Chapters 1 & 2
God doesn't play favorites.
For the first time in the history of this blog, I am going to blog about two chapters together. Honestly, sometimes I have to wonder about the intellectual capacity of the person who divided the Bible in chapters and verses. While most of the divisions are pretty straightforward, there are times when a chapter break clearly cuts right through a cogent train of thought. Amos chapters 1 and 2 are a perfect example of that. So, instead of honoring the chapter division, I decided to marry them. (This will probably render the “read the chapter” link useless today. Sorry for any inconvenience!)
I felt it was important to read these two chapters together, because if you didn’t, chapter 1 could come across sounding like just any other “doom” prophecy in the Old Testament. Through His prophets, God regularly railed against the heathen nations of the day. In fact, whenever I read the passages that proclaim “sudden disaster” on one of these nations, I have to chuckle because God certainly gave them more-than-ample warning! If they had an ear open to the prophets, they would have known well in advance what was coming unless they repented.
And that’s why I felt it was also important to include chapter 2 in our assessment of what these chapters say about God, because both chapters are one long, laundry list of nations who are headed for dire consequences—and they don’t just include the “heathen.” Chapter 1 mentions Damascus, Gaza, Ekron, Tyre, Edom, and Ammon. Chapter 2 begins with Moab, but then quickly moves on to Judah and Israel. And, suddenly, what seemed to be a treatise against non-Israelite nations because a treatise against something else.
God is not railing against any nation that happens not to be Jewish. He is railing against people who turn away from Him—including His own people! Just because God “chose” the Israelites to carry out a special mission in the world doesn’t mean that they were somehow immune to the consequences of turning their back on God. And here’s why: The ultimate consequences that come from turning your back on God are not imposed; they are intrinsic.
I think there are many Christians who don’t understand this. We still somehow have this picture of God that is vengeful and harsh. We still somehow think of Him as someone who will “get you” in the end if you don’t love Him. That’s not it at all! As we saw in Hosea, God isn’t trying to keep His people from getting to the point where He must kill them; He’s trying to keep His people from killing themselves.
As Paul reminded us in Romans, “Sin pays its own wage, and the wage is death.” (Rom 6:23) And that goes for everyone. That principle even applied to God Himself, when Jesus “who knew no sin, became sin for us.” (2 Cor 5:21) And what was the result of His decision to do that? Death.
God doesn’t play favorites in His universe. He doesn’t have one set of rules for some people and another set of rules for everyone else. He loves us all equally, and He has blessed us with individuality, with power to think and to do equally. And because of that, He also allows the consequences of sin to be realized equally. No matter who you are, if you choose life, you’ll get life. If you choose death, you’ll get death.
God is no respecter of persons. Everyone is His favorite, and that means He doesn’t play favorites.
God's government is transparent.
When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he said that an Obama administration would be committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. If you live in America (or if you watch American news), you may have an opinion about how successful or unsuccessful he has been compared to previous administrations. My personal belief is that all presidential administrations have a lot to hide and go to great lengths to keep secret those things they don’t want publicized.
In contrast, it appears that God’s government is totally transparent. After all, the entire reason we’re in this universe-wide war at present is precisely because God does not rule His universe by saying, “Because I said so.” He allows question, investigation, even rebellion. And when His character is called into question, instead of being affronted, He provides opportunities for us to explore Him.
If you’ve read the Old Testament in any small amount, you must know this to be true: “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” (vs 7) Haven’t you found that to be the case? The Old Testament is chock full of decrees, warnings, and admonitions from God through His prophets about what will happen if people continue on their present course. He even had Noah preach about the flood for 120 years before it happened.
In God’s government, there are no “October surprises.” Nothing happens suddenly or without warning.
When I read verse 7 in this chapter today, I had to chuckle. Long before there was any such thing as radio, television, or newspapers, God has had a thriving media outlet. He has always had “White House Press Secretaries” who take His messages to the people, even when they aren’t listening.
God’s government is transparent because He has nothing to hide. He publishes advance warnings and notices about what’s ahead because He cares about us and wants what is best for us. When we’re in danger, He’ll let us know. When He’s going to act, He makes sure everyone is aware. He is not secret or hidden or distant, and He conducts all His affairs right out in the open, in plain daylight.
I wish every politician in America would take a lesson from that!
God made women powerful.
I almost titled this blog, God has a hot mouth. In the opening verse of this chapter, He addresses women in a way most men wouldn’t dare: “You women of Samaria are fat cows! You mistreat and abuse the poor and needy, then you say to your husbands, ‘Bring us more drinks!’” (vs 1)
Wow. Don’t you just love when God doesn’t mince words?
What’s remarkable in this chapter is that God is, once again, addressing the spiritual and social ills of Israel, but this time, He’s laying the blame squarely at the feet of women. What? I thought Israel was a male-dominated culture. I thought women were regarded as property in the Old Testament!
That they were. But don’t you for one second believe that this rendered them any less powerful. God created women powerful and gave them the ability to use this power in their relationships with men. Eve certainly wielded that power over Adam (though, unfortunately, not in a good way), and nothing has changed.
Well, I shouldn’t say nothing has changed. The irony is that the feminist movement has actually persuaded a lot of women to abandon their God-given power in order to seek power in places they will never find it. Instead of realizing the special ways God has made them powerful, they have been duped into striving to get something they already have but will lose in the process of grasping for it. In this way, feminism produces women who are weaker, not stronger.
It’s really true. My husband may be the head of our family, but I’m the one with the power. In the heart of a man who is committed to a woman, God has placed a strong desire to gain and hold her love, approval, and admiration. Add to that the likelihood that this same woman is the mother of his children and the keeper of his castle, and you have a recipe for a man who will do almost anything for his woman.
God made women powerful; this chapter leaves no doubt about it. The moral decay of Israel’s society and culture, while certainly perpetuated by men, was driven by women—women who practiced abuse and injustice, women who rejected God, women who abused their God-given power in their relationships with their husbands.
I expose my bias on the subject of feminism when I say that it makes powerful women powerless. Maybe, in some cases, that’s a good thing, because as Amos clarifies in this chapter, power in the hands of morally-deficient women is a frightening thing. It opens the door to the ruin of the entire nation.
God mourns spiritual death.
We live in a world where death is common. And even though it’s an everyday occurrence, we still live as though it should follow some sort of guidelines. We live as though we ought to have advance warning of death—or else why are we “shocked” and “surprised” whenever we hear of someone we know passing away? We live as though death should be reserved for the old and infirm—or else why do we “grieve” differently for the young than the old? Of a 90-year-old deceased person, we say, “He lived a good, long life,” while we lament the passing of an 18-year-old as someone “gone too soon.”
The truth is, we all know someone (and probably more than one) who has passed away at a “young” age (even though 90 itself is young, relative to the span of eternity), struck down in the prime of life with so much ahead of them. It’s particularly hard to attend the funerals of babies and young children. A little 8-year-old boy from our community drowned this past summer. In times like those, you’re just struck with a sense of tragedy that feels larger than a freight train. The death of that potential life makes the loss seem so much greater.
If you’ve felt that feeling lately, then you know exactly how God was feeling when Amos memorialized these thoughts from Him: “Hear this word, Israel, this lament I take up concerning you: ‘Fallen is Virgin Israel, never to rise again, deserted in her own land, with no one to lift her up.’” (vs 1-2)
Bible commentator Robert Hubbard said this about the word virgin in verse 2: It “depicts the vulnerability of Israel and the special sadness that accompanies her death, as though she should have had a whole life of love and fruitfulness before her.” What God was doing here was mourning for the nation of Israel in the same way someone mourns the loss of a young person—a person whose life has been cut short before she can experience all the promises it held, of love, of motherhood, of adventure. In a moment, all her plans are dashed, all her dreams, gone.
That is how God sees spiritual death. Physical death is not a problem for God. It’s simply sleep. He ends it with a word, sometimes just a touch. He can reverse physical death in an instant. But that is not the case with spiritual death. In lamenting Israel’s demise, God was lamenting their spiritual death, the death that had come from their rebellion against Him. He was lamenting the one thing He can’t reverse—in the very same way we lament physical death, because it’s the one thing we can’t reverse.
Death—physical death—isn’t a tragedy. The tragedy is that some people never truly live. The tragedy is that some people choose to place themselves beyond God’s healing reach. Like “Virgin Israel,” they cut short their true life, a life which would have been full of so much pleasure and promise.
This is the kind of death God mourns. This is what He reserves His sorrow for. Everything else is fixable. Everything else is easily restored. Only the irrevocably-rebellious heart is irredeemable. Only the permanently-hardened heart is lost forever.
God takes our comfort seriously.
Oh, the “gospel of prosperity” wars. I’m sure you’ve heard the complaints on both sides. Some preachers proclaim that God is interested in giving us lots of wealth and that the more we “tap into” His blessings, the more prosperous we will become. Other preachers proclaim that wealth is evil and that the Bible warns us to stay away from it (thus God would never bless His faithful followers with financial prosperity).
Actually, neither position is what I would consider a “balanced” view of what Scripture says about God and wealth. In some cases, followers of God enjoyed massive amounts of financial prosperity—Abraham, Isaac, and Job, to name a few. In other cases, followers of God were dirt-poor—Elijah, John the Baptist, and Job, to name a few.
There is no all-or-nothing conclusion to be had from the Bible when it comes to the enjoyment of financial prosperity as a follower of God. But one thing we can say for sure is that God takes our comfort seriously. Very seriously.
In Amos 6, for instance, God was taking serious issue with the comforts of Israel: “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come! You put off the day of disaster and bring near a reign of terror. You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.” (vs 1, 3-6)
Financial prosperity or not, what this reminds me is that comfort is not God’s highest goal for me. That is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with comfort, but if comfort is keeping me from godliness—which is God’s highest goal for me—then comfort is going to have to go!
Each one of us is an individual, and that means that each one of us has a different relationship with God. For some people, material comforts might be a barrier to a relationship with God. For others, poverty might be the barrier. For still others, their financial situation might have no bearing on their openness to God. They may be susceptible to the idols of pride or lust or envy.
But whatever tends to come between us and God, God is not willing to compete with it! He will do everything in His power to separate us from that idol, and either we will finally be separated from it or from Him. The choice is ours.
The comfort God is really seeking for us is our ultimate comfort—the comfort of a life lived in perfect harmony with Him, the comfort that comes from godliness. If any other “comfort” is standing in the way of that, God will do everything in His power to weed it out!
God is the plumb line.
Some time ago, I asked my husband if he would install a hanging rod for clothes in our laundry room. So, one morning while I was at work and the baby was asleep, he did just that. Upon arriving home, he showed me the new rod and asked what I thought.
It didn’t look quite right.
“It’s crooked,” I said. As it turns out, instead of using a level, he had measured two points of the same distance up from the floor and used those points as drilling holes for the brackets. That’s how we found out our laundry room floor was crooked!
Needless to say, he wasn’t excited about the thought of having to redo the project, but when I put a hanger on one end of the rod and it slid down to the other end, he realized the necessity.
Something similar was happening in Israel in the days of Amos the prophet: “The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ I replied, ‘A plumb line.’ Then the Lord said, ‘Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.’” (vs 7-9)
The people of Israel had rejected God, and in so doing, they had gotten rid of the only spiritual plumb line, or level, there is. In trying to build and shape their lives without Him, they were only ending up as a disordered, confused, chaotic mess. Compared to the other, crooked nations around them, they might have looked pretty straight (as my crooked rod did when compared to my crooked floor), but God could see just how far out of spiritual alignment they were.
What many don’t realize (or may not like to hear) is that, spiritually speaking, God is the only plumb line there is. Without His correcting influence in our lives, we may feel like we’re “good” people, but our goodness will be short-lived. Without Him, we may feel like we “love” our fellow man, but that love with give way to selfishness when it’s more convenient. Without Him, we will begin to grow spiritually crooked, and we won’t even know it.
It won’t be until someone (like Amos) comes in the room and says, “Whoa, that’s crooked,” that we’ll wake up to the reality of how far we’ve missed the mark. At that point, we have two choices. We can react as Amaziah the priest did in this chapter (not a good idea), or we can let God fix us. We can let Him straighten us out in His own way and in His own time, restoring us to the way we were meant to be.
There’s no other spiritual standard so true, so unchanging, and so enduring. If you need a spiritual plumb line (and you do), God is it.
God prefers to speak softly.
There is an old story of an elderly man who worked in an icehouse, and one day, he lost a valuable pocket watch while he was working. He searched for it for a long time, meticulously raking through the sawdust, but he couldn’t find it. His coworkers also took turns looking for the watch, but they had no more luck than the old man.
After they had given up, the man’s grandson heard of his grandfather’s misfortune. And one day, during the lunch hour, he slipped unnoticed into the icehouse and, when his grandfather and coworkers returned, he produced the watch.
Amazed, his grandfather asked him how he had found it. “I closed the door,” the young boy said, “got down on the floor, and laid very still. It wasn’t long before I heard the watch ticking.”
I couldn’t help but think of that story as I read in Amos 8 about the special kind of famine that would fall upon the land: “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.’” (vs 11-12)
What I found interesting about that was that the famine would not be a lack of God’s word, but a lack of the hearing of it. The problem wouldn’t be that God wasn’t talking, but that the people were no longer listening.
We often think of the Biblical God being one who raises His voice a lot—on Mount Sinai with Moses, out of the whirlwind with Job, and so forth. But this is most definitely not God’s preferred method of speaking. There are many places in Scripture to remind us that God prefers to speak softly:
- Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (1 Kgs 19:11-12)
- Be still and know that I am God. (Ps 46:10)
- “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty. (Zech 4:6)
When God needs to raise His voice in order to get our attention, He certainly will. But if we persistently reject His voice (as the Israelites did), there will come a time when we can’t hear Him anymore. When that happens, it wouldn’t matter how loud He shouted at us—we still wouldn’t be able to hear Him.
God prefers speaking softly to shouting. He prefers to talk, discuss, and reason with us. Just like the boy who found the watch hidden in the sawdust, when we are still and willing to listen, we will be able to hear God speaking to us. Even if we can’t see Him, we will have no problem hearing His voice.
God always gives more than enough.
A few days ago on this blog, we examined the idea of financial prosperity and discovered that there was no hard-and-fast rule about how much material wealth God gives to His followers. Sometimes His people have been poor. Sometimes His people have been rich. But regardless of the amount of money we have in the bank, one thing remains constant: God always gives us more than enough.
At first, you might wonder how it could be said that God always gives us more than enough when we go through financially hard times. But the “more than enough” doesn’t necessarily mean money! God showers us with all kinds of blessings—the least of which are monetary.
Still, at the end of this chapter of Amos, God declared that there is a day coming when nobody will experience financial hardship any longer: “‘The time will come,’ says the Lord, ‘when the grain and grapes will grow faster than they can be harvested. Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel will drip with sweet wine!’” (vs 13)
I love the imagery of crops growing faster than they can be harvested. It makes me envision God’s blessings as an avalanche; they are so abundant that they will just come and run you over. There is no escape from His blessings!
And even now, when we do face certain hardships in life, I’ve personally found that God still gives us more than enough. If we remain open to what He is doing in our lives, somehow we find ourselves taken care of. This is echoed in a song currently being played often on Christian radio, called Fall Apart by Josh Wilson. In the chorus, he sings, “My whole world is caving in, but I feel You now more than I did then. How can I come to the end of me and somehow still have all I need?”
I don’t know if you have experienced that in your life, but I have. There have been times when I thought I was at the end, when I knew I didn’t have any more strength to go on, when I thought I would go crazy with hurt. And somehow, I still had enough. Even in those dark places, I had a sense of God being with me, strengthening me, and giving me just what I needed to stand.
No matter what you need today, God has it, and He is willing to give it to you! In fact, He is willing to give you more than enough. If you think He’s not giving you what you need, it could be that you think you need something you don’t, or it could be that it’s already on the way! Even when you feel like you’re falling apart, trust God. In His hands are abundant blessings, and He always gives us more than enough.