Monday, August 25, 2014

Reading Through Amos

Amos ChartAs I work through the Minor Prophets I always hate to come to Amos because he is so convicting. We all have a tendency, as Israel did, to read the Word of God and apply it to someone else. Amos does not allow us to do that. His point is that God’s judgment is coming and it is coming first for God’s people. To those who have more information and more blessing more is required. Blessings are to be shared. We should not become complacent within the blessings of God. The theme of Amos is that God’s judgment, the Day of the LORD, is impending and it is coming for YOU!

Billy Smith, writer of the Amos section of the New American Commentary sees this as the main message of Amos,

The sovereign Lord commissioned Amos to bear his message of judgment upon Israel, a judgment so destructive the nation would not survive. Israel’s sin against God caused God’s judgment against Israel. The coming day of the Lord would be a day of darkness and destruction, not light and salvation for “the sinful kingdom” 31.

Or my take on the message of Amos, “Impending judgment should motivate God's people to examine themselves for signs of complacency, laziness or rebellion, repent and seek relationship with Him so that they will be ready to face God and be part of the blessed minority in His Kingdom.

In the words of W. Eichrodt, there is “a universal ethical will of God, which gives the moral norms established within his covenant people validity for the whole world.” The view that the cosmic Lord will judge the earth, he says, “drives prophetic thinking on to the unity and universality of the morality required by God, which is binding on all who bear the face of Man.”  Amos 1.3-5, 46.

God has a low tolerance level for those who break treaties, who take away human freedom and dignity, and whose motive is material profit. Such people should brace themselves for the destructive judgment of God. Amos 1.9, 53.

As J. Niehaus explains: “Crimes against humanity bring God’s punishment. This observation is a powerful motivation for God’s people to oppose the mistreatment and neglect of their fellow human beings.” Amos 2.1, 58.

All nations are accountable to God when they oppress, dehumanize, and take away the rights of people, especially helpless people. God’s judgment is severe against those who exploit, abuse, and oppress fellow human beings. God judges indiscriminately. Claims of a special relationship to God does not immunize such people from his judgment. Amos 2.14-16, 69.

Amos begins with a section of prophecies of judgment on the nations around Israel. All nations are accountable to God for how they treat their people and relate to other nations. YHWH is the God of all creation, not just Israel.

Israel’s privileged relationship to God carried with it heavy responsibility to God. As seen in the Book of Deuteronomy, living in relationship with God demanded loyalty and faithfulness. If the people failed, judgment and punishment would come. God holds his people accountable for their sins. Amos 3.2, 71.

The enduring principle here is that God will destroy elaborate altars, expensive houses, and other accoutrements of an extravagant lifestyle when these items are acquired through oppression, fraud, and strong-arm tactics. The idolatry of the people led to their opulent lifestyles. Amos 3.15, 83.

But Amos’ main reason for the section on judgment of the Gentiles was to get Israel to look at themselves. Spiritual privilege leads to a higher standard of judgment. Thus, God's judgment should promote self-evaluation, not pride or condemnation of others.

Worshipers must practice a constant vigil as regards motive in performing religious rituals. Is the motive to show love for God or only to show love for the practice of religion? Amos 4.4-5, 88.

Just as Israel had the power to change (or overturn) some things in their society, so God had the power to change (overturn) things in his universe. To that powerful God Israel was accountable. Amos 5.8-9, 101.

Seeking what is good is not the same as seeking God, but it is a corollary. Seeking God and seeking good represent the two dimensions of true religion, not rituals and forms but relationships with God and other persons.  Amos 5.14, 106.

Then as now, God’s acceptance or rejection of human expressions of worship is based on his assessment of the motives of the heart... Religious activity is no substitute for national or personal righteousness. It may even sometimes be a hindrance. Amos 5.23-24, 113.

God does not tolerate a self-indulgent lifestyle... When the worship of God’s people fails to produce justice and righteousness in society, God’s judgment cannot be far behind. Amos 6.7, 119–120.

“The mighty fortress is their god. Its security and power make God’s protection and blessing irrelevant crutches in the real world of economic and political influence.” God hates anything that replaces him in the lives of his people, especially when it is associated with wickedness. Amos 6.8, 121.

The major focus of Amos is that real religion is relationship with God that flows into loving treatment of others, especially the poor and needy. It is very easy for the church to focus on ritual or calling and become complacent. When churches are spending the bulk of the budget on making themselves more comfortable in their “worship” services they are dangerously close to the complacency of the people of Israel.

Primary loyalty to God in their service to Israel would have eliminated conflict between the king, the priest, and the prophet. The answer to conflict among God’s people is always to place loyalty to God above all else. Amos 7.10-17, 136.

Putting chaff and trash with good grain to sell to desperately hungry poor people was the ultimate in greed. Human greed for profit at the expense of the innocent brings down a society in the just desserts of divine recompense. Amos 8.6, 146.

Israel’s trouble was theological. Their false gods could never raise them up if they fell down. Only the Lord could do that...Such judgment forces us to ask: What are our oppressive acts, and what are our pagan deities? and then forces us to answer honestly and quickly. Amos 8.14, 152–153.

The Lord they expected to meet at Bethel would be there, but not to receive them favorably. His presence would be for evil and not good. When God’s people steadfastly refuse to seek good rather than evil (5:14), they can expect God’s gaze to be upon them for evil, not good. Amos 9.4, 157.

Israel tried to combine worship of God with their own agenda. This always results in conflict and ultimately judgment. Symptoms of idolatry include immorality, lack of concern for the poor and greed. These will all bring God’s judgment.

God is the one who restores, builds, plants, and blesses. It will not be by political coup, social revolution, or military maneuvers that Israel will regain its ascendancy. It will be by the coming of the Lord, who will heal his people and their land.  Amos 9.15, 170.

God does promise to bless those who take a good look at themselves and repent. Amos is convicting because he requires us to take a hard look at ourselves and at out churches to see if we are doing the things that really please God.

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