*November 3 - 9
Pass Over or Pass Through?
IF ANY MAN WILL COME AFTER ME, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matt. 16:24-26).
This idea, though expressed with different images, in a different context, in different circumstances, is Amos's message to his contemporaries, and to us. And he delivers it with his usual powerful and blunt words. No doubt, when he's done, no one could say that he or she didn't know what the issues were or what was at stake.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: Amos used imagery from the Exodus in delivering his message. Why? What parallels existed between the Exodus and Amos's time? God would either pass over Israel or pass through it. What does that mean, and what is the difference between the two? Amos talks about "the day of the Lord" (5:18). Will this be a time of rejoicing or a time of terrible sorrow? Why did the Lord despise His people's sacrifices, their music, and their "sacred assemblies"? What was so wrong with their worship that He openly rejected it?
MEMORY TEXT: "The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him" (Amos 5:18, 19).
*(Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 10.)
Sunday November 4
One of the most fascinating warnings in Amos is found in chapter five, verse 17, where the Lord says to the Israelites, "'I will pass through you'" (NKJV). This reference no Israelite would have a problem understanding, for it uses the same expression found in Exodus 12:12, where God speaks of "passing through" Egypt in judgment. Thus, in a sense, the Lord is telling the Israelites that what He did to Egypt, He will do to them.
Read Exodus 12:12, 13. What parallels exist between the attitude of the Egyptians and the attitude of the Israelites that made this reference to Egypt appropriate?
In the Exodus story, the only thing that saved the Hebrews from the fate of the Egyptians wasthe blood: "And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13).
The verb for "pass over" you, pesach (the Hebrew word from which Passover is derived) is totally different from the verb "pass through" used in Exodus 12:12 and in Amos 5:17. Both verbs are talking about two different things. What a difference a single preposition makes (at least in the English translation!). In one case, it leads to destruction; in another, it leads to divine deliverance.
The difference between life and death in the Exodus story was the blood. Which verses in the New Testament teach us what that blood meant and why there was deliverance in it and it alone? (See, for example, Heb. 9:22; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 7:14.)
Today, of course, the Lord doesn't ask us to put blood on the doorposts of our homes to avert the "destroyer" (Exod. 12:23). Nevertheless, in the end, the issues at stake are just as real, just as consequential, as they were in Egypt or in Amos's time. Considering the nature of the great controversy between good and evil, sooner or later, in one way or another, divine retribution for our sins will either "pass through" our midst or "pass over" us.
What makes the crucial difference?
As in the time of the Exodus, the time of Amos, and our time, the decisive factor is the blood.
|What do we, personally, do with the blood?|
"Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light" (Amos 5:18).
Look at the irony in verse 18. The Israelites were actually so blinded by their sin and self-deception that they thought "the day of the Lord" was going to be something good, which is why they desired it. However, the Lord warns that it will be a day of darkness and not light, a day when a man will flee from a lion only to be overtaken by a bear (vs. 19). In short, it will not be a pleasant happening, at least not for some.
Look at these other references to the "day of the Lord" in the Bible. What do they all have in common?
Joel 2:31, 32 ________________________________________________________________________
Obad. 1:15-17 _______________________________________________________________________
Zeph. 1:7, 8 _________________________________________________________________________
Acts 2:20, 21 ________________________________________________________________
These texts all indicate that the day of the Lord will be a time of destruction, judgment, and punishment. Yet, at the same time, Christians often understand "the day of the Lord" as something good, for it's the time when Christ returns, and if that is not good, nothing is.
The answer to this paradox, however, is simple. The day of the Lord, for some, will indeed be a terrible time; for others, it will be a time of deliverance and salvation. What makes the crucial difference can be found in some of the above texts.
|Go through those texts listed above. Where do you see the hope that people can have on the "day of the Lord"? For example, look at Zephaniah 1:7, 8. Notice how the text talks about a sacrifice. Who does that represent? It talks about guests invited to a dinner. What dinner could that be? (see Matt 22:1-12). It talks about strange apparel. What does that mean? The point is that in most of these verses, despite the warningsthere is hope. Where does that hope come from, what is it centered upon, and most importantly, how do we get it?|
"I learned to fear the Pharisee more than the sinner."
-South African writer Laurens van der Post.
All through the Bible, the Lord constantly rebuked Israel for false worship, for worshiping idols, for following after strange gods. How incredible then, that in Amos 5, He speaks against their feast days and "sacred assemblies"feasts and sacred days that He Himself had instituted. What's going on?
Why did God despise Israel's feast days? Why did He tell them to take away their music? Why did He not regard their sacrifices?
Israelites for the most part observed the traditional rituals but chose to ignore their meaning. These outward expressions accentuated their hypocrisy. For instance, the peace offerings were an expression of gratitude, good will, and brotherhood and had no real meaning if the people did not have or share these qualities. Even the insincere use of music in the temple made an offensive sound in the ears of God.
The message here is clear: Religious forms and rituals, if not accompanied by an inner renewal, if not accompanied by hearts broken and surrendered to God, are not only meaningless but an offense to Him. In fact, they can be very dangerous, as well, for those who think that simply because they are following a few religious rites and observances they are holy and God's chosen people and thus can do no wrong.
How do the following words given through other prophets add to our understanding of what God was saying about Israel's vain forms of worship?
Isa. 1:11-15 ________________________________________________________________________
Hos. 8:13 __________________________________________________________________________
Mal. 1:6-8 _________________________________________________________________
|The spiritual lesson from these verses is obvious. At the same time, if we had to be perfect, or sinless, before we worshiped God, our churches would be almost empty on Sabbath. (The only ones there, probably, would be those whose worship is the type condemned in the above verses.) What's the difference between those sinners whose worship is not acceptable and those whose worship is like a "sweet smell"? (Phil 4:18).|
"Let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream" (Amos 5:24).
How stunning, how clear, how unequivocal are the words here. God is more interested in how we treat others, how we help the oppressed, and how fair we are in our dealings than He is in our religious rituals and forms. He wants righteousnessnot a little, not a spray, not a sprinkle, not even a rivulet; He wants righteousness, instead, like a mighty river.
Where alone does this righteousness come from? And, secondly, how do we get it for ourselves?
"Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Mic. 6:7, 8).
In the context of today's lesson, read Matthew 7:22. What is Jesus saying there that relates to the above verses?
It's one of the easiest things in the world to be religious. Everyone, from mafia individuals to corrupt politicians, can be religious. It's one of the more difficult things, however, to be loving, giving, humble, and merciful. Fallen human nature is, at its essence, selfish, corrupt, egocentric; and all the religion (even the correct religion), all the religious forms (even the correct forms), all the outward trappings (even the correct trappings), even "burnt offerings" (Amos 5:22), "fattened peace offerings" (vs. 23, NKJV), and "thousands of rams" (Mic. 6:7) are never going to change character for the good. Only a heart surrendered in faith and obedience to God can be changed into one that is pleasing to Him.
|Why is dwelling upon Jesus, upon His life, His character, His sacrifice, the best means of changing us into that which He wants us to be? Imagine if we spent some time every day dwelling upon some aspect of Jesus and His life. How could that change us where it matters? Imagine what a difference it would make in our homes, in our witness, and in our own personal relationship with God.|
"Ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose name is The God of hosts" (Amos 5:26, 27).
However obscure (scholars aren't sure of whom or what "Chiun" is), in many ways Amos 5:26 details the great problem with Israel, and with the world in general, and that is idolatrythe worship of anything and everything except the only One who can save us.
Idolatry (and you don't need stone statues to be an idolater) is so prevalent because everywhere people are seeking answers; they want hope. They covet salvation, even if they're not sure what that means but know only that they need to be saved. There's something about humans that cries out for permanence, for meaning, for stability; yet all around us, in every way, instability, impermanence, and meaninglessness surround us. If nothing else, the Second Law of Thermodynamics alone teaches that everything is heading for decay, and if that's the final end, what can it all mean?
"Either there is some support for our being," wrote Richard Bernstein, "a fixed foundation for our knowledge, or we cannot escape the forces of darkness that envelop usRichard Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (University of Penn. Press, 1983), p. 18.
Thus, everywhere and in every way, people are looking for answers. They find something that seems to provide those answers, that is what they worship. That becomes their god.
What are some of the things people make into idols?
In Amos, the Lord is giving Israel a choice, a choice between a "fixed foundation for knowledge," the knowledge of Himself as Creator and Redeemer, "or the forces of darkness", in this specific case, the Assyrians. We, today, whatever our situation might be, are all faced with the same basic choices. We will worship the Lord God alone, or we will be worshiping idols because, in the end, we always worship something. Examine yourself and ask this pertinent question (remembering that idols don't have to be made of wood or stone)Is there anything in my life that, if I don't give it up, will lead me into my own personal Assyrian captivity?
FURTHER STUDY: "There has been very little deep piety and wholeness to God. When the spirit of Christ takes possession of the heart, then there is a missionary for God. The most grievous sin of idolatry exists in the church. And he who interposes between the professed Christian and his wholehearted service to God, takes the form of an idol, and the most grievous sin of idolatry is idolatry itself."Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, p. 330.
"The last great day will be a triumph of law. The Lord is preparing for His last great work, and He will rise out of His place to punish the world for her iniquity. Then the earth will disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain. Who will prepare to hold up a light amid the moral darkness that exists in our world[?]. The wretchedness that has been accumulating for ages and that is degrading humanity, is not sensed as it should be. 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me' is the command of God. Idolatry exists in the church-goers today as verily as in the days of Noah. But when His commands are obeyed, the human family will be elevated, ennobled, and exalted."Ellen White, The Kress Collection, p. 49.
SUMMARY: As in previous lessons, the Lord's message to Israel here is the same: I am a God of judgment, but also a God of forgiveness. I will punish you for your sins and iniquities, or I will forgive you for them. The choice is yours.
Shomen (SHOW-men) was the Indian national boxing champion. He had won numerous championships and had medals to prove it. He was used to winning. Yet in one area of his life he felt frustrated. "Lord, show me the true church," Shomen prayed. "Lead me to a church that follows all of the Bible."
Raised an unbeliever, Shomen had become a Christian several years earlier. But he was not satisfied. He lives in a region of India where there are many Christians, so he had ample opportunities to attend evangelistic meetings sponsored by many different churches. But after attending the meetings, he would shake his head and tell his wife, "This is not God's true church."
Then in April 1999 Shomen saw posters for another evangelistic series featuring a pastor he had not heard of before. Perhaps this pastor would be the answer to his prayer.
Shomen and his wife decided to attend the meetings every evening, in spite of the fact that the meetings began at an awkward time for him to get away from his government job. But he was determined to be there.
More than 800 men and women crowded into a building that seated only 700. Every evening Shomen hurried to the meeting to get a good seat. He did not want to miss one of the Bible lectures.
One day he visited the pastor in his hotel room. "Pastor, I have heard many great preachers, but never was I satisfied with their messages. But I believe that finally I have found someone who preaches the Bible message, not man's message. I have been searching for the truth, and I know that God has led me to your meetings, for here I have found His true church. My wife and I want to be baptized."
Shomen and his wife were among 38 people who were baptized at the end of the evangelistic meetings. "The prize that I have found in God's Word is more valuable to me than any of my medals," says Shomen.
Shomen, left. C. Pheirim is president of the Northeast India Union, located in Shillong, Meghalaya, India.
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