Amos 5 – Week Three
Amos 5:1 ERV “People of Israel, listen to this song. This funeral song is about you.”
God, through Amos, is instructing the Israelites to hear what He has to say. And he’s telling them he’s about to perform their funeral service. That first sentence alone should get their attention!
Amos 5:2 ERV “The virgin of Israel has fallen.
She will not get up anymore.
She was left alone, lying in the dirt.
There is no one to lift her up.”
When we think of a virgin, we often think of one who is unblemished, pure, and righteous. However, if you’ve been here the past few months and have paid attention, none of these words can be used to describe the Israelites as a whole. Rather, the use of the word “virgin” may have been used here to indicate that they had produced no offspring. They had not created a generation to love and worship the Lord as they should. “The death of a virgin, or of a man who had no children, was regarded as peculiarly sad.”[i] These verses indicate that no help is coming. No one is going to rescue them.
Amos 5:4 NET “The Lord says this to the family of Israel:
“Seek me so you can live!
Amos 5:6 NET “Seek the Lord so you can live!”
What do you think He’s trying to say here? He couldn’t be any plainer. Seek Him! He’s not hiding from the Israelites but they continually neglect Him. It’s like asking the whereabouts of someone and the response is, “Oh, they’re around here somewhere.” You assume the person is close by, but where they are and what they’re doing is unknown until you’re intentional about finding out. Jeremiah 29:13 HCSB tells us, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”
“The key to finding what we seek when we seek God is to put all our heart into it. This we will do only when we value God and a relationship with him more than anything else. Finding him is like finding a treasure in a field that is worth selling everything we have in order to buy it.”[ii]
The Israelites had lost their zeal, their passion for God. They no longer had much interest in a relationship with Him, and as a result, they stopped listening to Him, stopped looking for Him, and stopped worshipping Him. You can’t do that without consequences.
Amos 5:9b ERV “ You change justice to poison.
You throw away fairness like trash.
10 You hate those prophets, who go to public places and speak against evil,
even though they teach good, simple truths.
11 You take unfair taxes from the poor.
You take loads of wheat from them.
You build fancy houses with cut stone,
but you will not live in them.
You plant beautiful vineyards,
but you will not drink the wine from them.
12 This is because I know about your many sins.
You have done some very bad things:
You hurt people who do right,
you accept money to do wrong,
and you keep the poor from receiving justice in court.”
In these verses, Amos addresses their injustice, their unrighteousness, and their unwillingness to hear His truth. He speaks of their sinfulness and the consequences of those sins. Building fancy houses with expensive materials, but they won’t be allowed to live in them. Planting beautiful and plentiful vineyards, and yet they will not enjoy the fruits of those vineyards. He was speaking metaphorically, but also prophesizing about that which was to come. All because He knows of their many sins. Just in case you’ve convinced yourself that God doesn’t know what you’ve done, let me share Hebrews 4:13 GNT “There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves.”
That may not terrify some people simply because they make excuses and attempt to justify all that they do.
“I may tell little white lies every so often but it’s only to keep from hurting people’s feelings. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
“I don’t think it’s a big deal if I lust after my co-worker or flirt a little. I may be married, but I’m not dead.”
“I knew it was going to cause problems between them, but she needed to know what so and so said about her. That’s just the truth.”
The Israelites’ way of life had become crooked. They had abandoned God’s Word, they had stopped seeking Him and over time, they had redefined what was good and what was evil. Does any of that sound familiar?
Do you think that we read, learn and apply God’s Word as we should? We may read the Bible every day but what are we learning and most importantly, how are we applying it to our own lives? I’ve heard people brag about reading the Bible from cover to cover several times in their life and I have to think to myself, “I’m glad you told me because I don’t get that impression from the way you live your life.” There’s a world of difference between head knowledge of God and heart knowledge of God. A quick way to gauge our application of Scripture to us is: Are we growing and maturing in His Word? What changes have we actually made in our lives?
Head Knowledge of God
Heart Knowledge of God
I don’t know if we can truthfully say that we seek God on a regular basis. We live lives that are relatively self-sufficient. It will sometimes take a crisis or catastrophe for us to genuinely seek Him. Our prayers are shallow, repetitive, and almost robotic at times. We take time out of our busy schedules to present our wish list to Him but don’t take the time to stick around and listen to what God has to say in response. We are hesitant to commit ourselves to God’s will for our lives, the very purpose for which He created us, because it just may not be too comfortable or convenient.
And as far as doing what’s right, we have muddied the waters on this so much so that there is very little that all Christians can agree on. Forget the heavy topics such as the death penalty, abortion, and gay marriage. We argue over what type of songs should be sung, if the music is too loud, and what kind of communion bread should be used.
Amos 5:14 ERV “ You say that God is with you,
so you should do good things, not evil.
Then you will live,
and the Lord God All-Powerful will be with you.
15 Hate evil and love goodness.”
Our problem, like the Israelites, is that we’ve discarded God’s definition of good and evil and adopted countless variations and opinions. The end result of that is that we fail to read God’s Word to hear what He has to say about things. We are not seeking; we are not hearing. We spend our energy defending our opinions and our beliefs and refuse to consider that we just might be wrong. Even if we’re right, we don’t always choose to engage in a loving manner. Christians can’t agree on numerous topics to the point that they become controversial and taboo to discuss. We’ve discarded God’s Word which is the authentic reference to define good and evil. This isn’t something new. Hear these words written by Paul to Timothy.
1 Timothy 1:3 NIV “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.”
God’s Law was good for the Israelites just like God’s Word is good for us. Amos tells the Israelites they should do good things, not evil. The same instruction is for our ears as well. But the major hurdle for us is that we no longer can agree on what’s good and what’s evil and we’ve become confused.
Do any of you have allergies? How do you know that you are allergic to something? Usually, we deduce that we have an allergy to something when we experience some kind of reaction. “Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance.”[iii] Reactions can vary from a harmless rash to serious shortness of breath. Every time I go to the doctor, and I’m sure it’s the same for you, they’ll go over my allergies. That’s for my protection and health so that they don’t prescribe something that will cause me harm.
If we’re smart enough, we avoid those things which cause an allergic reaction. I don’t have any severe allergies, but I know people who do. I know some people who are allergic to peanuts and because of that, they avoid eating anything with peanuts and anything that may have come in contact with peanuts. It’s not uncommon to see warning labels that alert consumers that a product either contains peanuts or may have been processed in a facility that also uses peanuts. People with allergies, especially severe allergies, must be diligent in reading ingredient labels so as not to put themselves at risk.
Sometimes, unusual, and unexpected ingredients are used in products. (Of course, sometimes it’s best not to know what all goes into some foods. Blech!) Is anyone allergic to caramel color or cocoa powder? If you are or if you know someone who is, then you might need to be aware that both of those ingredients are used in making Taco Bell’s seasoned ground beef.[iv] That’s a bit unexpected, I would think. However, if you have an allergy to cocoa powder, that’s an important fact to know.
There are many things that for our own righteousness, we need to consider ourselves allergic to. For example, drinking alcohol is one of those topics that Christians cannot seem to agree upon. Is it right? Is it wrong? Is it okay if you don’t become drunk? It is okay on special occasions? Everyone seems to have their own opinion. I’ll be transparent with you for a moment. When I was going through my separation and divorce, trying to keep myself and my two little girls together, I was completely overwhelmed. I experienced such radical changes and challenges on a daily basis. I found it difficult to rest and sleep each night and the weariness was taking its toll. My mom and dad bought me a bottle of wine and suggested I have a small glass before bedtime to calm my nerves. It worked. Soon that first bottle was emptied so I got another. My daily portion increased. I found myself during the day thinking that as soon as I got home, I could have some wine and feel better. But one day I realized that if I didn’t stop, I could be dealing with a major problem. I prayed that God would give me a distaste for it, and He did. As a result, I no longer drink. That’s my personal choice. Me, I view it as if I have an allergy to alcohol. It may not be dangerous to others, but the reaction I have to it is potentially harmful to me so I avoid it like I would anything that may harm me.
Is anyone allergic to eggs? Milk? Shellfish? Cyanide? Arsenic?
We don’t consider having allergic reactions to substances such as Cyanide and Arsenic because those are considered deadly. Those are things we don’t intend to ingest because we deem them as lethal and as poisons so we just know that they’re not good for us.
Poison is defined as “a substance that through its chemical action usually kills, injures, or impairs an organism or something destructive or harmful.”[v]
A person with certain allergies needs to be intentional about avoiding those things to which they are sensitive. What may be safe for one person may not be safe for someone else.
Poison, on the other hand, is detrimental to everyone. Poison is something we all should avoid. And how do we know when something is considered poisonous? Oftentimes, there is a warning label.
“The American Pharmaceutical Association adopted a resolution in 1853, that ‘all packages or bottles [of poisonous substances] shall be distinctly labeled with the word ‘poison’ or with a death’s head symbol, conspicuously printed.’ “[vi]
If we see a skull and cross bones, we automatically consider that as a warning that something is poisonous and harmful. And unless we desire to harm ourselves, we don’t ingest those things that we know are poisonous and deadly. Quite honestly, if someone does intentionally taste, drink or eat something that is considered poisonous and deadly, we would have to wonder about their sanity.
Likewise, if a person who has an allergy chooses to taste, drink, or eat something that may cause them a serious reaction or consequence, we would certainly question their common sense.
Sin is poison. Sin is something that is harmful to everyone and should be avoided. But we’ve certainly blurred the lines. We’ve allowed ourselves, our families, and our nation to become so confused as to what is categorized as sin. We, as Christians, as God’s children have failed to maintain His definitions of sin, good, and of evil.
Amos reminds the Israelites that they have taken advantage of the poor and have become indifferent to the needs of those around them. There was sexual immorality. God’s name had been defiled by them. They had sought out other gods to worship. The worshipping they did towards the One True God was insincere and outside the boundaries of what had been given to them. They neglected God’s Laws, they dismissed God’s blessings, and they forgot God. The Israelites were much more concerned with their wealth, social status, their desires, their comfort, and their indulgences. Their motto was: Treat Yo’Self! They were indulgent in their sinfulness and didn’t even recognize it.
It’s unfair to say that ALL of the Israelites were committing ALL of these infractions. The “fat cows” whom Amos addressed in last week’s lesson may have been guilty of just mistreating of those less fortunate and not caring about others, but they may have drawn the line when it came to sexual immorality. Others may have indulged in sexual immorality but obeyed some of God’s Laws.
The Israelites didn’t see the sin against God for what it was: poison. They saw sin more as “allergies”. Something that if they tasted it, there may be a slight reaction to it; a small and insignificant consequence. They picked and chose which wrongs weren’t wrong for them.
I have to say it. We do the exact same thing! We live by the motto that “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission[vii]”. Psalm 34:14 CSB “Turn away from evil and do what is good;” We may seek to do good, but what is good? Do we even know anymore? We avoid that which we deem evil. But the problem is that our perspective of evil is oftentimes so far off from God’s perspective. We’ve proclaimed that which is really malignant and deadly as simply benign and harmless. And just like a malignant tumor that goes without treatment, the result is deadly.
The first part of Romans 6:23 HCSB applies to everyone: “For the wages of sin is death”
“So why does he use the term “wages”? When we work a job for money, we hope to get paid what we deserve, what we have earned. Through the work of sin within us, we have earned, and we deserve, physical and spiritual death. That is a depressing thought, and it should shake us to the core. We spend a lot of time worrying about getting what we deserve in life, and it can leave us feeling entitled, thinking that we deserve more and that we deserve better. But what we deserve is not good. What we deserve is not better. What we deserve is death.”[viii]
The last part of Romans 6:23 HCSB applies to those of us who accept the grace of God through the One and Only Way – Jesus. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That last phrase begins with “but”. God provides us a warning that death is the result of sinfulness, but God also provides the remedy. We find comfort in that, and rightfully so. But we get a little too comfortable and minimize the casualties and damage that result from our own sinfulness. We neglect to remember that we are to be beacons of light in a dark world. We no doubt live in a sinful world, but that shouldn’t dim the Light that is within us.
Amos is trying so hard to get this point across to the Israelites. But they don’t seem to care. Whether it was that they liked their sinful nature or they didn’t think that one person could make a difference, we don’t know. What we do know is that no real change took place.
There were obviously Israelites sprinkled throughout who still worshipped God and sought to please Him. But their numbers were few. Do you recall the time when Abraham tried to persuade God from destroying Sodom? Abraham proposed that if 50 righteous people could be found there, would God consider not following through with the destruction. When God agrees, Abraham begins his bargaining. Perhaps he knows that the righteous were few in number. They finally settle on ten. Ten righteous individuals in the village would have saved their entire town. But there weren’t ten to be found. Maybe there were eight, five, or even one. But there weren’t enough to save them all from the devastation that was coming. God’s Word, spoken through Amos, thirteen hundred years later after the days of Sodom[ix], is trying to warn the Israelites that God still reigns. God wants His people to worship Him, serve Him, and live a life pursuing good and resisting evil.
We all know that Lot and his family were allowed to escape the devastation brought upon Sodom. They were all warned to not look back, and yet, Lot’s wife did that and she immediately turned into a pile of salt. It was as if she had a hard time letting go of her sinful past and the consequence was death. But we sometimes dwell on that and forget what happened just before the demise of Lot’s wife.
Genesis 19:17 CEB “After getting them out, the men said, “Save your lives! Don’t look back! And don’t stay in the valley. Escape to the mountains so that you are not swept away.”
18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please. 19 You’ve done me a favor and have been so kind to save my life. But I can’t escape to the mountains since the catastrophe might overtake me there and I’d die. 20 This city here is close enough to flee to, and it’s small. It’s small, right? Let me escape there, and my life will be saved.”
21 He said to Lot, “I’ll do this for you as well; I won’t overthrow the city that you have described. 22 Hurry! Escape to it! I can’t do anything until you get there.” That is why the name of the city is Zoar.
23 As the sun rose over the earth, Lot arrived in Zoar; 24 and the Lord rained down burning asphalt from the skies onto Sodom and Gomorrah. 25 The Lord destroyed these cities, the entire valley, everyone who lived in the cities, and all of the fertile land’s vegetation. 26 When Lot’s wife looked back, she turned into a pillar of salt.”
Because of the plea of one righteous man, the entire city, albeit small, was saved. Lot had been warned that devastation was coming because of the sinfulness that had poisoned the town of Sodom and he heeded the warning. He listened to the message that God sent and he was saved. Amos was sent as a warning label to the Israelites that their life choices were poisonous, and they turned a deaf ear.
Scripture is full of love, hope, encouragement, promises, as well as warnings. Amos 5:15 CEV “Choose good instead of evil! See God’s Word for the true definitions.
[vii] Quote by Grace Hopper