A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Bible Study on Amos - 2/4
The message comes home to roost - Amos 3:9 – 4:13
Setting the sceneL~
It is useful to look again at the maps at the back of our Bibles and recall how Amos had addressed the countries surrounding Israel before addressing his immediate hearers about the lion roaring right in their ear! The Israelites were happy when he pointed the finger at the surrounding nations, but the message of God’s patience coming to an end is also addressed to them. How often do we hear a sermon and say 'That's just the message so and so needs'? In fact it is we who need it - if we have ears to hear!
Now Amos says an enemy will overrun God’s people (3:11). Who was it? Tiglath Pileser III was King of Assyria from 745 to 727BC. He attacked Syria to the north in 743 BC, followed by Phoenicia in 734 BC; then he annexed Israel in 732 BC. The capital city of Samaria fell to his successor Shalmaneser V in 722BC.
The Sovereign Lord is telling his people that an evil force is bringing about his purposes. Pause and ponder the mysterious way God works to bring about his purposes for his own special people (see Amos 3:2). Awful things do happen to the Lord’s people and provoke us to question. In Amos it is God at work with good reason. Might it also be true in some circumstances today? Perhaps it is the Lion roaring and about to bite!
A public spectacle the Lord invites pagans to see (3:9-12)L~
Assyria and Egypt are urged to 'assemble … on the mountains of Samaria and see the great unrest within her'. It is amazing that God invites pagans to witness the humiliation of his people. Like The Emperor's new clothes, the naked truth would be public! Or like the church of Laodicea (Rev 3:17) they think they are rich and clothed but are actually naked. We often cringe when another bad news story about the church hits the press. Here it is almost like God himself leaking the news to the media! Perhaps what gets in the media at times has the Lord’s approval because he is trying to shake us up to the state we are in. All people are created in the image of God and can have some insight into the fact that God's people are not living up to what he expects of them. The challenge comes to us in the words of a 40-year old song:
~qThey are watching you, marking all you do,
hearing the things you say.
Let them see the Saviour as he shines in you;
Let his power control you every day!q~
Can you imagine it - unbelievers watching this spectacle of the Lord’s people under judgment? The sad reality is 'they do not know how to do right' (v.10). God’s people have no integrity. Their lives do not ring true. They have a bad reputation in the public domain. Sadly I hear stories of Christian firms who are known for shoddy work, are unreliable and even fail to do crucial safety work on vehicles. A Christian friend of ours had so many bad experiences that he actually decided not to use Christian firms!
It is interesting to note Paul's advice that church leaders should be 'well thought of by outsiders' (1 Tim 3:7). Some years ago I regularly met people who worked in a city council who went out of their way to tell me that a Christian leader I knew well was a man of kindness, integrity and total trustworthiness. His life 'adorned the doctrine of God' (Titus 2:10). In good Methodist terms it was practical holiness of life.
Why the judgment? L~
Why is Lion going to bite? What was so unholy in the life of Israel?
1. It is a society without justiceL~
In chapters 2 and 3 we read that God has been patient despite much injustice and inhumanity in various countries. In 3:10 and 4:1 Amos highlights more of that injustice: 'They do not know how to do right and are hoarders while others suffer need'. How God’s special people behave in society matters to the Lord.
2. It is religion without holiness (4:13ff)L~
The Lord looks for godliness when people meet in holy places and perform religious acts (4:4-5). There was a lot of religion, but God did not think much of it! His people were deaf and blind to what he had been saying. In fact God could say ‘You haven’t read the signs’ (4:6-11). Hunger was a message from God, water supply and climate has been a sign - a place for green theology here! The phrase 'a burning stick snatched from the fire' (v.11) is how John Wesley saw his life – saved from the burning rectory at Epworth to serve God. He got the message, even if the people of Amos's day did not!
Jesus said his hearers could read the weather but not the signs in his life and ministry! Amos had been aware of current affairs and international politics (chapter 2-3). Now he shows us God using circumstances, natural things as guidance – but there are ‘none so blind as those who will not see'. A key question to ask ourselves: 'Are we so 'spiritual' that we can’t see God in the natural?' Actually he is in both natural and supernatural. The result of such ‘blindness’ is described in these verses, and the challenge of 4:12 ('Prepare to meet your God') comes not addressed to pagans as sandwich board men do, but to us! C.S. Lewis spoke of suffering being 'God’s megaphone'. 4:13 reminds us what sort of God is speaking here: the one 'who formed the mountain, creates the wind' is able to speak in natural events as well us in the spoken or written word.
David Hubbard (Tyndale OT Commentary) writes: 'Israel's failure to learn from the lesser disasters of the past would force God to trigger the all out assaults of the visions' (Chapter 7). Pharaoh had similar signs from God through Moses and look what happened to him! The Apostle Peter reminds us that judgment begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). 'The absence of repentance is the death knell of true religion', writes Alec Motyer (The Bible Speaks Today 9, p.98).
How do we avoid the nightmares of the encircling foe? 'Disaster did not make Amos question God's goodness as much as drive him to ask: what has God to teach me through this?' wrote John B. Taylor in Scripture Union Bible Study Books (p.3).
We should focus on our patient, awe-inspiring God (4:13). This wonderful verse is a hymn to remind us of the God Israel is to meet - majestic and awesome, the Creator with power to make and transform. He is omniscient, knows all and can reveal the real situation - as he is doing with Amos. He is sovereign, the ruler who walks on the heights of the earth - over the world but not distant from it. He is transcendent, the Lord God almighty, to be feared above all gods. Here Israel should be finding true wealth and security; here is the One to trust for life and for the future. We are not to build up treasures on earth, despising those whom this God values so highly. He has made the world and all that is in it. We must care for all, rich and poor, young and old, black and white.
Where is our security and confidence? The sovereignty of God means he uses all sorts of people and things (even evil foes) to bring about his purposes. Are our eyes open to see him at work in unlikely places and people? 'All things work together for good to those who are called' (Romans 8:28). We should worship at his footstool!
Questions for personal or group study
~nnHow open are we to guidance through seemingly ‘natural’ circumstances? Can we read the signs in a moral universe?n~
~nMeditate on Amos 4:13, a key passage about the Lord. Worship him for who he is.n~
~nGod uses circumstances to challenge people. What might God be saying through the current circumstances, individually, nationally and internationally that resonates with the word of God in scripture? Are there any recent happenings that God has allowed me/us to experience through which he wants to speak? Are we prepared to learn and repent, or do we try to hide our real feelings from him? Share examples.n~
~nGod gets angry at a society without justice. Should we? Do we? How should that anger show? What action could we take?n~
~nWhat issues of justice and righteousness might God expect his people to be condemned for or involved in fighting today?n~
~nAmos 4:1-3 could have been addressed to the Samaria Women's Institute and 4:4-5 to the local Church Council! Make up speeches he might deliver to a Christian Wives group or Church Council today.nn~