May 27, 2012 David Balzer

Amos 6-8: Bad News

John is house sitting for his brother Jeff – feeding the cat, watering the plants, collecting the mail. Jeff phones to check in, “How’s everything going?”

“Fine,” says John, “except your cat died.”

“What do you mean the cat died? What a shock! You could have PREPARED me for the bad news,” says Jeff.

“How was I supposed to do THAT?” asks John.

“Well,” says Jeff, “FIRST you should have said, ‘The cat’s on the ROOF, but don’t worry, we’re calling the FIRE BRIGADE. They’re doing everything they can and not to worry.’

Then the next time I called you could tell me the cat had FALLEN, but not to worry – the VET was doing everything she could to resuscitate him.

Then, finally, you could have told me, ‘The injuries were too severe, and the cat died.’”

“Fair enough. That certainly seems a better way to break bad news,” said John, “I’ll take that on board.”

“So anyway, how’s mom?” asks Jeff.

“…She’s on the roof.”

Delivering bad news can be TRICKY.

And, mostly, people don’t appreciate RECEIVING it. Just ask Amos. He was happily looking after the sheep in Tekoa. Down south near Jerusalem. When God sent him to the NORTHERN kingdom of ISRAEL. To Samaria. And he gave him a message to proclaim. A BAD NEWS message. That God was ANGRY at their sin. And that JUDGMENT and EXILE was coming.

And the people he delivered the message to DIDN’T TAKE IT WELL.

We’ve been looking at that message for the last two weeks. And we get a good summary of it there at the start of Ch 6.

Woe to you who are COMPLACENT in Zion, and to you who FEEL SECURE on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!

He’s got the ELITE in his sights. The PRIVILEGED. They’re confident and comfortable and complacent. Down to v4.

4 You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. 5 You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. 6 You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you DO NOT GRIEVE OVER THE RUIN OF JOSEPH. 7 Therefore you will be among the FIRST to go into EXILE; your feasting and lounging will end.

The whole country is going to ruin. And the ones who can do something about it COULDN’T CARE LESS.

But it’s not as though Amos takes ANY GREAT DELIGHT in their outcome. He’s no revolutionary dancing in the street as the regime falls. As we move into Ch 7, we see God showing him a vision. A swarm of locusts he was preparing to strip the land clean of crops.

Amos is HORRIFIED.

“Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”

God HEARS the pleas of his servant. Because he’s SLOW to anger. And he LOVES to show compassion. So he RELENTS. “This will not happen,” the LORD said.

But God is also JUST. And he KEEPS HIS WORD. And so he shows Amos ANOTHER vision of his judgment curses. V4.

4 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: The Sovereign LORD was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land.

Once again, Amos pleads with God to relent. And once more, God DOES. This will not happen, the LORD said.

But then God has A THIRD vision for Amos. A plumb line. For measuring whether a wall is VERTICAL. V8.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. 9 “The high places of Isaac WILL be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel WILL be ruined; with my sword I WILL rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

Bad news indeed. He built a STRAIGHT wall, but now it’s leaning worse than the house JACK built. And God’s patience has run out.

The images and dreams communicate God’s JUSTICE and HOLINESS to the people. And about how he’s SLOW to ANGER. And QUICK to forgive. All part of God’s strategy for delivering bad news.

Receiving bad news

It’s interesting to listen to. Fascinating pictures. But there’s only so much sugar-coating you can give a “bad news” message like that. Like the cat on the roof.

And it’s a difficult pill to swallow. Especially for people as complacent and hardened as these. They’re not great at receiving bad news.

V10. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, has had enough. He sends a message to Jeroboam, the king of Israel. “Amos is undermining your authority. He’s preaching REBELLION.”

11 For this is what Amos is saying: “‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.'”

Exactly what Amos had been PREACHING. So he obviously got the message across. Just that Amaziah didn’t like what it SAID.

His view was that Amos was RAISING A CONSPIRACY. That he was undermining the king. He says, in v12.

“Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because THIS IS THE KING’S SANCTUARY and THE TEMPLE OF THE KINGDOM.”

“How dare Amos stand up to the authority of King Jeroboam!” Which is ironic really, because the reality is it’s THE PEOPLE who are plotting against the TRUE king, God. THEY’RE the ones who’ve rebelled.

And Amos’ response is, “I didn’t come looking for this. I didn’t go into it for the money.” (v14)

I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

Amos didn’t really have a choice. He wasn’t doing it for the POWER, or the popularity, or the promotional possibilities. God CALLED him, and he HAD to obey.

If only THE PEOPLE thought the same way about obeying.

And because Amaziah refuses to listen, God’s got a special word of judgment for him, too. V17. His own family devastated, his own lands measured up and divided out. And he himself will die in a foreign country. And the chapter finishes,

And Israel will CERTAINLY go into exile, away from their native land.'”

It’s so easy, for those of us who’ve been hearing sermons for decades, to grow HARD to God’s Word like Amaziah. And we don’t even REALISE it sometimes. God’s Word washes over us like water, but doesn’t SOAK IN. We become MARKERS and CRITICS of sermons, rather than humble, repentant sinners who need God’s Word to cut through us. We talk about how good a sermon was because we were ENTERTAINED. Because it had an interesting introduction, or a memorable story, or because it was emotionally powerful, or it taught you SOME NEW FACT about the Bible.

When what we NEED is for the sword of God’s Spirit – his word to be DOING MAJOR HEART SURGERY on us. Cutting through our attitudes and motives and thoughts and words and actions. Comforting and strengthening and rebuking.

When was the last time you heard something FROM GOD HIMSELF? It was like God jumped out of the pages, grabbed you and shook you? When you forgot about the preacher speaking, or the music of the song, or the people sitting around you, and you JUST KNEW that God was talking TO YOU. And he wanted YOU to change?

That’s MY prayer every week I preach. That God would SPEAK to you, and CHANGE you. And it should be YOUR prayer too.

That’s the right way to be receiving news from God.

But it’s nothing like the way Amaziah received news. Together with the rest of the survivors, he’s headed for exile.

Into Ch 8, Amos provides more evidence of the people’s behaviour. It supports the justice of God’s sentence,. They’re ripe for judgment, like a basket of ripe fruit.

V4. They trample the poor

V5. They can’t wait for their festivals and Sabbaths to be over so they can get back to EARNING MONEY. They worship the mighty dollar while they’re SUPPOSED to be worshipping GOD. They skimp the measure, they boost the price, they rig the scales. Piling the floor sweepings into the bag with the wheat.

ANYTHING to boost their profits.

And God’s HAD ENOUGH. Because he’s not just a SABBATH God – a God for the holy days. He’s A SEVEN DAYS A WEEK GOD. A God who watches people do business. And who watches how people treat those who serve you. Who’s looking at people’s honesty and integrity and greed.

And here’s his verdict for Israel. V7.

I will never forget anything they have done. 8 “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?

The days are coming

And then we get a familiar declaration from God. A declaration announcing a day of power and justice and vindication. THE DAY OF THE LORD. There in v9. “In that day…”

At ONE level, Amos is talking about THE EXILE. About Assyria storming the cities and carrying off the Israelites. Just as God had determined. The day of the Lord.

V9. The events will be so monumental, it will be AS IF THE SUN ITSELF HAS BEEN DARKENED.

V10. It will be a day of MOURNING. Like losing YOUR ONLY SON. The future hope for the family.

And v11, the days are coming, when there’ll be A FAMINE. But not a famine of FOOD. Or a drought of WATER. But a famine of God’s WORD. V12

12 Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.

Amaziah the priest hadn’t WANTED to hear the Word of the Lord. He’d wanted to send Amos back to Judah. And soon God’s going to give him what he WANTS. Silence from heaven. No prophetic voice. Abandonment. Handing them over to coping on their own.

And all those things were fulfilled – at least in SOME sense- when Assyria conquered Israel and carried her into exile.

There was invasion, defeat, death, captivity and exile.

And there was a drought of God’s Word. Prophets continued to speak through the exile. But with the return from Babylon, Malachi preached about 430 BC. And after that, GOD FELL SILENT.

Because when people stop LISTENING to you, you just stop TALKING. And even God’s patience runs out.

And so, for more than 400 years, there was no word from God. 400 years of God’s people just doing things as they thought best. 400 years of (as Amos puts it) SEARCHING for the word of the LORD, but not FINDING it.

And isn’t that something we’re tempted to TAKE FOR GRANTED? (Finding the Word of the Lord?) Isn’t the privilege of hearing the Bible explained week to week something that’s slipped down our list of priorities?

Or the opportunity to meet with other people every week to investigate the Bible, to challenge and pray for each other. Don’t we sometimes GROAN when Home Group night rolls round again? Or else, we come up with an excuse for why it doesn’t MATTER. Or why we’re not IN one.

Or we have twenty five Bibles on our bookshelf, another three on our iphone. But we never get around to READING any of them. They sit there gathering dust.

The statistics on Christians actually reading the Bibles regularly are depressing. The last Australian Church Life Survey showed that only 19% of church attendees read the Bible daily or most days; 27% occasionally – less than once a week, and 37% hardly ever or never.

Is that really much different from the attitude of Amaziah?

I wonder if we’d only APPRECIATE the privilege IF IT WAS GONE. Perhaps we need to be a little more like believers in North Korea or China. Who memorise scraps of Scripture. Who copy it out, and smuggle it around, willing to go to PRISON to protect it. Who CLING to it like life-giving treasure

Which is JUST WHAT IT IS! And we take it for granted!

So, let’s heed the encouragement of Colossians 3:16.

16 Let the word of Christ DWELL IN YOU RICHLY as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

Let’s SAVOUR the Word of the Lord. DRINK DEEPLY of it. Treasure it. Respect it. Pour it out on each other.

Or we risk failing like Israel. Who endured a FAMINE of God’s Word. Not long after Amos, prophecy STOPPED. God was SILENT. And it stayed that way until John the Baptist came. Announcing that THE LORD JESUS HAD ARRIVED. The one who was the LIVING Word. God’s FINAL and ULTIMATE Word.

And it was IN JESUS that we see ANOTHER aspect of Amos’s Day Of The Lord. There in v9 he predicted the sun would go dark at noon. And it would be a day of distress like LOSING YOUR ONLY SON.

At ONE level, it happened like that when Assyria invaded.

But in the DISTANT future, Amos was seeing ANOTHER day of distress. ANOTHER judgment day. A day so dark, the sun goes down at noon. A day when God would pour out his wrath, without mercy, on the guilty.

Amos saw LOCUSTS. And he pleaded for Mercy. And God relented. But it was worse than THAT.

He’d seen FIRE, and again pleaded for mercy. And God had relented. But it was worse than THAT.

God’s ULTIMATE justice was seen. A day when he NO LONGER relented. When all his wrath was poured out, and there was mourning and bitterness like losing an only son.

But the surprising, incredible news of the Bible is that it wasn’t ISRAEL who lost their only Son. Who MOURNED. It wasn’t ISRAEL who bore the wrath and justice of an angry God who’d had enough.

It was GOD HIMSELF. It was Jesus, God’s ONLY SON who bore God’s wrath on himself. He took the just curse God promised to bring.

But instead of God pouring it onto DESERVING SINNERS. On Israel, or on US. He poured it onto Jesus. And the only truly innocent one died a criminal’s death.

Mark 15:33 describes what happened as he hung there on that day. The Day of the Lord.

33 At the sixth hour DARKNESS came over the whole land until the ninth hour.

Isn’t that what Amos had seen? In Ch 8 v9? He’d seen a day of despair and darkness. A day when the sun would go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. A BITTER day like mourning for the loss of an only son.

And while God had turned his back on Israel. (For 400 years there was silence). On THAT day, God turned his back on his SON. Turned away from the one who BECAME sin for us. Mark records it for us.

34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” 

What a TERRIBLE day! Jesus, abandoned and CURSED by God. And though Israel DESERVED it, rather than HER mourning the loss of an only son. It was GOD HIMSELF mourning the loss of his only Son.

And even the SKY goes dark.

His JUSTICE and FAITHFULNESS demanded JUDGMENT. His LOVE and MERCY pleaded for SALVATION. And in the cross, he achieved BOTH. Judgment for sin. And salvation for the sinner.

It’s a message that seems CRAZY to most people. “A crucified Saviour? Sin deserves judgment? The ONLY way to God?”

It’s BAD NEWS to most people. They either don’t WANT to hear. Or they’re JUST NOT INTERESTED.

But for those of us who GET it. It’s the most beautiful news in the world. It’s music to our ears. It’s an exquisite banquet for our empty stomachs. It’s a message we need to stand up and deliver FEARLESSLY. DESPITE how people might receive it.

Like Amos, we need to say, “God said to me, Go prophesy to your people. Now then, hear the word of the LORD.”

We need to say, like Amos, “The lion has roared, who will not fear. The Sovereign Lord has SPOKEN, who can but prophesy?”

And don’t forget to join your words with PRAYER. Plead for them, like Amos pleaded for the people. Stand in the gap for them. “Yes, they deserve judgment. But THEY ARE SO SMALL. How can they survive? Please FORGIVE them.”

We need to speak up, whatever we might fear about how the news will be received. Because, while God’s judgment is BAD NEWS. That’s only ONE SIDE of the story. His grace and mercy is the GOOD NEWS.

And we have words that BRING ETERNAL LIFE. Words that can open eyes, and unblock ears, and change hard hearts, and break calloused consciences. Words that bring forgiveness and restoration and eternity.

So, speak up FEARLESSLY. WHATEVER the risk. The Apostle Peter wrote his first letter to people being persecuted for their faith. But he still encouraged them to SPEAK UP REGARDLESS. 1 Peter 3:14-16

14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “DO NOT FEAR WHAT THEY FEAR; do not be frightened.”  15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 

That’s the way to communicate the GREAT news we have in Christ. News of judgment and salvation. Of death and life. To be prayerful. To be ready. To have a CONSISTENT LIFE that backs up our WORDS.

And Peter goes on to give a TRUE PERSPECTIVE on whatever suffering we might endure.

17 It is BETTER, if it is God’s will, to SUFFER for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

When it comes to what we’ve RECEIVED. (The righteous dying for the unrighteous to BRING US TO GOD). Nothing matters MORE.

We need to say, like Amos, “God said to me, Go prophesy to your people. Now then, hear the word of the LORD.”

“The lion has roared, who will not fear. The Sovereign Lord has SPOKEN, who can but prophesy?”

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