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“Justice into Poison, Righteousness into Bitterness”

 

Amos 6:1-14; Ephesians 3:14-19

July 15, 2018 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Dear Congregation of Christ: Once in a while, when listening to Pandora music, the 1960s song by the Rolling Stones, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction!” plays. This song was banned at first, then later, some of the words were censored because of sexual overtones. But it also expresses the writer’s frustration with our culture’s commercialism and materialism, telling everyone not to be satisfied with less, but always look for more, for the “new and improved.” And we see this in the world’s craving for the latest and greatest in cars, gadgets, and even spouses.

Throughout history, man is never satisfied with what he has been given by God. And when he has made a fortune and has become famous, he thinks he is Number One. One of the best Biblical examples is Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century B.C. He made a golden statue of himself 90 feet high and commanded all in his empire to bow down before his statue. Looking at his palaces, his hanging gardens, and the greatness of his empire, he proudly declared, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30). He took all the credit to himself, giving nothing to God.

Two centuries later, Alexander the Great, who conquered more lands than any other king, expressed his endless dissatisfaction, saying, “There are so many worlds and I have not yet conquered even one.” But he also realized that all his fortune and fame will come to nothing after he dies, saying, “Bury my body and don’t build any monument. Keep my hands out so the people know the one who won the world had nothing in hand when he died.” In the 18th century, Napoleon Bonaparte, who conquered most of Europe and invaded even the vast land of Russia, said, “The fool has one great advantage over a man of sense; he is always satisfied with himself.” His motto for success was, “If you wish to be success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.” In our modern era, Adolph Hitler, who imitated Napoleon, said, “I want war. To me all means will be right . . . My motto is ‘Destroy [the enemy] by all and any means.’ I am the one who will wage the war!”

Dissatisfaction with everything and pride is part of our sinful human nature. All of us participate in these sins. In our text today in Amos 6, we also see how God’s people Israel fell into these sins. They were rich, prosperous and strong, lived carefree and affluent lives, and were never satisfied with what they had, craving for more and more. In their pride, they did not give credit to God who gave them everything. For this dissatisfaction and pride, God punished them.

What is the antidote for this sinful human nature? The answer is found in our reading in Ephesians 3:14-19: looking always and forward to the spiritual, heavenly riches that Christ offers us. We can never comprehend the “bread and length and height and depth” of the glory that awaits us after we persevere in the faith in this life. So I preach to you the Gospel in two points: first, Woe to the Proud and Complacent; and second, Judgment and Its Aftermath.

Woe to the Proud and Complacent

Chapter 6 is divided into two main sections. The first section, verses 1-7, is the pronouncement of two “woes” against Israel’s sins. The second, verses 8-14, is the announcement of God’s judgment against them.

The first “woe” is against the proud and secure in Zion and in Samaria. Note that Zion is in Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. Amos was mostly prophesying against the northern kingdom of Israel, with its capital Samaria. So this woe includes both kingdoms.

What was God angry about in this woe? He was not pleased with his people’s pride and security or complacency. They thought that because they were chosen by God, that they could violate God’s commandments at will and still be protected by God. As long as they have their temples and sacrifices, God is pleased, and they could sin and sin more. It didn’t matter to them that their hearts were far away from the Lord and were preoccupied with their wealth and power.

This first woe was specifically against the “notable men,” those who were rich and powerful in society. The people came to them to settle disputes because they were in control of all the affairs of the nation. They considered themselves “the first of the nations.” However, if we look at the nations surrounding them, they were surely not the most powerful nation in the ancient Near East. There was Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Egypt. These were much more powerful than Israel. But their pride clouded their minds and they considered themselves “Number 1.”

Amos tells them about three powerful city-states that Israel and Judah conquered. Calneh and Hamath were cities in Syria, while Gath was in Philistia. What Amos was pointing out is that a wealthy and powerful nation like Israel could also be conquered by some other wealthy and powerful nation. No nation is exempt from being conquered by another. This was a sober warning.

But Amos’ warning fell on deaf ears. In verse 3, God rebukes them for thinking that the day of disaster is “far” and will never happen to them. It will only happen to other nations, not to them who were God’s people. On the other hand, they “bring violence” or “a reign of terror” near because they practice violence in their own land. This was how these people became rich and powerful: through violence and injustice against the poor and powerless. Their riches blinded them to Amos’ warning of judgment day.

Today, we are always encouraged to have self-confidence and be self-reliant or independent. This is especially taught to our children in the schools. There is nothing wrong with gaining self-confidence in the work that we do when we have skills to do it. But it is another thing to encourage children and even adults to have an overblown opinion of themselves, so their self-confidence, pride and security were false. That was the first “woe.”

The second “woe” was against Israel’s luxurious, self-indulgent and carefree lives. This was the same group of people in the first “woe.” For only those who were rich and powerful could live in affluence. Verses 4-6 describe what kind of lives they lived.

In verse 4, they lounge around on beds of ivory. Archaeologists have discovered rich ivory objects in Samaria. They eat choice lambs and fattened calves. In those days, Israel was an agricultural nation, so eating meat was not very common. Only the rich could afford them. In verse 5, they indulge themselves in music using expensive musical instruments. They even fancied themselves as David, who was a great musician. They pleasured themselves with their arts, music, hobbies and recreation. They were “cultured” people. They spent hardly any time working, since they were filthy rich. In verse 6, they had wine in excess, drinking from bowls, not in small cups. And they also anointed themselves with the finest, most expensive oils.

However, in all these luxuries, they forgot the poor, the ruin of Joseph. This was an allusion to Joseph, whom his brothers did a great injustice by selling him as a slave. They became rich on the backs of the poor. They did not help the poor, the powerless, the widows and the orphans. They were so rich that they were idle, violating God’s command to work to make a living.

Therefore, in verse 7, we read of God’s judgment against them. The punishment will fit their sins. Because they considered themselves first in wealth, first in power, first in fame, they will be the first to go into exile. Evidence of this is found in the description of the exile of the people in the southern kingdom after Babylon conquered them. The Babylonians exiled the wealthy, the educated, and the powerful leaders of Judah first. The poor were largely left behind. This was the common spoils of war action in the ancient world, so the Assyrians probably did the same to the Israelites in the northern kingdom.

Judgment and Its Aftermath

In verses 8-14, God’s punishment of Israel will be complete. He introduces the punishment by saying that he abhors the pride of Jacob. God hated the people who were proud of their wealth, luxurious life, and power. He will destroy their fortresses and give the nation to a conqueror. Their luxurious houses and even the small houses will be completely destroyed.

The destruction will be so complete that even if ten men survived and huddled in a house, they too will be killed. And after survivors find them all dead, they do not even want to mention the name of the LORD. Why would they not want to invoke God’s name? The most likely reason is that they now know that God is their enemy, and they do not want to have anything to do with God. They fear more punishment to come if they mention God’s name. They have become bitter against God. That was the Israelites’ state of mind after their destruction.

To add insult to injury, God asks them a couple of rhetorical questions in verse 12: “Do horses run on rocks? Does one plow there with oxen?” God was mocking them, “Are you so stupid that you would run your horses on rocks, and plow there with your oxen?” They were so foolish to pay attention to what God had told them that was coming to them because of their multitude of sins. The poor and powerless sought justice from the rich and powerful, and they received poison instead. They sought righteousness, but they received bitter pill of wickedness of the rich.

In verse 13, Amos mentions two cities that Israel conquered. There is irony and sarcasm here. Lo-debar means “no-thing,” so Israel conquered a city that was “nothing,” no big deal. Karnaim means “horns,” a symbol of power. Israel conquered a powerful city with its own power. Here, God was condemning their pride in conquering both insignificant and strong cities. So God will send a powerful nation, Assyria, who will oppress them from their northern end in Lebo-hamath to their southern end, the Brook of the Arabah. The destruction and punishment will be complete.

Beloved friends: How is this study of what happened to Israel 2,700 years ago related to us today? First, Israel’s sins are very similar to the sins of our nation today. The rich are getting richer on the backs of the poor. Celebrities and sports people make tens of millions in a year. The highest paid basketball players make about half a million – per game! Billionaires never stop lusting after more money. And most of our leaders are in their high positions mainly to gain wealth and power by controlling the people by the laws and regulations they enact. They are never satisfied with what they have gained, always looking out for all kinds of ways to gain even more.

Second, the sins of Israel are also our personal sins today. Do you, like Israel, take all of the credit in being successful in life? Do you say to yourself, like Nebuchadezzar, that all that you have gained are because of all that you’ve done? Do you continually strive to get more and more in life, without any satisfaction?

Third, many churches today wallow in the same sins as Israel. How many of those televangelists have become millionaires on the backs of their poor, common followers?  Just last month, Jesse Duplantis solicited $54 million to buy his fourth jet. Without shame, he told followers, “If the Lord Jesus Christ was physically on the earth today, he wouldn’t be riding a donkey. He’d be in an airplane flying all over the world.” Like the rich Israelites, all of these heretics flaunt their jets, mansions and luxury cars. So beware of these names: Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, John Hagee, Paula White, Kenneth Copeland and many other shameless televangelists.

Is there anything wrong with being rich and proud? No, not per se. We take pride in our hard work and our accomplishments, even in material possessions. We enjoy the fruits of our labor, especially after we retire. Even King Solomon says, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil” (Ecc 2:24).

But pride can be self-consuming. If we take all the credit for all that we have and all that we have accomplished, God is not pleased. Because without his will and his approval, we will not have anything. The right responses to success are, first, satisfaction: being satisfied with what God has blessed us with after all the hard work we have done. The second response is thankfulness: giving thanks to all that God has given us, big or small things. The third response is generosity: sharing with those in need the resources that God has given us. And the fourth and last response that pleases God is humility. Jesus said to his disciples who argued over which one of them would be the greatest, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). In Christ’s kingdom, the road to greatness and importance is through being the least by being a servant of other kingdom people.

How are we able to have this kind of response to God’s blessings? By looking forward to the riches of glory that God has promised us in the end. His riches in glory is immeasurable. Christ’s love for us is so great that it is incomprehensible. Then when we have this perspective in life, we will be “rooted and grounded in love,” love that goes outward: love for God and love for our neighbor.

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