Reading: Amos 1:1 – 3:2 (Link)
For the most part, I consider myself a fairly patient and tolerant person (I said, for the most part). However, there are times, I’m sure you’ve had also, where enough is enough and you just need to put your foot down. My siblings are a great example, “Go to sleep.” Half an hour later, the computer is still on, keys tapping away on MSN and Facebook, “I said, ‘Go to sleep.’” Another half an hour later, “I thought I told you to go to sleep!” By now my patience is wearing thin and I’ll usually stand in the doorway until the computer is off. I’m sure there’s plenty of stories we could all tell of patience tried.
Well, come to the book of Amos and it’s not too dissimilar. These two chapters are simply judgment after judgment on the nations and His people. God’s patience, His grace and mercy, has been tried and He’s had enough trouble. Without going into too much detail, there are three things that we should note: (1) the matter of sin, (2) ignorance of conscience, and (3) the peril of being God’s people.
Firstly, the matter of sin. As you read through these chapters there is one key phrase repeated over and over – “For three sins… even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.” I think the Church today has a lot to answer for in regards to their presentation of sin. In light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the seriousness treatment of sin has waned over time. It’s no big deal anymore because Jesus died for my sins. Right? Wrong. It still is a big deal and that’s why Jesus died for my sins. The matter of sin, even though Jesus died and conquered sin, is still serious today.
This phrase, “For three sins… even for four, I will not turn back my wrath” highlights the reality of sin before God. God’s grace and mercy, while immeasurable, only go so far (humanly speaking). What I am inclined to believe is that in God’s infinite grace and mercy, judgment and discipline is not removed. In the raising of a child, disciple and judgment is not a negative act when done out of love, but rather an act of grace and mercy. How so? In teaching a child what is good and right through the discipline of what is evil and wrong, you will raise a child of integrity. Am I wrong? Likewise, God disciplines and judges His own people in order that they would grow in holiness and righteousness.
Secondly, if you take the time to read through the various judgments, you should note the various types of offences committed by each party. There are two distinctions that are made, the judgment upon the pagan/Gentile nations (1:3-2:3) and the judgment upon the people/nation of God (2:4-16). Let’s focus on the judgment upon the Gentile nations. As you read through the pronounced judgments, you will find that they have one thing in common. The atrocities they commit are sins against humanity, possibly the equivalent of today’s war crimes (e.g. Hitler’s Holocaust, Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, etc.) – they are sins which have ignored the basic human conscience.
What I believe this highlights, as Paul states in Romans (Rom. 1:18-20; 2:14-16), is that while people are ignorant of God’s specific expectation of them, He has not left them without the rule of conscience – the human constitution of good and evil. Each person, therefore, has no excuse for their actions (”…he made me do it” or Bart’s favourite “I didn’t do it…”) and is accountable for what they think, say and do. However, this has further implications for the one who does know God.
Alec Motyer calls this “the peril of uniqueness” – that is, the requirement of unique revelation and relationship with God. If those who are ignorant of God have human conscience and are without excuse, then those who have seen God and know His truth are absolutely without any reason for the wickedness they commit. As you read the judgment upon the nations of God (2:4-16), their judgment is based upon their revelation and relationship with God. The judgment upon Israel is even more disturbing as it opens with their crimes which are, in essence, the same as the crimes of the Gentile nations (2:6-8). God serves them a reminder of His revelation to them (2:9-12) before concluding with severe judgment (2:13-16). All of this boils down to one thing, their unique revelation and relationship with God:
Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel – 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.”
When the people of God, be they Jew or Gentile, take for granted their unique status before God – the King of kings and Lord of lords, they play a dangerous game. As the people who have been blessed with the revelation of God, his character, his love, grace and mercy personified in Jesus Christ – when they reject Him through their acts of sin, how that must break the heart of God. How much more serious is the sin of one who knows God compared to one who knows not God? On the Last Day before the Judgment Seat of God, the first ones to be judged will be His own and I am in fear of what will be said to some:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesys in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
(Matthew 7:21-34, emphasis added.)