*November 17 - 23
Vision One Locusts and Prayer
IS IT POSSIBLE THAT A LITERAL, UNPRECEDENTED PLAGUE of locusts devastated the southern kingdom of Israel; or were the locusts just a symbol of destruction, nothing more? Either way, the message, as given by Amos and Joel, came couched in vivid language designed to catch the attention of their audience. Their hearers could hardly have missed the unusual significance and timeliness of their startling message.
However, the Holy Spirit had others in mind, as well. The hyperbole (purposeful exaggeration) that especially characterizes Joel's description of the army of locusts, as well as other dramatic descriptions in his book, indicates clearly that the prophecies of the locusts contain last-day, judgment-hour significance.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: What calamity did Amos warn would overtake Israel? Was it literal or figurative (or does it even matter)? Why did God "repent" for what He was about to do? What role did Amos have in having God avert, at least temporarily, the disaster? What role does intercessory prayer have in our lives? What does it mean to have an Intercessor? How does the locust plague in Joel relate to the warnings given in Amos? These and other issues are looked at this week as we study the first vision given in the book of Amos.
MEMORY TEXT: "Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come" (Joel 1:15).
*(Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 24.)
Sunday November 18
"Thus bath the Lord God shewed unto me; and, behold, he formed grasshoppers in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king's mowings" (Amos 7:1).
Up till now, the book of Amos consisted of the words that Amos, speaking in the name of the Lord, uttered to Israel. Chapter seven, however, begins with a shift: "Thus the Lord God showed me" (vs. 1, NKJV). The Hebrew is literally, "caused me to see," a common phrase used in Scripture to present the idea that the prophet was having a vision. For whatever reason, there is a dramatic change in how Amos received God's message. He now sees in vision what he is to relate to Israel.
Read the first three verses of Amos 7. What was the vision that Amos was presented?
Scholars aren't sure whether the locusts here were literal, as if there really were to be a swarm of insects coming down upon Israel and wiping out its crop, or if it were symbolic, representative of the Assyrian army that would devastate the land. Either reading would work. However one wants to view it, the message is still the same:
God's judgments are about to fall on an apostate people who refuse to repent of their sins, who refuse to turn back to the Lord, who is more than willing to forgive, heal, and restore to divine favor.
|One thing that comes through as we read the book of Amos is just how high the stakes are. These people are told to repent or great calamity will come upon them. In other words, God isn't playing games here. The issues involve the eternal salvation of souls, not to mention the whole aspect of the vindication of God before the universe. Thus, if the punishments seem harsh, it's only because the issues are so great, so weighty, so fraught with, literally, eternal consequences. We need to keep this in mind any time we tend to question why Israel should face such dire consequences. Indeed, the dire consequences themselves should serve as a reminder of the importance of the issues in the great controversy between good and evila battle that we, too, are intimately involved in.|
"And it came to pass, that when they had made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small. The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord" (Amos 7:2, 3).
Amos 7:3 brings in an interesting phrase: "The Lord repented for this." What it seems to be saying is that, thanks to the intercession of Amos, the Lord decided not to bring the calamity, at least at this time, upon Israel.
What does this mean, however, to say that the Lord "repented"? The Hebrew verb used, naham, is not the verb used in the earlier lesson, in which people repented by "turning back." The word, instead, can also mean "to have passion" or "to have pity," which would make better sense in this context.
Here are some other texts that talk about God repenting. What can you learn from each one about what it means to say that God repented?
Exod. 32:14 ______________________________________________________________________
1 Sam. 15:35 _____________________________________________________________________
Jer. 42:10 _______________________________________________________________________
John 3:10 ___________________________________________________________________
Obviously, when God "repents" it's not the same thing as when we repent. Though the concept itself, that of God "repenting," is wrought with many philosophical and theological questions about God's foreknowledge and our freewill, these verses and others show that events which God warns His prophets about can indeed be stopped, if the right conditions are met. In other words, in certain circumstances, we find within this idea of God "repenting" the notion of the conditionality of prophecy, the principle that prophecies will or will not be fulfilled, depending upon whether certain conditions are or are not met.
|Though the whole question of the conditionality of prophecy is hotly debated, one point comes through: As human beings, we have the capacity of free choice, and our decisions will greatly impact our final end. How crucial that we use our free choice wisely. Our eternal destiny depends upon it.|
Look up these verses. What do they all have in common?
1. Exod. 32:32 ______________________________________________________________________
2. 1 Kings 8:50 _____________________________________________________________________
3. Jer. 7:16 ________________________________________________________________________
4. Dan. 9:16-23 ____________________________________________________________________
5. Amos 7:2 _______________________________________________________________________
6. Zech. 3:1-5 _________________________________________________________________
A common thread runs through all of these verses, which is that the people of God have sinned, and they have Someone standing before God pleading in their behalf. In each case they have an intercessor praying to the Lord for them.
This is what is happening in the book of Amos, as well. Amos himself is pleading before God to avert the upcoming catastrophe. "O Lord God," he says, "forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small (Amos 7:2). In this case, the Lord listened to his cry.
These texts present the idea commonly known as "intercessory prayer," a notion that teaches that we can, through our prayers, move God to act in a certain manner. The Bible, time and again, teaches that prayer makes a difference, not just in our own lives but in the lives of those for whom we pray. No wonder, then, that the Bible so often tells us to pray, not just for ourselves but for others. God wouldn't have us pray if prayer didn't have the potential to change things. However difficult it might be to understand how it works, it is clearprayer works!
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).
|Prayer is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. Only those who engage in it, who have experienced the power of prayer, know how crucial it is, even if we don't always understand how it functions. As air is to life, prayer is to the spiritual life. Given what we've read today, make a list of various reasons why prayer, even intercessory prayer, is so important, not just for those prayed for but for the one doing the praying.|
"Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Rom. 8:34).
"Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).
Though Amos, and others, acted as intercessors, according to Scripture, there is only one true Intercessor, Jesus Christ. In fact, scholars have seen in some of the examples in Tuesday's lesson types of Christ; that is, those who interceded in behalf of their people as examples of what Christ would do for us as our Intercessor.
In what ways did some of those Old Testament characters in yesterday's lesson act as "types" of Christ? What did they do that, in a sense, prefigured what Christ would do for us?
The Bible does teach that we, as sinful humans, need an intercessor. Sin causes a rift between a holy God and an unholy creature, so great that the creature couldn't even stand alone before God. The blinding contrast between God and humankind, between holiness and unholiness, is seen in the human reaction whenever God manifested Himself to humans. In every case, even in the case of "holy" menunholiness can't bear holiness.
When the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses "hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God" (Exod. 3:6). Job, after glimpsing the Lord, cried out, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5, 6). Isaiah, after a vision of God sitting upon a throne and being worshiped by angels who sang of His holiness, cried, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isa. 6:5). Ezekiel, Paul, and John, each in his own unique circumstances, got a glimpse of God, and their reactions were always the same: They fell prostrate before Him, unable to bear the sight.
|How do we understand Christ's role as our Intercessor? What does it mean for us, at this moment, that Jesus is standing between us and God as our Intercessor? How should that impact our daily lives, particularly our struggle against sin and self?|
Some evidence indicating that, perhaps, the locust swarm could be literal is found in a prophecy from the book of Joel, which in much greater detail talks about a locust plague that would sweep over the land.
How is the threat of a similar locust plague described in Joel 1:4-15?
Notice four stages in the unprecedented locust plague described in Joel 1:4. The palmer worms were followed by the locusts, which in turn, were followed by cankerworms, and then caterpillars. Page 678 of the SDA Bible Dictionary describes the four words used in sequence in Joel 1:4 this way:
Gazam. "It is most probably the locust in the 1st stage of its development, hence wingless, though not a true larva such as a caterpillar. Some see in it the young adult.
'Arbeh. "It is thought that it is the African migratory locust. . . in its fully developed wing stage, in which it invades a country in swarms and deposits eggs. This locust is very common in Palestine.
Yeleq. "It is most probably the creeping, unwinged migratory locust in the last stage of development before it becomes a winged adult. Some have identified it with the newly hatched locust, which can jump but not crawl.
Chasil. "The Dutch scientist F. Bruijel ... sees it as the fully grown locust at the stage when it leaves Palestine."
Locusts, locusts everywhere, sweep over the fields, stripping the land of every last plant and leave drought, famine, and devastation. Joel's focus is not on the locust plague alone but also on the calamitous events of the day of the Lord that the plague foreshadowed. The events of the historical day of the Lord, whenever such a day occurred in the history of Israel, were unsurpassed in the lives of those who lived through them. Likewise, the events of the end-time day of the Lord will be without parallel in history (see Dan. 12:1).
One of the great struggles that we, as Seventh-day Adventist Christians face, deals with living day by day, yet with the realization that great catastrophes will usher in the end of the world. We don't want to ignore the signs of the end. On the other hand, if we obsess over them, we are looking for trouble, as well. How can we find a right balance between living as responsible citizens now while awaiting the end of the world?
FURTHER STUDY: "Christ was crucified for our sins, and was raised from the rent sepulcher for our justification; and he proclaims in triumph, 'I am the resurrection and the life.' Jesus lives as our intercessor to plead before the Father. He has carried the sins of the whole world, and has not made one mortal man a sin-bearer for others. No man can bear the weight of his own sins. The crucified One bore them all, and every soul who believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. The disciple of Christ will be fitted by his grace for every trial and test as he strives for perfection of character. By looking away from Jesus to some other one, or to something else, he may sometimes make mistakes; but as soon as he is warned of his danger, he again fastens his eyes upon Jesus, in whom his hope of eternal life is centered, and he plants his feet in the footprints of his Lord, and travels on securely. He rejoices, saying, 'He is my living intercessor before God. He prays in my behalf. He is my advocate, and clothes me with the perfection of his own righteousness. This is all I require to enable me to bear shame and reproach for his dear name's sake. If he permits me to endure persecution, he will give me grace and the comfort of his presence."Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, May 12, 1896.
SUMMARY: God, through Amos, continues to warn His people of impending disaster, both in Amos's time and, in fact, in ours, as well. Mixed with these warnings are also messages of hope and promise.
J. H. Zachary
"Dig your grave, traitor!" the soldiers barked at the terrified man standing before them. Tep Cho Ruan stood within sight of the Thai border. Am Ito die this close to freedom? he wondered.
Tep had served four years in the Cambodian army in Vietnam. But when Cambodian dictator Pol Pot ordered all intellectuals into forced labor, he was not exempt. Thousands of Cambodians died or were murdered in the months that followed.
Tep was assigned to herd cattle. Desperate for food, he risked his life to secretly slaughter an animal to eat. If the authorities discovered his deed, he would be killed.
Tep watched in horror as Pol Pot's soldiers killed entire families, including small children. He saw many of his own family die at the hands of the government. He knew that sooner or later his time to die would come. He knew he must find a way to escape into Thailand.
In the dead of night he left his hut and began the long walk to the Thai border and freedom. He knew that soldiers would be looking for anyone who was trying to escape, and he managed to avoid them. Then, when he was within sight of the border, Tep was caught.
As he took the shovel to begin digging his grave, he realized that in a few minutes he would be dead. Fear, hopelessness, and discouragement grew with every shovelful of earth. Suddenly gun shots rang out. He expected to die any instant. But no bullet hit him. He looked up to see his captors flee into the jungle, leaving him standing alone beside the hole he had dug. He dropped the shovel and made a dash for freedom.
At last he was free, assigned to a crowded refugee camp in Thailand. In that camp Tep learned about Jesus, the Son of God, who loved humanity so much that He came to this earth to die for lost sinners. This story was so different from the god he had worshiped. He joined the Bible classes and gave his life to Christ. For the first time in his life Tep's heart was filled with hope and love.
"I no longer hate Pol Pot for what he did to my family and to my country," Tep says. "Since I met Jesus and learned that we are to love our enemies, I have peace in my heart." Tep fled to Thailand to be free. But it was not until he found Christ that he understood what real freedom is. "My family and I have never been so happy."
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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