Monday, February 18, 2008

Amos 7 (part 1)

What to do with the word of God!

We avoid bad news at any cost. Other people's bad news is an industry called rolling 24 hour news. But our own bad news we don't like. Soon after moving to Exeter we got a parking ticket for parking opposite our house, What do you do with that? Ignore it or pay up? Likewise, an unpleasant exam result, bank statement or credit card bill. Even, the weather forecast. What do you do? Ignore it and hope it goes away, but then you go out and get wet. But, opinion is irrelevant. The question is – is it true?

How about "A loving God who judges". A loving God who has wrath seems inconceivable, which makes the word of God something to avoid. The good God will forgive me, that’s his job. So reasoned Catherine the great, among many others. Popular view? If there is a God then of course he’ll let us into his heaven. Well, me at least. And probably you. We’d prefer to load the Bible with our own ideas of a wrath-less god, but Amos 7 says take note. Take note of the kindness and severity of God.

Two ways to respond when God speaks against you. Two ways to deal with the very real problem of God’s anger. Two questions to ask
1. Can you avoid judgement by seeking grace?
2. Can you avoid judgement by not listening to it?

1. Can you avoid judgement by seeking grace?
Here, in chapter 7, Amos is given visions. He sees locusts coming, v1, to “strip the land clean.”
It’s a devastating picture of God’s judgement. The same Lord who spoke to form and fill the land now sends devastation upon it. The giver of life threatens to cut away their future with the deafening noise of swarming locusts. The word of God terrifies Amos. He calls out v2, “Sovereign Lord, forgive!” The judgement of God is a matter to approach with sobriety and humility.

There is more. The cycle repeats. This time, v4, with the threat of fire. Fire that “dried up the great deep and devoured the land.” A fire so hot that it evaporates the sea and scorches the land. Think of forest fires that we see on the news each summer – this makes them look like a campfire. Again, Amos cries, not for forgiveness only for an end. v5, “cease” – stop!
Notice! He succeeds in part – v3 and v6. So “the LORD relented… it shall not be”.
Judgement is held back. How? Why?

See what Amos says, v1-6.
1) He acknowledges the sin of the people, v2 - implied by his request for forgiveness. They need forgiveness because they sinned.
2) He seeks forgiveness from the LORD. That is, he turns to the LORD who is angry - for grace. Seeking life from the one who threatens death.
3) He pleads promises. He asks "How can Jacob survive?" We might say – who cares about these evil people? But the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made promises to his people.

Notice the irony of the situation – the nation is prosperous and pompous but Amos notes “He is so small!” The nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. In the face of the roaring lion Israel are nothing. Their terrible sins must be judged and the roaring lion is a foe they cannot stand against. They have no defence. Amazingly then, Amos secures a partial relief! [A hint of grace!] Perhaps God is good and not judging after all? No. As we’ll see, in v7-9, Amos cannot fully turn aside God’s wrath. It’ll take more than a man’s prayers.

A brief aside: Did God change his mind? He never does. But it looks like it. What’s going on? Back in Exodus 32, Israel worshipped a golden calf as they do at Bethel. The LORD was furious. Yet he relented as Moses appealed to God’s promises and reputation. Then and here what happens is a non-event. Nothing happens. No locusts. No land stripped bare. No fire. No sea evaporated. So why tell it? Why include v1-6? Why doesn’t the chapter start at v7? I’d have a shorter passage and surely we’d be no poorer? Because, this way God reveals the reality of wrath against sin, and his grace to sinners. Only in part. But nonetheless real. Without these verses we would have only wrath and no hint of grace. This is the grace of God. And then, judgement continues, in v7-9.

The fire and the locusts will come in Revelation 8-9 when Jesus the resurrected, terrifying judge comes to tread the winepress of divine wrath and judge his world. This is the same Jesus who holds out grace to us by taking the wrath we deserve upon himself at the cross.
Can judgement be avoided by seeking grace? Yes - only because Jesus has died to secure forgiveness and stop wrath.

[I think I’d develop this further if I was giving this talk again – moving from the hint of grace in Amos to the flood of grace we find in Jesus. I was cautious because it’s such a small hint, but surely a Christian preaching of Amos 7 enjoys the deep waters of grace more than Amos could… ]

In Amos’ day, the vision continue. A third cycle, v7-9, brings inescapable judgement – see v7, a plumb line is hung. A perfectly straight line marking out God’s judgement. Thus far, and no further. Amos sees this and is given the interpretation, in v8-9.
• v8, The LORD will not pass by them. No passover for God’s people as he comes in wrath.
When God judged Egypt he passed over the Israelites - seeing the blood on their door frames. This time there is no blood. This time there is no relief. No way out.
• v9, the high places will be destroyed –places where they worshipped idols destroyed. The land purged of sin.
• v9, the LORD will rise against the house of King Jeroboam with the sword. The shepherd who failed his people, killed.

[to be continued.... ]

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