The Lion Roars: the LORD, the God of Hosts, Is His Name
4 of 7 in a Series through Amos
In Amos 4, Amos offers his second round of argument in his prosecution of God’s case against his people by drilling down into the topics raised in chapter 3—social malpractice, person self-indulgence, and invented religion. What made those things particularly odious was the character of God. The God who chose Israel is not only mysteriously transcendent but also deeply personal. To be in covenant with God is to have a relationship with God. We understand that relationships bring relational obligations.
The covenant was summed up in two commands—love God and love your neighbor—so our treatment of our neighbor reflects our relationship with God. The two tables of the stone dealt with relating to God and to man. You can’t be wrong with your neighbor, your spouse, your co-workers, your employees, some ethnic group, or some religious group and still be right with God.
Amos is not saying treat your neighbor better to be right with God. He is saying, You are not right with God and the evidence of it is the way you treat your neighbor and your God. This why Amos attacks their worship and their treatment of others.
So I want us to walk through this text and see how Israel’s self-indulgence in life and religion led to ignoring God’s warnings and a failure to know God rightly, then, make some applications for us.
Amos begins his second round of argument with the summons, Hear, followed by a direct address, you cows of Bashan (4:1; cf. 3:1; 5:1). Because of its well-watered pastures, Bashan was an area known for superb cattle. Amos narrows his focus on the social sins of Israel to the upper class women of Samaria by comparing them to the prize cattle of Bashan.
Apparently, these pampered women demanded from their husbands a luxurious standard of living that required the crushing of the poor and needy. They lived lives of self-indulgence (Bring, that we may drink!).
There is a play on the words husbands (v1) and Lord (v2). Literally, Amos is said, You say to your lords … while the Lord God has sworn by his holiness. God in His holiness would ensure that they would be led out of the fortified city of Samaria straight ahead through breaches in the wall. True to their nature, they oppressed and crushed the poor. God true to His nature would crush them. The Lord in his oath commits the whole unique resource of His nature to the complete reversal and destruction to their order of things. There is no room in God’s world for life organized on the basis of self.
Amos attacked their self-indulgence and, then, their self-taught religion. How can you live a life of complete self-indulgence, crushing the poor and needy and, then, go to worship God? Ah, you have to establish a self-made, self-focused religion. Amos singled out the shrines at Bethel and Gilgal (cf. 3:14) and mocked the invitation to pilgrimage by saying, Come to Bethel, and transgress, to Gilgal, and multiply transgression (v4). This is like saying, Go to church and sin. In the 7 imperative verbs in verses 4-5 (come, transgress, multiply, bring, offer, proclaim, publish), Amos uses exaggeration to show the inconsistency between life and worship.
Amos called on them to overindulge in religiosity as a parallel to the hedonistic overindulgence of their society. Bring your sacrifices every morning, instead of every year. Bring your tithes every three days, instead of every 3 years. Burn leaven with your thanksgiving offering. Call for freewill offerings, and then boast about giving them, which would defeat the purpose of them. The reason they should overindulge is because that is what they love to do.
Amos strikes at the heart of their religious motivation. The motive for their inconsistent, exaggerated worship was self-interest. It was all an exercise in religious pointlessness. In idolatry, external worship requirements fulfill one’s obligation to God. The covenant calls for inner allegiance, a heartfelt response to God that impacts all of life.
The message of verses 6-11 is indicated in the first verb of verse 6. It is emphatic and has the pronoun “I” built into it, so it can read, I for myself or I for my part gave you cleanness of teeth. Amos contrasts the activity of the Israel at worship and God’s chastisement of them. The sense of the text is, While you were at shrine going through the exaggerated motions of worship, I was busy sending famine (6), drought (7), blight and locust (9), epidemics (10a), war (10b), and destruction (11), in other words, enacting the curses of the covenant.
Here we see God working. They have been busy with religion. He has been busy seeking to bring them to repentance (6,8,9,10,11). 9 times Amos uses first person speech for God to show what God was doing, initiating covenant curses. 5 times, he says, the aim of God’s work failed. There was enough in God’s working to open the blind eyes of his people. He did exactly what he said he would do if they did not keep the covenant (cf. Lev. 26; Deut. 28). Had they looked honestly at their misfortunes, they would have discerned God’s hand implementing the curses of the covenant. They were devoting themselves to the cult at Bethel and Gilgal, religious practices to prevent the hardships of life—famine, crop failure, drought, war, prosperity. The Lord attacked their religion at every point, just as he did the gods of Egypt in the plagues (10), to open their eyes to the bogus, phony, promising much bringing nothing religion they so loved. Where were their gods of rainfall when there was no rain and their gods of harvest when crops failed? In this time of peace and prosperity, they were a stick pulled from the fire (11). Yet, they would not return to the LORD (11).
Israel had ignored, misrepresented, misinterpreted, and redacted the curses God sent to bring them to repentance. Now, they must prepare to meet God! This language is an echo of the establishment of the Sinai covenant, the covenant they were under indictment for breaking. They were instructed by Moses at Sinai to be ready for the third day (Ex. 19:11); be ready for the third day (Ex.19:15); On the morning of the third day …Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God (Ex. 19:16a, 17a). I think the point of this text in Amos is that Israel had prepared to meet God in the establishing of the covenant at Sinai, now they must prepare to meet God in the breaking of the covenant. There is no mention of the third day here. There is no reversal. But verse 13 gives us a vision of the God Whom they are to prepare to meet. The God with Whom they are in covenant is a God like no other. None compare to Him. He made all things, controls all things, knows all things, and is present everywhere. There is a contrast between encountering false gods and the true, covenant God in verses 4-5 and 12-13.
At this point in the text, what God will do to them is undefined in verse 12. This is part of the style of Amos. He did the same sort of thing in the first section of his book (1:3,6,9,11,13; 2:1,4,6). Perhaps you can see a footnote in your Bible by the word punishment. The text reads, I will not turn it back? Turn what back? The listener is to supply the answer. The covenant breakers had dismissed God’s working through the secondary causes of covenant curses. What will He do to covenant breakers when they meet him face to face?
In his second round of prosecution, Amos charges Israel with injustice to others and ignoring of God’s warnings due to their failure to know God rightly. Their failure to know God rightly and recognize His warnings resulted in self-centeredness in life and worship.
How then can we avoid a self-focused orientation, so that we may know God rightly and live rightly?
I. Because of the Uniqueness of God, don’t waste your life with self-indulgence (4:1-3).
Probably most of us remember the book John Piper wrote titled, Don’t Waste Your Life. In the book, Piper writes, I will tell you what tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 “Reader’s Digest”: A couple took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells…. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy.
Piper goes on, God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.
We have to be careful that we don’t make not wasting our lives just another exercise in self-indulgence. I remember mission rallies where the call was, Do something significant with your life. We desire significance; we don’t want to waste our lives. But the only way to avoid the self-indulgence of having a significant life is to live your life, as Piper says, Not to be made much of, but to make much of Him in every part of our lives.
Understanding the uniqueness of God is the great ballast of life. We need the heaviness of God right in the center of our lives to steady us and give us stability in all of life. Your life will circle around Him or you. God is other than we are, not so much in a comparative sense, but in that He belongs to a class of being all His own. Isaiah captured it: I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God (Is 45:5).
Amos reminds us that God evaluates a sense of self-importance as an affront to His holiness. The exaltation of self is a challenge to uniqueness of God. He is in a class of His own.
It is also his very nature that establishes what is right and what is wrong. A person so self-consumed that he or she oppress and crushes others is a person who has no sense of who God is. When we deem ourselves owed the service of others, the praise of others, and as more important than others, God is committed in the uniqueness of His nature to the complete and total upending of our lives (apply this to abortion, climbing the latter, money etc.).
If I could ask, What would do more good for humanity and those around you, that you would cure cancer or that you would rightly know and rightly love God? How would you answer?
Amos holds before us the uniqueness of God. When we have a sense of the holiness of God, we are free from the need to exalt ourselves in the utter nonsense of devaluing others. Rather we are free to serve and encourage and help others.
II. Ritual is no substitute for relationship with the God who will be rightly known (4-5).
The overindulgence of self leads to the undervaluing of others and spills over into religion. Israel had to self-make a religion to prop-up life lived according to the importance of self. Excessive religious activity does not a Christian make.
Their religious lives reflected their personal lives. YHWH, the God of Israel is not the God of human invention. He, rather, is unique because He is the God who has revealed Himself. He reveals Himself because He is the God who will be rightly known. He is very concerned with our thoughts of Him. Of all the gods human minds have conceived, there is none like Him. The gods we create are remarkably like us; they share our passions, goals, and attitudes. Self-absorbed people make religion all about themselves. So self-oriented can people be that they don’t realize the God of the Bible is other than they are. His passions are not our passions, His goals not our goals, and His demeanor not our demeanor. He will not be conformed to us, but we must be conformed to His image.
Multiplication of religious activity does not create community but can be one more expression of consumerism. Is God impressed with the number of religious acts we do or is it something else He is looking for?
Worship is responding to God’s initiative in salvation and revelation, and doing so in the way that he requires. Corporate worship is authentic community gathered around the presence of God. Worship does not earn anything form God. He is not flattered. It simply is a loving response to what God has already freely given. Worship is experiential in nature because it engages the worshiper in a relationship with God. The natural response of a believer to the presence of a holy and all-powerful God is humble submission, reverence, and praise. It, among other things, is a forgetting of self.
This time together can be a time when authentic community gathers in the realized presence of God, or it can be sin. If your church gives you public status, if your religious acts—giving, praying, gathering—give you public status, your worship may be the multiplication of transgression.
We gather for worship because God has revealed Himself. He is the God who will be known.
III. Don’t miss the purpose of discipline: to call you back into a right relationship with God (4:6-11).
While Israel was indulging in religion, God was busy calling them to repentance. Amos gave a laundry list of 7 historical acts of God’s chastisement of Israel, then added a future one in verse 12. They would meet God Himself. This is the same pattern Amos used in chapters 1-2, when he outlined the judgment of 7 nations and, then, added Israel for number 8. Five times Amos repeated God’s purpose in enacting the covenant curses was to call Israel back to him. If Israel would not return to God in grace; they would face Him in judgment.
This text is amazing. How could Israel not see that God’s chastening hand was upon them? You would think that the troubles of life would have given them pause, a reason for reflection, a moment of examination. A god absent from the troubles of life is not the God of the Bible. A god who stands aloof is no good in this world. No. What we need is to be able to look in the eye of the storm and see our Father.
It is a great gift of God that He should care for us to chasten us. He chastens us because He will not be satisfied until we come all the way back to Him. He looks for repentance not because He delights to see us grovel or live in condemnation but because repentance is the only way to restoration to right relationship with Him, the only way to avoid groveling and condemnation.
Why are there so many miserable Christians? Why all the misery? Everything is a chore. Church is a chore. Work is a chore. Home is a chore. Marriage is a chore. Kids are a chore. From where does all the misery arise? Is it not a combination of things: an exalted view of self and a misunderstanding of God? We look at our lives and think, Is this it? Is this all there is? We become resentful toward our spouse, our kids, our employer, and ultimately God etc.? We just haven’t gotten out of life what we want. Life is not what we thought it was going to be. Nothing comes out right.
Did you ever think, maybe it’s you? Perhaps you’re the problem? Do you think maybe you have ignored the relationship between your misery and what God maybe saying to you? Maybe just maybe, God is sending his miserable messengers into your life to awaken you to the idea that you’ve got to make changes.
How kind is God to do that! How kind is He that He would present His case to you to call you back into right relationship with Him. Don’t miss the purpose of discipline.
IV. Only God can satisfy the human longing, and we are accountable to Him (12-13).
The eighth curse is the ultimate curse. Amos does not say what God will do them when they meet Him. He leaves that ambiguous. He simply, in the first of 3 doxologies, describes the God they are going to meet. He ends all three doxologies with the refrain, the LORD is His Name. He uses the covenant Name of God. He is YHWH the God who redeems sinners.
He is no ordinary god. There is none like Him. He is transcendent. We must have a sense of that and feel the mystery of God. He formed the mountains and created the wind, that is, He made all things. Yet, He is personal and knows us and will be known by us. He tells us what we are thinking, sets the rhythm of our lives (morning dark), and is majestic in all the earth. His Name is YHWH, the God of Hosts. He is the God who will be rightly known. And knowing Him satisfies the soul. You can never indulge self enough to be complete—because the soul craves God.
If He is all powerful and knows my thoughts, how can I prepare to meet him? He calls you from a life of self-seeking into a covenant relationship with Him.