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Friday, June 9, 2017

A People Unto Themselves

Introduction

The people of the northern Kingdom of Israel considered themselves unaccountable to Yehovah. They no longer praised God for His protection and provision, but sang songs to themselves for what they accomplished-victory in battle, excess of provisions, and magnificent homes. These people of Israel abhorred the reminders from righteous people to take care of the poor-widows, orphans, and foreigners. They physically cast them from their sight and refused to hear God’s righteous laws. Though Amos’ last sermon called them to let God’s righteousness flow over and cleanse them, then flow through them to others, the rich and the leaders of the Israelites refused to return to God and follow Him. They refused to be a holy people of the LORD.

As in Amos’ earlier sermons, so the sermon of Amos 5:18-27 proclaimed God’s judgment upon the Israelites of the northern kingdom. God told them they asked for the “day of the Lord” to come. They did not realize they were His enemies, too. He would judge them along with their enemies. God’s justice would come as a flood to remove the detritus from Israel, punish them for their rebellion and iniquities, and cleanse them from unrighteousness. They would remember Who the LORD is and has been in their history and return to a right relationship with Him.

In Amos 6, Amos preached his final proclamation of prophecy to the Israelites listing their sins. With verse seven, he declared God’s judgment upon them. With the last half of the chapter, Amos told the Israelites of God’s hate of their sins, His judgment, the result of His judgment, and reiterated the peoples’ sins. Finally, with verse fourteen, God proclaimed how His judgment would come upon the Israelites. With this brief reminder of earlier sermons and a preview of chapter six, let’s now study what God said through Amos in chapter six.

Woe to the People

As with Amos 5:18, Amos began this last sermon against the nation of Israel with a lament. He lamented Israel’s complacency to follow the LORD’s laws. Amos said in verse one,

“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria, the distinguished men of the foremost of nations, to whom the house of Israel comes.” [NASB]

Bible writers used the word “woe” to state grief over the dead. See 1 Kings 13:30 and Jeremiah 22:18 and 34:5. Amos lamented the sinfulness of Israel, her coming judgment, the loss of life, the loss of God’s hand of protection against them, and their loss of freedom. In this statement of woe, he referred again to the rich people of Israel. Amos proclaimed woe over those who were at ease. Isaiah 32:9-11 expressed woe toward the women at ease. Luke 6:24 expressed woe for the rich stating their only comfort would be what they had then because their day of judgment would come.

These people were at ease and felt secure because they felt no one could defeat the God who established them. They forgot, though, that this same God covenanted with them promising blessings for their covenant faithfulness and curses for covenant unfaithfulness. These Israelites chose to remember and live only by the positive side of the covenant-God would be their God and would bless them. They were at ease in Zion expecting God to provide for them and fight their battles always. The rich Israelites did not recognize their sin and realize they should not be at ease because they deserved God’s wrath. Amos expressed woe to these Israelites who rested in ease thinking the God of Zion would always defend them and let no harm come to them.

Along with the Israelites being at ease because their God would protect them, they felt confidence in their ability to protect the site of their capital city. It was on a high hill surrounded by mountains. They considered themselves unconquerable. The Israelites of Samaria could see their enemy coming before they arrived. These Israelites trusted in their military preparedness to see them through crises. Amos expressed woe for the Israelites because they had confidence in their own might and logistical strategy and did not recall the LORD had kept them safe throughout their history. Yehovah could remove His protective hand and they would be as vulnerable as any other city/nation of the world. The Israelites felt secure, but they were careless, at ease. They did not keep covenant faithfulness with God. The way to salvation in battle and of the soul comes from the LORD and they were unfaithful to Him.

The men to whom Amos proclaimed woe in this verse were the distinguished men of Israel to whom Israel went for justice, advice, and aid. They were the ones who rose above the crowd in their oppression, corruption, and business dealings. These rich men controlled the courts and businesses. Everyone had to go to them for help, yet they helped no one who was not a beneficial connection. These rich men of Israel were the real power structure of society, not Yehovah. These wealthy, upper class people of Israel were the biggest offenders in that society. Amos did not preach against wealth or a classless society. He condemned the abuse and oppression of the poor by the rich. The rich had made themselves god of their city and nation.

Rhetorical Questions

With verse two, it seems Amos provided the rhetorical argument the rich Israelites would give to anyone who proposed Israel was lesser than other nations. Amos said in verse two,

“Go over to Calneh and look, and go from there to Hamath the great, then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are they better than these kingdoms, or is their territory greater than yours?” [NASB]

Calneh was probably the city of Calno in Aram near Carchemish. Hamath was a city in Aram, too. These had large territories. Hamath had been part of Israel under Solomon’s and Jeroboam’s reigns. Sargon II of Assyria captured these two places after Amos’ time in 721 BC. Uzziah captured Gath before Amos prophesied. With this rhetorical question from Amos, he showed their arrogance about their greatness and military prowess. The Israelites, per Amos’ rhetorical speaking for them, challenged Amos’ prophecies of God’s judgment on them. Still, Amos rebutted them with his prophecy of their judgment from God.

As Amos continued pronouncing his sermon of woe on the Israelites with verse three, he asked another rhetorical question, this time for the LORD. He said in verse three,

“Do you put off the day of calamity, and would you bring near the seat of violence?” [NASB]

Amos challenged the rich of Israel. He provided them with a question that would have an obviously ridiculous answer if they continued with their arrogance and answered in the affirmative. Amos asked the rich if they could drive away the day of calamity because they assumed greater power than the LORD. God is the bringer of the day of calamity, the day of the LORD. “Did the Israelites consider themselves greater than God?” Amos asked. That is how they acted by disobeying God’s laws and being unfaithful to their covenant with Him. They put themselves as greater than Yehovah. The rich Israelites lived for the moment and did not to consider the day of reckoning would come soon. Their arrogance placed themselves above God and caused them to procrastinate in doing what they knew was right. They cared not what consequences would come.

Amos continued with this question.  He asked the rich Israelites if they would bring near the seat of violence. This has two ramifications. Would the rich Israelites continue to do violence against the righteous and poor of their kingdom? Would they, by continuing this way of life, teach it to their children so they stored up violence now and for the future? Amos made this same statement in Amos 3:10. The other side of Amos’ question is would the rich Israelites continue to disobey God’s laws and thus cause God’s judgment to come upon them. Would they bring God’s wrath upon themselves now because they kept living sinfully? By not repenting, the rich Israelites were not putting off the day of calamity, but with their violence would bring near God’s judgment seat. It would not go away.


Who were these people whom God judged?

With verses four through six, Amos reiterated who the people were whom God charged and judged. He described who these were by what they did. Amos said in verses four through six,

4 “Those who recline on beds of ivory and sprawl on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, 5 who improvise to the sound of the harp and like David have composed songs for themselves, 6 who drink wine from sacrificial bowls while they anoint themselves with the finest oils, yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.” [NASB]

Amos first described the offenders of Israel by how and what they ate. He said they reclined on their beds of ivory. These beds, built of wood, contained inlaid ivory. The rich Israelites did not sleep on the packed dirt floor like the poor of society. They sprawled on their couches. These couches were like chaise lounges upon which they overhung and laid freely in luxury. Amos spoke of these couches earlier in Amos 3:12 when he spoke of the remnant of Israel being like the corner of a bed or the cover of a couch. The rich Israelites knew Amos spoke about them.

Upon these beds and couches, the rich ate the best of meats. They ate the most tender portions, the young lambs and calves. These animals suckled on their mothers. The calves came from the barn stalls and ate grain. Their meat came not from muscle, but was tender from grain feeding and milk. The rich Israelites ate the best food available, but the poor ate little, the meager bits gleaned from the fields after the harvesters. These rich Israelites thought they had no cares and no hurry.

The rich of Israel created songs for their revelry, just as David created songs. A dichotomy existed that David wrote his songs to and about Yehovah, whereas they wrote songs to please their own ears while they ate lavishly and cared not for the people of their country. Isaiah 5:12 says, “Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine, but they do not pay attention to the deeds of the LORD, nor do they consider the works of His hands.” [NASB] The people whom God judged sang to themselves, not about God nor giving Him praise. They took the glory for themselves for what they had and did not give glory to God.

With verse six, Amos stated again the rich of Israel indulged in wine. Besides this, they drank the wine from sacrificial bowls, bowls used to catch the blood of sacrificial animals. The blood they offered to their gods, Amos re-imagined the wine they offered themselves as if they were gods. They had put themselves above Yehovah. These rich Israelites made themselves and their desires idols. Besides this, Amos said they anointed themselves with the best oils. Only the rich could afford olive oil and they wasted it on their own bodies instead of it being used to give and prepare food for their Israelite brethren. Remember, too, God used oil for His servants-priests and prophets-to anoint His leaders over the Israelites. Here, the Israelites anointing themselves alluded again to their usurping God’s place in their lives and making themselves their own gods and priests. As priests, their should have had hearts attuned to God and to His desire for the people-their needs, poverty, and sins-but their hearts only reflected their personal desires. The rich Israelites did not grieve over the ruin of Joseph, the northern kingdom of Israel.


The Judgment 

Amos described upon whom God charged and judged most in Israel. With verse seven, he expounded on what would happen by God because of their rebellion against Him and His laws. Amos said in verse seven,

“Therefore, they will now go into exile at the head of the exiles, and the sprawlers’ banqueting will pass away.” [NASB]

The word “therefore” shows reference to the earlier statements. It refers to the rich Israelites sins. Because they oppressed the poor and corrupted justice in Israel, God would judge them and make it happen. God, through Amos, told the Israelites they would go into exile. Their mountains would not protect them. Their enemy would remove the rich Israelites from their wealth, lavish houses, grain-fed calves, abundant wine, and finest oils. Besides this, God said the rich Israelites would lead their nation into exile. These wealthy Israelites, just as they led the people of Israel into oppressing the poor and casting aside righteousness, would lead their people into judgment. They would be the first to go into judgment and exile. The revelry and lavish living would pass away as God passed through them allowing their enemies to overtake them. God would not pass over the Israelites this time.

·         What do you do that tells people you are better than them? Drive a flashy car? Live in a grand house? Take extravagant vacations? Flash your credit cards?
·         Do you boast to others about what you have done, who you know, and what you have?
·         Do you allow the Lord to be God of your life? Or, do you use everything you have and get for what you want without asking God why He gave it to you?
·         Do you allow God’s pricks to your conscience to lead you to share what He gave you with people in need? Do you give whatever God says knowing He will give everything you will need?
·         Do you give glory to God for providing what another person needs by your giving and thank Him for asking you to be part of His plan for helping other people?

God’s Declaration


His hate and abhorrence of their sins

The first half of this sermon described God and Amos’ lament for the people of the northern kingdom. It ended with the LORD’s judgment of their sins, especially the sins of the rich Israelites. With this second half of the chapter, God made declarations to the people about His hate and abhorrence of their sins, the extent and devastation of His judgment, and about how His judgment would occur.

In verse eight, Amos said,

“The Lord God has sworn by Himself, the LORD God of hosts has declared: ‘I loathe the arrogance of Jacob, and I detest his citadels; therefore, I will deliver up the city and all it contains.’” [NASB]

Again, Amos used multiple names of God. Here he said Adonay, a title of reverence meaning the Lord of men, Yehovah, the existing One, the I AM, swore by Himself. This LORD God of hosts is Yehovah ‘Elohiym, the ruler and judge, and the God of the armies of heaven and earth. GOD swore by the most certain thing in existence, Himself. He said He absolutely loathes the arrogance of Jacob. The word “loathes” comes from the Hebrew word ta’ab, which means to abhor or have an intense dislike or disgust. Abhorring is the physical action that comes from hating something or someone intensely. The LORD loathed the arrogance of Jacob and would act because of it. God abhorred the high places of the Israelites in Leviticus 26:30 and destroyed those places. He spurned the Israelites in Deuteronomy 32:19. In Amos, He loathed the arrogance of Jacob. The arrogance of the rich Israelites showed their assumption they were their own providers and a law to themselves while forgetting their covenant with the LORD. God stated He, too, detested the citadels of Israel. The word “detest” comes from the Hebrew word sane’ which means to hate as an enemy. Amos 3:10-11 explains why God hated the citadels of the Israelites. He hated them because they hoarded violence and devastation in their citadels. The citadels, the strongholds, were symbols of the Israelites’ self-confidence, violence, and robbery. With the last of verse eight, the LORD said He would deliver up the city and everything in it. The LORD swore on His name meaning His judgment would certainly occur and it would be complete, nothing inside the fortifications would remain. God would deliver everything to the enemies of the Israelites-people, homes, furnishings, produce, vineyards, animals, and land. It certainly would happen. God’s delivering the northern kingdom to their enemies was His hate in action, His abhorrence of their arrogance. The Israelites earlier ignored God’s prophets and charges. They could not ignore God’s hate and abhorrence when His judgment came upon them.

Result of God’s Judgment

Amos reminded the Israelites the devastation God’s judgment would bring to their land. Just as he said in Amos 5:3, he reiterated in verse nine. Only one tenth of the people would remain in Israel. Consider what Amos said in verses nine and ten,

9 “And it will be, if ten men are left in one house, they will die. Then one’s uncle, or his undertaker, will lift him up to carry out his bones from the house, and he will say to the one who is in the innermost part of the house, ‘Is anyone else with you?’ and that one will say, ‘No one.’ 10 Then he will answer, ‘Keep quiet. For the name of the LORD is not to be mentioned.’” [NASB]

We must recognize the word “left” in verse nine comes from the Hebrew word yather and means left behind, or remain. This means the dead in the house were Israelites left after their enemy took captives into exile. Of these ten left behind, their kinsman, who had the duty to bury his dead, would carry their bodies out of the house. We recognize another person was alive in the house with the kinsman. It could have been a survivor or a person helping the kinsman. Most likely it was a survivor of whatever killed the other people of the house.

Theologians conjecture the people of the house died of pestilence, plague, or starvation. With the first two, the need for burning the bodies is obvious, to prevent further contamination of the village, town, or city. Death by starvation did not require burning of bodies. We should understand burning of corpses was unusual for the Israelites. Their belief required burial of bodies so the deceased could walk with his or her ancestors in heaven. They believed this was impossible if people burned their relatives’ bones. Recall Israelite men went to their enemy’s walled city of Beth-shan to take the bodies of Saul and his sons for burial in their family tomb (1 Samuel 31:12). Because of the Israelite’s understanding of burials, most theologians agree the deaths of the people in the house were not natural. They came by plague or pestilence.

A curious statement arises in the last part of verse ten of the one man telling the other to keep quiet. No consensus among theologians is available to explain this statement. What is most important is the people collecting the bodies recognized the judgment came from God’s hand.


In verse eleven, Amos continued to describe vast destruction caused by God removing His hands of protection from the Israelites. He spoke earlier of exile. Amos said here in verse eleven,

“For behold, the LORD is going to command that the great house be smashed to pieces and the small house to fragments.” [NASB]

The word “behold” calls our attention to an unusual event that will happen. The destruction at the hand of God would not affect just their citadels like those of the pagan nations surrounding them. Amos said it would cause the utter destruction of their homes, too. The LORD’s judgment would affect both great and small, rich and poor, and leader and led. Great houses with hand-hewn stone would be in pieces like pebbles. The small homes made of mud would crumble into fragments like broken water pitchers. This would occur because of God’s judgment on the people of Israel. Either the judgment would come by natural causes like an earthquake or by an invading army and its war machines. Both could cause this devastation. These things would happen because God commanded it. God’s hands protected the Israelites before, but the time of their judgment would reveal His hand of protection no longer rested upon them. As the people listened, God led the Israelites to know how their destruction would come.

Rhetorical Questions

Amos used rhetoric well to gain the attention of the rich leaders of Israel. He appealed to their educated side and showed them their foolishness. Amos stated in verse twelve,

“Do horses run on rocks? Or does one plow them with oxen? Yet you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood.” [NASB]

The obvious answer to the first question is, “No.” Of course horses cannot run on rocks. It could cause injury to the horse. As to the second question, it would seem the answer is yes. Yet, scholars consider these two questions are parallel and both should have negative answers. Because of that, they insert the word “there” into the question so it reads, “Or does one plow there with oxen?” Still a Hebrew scholar interpreted the plural ending on “oxen” as yam meaning “the sea.” From this, the question would read, “Does one plow with oxen the sea?” With either question, a negative answer resulted. Just as absurd as these questions were to the Israelites, so was their conduct. The rich and powerful Israelites turned justice into poison and the fruits of righteousness into wormwood because of their unfaithfulness to their covenant relationship with Yehovah. Amos spoke of this in Amos 5:7, & 11-12. Justice and righteousness should have brought rejoicing, but instead the Israelites experienced the bitterness of sorrow and despair. Amos sought any means to make sure the people of the northern kingdom understood God’s charge against them and the judgment He certainly would bring against them.

Amos continued to bring God’s charge against the rich Israelites in verse thirteen. With a statement and question he showed the folly of their thinking. Amos said in verse thirteen,

“You who rejoice in Lodebar, and say, ‘Have we not by our own strength taken Karnaim for ourselves?’” [NASB]

Let’s understand what Amos meant by this. The rhetorical thought continued in verse twelve. Amos called the men who acted with such folly as to run their horses on rock, the same as those who rejoice in Lodebar or capture Karnaim. The word “Lodebar” means a thing of nothing. Amos said the rich Israelites rejoiced in nothing. Their confidence was in minute and fragile things like spider’s webs, as Job 8:14-15 said. Those things would not last and would fall apart quickly. Why trust in them? The rich Israelites would be like the rich man of Luke 12:19-20 who put his trust in his full grain silos not knowing he would die that night. Besides this, Amos said the rich Israelites put their confidence in their own strength. He poked at them by saying they were boastful about taking Karnaim. Karnaim was a horn of black eye makeup. The rich Israelites put their confidence in frivolous things, things that would not stand up to testing. They boasted in providing themselves the finest wines, handmade furniture, and stone-hewn homes. These would not last. Only one thing lasts forever, the LORD God, the One who certainly would bring His judgment against them.

The rich Israelites did not give God the glory for their provision or protection. They refused justice to the people and oppressed people poorer and less powerful than them. These rich Israelites did not give God the glory for what they had, nor mete out justice or give to the poor of their land. They broke covenant faithfulness with the LORD and now would receive from His covenant faithfulness their just reward, His curses as Deuteronomy 28 denoted.


The Judgment Clarified

With explicit words, Amos clarified for the Israelites what God’s judgment meant for them. He said in verse fourteen,

“‘For behold, I am going to raise up a nation against you, O house of Israel,’ declares the LORD God of hosts, ‘And they will afflict you from the entrance of Hamath to the brook of the Arabah.’” [NASB]

In verse seven, Amos told the Israelites of God’s judgment using the word “therefore.” With verse fourteen, Amos said “behold.” He finished explaining their sins. Now, their attention and ours must focus on the unusual and supernatural thing that will happen from God’s hand. In verse eleven the people did not know by what means God would make their homes into rubble, by earthquake or man. With verse fourteen, they heard their destruction would come by men. The Israelites would recognize this never-before occurrence would come because the almighty and faithful LORD removed His protection from them. God would raise up a nation against the Israelites. He would cause them to become powerful and carry out His judgment. In Jeremiah 5:15, this nation is one God brought against them, a strong and ancient nation whose language the Israelites did not know. In other years God made the people of Israel a nation, provided for them, and protected them from this nation. Now God would allow this ancient nation to defeat and subdue them. Notice in this verse, Amos stated Yehovah ‘Elohiym of hosts declared this affliction upon the Israelites. The existing One who is Ruler and Judge declared the judgment for their sins. This Judge said none would escape His judgment. The enemy would afflict the Israelites from their northernmost border at Hamath to the southernmost border at the brook of the Arabah (the north end of the Dead Sea). God would bring His judgment upon each person of the northern kingdom. No one would escape, neither rich nor poor.

·         What do you hold closer than God? Will it survive forever? Is it greater than God?
·         Are you plowing the sea with oxen and running horses on rocks? Is there something you do that you consider important that is really nothing/foolishness when compared to eternity and almighty God?
·         Over what do you claim victory? Does that small victory mean you are great enough to withstand the judgment God will bring your way?


Recap

Amos spent four chapters explaining the sins of Israel to its people. He exhorted them to repent of their sins and then he lamented God’s judgment of them. With chapter six, the Israelites, especially the rich Israelites, could not doubt their sinfulness. They could know the certain judgment of Yehovah ‘Elohiym upon them. The charges brought against Israel mostly related to the rich and the leaders of Israel. With chapter six, most of the charges applied to the rich. Within wealthy Israel, the rich and leaders oppressed the poor and corrupted justice for personal gain. They sought to benefit personal interests at the detriment of other Israelites, their brethren. These rich Israelites chose to make themselves and their own desires their gods and ignored the hunger and desperation of the lower classes. For this, God said He would send an ancient and more powerful nation against them. He would withdraw His hand of protection from them. The Israelites of the northern kingdom would fall, go into exile, and lose everything they counted on for daily life. The rich Israelites who led in business and government in their land would lead the exile and be the first to receive the LORD’s judgment. Their enemy would take away or destroy the things they counted on in their home land.


Relevance and Conclusion

God is almighty. He protects and provides for His children. Sometimes, as the loving Father, He must punish His children so they will change the way they live and return to a right relationship with Him. Before the Messiah’s birth, crucifixion, death, and resurrection, the people of God lived in relationship with God through the old covenant. A covenant relationship existed between the people of Israel and God. Because of human sinfulness, the Israelites often broke their covenant with Yehovah. God outlined for the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land a covenant to which they agreed to live. With this covenant, they received blessings from Him for faithfulness and with their unfaithfulness, they received curses through Him.

For the people of Israel, though they rebelled against Yehovah repeatedly, He did not remove His hand of protection from them. With Israel’s division into two kingdoms and the idol worship Jeroboam I instituted, the people who God consecrated as a people unto Himself (Deuteronomy 7:6) became a people unto themselves. They were no longer holy, but worshiped themselves and their desires. In God’s timing, as Amos prophesied and as history showed, the Assyrians defeated the Israelites of the northern kingdom and took them into captivity. They left a remnant to scratch out an existence in the barren land. The Israelites had no hope of eternal salvation only repeated cleansings for sins through the sacrifice of animals on the altar.

Today, with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, people can receive eternal salvation from their sins from God. No longer is a sacrifice needed daily for sins like the people of Israel performed according to the old covenant. Once a person confesses with his or her mouth Jesus is Lord and believes in his or her heart God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9), he or she will receive saving from his or her sins and the judgment for those sins-eternal separation from God. With Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, each person has hope for salvation. Jesus Christ brought the new covenant with God, an eternal and greater covenant. The old covenant brought mankind to God. The new covenant brought salvation from God.

Today, each person has a choice. He or she can continue to live his or her life as if he or she is a god to him or herself. This person can consider he or she provided his or her own income and their daily needs. Alternatively, that person can recognize God is the provider of every good thing including salvation. He is the One and only God and that person is not a god. Each person must choose if he or she will believe and accept Jesus’ gift of salvation. Without accepting this gift from God, you will receive the condemnation that sin brings-separation from our loving God. You will not be part of the LORD’s holy people, chosen to be a people for His own possession. Without Jesus, sin’s stain will mark you forever as unholy and unable to enter God’s presence.
What will you choose?
Choose to be–

 “A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God. You had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10 [NASB])