creator. Our heavenly Father.

God has given us SO MUCH. How are we USING that? We’ve been called FOR A REASON. Are we living up to that calling, or are we resting in the comfort and ease of our assurance in Jesus.

Israel was SIMILARLY comfortable. Saved by God’s grace. But chosen for A RESPONSIBILITY. They IGNORED it, and God JUDGED them, and sent them into EXILE.

Don’t let that be YOU!

9 But you are a CHOSEN people, a royal PRIESTHOOD, a HOLY nation, a people belonging to God, THAT YOU MAY DECLARE THE PRAISES OF HIM WHO CALLED YOU OUT OF DARKNESS INTO HIS WONDERFUL LIGHT.

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