If at some point in your life you’re going to be naming your children, here’s a tip from me: choose a different dominant vowel sound for each of them. ‘Cause when you’re yelling from the other end of the house, that vowel is pretty much all they hear. Unfortunately, my sister (Cassy) and I (Tim) could always tell which one of us was wanted, and had no excuse for ignoring the call. I didn’t learn that lesson, and named both our kids with the same dominant vowel. Now, they can always ignore me and legitimately claim they thought I was calling the other one.
The book of Amos – which we’ve been looking at this week – sees God calling to his people, Israel. But they weren’t responding. Maybe they heard his voice, but convinced themselves he was talking to one of the nations around them. (Think about all those judgement oracles against the surrounding nations we read over the past few days, before God ambushed them with an indictment on their own sin. And Israel and Syria do have the same dominant vowel sound.) Surely it can’t be us – we’re his chosen people! How can he bring judgement on us?
But the very fact that they’re his chosen people – but are behaving no better than the nations around – is the reason he’s judging them:Amos 3:1-2 Hear this word, people of Israel, the word the Lord has spoken against you—against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt:
“You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you for all your sins.”
And it’s not as though they weren’t warned. God’s voice had been calling to them loud and clear through the prophets (whom they silenced, if you remember from chapter 2). In fact, they had no excuse – because God never judges his people by surprise.
This is a point that Amos makes – at length – in chapter 3. He makes some observations about life that relate to cause-and-effect. That is, sometimes when you see something happen, you know that something else must have occurred before it, or must happen next. For example:Amos 3:3 Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment?
In the countryside – where Amos lived – it was highly unlikely to “just run into someone” going the same way.Amos 3:4 Does a lion roar in the thicket when it has no prey?
Does it growl in its den when it has caught nothing?
You only have to have watched a few nature documentaries to realise that if a lion is to catch his prey, he has to stalk them silently. Most of his favourite food can run faster than he can, so he has to make sure he doesn’t scare the gazelle or zebra or whatever. He only roars once he’s caught them.
(Incidentally, what do you say when a two-year-old asks you what sound a zebra makes? Apparently the right answer wasn’t “ow, ow, can someone stop this lion eating my stomach!”)
The point is: if you hear a lion roar, you know he’s not just doing it for fun. It means he’s caught some food.Amos 3:5 Does a bird swoop down to a trap on the ground when no bait is there?
Does a trap spring up from the ground if it has not caught anything?
Once again, cause-and-effect. You see a bird fall into a trap – someone must have set the trap. You see a bird trap fly up – a bird must have flown past and set it off. We’re starting to get the picture now.
However, the next image is a bit disturbing. We move on from nice images about the countryside – dead birds, dead gazelles, that sort of thing – to those of invasion and war.Amos 3:6a When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble?
The trumpet was a warning of an invader approaching. You hear a trumpet – what follows is fear. But then the second half of this verse adds a theological interpretation to these events:Amos 3:6b When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?
Again, cause-and-effect, but this time by God. You see a city destroyed by an invading army – it means that God has allowed it to happen, for nothing occurs except what he allows. If you’re Amos’s listeners you might start to get a bit nervous at this point. That’s right where Amos wants you – because then he begins to make his point.Amos 3:7 Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.
Cause-and-effect. You see God do something in history – you know that he’s already revealed it through his prophets. Now for the punchline.Amos 3:8 The lion has roared—who will not fear?
The Sovereign Lord has spoken—who can but prophesy?
The lion has already roard. God’s prophets – including Amos himself – have predicted disaster for God’s people. Therefore now is the the time to fear, because disaster is sure to come. Amos’s message is simply: “God always warns before he judges. This is the warning. Guess what comes next…?”
And then he proceeds to tell us: all of Israel’s prosperity will be stripped away from her, foreign armies will overrun and oppress her, and her idolatrous altars will be destroyed:Amos 3:9-15 Proclaim to the fortresses of Ashdod and to the fortresses of Egypt:
“Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria;
see the great unrest within her and the oppression among her people.”
“They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord,
“who store up in their fortresses what they have plundered and looted.”
Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“An enemy will overrun your land,
pull down your strongholds and plunder your fortresses.”
This is what the Lord says:
“As a shepherd rescues from the lion’s mouth only two leg bones or a piece of an ear,
so will the Israelites living in Samaria be rescued,
with only the head of a bed and a piece of fabric from a couch.”
“Hear this and testify against the descendants of Jacob,” declares the Lord, the Lord God Almighty.
“On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel;
the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground.
I will tear down the winter house along with the summer house;
the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished,”
declares the Lord.
To think about
In the absence of Amos (in person), how does God warn us, today?
Are there ways in which you’re ignoring God’s voice of warning?
Turning the question around: in what way are you commissioned to be, like Amos, God’s voice of warning?