One of my favorite Psalms is one you’re likely familiar with: the 139th. It’s a breathtaking picture of God’s omniscience. It doesn’t present God as being “up there” who just knows facts about everything like baseball stats or data on a computer. No, he knows every intimate detail about us. The most hover-crazy mother in the world has nothing on my Father. Let this beauty sink into your spirit for a moment:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
But there’s a dark side to his omnipresence, as the Israelites would soon find out. The fact that God is “here” is a wonderful source of blessing and comfort to those of us who are on his “good” side. But for those on his “bad” side, they’ll find his intimate presence a not-so-pleasant experience. Verses 2-4 are basically the inverse of Psalm 139. No matter where they flee, there’s no escape from God’s all-seeing eye, which will watch over them for harm and not for good. No matter where they go, his justice will hunt them down. His omnipresence, like all his other characteristics, can either be your best friend or your worst enemy.
After giving us another lofty description of the God with whom we must deal, he asks a rather shocking question in verse seven. The Israelites hearing this would likely have fallen over in shock. They thought themselves chosen by the Lord for special privileges and blessings. And there was that aspect of their “chosenness,” but mostly they were chosen for special responsibilities. And he downplays this very concept of being “chosen” by flatly saying that he’s also “chosen” the Cushites, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir.
He’s the Lord over all nations. No one is acceptable to him due to their physical lineage. We’re acceptable to him based on a personal relationship with him, as demonstrated by Abraham (faith which leads to works). As you’ve no doubt heard, God has many children but no grandchildren.
There might seem to be a contradiction here between vs. 8 and vss. 1-4. In the latter the Lord tells us flat out that “Not one will get away, none will escape.” But in vs. 8 he says that “I will not totally destroy the descendants of Jacob.” So which is it? Will there be survivors of God’s wrath or not?
The answer is found in vs. 9, specifically one word: “Sieve.” This was a huge wire mesh that they would use to sift grain from pebbles that were mixed in. The grain would fall to the ground, and the pebbles would be left behind.
The point is that there’s no physical escape from God’s judgment. Our only hope (but it’s a sure one) is the escape route which the Lord has provided, not something we’ve come up with. And of course that’s faith/trust and repentance.
A final warning from Amos is in verse 10 (the remaining verses in the book are positive). If you’re telling yourself “Disaster will not overtake or meet [me],” then the Lord is giving you one last appeal: “Yes, it will.”
Lord Jesus, you're my shelter from the punishment I deserve. Your blood covers my sin, and there's no condemnation left for me. You know me inside-out and backwards and forwards, and you love me anyway. Thank you.