Day 266: Amos 7-9; The Same or Different?

The people of Israel were called to be a nation that was set apart from the nations of the world.  God called them to “be Holy as I am Holy” and to be a light to the nations.  However, as Amos points out here towards the end of his book, Israel had become the same as the “Cushites,” which is a group of people from the Nile region, namely Egypt.  God’s people were no better than the people that enslaved them, the people that they came from, and the people that they conquered.  Because of their sins, they would face the same destruction as these nations as well.

While I don’t think that things here completely translate, today’s reading made me wonder a great deal about where we stand as the Church in today’s culture.  There is so much talk around churches about being relevant and being able to speak to today’s culture.  We do things like use technology, play rock music (some that doesn’t even Christian), and even dumb the message of the Gospel into just living and being nice to people (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism).  All this we have done in an effort to reach more people, but I wonder as I’m writing this if that is really what we have done.  I wonder if we have not made some of the same mistakes as Israel did, running off after other nations, cultures, and gods rather than seek after the God that called them out of slavery and bondage and into a new life with a new identity.

As we have talked about before, the people of Israel were convinced that it was the land that God had given them that gave them their identity as God’s people.  Because the land was a promise from God, they thought that living there was enough to make them God’s people.  However, for Israel it was actually their command to live a Holy life, to Love the Lord with all their Heart, Soul, and Mind and to Love their neighbor as they loved themselves that they derived their identity.  They were to be set apart, to honor God with their lives and to be a witness to God among the nations.

Again, I am drawn to the question of how the Church is doing in this category.  Are we God’s people set apart and living in a way that both honors God and points others to Him?  Or are too busy trying to make ourselves look like the culture around us, squabbling about musical styles, and making sure that those that come in our doors think the way we do?  Is the Church called to cower in the face of culture, to curl up and let culture wash over us?  Or are we called to stand up in the midst of a morally declining culture and be a beacon of light that points to the good news of the Gospel of Christ Jesus in whom we find our ultimate identity?  I think it is the latter.



Day 265: Amos 4-6; Complacency

So today’s reading continues along the theme of yesterday’s reading as Amos continues to talk about the judgment that is coming upon the people of Israel.  Amos really has very feel words of comfort for the Northern Kingdom, who has done evil in the eyes of the Lord since its conception.  Again, this is a nation whose kings were not judged to be good or bad, but were rated on a scale of how bad they were; some being significantly worse than others, but none reaching even a level of being neutral.

Speaking of being neutral, as we continue to read Amos we see that he takes aim on the “neutral” people of Israel today too.  When I use the term neutral, I am referencing those that are “complacent in Zion” as Amos says.  While I know that they terms ‘neutral’ and ‘complacent’ are not entirely synonymous, I think that they tend to get used in this way in our cultural context.  Many of us tend to talk through life being a neutral, one that just tries to balance out the good and the bad so that we don’t end up on one end of the spectrum or the other.  Perhaps we give an extra $10 in the offering plate for the people we cut off on the highway this week.  Maybe we say an extra prayer for the mean thought we had about our spouse early this week.  Whatever it is, what we are trying to do is remain neutral, not swaying to the left or the right.  Rather than going after the sin in our lives or even the brokenness that we see around us, we remain complacent, thinking that the world is a generally good place or is, at the very least, neutral.

This was the kind of lifestyle that Amos was leveling his attack against in chapter six of today’s reading.  In Israel and Judah there were many people that had built for themselves a good life with much wealth and comfort.  They lived as if they didn’t have a care in the world, even if there were poor people living at their gates, and they were prospering off of the backs of others.  As long as they gave their sacrifices from time to time, God will see that they were good and would continue to allow them to do.  I’m sure that every now and then they gave a little bit to the poor too, just for good measure.  Generally though, they saw things as being pretty alright around them, and turned their gaze away from the needs around them.  They were… complacent.

The prophet, however, seeing things through the eyes of God, do not a little sin here and there as being ok.  In fact, every little sin is abhorrent to God.  For the prophet, society was not “generally good” it was a disaster!  People that tried to cover their complacency with false piety were an abomination before God.  Not only did God not want their fraudulent sacrifices, He was going to remove their place of comfort.  They too would experience the true brokenness of the world.

God does not stand for sin and thus no sin is a small sin in the eyes of God.  What God says here, to those who have been blessed with material wealth, is that those who have the power to help the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the needy and don’t are just as guilty as those who are benefiting from oppressing them.  Sadly, in many cases the complacent and the oppressor are one and the same.

We too can learn from Amos’ words here.  Do we turn a blind eye to the poor?  Do we build comfortable lives for ourselves in gated communities so that we don’t have to see the need around us?  Society is spiraling into sin at an alarming rate, but as long as there is some good that is happening, we’re just generally remaining neutral right?  God says “NO!”  This is not the time for Christians to remain complacent.  The Church has been silent for far too long.  We need to stand up for those in need, lest we too be removed from our place of comfort!



Day 264: Amos 1-3; Intro to Amos

As we move into the prophet Amos, we a meet a prophet that was sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Though Amos was “one of the shepherds of Tekoa,” a city very close to Jerusalem, the Lord sent him into Israel to deliver the message of God to them.  From a chronological standpoint, Amos became a prophet around, but a bit before the prophet Hosea, who was also called and sent to the Northern Kingdom.   Unlike many of the other prophets, there is very little comfort in Amos’ message to the people of Israel; he is pretty much all judgment all the time.  We will see a little section at the end that speaks of restoration, but mostly Amos drives home the point that Judgment is coming, it is coming for specific reasons, and it will all encompassing.

Because today’s reading has a lot to do with the announcement of the Judgment that is to come, something that we have heard many times before, I think it is important once again to talk through the mind of the prophet and look at the specific language that he, and other prophets use in their writing and speaking.  We talked about this on our last day of the book of Ezekiel, but would do well continue to remember this because it is clear that the prophets have a language and a way all their own.  Abraham J. Heschel would say that we have no language in common with the prophets and he wouldn’t be too far from the truth.  Amos, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others speak in sweeping accusations using grandiose language and vivid imagery that is often even questionable for children.  In fact, in many Bible classes for kids of all ages, the prophets tend to be a brushed over group of writings because of their R rated commentary of Israel and Judah.

There is, however, a good reason for this.  Prophets don’t simply use crazy language for attention’s sake, like a CEO in a meetings uses curse words to make a point.  The prophets are speaking from the very mouth of God.  Indeed the prophets hold a very unique office in the Hebrew culture, being those who have one foot in the throne room of God and the other foot in the throne rooms of kings and on the streets of cities.  These prophets are called by God, often times taken up in visions like Daniel and Ezekiel, seeing another side of reality, and going so far touched on the mouth and given words to say like Isaiah and Jeremiah.  They have been called to be a watchman, to bring the Word of the Lord to God’s people and the surrounding nations, but also bring laments of the people before God as well.  He hearing God’s Words, and spending time in God’s presence, they begin to see things as God sees them, with the burning and passionate love that God feels for His people.

So why all of the strong language then?  Why all the judgment?  Why did we spend yet another day reading the announcement of the coming judgments once again?  The answer is, strange as it may seem to us, God’s unrelenting love for His people and creation.  Sin, this corruption of all that God had made good, has caused creation and God’s people to fall and to continue to turn away from Him.  Yet God loves His people and is continually working towards reconciliation and redemption.  Sometimes this means punishing His people though, for the sins they have committed and for their continual denial of Him.

Amos’ words today relate to us a cycle of sinful behavior, continual actions that have cause people to reject God and follow their own will.  The judgment that is coming will break this cycle.  We too, at times, find ourselves in this cycle.  The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans about this:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

God knows that we are stuck in this cycle, unable to help ourselves out of it.  The sin must be punished and the cycle broken for us to escape from it.  For the people of the Old Testament, this was done through sacrifice.  In the death of one there would be life for the other.  For us, the ultimate expression of this is in Jesus Christ.  Paul continues in Romans 8 by saying,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

As we continue to read the prophets, keep in mind that the people whom God loves so passionately are continuing to turn away from Him.  What’s worse is that they cannot help themselves out of the pit that they have dug for themselves.  Yet God doesn’t leave them there; there is hope and though these people won’t live to see that day, it has come and the Kingdom of God is here.  God has reconciled His people to Himself through Jesus Christ, and in this time, as we wait for that to be completed, we live according to the Spirit who continues to teach and reprove us, sanctifying us each day, that we may become more and more like Jesus.