Amos 3:1-4:3; 1 Timothy 6:17-18
June 24, 2018 • Download this sermon (PDF)
Dear Congregation of Christ: In the legal sense, “insanity” is defined as, “mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.” So one of the most tragic technicalities in the justice system is when a defendant is pronounced, “not guilty by reason of insanity” and walks because a psychologist says so.
But there is a more familiar definition of “insanity,” falsely attributed to Albert Einstein, or Ben Franklin, or Mark Twain. The most probable source is writer Rita Mae Brown from her novel Sudden Death. It defines insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
If this definition is true, one of the best evidences is Israel. From its founding at Mount Sinai after escaping from Egypt, to their time in the wilderness, to the conquest of Canaan, to the times of the judges, kings and prophets, Israelites can be considered insane according to this popular definition. How? Because they committed the same sins over and over again, after being warned by God of punishment because of their sins. At Mount Sinai, in the wilderness, in Canaan, they did the same sins after being punished over and over again. They were expecting that God would not be true to his warning of punishment. The cause and effect are easily known to them: The cause is sin and the effect is punishment.
In our text today, Amos prophesies against the northern kingdom of Israel that their sins will result in judgment. They have been warned even in the wilderness that disobedience will result in curses and other punishment. In verses 3-8, Amos first gives them several simple cause and effect examples that are easily seen and accepted. In verses 9-15, he explains God’s judgment: defeat, destruction and exile at the hands of the cruel Assyrian empire one or two decades later in 722 B.C.
The Israelites were deceived by their false leaders, and by their own unbelief, that God would not act against them because they were God’s chosen people. They did not care about the result of their sins against God. They trusted their own wealth and power, and not in God. How similar we are today to those Israelites who are deceived, who don’t care about God’s warnings against sin, and who trust in our own wisdom and possessions?
Today, I preach to you the Gospel from our Scripture readings under three headings: first, The Cause is Sin; second, The Effect is Punishment; and third, True Security of God’s Chosen.
The Cause is Sin
Amos Chapter 3 opens similarly as Chapters 1 and 2 that the LORD has spoken. And the LORD speaks words of judgment and punishment against them. God even reminds them that he was the One who redeemed them from their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. He also reminds them that he chose them from out of all the nations of the earth, “my treasured possession among all peoples . . . a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” But there is a catch: “if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant” (Exo 19:5-6).
Children, do you remember when you were little, when you were eating, and you can’t wait for that cookie or ice cream? What did your parents tell you? “If you finish your food, then you can have that cookie or ice cream.” And when you do, you get your reward! It was the same for Israel: if they did obey God’s commandments, they would inherit the Promised Land and be prosperous.
But Israel was not obedient and faithful repeatedly over the centuries. The result? Punishment. So Amos gave them common examples of cause and effect. The first example is of two people agreeing to walk together by chance on a lonely, dusty road in the heat of the Ancient Near East. If they were friends or at least agree on many things, they will walk together. Enemies don’t walk together. The second example is if a lion roars, then he has caught a prey or about to pounce on a prey. The third example is if someone has set a trap, a bird would not be caught. The fourth is if a trumpet is blown in a city, are not the people afraid and take precautions? The trumpet is similar to our nail-on-a-chalkboard scary, screeching sound during an Emergency Alert for hurricanes, tornadoes and winter storms.
The fifth is this: If the LORD commands disaster to come to a city, it will. Sometimes, disasters come to remind us that God is in control even of nature itself. But we read in the Bible that disasters came to the earth as God’s judgment during Noah’s days, or to Sodom and Gomorrah.
God’s wrath on Israel’s sins was like a volcano about to explode. They have not walked with God, because they were God’s enemies. God has roared like a lion because he was ready to pounce on them. Israel was like a bird to be caught in a trap of their own sins. God has commanded the prophets to blow the trumpet of destruction.
But God, because of his great mercy and longsuffering, still warned Israel of impending judgment through his prophets. Noah warned people of the great flood. God revealed his plan to destroy Sodom to Abraham. He sent Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh of destruction unless they repented of their sins. And they did, averting their destruction. Therefore, in verse 8, Amos tells the Israelites that God sent him to warn them of their sins before he punishes them. God is like a lion who roars because he is about to pounce on his prey, Israel itself.
The Effect is Punishment
So in verses 9-15, Amos declares the punishment that Israel will suffer. These are grouped into three paragraphs, each beginning with a variation of “Hear!”
The first is “proclaim” to the fortresses of Ashdod and Egypt to gather around Samaria. Samaria is the stronghold of Israel which sits high on a hill. It is the gateway of Assyria to the cities of the Philistines, including Ashdod. From Philistia, the Assyrians could go all the way down to Egypt. The Philistines and Egyptians, who are themselves evil, would be God’s witnesses to Israel’s sins. It’s striking that even these wicked people will be appalled at the wickedness of Israel! What would they see in Israel?
Amos again reminds Israel why God would punish them. They powerful and the wealthy oppressed their own people to plunder and hoard riches. They have winter houses and summer houses, houses adorned with ivory. The reference to couches and beds means that they lived in easy, carefree lifestyle. They have been so blinded and jaded by their greed for power and wealth that “they do not know how to do right.” They do not know right from wrong, what God commands and what God prohibits. In addition to this oppression, their neighbors would see sins that Amos had listed in Chapter 2: sexual immorality among the people.
Therefore, in verses 9-12, what would be their punishment? An enemy will overrun the land, destroy their fortresses, and plunder their cities. We know that this enemy were the Assyrians who defeated Israel in 722 B.C.1 The destruction would be so complete that what remains of Israel would be like the remains of a sheep that was eaten by a lion: a leg bone here, a leg bone there, or a piece of an ear. These will be the only remaining evidence of Israel which once was a great nation.
The second, “Hear ye!” is in verses 13-15, where God again condemns Israel of opulent living on the backs of the poor. In opulence, the women demand of their husbands, “Bring us expensive wine!” and many other luxuries. But the other serious condemnation is against their false worship. The punishment will be the destruction of their temple at Bethel.
After the Assyrians defeat them, they will be like fish caught with hooks on their mouths and taken to be slaughtered or to be slaves in exile, “The LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight” (2 Kgs 17:18). He gave them what they always craved for: a multitude of pagan idol-gods. The Assyrians exiled the Israelites into different parts of the empire, and in turn, people from Babylon, Syria, and other pagan lands were resettled in Samaria. These nations brought their idols to Israel. Then, the Samaritans worshiped both God and a pantheon of pagan idol-gods (2 Kgs 17:33).
True Security of God’s Chosen
Like their neighbors to the south, Judah, whose security was the Jerusalem temple, Israel’s security was their temple at Bethel. King Jeroboam had this temple built and put two golden calves there to be worshiped. He did what the Israelites did at Mount Sinai centuries before when they worshiped the golden calf. He also built altars for the pagan gods Baal and Asherah. Israel also copied the abominable practices of pagans of burning their own children as sacrifice and of using black magic (2 Kgs 17:16-18).
Israel was secure based on two false things. First, they were secure in their might and wealth. Their fortresses were strong, they expanded their kingdom, and many lived in luxury. Second, they felt secure as long as they worshiped in the temple. But instead of pleasing God, God was very angry at their idolatry. In verse 14, the horns of the altar in the temple will be cut off. The horns were vertical projections at the top of the four corners of the altar where sacrifices were slaughtered (Exo 27:2). It was used sometimes by fugitives to avoid being killed, because no one would dare kill a person inside the temple (1 Kgs 1:50; 2:28). Therefore, cutting off the horns of the altar represented cutting off the security of Israel. Their temple would not give them protection. Neither would their might and riches.
Do you understand that there are dire consequences when you disobey God’s commandments? True, many faithful Christians suffer afflictions, persecutions and even martyrdom. This does not mean that God is angry at them. Sufferings are a part of the Christian life, so do not be surprised when they come (1 Pet 4:12). But many sufferings come because of sin and disobedience. So you must always inquire from the Word of God what his will is for us. Listen to your pastor or elders called by God to warn and admonish you. Then fear the consequences of sin and repent. Ignoring what the Bible says about sin is ignoring the law of cause and effect: judgment comes after sin.
Beloved friends: Israel trusted in their might, riches and false worship. Do you trust in your own strength, possessions, and even in your being at church every Sunday? Christ is our only refuge, strength and help in trouble (Psa 46:1). Prosperity does not always mean God’s approval, for many of the rich and famous are wicked evildoers who have no hope in this world and in the next. They are deceived. They do not know right from wrong.
Only true worship of God can give you security in this life and in the next. This is why many Christians, including our sister Jeanette Kinkade, die peacefully. She was secure in her knowledge that she will forever dwell with God and Christ in heaven. True worship is worship in spirit and truth. Worship God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Worship God with the Bible alone as your basis for worship, not gimmicks or any other entertainment. Worship God together with all God’s people every Lord’s Day, as the Bible commands.
Finally, God assures us that all your sources of false security will be removed on the Day of Judgment. Godless empires and kings will fall. The rich living in opulence on the backs of the poor, together with their mansions and millions, will be destroyed. False teachers and false churches teaching prosperity and entertainment and not true worship will be destroyed. You have no reason to believe that God will be less severe in dealing with those who have false security in their wealth and false worship.
When Jesus came to the world, he came as a Lion roaring, sounding the trumpet of God’s final judgment against sin. But he also gave us a way out of judgment. Repent and believe in Jesus and be saved. When he returns a second time, he will be the Lion who will catch and consume the prey. Those who don’t believe will be trapped. Disaster will overtake them, together with the unbelieving world. Therefore, today is a day for salvation. But Amos also called God’s chosen people to repent of their sins. Today, there are many in the church who call themselves Christians, but who disregard God’s Word. The Lion has set the trap, he roars against them, and disaster will surely come. But if anyone repents and believes, the result will be forgiveness of all his sins and eternal life.
Christ alone, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, is our refuge, strength and help. You must not fear when the world around you seem to be crumbling, because in the end, he will give take you to the new heaven and new earth. He will give you all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. You were chosen by God from eternity, but you were chosen to be holy and blameless before him. Amen.