Someone like Amos – of the OT book – seems so distant in time and distance yet his experience relates directly to ours.
Southern Kingdom of Israel had become rich, militarily mighty, confident in their motto “God is with us”.
With this success came self-confidence, idolatry, sexual immorality and greed – the rich and powerful taking advantage of the poor.
Hypocrisy was the norm and Amos told them God’s response and called them to repentance
Amos 5: 21‘I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.22Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.23Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
His message was unwelcome, of course, and also because his origin was in the northern Kingdom of Judah he was an unwelcome outsider.
In Amos 7 we read how God was about to exercise his judgment by sending swarms of locusts to destroy the king’s crops but that he relented when Amos appealed to God, “Sovereign Lord, forgive!”
But the people did not repent so God prepared to send destruction by fire so Amos appealed again, “Sovereign Lord, I beg you, stop!” – and he did.
In verses 7, 8
7This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb-line in his hand. 8And the Lord asked me, ‘What do you see, Amos?’‘A plumb-line,’ I replied. Then the Lord said, ‘Look, I am setting a plumb-line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.’
What use is a plumb-line which goes around corners or has bits cut out of it? A plumb line string might be flexible but with a plumb-bob hanging on it the string is straight, vertical and complete. As much as we might wish God could be a bit more flexible and adjust his standards to suit our wishes God’s expectations are clear, upright and inflexible.
God’s word cannot be bent into shape to suit us nor can we cut bits out of it.
By showing us a plumb-line we see God gives us a clear, straight standard by which he will judge and that standard is his righteousness.
And there is no negotiating this time. Twice God relented from judgments he had determined were due. This time he says “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.’
This is a pretty serious and negative message Amos had . A message from God for the king, basically saying, repent or you’ll go to hell.
How did the king get the message God was giving Amos?
10Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: ‘Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11For this is what Amos is saying: ‘ “Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.” ’
He was dobbed in by the priest of all people! The very man who should have been paying attention to God and proclaiming his message runs off and tells the king about this terrible Amos who was passing on bad news from God.
Then he turns on Amos:
12Then Amaziah said to Amos, ‘Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.’
OK, Amos, for telling us the truth, for passing on what God has said, for reminding us of God’s expectations he is told, “shut up, stop preaching at us. Stop prophesying. Your message doesn’t fit in with our lifestyle. God’s ideas are out of place here. This is a sanctuary – a place where we are safe from God. Go away. You’re sacked. Get another job somewhere else.”
This happened to Amos so long ago but it sounds so familiar. It’s the sort of thing that happens nowadays!
Just who was this Amos?
14Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.15But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
Amos was an ordinary bloke.
He was not especially religious or a preacher.
He was a shepherd, a gardener.
He could have been a farmer, a school teacher, a bus driver, retired or even a footballer.
He could have been one of us!
God had a message to be passed on and he expected Amos to be the messenger.
What does God expect of us? The teaching of Jesus and his apostles leaves us in no doubt and with no excuse. Here’s a quick summary.
Luke 12:8-9Jesus said, ‘I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.’
It’s pretty stark, clear and without exceptions or exclusions. According to Jesus himself, own up, or else.
Romans 10:9-10 If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
Faith in Christ is what saves us, brings us into a right relationship with God the Father and it is inevitable that we will publicly declare it. With such good news can we keep quiet? And if we cannot speak about it, is it real? If you believe in Jesus as saviour and Lord you will say so.
Then Jesus left us with what has been called the great commission:
Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
Galatians 6:14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
1 Peter 3:15-16 “But in your hearts revere 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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
In fact, it’s inevitable that everyone will acknowledge Jesus as Lord and God – what’s important is to do so now so that it will be a joy to do so when he returns in all is glory and power. To leave it until then will be too late:
Philippians 2: 9-11 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Already one church has heard from Jesus with one of the most dreadful messages, one which I certainly would not want to receive.
Revelation 3:15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Let’s learn from Amos and, of course, from Jesus and be ready to acknowledge Jesus as Saviour, Lord and King in action but, so importantly, with words.