Amos 5 – Jesus, Our Righteousness Like a Never-Failing Stream

Chapter 5 starts with a lament for Israel for the destruction she’s about to endure. The Lord yet again implores them to seek him, but of course they don’t. Then we get another litany of their wrongdoing, and more imploring:

14 Seek good, not evil,
    that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
15 Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
    on the remnant of Joseph.

They don’t and he doesn’t. The day of the Lord makes an appearance again, but it’s a day of judgment not salvation. I guess the Israelites think they can bribe God with their religious feasts and assemblies, but he says he hates, despises, and cannot stand them. Pretty harsh. What exactly is he looking for then?

24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

That’s what he’s looking for! It can’t be that hard, but I guess it is because they are addicted to their idolatry. So the Lord promises judgment and exile.

Again I ask for the zillionth time through the prophets, why all this? It makes a broken record appear normal. Over and over and over and over. Again we know it can only point to Jesus because he told us it was ALL about him. Apart from him we are and can do nothing to please God, who requires justice like a rolling river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream! But we fail all the time! That is why we need another’s righteousness. From Paul:

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. 

I wonder which law and prophets Paul means because the law and the prophets tell us we can’t pull it off. It would be hard to infer from the law and the prophets that we’d be given the very righteousness God requires of us as a free gift. But he has! Paul further says:

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Only if Christ himself is our righteousness can it be a “never-failing stream!” And yet again, Paul tells us how this was accomplished:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God’s justice, the necessity of sin to be punished and its guilt addressed, had to be satisfied, and only in Christ, God himself, could that be accomplished. As Jesus tells us in John’s gospel:

I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.

On the cross, as Jesus said his mission was “finished,” the curtain to the holy of holies was torn asunder, and we were reconciled to God, forever.

The redundancy of the prophets and Israel’s pathetic history tell us what a humongous deal this really was. No matter what we do or don’t do, we can never be more or less righteous before God than we can be in Christ. HE is our righteousness!

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Amos 4 – Prepare to Meet Your God

From the passage I quoted in my first post on Amos we learned that this was a period in Israel’s history of relative peace and prosperity. People, as people are wont to do when things are going well, not only take their prosperity for granted, they often use it to indulge the base instincts of human nature. The first verse in this chapter is classic:

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
    you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
    and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”

Amos calls the women cows! The misogynist! The poor and the needy are nothing to these women; they just want to party! File this under the more things change . . . The prophets warned, the people ignored. It’s no different today, except we have the risen Lord and God’s revelation in Scripture and 2000 years of church history. And what do most people do? “Bring us some drinks!” But peace and prosperity won’t last, for Israel, and us.

In the very next verse Amos tells us that the Sovereign Lord has sworn by his own holiness that judgment will come. The people, who refuse to change their ways, still think their religious ceremonies will save them:

“Go to Bethel and sin;
    go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
    your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
    and brag about your freewill offerings—
boast about them, you Israelites,
    for this is what you love to do,”
declares the Sovereign Lord.

They even boast about how religious they are because they care more about what other people think, than the Sovereign Lord. Or maybe they think they can bribe him while still doing whatever they want. In his mercy he even brings suffering upon them to prompt them to return to him, but to no avail. Five times he describes what he did to them, and five times says, “yet you have not returned to me.”

It’s interesting that the Lord uses circumstances to try to get people to recognize their need for him. He doesn’t do magic tricks, or reveal his power and glory in great balls of fire to “prove” his reality. The latter is what skeptics demand if they are to believe, but such supernatural manifestations of God’s existence and power are rare in the history of redemption. God doesn’t even reveal himself directly to his own people except through prophets or mediators. Only when his people were freed from slavery in Egypt and in their wondering in the wilderness was there any great supernatural display that would be difficult to deny that it was God doing it. And a lot of good that did.

Our problem is the human heart and our sinful, rebellious, prideful nature (we want to be like God!), not that there isn’t enough evidence to believe and trust God for our existence. Our refusal to acknowledge him as our Lord and maker is a matter of the will. And then we read these two chilling verses to end the chapter:

12 “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel,
    and because I will do this to you, Israel,
    prepare to meet your God.”

13 He who forms the mountains,
    who creates the wind,
    and who reveals his thoughts to mankind,
who turns dawn to darkness,
    and treads on the heights of the earth—
    the Lord God Almighty is his name.

Prepare to meet your God . . . those are chilling words, for those who refuse to repent, those who refuse to admit that he is God and they are not. Seems easy enough, but God is our enemy; by nature we hate him. As Adam and Eve did when the Lord God came walking in the garden in the cool of the day, we by nature want to hide from God, not seek him. Without him doing supernatural surgery on our soul, changing our heart of stone to a heart of flesh, we would all be like Israel, forever. Praise be to God he hasn’t left us to ourselves!

Amos 1-3 – God’s Sovereign Purposes Revealed in Israel’s Punishment

Another prophet of Israel bearding bad news.  Here is an overview I found of Amos’ life and ministry:

The prophet Amos ministered during the overlapping reigns of Jeroboam II in Israel (793-753) and Uzziah in Judah (792-740). His ministry occurred sometime between 760 and 755 B.C. Amos prophesied at a unique time in the history of the divided kingdom. From approximately 780 to 750, Egypt, Syria, and Assyria did not pose a serious threat to Israel. During this time, Jeroboam II was able to expand the borders of Israel, and his successes created economic prosperity for many and a sense of security as well. During these years, Israel prospered and a powerful and wealthy upper class emerged who exploited the poor and perverted justice. Although a native of Judah, Amos prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel. He preached to an affluent society that was deeply involved in false worship and in the mistreatment of the poor. These wealthy and powerful Israelites were confident and secure. Into the midst of this complacent society comes Amos, declaring that Israel has broken God’s covenant.

In chapter 1, the Lord declares judgment on Israel’s neighbors. Chapter 2 is a familiar litany of Israel’s sin and God’s judgment against the nation. God blessed them, and this is how they repay him. And chapter 3 is more of the same. This verse makes you wonder if Israel wished the Lord had chosen some other people:

“You only have I chosen
    of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
    for all your sins.”

It takes a lot of endurance to read through the prophets because probably the majority of the verses are about sin and punishment. These three chapters are indicative of much of what we’ve read up to now. What kind of people would make up a story about their history and national identity that is this unrelentingly negative . . . . unless it were true.

Because the whole OT is about Jesus we continually have to ask the question, why this? Why did the Lord include in his communication to man, need to include, such a depressing litany over and over and over again? It can only be one of two things. It is either a message that we better shape up and start living a holy life or it’s curtains for us, as it was for Israel and Judah. Or the message is that you, like Israel and Judah, are hopeless sinners who will inevitably be destroyed unless God himself does something to save you. Because of Isaiah 53 (and much else in that wonderful book), and of course the NT, we know the answer. God himself in Christ is our salvation, as Isaiah tells us.

Maybe it took 1500 years of redemptive history for the Lord to convey the depth of our problem, and that salvation from our sin and God’s wrath and judgment against it, could only come by a unilateral act of God’s mercy and grace. Paul tells us at least one of the reasons why:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

As the Lord says through Isaiah: “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.” As the Westminster Catechism puts it: Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. Only if we acknowledge that our salvation is alone of his sovereign will and almighty power can we truly glorify him.

Something else in the third chapter stands out about God’s sovereign power, and something most people just don’t want to hear:

When a trumpet sounds in a city,
    do not the people tremble?
When disaster comes to a city,
    has not the Lord caused it?

Some might say this refers to the disaster of judgment of the cities and nations the Lord is describing in these chapters. But the indefinite article doesn’t allow that meaning. We see the Lord’s power over disaster in Isaiah as well:

I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.

Because we live in a secular age awash in naturalist/materialist assumptions, we want to believe in such things as “natural” disasters. Nothing is “natural” because God’s sovereign providence controls all things, and praise him for that!

Joel 3 – The Lord’s Judgment and Blessing on “That Day”

Joel 3 starts with, “In those days and at that time . . . ” and a prophecy about judgment to come on those nations that have destroyed Jerusalem and scattered Judah. This doesn’t sound like any kind of ultimate judgment, but those nations getting some of their own medicine. Then we get full on eschatological when the Lord will “judge all the nations on every side,” and it is not a pretty picture because “so great is their wickedness.” Then we read this poetically beautiful and ominous verse:

14 Multitudes, multitudes
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision.

While I can see certain kinds of fundamentalists using this verse to prompt an audience to make a decision for the Lord, we find the key to it’s interpretation in verse 2:

I will gather all nations
    and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will put them on trial
    for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel,
because they scattered my people among the nations
    and divided up my land.

The word Jehoshaphat means the Lord judges, so this valley Joel speaks of is one where the Lord has made his decision to judge the nations, or what is called “the day of judgment.” The concept of such a “day” is mainly a new testament one, but you can find oblique references in some of the prophets a time or two. Here’s it’s “the day of the Lord.” “The day of judgment” is used four times by Jesus, but only in Matthew’s gospel. Paul refers to the “day of God’s wrath,” and Peter and John use it as well. This will not be a great day because God’s just judgment of great wickedness will not be pleasant. 

Being an eschatological phrase, or a phrase referring to the end of things, this judgment Joel refers to is contrasted with the blessing to come for God’s people. This is how things will end on that “day”:

16 The Lord will roar from Zion
    and thunder from Jerusalem;
    the earth and the heavens will tremble.
But the Lord will be a refuge for his people,
    a stronghold for the people of Israel.

He speaks of Judah being “inhabited forever,” and “Jerusalem through all generations,” but there is no way this refers to the nation state of Israel, that tiny piece of land in the Middle East. This blessing promised is not a physical place, but the place where God’s presence resides. We get a hint that this points to Christ when the Lord says:

21 Their bloodguilt which I have not pardoned, I will pardon.”

The Lord dwells in Zion!

The word for pardon is translated in various ways, but the Hebrew word means “to be empty or clean.” The Lord will dwell with his people when their sin is wiped away, forgiven, and atoned for. As the hymn says, Jesus paid it all. On that “day,” which we are currently living in and will one day live in forever (the already and the not yet), God does and will dwell with, in, and through us. Our hope is in his presence, forever!

 

 

Joel 2 – Those who call on the name of the Lord are those whom the Lord calls!

The day of the Lord makes its appearance in this chapter as horrifying judgment, and ultimate salvation. How could that be? As we’ve seen before in the prophets judgment and salvation always go together, but what we learn from the phrase “the day of the Lord” is that one day salvation will no longer be an option for those who have not been saved.

The initial day Joel speaks of equates locusts coming in the form of an army, which depending on the date Joel wrote is either Assyria or Babylon. Whatever army it is, Joel paints a horrifying picture:

The day of the Lord is great;
    it is dreadful.
    Who can endure it?

Isn’t it interesting that this “day,” this period of time when destruction reigns on the land is the Lord’s, he owns this day because he has made it, he has decreed it, he has set in motion everything that will happen.

Immediately after this question, when all hope seems futile, the Lord switches gears:

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.

Maybe he won’t destroy them after all. Then the Lord tells them what they have to do to “return” to him, and knowing what happened they obviously didn’t do it. But the next section explains that at some point things did change, and God’s blessing flows out to his people with the final result being:

27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

All the blessing here are physical and have to with the land, but these promises point way beyond national Israel in a tiny patch of land in the Middle East. We know this because of the very next verse:

28 “And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Peter in the first Christian sermon preached at Pentecost in Acts two tells us that “afterward” are the days after the resurrection and ascension of Christ:

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

The key phrase in Joel 2, the end game of the whole of God’s blessing is found a few verses later when he says, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This “deliverance” comes “among the survivors whom the Lord calls.” Those who call on the name of the Lord are those whom the Lord calls! That certainly warms the cockles of every Reformed Christian’s heart. The Lord is the primary actor in the drama of human salvation from sin. It depends on him, not us! As the hymn says, oh, what a wonderful Savior!

The Israelites did not repent, did not return to the Lord with “all” their heart, and they were destroyed by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, and then after they did come back to the land, by the Romans. These words are not written to the secular state of Israel today, but to the followers of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, Israel’s true Messiah.

Joel 1 – The Day of The Lord is Coming, and For Us In Christ

Joel is a short book, only three chapters, and there is no agreement as to when he actually wrote or who he was. He’s only referred to as the “son of Pethuel.” All agree it was still when Israel, the northern kingdom, was in the land and the worshiping of the temple was happening. The themes of the prophets continue in Joel, the recitation of sin, the certainty of judgment, God’s promises of mercy and coming blessing.

This first chapter starts with a bang. A nation, in the past tense, has invaded the land and Joel uses the metaphor of locusts, lots of them, for total destruction. But since the Assyrians haven’t invaded and destroyed the land yet, the past tense is predicting a horrifying future event. This is described in the first 12 verses, and in verse 13 there is, therefore, a call to repentance. Given what is coming, Joel implores the leaders and all the people to put on sackcloth, declare a holy fast, and cry out to the Lord.

But either they don’t do this, or as we read in the other prophets, they cry out to idols, so we read a phrase Joel uses four times (more than any other prophet) in his short book, “the day of the Lord” that is coming. He says of it, “What a dreadful day!” God’s judgment is a serious thing, and in this context Joel tells us it will be all about destruction.

The chapter ends with Joel himself calling out to the Lord because maybe he knows the people he’s imploring will not do it. As we know, judgment and destruction do come because God’s judgment against sin must come. Thankfully, that judgment has come for us in Christ, and “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Hosea 13 & 14 – Our Ultimate Salvation: God Will Deliver Us From Death

These last two chapters of Hosea are more of the same, but with a verse that seems to come out of nowhere, and that expresses something I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen yet to this point. For the first 13 verses of chapter 13 the Lord again recounts Israel’s sin and coming judgment, then this incongruous verse:

14 “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;
    I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
    Where, O grave, is your destruction?

Then right back to judgment, “I will have no compassion . . . ” Actually, I was mistaken. I went back and looked at all the references in the prophets and the Psalms, and there is one that comes from the same time of Hosea in Isaiah 25. Our ultimate salvation is victory over death itself:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

And Paul quotes these two verses together in I Cor. 15:

54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes (all the time?) this is hard to believe when we have to actually go through death, experience its horror, its ugliness, its loneliness, its uncertainty, to achieve this victory over death God promises us. But we hold firm, nonetheless, because of what Paul is defending in this chapter, the resurrection. Jesus, who himself had to go through death, and a more horrible death than any of us will ever face, to experience his own resurrection. Thank God that, as Luke tells us at the beginning of Acts:

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

He gave them “proofs” so they, and we, could know what our own resurrection bodies would be like, that we too will one day be “alive” like him.

Then chapter 14 in contrast to 13 ends the book with hope, and the Lord having mercy on them, healing “their waywardness.” They will no longer worship objects their hand have made, and the true and living God will make them fruitful. The book ends with a verse that speaks to the offense of the gospel Paul writes about elsewhere in Corinthians. I will first quote from Hosea, and then Paul:

Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
    Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
    the righteous walk in them,
    but the rebellious stumble in them.

And Paul:

but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

And I remembered Peter quoting the Psalms:

and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for.

So this theme of God’s grace and mercy being a stumbling block is a theme in Scripture. Sinful human nature wants to depend on its own righteousness, even though it has none. It wants to justify itself based on the law, and thus put God in its debt. Doesn’t work that way. All we can do, like the tax collector, is beat our breast, not even look up to heaven and ask, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”