I can just imagine the first audience of Amos’s sermon. They’re cheering as he condemns their enemies and predicts their destruction. But then he starts talking about Israel, pointing the finger at their sin. They hear vss. 6-8, then say “Whew, that’s pretty harsh! Well, I’m glad we’re done with that!” And Amos’s response to this might be “DONE?! I haven’t even started yet! I’m about to make a short-term career out of raking you guys over the coals!”
I think today’s passage highlights a theme that’s repeated over and over and over in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. Yes, the Israelites were sinning horribly. But there was a root to all this, an attitude that lay at the heart of their conduct. In a word: Ingratitude. As he’s done before and after in Scripture, the Lord recounts for them what he’s done for them, listing three great acts of redemption/blessing.
First, he brought them out of Egypt. He sent the ten plagues, taking care that they didn’t harm his people. The world has not seen anything like this since: Incredible miracles which showed anyone with eyes that the Lord of the universe was behind all this. Most of the time he works mostly behind the scenes, but not here. And it was to redeem them out of land of slavery.
Second, he led them for 40 years in the desert wilderness. He provided them food, water, protection from the heat by day and a light at night. Neither their clothing nor their sandals wore out. And please keep in mind—The only reason they spent 40 years in the desert instead of a few months was because of their screw-up.
And third he provided them an incredible blessing in the form of people. The Nazirites were people that he called to a period of asceticism: They were forbidden to drink any product of grapes, to cut their hair, and to touch dead bodies. In other words, they were a benefit to the people because the Nazirites provided a good example of whole-hearted devotion to the Lord. And of course he sent the prophets, his mouths to speak to his people, to warn the wicked of coming judgment and to comfort those who needed it.
Let me take a moment point something out about this. Have you noticed that the prophets tend to be repeating what Moses told them, or allude to his writings? That was their main job, remember? Their main purpose was not to predict the future like a lady in a carnival with a crystal ball. It was to bring them back to the lessons they'd been shirking. If the people had actually been obeying the Torah, there would’ve been little or no need for prophets.
And what was their response as noted in today’s passage? They offered Nazirites wine to drink, which would destroy what they were attempting to accomplish. Apparently the people didn’t like other people making them look bad, so they tried to corrupt these called-out men to turn their backs on what God wanted them to do.
And they ordered the prophets to shut up. The Lord sent his ambassadors in order to try to make peace, and they treated them with contempt at best, threats and violence at worst.
On some of these studies, I have to search a bit for application. I don’t visit religious prostitutes, I don’t haul poor people into court and bribe judges, and I certainly haven’t been ripping open pregnant women, at least not so far. But today’s passage is pretty obvious to me, painfully so. Here are the questions I think the Spirit is asking me:
First, do I show proper gratitude for what my Savior’s done for me? As wonderful as the Old Testament saints had it, my blessings make theirs look like a soggy sandwich. I need to reflect more often on what he saved me from, what he’s been doing lately, and what I have to look forward to.
Second, I need to recognize the ones God has sent to provide me a good example. I ought to be grateful for them, and I certainly don’t need to bring them down to my level. Instead, I need to--with God’s help--reach up to theirs.
And finally, how do I respond to rebukes from the Word? Do I tune out God’s prophetic word to me? Or worse, do I respond with hostility to those whom he’s sent to bring me back into line?
Ow!!! That really stings, Father! Please continue the work of your Spirit’s sword, cutting and healing. And may I never never never NEVER be the cause of someone backsliding in their walk with you.
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