[May 14]—Hauled Into Court

Amos 3:9-15

            Just like I’ve never encountered a lion in the wild, I’ve never been sued, so I can’t really relate a lot of personal stories about this. So instead I’ll provide a little background to help us understand today’s passage.
            This is basically a lawsuit which the Lord was bringing against his people in Israel. He'd made a covenant--a formal agreement or contract--with them in the days of Moses. In order to bring suit against someone or accuse them of a crime, the standard was two or three witnesses. When the Lord formalized the covenant near the end of Moses’ life, he called heaven and earth as witnesses to it.
            Here he brings suit against Israel, accusing them of breaking their solemn agreement. He calls as witnesses Ashdod (of the Philistines) and Egypt. Both of these were mortal enemies of Israel, and of course the Israelites saw them as uncircumcised, godless pagans. This was a harsh insult to bring them as witnesses, as if they were Israel’s moral superiors.
            He specifically brings up four things which had got his attention, either signs of criminal activity or crimes themselves.
            First, he calls his witnesses to note that there was “unrest” in Israel. Our God is the God of peace, not disorder. Where he reigns, there’s peace. Where he doesn’t, where people just do things their own way, there’s going to be all sorts of strife and chaos.
            Second, he’s seen lots of oppression. He doesn’t go into a lot of details here, since he’s already outlined what he means in the last chapter. Again, where it’s acceptable to do things your own way instead of God’s way, obviously you’re going to see injustice and the “little guy” getting stomped.
            Third, there’s lack of knowledge of how to do right. But how’s he condemning them for this? Because their ignorance was willful ignorance. If they didn’t know about right and wrong, it certainly wasn’t because they didn’t have access to his word. They also had the prophets, the ones sent by the Lord himself to knock on their foreheads ala Biff Tannen in Back To The Future: “Helloooo! Think McFly!”
            And finally he talks about storing up in their fortresses what they’ve “plundered and looted.” Of course, the very fact that they’ve “plundered and looted” this stuff signifies that it’s not theirs. But they’ve stored this stuff away when people are in need, completely disregarding the God who’s watching all of this.
            As he’s stated before, these “fortresses” in which they’ve trusted, whether literal or not, were not going to prevent the Lord from giving them what they deserved. It would all come crashing down on them.
            Now we need a little bit of background for verse 12. A hired hand watching sheep wasn’t usually expected to snatch a lamb out of a lion’s mouth. But to prove that he didn’t steal the sheep, he’d try to get at least an ear or a bone to show the owner. The Lord wanted to be their shepherd, but now he was a lion to them, and most of the nation would be devoured.
            But not all. There would be a remnant based on his grace. Yes, verse 12 is talking about his grace. As Isaiah said, “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” If he'd treated them exactly like Sodom, that would’ve been exactly what they deserved.
            And once more a little basic background for verse 14. In the ancient Near East it was  a custom that a convicted criminal could find amnesty by holding onto the horns of an altar. This is talking about the horns on the altar of Bethel, which is referring to the altar built by King Jeroboam as a rival to the temple in Jerusalem. So their first problem was that they were going to the wrong altar. Second, the Lord explicitly told them that a murderer couldn’t find mercy that way, and there’s never any record that he sanctioned letting offenders go because they held onto horns on any altar. Instead of trusting in some superstitious ritual, they needed to turn back to the Lord in repentance.
            Once again, I see lots of applications. For me, this is reminder of how important trust is, specifically in what or whom is my trust? Is it in a fortress I’ve built up? Or is in the Rock of my Salvation?

Lord Jesus, for all the times I’ve built on a foundation of sand, please forgive me. By your grace, I want to build on you from now on. 

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