Text: Amos 7 LXX
Old Testament Reading for Prop. 10B
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The Israelites were better off than they had ever been before. World events had propelled the northern kingdom of Israel to heights of power. The Assyrian Empire, which was the dominant world power, had a series of ineffectual rulers who were barely able to maintain their borders. Israel’s national enemy, the Arameans, were plagued with internal conflict. So, Israel capitalized the political situation and was able to retake all the territory which had been lost since the time of King Solomon.
Because the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah were at peace, they controlled all the major trade-routes in the area! Riches flowed into the two kingdoms. The result was a post-war boom; a prosperity such as no living Israelite could remember. They were so wealthy, that some in the upper class were paneling their houses with Ivory. It was a time of great optimism, and confidence in the future. But, despite the outward appearances, all was not well.
I. Israel’s Deep Corruption
The Israelites were convinced that their prosperity and military successes were signs of God’s favor and blessing. But, their prosperity was largely at the expense of the average citizen of Israel. Their economy was being oiled by the greed of the wealthy who took advantage of the poor to fatten their wallets. If a poor farmer brought a rich person to court, the rich man would bribe off the judge and the poor farmer would lose the case.
The official state religion, which was quite popular, had absorbed rituals and rites which were pagan. This wasn’t out-right paganism. No, this was a paganized worship of the Lord. They thought they were ok if they just paid Yahweh lip service but worshiped him like their pagan neighbors worshiped their gods. When there was such staggering social injustice, it was clear that their worship was hollow.
The situation of Northern Israel is quite similar to the way things are today. We live in a society which is one of the most prosperous in the world. But, when we look at the world, we see that there is also great moral corruption and social injustice. Corruption, exploitation, starvation, and poverty are as common today as they ever were. Additionally, we see the same hollow worship. Christianity in our society is much like a smorgasbord: people pick and choose what suits their fancy.
II. Amos’ Heartfelt Intercession
The Lord revealed to Amos his intention to destroy Israel in a series of visions. In the first one, Amos saw a swarm of locusts eating up all the farmyards and pasturage of the land. The second vision Amos saw a fire which was raging throughout the land. This fire was so hot that all the water in the world is licked up. What Amos saw in these visions saw was the destruction which the Assyrians would bring. Israel was supposed to be God’s covenant people, those whom he had chosen out of all the earth to bear his name and to be a light of the gentiles. Instead, Israel ignored God and did their own thing, and did not return to the Lord. So, God was intent on destroying them.
Amos saw these visions and at once prayed for Israel. Twice, he interceded on their behalf. Amos set himself up as a wall between God and Israel. Amos didn’t try to make excuses for Israel or cite extenuating circumstances. Israel is guilty. All Amos did was cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” He reminded God twice of how few Israelites there were, and twice God changed his mind and the disaster was averted.
From this we learn two very important truths about our God. First, our God takes our sin very seriously. Sin is rebellion against God. It’s high treason. God threatens to punish all those who break his commandments. God will right every wrong. Every injustice will be corrected. Every wrong doer brought to justice. But we also learn that our God delights in showing mercy to those who do not deserve it. Our God is loving, tender, gracious, and compassionate. He delights in forgiving sin and in giving grace that brings salvation. He only punishes when justice absolutely demands it, and even then, reluctantly. God does not want any to perish.
III. God’s Promised Execution
The Lord showed Amos a third vision. The Lord had a block of steel in his hands, and he was building a wall made from steel. He told Amos that he was going to place this steel wall in the midst of his people. Metallic walls were symbolic of strength and protection. God told the prophet Jeremiah, “I have established you as a .. bronze wall against all the kings of Judah, against its rulers, and against the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord.” (Jer. 1:18-19) Amos was like a wall of steel that God was placing in the midst of Israel. He could prophecy against kings and priests of Northern Israel. When he was opposed, he would be able to stand his ground, because God was strengthening and defending him. God had placed Amos exactly where he wanted him, and God had his back.
Before Amos could intercede a third time, Lord gave Amos his message. “I will never again pass by them.” God had canceled destruction upon Israel twice because Amos had interceded for them. The Lord had shown mercy above and beyond what Israel deserved. But now, the Lord says enough is enough. Three strikes and you’re out. Consider that for a moment. God had said that he will NEVER again have mercy upon Israel. Instead, God himself would rise up against Israel with a sword. God was canceling his mercy. But why?
Amos tells us a story to explain why it is that God would never again show mercy to Israel. The false priest Amaziah had reported to king Jeroboam II that Amos was conspiring against him. Amaziah didn’t tell king Jeroboam about what Amos said about their false worship or social injustice. No, he only told him the part about sword and exile. So, Amaziah the priest told Amos, “Go away! Never again prophecy in Bethel.”
But, like a wall made from steel, this didn’t affect Amos. He remained courageous in the face entire Northern regime. Amos responded by telling Amaziah that he was just a lowly farmer whom the Lord himse
lf sent to prophecy to Israel. It was not “Thus says Amos” as Amaziah said it was. No, it was “Thus says the Lord”. By rejecting Amos and his message, Amaziah and Israel had rejected God. So, Amos said, because you have said “Never again prophecy in Israel” then the Lord says, “I will never again show Israel mercy.” And that’s exactly what happened. Amaziah’s future is bleak and without hope. Jeroboam’s son was assassinated and within 30 years the Assyrian armies came and utterly annihilated the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They were wiped off the face of the earth. The Lord said, “Never again!”
Like Israel, God has given us his word. He has called us by his name. We are no better than those in that Northern Kingdom. We have our own gods and idols which strive to replace the one true God. God has sent us messengers, pastors, who declare his word to us. Through pastors, Christ our dear Lord deals with us Himself. They are his ambassadors; his uniformed deputies. Those pastors declare to you that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. That God has mercy upon you! Sometimes though, those pastors tell us things we don’t want to hear. Sometimes they point out to us a sin which we don’t want to deal with: your moral failings and your injustices. But the example of Israel is a warning to you. We should not despise preaching and God’s word, but gladly hear and learn it. God doesn’t want just lip service. He wants us to listen to his messengers; to listen to his word. He wants us to repent of sin and return to Him. He wants us to amend our sinful ways. Most of all, he wants us to fear, love, and trust in him above all things.
God takes your sin seriously, and he has shown you mercy. He has sent his own Son, the stone that the builders rejected, into the midst of his people. This crucified and risen Lord is at the right hand of the Father and, like Amos, he intercedes on your behalf. He pleads his own holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death on behalf of us poor sinful beings. He has sent his messengers among us, in our midst, to proclaim to us that it’s not too late. “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2). Now is the time to listen to his voice. One day, it may be too late to repent; one day God may say to you, “Never Again”. But today is not that day. Today, the Lord comes to you, not with wrath, judgment, and hell, but with forgiveness, life, and salvation. Yes, He reaches out to you to give you the gifts of repentance and faith.
And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your heart and mind through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen