*September 29-October 5
The Non-Prophet Prophet
Called by the Lord to give a message, yet opposed at almost every turn by those who (supposedly) were working for the same Lord, Amos probably would have found it easier to be selling life insurance than to be a prophet (though, some might argue that, in some ways, the jobs are not all that different).
This week's lesson, which introduces us to the book of Amos, gives the background of the time and circumstances in which Amos was called to minister. His was not an easy task to perform, particularly in the setting in which he was called to perform it. Only as we understand the background of his ministry can we understand why his name means "burden-bearer," for this faithful servant of the Lord certainly had burdens to bear.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: Who was Amos? What was his training? What gave him, this "layman," the right to rebuke the nation's spiritual and political leadership? What were the times like in which he worked? What kind of leadership did he face? How did he preach? Why did God give him a message?
MEMORY TEXT: "Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: And the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel" (Amos 7:14, 15).
*(please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 6.)
Sunday September 30
It was a big leapfrom tending animals and gathering sycamore figs, to standing before the nation's political and religious elite, denouncing their sins, and warning them about the judgments of God. What made this task even worse was that Amos was called to do it at a time of national wealth and prosperity, when no one wants to hear the low drones of pessimistic doomsayers. Yet this is exactly what Amos, from "among the herdmen of Tekoa" (Amos 1:1), did. Who was this lowly, uneducated country boy who dared shake his finger at the establishment?
Read Amos 1:1. Notice what is missing. There is no attempt by Amos to justify his calling, his mission, his work. It begins, simply, with only this introduction: "The words of Amos. . ." He then utters his warnings and admonitions. Perhaps the key to understanding this attitude is found in the following verses (Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 6). What do they say about the source of his authority and power?
The book that bears his name gives very little information about Amos. In the seventh chapter, Amos basically repeats what he said in the first verse of the first chapter, which is that he was a herdsman and a "gatherer of sycomore fruit" (Amos 7:14). Nevertheless, he here justifies his ministry, claiming that the Lord had called him to "prophesy unto my people Israel" (vs. 15). What more did he need? God called him-that was all that mattered.
Amos said: "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son" (vs. 14, RSV). The "sons of the prophets" refers to those educated in the schools of the prophets started by Samuel. In other words, he wasn't a "professional," yet that didn't stop him.
Compare Amos with the apostle Paul. Read the opening lines of some of Paul's epistles. In most cases, he establishes his credentials in the same way Amos did. (See Rom. 1:1, 2; Gal. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1.) At the same time, look at the contrast between Paul and Amos, at least in regard to their backgrounds.
|The call of Amos does teach that one doesn't need to be a recognized "professional" to have a crucial role in ministry. At the same time, however, Amos doesn't teach that everyone who claims to be called by God is, in fact, called by God. How can we as a church strike the balance between recognizing and utilizing the gifts of our members, yet, at the same time, protect ourselves from those who, maybe quite sincerely, believe they are called of God when it soon becomes apparent they aren't?|
They "pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name" (Amos 2:7).
Amos lived at a time of relative peace, prosperity, and pleasure-seeking. Under Jeroboam II, Israel was at the zenith of power. There was an unprecedented increase in the number of wealthy people who lived luxuriously and self-indulgently. Their ease and extravagance contrasted with the suffering and misery of the poor. Cities were growing rapidly in size at the expense of rural development. The judges were dishonest, the government corrupt. Justice had become a joke. Extortion, crime, and class hatred were visible on every hand. Women were pampered and wore expensive clothing. Abuse of alcohol contributed to crime and indecency. Immorality was rampant, and incest was common. Robbery and murder had become commonplace. Most people claimed to be religious but lived in a way that denied a true experience with God. Although a variety of religious forms attracted people, the major religion was self-worship. There had been signs of impending military destruction, but the threats had passed.
In many ways, Amos's time reflects ours (at least in some parts of the world). Few things really change. If you know someone burdened by any of these same problems, in what ways could you show this person that Christ can bring healing, freedom, forgiveness, and hope? Listed below are a few of the issues Amos had to deal with. Under each one write down how Christ can be the solution.
1. Prosperity that leads to vice and pleasure-seeking:
2. Selfishness and self-indulgence:
4. Crime and immorality:
Sacred history shows that in times of trial and turmoil, both on a national and personal level, people are more open to the gospel. When life is going well, when resources are plenty, when times are good economically, then it becomes harder to reach people.
|How do you witness to someone who has "everything"? How do you show just how transitory and ultimately insufficient all these things are in and of themselves?|
Amos labored when wicked Jeroboam II ruled in Israel, about 760 B.C. He began his work just two years before a major earthquake that must have left a powerful impression (perhaps something like the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and the 1999 earthquake in Turkey) because people began dating events as they related to this disaster.
"Under Jeroboam II, Israel was at the zenith of its power. Jeroboam had overcome the Syrians and had enlarged the territory of the northern kingdom to the northern boundary of the original united kingdom. . . . As for Judah, Uzziah, its king, had subdued the Edomites and Philistines, put the Ammonites under subjection, encouraged agriculture and the domestic arts of peace, and raised a large, powerful army, fortifying Jerusalem strongly.
"Apparently safe from foreign enemies, and strong internally, Israel was not in the least looking forward to danger or destruction. True, Assyria was attracting attention by its rising power, but it seemed improbable that it would attack Israel. The not uncommon fruits of prosperitypride, luxury, selfishness, oppressionwere ripening plentifully in both kingdoms. However, the situation was worse in Israel because of the calf worship, which had been instituted by its first king, Jeroboam I (see 1 Kings 12:25-33). Undoubtedly this calf worship furnished the reason why both Amos and Hosea were commissioned to direct their prophecies especially against the northern kingdom."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, pp. 953, 954.
Amos wasn't the only prophet to function under a corrupt political and religious establishment. List some prophets who had to do the same and what sins they had to speak out against.
|Sadly, God's church, even from the beginning, has never been without fault. How do we, as members, relate to the church, even when we see the faults and problems? How can Christians who are sighing and crying "for all the abominations" (Ezek. 9:4) done in the land guard against degenerating into becoming "the accuser of our brethren"? (Rev. 12:10).|
Amos was a shepherd at a time when shepherds were looked down upon; he was also a "gatherer of sycomore fruit" (Amos 7:14). He lived on the edge of the desert where the inhabitants didn't have access to the milk and honey of the land just to the north. The so-called "fig" of the sycamore tree was used by the poorer people to sustain life. To "dress" it, Amos had to climb a tree, with a knife in his hand, to slit each "fig" to let a bitter juice run out. It also is thought that the opening would allow insects to get into the fruit. There they would place their maggots, which would ferment the fruit, making it more edible. This rustic man of the desert had no problem describing the faults of the people in clear but earthly language drawn from his background.
Look up the following verses and note the imagery used:
Amos 3:12 ________________________________________________________________________
Amos 4:9 _________________________________________________________________________
Amos 5:19 ________________________________________________________________________
Amos 6:12 __________________________________________________________________
Why would Amos use this type of imagery? Why would it be so effective? What other Bible characters used this same imagery to convey their messages? What's the importance of imagery in proclaiming the gospel?
Words are powerful tools. We think with words, we communicate with words, we tend to understand the world around us through words. According to the Proverbs, there is literally life and death in our words. There was a reason, too, that John described Jesus as "the Word" (John 1:1, 14). Amos, no doubt, knew the importance of the words that he spoke. If he didn't choose them correctly, souls could be lost. How important, then, that those of us who have a message to preach be very careful of the words and images we use.
|Today, in most societies, images about lions eating people aren't going to be effective in witnessing. What does Amos's use of imagery teach us about tailoring the expression of our messages to the specific culture in which we are working?|
"Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).
What a promise exists in this verse! It reads more literally in the Hebrew, "For the Lord will not do a thing except He reveal His secret to His servants the prophets." God promisesespecially in the context of judgment (as in the case of Amos)not to do "a thing" until He reveals "His secret" to the prophets, who then are to convey the message to the people.
Though the specific setting and time frame is radically different from ours now, what is God telling us with this text?
Christianity is a revealed religion. In other words, the things that we really need to know, God reveals to us. He doesn't leave it to us to try and figure it out ourselves. Instead, He tells us what we need to know, most likely because what He has to say is too important to leave us theorizing on our own. In the specific context of Amos's message, the Lord wasn't going to bring these terrible judgments upon the people without Him first warning them, thus giving them an opportunity, if not to avert the judgment, at least then to be prepared for it.
List other examples through history where the Lord has through a prophet, given specific warnings to people in order to spare them from or prepare them for, impending judgments. Though at the time the messages might seem harsh, sharp, even terrible, what do they reveal about God and His love for sinners? (See also 2 Chron. 20:20.)
FURTHER STUDY: "The iniquity in Israel during the last half century before the Assyrian captivity was like that of the days of Noah, and of every other age when men have rejected God and have given themselves wholly to evil-doing. The exaltation of nature above the God of nature, the worship of the creature instead of the Creator, has always resulted in the grossest of evils. Thus when the people of Israel, in their worship of Baa! and Ashtoreth, paid supreme homage to the forces of nature, they severed their connection with all that is uplifting and ennobling, and fell an easy prey to temptation. With the defenses of the soul broken down, the misguided worshipers had no barrier against sin and yielded themselves to the evil passions of the human heart."Prophets and Kings, pp. 281, 282.
In what ways do humans continue to worship the creature instead of the Creator? What are the natural consequences of these deceptive philosophies?
Read through Amos at one sitting in order to get the overall picture of this prophet's work and message. Scan through the book of Hosea to compare similarities and differences in these prophets' approach to their mission.
SUMMARY: Amos, the "burden-bearer," had a message to share that many people didn't want to hear. Yet, called by God, he shared it anyway. Without earthly credentials, without earthly support, Amos said what needed to be said, no matter how painful and thankless the job.
J. H. Zachary
Kesuli Zacari was a devoted Muslim living in Niger, West Africa. Early in his adult life the village recognized his spiritual leadership and made him their imam (Muslim spiritual teacher). While still in high school he organized other youth into a group to resist Christianity.
Upon finishing high school he moved to the capital of Niger, where he hoped to win a scholarship to attend the university. He discovered that many Christians lived in this city. He organized other Muslim youth to convert Christians to Islam and stamp out Christian heresy in his homeland by making Christians see that Mohammed was the last true prophet. The young people believed that Allah would reward them for their efforts.
Zacari grew irritated when some Christians told him that one day he would become a Christian. "That will never happen," he responded. "If it ever does happen, let it be the last day of my life!"
Zacari waited several years, and still he had not received the hoped-for scholarship to study. At times he lacked food. One day a friend told him that he had discovered that Christians are kind people. Then he told Zacari about a Protestant missionary he had met. "Let's go talk to her. Maybe she will help us when she knows we are in need. And we can tell her about the errors of Christianity while we are there."
But Zacari hesitated. He knew almost nothing about Christian beliefs. How could he argue against a religion unless he had studied their beliefs and could point out their errors? But his friend urged him to go with him to visit the missionary. As they
walked to the missionary's home, Zacari made a surprising request, "Please don't tell the woman that I am a Muslim. Tell her that I want to become a Christian."
(continued next week)
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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