The American Bar Association Journal listed the top 25 TV law shows. Coming in at #2 was Perry Mason, played by Raymond Burr. The show originally aired from 1957-1966). It began as a radio series, then, made its way to the TV screen. At 5 years of age, I was an avid fan. Perry was a defense attorney whose forte was not only exonerating his clients of any wrongdoing but also of gaining a confession in open court from the perpetrator of the crime. In those moments of intense questioning, there were objections from the prosecution and warnings from the judge, but Perry Mason proceeded in his line of leading questions, establishing motive while describing the details of the crime until the witness admitted, I did it. That was great law drama!
Amos invites his readers into a courtroom drama. He is a prosecutor whom Perry Mason could not defeat. Israel was a perpetrator whom Perry Mason could not defend. Israel had sinned with a high hand and become transgressors (2:6; 3:14). When the Kingdom divided, God promised to establish Jeroboam I and build him a sure house as he had done for David if Jeroboam would listen to His commands, walk in his ways, do what was right by keeping the statutes and commandments (1 Kgs 11:38). The first thing Jeroboam did was make two golden calves, place one in Dan and the other in Bethel, and say to Israel, Behold your gods, O Israel who brought you up out of the land of Egypt (1 Kgs. 12:28-29). Now nearly 200 years later, Amos was sent by God to bring God’s case against the Northern Kingdom for their high-handed sin.
So far had they moved away from the book of the covenant in their highhanded sin, they had no theological category on which to hang the idea that God might have a case against them. Amos seeks to correct their deceptive theological assumption and prosecute God’s case against them as covenant breakers.
The covenant stipulations could be summarized in one word, love. They were to love God supremely (Deut 6:5) and, consequently, love their neighbor truly (Lev. 19:18). Amos charges that they had failed at both. To love God chiefly enables us to love others rightly.
In the second section of the book, chapters 3-6, Amos presents evidence and calls witnesses to validate the charges he brought against Israel in 2:6-16. Amos gives us three episodes of courtroom drama, each signaled by a call to hear the word the LORD has spoken followed by a direct address (3:1 O people of Israel; 4:1 you cows of Bashan; 5:1 O house of Israel).
I want us to walk through Amos’s first argument in chapter 3 and, then, draw out some applications. As people in covenant with God, we cannot live our lives as if God has not spoken. We cannot put words in his mouth, and we cannot disregard the words he has spoken.
In verses 1-2, Amos’s hearers could not imagine that the word of the LORD could be spoken against them. The language in Amos, and especially in these verses, is covenantal, drawing on the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants. The call to hear (Deut. 4:1; 5:1; 6:4), the covenant name for God (YHWH), and the ideas of election and redemption are covenantal and are used to put them in mind of the covenant. They had taken covenantal realities to mean that they were immune from judgment. Their material prosperity, their political superiority, and their popular religion were all indications, in their minds, that they enjoyed God’s undiminished approval. Amos, however, asserted that their election and redemption were the very foundation of their accountability to God for their sin. The covenant promised blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience (Deut 27-28). Their prosperity, stability, and cult were no indication of God’s approval. It is a deceptive theology that looks at my present circumstance and uses it as a barometer of my standing with God.
In verses 3-8, Amos led his listeners through a series of rhetorical questions to validate his prophetic ministry. The people were not thinking rightly. Amos uses cause and effect questions in verses 3-6 to repair their thinking, then in verses 7-8 draws the conclusion that the only reason a prophet is preaching to them is because God has spoken. Verse 7 may be an echo of God’s deliberation concerning revealing his plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham (Gen 18:17 ff.). Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do….
In verse 8, Amos uses the metaphor of the lion’s roar as the voice of God. Their judgment is a foregone conclusion. It’s going to happen. It’s as good as done. The proper response would be to hear the word of God and repent rather than reject the messenger and his message.
In verses 9-11, Amos calls on Ashdod and Egypt to bear witness that the violence and oppression in Samaria directed toward her own citizens is beyond the pale of anything they would do. These practices had become so habituated in Israel that God said, They do not know how to do right (v10a). To be sure they were storing up ill-gotten gain in their fortified palaces, but they could not avoid storing up, not simply loot, but violence and robbery as well. Like Paul said of the Jew in Romans 2 who no longer knew what was right, You are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Rom. 2:5). In poetic justice the plunderers would be plundered (v11). The adversary is not named and at that moment was not a global player (v11).
In the final section, verses 12-15, Amos singled out their false religion and false security. The one propped up the other. In the end, religion and wealth would prove ineffective defenses. No doubt drawing from his experience as a shepherd recovering the remains of slain sheep as evidence to prove the honesty of the shepherd, Amos introduces the concept of the redefinition of Israel after judgment. The Northern Kingdom will never be restored, but a remnant will ultimately be gathered along with the nations under a Davidic King (5:18; 9:11-12).
Amos’s point is that the Lion has roared; the Lord God has spoken (3:8). This should be a sobering reality for the people of God. Because God has spoken:
We must beware of constructing deceptive theologies that serve only to validate us (3:1-2).
In verses 1-2, Amos begins to present the charges of covenant violations against Israel by calling on Israel to hear. He reminds them of the graciousness of the covenant. God redeemed Israel, His son (Ex. 4:23), from Egyptian bondage. They didn’t fight their way out. God delivered them with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm (Deut. 4:34). They were the only nation for whom God so acted. Out of all the nations, God set his affection on Israel. He did not choose them and redeem because of anything He saw in them, but because He loved them and would keep his covenant with their fathers (Deut 7:7-8; Ex. 2:24). Amos, here, upheld the graciousness of the covenant.
Grace precedes command. The graciousness of the covenant is to be met with faith that issues in obedience. The fact that God graciously chose Israel did not mean that they had no accountability, but rather his choice of them established their accountability. The covenant was gracious, and it was conditional. The covenant promised blessing to an obedient people and cursing to a disobedient people (Deut. 27-28). All covenants have both unconditional and conditional aspects. They are unconditional in the sense that God will carry out his purpose for which he made the covenant. They are conditional in that those who would receive covenant blessing must respond in faith. God saves his people apart from works, but they must respond in faith.
There has only ever been one way to be saved in the history of fallen humanity and that is by grace through faith. The faith that saves, however, is never alone. It is accompanied by obedience, though not perfect obedience. Because their obedience would not be perfect, Israel had a sacrificial system. That sacrificial system foreshadowed the advocate we have with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous because our obedience is not perfect (1 Jn. 2:1). To be sure the righteousness of Christ’s sinless life in imputed to us, counted for us through faith which secures our standing before God. Yet, what God has declared in justification, He graciously works out in our lives on a moment by moment basis in sanctifying grace. He brings his declaration and the reality of lives closer and closer together.
Amos removes the deceptive theology that the nation will never be punished because they are God’s chosen people. If Israel was to enjoy the blessings of the covenant, they must in faith obey the stipulations of the covenant. If Israel forgets what God did for them and does not live as his people, the curses of the covenant are inevitable. To be under the curses of the covenant is to be cut off from being the people of God. This is Amos’s message to the Northern Kingdom. Not every Israelite was a person of faith. They enjoyed the protection of being in proximity to real believers. Perhaps, they mistook proximity to blessing as God’s approval.
It is a deceptive theology that thinks we have immunity from the scrutiny of God. It is a deceptive theology that denies the reality of sin. It deceptive theology that thinks I can disregard the commands of Christ and by right with God. It is a deceptive theology that thinks I can live in proximity to the church and have a show of being religious, while living for myself. I grew up in a revivalistic, once saved always saved church culture. We must not have believed it because we all got baptized 15 times. We all got saved but “it didn’t take.” We didn’t get in traction in grace. We had no category for perseverance. We sinned that grace may abound. We got our tickets punched. That is a deceptive theology. It is a deceptive theology that ignores the plain teaching of the word of God. Which bring us to point two.
We cannot live as if God has not spoken (3:3-8).
When our theology and our thinking are not shaped by the Word of God, we simply don’t think rightly about God, ourselves, others, and the world. We become religiously creative. We become the architects of our own brand of the faith.
The text seems to indicate both Amos and his message were suspect. Amos’s hearers were dismissing Amos as a nut-job and his message as incoherent. How could they be the object of judgment? How is it that their election and redemption were the ground of their punishment? In verses 3-6, Amos asked a series of rhetorical questions in a cause and effect format that anticipated the answer, No. He concludes that if God is sending you a prophet it is because he has spoken, and if he has spoken, the prophet cannot help but speak (vv7-8).
Israel was in a place that they could not tolerate the Word of God. Amos was obviously preaching the content of the covenant to them, but they had no place in their lives, theology, or religion to fit the very truth that created them as a people in the first place. They had a cafeteria style religion, picking and choosing. They had created a belief system not shaped by the Word of God but shaped by relevance to the cultural norms of the day, a religion that fortified what they wanted to believe, and how they wanted to behave. They used the Bible where if affirmed them and disregarded it where it contradicted them.
What is that place of nagging disobedience in your life? What is that area of life you have marked off as your own that is off-limits to the lordship of Christ? Christ can have all of you but this one thing, this one area. You may reply, “Yes, but if I concede this point to Christ, I’ll have to reorient my life. I’m just unwilling to do that.” That’s what I always went for with my kids. “Dad, I’ll do what you say at every point, but I’m unwilling to stop riding my bicycle in the road.” We have the same problem as Adam and Eve had—God is holding-out on me. He is denying some good thing. He does not have my best interest at heart.
Ultimately, Christ will have all of you or none of you. Jesus is kind and in sanctifying grace walks with you, but he walks with you! He talks with you about your life, and he aims to make you into whom he wants you to be. He gives you means of grace—the Word, the church, prayer, the teaching and preaching of the Word. All he commands of you, he keeps before you. Make no mistake in the end He must have you, all of you, all aspects of your life. Which bring us to point three:
We must live as God’s distinctive people in the world (3:9-11).
God had a purpose in choosing Israel that was larger than Israel, namely, He would bless the nations through them. Blessing would come to the nations through Israel in two ways: immediately and ultimately. Immediately, they were to be a living demonstration of a people living in covenant with God, a people of unparalleled blessing explained only by the presence of God among them (eg. Gen. 21:22; 26:28). Ultimately, they would be the historical means through which the Messiah would come into the world and actively pursue the nations and gather the people of God under a new covenant.
Knowing this about Israel furthers the indictment that God would summon the nations to be appalled at the violence and oppression in Israel. They are not only as bad as the nations listed in chapters 1 and 2, they are worse. They are worse because they had the Word of God to teach them what was right. When they abandoned the Word, they no longer knew how to do right.
What is going on in this passage is not the nations setting the agenda for the church. Many supposed evangelicals today are letting the world set their agenda, which requires abandoning the Word. The greatest fear we have is that the world is going to call us bigoted, narrow-minded, antiquated. Let them do so as long as they call us biblical.
This text rather asserts that those who abandon the Word to be relevant to the culture around them will have that same culture witness against them. Our task is to be God’s distinctive people in the world. The nations are to experience conviction of their sin when they look at the conduct of the people of God in society and see the unparalleled blessing in their lives explained only by the presence of God.
Christians can be involved in terrible sin. But I think this text addresses, the sin we no longer see as wrong. What started as a high-handed sin, became a habituated practice. A problem for Christians is disassociating our business from our faith, our leisure from our faith, and our politics from our faith. Christianity is in its compartment at the church. I go there to be Christian. We must integrate every aspect of our lives with our faith. We cannot witness to a world, we from which we are not distinct. That is a life that cannot stand. You defenses will prove inadequate to sustain you. There are many ways to plunder—one chief way is to exploit others by validating cultural sins that pays in personal notoriety, public attention, and a social media following.
We can have no competing trusts but trust only in Christ alone (3:12-15).
Amos draws on his experience as a shepherd to show the outcome of Israel’s false religion and false security. According to the law, a shepherd had to recover the remains of a sheep killed by a lion and show them to the owner to be cleared of any wrong doing and obligation in the matter (Ex. 22:13). The point is only a remnant of believing people would be left (5:15; 9:11-12). Ultimately, the Israel of God would be radically redefined in a New Covenant that would take in all the nations.
Amos gives us a startling picture in verses 14-15 of the failure of all their trusts. The religion in which the Israelites trusted and the wealth that gave them feelings of security would prove ineffective to secure their future. They would find no sanctuary at the altar because there was nothing there of substance to hold to (v14). The activities of religion are no substitute for a trusting and treasuring Christ.
They would find no security in wealth because it would all be gone. Wealth is not a problem. The problem is how people get it, what they do with it, and whether they trust it. True wealth creates wealth in society. The wealthy Amos has in view were not wealthy because of any value they added to society, but because they oppressed the poor and, then, employed their wealth to further oppress the poor.
Where would they find refuge in the day of judgment? There is only one place to flee. That is to the very God who judges. Paul exhorts the church to look at Israel. They are an example for us.
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:6-11).
As we come to the Table this morning, we have the only sure refuge from the wrath to come. What a refuge He is! He lived a perfect life that counts for us. He exchanged His perfection for our sin in His death on the cross bearing the penalty of sin for us. He rose from the dead on the third day for our justification. He saves us from wrath.
If you are not a believer, you have rested your hope and trust in something or in someone. You don’t reject the gospel of Christ and live a life of neutrality. You give something or someone transcendent status, and you worship there. You worship what is no God at all and cannot save.