God is There

This last chapter of Amos is a reminder of God’s mercy and compassion, even though when you read the start, it might not seem like it.  ‘Israel will be Destroyed’?  “If they dig down as deep as the place of the dead, I will pull them up from there.  If they climb up into heaven, I will bring them down from there.”  Where’s the mercy and compassion in that?  Well, it reminds me of Psalm 139:8:  “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

 

God is there.  He’s for us – not against us, and the end of Amos 9 talks not about total annihilation, but restoration.  He talks about bringing Israel back from captivity and planting them in their own land, never to be uprooted as they were before (Amos 9:14-15).

 

Perhaps your life feels a bit of a tangled mess.  Will you trust God to restore it?

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Thanks if you’ve read through the book of Amos with me.  I had hoped to finish it by the end of June; better late than never.  Are there any other challenges you’d like to see here on the blog?

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The Shuddering Reality

God really hates the destruction of the poor.  Yet again, He talks about His people walking all over them, but this chapter’s different, in that God’s had enough.  “I will not overlook their sins anymore” (Amos 8:2).  It’s not just talk this time; He’s showing Israel there are consequences for their disobedience.  “The whole land will shake because of it”, and its people will mourn for their dead (Amos 8:8).

 

When God talks about the sun going down at noon and the earth being darkened, like a time of crying for the death of an only son (Amos 8:9-10), I can’t help but think of Jesus’ crucifixion day.  Yes, the shuddering reality is that our wrongdoing displeases God, but the marvellous truth is that Jesus took our punishment when He died on that cross – when the sky was darkened for three hours.

 

Here in Amos 8 though, God’s talking not only about a physical darkness, but a spiritual one.  “The Lord God says:  ‘The days are coming when I will cause a time of hunger in the land.  The people will not be hungry for bread or thirsty for water, but they will be hungry for words from the Lord.  They will wander from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea, from the north to the east.  They will search for the word of the Lord, but they won’t find it’” (Amos 8:11-12).  After this was written and before Jesus’ birth, there were apparently four hundred years when God didn’t speak through any prophet – the silent four hundred years, I’ve heard them called, and perhaps we’ll experience another time like that before Jesus returns.  So what to take away from this?  Well, I’m reminded of a phrase in Isaiah 55:6, which simply says:  “Seek the Lord while he may be found”.  If there’s something inside you that longs for God, reach out for Him with all your heart; I know you’ll find Him.

Persecution for his Faith

We see in this chapter an all-too-familiar thing:  Someone doesn’t like what Amos says about the king’s family being attacked, so he meets with the king and falsely accuses Amos of making evil plans (Amos 7:8-10).  Then he confronts Amos and tries to get him out of the picture. “Seer, go back right now to Judah.  Do your prophesying and earn your living there, but don’t prophesy anymore here at Bethel” (Amos 7:12-13).

 

How does Amos respond?  Is he intimidated?  We’re not told how he feels, but he responds by stating the call God’s placed on his life, and being faithful to it. “I do not make my living as a prophet, nor am I a member of a group of prophets.  I make my living as a shepherd, and I take care of sycamore trees.  But the Lord took me away from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’  So listen to the Lord’s word” (Amos 7:14-16).

 

Sadly, we see this persecution regularly all over the globe.  In fact, we’re even promised that anyone who wants to live as a Christian will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).  It happens to people in North Korea, stuck in prison camps because they or a member of their family chose to be a Christian, and it happens on a smaller scale – people mocking or showing anger at the way someone lives their life.  How will you respond when it happens to you?

 

Jesus and Paul give us some helpful tips.  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).  “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).  “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14).

 

So, will you have confidence in God’s call on your life, and be faithful to it?

Don’t get too Comfortable

“You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches.  You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.  You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.  You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph” (Amos 6:4-6).

 

This chapter reminds us that life is not for our comfort; life is to live for God’s glory.  God doesn’t condemn Israel for eating meat or using lotions, but for living a life of excess, without even enough compassion to shed tears when fellow-countrymen come to ruin.

 

Is this so far-removed from us?  Maybe it’s easy to treat a home like a castle – to come into our four walls, to eat our food, snooze on our sofas and not to grieve … not to act … not to plead the cause of others.  Can you think of a situation in your country lately that you’ve actually wept for?

Concern for Justice

A fountain is something I’ve wanted for myself as long as I can remember.  I used to live near a friend who had a conservatory with a fountain just outside it.  You could sit there listening to the birds singing and the water bubbling …  I joked that for me, the commandment:  “Do not covet your neighbour’s house” should read:  “Do not covet your neighbour’s fountain.”

 

I love water-features, in garden-centres or in formal gardens, and here God talks about justice flowing like a river, and goodness like a never-ending stream.  He repeats His displeasure at the oppression of poor people, and assures Israel of His presence with them if they would do good.  Any worship-rituals the Israelites performed were worthless to God while there was no love of justice in the land.

Come Back

I hadn’t noticed this before, but the phrase used again and again in this short chapter?  “You did not come back to Me” (verses 6, 8, 9, 10, 11).

 

Have you ever had lots of things go wrong, and has it made you feel like God was distant?  He talks in this chapter about the things that went wrong for the Israelites:  Famine, drought, thirst, damage to crops (becoming diseased or being eaten by locusts), disasters, death …  Even though the Israelites had done wrong, they could well have looked at themselves and at the world around them, and wondered ‘What’s the difference between us and them?  Where’s our God in all this’ … and yet God sent all those things in order that they might come back to Him – to God who made the wind and the mountains, who reveals His thoughts to us, who darkens the days and lightens the nights, who’s full of power.

 

Could it be that Jesus is there in the middle of all your setbacks, waiting for you to come back to Him, to speak with Him as a man speaks with his friend?

Chasing it Away

“Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has planned it?” (Amos 3:6).

 

This may not seem like a very encouraging verse on one level, but it is when you think of it the other way round.  If when disaster comes God causes it, that must mean that when disaster’s averted, it’s God who chases it away.  When we lose money but still make ends meet, when we have things stolen but no harm comes to us, we can give thanks to God for His protection.  He’s kept disaster from coming near us.

A Better World

“For the many crimes of Israel, I will punish them. …  They walk on poor people as if they were dirt, and they refuse to be fair to those who are suffering” (Amos 2:6-7).

 

Seeing an end to oppression is really important to God.  These verses tell us walking all over people, taking advantage of them, is a crime in God’s eyes.  I’m sorry if you’ve been a victim of that, but I’m sure it doesn’t go unnoticed.  In our dealings with people, if we considered not only the law of the land but the words of our God, this world would be a better place.

Out of the Box

I had some great feedback about the series on Proverbs I did last month, so I thought we could try a shorter book this time – the book of Amos.  Are you with me?

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“These are the words of Amos, one of the shepherds from the town of Tekoa. …  ‘The pastures of the shepherds will become dry, and even the top of Mount Carmel will dry up’” (Amos 1:1-2).  This is an encouragement to all of us not to keep God and our work separate.

 

I wrote a song once, prayed and really felt I should sing it somewhere.  I shouldn’t have been surprised when the leader of the meeting told me afterwards that someone had really been helped by my song; that’s what God can do.  If you’re a shepherd (like Amos), He’ll talk to you about the pastures of shepherds.  If you’re a singer, He knows who you’re singing for and what you should sing.  If you’re a writer, He wants to inspire your words.  If you’re in an office, He knows all about it.  I remember a Christian friend telling me she left the office one night, not knowing what to do about a certain problem.  She mulled over it all night and still nothing.  Then she went to work next morning, switched her computer on and the answer just came to her.

 

What’s God like for you?  Is He distant, maybe someone you feel looking down when you’re singing hymns on a Sunday, or have you asked Him to be part of your everyday life?