When we began this study of the Book of Amos, we reviewed Amos’ ministry. We noted how he was a citizen of the Southern kingdom but that his work involved delivering messages out of his home area into the Northern kingdom. It had been over 200 years since Elijah had stood on Mount Carmel and had called for a decision on the part of God’s people, saying, “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him.” 1 Kings 18:21. That was a powerful call, and the people’s response to that call indicated that things would turn around, in that they would come back to God and carry out His will. (See verse 39.) But, as is often the case, revival and reformation did not last long.
In reality, this is one of the reasons why we have a congregation and a minister. It is so the minister can proclaim the Word and a continual revival and reformation can grow in the hearts of the congregation. This is why we should not go off in a hermit-like setting by ourselves. The Bible says that we should not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” and even more so as we see that day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25.) Why is that? Because there is a certain dynamic that takes place within preaching. Paul calls it “the foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21), but there is a power involved in preaching that works on the hearts of the people to draw them to Christ so that a change can take place in their lives.
That took place in Elijah’s day, but it did not continue. It seems that when a torch is passed from one generation to another, the flame grows dimmer and dimmer. Truth did not prevail, as it should have. It did not continue to burn in the hearts of those who were called God’s people. Truth must be held in righteousness. It has to grow in intensity and in strength. It has to lodge in the hearts of those who hear.
This is one of the problems we are facing in Adventism today. Truth, as it has been studied and handed down from one generation to another, has not been appreciated, as it should. Truth has become watered down; it has undergone attack, and instead of each succeeding generation possessing and preserving the truth, it has become weaker and weaker, until open apostasy has broken out with little or no protest.
Responsibility to Generations
Apostasy was taking place in the days of Amos. From the time of Elijah’s powerful call to the time of Amos, spirituality was deteriorating. The Lord called upon Amos to point out to His people just how precarious their position was. We will see, as we go through chapter 4, that God, upon reaching a point, deals with people in a decisive way.
“Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that [are] in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink. The Lord God hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. And ye shall go out at the breaches, every [cow at that which is] before her; and ye shall cast [them] into the palace, saith the Lord.” Amos 4:1–3.
“Hear this word, ye kine . . .” Now, this is anything but a flattering statement. You would never find a pastor today addressing the ladies of his congregation this way. Kine, of course, are cows. This statement was directed to the women of Israel, because they were, for the most part, responsible for the heritage of their children who were to grow up to be worshipers of God and leaders in Israel. Were they living up to the call that God had given them as mothers of Israel? No, they were not. They had a love of luxury and fashion. This statement that Amos made to them was a statement of contempt as to their condition. It was a biting and caustic statement, which was intended to arouse their attention that they might be able to see their spiritual condition.
What could we use in today’s vernacular as an equivalent statement? I remember when I was a child, and not a Christian, that when I saw a lady I did not like, I would call her an “old bag.” An even more derogatory phrase would be “old pig.” That approximates what Amos meant when he addressed these women. He was calling them a bunch of old bags or old pigs, trying to get their attention.
God does that at times. He uses His prophets to get our attention, to arrest us in the direction in which we are going so that He might then be able to convey a message to us. God knows that unless He can gain our attention, our lifestyles will not change. He has got to stop us in our tracks.
When I was in conference work, one of my colleagues, a seasoned and skilled minister, was often sent by the conference leaders to churches that had multiple problems and difficulties. The people in these churches were frequently scrapping and fighting and at odds with each other.
One day, at a workers’ meeting, we were sitting at the lunch table, talking shop, and he told me about a church to which he had been sent. It was a church with a membership of between 600 and 700 people. The members were experiencing numerous difficulties and problems. His opening statement of his first Sabbath sermon was, “You know, when I walked into this church building, the first thing that came to my notice was how filthy a condition it is in. There is dirt in the corners; there are cobwebs; the carpet is not clean . . . .” His comments went downhill from there. He said, “Certainly the condition of this building represents the characters of the people who worship here.”
“I will tell you something,” he told me, “if looks could kill, I would be a dead man.” He continued to tell me that as soon as the benediction was given, people spun gravel getting out of the driveway so they could get home and call the conference president, demanding that he get this man out of there church! “We will not have him as our pastor,” they cried. “We cannot stand him. Why did you send him here?” The president listened. He knew why he had sent this pastor to their church.
The interesting thing was that after his initial sermon, he began a program of visitation striving to pour healing oil where it was needed, but not necessarily in wounds that he had opened. He pastored that church for about eight years. When it came time for him to leave, the congregation collected thousands and thousands of dollars to send him and his wife on a trip to the Middle East and Europe. The people wept as they heard the news that he was going to be leaving, because he knew how to minister to their needs after opening their wounds.
God does that, too, at times. God sometimes must open a wound in order for it to heal. There is one thing about the prophets that God called to ministry. They said it like it was. The sword of truth had two edges, and as they swung, it cut in both directions. But God never cuts unless He intends to heal.
These women of Samaria were asleep. They were well-fed creatures who, for the satisfaction of appetite, pleasure, and fashion, made continual demands upon their husbands, which, in reality, caused the oppression of the poor. It was for this reason that much brutal oppression was taking place within Israel.
There are some important lessons to be learned from Amos’ account found in the first three verses of Amos 4. Women have a special calling. They have a special responsibility before God and before the world. Women have been entrusted with a major role in creating and conserving the precious ties of human life. Because of this, God has, for the most part, endowed women with special gifts of pity, generosity, and morality. They become the custodians of the generation that has already been born and are responsible for the generations that are yet to come. God holds women accountable for how they affect human life in terms of integrity and righteousness.
That is not to say that men do not have a role to play in this also, because they do. But it is the special responsibility of women to communicate and pass on values to the offspring of mankind. This is why, I believe, God was very careful in selecting the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have a tendency to recoil from the overemphasis of Mary in Catholicism, as she was never to be exalted. But the Bible tells us that Mary was indeed a very special mother. “Blessed art thou among women.” (Luke 1:28, 42.) Mary had been given a tremendous responsibility in giving birth to the Saviour and raising Him to love His Father.
The women of Samaria had betrayed the special trust to which God had called them. As a result of this betrayal, Amos came down on them like a ton of bricks. They had it coming. It is no wonder the prophets were so persecuted! You do not call women a bunch of old bags and get away with it! They will recoil, unless it gets their attention, and they take the words that follow to heart.
Evidently an indictment that was all-inclusive was needed in this situation, as we read in Amos 4:2: “The Lord God hath sworn by His holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.”
I do not know that we living in America can really begin to understand the wholesale evil that was transpiring in the nation of Israel. There are instances here and there that we hear of awful things, such as the news story where a seven-year-old child, weighing only 36 pounds, was discovered locked in a closet. We hear about these terrible kinds of things, and we wonder where the pity and feelings of a mother could be.
As a whole, we do not have those kinds of problems as a nation. But what we see taking place in the Book of Amos caused the prophet of God to deal with these things in a very forthright way. We could probably expound endlessly on the degradation and the depth to which the nation had fallen, but it was evil on the part of these women to press upon their husbands their life of luxury and ease at the expense of the poor and the unfortunate.
God, by His very nature, will not allow such conduct as this to go unpunished. He is the Holy One of Israel, and the very fact that Israel covenanted with Him as His holy people is what made it an issue. God had not dealt with other people whom He had not covenanted with like this. Do you know why? Because that is the way unconverted people naturally act. They are not regenerated. They do not have new hearts. They have not come to God. That is the way they are. But not God’s people! God’s people are not to act that way. And when you enter into a covenant with God, pledging that you are not going to act the way unbelievers act, that you are going to keep His Law, and then you go contrary to that, God says, No, this is not going to wash.
Two things come to light in reference to this verse. First, hooks give the mental conception of pain. When God removes you with hooks, it is not a pleasant experience. Some of you may have done some fishing in your lifetime. I used to fish when I was a child, and there were times when the hooks hooked into my skin. It was not a pleasant experience! Hooks bring to mind the thought of pain, and these were not just the tiny little fishhook like I used to catch trout. These were probably more like a gaffing hook used for a larger type of fish, where you hook onto it and drag it into a boat. This verse is referring to that type of a hook—one with barbs that will not allow the hook to release easily, that is big enough so an adult cannot pull away. So, second, a hook gives the idea that there is not an escape.
If you are hooked and you follow the leading of that hook, you are going to go wherever that hook pulls you. That is the idea in this verse—your experience will be a punishment for your sin, and you are not going to escape from it. I will not go into this aspect of it, but as you search out other references relating to hooks in the Bible, you will find these expressions are usually used when the devil is involved. The devil has his hooks that he will place in you, and he will lead you at his will.
People who live lives of luxury are prone to believe that they can do just about anything they want and never have to pay the price for their wrong doings. They think they are above punishment because of who they are or what they have. It may take years for the consequences of their actions to finally catch up to them. The wheel of punishment may turn very slowly, but it will eventually come around. God has put into practice the adage, “What goes around comes around.” It took years for the events recorded in Amos to finally catch up with the children of Israel, but they finally did.
Form with no Power
“Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, [and] your tithes after three years.” Amos 4:4.
You see, since the time of the building of the temple, Jerusalem had been the place of worship. It was here that the Ark of the Covenant was located in the sanctuary. This is where God met with His people. Any worship that took place anywhere else, on any other scale, was a worship that did not originate with the direction of God. It was worship that was instigated by the will of men, and it was void of the blessing of heaven. It could be a formal worship, but in reality, it was a ritual worship with no heart worship at all.
These people, even in Jerusalem, were going through a ritualistic kind of worship. They were very zealous in what they were doing. Sacrifices were offered every morning; they brought their tithes and offerings. They brought the second tithes and offerings every three years. But when you look at what was being done, following it back to its origin, you find it was nothing more, from a spiritual standpoint, than a Canaanite-type worship, because it had form without power. Although the people seemed very sincere in their worship, it had no merit or value with God.
God has a sanctuary where worship is to be directed. It is where the ark is contained. Where do we actually direct our worship today—to the sanctuary of our local church, to the church building? Or do we direct our worship to where the ark is located today? Any worship that does not direct its worship to where the ark is located is valueless, as far as God is concerned. Such worship is nothing but form and ritual.
That is how the children of Israel were worshipping. They were directing their worship to Gilgal and Bethel where there was no ark. God said, Go ahead and do it, but it does not have any value. It was worship that was instigated by the will of men, and it was void of the blessing of heaven.
Rebuke and Chasten
And so again, here is a lesson for us. There are forms of worship that are not acceptable to God. God has described the type of worship that is acceptable. We have abundant material in the writings of Ellen White and the Bible on the subject. But many have left the simplicity of worship and have gone over to Babylon. They have found something there they feel is more meaningful, and they have brought it back into our churches and have called it worship. It is not.
It is interesting to see how God has responded to past situations that are brought back for our consideration today. This is one reason we need to study the Bible more than we have before. We need to know where we stand with God. When we depart from God, even in small ways, it may appear that we are getting away with something, but the hand of God is at work. The message to the church of Laodicea is a prime example of how God has worked in the past and how He is still working today. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The message to the church of Laodicea says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” Revelation 3:19. God has worked that way all through the course of history.
The word chasten is a particularly interesting word. It is a word that God uses to describe what He is going to do to His people. Webster gives the definition of this word as: punishment, suffering, to discipline, to purify. When God chastens, He does it for these reasons—to punish, to cause us to suffer, to discipline, and to purify. All these things are designed to get our attention. Punishment and suffering are intended to get our attention, so we will listen to what He has to say. God does this, but He does it in love.
Amos goes on to record how God dealt with His people over time. In verse six of Amos 4 we read: “And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities . . . .” God is not giving them tubes of toothpaste. He is giving them famine. They do not have food on their teeth. This verse means they are licking them clean; they are suffering famine. “I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. And also I have withholden the rain from you, when [there were] yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.” Verses 6, 7. The Bible says that God causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), but not in the realm of chastening. When God chastens, He pours out the rain over here, but He causes another area to dry up over there.
Verse eight continues: “So two [or] three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.” Chastening number two!
“I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured [them]: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. I have overthrown [some] of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.” Verses 9–11.
As we read, we find that the intensity of the chastisements increases with every one. Yet God says that none of these things have changed the Israelites at all. Their hearts are still going in the same direction. There has been no turning around on their part. There was no reversal on their part in returning to Him.
Principle of Apostasy
Counsel was given by Ellen White that refers to the principle of events we find in Amos 4—apostasy.
“The Israelites had been guilty of treason, and that against a King who had loaded them with benefits, and whose authority they had voluntarily pledged themselves to obey. That the divine government might be maintained, justice must be visited upon the traitors. Yet even here God’s mercy was displayed.” Review and Herald, February 11, 1909. With all the chastisements that we have read about, God has mingled mercy. If the chastisements were not mingled with mercy, He would have just wiped the Israelites out completely. “While he maintained his law, he granted freedom of choice and opportunity for repentance for all. Only those were cut off who persisted in rebellion.
“Love no less than justice demanded that for this sin judgment should be inflicted. God is the guardian as well as the sovereign of his people. He cuts off those who are determined upon rebellion, that they may not lead others to ruin.” Ibid. Why do we weed our gardens? So the strength can go to the plants we want to grow. Weeds will sap the moisture and nutrients from the soil, and sometimes we have to pull them out so the good things will not be lost. “In sparing the life of Cain, God had demonstrated to the universe what would be the result of permitting sin to go unpunished. The influence exerted upon his descendants by his life and teaching led to the state of corruption that demanded the destruction of the whole world by a flood. The history of the antediluvians testifies that long life is not a blessing to the sinner; God’s great forbearance did not repress their wickedness. The longer men lived, the more corrupt they became.
“So with the apostasy at Sinai. Unless punishment had been speedily visited upon transgression, the same results would have again been seen. The earth would have become as corrupt as in the days of Noah. Had these transgressors been spared, evils would have followed greater than resulted from sparing the life of Cain. It was the mercy of God that thousands should suffer, to prevent the necessity of visiting judgment upon millions. In order to save the many, he must punish the few. Furthermore, as the people had cast off their allegiance to God, they had forfeited the divine protection, and, deprived of their defense, the whole nation was exposed to the power of their enemies.” Ibid. That is why Satan can come in with hooks. Once God’s protection is removed, the devil can come in, put his hook in, and lead us at will. The Israelites had forfeited their defense. “Had not the evil been promptly put away, they would soon have fallen a prey to their numerous and powerful foes. It was necessary for the good of Israel, and was also a lesson to all succeeding generations, that crime should be promptly punished. And it was no less a mercy to the sinners themselves that they should be cut short in their evil course. Had their lives been spared, the same spirit that led them to rebel against God would have been manifested in hatred and strife among themselves.” Ibid.
Stop and think about that for a minute. If God had not dealt with and cut short the issues that were causing His people to be separated from Him by the destruction of thousands, the millions would have turned upon themselves.
Bloody God or Loving God
I have had people come to me and say, “I do not want to have anything to do with the God of the Bible, because He is a bloody God.” Is He a bloody God? Let us be honest. Yes, He is. He is a bloody God. But the blood that God sheds is in mercy, sparing multitudes whose lives continue on.
Somehow we must understand that God is a loving God, even in these acts that seem repulsive to us. He knows the heart and the probation of every individual, and He is working to save each one. When that probation is finished, God has to take action. We need to understand that. It will help us appreciate our God much more. God, through His prophet Amos, intended to prepare a people for their coming punishment. He was going to deal with this matter. He was not going to let it pass by, as the people hoped that He would. God said, I have allowed all these horrible things, yet you have not returned unto Me.
Prepare to Meet Thy God
“Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: [and] because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.” Amos 4:12. Every Israelite knew that not one could be in the presence of God and live. Each had, through history and the stories that had been handed down and through the Holy Word of God, instruction that no one could be in the presence of God and live. They all knew that. So in verse 12, when it says, “prepare to meet thy God, O Israel,” it is not meaning, “Why don’t you bring a sacrifice and an offering of repentance so you will be welcomed into the courts of heaven by God?” That is not what it is saying at all. It is telling them that they are going to be ushered into the presence of God. That should have terrified them! The sinner who knows that he is not right with God does not want to be brought into the presence of the holy God, because he knows that is a death sentence.
Amos comes along and tells the Israelites that, in fact, they are going to be ushered into the presence of God and that they had better be prepared to meet Him. How would they react? How will we react?
A Lesson for Us
Amos 4:13 says, “For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what [is] his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The Lord [that is Jehovah, that is the God of heaven], The God of hosts, [is] his name.” He is the one into Whose presence we are going to be ushered—the Creator of the entire Universe. It is judgment hour. God is a merciful God. God is a loving God. But He is also a God of justice, and He will deal with sin. It may take Him a while, and in the process of time, there may be some chastisements along the way to get our attention. But if we ignore them and continue on as we have been, we had better be prepared to meet our God.
To be continued . . .
Pastor Mike Baugher is Associate Speaker for Steps to Life Ministry. He may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.