If you’ve been paying attention at all, then today’s reading looks a little different. What were the crimes of the pagan nations again? Total warfare, cruelty against civilians, slaughtering pregnant women, raiding communities and selling them into slavery, and showing contempt and disrespect by desecrating a corpse of one’s enemy.
But in this passage, Amos’s condemnation is different: “they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed.”
You see, both Judah and Israel were special. They were chosen. But they were chosen not just for special blessing but for special responsibility. Unique among nations, they had the Torah, the law of the Lord. They had his decrees. They had the voice of God himself, the Creator of the universe, speaking to them from a mountain.
I hate to repeat myself, but this is a good time to review the difference between general revelation and special revelation. General revelation—like the name says—is available to everyone. Romans chapters one and two talk about two different types of general revelation, witnesses the Lord has provided to pretty much everyone: What we might call external and internal. External refers to the physical creation. It’s astounding to me that someone can look at this world with all its beauty and majesty and intricacy and say “All this is just a happy accident.” No, someone created all this.
But the part that I believe Amos is addressing is the internal. Paul says that to some degree, Gentiles (who don’t have the Torah) have the law “written on their hearts.” They have some concept of right and wrong. There’s never been a society that didn’t have this. Read C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, and he succinctly outlines how different cultures and societies--with no access to a Bible--still have rules against wanton killing, taking just any woman for yourself, stealing, etc. They might have different definitions of what actually constitutes unjustified killing, but they still know that unjustified killing in itself is wrong.
That’s why the Lord through Amos could condemn the pagan nations. They knew better than this. They wouldn’t want these sorts of things done to them, so in their hearts they should've known that what they did was wrong.
But with Judah, ah, that’s a different story. They had special revelation, something that none of us would have unless the Lord specifically intervened in human history and spoke directly to us.
This would've been an unmitigated blessing—if they had obeyed. But obviously they didn’t. Heck, the Lord wasn’t even done giving the Law to Moses before they broke it; while he was on top of the mountain, they were on the bottom committing idolatry and starting orgies. And their record wasn’t much better since then.
So what’s the difference here between people who’ve been exposed to his word and those who haven’t? Well, neither group was obedient to what God told them, either from Mount Sinai or through the human conscience. And getting back to Paul, he says, just as Amos did, that “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” But if anything, having more revelation could be a bad thing if you’re disobedient, since the Law-Giver will hold you more accountable. As our Lord said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Is this a little scary? It should be. R. C. Sproul says that that Luke verse I quoted above is the scariest verse in the Bible to him. To those of us who’ve had God’s word taught and preached to us, we have so much less an excuse than someone who’s had little to no access to it.
If you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for a little Spirit-examination.
Lord Jesus, your word is so precious to me, but even more so is your blood which you shed to cover my sin. Please search out my heart, point out any areas of sin and rebellion, and let your word do its work.
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