Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reflections on Micah 3

    Micah 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Listen to me, you rulers of Israel! You know right from wrong,
  2. but you prefer to do evil instead of what is right. You skin my people alive. You strip off their flesh,
  3. break their bones, cook it all in a pot, and gulp it down.
  4. Someday you will beg the LORD to help you, but he will turn away because of your sins.
  5. You lying prophets promise security for anyone who gives you food, but disaster for anyone who refuses to feed you. Here is what the LORD says to you prophets:
  6. "You will live in the dark, far from the sight of the sun, with no message from me.
  7. You prophets and fortunetellers will all be disgraced, with no message from me."
  8. But the LORD has filled me with power and his Spirit. I have been given the courage to speak about justice and to tell you people of Israel that you have sinned.
  9. So listen to my message, you rulers of Israel! You hate justice and twist the truth.
  10. You make cruelty and murder a way of life in Jerusalem.
  11. You leaders accept bribes for dishonest decisions. You priests and prophets teach and preach, but only for money. Then you say, "The LORD is on our side. No harm will come to us."
  12. And so, because of you, Jerusalem will be plowed under and left in ruins. Thorns will cover the mountain where the temple now stands.

Chapter 3 is the beginning of Micah's second message to Israel and is directed primarily to her leaders who have led her astray, turning her away from God, and have used the people for their own purposes. Concerning Israel's political leaders, instead of leading the people as shepherds who protect their flock, they had become the ones from whom the people need protection. Rather than doing good, they hate good and love evil. Micah described them as hunters who killed them and then "tear off the skin of people and strip their flesh from their bones." Because of these sins, there will come a time when they need the Lord's help and "will cry out to the LORD, but He will not answer them. He will hide His face from them at that time because of the crimes they have committed."

Next Micah turned up the heat on Israel's prophets. They who should be helping the people stay true to God had actually led them away from God. They had become 'prophets for hire,' in that their prophecies followed the money. For those who provided them food they proclaimed peace, but for those who paid them nothing they declared war on them. These corrupt prophets could expect night to overtake them in which they have no visions or divination. This describes an inner darkness rather than a literal darkness. At a time when Israel truly needed a word from the Lord, these prophets would have nothing to tell them. "They will all cover their mouths because there will be no answer from God." Such will be the state of these false prophets, but in contrast, Micah described himself as "filled with power by the Spirit of the LORD, with justice and courage, to proclaim to Jacob his rebellion and to Israel his sin."

Israel had grown assured of her special relationship with God, and had come to assume His blessing and protection regardless of her actions. Even though the leaders had come to "abhor justice and pervert everything that is right," they would still "lean on the LORD, saying, 'Isn't the LORD among us? No calamity will overtake us.'" Such great presumption on their part, depicting how blinded they had become. Micah, however, bursts their bubble telling them "Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become ruins, and the hill of the temple mount will be a thicket," because of the conduct of her leaders.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Reflections on Micah 2

    Micah 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Doomed! You're doomed! At night you lie in bed, making evil plans. And when morning comes, you do what you've planned because you have the power.
  2. You grab any field or house that you want; you cheat families out of homes and land.
  3. But here is what the LORD says: "I am planning trouble for you. Your necks will be caught in a noose, and you will be disgraced in this time of disaster."
  4. When that happens, this sorrowful song will be sung about you: "Ruined! Completely ruined! The LORD has taken our land and given it to traitors."
  5. And so you will never again own property among the LORD's people.
  6. "Enough of your preaching!" That's what you tell me. "We won't be disgraced, so stop preaching!"
  7. Descendants of Jacob, is it right for you to claim that the LORD did what he did because he was angry? Doesn't he always bless those who do right?
  8. My people, you have even stolen clothes right off the backs of your unsuspecting soldiers returning home from battle.
  9. You take over lovely homes that belong to the women of my nation. Then you cheat their children out of the inheritance that comes from the LORD.
  10. Get out of here, you crooks! You'll find no rest here. You're not fit to belong to the LORD's people, and you will be destroyed.
  11. The only prophet you want is a liar who will say, "Drink and get drunk!"
  12. I, the LORD, promise to bring together the people of Israel who have survived. I will gather them, just as a shepherd brings sheep together, and there will be many.
  13. I will break down the gate and lead them out-- then I will be their king.

In chapter 1 of Micah, the prophet charged Israel and Judah with turning away from God to worship idols, bringing God's judgment on themselves. Chapter 2 addresses the inevitable sins that follow when a people turn away from God. The people had turned to preying on one another. They would lie awake at night dreaming up "evil plans on their beds!" (verse 1) Love for God and love for our neighbor are inseparable. Jesus taught that the whole of scripture is about these two loves, or what is often referred to as the Great Commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Not only are these two loves inseparable in the teaching of scripture, this inseparability is built into our natures. If one or the other becomes imbalanced, so does the other. As long as we remain true to our love for God, love for our neighbor will also remain true. But if our love for God falters, love for our neighbor is sure to falter as well.

God's judgments follow the sin. The judgment He had in mind for these Israelites who schemed of ways to take people's land from them was to have their land taken from them and then to be taunted by the nations around them. Neither could they expect any justice to be available to them to restore them their land, for "there will be no one in the assembly of the LORD to divide the land by casting lots." (verse 5)

Working against Micah in preaching his message of warning from the Lord, were the false prophets of Israel. These false prophets had no word from the Lord, but instead preached what the people wanted to hear. These prophets told Micah to stop preaching this stuff. "Shame will not overtake us." (verse 6) But Micah pushed back saying, "Don't My words bring good to the one who walks uprightly?" The upright had nothing of which to worry. For them, Micah's message brought good. This meant that the false prophets could only be protecting those who were not upright in their conduct. In their present state and frame of mind, the preacher these false prophets would cheer was one who invented lies and preached "about wine and beer." (verse 11)

Verses 12-13 conclude the first of three sections found in Micah. Each section concludes with a promise of regathering and blessing the nation after it has been destroyed and the people exiled. The promise given at the end of this first section uses the shepherd and sheep metaphor often found in scripture. The Lord, as their Shepherd, and will bring them together again as "sheep in a pen." Though it will be only a remnant He gathers, they will be numerous enough it will be a noisy sheep pen. The Lord as their Shepherd will break "open the way" for them and go before them as they advance. Then the metaphor changes, and it says the Lord will lead them as their King.

Israel still awaits the fulfillment of this prophecy. Will it be fulfilled through the church, as some believe, or will it be fulfilled for Israel after the Lord's return?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reflections on Micah 1

    Micah 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I am Micah from Moresheth. And this is the message about Samaria and Jerusalem that the LORD gave to me when Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were the kings of Judah.
  2. Listen, all of you! Earth and everything on it, pay close attention. The LORD God accuses you from his holy temple.
  3. And he will come down to crush underfoot every pagan altar.
  4. Mountains will melt beneath his feet like wax beside a fire. Valleys will vanish like water rushing down a ravine.
  5. This will happen because of the terrible sins of Israel, the descendants of Jacob. Samaria has led Israel to sin, and pagan altars at Jerusalem have made Judah sin.
  6. So the LORD will leave Samaria in ruins-- merely an empty field where vineyards are planted. He will scatter its stones and destroy its foundations.
  7. Samaria's idols will be smashed, and the wages of temple prostitutes will be destroyed by fire. Silver and gold from those idols will then be used by foreigners as payment for prostitutes.
  8. Because of this tragedy, I go barefoot and naked. My crying and weeping sound like howling wolves or ostriches.
  9. The nation is fatally wounded. Judah is doomed. Jerusalem will fall.
  10. Don't tell it in Gath! Don't even cry. Instead, roll in the dust at Beth-Leaphrah.
  11. Depart naked and ashamed, you people of Shaphir. The town of Bethezel mourns because no one from Zaanan went out to help.
  12. Everyone in Maroth hoped for the best, but the LORD sent disaster down on Jerusalem.
  13. Get the war chariots ready, you people of Lachish. You led Jerusalem into sin, just as Israel did.
  14. Now you will have to give a going-away gift to Moresheth. Israel's kings will discover that they cannot trust the town of Achzib.
  15. People of Mareshah, the LORD will send someone to capture your town. Then Israel's glorious king will be forced to hide in Adullam Cave.
  16. Judah, shave your head as bald as a buzzard and start mourning. Your precious children will be dragged off to a foreign country.

Moving from Jonah to Micah in these reflections we have jumped in time some 40-50 years. Assyria was no different than Israel in her loyalty to God. The people of Nineveh turned to God as a result of Jonah's preaching there, but by Michah's time they have reverted back to their old ways. It is now Assyria that is the instrument of God's judgment on Israel, the northern kingdom, which is the focus of Micah's message. Although Micah's message also includes Judah and her coming destruction at the hands of the Babylonians.

Both Israel and Judah are included in Micah's opening statement in verse 1. The word of the Lord that came to Micah was regarding Samaria, capital city of Israel, and Jerusalem, capital city of Judah. Verse 2 takes up the Lord's case against these two nations. He calls for the people of the earth to be witness to His case against them, assuming that the people would agree that God's judgment was just. God was coming Himself to deal with the two nations, leaving His place in heaven to "trample the heights of the earth." As a result, Samaria would be left in ruins so extensive it would be a suitable place for planting a vineyard. And the reason for this judgment was Israel's turning from God to the worship of idols. In the courts of the country in which I live there is freedom of religion allowing one to worship whatever he will or nothing at all. Not so, however, in God's court. Do we dare call this unfair? Not hardly since God is the one and only God who has made us and to whom we owe everything. In light of this, is it fair to God that we, His creation, should worship an object we have made ourselves as if it were our creator? It is not only the turning of their backs on God that is Israel's sin here. It is also crediting idols with what God had done for them. This is the implication when we turn our worship to other so-called gods and away from God.

Micah says he will "lament and wail" at Israel's destruction. Israel's "wound," her sin, was incurable and had, in fact, infected Judah as well. The only solution was to cut out the infection, which was what the invading nation of Assyria would do. Various comments are addressed to certain cities of Israel such as Gath, Shaphir, Zaanan, etc. Each comment has a significance related to the sin of that city. For instance, it is said of Lachish that it was this city where Israel's sin began. Then in verse 16 their attention is directed to their "precious children." Their sin had not only affected themselves, but now their children will be taken into exile with them. They squandered God's blessings to them and now their children must suffer. Don't blame God, blame yourselves.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Reflections on Jonah 4

    Jonah 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Jonah was really upset and angry.
  2. So he prayed: Our LORD, I knew from the very beginning that you wouldn't destroy Nineveh. That's why I left my own country and headed for Spain. You are a kind and merciful God, and you are very patient. You always show love, and you don't like to punish anyone, not even foreigners.
  3. Now let me die! I'd be better off dead.
  4. The LORD replied, "What right do you have to be angry?"
  5. Jonah then left through the east gate of the city and made a shelter to protect himself from the sun. He sat under the shelter, waiting to see what would happen to Nineveh.
  6. The LORD made a vine grow up to shade Jonah's head and protect him from the sun. Jonah was very happy to have the vine,
  7. but early the next morning the LORD sent a worm to chew on the vine, and the vine dried up.
  8. During the day the LORD sent a scorching wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's head, making him feel faint. Jonah was ready to die, and he shouted, "I wish I were dead!"
  9. But the LORD asked, "Jonah, do you have the right to be angry about the vine?" "Yes, I do," he answered, "and I'm angry enough to die."
  10. But the LORD said: You are concerned about a vine that you did not plant or take care of, a vine that grew up in one night and died the next.
  11. In that city of Nineveh there are more than a hundred twenty thousand people who cannot tell right from wrong, and many cattle are also there. Don't you think I should be concerned about that big city?

As chapter 4 opens, Jonah's attitude that led him to run away from God's assignment for him, has returned. Why did he run away from God's assignment? Because he, "knew that You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster," and he didn't want God to relent from sending disaster upon his arch enemy, the Assryians.

We return to the question we have asked of this book all along, "What is the message in this for Israel?" Jonah's attitude was a mirror to Israel of her own misguided attitude. Due to her special relationship with God and the prosperity she had known because of God's blessings, Israel had developed such a pride that she came to believe herself to be invulnerable to God's wrath and all other nations worthy of His wrath. All of us tend to see clearly the faults of others while being blind to our own, and so it was with Israel, and Jonah was demonstrating this attitude very well. Even though Jonah rebelled against God's instructions to him, he was glad to receive His deliverance and be given a second chance. He was not so gracious in his thoughts concerning the Ninevites. He carried out his assignment to deliver God's message of pending doom to Nineveh very convincingly. So much so, that the Ninevites believed his message and repented of their evil ways and violence. But delivering God's message of doom for the Ninevites was not the part of which Jonah disapproved. He could deliver that message convincingly because that is how he felt. The Ninevites were deserving of God's wrath as far as he was concerned.

But what Jonah feared came to pass. Considering the reputation of the Assyrians and Jonah's attitude toward them, he may have thought it a slim chance they would repent. But they did repent and now he knew what would happen. He knew God to be merciful and compassionate and that He would relent from sending disaster once the Ninevites repented. Another aspect of this repentance by the Ninevites and relenting of disaster by God is that it placed Israel in a bad light. It now highlighted their own evil ways and violence and unwillingness to repent. They had been hearing of their evil ways from the prophets who were Jonah's contemporaries but could pass it off as an exaggeration as compared to the ways of the Assryians. But now the Assryians had repented and changed their ways sufficiently to convince God they were genuine.

The book concludes with another of God's demonstrations. Jonah went out away from the city, built himself a shelter, and sat down to sulk over God's relenting of the disaster from Nineveh. God caused a plant to shoot up overnight and provide shade greater than that of Jonah's shelter. Jonah was very pleased with this and became attached to it. Then, also overnight, God sent a worm followed by a scorching east wind that destroyed the plant. Then Jonah was so upset he wanted to die. Again, Jonah played his part very well, demonstrating the attitude of Israel. He was very glad to receive God's blessing, not even questioning whether or not he deserved His blessing. But he felt it rather unfair of God to take this blessing away. Jonah and Israel are not the only one's who have this attitude problem. Most of us are prone to ask, "Why me, Lord?" when trouble comes our way. But we never ask, "Why me, Lord?" when blessing comes to us. This attitude was the first lesson of God's demonstration. The second lesson was about Jonah's concern for this plant. If he could be so concerned about a plant he did not cause to grow and that he had enjoyed for only a short time, why should God not have concern for a people to whom He had given life and who included those who were innocent of evil as well as animals?

Had Israel come to the point she was more concerned with her own comfort than with God's interests and concern for other people?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Reflections on Jonah 3

    Jonah 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Once again the LORD told Jonah
  2. to go to that great city of Nineveh and preach his message of doom.
  3. Jonah obeyed the LORD and went to Nineveh. The city was so big that it took three days just to walk through it.
  4. After walking for a day, Jonah warned the people, "Forty days from now, Nineveh will be destroyed!"
  5. They believed God's message and set a time when they would go without eating to show their sorrow. Then everyone in the city, no matter who they were, dressed in sackcloth.
  6. When the king of Nineveh heard what was happening, he also dressed in sackcloth; he left the royal palace and sat in dust.
  7. Then he and his officials sent out an order for everyone in the city to obey. It said: None of you or your animals may eat or drink a thing. Each of you must wear sackcloth, and you must even put sackcloth on your animals. You must also pray to the LORD God with all your heart and stop being sinful and cruel. Maybe God will change his mind and have mercy on us, so we won't be destroyed.
  8. (SEE 3:7)
  9. (SEE 3:7)
  10. When God saw that the people had stopped doing evil things, he had pity and did not destroy them as he had planned.

As I read through Jonah, my thoughts are as much or more on its message to the Israelites as on Jonah's message to the Ninevites. Chapters 1 and 2 relate a message of deliverance concerning Jonah's rebellion and repentance, communicating that God will also divert the pending judgment on Israel if she will repent. Chapter 3 picks up this theme of repentance and deliverance with Nineveh.

Jonah 3:2 contains a call from God similar to that of 1:2 - "Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh." Jonah's escapade in running away from God's call to him didn't change anything except Jonah's heart. God still intended for him to go to Nineveh, but now Jonah's heart was willing. So, as verse 3 tells us, he got up and went to Nineveh without further delay. What happens when he got to Nineveh is an amazing account. First of all, Nineveh was "an extremely large city." It was a three-day walk just to go across the city. I live in a city of 3 million people and could walk across it in about 1 1/2 days. Though it would not be accurate to compare geographic size to population, Nineveh, no doubt, had a sizable population as well. Jonah simply began to walk through the city and proclaim the message that "In 40 days Nineveh will be over thrown." Amazingly, the people believed him. Would I pay much attention to a stranger from another country who showed up and began to preach doom? I'm not so sure. Adding to the amazement of this repentance by the Ninevites is the reputation these Assyrians had for being a cruel and violent people. We have to wonder if God had prepared their hearts in some way to hear this message.

It seems that as Jonah walked through the city proclaiming his message of destruction that the people responded immediately, proclaiming a fast and dressing in sackcloth as a sign of their repentance. People from "the greatest to the least" responded in this manner to his message. Eventually word got to the king and he issued a decree for everyone to do what they were already doing - to dress in sackcloth and to fast. However, his decree also included for them to "call out earnestly to God" and to turn from their evil ways and from "the violence they were doing."

I find several points about this to be both amazing and interesting. First, I find it amazing that the king, without hesitation, responded in the same manner as the people. Secondly, it was amazing that the king openly acknowledged the evil ways and violence of the people. I find it of interest that he did not have to define what the evil ways were from which they must turn. We legislate laws in our nations in part to define what we consider to be right and wrong. Here the king legislated through his decree that they were to turn from evil and violence, but he did not define what that meant. Do we not inherently know what is evil?

In reading this we wonder how genuine their repentance might have been. It seems so incredible for a people to immediately respond to a message of this nature they have heard for the first time, and from a stranger who has earned no credibility with them. Our clue to the genuineness of their actions, however, is provided in the last verse of the chapter. "Then God saw their actions--that they had turned from their evil ways--so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it." If God was satisfied with the genuineness of their repentance, who are we to say otherwise?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Reflections on Jonah 2

    Jonah 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. From inside the fish, Jonah prayed to the LORD his God:
  2. When I was in trouble, LORD, I prayed to you, and you listened to me. From deep in the world of the dead, I begged for your help, and you answered my prayer.
  3. You threw me down to the bottom of the sea. The water was churning all around; I was completely covered by your mighty waves.
  4. I thought I was swept away from your sight, never again to see your holy temple.
  5. I was almost drowned by the swirling waters that surrounded me. Seaweed had wrapped around my head.
  6. I had sunk down below the underwater mountains; I knew that forever, I would be a prisoner there. But, you, LORD God, rescued me from that pit.
  7. When my life was slipping away, I remembered you-- and in your holy temple you heard my prayer.
  8. All who worship worthless idols turn from the God who offers them mercy.
  9. But with shouts of praise, I will offer a sacrifice to you, my LORD. I will keep my promise, because you are the one with power to save.
  10. The LORD commanded the fish to vomit up Jonah on the shore. And it did.

Chapter 1 raised some questions I had not previously considered when reading the book of Jonah. Since the book is written for the benefit of the Israelites, what might its message be to them? The book is about Jonah going to the Assyrians at Nineveh, but might its message really be to the Israelites? A second question is raised from this first one, might this venture by Jonah actually be a demonstration staged by God to illustrate to the Israelites what He wants to do for them? If it is such a demonstration, there is God's dealings both with Jonah and with the Ninevites that are illustrated.

As we approach chapter two with these questions in mind, Jonah is in the belly of the whale expressing thanks to God for his deliverance. In chapter one it seemed Jonah was rather nonchalant about having the sailors throw him overboard, but his prayer of thanksgiving to God in this chapter express his distress over this event. As stated in the reflections of chapter one, Jonah was a contemporary of Amos and Hosea whose prophecies precede his, both in order of scripture and in time of occurrence. Israel had at that time extended God's patience to its limit and these two previous prophets delivered messages of judgment on Israel. But with His messages of judgment, God always makes a call for repentance. He always leaves the door open for the return of His people. I have a growing sense that this is what the book of Jonah is all about, and it has as much or more to do with Jonah than with the Ninevites. Here was Jonah running away from God as had been the case with Israel. In verse 4 of this chapter Jonah states in his prayer that when he was thrown overboard he considered himself banished from God's sight. Israel was at this point - on the verge of being banished from God's sight - which was part of the message delivered by the previous prophets. Now, in the case of Jonah, God provided deliverance and salvation. This is exactly what God wanted to do for Israel and it is what He wants to do for us when we run away from Him.

So, Jonah's deliverance by way of the whale and his resulting prayer convey a message of deliverance to the Israelites. Verses 8-9 convey a message concerning the worthlessness of worshiping idols. This was the route the Israelites had chosen. They had turned to idols and away from the Lord. Could an idol, made by a man, have done what God did in causing the huge storm and then providing a whale to deliver Jonah from it? Besides that, God also made the storm cease once Jonah was off the ship. What inanimate object made of wood or stone could do this? Besides the inability of an idol to provide this deliverance, Jonah points out another factor in clinging to worthless idols. In doing so, one is forsaking faithful love. Such faithful love comes only from God. No idol will offer love of any kind, let alone faithful love. The whole concept around worshiping idols is about appeasement. There is no concept of love involved. One is simply following the formulas for appeasing the idol god so he will do for them what they are wanting. That is a totally foreign concept to that of worshiping God. Many bring that thinking to their worship of God, but it does not fit. God is not one who is an angry and unloving God who must be appeased. He is a loving God who wants our love in return. And after all, why shouldn't we love Him? He made us and gives us everything we have! But therein lies our problem. When we don't acknowledge this truth we fail to understand God's love for us and have a desire to also love Him.

Jonah's prayer of thanksgiving came from inside the whale. The last verse of this chapter tells us that God had the whale vomit Jonah on dry land. Now Jonah was free to complete the mission on which God had sent him.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reflections on Jonah 1

    Jonah 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. One day the LORD told Jonah, the son of Amittai,
  2. to go to the great city of Nineveh and say to the people, "The LORD has seen your terrible sins. You are doomed!"
  3. Instead, Jonah ran from the LORD. He went to the seaport of Joppa and bought a ticket on a ship that was going to Spain. Then he got on the ship and sailed away to escape.
  4. But the LORD made a strong wind blow, and such a bad storm came up that the ship was about to be broken to pieces.
  5. The sailors were frightened, and they all started praying to their gods. They even threw the ship's cargo overboard to make the ship lighter. All this time, Jonah was down below deck, sound asleep.
  6. The ship's captain went to him and said, "How can you sleep at a time like this? Get up and pray to your God! Maybe he will have pity on us and keep us from drowning."
  7. Finally, the sailors got together and said, "Let's ask our gods to show us who caused all this trouble." It turned out to be Jonah.
  8. They started asking him, "Are you the one who brought all this trouble on us? What business are you in? Where do you come from? What is your country? Who are your people?"
  9. Jonah answered, "I'm a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land."
  10. When the sailors heard this, they were frightened, because Jonah had already told them he was running from the LORD. Then they said, "Do you know what you have done?"
  11. The storm kept getting worse, until finally the sailors asked him, "What should we do with you to make the sea calm down?"
  12. Jonah told them, "Throw me into the sea, and it will calm down. I'm the cause of this terrible storm."
  13. The sailors tried their best to row to the shore. But they could not do it, and the storm kept getting worse every minute.
  14. So they prayed to the LORD, "Please don't let us drown for taking this man's life. Don't hold us guilty for killing an innocent man. All of this happened because you wanted it to."
  15. Then they threw Jonah overboard, and the sea calmed down.
  16. The sailors were so terrified that they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made all kinds of promises.
  17. The LORD sent a big fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.

The book of Jonah introduces itself rather quickly from the outset. God's word came to Jonah and told him to go to the city of Nineveh and preach against it. Instead, Jonah boarded a ship headed in the opposite direction to Tarshish. Whether or not one is familiar with the book of Jonah, they can learn in the first two verses that it is about God sending a disobedient prophet to the city of Nineveh with a message concerning their wickedness. As we read and reflect on this book a couple of questions arise for us to ponder, what is its message, and to whom? Since the account of Jonah's assignment to go to Nineveh is written to the Israelites we have to wonder what God was saying, not just to the Ninevites through Jonah, but also to the Israelites through this account.

Jonah was a contemporary of both Hosea and Amos whose prophecies I have just finished reading and reflecting on. Those reflections can be found on this site using the scripture search tool. These two prophets proclaimed to Israel God's judgment on her at the hands of the Assyrians, who were the inhabitants of Nineveh. On the heels of these prophecies comes Jonah who is told to go to these people who have already been announced as God's appointed instrument of judgment. Is this why Jonah is so opposed to carrying out this assignment? The answer, most likely, is yes. But we need also to consider his mission and its outcome in light of the message God had been trying to make clear to Israel, previously through Hosea and Amos, and now possibly through Jonah.

Very quickly Jonah's rebellion brought calamity into his life. Rebellion against God does this. Unfortunately, it also involves others around us in the process. What we do, for good or for bad, always affects others. Rebellion for most of us results in actions that bring about our own calamities. In Jonah's case the calamity appears to be the result of God's direct intervention. Though it may have been a natural storm that God used for His purposes, details of this first chapter seem to indicate that God specifically brought on this storm as a result of Jonah's rebellion. Though the calamity that resulted from Jonah's rebellion involved all who were on the ship, the account has an amazing outcome and benefits the sailors by pointing them to the real God.

Jonah's complacency in the midst of the storm seems rather unusual. How could he, in the midst of a violent storm that had seasoned sailors fearful for their lives, go down into the ship and sleep? Then, when it seemed apparent to everyone that he was the cause of the storm, he seemed nonchalant in suggesting they throw him into the sea. Is it possible that this whole affair is not real rebellion, but a demonstration to the Israelites of God's sovereignty? God had Hosea marry a prostitute as a demonstration of Israel's unfaithfulness. Might this be another such demonstration? Historically Jonah's actions have been interpreted as just what they appear to be - rebellion on his part. In fact, his actions throughout the account seem to show a reluctance to carry out God's assignment to take the message to the Assyrians at Nineveh. But whether it is true rebellion or primarily a demonstration, a number of messages are conveyed to the Israelites through his actions.

In the midst of the storm that engulfed Jonah's ship, the sailors cast lots to determine who was to blame for the storm. Is this intended to suggest a truth to us or is it merely the actions of heathen men? The suggestion is that all calamities of this magnitude are the result of someone's sin. My own thought on the matter is that this is merely the actions of heathen men and that such calamities are not necessarily the result of sin. I believe Jesus addressed this very issue in Luke chapter 13. He was told of some people whom Pilate had killed and mixed their blood with their sacrifices, and evidently suggested that this happened to them because of their sin. Jesus asked, "Do you think that these Galieleans were more sinful than all Galileans because they suffered these things?" Then He answered, "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well!" Then Jesus went on to tell about a man who wanted to cut down his fig tree because it did not bear fruit. My understanding of this account is that Jesus' was saying we should judge the presence of sin by one's fruit, not by the calamities that befall them. Calamities happen. They are a natural part of life that come to all, whether good or bad.

In the case of Jonah and the storm, we have a special situation that God is using to convey a message. Yes, He is intervening to set Jonah on the course He wants him on, and so, yes, God pointed the finger at Jonah and his actions as the cause of the storm in this case. But, no, I don't believe this should be understood as normative for all situations.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reflections on Obadiah

    Obadiah 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD God gave Obadiah a message about Edom, and this is what we heard: "I, the LORD, have sent a messenger with orders for the nations to attack Edom."
  2. The LORD said to Edom: I will make you the weakest and most despised nation.
  3. You live in a mountain fortress, because your pride makes you feel safe from attack, but you are mistaken.
  4. I will still bring you down, even if you fly higher than an eagle or nest among the stars. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  5. If thieves break in at night, they steal only what they want. And people who harvest grapes always leave some unpicked. But, Edom, you are doomed!
  6. Everything you treasure most will be taken from you.
  7. Your allies can't be trusted. They will force you out of your own country. Your best friends will trick and trap you, even before you know it.
  8. Edom, when this happens, I, the LORD, will destroy all your marvelous wisdom.
  9. Warriors from the city of Teman will be terrified, and you descendants of Esau will be wiped out.
  10. You were cruel to your relatives, the descendants of Jacob. Now you will be destroyed, disgraced forever.
  11. You stood there and watched as foreigners entered Jerusalem and took what they wanted. In fact, you were no better than those foreigners.
  12. Why did you celebrate when such a dreadful disaster struck your relatives? Why were you so pleased when everyone in Judah was suffering?
  13. They are my people, and you were cruel to them. You went through their towns, sneering and stealing whatever was left.
  14. In their time of torment, you ambushed refugees and handed them over to their attackers.
  15. The day is coming when I, the LORD, will judge the nations. And, Edom, you will pay in full for what you have done.
  16. I forced the people of Judah to drink the wine of my anger on my sacred mountain. Soon the neighboring nations must drink their fill-- then vanish without a trace.
  17. The LORD's people who escape will go to Mount Zion, and it will be holy. Then Jacob's descendants will capture the land of those who took their land.
  18. Israel will be a fire, and Edom will be straw going up in flames. The LORD has spoken!
  19. The people of Israel who live in the Southern Desert will take the land of Edom. Those who live in the hills will capture Philistia, Ephraim, and Samaria. And the tribe of Benjamin will conquer Gilead.
  20. Those who return from captivity will control Phoenicia as far as Zarephath. Captives from Jerusalem who were taken to Sepharad will capture the towns of the Southern Desert.
  21. Those the LORD has saved will live on Mount Zion and rule over Edom. Then the kingdom will belong to the LORD.

Obadiah contains just this one chapter with its 21 verses. Though Israel is included in its message, the primary subject is Edom, the people descended from Esau. Through Obadiah God is pronouncing judgment on Edom because of her pride and arrogance and also because of her treatment of Judah. Pride is a sin that is frequently highlighted in scripture. What is so bad about pride that brings such judgment and condemnation from God? As with so many sins, in its beginning stages it seems innocent enough. A person thinks more highly of himself than he should. So what? Don't we all do this to some extent? As it is allowed to grow, however, pride leads one increasingly to go against the two primary teachings of scripture, love for God and love for man. It leads one to believe himself to be self-sufficient and have no need for God, and to be better than his neighbor and thus entitled to take advantage of him.

That is what had become of Edom. She had obtained great wealth, not all of it honestly, she had an almost impregnable position geographically, and she was known for her wise men. She thought she had no need for God and that she was untouchable by her enemies. As verse 3 says, "Your presumptuous heart has deceived you, you who live in clefts of the rock in your home on the heights, who say to yourself: Who can bring me down to the ground?" But in verse 4 God tells them there is one who can bring them down, and it is He.

Verses 5-9 give some detail to the judgment God planned for Edom. As is often the case, the judgment reflects the sin. Edom had looted others, now she would be looted and pillaged. She relied on treaties with others instead of on God. Now those allies would betray her and turn against her. She prided herself on her wise men, but not even they would detect the deception of the allies and in the end these wise men would be eliminated. Edom's impenetrable position in the mountains was no protection against the deception of her supposed allies. Pride gives false hope to unbelievers who rely on themselves rather than God. It blinds them to their weaknesses, allowing them to see only their strengths, building them up out of proportion to what they truly are. In other words, pride causes us to lose touch with reality. When this happens we become vulnerable but don't know it.

As stated above, pride leads us to go against both God and our neighbor. The judgment noted in verses 5-9 relate primarily to Edom's dependence on themselves rather than on God. In verses 10-14 it is related primarily to her treatment of her neighbor, Jacob, or Israel/Judah. But Israel was not just a neighbor. She was also Edom's distant relative. Edom had stood aloof while other nations brought destruction on Judah. Then she mocked Judah in her distress, and took advantage of her distress by looting her. Now, as Edom has done, so it will be done to her. (verse 15)

Edom's judgment will also be the occasion of Israel's deliverance. With Edom's destruction, Israel will take possession of her land, "The house of Jacob will dispossess those who dispossessed them." (verse 17) Israel's borders will be expanded to include Edom and the land of the Philistines. Though those Israelites who inhabit the land of Edom will be given 'saviors' or leaders to rule them, "the kingdom will be the Lord's." Our ideas of justice may return to haunt us, but God's justice is sure and is truly just. Justice has not been exercised if only the wrongdoers are punished or if only the innocent are restored. It must include both punishment and restoration.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reflections on Amos 9

    Amos 09 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I saw a vision of the LORD standing by the temple altar, and he said, "Shake the columns until the tops fall loose, and the doorposts crumble. Then make the pieces fall on the people below. I will take a sword and kill anyone who escapes.
  2. "If they dig deep into the earth or climb to the sky, I'll reach out and get them.
  3. If they escape to the peaks of Mount Carmel, I'll search and find them. And if they hide from me at the bottom of the ocean, I'll command a sea monster to bite them.
  4. I'll send a sword to kill them, wherever their enemies drag them off as captives. I'm determined to hurt them, not to help them."
  5. When the LORD God All-Powerful touches the earth, it melts, and its people mourn. God makes the earth rise and then fall, just like the Nile River.
  6. He built his palace in the heavens and let its foundations rest on the earth. He scoops up the ocean and empties it on the earth. His name is the LORD.
  7. Israel, I am the LORD God, and the Ethiopians are no less important to me than you are. I brought you out of Egypt, but I also brought the Philistines from Crete and the Arameans from Kir.
  8. My eyes have seen what a sinful nation you are, and I'll wipe you out. But I will leave a few of Jacob's descendants. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  9. At my command, all of you will be sifted like grain. Israelites who remain faithful will be scattered among the nations. And the others will be trapped like trash in a sifter.
  10. Some of you are evil, and you deny that you will ever get caught. But you will be killed.
  11. In the future, I will rebuild David's fallen kingdom. I will build it from its ruins and set it up again, just as it used to be.
  12. Then you will capture Edom and the other nations that are mine. I, the LORD, have spoken, and my words will come true.
  13. You will have such a harvest that you won't be able to bring in all of your wheat before plowing time. You will have grapes left over from season to season; your fruitful vineyards will cover the mountains.
  14. I'll make Israel prosper again. You will rebuild your towns and live in them. You will drink wine from your own vineyards and eat the fruit you grow.
  15. I'll plant your roots deep in the land I have given you, and you won't ever be uprooted again. I, the LORD God, have spoken!

This last chapter reveals Amos' fifth and final vision. As with the others, it is a vision of judgment and destruction. But as is the case with the messages of judgment throughout scripture, it is accompanied with a message of hope. God's judgment is never an end in itself, but is a means toward His desired end which is redemption for all. He wants all people to be in everlasting relationship with Him. Though not all will choose this end, He wants it for as many as will choose it and does not remove it regardless of the number who turn away from Him.

In this last vision, Amos sees a large gathering of Israelites at the sanctuary at Bethel for the autumn festival. The Lord gives the command for the tops of the pillars to be smashed so that the entire sanctuary collapses on those gathered for the festival. Then the Lord says, "Then I will kill the rest of them with the sword." I would assume this to refer to all those not gathered in the sanctuary. Judgment was coming to all Israel. To emphasize that no escape is available to any of them, a range of extreme possibilities is eliminated. If they dig to Sheol or climb up to heaven, God's hand of judgment will still find them.

Should there be any doubt that these things are possible, we are reminded who it is that has determined to do them. It is "The Lord, the God of Hosts. . . He builds His upper chambers in the heavens and lays the foundation of His vault on the earth. He summons the waters of the sea and pours them out on the face of the earth. Yahweh is His name." Nor should Israel think her privileged position with God will cause her to avoid these calamities, for at this point God considered her no differently than other nations. As He had guided Israel from Egypt to this land of promise, He had also guided Israel's enemies in their migrations to territories they inhabited. But as He had reversed their destinies He would also send Israel into exile.

With a last statement of judgment also comes a statement of hope. "Look, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth. However, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob--the LORD's declaration." (verse 8) As one uses a sieve to separate chaff from the wheat, God will separate the righteous from the sinners. The last verses (verses 11-15) then describe a new day for Israel when she is fully restored to her earlier grandeur. This, too, is sure. As sure as was the coming judgment, for "Yahweh your God has spoken." The fulfillment of this prophecy is yet to happen. Will it be an earthly fulfillment or happen after Christ's return?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Reflections on Amos 8

    Amos 08 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD God showed me a basket of ripe fruit
  2. and asked, "Amos, what do you see?" "A basket of ripe fruit," I replied. Then he said, "This is the end for my people Israel. I won't forgive them again.
  3. Instead of singing in the temple, they will cry and weep. Dead bodies will be everywhere. So keep silent! I, the LORD, have spoken!"
  4. You people crush those in need and wipe out the poor.
  5. You say to yourselves, "How much longer before the end of the New Moon Festival? When will the Sabbath be over? Our wheat is ready, and we want to sell it now. We can't wait to cheat and charge high prices for the grain we sell. We will use dishonest scales
  6. and mix dust in the grain. Those who are needy and poor don't have any money. We will make them our slaves for the price of a pair of sandals."
  7. I, the LORD, won't forget any of this, though you take great pride in your ancestor Jacob.
  8. Your country will tremble, and you will mourn. It will be like the Nile River that rises and overflows, then sinks back down.
  9. On that day, I, the LORD God, will make the sun go down at noon, and I will turn daylight into darkness.
  10. Your festivals and joyful singing will turn into sorrow. You will wear sackcloth and shave your heads, as you would at the death of your only son. It will be a horrible day.
  11. I, the LORD, also promise you a terrible shortage, but not of food and water. You will hunger and thirst to hear my message.
  12. You will search everywhere-- from north to south, from east to west. You will go all over the earth, seeking a message from me, the LORD. But you won't find one.
  13. Your beautiful young women and your young men will faint from thirst.
  14. You made promises in the name of Ashimah, the goddess of Samaria. And you made vows in my name at the shrines of Dan and Beersheba. But you will fall and never get up.

With chapter 8, we are in the midst of five visions Amos had depicting the judgment that was coming on Israel. The first vision was of locusts swarming so thickly they blotted out the sun and devastated everything in their path. Amos asked God not to send them and He relented. Second, Amos had a vision of fire that devoured the land. This, too, was so devastating that Amos asked God not to send it, and again, God relented. Amos' third vision was of a plumb line checking whether Israel was true or 'plumb', and she was not. As with a wall that is no longer straight up and down, they must be demolished. Israel as a nation would be destroyed and never rebuilt.

Chapter 8 describes the fourth vision. In it, Amos sees a basked of summer fruit. Summer fruit in a basket was fruit that was ripe and had been cut. So it was with Israel. The time for harvest had come. But this harvest would be like one in which the fruit is over ripe and of no use. With Israel's harvest there will be many dead bodies thrown everywhere. The temple songs will turn into wailing. They will cry out to God, but from God, there will be silence. They had turned away from God to idols and had rejected His repeated efforts to bring them back. Now, even when they wanted to return to Him, He was not to be found.

Beginning with verse four, the remainder of the chapter goes into more detail about the human grief and the divine silence. Details of the human grief are in verses 4-10. When this 'harvest' of Israel takes place, the force unleashed on them will be so great that the land will quake like the ebb and flow of the Nile. Everyone in the land will mourn. Making the day of these events even more fearsome will be the darkening of the land during daytime. Evidently God timed an eclipse to happen at this time. Even on a normal day, an eclipse is eerie. But on a day of devastation, it must seem as if the world were coming to an end. And why will this happen? In part because of Israel's injustice. Businessmen trampled on the needy, pursuing profit over any concern for the poor. They skimped on the measure, selling less for more, and sold an inferior product, mixing wheat husks with the good grain. They grew impatient with the weekly and monthly religious observances and feasts which they saw as interruptions to their opportunity to do business and make profit. The Lord had let these injustices go on for a long time, but He had not forgotten about any of it. It was His remembrance of these injustices that brought about the devastating 'harvest' of Israel.

Verses 11 and following give detail of God's silence. Through Amos and other prophets God had been calling Israel to repentance and to return to Him. But once the harvest began He would go silent. The time was past for any call to repentance or for any response to their call for help. This silence is described as a famine - a famine of words. We often do not realize the value of those things that are of greatest value until we no longer have them. So it was for Israel when God went silent. People would search desperately for "the word of the LORD, but they will not find it." Those most capable of persisting in the search for God's word, the young men and women, would eventually faint due to a thirst for His word. Others, who had perverted the worship of God, would go to Samaria to appeal to God at the place of worship, but God would remain silent and they would fall, never to rise again.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Reflections on Amos 7

    Amos 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD God showed me that he is going to send locusts to attack your crops. It will happen after the king has already been given his share of the grain and before the rest of the grain has been harvested.
  2. In my vision the locusts ate every crop in the land, and I said to the LORD, "Forgive me for asking, but how can the nation survive? It's so weak."
  3. Then the LORD felt sorry and answered, "I won't let it be destroyed."
  4. The LORD showed me that he is going to send a ball of fire to burn up everything on earth, including the ocean.
  5. Then I said, "Won't you please stop? How can our weak nation survive?"
  6. Again the LORD felt sorry and answered, "I won't let it be destroyed."
  7. The LORD showed me a vision of himself standing beside a wall and holding a string with a weight tied to the end of it. The string and weight had been used to measure the straightness of the wall.
  8. Then he asked, "Amos, what do you see?" "A measuring line," I answered. The LORD said, "I'm using this measuring line to show that my people Israel don't measure up, and I won't forgive them any more.
  9. Their sacred places will be destroyed, and I will send war against the nation of King Jeroboam."
  10. Amaziah the priest at Bethel sent this message to King Jeroboam of Israel, "Amos is plotting against you in the very heart of Israel. Our nation cannot put up with his message for very long.
  11. Here is what he is saying: 'Jeroboam will be put to death, and the people will be taken to a foreign country.' "
  12. Then Amaziah told me, "Amos, take your visions and get out! Go back to Judah and earn your living there as a prophet.
  13. Don't do any more preaching at Bethel. The king worships here at our national temple."
  14. I answered: I'm not a prophet! And I wasn't trained to be a prophet. I am a shepherd, and I take care of fig trees.
  15. But the LORD told me to leave my herds and preach to the people of Israel.
  16. And here you are, telling me not to preach!
  17. Now, listen to what the LORD says about you: Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, your sons and daughters will be killed in war, and your land will be divided among others. You will die in a country of foreigners, and the people of Israel will be dragged from their homeland.

Amos outlined five messages in chapters 3-6 detailing charges God brought against Israel including injustice, exploitation, religious hypocrisy, indulgence, and complacency. Chapter 7 begins to describe five visions Amos had of the coming judgment upon Israel. We see in these visions God's mercy extended toward Israel. At first God proposes the judgment Israel deserves, but in response to Amos' requests decides on a less devastating judgment.

Amos' first vision is of swarming locusts, one of the most feared pestilences of the time. They could swarm so numerous and thick that the sun would become overcast as if there were heavy clouds or even darkness. In the path of these swarms, no vegetation remained, bringing on famine and starvation. There was nothing that could be done about the locusts, and no amount of wealth could produce food in place of what was lost to the locusts. In Amos' vision, the locusts came right at the most vulnerable time when the spring crops had just begun to sprout. There was no way Israel could survive this and Amos petitioned God, on her behalf, to forgive Israel and not let this happen. Amos was not just trying to protect himself. He was from Judah and not susceptible to this judgment. Though he went up to Israel to deliver God's message of judgment, he had a compassion for the people. God heard his prayer and relented of this form of judgment. He didn't relent of any kind of judgment, though. Israel had not repented of her sin and judgment was still called for.

Amos' second vision was of fire. Rather than the locusts, God proposed that Israel be judged by fire that "consumed the great deep and devoured the land." This, too, would be totally devastating and Amos again petitioned God to stop the fire, for Israel was so small and could not survive such a judgment. Again, God relented and stopped the fire. Had Israel been praying to God, repenting of her sin and asking Him not to bring the judgment, they might have been spared. But she gave a deaf ear to the message and totally ignored it. Judgment would come, it just wouldn't be by locusts or fire.

In the third vision Amos saw God standing by a vertical wall holding a plumb line. A plumb line was used to test whether a wall was truly vertical - straight up and down. If, over time, a wall began to settle and lean, the plumb line could detect it, and the wall would be torn down and rebuilt. This was the message of Amos' vision. Israel was no longer straight or true to plumb. She was leaning and needed to be torn down. God would "no longer spare them." The judgment described this time was unalterable. Both the religious and political structures of Israel would be demolished. This was the message earlier in Amos. Israel as a nation would be destroyed and would never again be reclaimed. The call for repentance was made to individuals rather than to the nation because the nation was beyond hope. This destruction of Israel's structures would come by the sword.

Now I try to place myself in this situation to think about what I would do if I were a religious leader at that time. This man Amos arrives from a rival nation with a message of judgment. He has no status as a religious leader even in his home country. He seemingly is a self-proclaimed prophet speaking of the injustices of my nation and the hypocrisy of the religious system of which I am a leader. How would I receive this man and his message? Is he crazy or is he sent by God? Certainly, if he is sent by God, I need to pay attention to what he is saying. But how do I know? One point to consider would be whether there was any truth to what the man said. Another consideration would be to go to God and ask Him to reveal the truth of the situation. Often when our relationship is out of sync with God and we are pulling further and further away from Him, we know in our hearts that this is the case. We just don't let that thought surface enough to a conscious level to admit it to ourselves. If we will turn to God and open ourselves to what He wants to tell us, this heart-knowledge will be be allowed to enter our thinking and God will be able to speak to us.

This was the position in which Amaziah, the chief priest at Bethel, found himself. For him to acknowledge there was any truth to Amos' message he had to accept responsibility for the wrongs of the religious system of which he was a leader. And since Amos' message also involved the political system, acceptance of that message by Amaziah threatened the ire of the king as well. Many, if not most, of us are not strong enough to take such a stand. This proved to be the case with Amaziah. His assessment was that Amos was conspiring against the king and the nation, and he sent that message to the king along with what Amos was saying, "Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will certainly go into exile from its homeland." He did not say this was God's message through Amos, but that it was Amos' message. Then Amaziah told Amos to go back home to Judah and not to ever prophesy again at Bethel. Note, in verse 13, what he says about Bethel. Not that it was God's sanctuary, but that it was the king's sanctuary.

Amos' response to Amaziah was to give a brief defense of himself and then to pronounce God's judgment on him for taking this position. Amaziah was in a position to help call Israel to repentance, but he chose not to. Thus, the judgment by sword would engulf him and his family. He and his family would be exiled, his wife would become a prostitute to help them survive, and his sons and daughters would die by the sword. May we always be open to hear what God has to say to us from the most unexpected sources.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reflections on Amos 6

    Amos 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Do you rulers in Jerusalem and in the city of Samaria feel safe and at ease? Everyone bows down to you, and you think you are better than any other nation. But you are in for trouble!
  2. Look what happened to the cities of Calneh, powerful Hamath, and Gath in Philistia. Are you greater than any of those kingdoms?
  3. You are cruel, and you forget the coming day of judgment.
  4. You rich people lounge around on beds with ivory posts, while dining on the meat of your lambs and calves.
  5. You sing foolish songs to the music of harps, and you make up new tunes, just as David used to do.
  6. You drink all the wine you want and wear expensive perfume, but you don't care about the ruin of your nation.
  7. So you will be the first to be dragged off as captives; your good times will end.
  8. The LORD God All-Powerful has sworn by his own name: "You descendants of Jacob make me angry by your pride, and I hate your fortresses. And so I will surrender your city and possessions to your enemies."
  9. If only ten of you survive by hiding in a house you will still die.
  10. As you carry out a corpse to prepare it for burial, your relative in the house will ask, "Are there others?" You will answer, "No!" Then your relative will reply, "Be quiet! Don't dare mention the name of the LORD."
  11. At the LORD's command, houses great and small will be smashed to pieces.
  12. Horses can't gallop on rocks; oceans can't be plowed. But you have turned justice and fairness into bitter poison.
  13. You celebrate the defeat of Lo-Debar and Karnaim, and you boast by saying, "We did it on our own."
  14. But the LORD God All-Powerful will send a nation to attack you people of Israel. They will capture Lebo-Hamath in the north, Arabah Creek in the south, and everything in between.

Chapter 6 brings us to the fifth and final message detailing the sins and punishment of Israel. The first message highlighted her unparalleled oppression of people comparing this to her unique relationship with God who had delivered them from oppression. In the second message the upper-class women (cows of Bashan) were the target as was the religious hypocrisy of the nation and her refusal to repent despite repeated chastisements. Message three addressed Israel's injustice, especially to the poor and needy, while message four again drew attention to Israel's religious hypocrisy. Now, in message five, Amos charges Israel with boastful complacency and luxurious indulgence.

Israel's complacency was due to her military and economical dominance and her attitude that she had accomplished this status on her own. She was strong and had nothing to fear, so she thought, leading her to this complacency. But Amos tells the leaders (verse 2) to go over to Calneh and from there to Hamath and then to Gath. These were major cities of nations that had also been considered great and were now fallen. Amos asks, "Are you better than these kingdoms?" If they fell, so also could Israel fall, and this fall was surely coming. But did these haughty leaders of Israel take this advise and heed this warning? Not at all. And what did they do to avoid thinking about this and the numerous other warnings? They did what people typically do to avoid thinking unpleasant thoughts - they "lived it up." To avoid thinking about something unpleasant people typically get involved in things that draw their attention away from these thoughts. Things that either pump the adrenaline or dull the senses. Excitement and booze. These will ward off unpleasant thoughts. The problem is that they do not ward off the cause of those thoughts. Instead they keep one from doing anything that might ward off those causes. The elite of Israel gorged themselves on 'fine dining', improvised songs, and got drunk on wine rather than think about these messages of warning.

Israel's luxury and complacency are then contrasted in the last verse of the chapter with the devastation that is to come. God was going to "hand over the city and everything in it" and none would escape. Even if there were 10 men in one house who escaped the sword, they would die of pestilence. By this time their complacency would be gone. Should relatives coming to this house to burn the bodies discover a survivor in the house they would beg him not to even mention the Lord's name for fear that the mention of His name would draw His attention to those He had overlooked and He would slay them too.

Israel had done the unimaginable by turning "justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood." Now God was going to do the unimaginable by raising up a nation against Israel that would oppress their entire land. God had delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt and given her the territory she now inhabited and of which she boasted as hers. Now God was turning her back over to slavery to this invading nation and the territory of which she boasted would be held by another nation.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reflections on Amos 5

    Amos 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Listen, nation of Israel, to my mournful message:
  2. You, dearest Israel, have fallen, never to rise again-- you lie deserted in your own land, with no one to help you up.
  3. The LORD God has warned, "From every ten soldiers only one will be left; from a thousand troops, only a hundred will survive."
  4. The LORD keeps saying, "Israel, turn back to me and you will live!
  5. Don't go to Gilgal or Bethel or even to Beersheba. Gilgal will be dragged away, and Bethel will end up as nothing."
  6. Turn back to the LORD, you descendants of Joseph, and you will live. If you don't, the LORD will attack like fire. Bethel will burn to the ground, and no one can save it.
  7. You people are doomed! You twist the truth and stomp on justice.
  8. But the LORD created the stars and put them in place. He turns darkness to dawn and daylight to darkness; he scoops up the ocean and empties it on the earth.
  9. God destroys mighty soldiers and strong fortresses.
  10. You people hate judges and honest witnesses;
  11. you abuse the poor and demand heavy taxes from them. You have built expensive homes, but you won't enjoy them; you have planted vineyards, but you will get no wine.
  12. I am the LORD, and I know your terrible sins. You cheat honest people and take bribes; you rob the poor of justice.
  13. Times are so evil that anyone with good sense will keep quiet.
  14. If you really want to live, you must stop doing wrong and start doing right. I, the LORD God All-Powerful, will then be on your side, just as you claim I am.
  15. Choose good instead of evil! See that justice is done. Maybe I, the LORD All-Powerful, will be kind to what's left of your people.
  16. This is what the LORD has sworn: Noisy crying will be heard in every town and street. Even farmers will be told to mourn for the dead, together with those who are paid to mourn.
  17. Your vineyards will be filled with crying and weeping, because I will punish you. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  18. You look forward to the day when the LORD comes to judge. But you are in for trouble! It won't be a time of sunshine; all will be darkness.
  19. You will run from a lion, only to meet a bear. You will escape to your house, rest your hand on the wall, and be bitten by a snake.
  20. The day when the LORD judges will be dark, very dark, without a ray of light.
  21. I, the LORD, hate and despise your religious celebrations and your times of worship.
  22. I won't accept your offerings or animal sacrifices-- not even your very best.
  23. No more of your noisy songs! I won't listen when you play your harps.
  24. But let justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry.
  25. Israel, for forty years you wandered in the desert, without bringing offerings or sacrifices to me.
  26. Now you will have to carry the two idols you made-- Sakkuth, the one you call king, and Kaiwan, the one you built in the shape of a star.
  27. I will force you to march as captives beyond Damascus. I, the LORD God All-Powerful, have spoken!

Chapter three began the first of five messages detailing the judgment that was coming upon Israel. Chapter four delivered the second message, and now in chapter five we have messages three and four. Message three is a lament over the death of the nation Israel. Though hope is given individuals who turn to God, of the nation verse 2 says, "She has fallen; Virgin Israel will never rise again. She lies abandoned on her land, with no one to raise her up." To individuals, the call is made to "Seek Me and live!" But they were not to seek God through ritual worship at the sanctuaries of Bethel, Gilgal, or Beer-sheba. The sanctuaries were doomed and ritual worship had been made a sham. They were to turn to the Lord in their hearts and in their actions of justice and righteousness. In so doing they stood a chance, individually, of being spared in the destruction that was to come.

Verse 7 ties together justice and righteousness: "Those who turn justice into wormwood throw righteousness to the ground." When justice is corrupted, righteousness is thrown to the ground. I would also reverse that by saying that without righteousness there is no justice. This is a message my own nation needs to hear. Righteousness is pushed further and further away as if it is a choice of the religious fanatics but has nothing to do with justice or government or anything else for that matter. But remove righteousness altogether and there is no foundation for justice other than the opinion of one person over that of another. For Israel, the outcome of the injustice that had become common trade was that the sovereign God of the universe was bringing destruction upon her. They had ignored God as if He were of no consequence, but Amos is telling them that this God they have forgotten is "The One who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns darkness into dawn and darkens day into night, who summons the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the earth--Yahweh is His name." In their turning to other gods, they had included worship of the heavenly bodies. But God, who they had forgotten, was the one who made those bodies and everything else.

Again, in verses 14-15, a call is made to individually turn to God, "Seek good and not evil so that you may live, and the LORD, the God of Hosts, will be with you, as you have claimed. Hate evil and love good; establish justice in the gate. Perhaps the LORD, the God of Hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph." The key word here is 'remnant'. There is hope, not for Joseph, but for the remnant. There is always hope for those who turn to God, but in this instance that hope is not extended to Israel as a nation.

The fourth message begins with verse 18 and takes the remainder of the chapter. It begins with a description of certain judgment. An illustration is given of a man who tries to flee the destruction as one would try to flee a lion only to be confronted by a bear. He escapes them both and goes home, feeling that he is now safe. But when he rests his hand against the wall he is bitten by a snake. Such is the destruction facing Israel, and there is no place of safety, for God has deserted them.

While Israel's injustice was the sin given main attention in the third message, her religious hypocrisy is given main attention in this fourth message. Her feasts and solemn assemblies had become a stench to God and the songs of praise had become just noise to Him. When their lives gave no reflection of the one they supposedly worshiped, the worship was distasteful to God. It was a mockery and a sham. But it was not just their injustice that made a sham of their worship. They had also turned to other gods as pointed out in verse 26, "But you have taken up Sakkuth your king and Kaiwan your star god, images you have made for yourselves." In this case, worshiping the heavenly bodies. This they were doing alongside their worship of God, which further mocked their worship of Him.

The final word? "So I will send you into exile beyond Damascus." Yahweh, the God of Hosts, is His name. He has spoken." (verse 27)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Reflections on Amos 4

    Amos 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. You women of Samaria are fat cows! You mistreat and abuse the poor and needy, then you say to your husbands, "Bring us more drinks!"
  2. I, the LORD God, have sworn by my own name that your time is coming. Not one of you will be left-- you will be taken away by sharp hooks.
  3. You will be dragged through holes in your city walls, and you will be thrown toward Harmon. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  4. Come to Bethel and Gilgal. Sin all you want! Offer sacrifices the next morning and bring a tenth of your crops on the third day.
  5. Bring offerings to show me how thankful you are. Gladly bring more offerings than I have demanded. You really love to do this. I, the LORD God, have spoken!
  6. I, the LORD, took away the food from every town and village, but still you rejected me.
  7. Three months before harvest, I kept back the rain. Sometimes I would let it fall on one town or field but not on another, and pastures dried up.
  8. People from two or three towns would go to a town that still had water, but it wasn't enough. Even then you rejected me. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  9. I dried up your grain fields; your gardens and vineyards turned brown. Locusts ate your fig trees and olive orchards, but even then you rejected me. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  10. I did terrible things to you, just as I did to Egypt-- I killed your young men in war; I let your horses be stolen, and I made your camp stink with dead bodies. Even then you rejected me. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  11. I destroyed many of you, just as I did the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. You were a burning stick I rescued from the fire. Even then you rejected me. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  12. Now, Israel, I myself will deal with you. Get ready to face your God!
  13. I created the mountains and the wind. I let humans know what I am thinking. I bring darkness at dawn and step over hills. I am the LORD God All-Powerful!

While the first two chapters of Amos brought general charges against Israel and the surrounding nations, chapter three began the first of five messages that go into greater detail concerning Israel's sins. Chapter 4 is the second of the five messages. It addresses four topics: the upper-class women who exploited the poor, the propensity of the Israelites to exercise their rebellion against God at their places of worship, the previous punishments God had brought on Israel to get her to repent, and the further punishment God was going to bring.

Cows of Bashan: This was the description given these upper-class women who exploited others for their own gain. It would seem that they may have even exploited their husbands, demanding them to wait on them as servants. The Hebrew word used here for husband is a rare word meaning "master." This seems to be a parody on the idea of these men who were supposed to be masters in their roles in reality acting more as servants to their wives. To support their wives expensive tastes they were forced also to exploit the poor. What these women had to look forward to was to be dragged with fishhooks through breaches in the city walls and to be driven toward Harmon. The significance of Harmon is not clear.

Rebel at Bethel: Verse 4 has a note of sarcasm to it. "Come to Bethel and rebel; rebel even more at Gilgal!" Bethel was the most prominent place of worship for the Northern Kingdom, and Gilgal was a center for pilgrimage and sacrifice due to its historical position as the place where memorial stones were set up marking Israel's crossing of the Jordan into the land of promise. The people were invited to bring all manner of offerings to these places for sacrifice. This was to highlight the point of their rebellion. Much of their offerings of animals and produce was grown or fattened on stolen land and their religious activities were done in a manner to impress others, not to fellowship with God. The whole thing was a sham and had become an offense to God.

Refusal to Repent: Verses 6-11 give account of multiple times God brought punishment on Israel in keeping with the covenantal agreement Israel had with God. Leviticus and Deuteronomy outline the chastenings that would come to Israel if she did not keep the covenant. God resorted to these chastenings in an effort to draw Israel back to Himself. The chastenings included food shortages, drought, blight, plagues, wars that killed their young men, and the overthrow of some cities on a dimension similar to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. If Israel remained familiar with the scriptures, she would have known the meaning of these chastenings, but it very possible she was not still familiar with the teachings related to the covenant and the chastenings since the priests had also rebelled. There was also the fact that the droughts were selective, raining on some cities and not on others, and on some fields but not on others. This had to make them wonder. Through it all, however, Israel did not repent and return to the Lord. Rather than noting the chastening and considering the need for repentance, it is more likely that the people were angered that God would allow or cause these things to happen to them.

Coming Punishment: Because Israel had not repented, she should now "prepare to meet your God!" She had not come to God, so God was going to her and it would not be a pleasant occasion. The previous list of problems had been chastenings. Now was coming the judgment. The people were reminded that the one they should be prepared to meet is the one "who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals His thoughts to man". He also "makes the dawn out of darkness and strides on the heights of the earth." There was no escape from their pending judgment. We don't have to worship God or give Him any consideration at all, but we do have to live and die with the consequences.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reflections on Amos 3

    Amos 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. People of Israel, I rescued you from Egypt. Now listen to my judgment against you.
  2. Of all nations on earth, you are the only one I have chosen. That's why I will punish you because of your sins.
  3. Can two people walk together without agreeing to meet?
  4. Does a lion roar in the forest unless it has caught a victim? Does it growl in its den unless it is eating?
  5. How can anyone catch a bird without using a net? Does a trap spring shut unless something is caught?
  6. Isn't the whole city frightened when the trumpet signals an attack? Isn't it the LORD who brings disaster on a city?
  7. Whatever the LORD God plans to do, he tells his servants, the prophets.
  8. Everyone is terrified when a lion roars-- and ordinary people become prophets when the LORD God speaks.
  9. Here is a message for the leaders of Philistia and Egypt-- tell everyone to come together on the hills of Samaria. Let them see the injustice and the lawlessness in that city.
  10. The LORD has said that they don't even know how to do right. They have become rich from violence and robbery.
  11. And so the LORD God has sworn that they will be surrounded. Enemies will break through their defenses and steal their treasures.
  12. The LORD has promised that only a few from Samaria will escape with their lives and with some broken pieces of their beds and couches. It will be like when a shepherd rescues two leg bones and part of a sheep's ear from the jaws of a lion.
  13. The LORD God All-Powerful told me to speak this message against Jacob's descendants:
  14. When I, the LORD, punish Israel for their sins, I will destroy the altars at Bethel. Even the corners of the altar will be left in the dirt.
  15. I will tear down winter homes and summer homes. Houses decorated with ivory and all other mansions will be gone forever. I, the LORD, have spoken!

Chapters one and two of Amos announced the judgment that was to come against Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Chapter three begins a series of five messages explaining more fully the reasons for this judgment. We already know that the central reason for this judgment against Israel is because she has withdrawn from God which has also led her to carry out atrocities to her own people, such as selling people into slavery who were unable pay insignificant debts within an unreasonable time period, or perverting the legal system to exploit the poor. Now Amos is telling them that at the core of God's judgment against them is their special position of privilege. They had no excuse for such covetous deeds to gain wealth. God had already provided them these things and would have continued to do so had they remained faithful to Him. "I have known only you out of all the clans of the earth;" God says in verse 3, "therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities." God had a special relationship with Israel He did not have with any other people on earth.

Now, as surely as two do not walk together unless they have agreed to meet or as surely a lion does not roar in the forest unless it has a prey, etc., so also is God's judgment on Israel sure. And as sure as is His judgment, so also is sure that "the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing His counsel to His servants the prophets. A lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who will not prophesy?" (verses 7-8) And here is what God reveals through the prophets. In this case it is the prophet Amos. He reveals that the people are incapable of doing right. Instead, they store up violence and destruction in their citadels. Therefore, imaginary heralds are sent to Ashdod and Egypt to invite them to the mountains above Samaria to see what the city is like. These emissaries from two countries well known for their injustice, will be astonished at what they observe in Israel's capital. Then the coming catastrophe is announced. An enemy will surround the capital city of Samaria, destroy its strongholds and plunder its citadels. How complete will be the destruction? It is compared to a shepherd who is able to snatch only a leg or an ear from the lion's mouth - all that is left of the sheep. All that will be rescued from those living in Samara will be "the corner of a bed or cushion of a couch." That is how complete will be the destruction.

Two points of the destruction are specifically mentioned in the last verses of the chapter: the horns of the altar at Bethel will be cut off, and the winter and summer houses will be demolished. The horns of the altar signify that there is no recourse for Israel - no rescue. These horns served as protection for citizens of Israel who were pursued for a murder they did not commit. They could grasp hold of the horns and receive asylum. This protection was not available to Israel in this situation. The winter and summer houses represented the luxurious mansions the rich had acquired through their exploits.

Unfaithfulness to God and turning away to other gods was a big part of what brought Israel to this situation, but at the core is trust. Why did Israel exploit those who were vulnerable and become obsessed with luxury? A core reason is that they didn't trust God to provide sufficient to what they wanted. He had prospered them to a point under Kings David and Solomon that they were one of the most prosperous and strongest nations. Yet they didn't trust God. Why? Why do any of us fail to trust God? At least a part of the problem is that we take our eyes off God and begin to look at what others have and desire it. But what we see with our back to God we pursue apart from God.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Reflections on Amos 2

    Amos 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD said: I will punish Moab for countless crimes, and I won't change my mind. They made lime from the bones of the king of Edom.
  2. Now I will send fire to destroy the fortresses of Kerioth. Battle shouts and trumpet blasts will be heard as I destroy Moab
  3. with its king and leaders. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  4. The LORD said: I will punish Judah for countless crimes, and I won't change my mind. They have rejected my teachings and refused to obey me. They were led astray by the same false gods their ancestors worshiped.
  5. Now I will send fire on Judah and destroy the fortresses of Jerusalem.
  6. The LORD said: I will punish Israel for countless crimes, and I won't change my mind. They sell honest people for money, and the needy are sold for the price of sandals.
  7. They smear the poor in the dirt and push aside those who are helpless. My holy name is dishonored, because fathers and sons sleep with the same young women.
  8. They lie down beside altars on clothes taken as security for loans. And they drink wine in my temple, wine bought with the money they received from fines.
  9. Israel, the Amorites were there when you entered Canaan. They were tall as cedars and strong as oaks. But I wiped them out-- I destroyed their branches and their roots.
  10. I had rescued you from Egypt, and for forty years I had led you through the desert. Then I gave you the land of the Amorites.
  11. I chose some of you to be prophets and others to be Nazirites. People of Israel, you know this is true. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  12. But you commanded the prophets not to speak their message, and you pressured the Nazirites into drinking wine.
  13. And so I will crush you, just as a wagon full of grain crushes the ground.
  14. No matter how fast you run, you won't escape. No matter how strong you are, you will lose your strength and your life.
  15. Even if you are an expert with a bow and arrow, you will retreat. And you won't get away alive, not even if you run fast or ride a horse.
  16. You may be brave and strong, but you will run away, stripped naked. I, the LORD, have spoken!

Charges were brought against four nations in chapter 1: Damascus, Tyre, Edom, and Ammon. The final charge against a gentile nation is brought at the beginning of this chapter against Moab. The sin of Moab was that she "burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom." One may wonder how this could be a sin. Sin is not always an act itself, but the motive behind the act. Moab's sin was her rebellion against the "sovereign Lord of the universe, an assault against His own image in people." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary) Charges are brought next against Judah and then Israel. In essence, the gentile nations were charged with rebellion against God's "everlasting covenant" with all people made through Noah following the flood. (Gen 9:16) Judah and Israel's charges are rebellion against the Mosaic Covenant God made with Israel during her exodus from Egyptian bondage.

Against Judah, the specific charge is that the people let themselves be led astray by the lies of their ancestors. They followed the same false gods of their ancestors. Israel has a longer list of charges. First, there is the charge of selling people into slavery who could not pay their debts. These were honest people who would pay eventually and the sums were insignificant. The second charge is that they were perverting legal procedures to exploit the poor, and the courts were in collusion with the creditors in these exploits. A third charge is that a father and son were having sex with the same girl, and the fourth was that they were misusing collateral. When a person's cloak or other item was taken as collateral for a debt, that cloak was to be returned each evening so the person had protection against the cold at night. Not only were they not returning these items at night, they were flaunting their sin by spreading out the garments and lying on them at the sacrificial feasts by the altar.

All of these nations, both gentile and Jewish, were given judgments for punishment. God reminds Israel, though, of what He had done for her in bringing her out of Egypt and protecting her against enemies in their 40 year trek through the desert. And yet, Israel still rebelled against God's covenant with her. God does not take this rebellion lightly. It will not be overlooked. Judgment will come upon Israel and these other nations. God says to Israel, "I am about to crush you in your place," and there will be no escape. Not for the swift or the strong or the brave or the archer or the one on horseback. "Even the most courageous of the warriors will flee naked on that day."

A couple of questions might be asked in light of this account. One question would be, "Why would Israel rebel in this way against the God who had helped her in so many ways?" One response to this is that we are all susceptible to rebellion against God. Our thoughts and attention can easily be turned away from God and we begin to think He doesn't exist or His covenant isn't really that important or it is outdated, or whatever. That is why it is so important to keep our focus on God and His Word. That is why I spend time nearly every day reflecting on God's Word.

The second question that might be asked is, "How can a loving God bring such strong punishment on His people?" This question might be asked in many ways, but the question with which so many people struggle is how to reconcile God's love with God's judgment. The greatest problem in this struggle is that we people, with our limited understanding, are trying to fit God, who has unlimited understanding, into our limited grasp of love and judgment. We want God to fit our conception of these issues rather than fitting ourselves to His conception. Ultimately we just have to trust God.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reflections on Amos 1

    Amos 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I am Amos. And I raised sheep near the town of Tekoa when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel. Two years before the earthquake, the LORD gave me several messages about Israel,
  2. and I said: When the LORD roars from Jerusalem, pasturelands and Mount Carmel dry up and turn brown.
  3. The LORD said: I will punish Syria for countless crimes, and I won't change my mind. They dragged logs with spikes over the people of Gilead.
  4. Now I will burn down the palaces and fortresses of King Hazael and of King Benhadad.
  5. I will break through the gates of Damascus. I will destroy the people of Wicked Valley and the ruler of Beth-Eden. Then the Syrians will be dragged as prisoners to Kir. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  6. The LORD said: I will punish Philistia for countless crimes, and I won't change my mind. They dragged off my people from town after town to sell them as slaves to the Edomites.
  7. That's why I will burn down the walls and fortresses of the city of Gaza.
  8. I will destroy the king of Ashdod and the ruler of Ashkelon. I will strike down Ekron, and that will be the end of the Philistines. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  9. The LORD said: I will punish Phoenicia for countless crimes, and I won't change my mind. They broke their treaty and dragged off my people from town after town to sell them as slaves to the Edomites.
  10. That's why I will send flames to burn down the city of Tyre along with its fortresses.
  11. The LORD said: I will punish Edom for countless crimes, and I won't change my mind. They killed their own relatives and were so terribly furious that they showed no mercy.
  12. Now I will send fire to wipe out the fortresses of Teman and Bozrah.
  13. The LORD said: I will punish Ammon for countless crimes, and I won't change my mind. In Gilead they ripped open pregnant women, just to take the land.
  14. Now I will send fire to destroy the walls and fortresses of Rabbah. Enemies will shout and attack like a whirlwind.
  15. Ammon's king and leaders will be dragged away. I, the LORD, have spoken!

Amos was a sheep-breeder from Tekoa and not a life-long prophet. He was given this one assignment of which we read in this book. Although he was from Judah the southern kingdom, he was sent to Israel, the northern kingdom, with a message of judgment, not just for Israel as are so many of the books of prophecy, but also for the nations around Israel. Their sin? They had all rebelled against God's authority. The strongest judgment was reserved for Israel, though, because of her covenant relationship with God. As Luke pointed out (Luke 12:48), "If God has been generous with you, he will expect you to serve him well. But if he has been more than generous, he will expect you to serve him even better." God had been more than generous with Israel and so more was expected of the nation and greater was the judgment for her rebellion against God's authority.

Is it too much to expect that after giving us life and everything we have that God should want us to recognize Him as our Creator and source of all blessings? In recognizing God for who He is as Creator of all things, we must also accept the guidelines He gives for living this life He has given us. When we do so life goes much better for us and for those around us. But when we rebel against God that rebellion goes also against His guidelines for life and often leads to a disregard for the lives of other people. A look at the sins of the nations outlined in this first chapter of Amos points to this disregard for life.

The first charge is brought against Damascus for threshing Gilead in Israel, slicing and crushing the people as grain is threshed. Next was Gaza. The charge? They captured whole communities in slave raids, selling the people for profit. Once sold, the people were shipped to other parts of the world. Tyre was also charged with slave trading, but considered even worse was the fact that she inflicted this atrocity against a people with whom she had a treaty of brotherhood. Then there was Edom who showed persistent hostility toward his brother, Israel. This is a reference to the kinship between the two nations going back to the twin brothers Esau and Jacob. Edom, the descendants of Esau, continually nurtured a hatred for his brother and persistently pursued him with the sword. Finally, in this chapter, Ammon is charged with the cruelty of ripping open pregnant women when overtaking another nation. This was not a defensive measure, since pregnant women and unborn children are defenseless, but merely a tool for terrorizing and decimating an enemy.

A primary reason for rejecting God is an attempt to avoid what we consider to be His restraints upon us. We want what we want and don't want His interference in our lives. We see from the charges against these nations how this ultimately leads to a disregard also for other people. Neither do we want them to hinder our pursuits. Our interests are reduced to just ourselves. What we want is all that is important. Jesus summarized all of scripture in just two commands: Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. There is a balance in this regard for both God and man. Remove regard for God and regard for man soon follows.