*December 8 - 14
Vision FourSummer Fruit
AMOS 8 GOES FROM ONE THEME TO ANOTHER. First, it deals with the question of bearing fruit, then it touches on those who have all the religious forms without any of the spirit that should animate those forms; a problem, perhaps, for Christians in all eras and all times. Next it brings up an interesting question about salvation, that of forgiven sins that are no longer forgiven. Then it touches on the issues in the final conflict before the end of the world.
And, finally, it delves into the concept of there being a "famine" in the land for hearing the "words of the Lord." It's an interesting week's worth of lessons. Dig out what you can. Though we certainly aren't going to cover all that could be said on these topics, you'll certainly leave with a few things to think and pray about.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: Why is the image of fruit used to describe human character? Can we be keeping all the rules and regulations of our religion and yet miss the most important point about it? What does it mean that the Lord will "forget" all our sins? What does it mean that He will "remember" them? What does the Bible mean when it talks about a "famine" for "the words of the Lord"? Can we be in a land of plenty and still be in dire need of the Word?
MEMORY TEXT: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11).
*(Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 15.)
Sunday December 9
"Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit. And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit. Then said the Lord unto me, The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more. And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord God: there shall be many dead bodies in every place; they shall cast them forth with silence" (Amos 8:1-3).
What kind of fruit is talked about here?
Early maturing fruit, used especially of 'figs.' The purpose of this vision was to show that the people were ripe for judgment, that God's forbearance was at an end. The divine long-suffering had resulted only in the continuance of Israel's sin."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 979.
Look up each of the following texts. How does each one use the imagery of fruit to make its point?
1. Matt. 3:10 _____________________________________________________________________
2. Matt. 7:17 _____________________________________________________________________
3. Matt. 13:26 ____________________________________________________________________
4. Luke 6:44 ______________________________________________________________________
5. John 12:24 _____________________________________________________________________
6. Rom. 7:4 _______________________________________________________________________
7. Gal. 5:22 ________________________________________________________________
Notice how fruit is used in a dynamic manner, in that it represents something in the process of change, of maturity, of ripeness, even decay. Fruit can be sweet and wonderful, or rank and rotten. No wonder it's used in Scripture in this manner to describe human beings and their actions.
|In the context of today's lesson, read John 15:5 and ask yourself, What kind of fruit am I bearing, and why? At the same time, what's the danger of looking at our own fruit in determining our standing with God? How can we strike a good balance?|
"Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?" (Amos 8:4-6).
These verses reek with one of the greatest and most common spiritual deceptions ever conjured up in Satan's brew of demonic deceptions: religious formalism cloaking abuse of the most basic religious principles. No doubt these people felt spiritually superior to those who didn't keep the Sabbath or observe the feasts as strictly as they did. After all, because they were observing these religious festivals, these folk thought they were holy and thus didn't need to worry about little things like honesty, greed, or helping the poor.
|"The first day of the month. . . was devoted to religious service, and apparently was a day on which all trade was suspended. . . . Here is a striking example of a formal observance of sacred institutions, with no true spirit of devotion. In their selfishness these apostates begrudged the time their religious formalism demanded of them. Such worship becomes a curse instead of a blessing."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 980.|
These people wanted the Sabbath to end so they could immediately get back to cheating their customers. How intrusive of the Sabbath to interfere with their fraud! The irony is that when one understands the true meaning of the Sabbath, when one truly keeps the Sabbath as God intended, it's hard to imagine that person going out and cheating people, especially the poor.
|Give an example from the New Testament where Jesus had to confront
this same problem. How did He respond?
What is it about the Sabbath that, if properly kept and understood, would protect a Sabbath keeper from doing exactly what God condemns here in Amos? In other words, what is the Sabbath all about, and why would understanding what it is about protect us from falling into these same sins?
"Surely I will never forget any of their works" (Amos 8:7).
This verse is amazing, terrible in severity, yet painfully accurate in depicting basic biblical truth regarding salvation. In the end, either all our sins are forgiven, forgotten, and obliterated, or they will come back to haunt and condemn us. Either we face none of the legal penalties for our sins or we face the full brunt of them all. Either we walk away totally free from the legal consequences of our sin, or we are destroyed under the oppressive weight of their consequences. Either God "forgets" all our sins, or He "remembers" them all. There's no middle ground, no plea bargain, no compromise.
Compare what God is saying in Amos 8:7 with what He's saying in these verses: "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins" (Isa. 43:25). "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb. 8:12). "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb. 10:17).
In the above verses, God promises to "forget" their sins, the idea being that their sins will no longer be factored into how He regards these people. These words are basically a poetic way of saying that when God forgives our sins, He forgives them completely, even to the point where He no longer "remembers" them. This is what happens when we are saved by Jesus Christ, when His righteousness becomes ours by faith.
On the other hand, what Amos 8:7 is talking about is, in a sense, what happens to those who don't have the righteousness of Jesus covering them. The parable that Jesus told in Matthew 18 about the unforgiving servant reveals this principle: We are either forgiven all our sins, or we must face the penalty for all our sins. Either we have complete pardon or complete condemnation. Either our salvation is total, or our ruin is total.
|Study the parable of Matthew 18 regarding the fate of the servant who had his debt forgiven (vs. 27) but then ultimately lost that forgiveness. Some people have a hard time with this concept, that of the nullification of a debt canceled; yet, that seems to be what the parable says. How do we understand that in light of the Cross and what Christ accomplished at the cross?|
"And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day" (Amos 8:9).
A description of the day of the Lord follows in verse 9: "On that day,' says the Lord God, 'I will make the sun go down at noon" (RSV). Amos, living in Palestine, saw the sun go down at noon on the day of the Lord. Ellen White, nearly three millennia later and on the other side of the world, was given a vision, described in The Great Controversy, page 636, in which she saw the sun come up at midnight when God intervenes in world history to deliver His people.
How does the phrase "in that day" point to the final judgment prefigured by Israel's day of judgment? (See the use of this phrase in such last-day prophecies as Isa. 4:1; 12:1, 4; Joel 3:1, 18).
In Amos 8:9, the prophet foretells events that will take place long after his time. Verses 9 and 10 point to the second coming of Christ in the day of final judgment.
Compare Amos 8:10, which applied originally to the gloom and lamentation in Israel at the fall of Samaria, to Revelation 18:9-19, which describes the mourning of the entire world at the time of God's judgment on last-day Babylon.
"When the voice of God turns the captivity of His people, there is a terrible awakening of those who have lost all in the great conflict of life. While probation continued they were blinded by Satan's deceptions, and they justified their course of sin. The rich prided themselves upon their superiority to those who were less favored; but they had obtained their riches by violation of the law of God. . . . Now they are stripped of all that made them great and are left destitute and defenseless. They look with terror upon the destruction of the idols which they preferred before their Maker. . . . The rich bemoan the destruction of their grand houses, the scattering of their gold and silver. . .
"The wicked are filled with regret, not because of their sinful neglect of God and their fellow men, but because God has conquered."The Great Controversy, p. 654.
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" (Amos 8:11, 12).
The implications of these verses are staggering. People seeking the "word of the Lord" and yet not able to find it? How could the God who wants us all in heaven so badly that He died on the cross allow a time when those who seek the "word" can be in a position where they can't find it? What's going on here?
Read John 12:35. What is Jesus saying that could help us understand the meaning of Amos 8:11, 12?
Whatever the exact meaning of the those texts in Amos, particularly in the context of last-day events, there's an important principle applicable to our immediate situation now. We can, through continually filling our minds with junk, get to the point where the "word of the Lord" has no meaning to us. We can become so dull, so insensitive to spiritual truths, that when we hear them they can't penetrate our minds and hearts. That's why what we read, what we watch, and what we think about can deaden us to truth so that the effect is no different upon us than if we, in fact, didn't have access to "the Word of God."
"Those who do not now appreciate, study, and dearly prize the Word of God spoken by His servants will have cause to mourn bitterly hereafter. I saw that the Lord in judgment will at the close of time walk through the earth; the fearful plagues will begin to fall. Then those who have despised God's Word, those who have lightly esteemed it, shall 'wander . . . to and fro to seek the Word of the Lord and shall not find it' (Amos 8:12). "Last Day Events, pp. 234, 235.
The Christian life is a dynamic life: It's always in the process of change. We can never remain static, for remaining static is another way of saying we are not growing, and if we're not growing, we are, truly, moving backward. Keeping this concept in mind, it is crucial that we be constantly advancing in our walk with Christ. What do these verses in Amos say to us, today, regarding our growth in Christ? Can there be a "famine" for the Word even if we have a Bible in our home, or even in our hands? Think this through and ask yourself, Can we be starving, even in a land of plenty?
FURTHER STUDY: Read chapter 37 in The Great Controversy, "The Scriptures a Safeguard."
Maria Antonieta de las Muhecas
Celedonio [sel-eh-DOH-nee-oh] swam hard against the swollen river's current. His arms ached from fatigue, but he dared not stop, lest the current carry him away. Alone and frightened, he searched for a sandbar where he could rest. As he struggled to stay afloat, a sense of helplessness swept over him. All he could do was pray. Then his feet touched the gravel edge of the sandbar. He dragged himself out of the water and lay on the sand, shivering and utterly exhausted.
When Celedonio's parents died, he went to live with his brother and sister. Two years later his brother died, leaving Celedonio and his sister alone. He experienced a series of illnesses that left him weak and in pain. He prayed to his favorite saint for healing and made promises and offered sacrifices to her, hoping to receive her blessing. But his symptoms did not go away. Still the young man refused to give up. He began searching for God in other churches, but all the different denominations confused him.
Then he met Luis, the pastor of a Protestant church. Luis taught him how to pray directly to God in the name of Jesus. When Celedonio prayed as Luis taught him, he began to feel better.
Luis asked Celedonio to go with him to find work. The two men left their families behind and traveled to central Bolivia, where they had heard work was available. They found a job planting crops beside a wide river. Every evening they crossed the river in a canoe to the town where they stayed.
One evening no canoe came to take them across the river. It was almost sundown, and the men had to get across before dark. They surveyed the rain-swollen river and decided they could swim across. They put their clothes and their valuables into a plastic bag, which Celedonio tied to his waist. Then they jumped into the river.
Celedonio swam hard against the river's current. But the plastic bag dragged in the water, slowing him down. He looked around for Luis, but he could not see his friend anywhere. Celedonio feared he would not make it across the river. Exhausted, he struggled to stay afloat. He found himself praying, praying for forgiveness, as well as for safety. Suddenly the current swept the plastic bag containing all of his belongings from his waist. A sense of helplessness swept over him. Then his feet touched gravel. He dragged himself onto the sandbar and collapsed, shivering and utterly exhausted. For the moment at least, he was safe.
(Continued next week.)
Maria Antonieta de las Mnñecas is a Global Mission worker in Portachuela, Bolivia.
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