*October 6 - 12
Sins of the Neighbors
AMOS WAS A MISSIONARY who traveled from Judah in the south to Bethel in the northern kingdom of Israel in order to relate God's message of condemnation against the Israelites. He delivered strong, plain denunciations against the temple of Jeroboam, against idolatry, and against the Israelites' superficial religion. The casual observer probably would have anticipated the reaction of the priests and rulers: "Go home, Judean! Aren't there enough problems in your own country for you to deal with? Why do you come up here to annoy us?"
Although Amos did not hold back in delivering the message God gave him, he used an interesting and tactful approach. Some commentators suggest that Amos appeared at Bethel during a religious festival and caught the attention of the crowds by attacking vociferously the sins of the surrounding nations. One can almost hear shouts of "You tell them, Amos!" as he listed the sins and the threats of consequent judgment against those pagan places such as Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, and even Judahin that sequence.
The affirmations ceased, however, when he then shifted his attack against their neighbors and aimed it toward them.
How little changes in the world!
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: Why did Amos begin by warning about the judgments that would fall upon Israel's neighbors? How were the warnings delivered? Why were some sins denounced in some lands and not in others? How can heathen nations be condemned for sin if they don't have the written law? Do different nations face different standards of judgment? This week touches on all these questions-and more.
MEMORY TEXT: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent" (Revelation 3:19).
*(please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 13.)
Sunday October 7
The easiest people to fool are ourselves. While it's not hard to be open, honest, and candid about others, particularly about their faults, it's not so simple when we have to deal with our own. The human capacity for self-deception is amazing. Maybe it's because we're so close to ourselves that it's so difficult to see ourselves for what we are. Whatever the reason, facing ourselves, especially our own sins, is always painful.
Perhaps that's why Amos, in confronting the Israelites, didn't go after them immediately. Instead, he began by naming the sins of the nations around Israel and the judgments that would fall upon them. No doubt the people, even amid their idolatry, listened and appreciated what Amos was saying. They even might have cheered him on in his warnings against the heathen; yet by so doing, theyin the endcondemned themselves.
Look at the story of Nathan confronting David with his sin (2 Samuel 12). What parallel exists between Nathan's approach and Amos's?
Though we aren't given details, one can imagine how the people's enthusiasm for Amos ended once he then began attacking their sins.
"For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment" (Amos 2:6). With the vigor and simplicity expected of a man of his background, Amos clearly indicted Israel for injustice, cruelty, incest, luxury, and idolatryeven for literally "taking the shirt off a man's back" and keeping it. What made these sins so bad was that there were people who, unlike their neighbors around them, had been given an abundant amount of light and truth.
|One of the most stunning and sobering things to read in Scripture regards the depth of apostasy, sin, and degradation that God's people fell intoand their utter blindness in seeing it. It was Thomas Manton who said: "First we practice sin, then defend it, then boast of it." Notice the progression of steps. No doubt, Israel didn't fall into such a terrible state all at once. We rarely do either.|
|Though Scripture does admonish the church to discipline members who fall into sin, what can today's lesson teach us about how we do it? (See also Matt. 7:3).|
The lengthy poem in these verses denouncing the crimes of the nations bordering Israel, as well as Israel, take the form of covenant-lawsuit addresses. The pattern of the covenant lawsuit in chapters one and two have the following components:
Introduction of plaintiff and judge
Introduction of defendant
Read over (in the texts for today) some of these messages that Amos delivered to the nations and see how certain phrases are repeated that fit these covenant-lawsuit components.
The use of this structure makes it apparent that God had a covenant with other nations as well as with Israel. The Word of the Lord applies to all people of the world at all times. The Lord had a covenant with all His creation at the beginning and a re-creation covenant with Noah that extended to all people. In Moses' time the Lord made a particular covenant with the Israelites; they, in turn, were to serve as God's priests and mediators of His covenant to the nations. Today, Christ serves as Priest and Mediator of the new covenant to all who accept Him as such, regardless of race or nationality. It is obvious in the first two chapters of Amos that God holds all nations responsible for doing that which they know is wrong.
|This idea that God has a "covenant," even with the pagan nations, and that they were responsible for their sins, also has a flip side: If they are to answer for their sins then they also must have a chance to be saved from those same sins. In other words, God isn't going to condemn those who also don't have an opportunity to be spared condemnation. This gets to the heart of the question that, no doubt, most Christians wrestle with: What about those who died without ever hearing the gospel? Read what Paul writes in Romans 1:18-32, especially with the background of Amos in mind. How do these verses help us, even today, regarding this difficult issue? Keep in mind this question, Is God going to condemn anyone whom He hasn't first given, in one way or another, an opportunity to be saved?|
The first three nations on Amos's list of nations that were to be punished by God for their sins were Syria, Philistia and the Phoenicians (Tyre), nations that existed in the immediate vicinity of Israel. Notice, however, what it is that these nations had done that brought the wrath of God upon them. Damascus (vs. 3) apparently used excessive violence against one of its neighbors, while both Gaza and Tyre were condemned for some sort of slave trade (vss. 6, 9).
What's fascinating is that, in these texts, there is no condemnation against them for idolatry, for worshiping false gods, or for not treating the poor with respect. Instead the condemnation deals exclusively with their abuse of the most basic human rights.
The Bible teaches that through the law sin is known (Rom. 3:20). How, then, could these nations, which were not given the Ten Commandments, be held responsible for their sins? Read what Paul wrote in Romans 2:12-16 for some added insight.
Though only ancient Israel had been given the Ten Commandments, there are numerous examples all through the ancient world that many other nations believed many of the same principles regarding good and evil. Aristotle, for instance (who probably never heard of the Ten Commandments), wrote a book called Ethics, in which among the things he deemed evilbesides theft, adultery, and murderwere envy, malice, and shamelessness (sounds like the Sermon on the Mount). The Bible itself gives examples of pagans who, to some degree, understood the basic principles of morality (for example, Gen. 12:10-20). Also, how could God have justly punished Sodom and Gomorrah if the inhabitants hadn't had some knowledge of right and wrong?
|Obviously, different nations are going to be judged differently, depending upon their circumstances and the light they had, in one way or another, received. In the end, though, everyone's situation is the same: Each is a sinner who has violated the law of God (whether he or she knows the law or not). Thus, all need Jesus as their Savior. What, ultimately, did Christ accomplish so that all people, no matter where they live or at what time they lived there, have the opportunity to be saved? What happened at the Cross that will ultimately bring many of these people into God's final kingdom?|
"Because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity" (Amos 1:11, NRSV).
Besides Syria, Gaza, and Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, and Judah also came into condemnation, the difference being that these nations were all related to Israel. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau; Ammon and Moab were descendants of Lot from the incestuous plot of his two daughters; and Judah, of course, had once been united to Israel in one nation.
Notice, again, the reasons for their condemnations. Edom "pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity" (vs. 11). Ammon "ripped open the women with child in Gilead" (vs. 13, NKJV). Moab committed some kind of desecration against the king of Edom (2:1).
In contrast to these, read Amos 2:4, 5. List the specific sins for which Judah has been condemned:
While their neighbors are threatened with punishment because they were ripping open the bellies of pregnant women, selling people into slavery, and threshing people to death with metal instruments, Judah is going to be punished because she despised God's law, disobeyed the commandments, and followed lies?
What is going on here? What principle is at work? Why are Judah's sins so "different" from those of her neighbors? Could it have something to do with these words of Jesus, "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more"? (Luke 12:48). See also John 19:11.
|It's so easy for us to look back upon ancient Israel and judge them for their sins. Yet, in many ways, as Seventh-day Adventistsconsidering the great light that we have been givencan we be just as guilty, if not more so? Israel, like the church, is only as faithful as its individual members. Thus, we need to ask ourselves, Are we taking advantage, personally, of the great privileges we have been given?|
"Because they sell the righteous for silver" (Amos 2:6, NKJV).
Amos moved in a progression, starting first with the sins of neighbors, then distant relatives, then closer relativesm, and finally honing in on Israel itself.
List, in your own words, the sins of Israel outlined in Amos 2:6-8.
Besides perversion of justice (see vs. 6), involving money (as is usually the case), there was oppression of the poor, sexual perversity, and some sort of religious defilement (see, if possible, a Bible commentary on the meaning of vs. 8).
Read again verse 7; notice how it ends. How was the Lord's holy name defiled by their actions? What principle is involved here?
How could Israel, a nation with so much light, have fallen so deeply? The answer isn't that hard to find. They had severed themselves from a daily, growing walk with their Creator; thus they began to worship the creature instead of the Creator (Rom. 1:25). Their morals started to decay, because people will rise no higher than the god(s) they serve, and so those worshiping a calf aren't going to ascend to the heights of moral glory.
Even today the same principle works. People who sever themselves from God end up worshiping some other "creature," usually themselves. In what ways do we see the fruits of this false worship in society? What can we do to protect ourselves from doing the same thing?
FURTHER STUDY: "From generation to generation the Lord had borne with His wayward children, and even now, in the face of defiant rebellion, He still longed to reveal Himself to them as willing to save.
"The evils that had overspread the land had become incurable; and upon Israel was pronounced the dread sentence: 'Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.' Hosea 4:17.
"The ten tribes of Israel were now to reap the fruitage of the apostasy that had taken form with the setting up of the strange altars at Bethel and at Dan."Prophets and Kings, p. 285.
Compare this section of Amos with Hosea chapters 4 through 8. What similarities do you find and what differences?
SUMMARY: Amos had a stem message to give, but he gave it in a tactful way. By concentrating first on the sins of Israel's neighbors, he opened the door to warning Israel as well. What Amos implies is that, though all nations shall be judged, they shall be judged differently, depending upon the light they have been given. With privilege comes responsibilitya lesson that we, as Adventists, should never forget.
J. H. Zachary
Kesuli Zacari, a Muslim leader in Niger, was determined to convert Christians to Islam. To do so he needed to understand what Christians believe.
A Christian missionary gave Zacari a Gospel of John, but on the way home he tossed the book into the bushes. A few days later, however, he changed his mind. He borrowed another copy from a Christian. As he read it he was impressed by the life of Jesus and how He helped people.
Zacari visited the missionary and asked her many questions about Jesus. He asked her for a New Testament, but the missionary did not give him one. When she was not looking, he stole a copy.
Later his friends saw him reading the New Testament and warned him, "Watch out, or you will become a Christian."
"I am learning what Christians believe so I can convert them to Islam," he told them.
The stories of Jesus touched his heart. He lost interest in his Muslim prayers and stopped going to the mosque. His mind was filled with the scenes of Jesus. Zacari began to understand why Christians are so kind. It is the influence of Christ.
But his mind was in a turmoil. Everything he had learned cried out in favor of Islam, but Christ's love drew him to Christianity. Zacari decided to study Christianity for one month and then decide which religion to follow. He visited the missionary again and plied her with questions. Finally he asked, "How can I become a Christian?"
The woman gave him a Bible. Zacari spent hours pouring over the Bible. The month passed. A year passed. Still he continued searching. He discovered Adventist World Radio and wrote to the studio requesting literature. He met the ADRA staff working in Niger. Their influence helped Zacari make his decision. He gave up Islam and became an Adventist Christian.
"God has called me to introduce my Muslim friends and family to Jesus Christ," Zacari says. His parents refused to have anything to do with him when he became a Christian, but now they are showing an interest in Christianity. Pray for them and for the millions living in Niger who need to know the Savior.
J. H. Zachary is coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour and a special consultant for the General Conference Ministerial Association.
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