Lessons From the Book of Amos, Part II

The Book of Amos is a book of declarations by God stating that He is going to deal with the situations that have built up over a long period of time. When reading Scripture, one thing we know, as we see how God has dealt with people’s faults, is that He does not deal with them instantly. It usually takes a long time for God to bring judgment and punishment. God understands our frailties, and He is longsuffering. He allows our cup to fill and fill and fill, but once that cup is finally full, a roar is heard from out of Zion. (See Amos 1:2; Joel 3:16.) This is the situation of which Amos is writing.

Chapter 3 of Amos begins, “Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Verses 1, 2. As you read the Bible, you see very clearly that the plan of God is centered in a covenant—the covenant He established with Abraham and that has been handed down to successive generations. God did not consider Abraham his wife; He did not consider Jacob His wife. It was the offspring of Jacob, the twelve tribes of Jacob, that became the wife of God.

Wife of God

The nation of Israel was the wife of the God of Heaven. Their relationship with God came about as a result of the exodus. When Jacob went down into Egypt, 70 souls journeyed from the land of Canaan into Egypt, but it was a nation of one to two million people that came out of Egypt. (See Exodus 1:1–5; 12:37, 38.) This relationship was sealed at Mount Sinai by the response of the children of Israel when they said, “All that the Lord has said, we will do.” Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7.

These were the only people that God had known in this special sense, as He emphasizes in Amos 3:2. This was a unique and special relationship; it was a marriage relationship, and God said to them, “You are the only one whom I have known in this way.” Did God not know the other families of the earth? Yes, He knew all the families of the earth, but He did not consider them in any special relationship as He did the children of Israel. Israel was, as it were, the sweet, blushing bride of God, but as we read the history of Israel, there was, almost from the time of the honeymoon, unfaithfulness.

Most of us are either married, have been married, or intend to be married. We have certain expectations and requirements regarding marriage. One of these requirements is that of faithfulness on the part of each spouse to the other. We do not get this idea from society at large; we get it from the Bible. But let us suppose that when we married, understanding that faithfulness was part of the marriage covenant, we decided the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, and we got caught sampling the greener grass. What kind of response could we expect to receive for this kind of unfaithfulness?

Most of us, upon arriving home—at least in Western society—would expect to find our bags packed and sitting out on the porch or, even worse, thrown out onto the street. There is something about the act of adultery that seems equal to the unpardonable sin in the human mind. A trust factor has been broken. Feelings of disgust well up in the heart of the one who has been betrayed. From where do our understanding and reaction originate? It comes from our understanding of faithfulness in the Bible. Love and faithfulness go together, and God is the Author.

We have gotten the idea that God does not experience these kinds of feelings in His marriage relationship with His people. One thing we need to remember is that the book of Amos was written in the language of the time in which Amos lived. It was not written in the language of today’s America. In the time of Amos, a woman was in a different relationship to a man than what we find today; she was not only his wife, but she was considered to be his property. This was the way things were done in Israel’s society. God communicated to Israel on this level.

Israel was God’s property, just as we are His property. We have been bought with a price, so we belong to God; we are His property not only from the standpoint of ownership but, also, from the standpoint of relationships. We are considered to be His bride.

The children of Israel were not in a slave relationship, but they were in a marriage relationship, of which God reminded them when He said, “I brought you up out of Egypt; you are the only one that I have known—the only one.”

God knew Israel intimately; there was no one else of whom this could be said. Because this was true, it would call for the greatest punishment for the practice of unfaithfulness on Israel’s part.

One – One = One

I do not want to belabor the point, but we all know the story of just how longsuffering God had been with Israel. As I mentioned, almost from the wedding night, Israel had climbed into bed with anybody and everybody that caught her fancy. God would forbear a long time with her, but the events that would follow would be crushing to Israel.

God warned, in Amos 3:2, “I will punish you for all your iniquities”—not just some, not just the most recent, but for all your iniquities. Did God have the right to do this? Yes, He did, because this was His wife; she was His property. Jesus alluded to this when he told the parable of the fig tree. (See Matthew 21:19–22.) Jesus came to a fig tree that was beautiful to look upon, but there was no fruit on it. There was no fruit of faithfulness on the part of the fig tree that represented His bride, so He cursed the tree so that it withered, dried up, and died. This is what happened to the Northern tribes. We find no trace of the Northern tribes today. I have heard people try to give some kind of an explanation as to what has happened to the Northern tribes. They try to trace them through secular history, but the Scripture reveals that those tribes withered and died and never came back on the scene again.

Although God was going to deal with the unfaithful children of Israel, He worked a miracle with mathematics that went something like this: One minus one left one—Judah. God wanted all of the tribes of Israel to be His bride, but the remaining two, Israel and Judah, had to be separated so that one could survive.

“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Amos 3:3. The answer to that is no; they cannot walk together if there is disagreement. There have been occasions when I have been asked to counsel couples who are experiencing problems in their marriages. One of the things I have learned is that usually these couples have not been getting along for a long period of time. By the time they call the pastor for counseling, the situation has been building and festering. Blessed is the couple who, when they get into difficulty, seek help immediately, because the best opportunity to deal with the healing of a marriage is when the problems first begin. If things are allowed to go on, alienation takes hold. This is what had happened as far as the children of Israel were concerned.

God was always available to deal with and resolve the problem, but they always wanted to be off “doing their own thing,” not paying any attention to Him. They could not walk with God and with other gods. This was an unworkable arrangement. Men who try to do this, without exception, are failures in their religious life. God knows that, and He does not want it to happen. That is why the first commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3. No other gods should be allowed to come in and take over a relationship where God should be. The person who fails in their love relationship with God will be a godless person. Alienation leads to apostasy, and the apostate is an outlaw, as far as God is concerned. The question we must ask ourselves is: “Are our affections given to Christ in self-surrender and in happy trust to Him as our God?”

The Lion Roars

As Amos unfolds the story, he is trying to gain the attention of these tribes, and he says, “Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing? Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no gin [is] for him? shall [one] take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all? Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done [it]? Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” Amos 3:4–7.

God is telling the tribes, I am going to punish you, and I want you to understand that it is coming. I am warning you. “Will a lion roar?” The nature of a lion when seeking prey is to roar when he has it in sight. He does this because usually the prey will freeze when it hears the roar, making it easier to catch. God uses this illustration, calling upon the prophet to convey these words by saying, “Listen, it is coming; I am not going to roar unless I have a prey, unless there is something in My sight that is going to suffer destruction.”

Can a bird fall in a snare where there is no snare set? The thought here is that the coming punishment is deserved. A bird is not caught in a trap unless a trap is set for it, and who is it that sets the trap? You have set your own trap. You have heard the idiom, give someone enough rope and he will get tangled up in it. In other words, allow him enough freedom and he will eventually hurt himself or be caught. That is basically what God is saying here. Sin sets the trap, and when the trap springs, the sinner is not going to escape. It is just that simple. We think we can parlay with sin, that we can dabble a little bit in it, and it will not catch us, but sooner or later, it will catch up with us. Praise the Lord! He is longsuffering! He will allow us to get into circumstances in hopes that we will turn away from those circumstances. This is what He was hoping for Israel, but Israel continued to become entangled. When God comes out of His place, you can mark it down—action is going to follow.

My father was not an angry or passionate man. Many parents today seem to beat and bang on their kids all the time, but that was not the case with my dad. We got what punishment we had coming, but I do not ever remember getting a licking that I did not deserve. My father never punished us on a supposition. I can remember, though, that if we acted up, he would warn us. If we did not stop, once he got up, it was all over; we knew what was coming. We could plead and plead and plead all we wanted, but the punishment still came. That is basically what God is dealing with here.

God was not the type of parent, as we find in many circumstances today, that would just scream and scream at the kids and do nothing. When I was in my early years of ministry, I went to visit a home that had an empty oil drum right outside the living room window. This family had a number of children, and when I came to visit, they all went outside to play. One of the boys, Mark, grabbed a big stick and began to beat on the oil drum. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. His mother yelled out, “Mark, you stop that.” Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. “Mark, I’m coming out there. You stop that.” Boom, boom, boom, boom. “I’m coming out there, Mark.” She never went out, and Mark never stopped.

God is not that way. He says, “If I get up, it is all over; I am coming out, and you are going to get thrashed.” That is the way it was with Israel. “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He reveals His secrets to His servants the prophets.” God does not get onto someone without giving him or her warning. We, as Seventh-day Adventists, have memorized this text!

Warnings Conveyed

God used the office of prophet to convey not just His will but to convey warnings. “I am telling you, this is the way it is going to happen. If you do not change, this is going to happen. If you do not turn around, this is going to happen.” And after a while, it happened.

“The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?” Verse 8. The prophets could not withhold the warnings given to them by God. We know this from Ellen White’s life. She said that she could not withhold the warnings that God had given; she must convey them. (See The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, vol. 3, 1,296.) This is what verse 8 is saying. If God has spoken, who can but prophesy?

Spectators Invited

Continuing in Amos 3, we read: “Publish in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold the great tumults in the midst thereof, and the oppressed in the midst thereof. For they know not to do right, saith the Lord, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces. Therefore thus saith the Lord God; An adversary [there shall be] even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled.” Verses 9–11.

God is calling upon the heathen to witness the whipping of those who are going to receive His punishment. He is saying that He wants them to come and watch what He is going to do to His wife. Now that is almost an inconceivable thought.

Egyptian bondage and the Philistine oppression were not forgotten history. These things were rehearsed over and over again to Israel. Because they never learned the lessons of deliverance and translated them into their lives, they began to repeat their former history, and they became oppressors of their own. While Egypt and Philistia went out from their own land and oppressed others, Israel began to turn upon their own and oppress them. They were different from Egypt and Philistia in that they looted their own fortresses rather than going out into enemy territory. So Ashdod and Egypt were told to come in to witness the punishment that God was going to render.

It is one thing to get a spanking. It is another thing to get a spanking in front of people. I always wanted to have my spanking by myself. I especially did not want to have my brothers see me getting a spanking. Inviting people to witness the spanking makes it even worse. This is the scenario that God was planning, as far as His bride was concerned. He was inviting all of their enemies to watch what He was going to do. He even told them to go up on the mountain where they could get a better look.

Why would God do such a thing? Never forget that God had a plan that through this bride the Redeemer would come. He was committed to the redeeming of those who accepted Him—not only of old but also the present and future generations who by faith would look to Him. God had a commitment; the Messiah would come. That Messiah would have to come through the bride that He had known, but sadly, Israel had lost all sense of sin; there was no shame.

No Sense of Shame

The shame was gone. Israel enjoyed living in the highest of luxury, indulging in all kinds of perverse habits. Yet, they would still prepare the bulletin for Sabbath School and church and plan other activities, believing that all was well.

It is no different today. When men lose their sense of sin, God appeals to their sense of shame. It seems strange that the sense of shame should survive the sense of sin. Many times people can be brought to repentance through a sense of shame rather than an understanding of sin. If they are shamed, they know they are caught, and they will say, “I am sorry; I am sorry.” That is the way it is. Sometimes we are more afraid of what people think of us than of what God thinks of us. There is a lot going on which, if revealed, would cause a sense of shame, but we continue on in sin. How do I know? Because we are still in this world! We have not gotten it right yet. That is why Jesus waits; that is why Jesus delays His coming. He wants us to have a sense of sin, not just a sense of shame.

The nations round about Israel were going to know that God’s protection had been removed. As a result, while they were in the height of prosperity, they would be served a calling card showing that God had removed Himself, and Israel would not stand a chance of escape. The punishment would come; it would come as a lion on its prey.

No Safe Place

This is one of the dangers that we face in America today. We have not been a righteous nation, contrary to what some would have us believe. As a result, God is removing His protection. We see that happening more and more, and as a result, the inevitable will come. Liberties are being removed—one of God’s ways of dealing with us. We know that with the Sunday laws our freedoms are going to be completely taken away.

The answer as to how to avert these problems is the same today as it was in the days of Amos. Repent and turn from your sins; turn to God for help. That is one of the things that the tribes of Judah and Israel would not see.

“Thus saith the Lord; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus [in] a couch. Hear ye, and testify in the house of Jacob, saith the Lord God, the God of hosts, That in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon him I will also visit the altars of Bethel: and the horns of the altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground. And I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the Lord.” Verses 12–15.

Amos finishes this message by giving an illustration of what happens when a shepherd retrieves the remains of an animal from the mouth of a lion. This reflects back to the Law of Moses, which required a shepherd to produce the remains of the animal that was killed while it was in his care as proof that he did not steal it. Amos was a shepherd, so he used the language of a shepherd to try to convey to the people the point that God wanted them to understand. He was telling them that as the remaining parts of the slaughtered animal tell the tale of its destruction, so the broken remains of the wealth of Israel would be a pathetic witness to the complete destruction of that kingdom.

According to the Law of Moses, if a fugitive got into trouble, he could run to the sanctuary, grab hold of the horns of the altar, and that would be a place of safety for him, a place of refuge—but that was a last refuge. It was not the first refuge. Even this last refuge would not be available to Israel. They could not run to the sanctuary and claim refuge by grabbing hold of the altar. The dye was cast, and now it would be just a matter of time until the blow fell.

A Lesson for Us

What is the lesson for us who are living in this twenty-first century? Mrs. White wrote: “We are all amenable to God. When we take into consideration our accountability to Him for every action, when we remember that we are ‘a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men,’ we will desire to be purged from our fretfulness and harshness, our lack of sympathy and tenderness for one another. These evils are as tares amid the wheat, and must be destroyed.” Notebook Leaflets from the Elmshaven Library, vol. 1, 79.

That is really what God wants to have happen in our lives. He wants to come into such a close relationship with us that everything that is offensive will be removed, and His work can go forward so Jesus can come.

I mentioned earlier that Israel had not learned the lessons of deliverance, and I have often wondered how well the church of today has learned its lessons. Are they of such dynamic significance to us that the deliverance has the power and strength to motivate us the rest of our lives or until Jesus comes? I have met people in Sunday-keeping churches who are exuberant that the love of God has delivered them from their sins. They just bubble and sparkle and are willing, at the drop of a hat, to tell you what God has done for them. You have met those kinds of people; I know you have. They are out there, but there are very few Seventh-day Adventists who have had that kind of experience.

Perhaps you have heard Adventists referred to as Sadventists. I realize that we do not have to get into a celebration mode, but somewhere along the line I would hope that we could become a little happier about what God has done for us and have a willingness to share that happiness with others. These lessons of deliverance, if we really reflect on what God has done for us, will change our whole lives. If we could somehow convey that to others, what a blessing we would receive! I have always in my life desired to continue the experience of a relationship that manifested itself in not only doing what was right but treating others in the right way as well, because that is basically the message that Amos is trying to get across.

God, I know, was doing everything possible to save Israel, but it did not happen. Although God had chosen Israel as His bride, they were unfaithful. Even though He warned them and tried to get them to change their ways, they ignored Him. Finally, God had to take measures of punishment.

“Those who might become co-laborers with Christ, and do good service in advancing the interests of His kingdom, but who use their talents and influence to tear down instead of to build up, are like noted rebels; their prominence, the value of the talent they use in the service of Satan, increases their guilt and makes their punishment sure. These will feel the wrath of God.” The Signs of the Times, October 24, 1906.

I do not want to be found in that category. I want to be found doing what is right and good so that the longsuffering of God is working to draw me into a more perfect relationship with Him, rather than a forbearance on His part until the axe has to fall. Is this your desire?

To be continued . . .

Pastor Mike Baugher is Associate Speaker for Steps to Life Ministry. He may be contacted by e-mail at: mikebaugher@stepstolife.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.