All of the cheering and shouting that minutes earlier could be heard all over Bethel, at the king’s sanctuary, had suddenly been transformed into utter silence. Absolute stunned silence. Slowing, one by one, those who had been enthusiastically standing in approval, slumped into their seats in disbelief at what they were hearing. Amos had announced God’s judgment on the people of Bethel and the entire northern kingdom of Israel, but he wasn’t finished yet. The people who had crowded around to listen, not liking what they were now hearing, began to slowly try and slip out the backdoor, but Amos wasn’t finished yet. The prophet raised his voice.
1 Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel–against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: 2 “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” 3 Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? 4 Does a lion roar in the thicket when he has no prey? Does he growl in his den when he has caught nothing? 5 Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground where no snare has been set? Does a trap spring up from the earth when there is nothing to catch? 6 When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it? 7 Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. 8 The lion has roared– who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken– who can but prophesy? 9 Proclaim to the fortresses of Ashdod and to the fortresses of Egypt: “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria; see the great unrest within her and the oppression among her people.” 10 “They do not know how to do right,” declares the LORD, “who hoard plunder and loot in their fortresses.” 11 Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “An enemy will overrun the land; he will pull down your strongholds and plunder your fortresses.” 12 This is what the LORD says: “As a shepherd saves from the lion’s mouth only two leg bones or a piece of an ear, so will the Israelites be saved, those who sit in Samaria on the edge of their beds and in Damascus on their couches.” 13 “Hear this and testify against the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord, the LORD God Almighty. 14 “On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground. 15 I will tear down the winter house along with the summer house; the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished,” declares the LORD. (Amos 3:1-15 NIV)
In Amos 1-2 we listened as the prophet drew in his net until eventually he had his targeted prey, the people of God, those who lived in the southern kingdom of Judah as well as those who were listening to him speak at Bethel in the northern kingdom. Now, as we begin Amos 3 we hear the prophet speak against the “whole family” of God. All of those the Lord brought up out of Egypt. That includes all of Israel, those now living in the south as well as the north.
Amos is preparing to deliver three messages to the people of God that are divided in our Bible as Amos 3, 4, 5. If you will take a look at the beginning of each of those chapters you will notice that each of the three chapters begins in the same way. Amos says, “Hear this word…” What is the word that Amos wants his listeners to hear at the beginning of his message in Amos 3? Read along with me.
1 Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel–against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: 2 “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” (Amos 3:1-2 NIV)
Amos announces that God is speaking out against His people—the people that He has known more intimately than any other people on the face of the planet. That is literally what verse 2 means. In your Bible it probably reads, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth;” The word, “chosen,” in your Bible is the Hebrew word “???” (yaw-dah’) and it means, “to know, to perceive, or to discriminate, distinguish.” In The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible we read,
The verb “know” has a wide range of meanings in Biblical Hebrew, referring, among other things, to sexual relations (Adam “lay with [knew] his wife”; Genesis 4:1); cognition (e.g. “I don’t know”; Genesis 4:9); and concern, especially God’s unique concern for his people as his vassals (e.g. “I cared for [knew] you in the desert”; Hosea 13:5). That the third sense applies here is confirmed by the presence of the adverb “only.” (Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, pg. 1441)
Now, we know that God has complete knowledge of every single person who has ever lived. He is omniscient, He knows absolutely everything that there is to know. There are no secrets kept from God. There is no discovery on God’s behalf. He knows it all and He knows it all before it ever takes place.
We learned in the first two chapters of Amos that God had complete knowledge of the six nations that surrounded His people. He knew all about the daily activities of the people of Damascus and there was no secret that the Moabites could ever keep from Him. They weren’t “distant” people living in distant lands to God, He knew everything about them.
How did God know the Israelites in a more intimate way if He knew everything there was to know about these other nations? That is a great question. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 gives us some insight into the answer. Read along with me.
7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8 NIV)
God did not set His affection on the Israelites because they were more noble or more numerous than the other people groups. They were the least likely to be picked first in the draft. They were the fewest in number. Why did God set His affection on the Israelites? Verse 8 tells us, “But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers…”
The Israelites can trace their family tree to a man named Abraham. God came to Abraham and made a covenant with him. The covenant that God made with Abraham is found in Genesis 12:1-3. Read it with me.
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3 NIV)
God said He would make Abraham into a great nation, He would bless Abraham, He would make his name great, and Abraham would be a blessing. All the peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham. Why did God choose to make this covenant with Abraham? Was there something in Abraham that attracted God to him? James Montgomery Boice writes,
God did not look down from heaven to find a man who had a little bit of faith or a little bit of spiritual understanding and then say, “Oh, good; here is someone with a little bit of faith. I’ll blow on that little spark and coax it along, and perhaps if things go right, I can build an elect people from Abraham.” It was entirely the other way. Abraham was a pagan, living among pagans. Left to himself he would have continued in his pagan ways and would have died in heathen ignorance without God. But God did not leave Abraham to himself. He revealed himself to Abraham, calling him out of darkness into his own marvelous light. Abraham was God’s chosen person. (James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, Volume 1. Baker Books. pg. 180)
And so it was with each succeeding generation. God set His affection on Abraham’s son, Isaac. Isaac’s wife, Rebecca had twins, Jacob and Esau. God set His affection on Jacob even though there was absolutely nothing noble or moral or spiritual about Jacob that would cause God to choose him. God’s grace, His sovereign choice alone, led Him to set His affection on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Abraham’s descendants went into Egypt as slaves there was nothing they could do to free themselves and there was nothing they had done to merit God freeing them, but God had set His affection on His people and He told Moses.
7 The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. (Exodus 3:7-8 NIV)
God “knew” those slaves in Egypt. He was deeply concerned for them. His grace was demonstrated as He freed them from captivity and led them to the Promised Land. In Amos 2, God reminded His people that He brought them out of Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. If this weren’t enough, God also gave them prophets and Nazirites to remind them of their covenant with God. God provided for His people so that they would not stray from God, begin to worship idols, and live like the other nations around them. He gave them His Word, the Torah. Oh how God had shown such care, such tenderness, such concern for His people. Yet, with all that He had done, they took Him for granted, they treated Him like He was a burden to them, and they rejected His counsel.
This assessment shared in Amos is not an isolated opinion. It is a message that runs through all of the prophets. One of the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, chapters in the entire Bible is Ezekiel 16. Listen to how the Lord describes His relationship with His people. It is a long chapter and we can’t read it all so I will pick and choose verses to give you an overview. You need to read the whole chapter later to get the full force of the brokenness.
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices 3 and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. 5 No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. 6 “‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” 7 I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare. 8 “‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine. 9 “‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. 10 I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. 11 I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, 12 and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. 14 And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD. 15 “‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. 16 You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. Such things should not happen, nor should they ever occur… 19 Also the food I provided for you–the fine flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat–you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign LORD. 20 “‘And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? 21 You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols. 22 In all your detestable practices and your prostitution you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood… 32 “‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband!.. 43 “‘Because you did not remember the days of your youth but enraged me with all these things, I will surely bring down on your head what you have done, declares the Sovereign LORD. Did you not add lewdness to all your other detestable practices? (Ezekiel 16:1-16; 19-22; 32; 43 NIV)
Can’t you hear the brokenness of God? Several years ago there was a young family here at Britton Christian Church, Jason and Jill Mirikitani and their little girl Abbey. The family was traveling in Texas when they had a horrible car wreck. Jill was killed instantly. Cars drove by the mangled car as it sat on the side of the road, but one man stopped. A man named Troy Dick, an Army medic, saw the wreck and he stopped. Jason’s skull had been split open and Troy put Jason’s head back together and held it in place until the emergency medical team arrived. If Troy would not have stopped Jason would have died. To this day, Jason feels indebted to Troy. If Troy called Jason in the middle of the night, from some remote island, Jason would do everything he could to get to Troy as quickly as possible. Troy saved Jason’s life, but what Troy did does not even begin to compare to what God has done for the Israelites or for what God has done for you and me.
The truth is that there was nothing in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or any of the Israelites that merited God’s affection, His deep concern and provision. That truth reaches much farther than the Israelites. There is nothing in me that caused God to stand up and say, “Now there is somebody I can work with!” I can relate to the story from Ezekiel 16. God found me beaten and battered by sin. He took me in His arms, cleaned me up, and set His affection on me. I was a wreck and I am still a wreck today. It is only by His grace if I make it through this one day without totally destroying my life or the lives of those around me. Isn’t that your story?
We have been recipients of the greatest love, but please don’t ever let that convince you that God’s unmerited love gives you a pass to live however you want. We are so accustomed to calling in favors by those who know us and love us when we get into trouble, but God is not like that my friends. We think that because we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior that life is going to be easier, whatever “easier” means. The Jews believed that since they were God’s people that they were better than other people, that Jerusalem would never fall to an enemy, and that God would look the other way at their sin. God, to the Jews, was more like a “rabbit’s foot” than the holy, righteous God that He is. Because of their relationship to God, because of the wonders that He had done on their behalf, because of the intimacy that He had shared with them and their rejection of His affection, God was coming to judge and punish His people.
God has set His affection on His people because He had a plan and a purpose for them. They were to make Him known to the nations, they were to be the priests of planet earth to all people, but instead they had given Him a bad name in the eyes of unbelievers.
In Amos 3:3-8 there are nine questions that Amos shares with his listeners. The answer to each of the questions is very logical. Let me show you just one.
4 Does a lion roar in the thicket when he has no prey? Does he growl in his den when he has caught nothing? (Amos 3:4 NIV)
The point of each of Amos’ questions is very logical. A lion doesn’t roar when he is about to pounce on his prey, he roars because he has caught his prey. Amos’ point with each of these questions is cause and effect. There is a cause and effect to everything in life. A bird is caught in a net because someone first set a trap. The last of Amos’ questions hits closer to home to those who were listening to his sermon because they had been told that the time of judgment had come for them. Amos says,
6 …When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it? (Amos 3:6 NIV)
It wasn’t too difficult for the Israelites to agree with Amos’ question as long as he was talking about other nations, but to think that God would send disaster upon His own people was tough to hear. God wanted His people to know that when disaster did come it was because He had sent it their way. In Deuteronomy 28, God had told His people what would happen if they turned away from Him. They had turned away and now disaster was on its way. It should not have caught the people off guard, but it did because they weren’t paying attention, they had shut God out. In Amos 3:7 we read,
7 Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7 NIV)
God had raised up His prophets to speak to His people. The people had been told to turn back to God, but they would not. The prophets had spoken time and time again, but the people would not listen. When they were told that judgment was coming they should not have been shocked in the least, but they were.
There would be no escape. Amos let the people know that their fortresses would be run over by the enemy that God would raise up to execute His judgment on His people. God would destroy the altars of Bethel, He would cut off the horns of the altar, and there would be no safe place for His people to escape the coming judgment. In Amos 3:14-15 we read,
14 “On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground. 15 I will tear down the winter house along with the summer house; the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished,” declares the LORD. (Amos 3:14-15 NIV)
Do you remember Amos 2 and the reasons God was coming to judge His people? They valued a pair of sandals as more important than the poor, they used people to increase their own wealth, they denied justice to the oppressed, and they were sexually immoral. If you will look closely at Amos 3:15 for just a minute. Knowing that there were so many hurting, impoverished, oppressed people in the land, why didn’t those with two houses and those who had the most expensive interior decorators in the land working for them do something to help those who had nothing?
I was reading this past week about the ivory that decorated the houses of the Israelites. In 1 Kings we read about an evil king named Ahab who ruled over Israel for 22 years from 874-853 B.C. He married a girl from the Sidonians, or Phoenicians, named Jezebel so that he could form a treaty with her dad. It was a smart political and economic move, but it was disastrous from a spiritual standpoint for a number of reasons. Jezebel worshipped Baal and Ahab, to please his wife, built altars all over the land to honor Baal. Ahab grew incredible wealthy, but God described him this way,
30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. (1 Kings 16:30 NIV)
Ahab, 150 years before the fall of the northern kingdom was leading his people away from God. As they were turning away from God, they turned their backs on their own people as they focused strictly on themselves. The last verse in the Bible to describe Ahab’s reign says this:
39 As for the other events of Ahab’s reign, including all he did, the palace he built and inlaid with ivory, and the cities he fortified, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? (1 Kings 22:39 NIV)
The phrase, “the palace he built and inlaid with ivory…” caught my attention this past week. I’ve learned that Ahab built himself a palace in Samaria. The ruins of that palace have been discovered by archeologists. Ahab used his great wealth to make it the most ornately decorated house you can imagine. Listen to what I’ve learned.
Because ivory comes from the tusks of elephants, it was hard to get in the Bible lands. Rich families wanted it for jewelry and decorative furniture. Elephants once lived in Syria, but the search for ivory killed off all of them by 800 BC. Most ivory used in the region came from Asiatic elephants. Craftsmen of Beersheba made ivory figurines and diggings in the Near East have uncovered many ivory carvings, like those at Ugarit. Solomon’s merchant ships brought him ivory for his throne (1 Kings 10:18-22). Ahab ordered his artisans to build an “ivory house,” because he so admired the fine ivory work done by the carvers of his Phoenician side of the family. Pieces of ivory were inlaid in the walls of this house, and it contained many hand-carved ivory figurines. These included figures of people, animals, flowers, plants, and probably also mythological, idolatrous figures. Soon the rich people of Samaria wanted these productions. Because they had gotten their riches by mistreating the people, the prophet Amos (ca. 760-750) foretold that the rich houses of ivory would be destroyed (Amos 3:15). The Assyrians made this prophecy come true when they captured Samaria in 722 B.C. They looted the palaces of Samaria and took the ivory to Sargon’s palace at Nimrud where they were found in modern times. (http://www.specialtyinterests.net/samaria_views.html)
Ahab’s ornately decorated palace was destroyed as was the entire northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C. Why? Because they would not listen. Will we? God has blessed us, but make no mistake about it; He has blessed us to be a blessing not simply to enjoy His blessings. What will we do with the abilities, the financial resources, and the time that God has given to us? Will we simply use them to better ourselves or will we use them to bless the lives of others? We are recipients of the greatest love, but it carries with it the greatest responsibility. May God continue to remind us of these important truths or we, like the Israelites before us, will most surely turn away and face our own destruction.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 20, 2011