*October 20 - 26
Prepare to Meet Thy God
THIS WEEK, AMOS ISN'T GOING TO WIN any reward for tact, for subtlety, or courtesy. He starts by scolding the women of Israelcalling them "cows," the "kine" of Bashan, because they pushed their husbands to oppress others for their own benefit. Bashan was a pastureland east of the Jordan that symbolized the oppressors' wives grazing on the luxuries they had come to expect. These lovers of material goods would be among the first to be torn away from their luxuries and led captive. (See Amos 4:1-3.)
Five punishments are then outlined as God's attempt to lead Israel to repentance. But these warnings fail to persuade the people, who refuse to heed the words of the prophet. Because they would not repent, they would have to meet their God and His judgment. Yet it's not only the unrepentant Israelites who faced and will face that judgment; one day an unrepentant world will, as well.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: What sins were specifically mentioned as bringing judgment upon Israel? What is it about God that makes Him unable to tolerate or accept sin? What is repentance, and how did it fit into Israel's situation? These, and other questions, are looked at this week. As you study, apply the principles and issues to our world today, to our Church, and, most importantly, to ourselves.
MEMORY TEXT: "Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel" (Amos 4:12).
*(Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 27.)
Sunday October 21
"Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink" (Amos 4:1).
Notice the sin that the Lord points out as particularly offensive. These women, unflatteringly referred to as "cows," have been oppressing the poor. Here, again, as seen throughout Scripture, the Lord speaks explicitly against economic oppression. Exactly what they were doing, the text doesn't say, though "this may allude to the violence and fraud these extravagant women forced, so to speak, upon their husbands in order to secure means for luxury and debauchery."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 966. Whatever the details, the point is the same: These women have been involved in taking advantage of the poor; more than likely, too, these women did it for their own personal gain. And it's clear that, unless they seek the Lord, they will face a dire punishment for this sin.
Why are those who oppress the poor singled out for condemnation in the Bible? Why is this sin deemed so bad? (See also Matt. 25:35-40.)
Linked with this idea of oppression is greed and love of money (1 Tim. 6:10). Often, those with a lot of means will use those means to acquire more, even at the expense of those who have little or nothing. This seems to be the case in the book of Amos with these women, who are encouraging their husbands to increase their wealth and luxurious living. Though the Bible certainly isn't against those who have money, it clearly warns against those who oppress and cheat, especially the poor, in order to get it.
The desire for money or wealth or luxury isn't just a problem with the rich. Even the poor can make money an idol, something they worship more than God. Whoever we are, whatever our station in this life, if we are Christians, our real treasure should be in heaven. Read Matthew 19:21. What is Jesus talking about here? How could it apply to this particular situation in Amos?
|In Mark 4:19, Jesus, in the parable of the sower, used an interesting phrase, "the deceitfulness of riches." How can riches be deceitful? What was Jesus talking about? Notice the context in which He used it. Though we might not be like the "cows of Bashan," all of us need to look at our lives and ask ourselves, Just what is our relationship to wealth, or even the desire for wealth? Is it something that we have under control, or is it controlling us?|
"The Lord God has sworn by His holiness" (Amos 4:2, NKJV).
What does it mean that God has "sworn by His holiness" to punish these people? What is it about God's holiness that would bring punishment? Or is there something about His holiness itself that demands punishment?
Obviously, God refuses to accept sin, in any manner. Some have even speculated that He can't (as opposed to won't) accept sin, that His perfectly holy nature couldn't allow it. Others have said that God's holiness makes the punishment of sin inevitable. Whatever that phrase ultimately means, it's clear that God intends to punish those who have committed these terrible sins and who refuse to repent.
What do the following texts tell us about the nature of God?
"Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy" (Isa. 57:15). "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). "I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy" (Lev. 11:44). "And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa. 6:3). "Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy" (Ps. 99:9). "Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God" (Josh. 24:19). "Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel" (2 Kings 19:22). "I will also praise thee with the psaltery, even thy truth, O my God: unto thee will I sing with the harp. O thou Holy One of Israel" (Ps. 71:22). "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8).
|God has "sworn by His Holiness" (NKJV) that He would punish Israel for its sins. What does Amos 4:2 say, considering the fearful iniquity that exists in the world today, about impending judgment? Because none of us is innocent, because none of us ourselves has the holiness needed to satisfy a perfectly holy God, the Cross must become the focal point of our lives. In this context, that of a holy God refusing to accept unholiness, explain why the Cross and the Cross alone offers us the only hope to being able to stand before this holy God in judgment.|
God, through Amos, is using every device possible to catch the Israelites' attention in order to make sure they understand His warnings. In verses 4 and 5 He resorts to irony, calling upon the people to come to Bethel and Gilgal, headquarters for idolatry, in order to show their zeal for their false worship.
What would be the inevitable results of their apostasy? Hos. 9:17.
The prophet Hosea often referred to Ephraim, a leader in apostasy among the tribes of Israel, as a symbol of the apostate nation. Israel is unable to discern the disastrous outcome of its evil course; the ten tribes were soon to be "wanderers among the nations."
|"Through the man of God that had appeared before the altar at Bethel,
through Elijah and Elisha, through Amos and Hosea, the Lord had repeatedly
set before the ten tribes the evils of disobedience. But notwithstanding
reproof and entreaty, Israel had sunk lower and still lower in apostasy.
'Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer,' the Lord declared; 'My people
are bent to backsliding from Me.'
"There were times when the judgments of Heaven fell very heavily on the rebellious people. 'I hewed them by the prophets,' God declared; 'I have slain them by the words of My mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth. For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against Me.' Hosea 6:5-7."Prophets and Kings, p. 281.
|Focus on that statement made at the end of this Ellen White quote, where the Lord through Hosea says, "I desired mercy, and not sacrifice." What does that mean? What does it say about the real problem with Israel? Was it just that their worship was false, or was it how they treated others? In fact, could one argue that the false worship had a lot to do with how they treated others? At the same time, we should ask ourselves, Can we have correct worship and yet not show mercy?|
"Yet have ye not returned unto me" (Amos 4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11).
List below the five punishments God warns about in verses 6-11:
The saddest thing about these verses is not so much the terrible punishments that fall upon Israel but her constant refusal to learn from them. The key phrase appears each time: "Yet have ye not returned unto me." Thus, what this statement says is that these punishments all had the same purpose, and that was to get Israel to turn away from sin and come back to the Lord.
The word used in all these verses for "return" comes from a common Hebrew word that also means "repentance." The root shuv is the basis for the word Teshuvah (literally "return"), commonly understood as "repentance." In Jewish thinking, teshuvah is so fundamental to human life that it was considered one of the seven things that God created even before God created the world. And though Christians don't take it that far, repentance is a key in the Christian life. In each of these places in Amos where the Lord said, "Yet have ye not returned unto me," if one replaces the last few words with teshuvah, the verses would read, "Yet have ye not repented."
Look up these verses in the New Testament that talk about repentance: Mark 2:17; Luke 15:7; Acts 20:1, 21; Romans 2:4; Hebrews 6:1; Revelation 3:19; 2:21. In each case, see how the idea of a return to God makes sense in the immediate context. How does this concept of return help us understand repentance?
|If the idea of repentance includes the notion of a return to God, how does Christ fit into the equation? In other words, we are sinners, separated from a holy God because of our sin. What was it about Jesus, about His life and death, that paved the way so that we can indeed return to God?|
"I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel" (Amos 4:11, 12).
If Scripture is clear on any teaching, it's clear on this: There will be a judgment. It's hard to imagine how a God who, time and again refers to Himself as just (Deut. 32:4; Isa. 45:21; Jer. 23:5), will not execute judgment at the end of the age. Too much sin, too much iniquity, too much evil has been wrought upon the earth for a God of justice not to, at some point and in some manner, manifest that justice. Indeed, how could a just God be God and not execute His justice?
Israel was told to "prepare to meet" her God (Amos 4:12). Looking at the immediate context of that verse, what was the Lord saying to the nation? Did those words express hope, or was He basically telling them "It's too late, you will reap what you have sown"? If the latter, what does it say about there being a point where God Himself says, "Enough is enough"? (See also Dan. 12:1; Rev. 22:11.)
However much God, through Christ, has revealed His saving love to us; however much Heaven has expended to bring salvation to humanityGod never forces the will. People are given free choice regarding the most crucial decision of their lives: Will they or will they not serve God with faithfulness, repentance, and obedience? All other choices fade into insignificance in contrast to this one. And sooner or later our choices are sealed forever. This is what's known in Adventist vernacular as "the close of probation."
One of the greatest mysteries in Scripture deals with the mercy and justice of a merciful and just God. Though we don't know the details, we do know that God will, with mercy and justice, execute judgment at the end of the age. This is both an assurance to us and also a warning. How can God be both just and merciful at the same time? What can we learn, today, thousands of years removed from these events in Amos, that can help us not make the same mistakes as Israel?
FURTHER STUDY: Read the following, noting how Israel's close of probation is related to the final close of probation: "The closing years of the ill-fated kingdom of Israel were marked with violence and bloodshed such as had never been witnessed even in the worst periods of strife and unrest under the house of Ahab. For two centuries and more the rulers of the ten tribes had been sowing the wind; now they were reaping the whirlwind. King after king was assassinated to make way for others ambitious to rule.
Every principle of justice was set aside; those who should have stood before the nations of earth as the depositaries of divine grace, 'dealt treacherously against the Lord' and with one another."Prophets and Kings, p. 279.
Only Two Classes. "The scene transacted in Jerusalem at the betrayal and rejection of Christ represents the scene which will take place in the future history of the world, when Christ is finally rejected. The religious world will take sides with the first great rebel, and will reject the message of mercy in regard to the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. . . ."Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 93 (22, 23 . . . A Representative Scene). "God has a controversy with the world and with the professed Christians who accept the fallacies of the great apostate, who are prepared to suit every class in the Christian world, and who discard the law of God."Manuscript 40, 1897.
SUMMARY: Through the prophets, Israel had been amply warned to "return to God." She refused. Judgment came. It's that simple.
Johannes Boethe relaxed as he drove toward his home in South Africa. He had a good job, a nice home, everything he wanted. His future looked glorious.
Suddenly a minibus turned into his lane and hit his car, sending it careening off the road. The minibus hit another vehicle before rolling into a ditch. Johannes was found unconscious but alive. Some people in the minibus were not so lucky. The bus driver had fled.
Johannes awoke in the hospital with extensive injuries to his neck and back, a broken leg, and several broken ribs. Marius, the man from the other car the bus had hit, visited Johannes in the hospital, but he was in too much pain to talk.
Johannes remained hospitalized for two months. The police blamed him for the accident. He lost his job; he had to sell his house and move into a small apartment. Johannes spent much of the next year in the hospital. His family struggled to survive on his meager disability pension. Life looked grim.
Johannes had a lot of time to think while he lay in bed. One day he found a Bible and began reading it. He saw how far he had wandered from God and began searching for the way back.
A friend invited the couple to some religious seminars. Johannes went, and before the meetings ended, he gave his life to Christ and decided to become an Adventist. But his wife was not so sure.
One evening a man walked up to Johannes and introduced himself as Marius, the man who had been involved in the minibus accident. Marius assured Johannes that he could prove that the minibus driver had caused the accident, and for the first time in three years Johannes felt a flicker of hope.
Meanwhile, Johannes's wife saw the changes in her husband's life. He had stopped drinking and smoking and no longer seemed depressed. She began to attend church with him and has since been baptized.
"You could say that Marius and I met by accident," Johannes says. "But God brought us together as friends and brothers."
Marius (left) and Johannes. Charlotte Ishkanian is editor of Mission.
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