Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Amos 3:9-15

9Proclaim on the citadels in Ashdod and on the citadels
in the land of Egypt and say, "Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria
and see the great tumults within her and the oppressions in her midst.

10"But they do not know how to do what is right," declares the LORD, "these who hoard up violence and devastation in their citadels.

11Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD,
"An enemy, even one surrounding the land,
Will pull down your strength from you
And your citadels will be looted."

12Thus says the LORD,
"Just as the shepherd snatches from the lion's mouth a couple of legs or a piece of an ear,
So will the sons of Israel dwelling in Samaria be snatched away--
With the corner of a bed and the cover of a couch!
13"Hear and testify against the house of Jacob,"
Declares the Lord GOD, the God of hosts.
14"For on the day that I punish Israel's transgressions,
I will also punish the altars of Bethel;
The horns of the altar will be cut off
And they will fall to the ground.
15"I will also smite the winter house together with the summer house;
The houses of ivory will also perish
And the great houses will come to an end,"
Declares the LORD.

God's word continues to resound with the indictment of Israel, as Chapter 3 comes to a close. As we begin verse 9, we need to look at the map, once again.

Ashdod is situated in the Philistines. Egypt is below that and to the left. Samaria is starred, just above Israel. We talked about Ashdod back in Chapter 1, as Israel's enemies were judged. As if calling the enemies together to hear the judgment pronounced upon Israel and to include their testimony, God says, surely the nations already condemn you, Israel. "But they do not know how to do what is right...." (vs. 10) Israel is standing condemned before the righteous God of the universe, not merely their enemies! To echo last week's lesson, vs. 8, "A lion has roared! Who will not fear?"

So God presents Israel's punishment--the presence of "an enemy, even one surrounding your land." (vs. 11) This would be Assyria, which would take the Israelites into exile in 722 B.C. God describes those who would be taken as "a couple of legs or a piece of an ear [from a sheep]" rescued from the mouth of a lion.

"But David said to Saul, 'Your servant was tending his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him.

'Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.' And David said, 'The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.' And Saul said to David, 'Go, and may the LORD be with you.'"

--I Samuel 17:34-37

Never tire of seeing the consistency and symmetry in God's Word! Shepherd boy David up against Goliath--a Philistine--is rescuing his people by God's blessing. Israel, in Amos, is under judgment, for sure, but God continues to uphold His long-held promise in saving a remnant by His protection. I found an interesting difference in translation that is worth noting:

"Thus saith the LORD; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch."
--Verse 12, King James Version

Some translations, like the NASB, refer to "cover of a couch" literally as "damask," which is a type of fine fabric. Damascus, the city, is where such fabric first originated. (Note its location at the star in Aram, which is Syria.) God will go the distance to gather each of His own.

Going beyond the scope of the passage, again, showing the continuity of the Word, the Great Shepherd will also come in a day of judgment to return for the sons of Israel.

"Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.... And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.

These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless."
--Revelation 14: 1, 3-5

After the passing moment of grace in verse 12, God returns to His punishment of Israel, which includes destruction upon Bethel. Meaning "house of God," we read of Bethel throughout the Bible with a notable story in Genesis about "Israel" who was then known as Jacob. After securing his brother's birthright, Jacob flees from Esau and comes to rest. Jacob has a dream in which God promises him that divine birthright which comes down from Isaac and Abraham to him. When Jacob awakes, in complete awe, he annoints and names the place where he rested "Bethel." Jacob would later return to Bethel, where he "wrestled" with God and received his new name, "Israel."

But Bethel was no longer a house of God under King Jeroboam.

"Furthermore, the altar that was at Bethel and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he [King Josiah] broke down. Then he demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah [idol]."
--II Kings 23:15 (with my additions for clarification.
King Josiah of Judah would come to rule around 640 B.C.,
more than 60 years after Assyria's conquest of Israel)
So every form of idol worship and extravagance in living in Israel would be destroyed in this judgment, as God is seeking, yet again, to reform what is left of His people.

More description of this life of luxury as God continues to condemn the practices of Israel in Chapter 4.... 'Til next Wednesday!

And, Happy Thanksgiving! Praise God, to Whom all blessings flow!


* * *

Next week: Amos 4:1-5

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Amos 3:1-8

All the Tribes Are Guilty
1Hear this word which the LORD has spoken against you, sons of Israel, against the entire family which He brought up from the land of Egypt:
2"You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth;
Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities."
3Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?
4Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey?
Does a young lion growl from his den unless he has captured something?
5Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground when there is no bait in it?
Does a trap spring up from the earth when it captures nothing at all?
6If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble?
If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?
7Surely the Lord GOD does nothing
Unless He reveals His secret counsel
To His servants the prophets.
8A lion has roared! Who will not fear?
The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?

The chapter heading in my study Bible for Chapter 3 says, "All the tribes are guilty," though God's words are most pointedly directed toward Israel. From the beginning, you can hear in the tone and see in the examples the difference in relationship between God and His people as compared with God and His enemies. Note the use of 'sons of Israel' and 'family'.

"'For as the waistband clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah cling to Me,' declares the LORD, 'that they might be for Me a people, for renown, for praise and for glory; but they did not listen.'"
--Jeremiah 13:11

But, just because you're family doesn't mean you are excluded from punishment. Does God the Father, who loves His children, Israel, beyond all scope of imagination let them sit in their sinful state? Of course not! Once again, His great mercy and love--as we saw with Jonah and the Ninevites and throughout the history of the Israelites--will present itself in a "growth opportunity."

"And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?"

--Hebrews 12:5-7

Beginning with verse 3, God poses a series of what should be rhetorical questions to Israel. His intention is to make them realize that absolutely nothing occurs apart from His sovereign decision. Some clarification on verse 3, the King James' verbiage is a bit more clear: "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" If Israel is going to continue in a loving relationship with their Lord, they need to be walking together--meaning, they need to walk in accordance with God's Word. Their characteristic stiff-neckedness and idol worship cannot continue.

"Thus says the LORD to this people, "Even so they have loved to wander; they have not kept their feet in check. Therefore the LORD does not accept them; now He will remember their iniquity and call their sins to account."
--Jeremiah 14:10

God is bringing forward the judgment that the nation deserves for its inability to keep its "feet in check." [I'm fond of that phrasing!] We have visited this point several times: an unholy God cannot be in relationship with that which is unholy. He has no difficulty whatsoever recounting the sins of the Israelites before them. Although the impending judgment of their captivity into Assyria is sure, God will receive them once again, in His time, as His own.

"They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
--Jeremiah 31:34 [emphasis mine, note the parallelism in the phrasing]

It would be difficult to read verse 6 and not dwell on it for a bit. Reading it out of the King James is even more thought-provoking: "Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" You and I and the Israelites may have heard the prior questions and nodded "yes,"' "yes," "of course," until this one. It is sometimes hard to see God as being one who brings calamity much less evil!

"The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating calamity;
I am the LORD who does all these."

--Isaiah 45:7

What this Isaiah passage says, and the Amos passage affirms, is God's power, yes, but also His providence. Satan is surely the evil one, but even Satan is under God's complete control and will be brought to ultimate judgment in God's timing. God allows evil to exist but in a way that is sovereignly controlled for His purposes.

"The doctrine of divine providence, therefore, has reference to that preservation care and government which God exercises over all things that He has created in order they may accomplish the ends for which they were created." [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia]

[Big swallow and feel free to continue mulling over this tough idea.... If God's end is to perfect you for being in Heaven with Him, then there needs to come some intervention at His loving hand, which means discipline through specially designed and controlled means.]

Back to the text, not only does God do everything with His purposes in mind, but He makes a way for the Israelites and you and me to know what He's thinking, at least a little bit. God reveals His Word to prophets (vs 7) and they tell forth the Word, preparing and equipping the people to serve Him. He has done this since the beginning. Look at Noah (Genesis 6), Abraham (Genesis 18:17), Daniel (9:22), and, yes, Jesus--and, by association, us!

"No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.

--John 15:15

God made a way for us to know Him, if we open the door to accepting that fact. The Israelites were given many prophets, revealing God's Word, showing them the way to live. But, remember what we read in 2:12: "And you commanded the prophets saying, 'You shall not prophesy!'" They rejected God in rejecting His prophets! Now He is roaring mad (Amos 1:2).

Amos could not hold back the words that he was called by God to utter. That didn't mean that the receivers would receive him. Even though Peter and John could not "stop speaking about what we have seen and heard," (Acts 4:20), they also were not well-received by all. Oh, prophets!

"And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, 'O Lord, it is You who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,

For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur."

--Acts 4:24-28 (quoting from David's words in Psalm 2)

There will be no option for grace at this time, as God tells the Israelites how their judgment is going down.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Amos 3:9-15

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Amos 2:9-16

9"Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them,
Though his height was like the height of cedars
And he was strong as the oaks;
I even destroyed his fruit above and his root below.
10"It was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt,
And I led you in the wilderness forty years
That you might take possession of the land of the Amorite.
11"Then I raised up some of your sons to be prophets
And some of your young men to be Nazirites.
Is this not so, O sons of Israel?" declares the LORD.
12"But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
And you commanded the prophets saying, 'You shall not prophesy!'
13"Behold, I am weighted down beneath you
As a wagon is weighted down when filled with sheaves.
14"Flight will perish from the swift,
And the stalwart will not strengthen his power,
Nor the mighty man save his life.
15"He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground,
The swift of foot will not escape,
Nor will he who rides the horse save his life.
16"Even the bravest among the warriors
will flee naked in that day," declares the LORD.

With the ninth verse of Chapter 2 comes a departure from the "standard" recitation of judgment delivered through Amos. It is becoming increasing clear that God is going to spend more time addressing Israel. The Lord begins a monologue recounting His leadership and providence over His chosen people, and the wayward directions His people have chosen to take in response.

"Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite...." The Amorites lived in Canaan, a.k.a., the Promised Land. The Book of Numbers contains the story of the spying Israelites, who--after their 40-year exodus and wilderness experience--stood poised on the new land, determining if it was right to bring the people forward. Most of the spies would report back to Moses that it was filled with "giants." Brave Joshua not only challenged the spies' report but would eventually be God's chosen commander to lead the Israelites into successful battle with these "giant" Amorites, taking over their land.

"Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,

"O sun, stand still at Gibeon,
And O moon in the valley of Aijalon."
So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies
Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.

There was no day like that before it or after it, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel."

--Joshua 10:12-14 (emphasis mine)

God then recounts His raising up of prophets through whom to speak His holy word to the people. But His people rejected the prophets and the word. Specially anointed followers--Nazirites ("[who] consecrated himself or herself, and took a vow of separation and self-imposed discipline for the purpose of some special service, and the fact of the vow was indicated by special signs of abstinence"--International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)--were made to drink wine, one of those self-imposed disciplines.

"Behold, I am weighted down beneath you...," says the Lord. (vs 13) This is an interesting metaphor, as it's impossible to keep a holy God down! The Hebrew word means "packed, pressed or tottered." [Strong's] 'Totter' means "to walk or go with faltering steps, as if from extreme weakness. To swing, waver, quiver." []

We have spoken here of God seemingly being able to "change His mind"--the pleas of Jonah for one more show of mercy, for instance. God has certainly been oppressed by His people. When I read 'totter', I think it represents God's patience having been pushed to the brink. Weakened in His desire to show mercy, not in His capability. "O you who choose to try My patience. You burden Me with your idols, your unholiness, your lack of faith, your lack of obedience, your constantly thinking you know what's best for you, etc., etc." When we make our own bountiful yet thoroughly tainted harvest and pile it upon the graciousness of the One who allows its bounty yet desires to give us greater yields, what should we expect?

The chapter concludes with the assurance of God's judgment and discipline in the matter. There will be nowhere to flee. No one will be strengthened to fight the fight. No one will have the wherewithal to escape. Even the strongest and bravest will be naked before God. And, in 722 B.C., God raised up the Assyrians to defeat the Israelites, carrying them off into captivity (II Kings 17).

"Now this came about because the sons of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel, and in the customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced."

--II Kings 17: 7 & 8

Not that captivity was the end of God's grace to Israel. But, for the time, the nation needed to be cast from His sight. Cast out, not destroyed.

God continues His judgment of Israel next week in Chapter 3, posing a series of questions to the nation.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Amos 3:1-8

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Amos 2: 6-8

6Thus says the LORD,
"For three transgressions of Israel and for four
I will not revoke its punishment,
Because they sell the righteous for money
And the needy for a pair of sandals.
7"These who pant after the very dust of the earth
on the head of the helpless
Also turn aside the way of the humble;
And a man and his father resort to the same girl
In order to profane My holy name.
8"On garments taken as pledges
they stretch out beside every altar,
And in the house of their God
they drink the wine of those who have been fined.

Amos makes no special introduction. He plows right into God's judgments against Israel as if it were just another enemy nation. In two verses, the nation faces charges against God for its treatment of the righteous and the humble; its inappropriate sexual conduct (vs. 7b); and, its abuse of the "temple" of God. No small charges, and He's just begun!

Selling people into slavery or using the abuse of people as a means to resolve serious problems, like dealing with debt, was common practice in Israel. Recall Jesus' story of the king who released a debt from one of his slaves who could not pay. That man, who had saved his wife and family through his desperate pleas, would then turn around and torture a man who owed him money. And we know the selling [out] of the righteous cost Judas Iscariot more than 30 shekels of silver. The stiff-necked, impatient Israelites would stop at nothing to get what they felt was rightfully theirs.

Verse 7 is a very profound image of just how low the Israelites chose to stoop. "These who pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the helpless...." The Hebrew for 'pant' means "to inhale eagerly; figuratively, to covet; by implication, to be angry; also, to hasten." [Strong's] Can you imagine the poor, the blind, the beggars, the crippled, sitting in the streets, as they did, only to have the Israelites inhale the very dirt upon which they sat? Coveting to the point of taking what little these people had--the sand under their feet!

"He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker,
But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him."
--Proverbs 14:31

Verse 8 may give you pause, as well. "On garments taken as pledges...." Consider 'loan' as another word for pledge. There was a practice, particularly amongst the poor, to lay down their outer garments as a means of covering a debt. This was an outward sign that there was understanding of a debt to be paid by the one making the pledge. But, this also came with the understanding that if the one owed took the outer garment, he would have to give it back to him who owed by the end of the day.

"If you ever take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in?...."
--Exodus 22:26-27a

Jesus took off His outer garment at the time of His last supper with His disciples when He washed their feet, illustrating His humility. I hadn't thought about the laying down of the garment as a metaphor for covering a debt, but I can see that now. Perhaps it's even more telling of the judgment rendered the Israelites in looking at the actions of the Roman soldiers at the Crucifixion.

"Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be"; this was to fulfill the Scripture: "THEY DIVIDED MY OUTER GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS."
--John 19: 23&24

What Amos is saying here is that the Israelites took these garments and laid on them at the altar of the Lord, as well as helped themselves to the temple wine of the guilty. Figuratively, the Israelites took practices of humility and statements of mercy, and tainted the very nature of the work of God by their disregard for His holiness. No, God is not pleased.

God explains from where His wrath comes, and He goes back to the Exodus.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Amos 2:9-16

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).