(Continuing in our series in the OT book of Amos.) Yesterday, we looked at the charges against Israel:
- injustice and exploitation
- superficial worship that doesn’t involve a change in behaviour
- worshipping the gods and idols of the world
Today, the focus is on the judgement and call to repentance.
Amos begins chapter 5 with a lament over the fact that things are now so far gone, destruction is inevitable:Amos 5:2 “Fallen is Virgin Israel, never to rise again,
deserted in her own land, with no one to lift her up.”
The judgement that’s coming is severe (although not total – a 10% remnant is left):Amos 5:3-6 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Israel:
“Your city that marches out a thousand strong will have only a hundred left;
your town that marches out a hundred strong will have only ten left.”
This is what the Lord says to Israel:
“Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel,
do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba.
For Gilgal will surely go into exile,
and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.”
Seek the Lord and live, or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire;
it will devour them, and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
This destruction will be inescapable:Amos 5:19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
That could be an amusing scene in a children’s cartoon, but the point is: you can’t get away from it.
Central to chapter 5 is the reversal of expectations. Israel is looking forward to “the day of Yahweh” when he comes to enact justice and punish the wicked. Why? Because, as God’s special people, they thought they’d be on the good side of all of this. But here, God tells them they’re deluded:Amos 5:18 Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. Amos 6:1 Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!
As we’ve seen previously in Amos (and, indeed, in many of the OT prophets), we’re reminded that people can be deluded about being on God’s side. They think they’re longing for God to come and put things right, not realising that they are part of what needs putting right. It challenges us to think about whether we can be like Israel, thinking our “chosen” status means we can act however we like.
Or to get more specific: it challenges us to make sure we’ve really signed up for God’s team. That we’re not thinking that a raised hand at a youth rally or a decade hanging around churches has made us right with God, without any evidence of change in our life. Have we truly become one of God’s people, with our intentions aligned with God’s purposes (no matter how often we fail to live up to them)?
Now for those of us who have, it’s a little different from the situation Israel found itself in. Christ has paid the penalty for all of our rebellion. We have the Holy Spirit in us, working to change us, and keeping us secure in Christ. But still – God uses texts like this one to keep us on course. To challenge us where we’ve lost sight of who we’re supposed to be. To remind us of how serious the stakes are. And to call us back to repentance.
In fact, even amongst this seemingly irrevocable situation, God is still giving a glimmer of hope to his people:Amos 5:4 “Seek me and live… Amos 5:6 Seek the Lord and live… Amos 5:14 Seek good, not evil, that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is.
Turn back to God, Israel, so that this special relationship you claim will be a reality, rather than a delusion!
The message to us is similar (despite the differences living this side of the cross). Turn back to God, living in light of the special relationship you have with him in Christ. Or as the apostle Peter might put it:2 Peter 1:10-11 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.