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Friday, May 26, 2017

Justice Like Rolling Water


Introduction

Amos spoke eight prophecies to Israel about the seven nations surrounding them and about their own nation. These prophecies were the LORD’s charges against the nations for their sins and His judgment of them because of their sins. God sought to get the Israelites’ attention because their sins were great. Their sins were against people and God.

Beginning in Amos 3, Amos preached and exhorted the listeners of Israel. God explicitly told the Israelites their sin through Amos. In Amos 3, Amos told the Israelites they were not immune to punishment because they were God’s chosen people. That would not keep them safe from God’s wrath. In Amos 4 and 5, Amos told the Israelites their ritualistic religion would not save them from the LORD’s wrath. God’s judgment is for all His enemies. This point Amos unequivocally pronounced to the Israelites in chapter five.

With Amos 5:18-27, Amos expressed clearly like what the “day of the LORD” would be. He preached against the religious hypocrisy of the Israelites. In the middle of the sermon, Amos called the Israelites to repentance. He made this stand out by using a chiastic structure in the sermon. A chiastic structure helps lead people to focus on the most important part of a sermon, the center part. The chiastic structure denotes itself as A, B, C, B*, A* where A and A* are the same, as are B and B*. The focus for both parts is C, the purpose of the sermon. In this sermon by Amos, the chiastic structure looks like the following diagram.

                        A  Description of God’s Certain Judgment (vs. 18-20)

                                    B  Accusation of Religious Hypocrisy (vs. 21-22)

                                                C  Call for Repentance (vs. 23-24)

                                    B* Accusation of Religious Hypocrisy (vs. 25-26)

                        A* Description of God’s Certain Judgment (vs. 27)

God’s Certain Judgment

People throughout history, when adversity combatted them, cried out to the Lord to hasten the “day of the LORD.” Our inner being recognizes God exists and is greater and mightier than our feeble human selves. The cry for the LORD most often seeks Him to halt or eliminate enemies. Throughout the Bible, the “day of the LORD” calls for God to bring the last days (the end times like Isaiah 5:19, Jeremiah 30:7, Joel 1:15, 2:1, 11, & 31). God will come to earth and judge evil people at that time. Rarely do the people seeking the “day of the LORD” realize he or she deserves God’s judgment, too. Crying out for the “day of the LORD” would bring judgment upon each person on earth not just one’s enemies. People do not think of that in their desperation. In Amos 5:18-20, Amos told the Israelites the “day of LORD” is more than they acknowledge. He said in verses eighteen through twenty,

18 “Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD, for what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you? It will be darkness and not light, 19 as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall, and a snake bites him. 20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?” [NASB]

The word “alas” comes from the Hebrew word howy and means “woe.” Amos proclaimed woe to the Israelites. They were not ready for that. Why should woe and lament come upon them? Israel considered themselves justified. God chose them as His people. They performed the rituals in the temple. The Israelites thought they lived correctly, and God would bless them and extinguish their enemies. He had always been the Protector, so why would He not be now or in their future. The people of the northern kingdom did not understand with their hearts and in their spirits what it meant to be the people of Yahweh, the children of GOD.

“Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD,” Amos said. The people desired, coveted, and craved for the day of God’s return to judge all people. Amos reminded the Israelites what that day would entail. It would not bring joy to each person because God’s judgment would occur then. Only the righteous would rejoice. Amos explained in three ways what that day would be like. He said it would be darkness and not light. This “darkness” is more than night, an absence of light. Amos called that time choshek, a day of gloom and obscurity.  Obscurity means to be unknown, inconspicuous, and unimportant. These Israelites would be unknown by God because their sins removed them from His presence. Their sins would bring judgment upon them like their enemies’ sins would for them. The LORD would cast the Israelites away from His presence forever. Amos explained the true reality of the “day of the LORD” for them. The Israelites sought God only when they needed something from Him–protection, provision, healing, etc.–not for a relationship.

Besides the “day of the LORD” being a time of darkness and the Israelites being unknown by God, Amos said they could not escape God’s judgment of them. Just like he said the Israelites could not outrun God’s judgment in chapter two, he said they could not outrun it in Amos 5:19. Though the unrighteous Israelite outran the lion God sent, he would meet with a bear and suffer defeat. When the Israelite ran for safety to her house, a snake would bite her hand when it rested against the wall. The place the Israelite considered himself most safe, his grand winter and summer houses or ivory palaces, would give no place of refugee from God’s judgment. God would judge all sinners, Amos said.

With verse twenty, Amos described to the Israelites again what the darkness would be like when the “day of the LORD” arrived. He said it would be darkness not light. The word “light” comes from the Hebrew word ‘owr and means light of day, prosperity or life. The “day of the LORD” would bring physical darkness, the absence of light. It would also bring darkness on a person’s life-mind, heart, body, and spirit. The darkness on the “day of the LORD” would cause poverty in these facets of life for the leaders and wealthy Israelites. What the Israelites considered came from their own hands and for which they did not thank God, God would remove. The darkness would be in the heavenly lights and within each person. The darkness would oppress them and cause joy and revelry to cease. Amos continued to describe the darkness. He emphasized the darkness by explaining it again. Amos said it would be gloom with no brightness. This darkness would be gloom, giving no light and creating depression and despondency.

When the day of the LORD arrives, God would judge all His enemies. God’s enemies are the people who sin against Him and His laws of righteousness. Though the Israelites called upon the LORD to bring His kingdom to cast judgment on their enemies, He would administer His judgment to all people on earth, not just their enemies. God’s enemies included the Israelites. The Israelites were not exempt because God called them His own. They had no entitlement. The Israelites’ election by God would not keep them safe from His wrath, as Amos said in chapter three. The people God chose to shine His light to lead other nations to Him broke their covenant with Him continually even after He sent prophets to call them back to Him. Because the Israelites broke their covenant with the LORD, they were His enemies, too. Yahweh would also mete out judgment on them. On the “day of the LORD,” God would defend and establish Himself and His righteousness. Israel was not righteous and God would punish them.

No person can escape from God’s judgment. Wherever a person can run, judgment will still find the person. God’s judgment is evitable and certain. The Apostle Paul said this over seven hundred years later, too. In Romans 3:23, Paul said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Each person deserves God’s judgment, not just Israel or our enemies.

·         What wrong have you done that you believe no one will ever know about so you feel safe? Have you taken money from someone’s wallet, spoke scathingly against a person, or told an untruth?
·         Did you truly think you could get away with that wrong?
·         Have you really escaped the guilt of that wrong? That guilt comes from God? He put it there to lead you to seek Him, confess and repent, and receive newness of life?
·         How does knowing this affect you at this moment?

Accusation of Religious Hypocrisy

Amos explained in chapter four God cares about the heart’s intention, not religious rituals. He ardently addressed the Israelites in the next two verses. Amos said in verses twenty-one and twenty-two,

21 “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.” [NASB]

God spoke seriously in these two verses. Like Amos did in verse ten when he described the Israelites’ hating and abhorring the righteous in the gate, he doubly described God’s dislike of the Israelites’ religious festivals. Amos said God hated the Israelites’ religious festivals. The word “hate” is the same Hebrew word Amos used earlier in this chapter. It means to hate, detest, and call an enemy. This hate is a mental and heart-felt rejection of the religious rituals the Israelites’ offered in their worship. Remember, the Israelites continued performing the festival rites God established and the ones Jeroboam established for their own gods. When they offered these same rituals to the LORD, He hated them because they did not execute them with singleness of devotion nor bring glory exclusively to Him. The rich Israelites sought glory for themselves by bringing extravagant things to the altar, like leavened instead of unleavened bread. They also gave their offerings and sacrifices more often than God required so they could show off their wealth. It gave them glory instead of God. In Amos 5:21, Amos said God hated their festivals, such as the festivals of Passover and Tabernacles.

Just as Amos said the rich hated and abhorred the righteous in the gate, he used similar terminology for God’s hate of the Israelites’ religious rituals. God hated in His heart how the Israelites worshiped. He rejected their festivals, too. The word “abhor” in verse ten means to despise, detest, and consider abominable. “Reject” comes from the Hebrew word ma’ac and means to despise, refuse, and reject. The Israelites physically turned away from the righteous people in the gate and turned people away who sought justice. God turned His eyes away from Israel’s worship. He turned His face away from them in rejection. The Israelites no longer had God’s blessing and protection.

Isaiah 1:11-16 says God had enough of their burnt offering and took no pleasure in the blood of the lambs they slaughtered. God did not delight in the Israelites’ offerings anymore. The word “delight” from verse twenty-one comes from the Hebrew word reyach and means smell. The Israelites’ sacrifices and offerings no longer gave a pleasing aroma to the LORD. Their actions were just ritual, not worship when they entered the places of worship for sacred and festive meetings. Their hearts were not right with God. God said He detested and rejected their festivals and solemn assemblies. The aromas were not soothing or fragrant to Him. Leviticus 26:31 mentions this. Jeremiah 14:12 says God would not accept the Israelites’ burnt offerings.

With verse twenty-two, Amos explained God’s seriousness. He said though the Israelites offered God the best of their flock and storehouses, whole burnt offerings, grain offerings, and peace offerings as God established in Deuteronomy 12 and Leviticus 2 & 7, the LORD would not accept or even look at them. The sacrifices and offerings were detestable to the LORD because they offered them out of ritualistic obedience to the Law. The Israelites did not offer genuine love for and thanks to Him. God said their offerings displeased Him and He would disregard them. Even though the people brought these to His altar, because their hearts did not present them, only their hands, it was as if they never came to Him at all. Genuinely meeting with the LORD requires heart, spirit, mind, and physical action. That is why Moses and Jesus taught the people-Jews and Gentiles-to love the LORD with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5 & Luke 10:27). Worshiping God requires devotedly loving Him with your whole being. The Israelites offered worship with their physical bodies only. Their worship was an abomination and idolatrous. The people’s worship of the LORD was ritually incorrect, which came about because of their desire for themselves and not to love Him with their whole being.

·         What do we worship and what do we offer as worship? Money? Family? Flashy cars or big houses? Kneeling? Singing routinely?
·         Whatever occupies most of your physical time and mental thought processes, and causes hunger and craving in your heart are your gods.
·         Will you recognize these false gods and seek a right relationship with God?

A Command for Repentance

In the earlier verses, Amos told the Israelites what they did to cause God’s judgment on themselves. With these next two verses, the LORD through Amos told the people what to do to get right with Him, to worship Him with righteousness. Amos said in verses twenty-three and twenty-four,

23 “Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” [NASB]

Theologians over the years have debated whether verse twenty-three should go with verses twenty-one and twenty-two or with twenty-four. They said verse twenty-three seems to speak more of God’s condemnation of their false worship. It rightly could be so, but verse twenty-four, a verse obviously calling for repentance, begins with the word “but.” Verse twenty-four hinges on what Amos said in the immediately preceding verse. Besides this, verses twenty-three and twenty-four begin with commands while verses twenty-one and twenty-two are proclamations of fact by God. Personally, I believe Amos, with verse twenty-three’s command, gave one more example of the Israelites’ religiosity without heart, soul, and spirit. It operates as a counterpoint to his command to repent and be righteous.

The LORD commanded the Israelites to remove the noise and confusion of the songs from His presence. He rejected the songs because they were a noise rather than a praise of Him. These songs showed the divided hearts of the singers-divided between their gods and rituals to appease Yehovah and the true worship of the LORD. These songs were for show like their offerings and sacrifices. They were just ritual, not true worship. The command, “take away,” created a void where the antithesis should reside. It left an opening for true worship of God. By commanding a negative action, it implied a positive action should replace it. That is where the command of verse twenty-four enters.

With the command of verse twenty-four God told the Israelites to be just and righteous. The LORD rejected their “worship” songs because they were noise and chaos, which does not come from God, but Satan. Their songs lacked true devotion to God, which comes from the heart, mind, and soul and shows through actions. Amos gave vivid imagery in this verse. He told them to let justice roll down like water. Justice is righteousness in action. Justice is taking care of the orphan, widow, and foreigner. It is putting away violence. Notice this justice is flowing down. When water flows downward, it does so rapidly and with power. It moves stones, unhinges rocks and boulders, and displaces dirt. The justice the Israelites were to let roll down comes from the LORD, Amos implied. When it comes down over a person, the flowing water removed hard places and the stain of sins. A newness of life occurs. Amos commanded the Israelites to let it affect them. He said “let justice roll down.” Do not block the channel flowing from God to your heart, He meant, but let it do its good and righteous work so it will cleanse you and make you righteous.

Besides allowing God to cleanse them and allowing that righteousness to influence their lives and actions, Amos commanded them to let righteousness be “like an ever-flowing stream.” The waters of justice that come from the LORD are not stagnant; they keep flowing. We can and often do choose to stop the flow into our lives when we decide we want to do things our way or “live our own lives.” Amos told the Israelites to let the righteousness of God continue to their hearts as an ever-flowing stream. Let that stream continue through them to the people they encounter and represent in the community. Let their thoughts and actions be righteous. An ever-flowing stream smooths stones, makes a deeper stream bed, creates a more permanent path, and allows people a permanent supply of water upon which they can count for planting, growth, and sustenance. Amos told the Israelites to let God’s justice and righteousness flow on and through them. Be made right with the LORD and let it affect their actions and words. Let its affect cause the community and the people to care for and serve each other.

These metaphors of justice and righteousness being like an ever-flowing and powerful down-flow of water are a foreshadowing, too. It reminded the Israelites of the LORD’s plan to send a Messiah whose blood would flow to bring us salvation from our sins and make us righteous.  For the Israelites it spoke of God’s judgment, cleansing, and continual provision of cleansing, righteousness, and judgment. For their future, it spoke of His promise of cleansing and a continual provision of life and salvation for all people who believe.

The LORD rejected the Israelites’ worship because it was hypocritical and because of their absence of righteousness and justice. He rejects the worship of people today who are hypocritical and unrighteous. Our worship of God should come from our whole being, not just our body. It should not be mere ritual, but should be real and from our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

·         Do we have the continual flow of God’s righteousness in our lives?
·         Does it show in our actions and words each day?
·         Do you need to unblock the water flow from God and let His justice, righteousness, and mercy flow into your life?

Accusation of Religious Hypocrisy (reprise)

Amos resumed his sermon on the Israelites’ religious hypocrisy. The people of the northern kingdom claimed their election by Yehovah as His holy people, but they did not exclusively choose Yehovah as their God. They worshiped other gods. Because they did that, their worship of the LORD was merely ritual. The Israelites had covenanted to have no other gods except the LORD and not to worship manmade images (Commandments 2 and 3). With verses twenty-five and twenty-six Amos directed the Israelites to their sins of breaking these commandments. He stated in verses twenty-five and twenty-six,

25 “Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? 26 You also carried along Sikkuth, your king, and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves.” [NASB]

In verse twenty-five, the English word “present” comes from the Hebrew word nagash. Nagash means to draw near to God to bring something to Him. Amos asked a question of the Israelites in this verse. Did they draw near to God to bring Him sacrifices? The main part of this question is did they draw near to God. To draw near to God, one must have a repentant heart and genuinely seek Him. God said this to Solomon when He answered his prayer in 2 Chronicles 7:14. The LORD said, “If My people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.” [NASB] To be in His presence, God said people must pray, seek Him, and turn from their wicked ways. In Amos 5:25, Amos asked the people did they draw near to God with sacrifices and grain offerings. If they did, God would accept their offerings and sacrifices. He promised the Israelites if they genuinely sought Him, they would find Him.  

When Amos asked the question in verse twenty-five, he asked if they did it during their forty years wilderness experience. Many times Moses recorded the worship of idols in the wilderness. Moses, too, was the one who gave God’s laws about worship to the Israelites as they wandered. Some people wonder if Amos asked a rhetorical question. Others say it cannot have been rhetorical because the worship regulations were to begin after the Israelites entered the Promised Land according to Numbers 15:1. (Frank Page) What is important about this question by Amos is not so much the timing of the offerings, but their hearts. Did they during their history truly draw near to God? That required a genuine seeking of God with the heart requiring contrition and love for God, not self. Truthful Israelites would mostly have replied in the negative. Since they did not draw near to God, their acts of worship toward God were false and He rejected them.

In verse twenty-six, Amos reminded the Israelites of their idol worship. This harkened back to the Israelites’ worship of golden calves in the wilderness and the gods of Moab when they camped on the eastern side of the Jordan River before entering the Promised Land. It reminded the Israelites of their worshiping false gods during their current time, too. By naming some gods they worshiped during the 750s BC, it showed their unfaithfulness to Yahweh, the God of their ancestors. Amos said they carried along Sikkuth. “Carried along” comes from the Hebrew word nasa’ and means to bear, lift up, and exalt. The Israelites exalted another god. Sikkuth means tent or tabernacle, but it was also a Babylonian deity like Moloch or Saturn, a war god. Amos said the Israelites lifted up and exalted a Babylonian false god, instead of the One God Yahweh. He said they made a star image to represent their god, Kiyyun. Amos was not the only writer to speak of these gods of the Israelites. Acts 7:42-43, written by the apostle Luke, refers to these gods the Israelites worshiped.

The important point Amos made in these two verses is the Israelites did not worship God exclusively. They worshiped other gods and, thus, the ritualistic worship they gave to the LORD was not worship. The people of the northern kingdom did not draw near to the LORD seeking Him with their whole being. Their worship included several gods. For that, Yehovah ‘Elohyim rejected the Israelites’ worship and judged them. They were unrighteous and unjust. The Israelites practiced hypocritical worship. Their election as God’s holy nation would not protect them from the wrath of the One Holy God who is righteous. His righteousness required justice on His enemies. When the Israelites or anyone broke His just laws, judgment would occur.

·         What wrong have you committed that you refuse to admit to yourself? Possibly you keep stuffing it down hoping it will go away. We each have at least one of these wrongs because we are all sinners and are ashamed of our sins.
·         What have you done to try to appease the guilt and make it alright? Did that work?
·         Have you sought God, repented, and found Him and His mercy? He told Solomon about it in the Old Testament and made it a reality for all humankind with the death of His Son, Jesus, in the New Testament.

God’s Certain Judgment (reprise)

Amos prophesied to the Israelites several times about God’s judgment of them for their sins. In Amos 3:12, 4:2-3, and 5:5, Amos said the people of the northern kingdom of Israel would go into captivity. Lest the Israelites not believe him as they did not believe the other prophets who proclaimed God’s word to them, he said it would certainly come because God swore by His own name (Amos 5:8). With Amos 5:27, Amos again spoke God’s word of judgment on the Israelites. He said in verse twenty-seven,

 27 “‘Therefore, I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus,’ says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.” [NASB]

With the word “therefore,” God explained something would happen because of Israel’s sins of the preceding verses. His judgment proclaimed they would go into exile beyond Damascus. This told the Israelites which nation would subdue and capture them, the Assyrians. No nation had ever subdued and captured the Israelites. The LORD had fought their battles for them. The Israelites had remained a theocracy, a nation chosen by God and ruled by His laws. Notice this time when an enemy came to the gates of Israel, it would happen because the LORD allowed it. How would the Israelites know this prophecy would occur? Amos stated, “the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts, said it.” Yehovah (the existing One, the I AM), whose name is the ‘Elohiym (the ruler and judge) of hosts said it would happen. ‘Elohiym, the ultimate judge and ruler, would carry out this judgment, not an intermediary. By removing His hand of protection, He willed the Israelites’ conquer and capture. Because there was no justice or righteousness in Israel and they worshiped idols, they would not survive God’s judgment. His judgment would affect all the Israelites of the northern kingdom.

·         In the past when you did something wrong and knew it was wrong, but refused to stop, did you feel God’s censure of your actions and attitudes, of pulling away from Him and what is right? Hardened criminals and addicts show this and we can easily discern it.
·         What did you do to stop feeling the guilt God put in your heart and mind because of your wrongdoing? Did that make it go away and you feel better?
·         Is your life now not what you would like because God allowed it since you would not repent and return to a right relationship with Him?

Recap

Amos spent four chapters expanding for the Israelites of the northern kingdom their sins of which God specifically charged them. In Amos 5:18-27, Amos used a chiastic structure to help the Israelites and later readers understand the message of this sermon. God wants all sinners to return to Him, and let His justice and righteousness cleanse them. The Lord wants His righteousness and justice lived out in our lives through our words and actions. God said Israel did not do that. In this section of Amos 5, the Israelites did not worship the LORD with their whole being-heart, soul, mind, and strength-only with empty religious ritual. God said they worshiped false gods and did not worship Him solely. For this, Amos prophesied God’s judgment would certainly happen. If a person ran from a lion, he would meet a bear. If she ran to the safety of her home, a snake would bite her. There was nowhere the Israelites could go where God and His judgment would not find them. It would certainly happen. When the Israelites cried out to the LORD for His day to come upon their enemies, they would realize they, too, were His enemies. The “day of the LORD” would not be the day of celebration they wanted, so they needed to return to a true relationship and worship of God.


Conclusion and Relevance

Though Amos spoke to people who lived in the Middle East over 2800 years ago, we can still apply this lesson to us today. We all sin against other people and God. When we hurt someone, we break one of God’s commandments. Breaking a commandment shows lack of love to God. When we break one of these commandments, which God gave humanity for its orderly and respectful functioning and to lead us to keep our focus on Him, we break all His commandments. James made this point in James 2:1-13. Specifically recall James 2:10,

10 “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” [NASB]

No one can keep the letter of the law perfectly. We are all sinners and keep sinning. Yet God made a way for us to receive cleansing permanently from our sins and guilt. That way came through the death of His Son, Jesus, who took on human form and did not sin in his 33 years of living on earth. Though Jesus faced temptation, He did not sin. Because of God’s love for us, He died a sinner’s death on a cross. Jesus’ crucifixion paid our sin penalty that God’s judgment requires. Romans 6:23 says, 

“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Death while one remains guilty of sin is permanent, eternal separation from Yehovah, the existing One, I AM. Yehovah is the One who created you and has provided the redemption price for you to live with Him eternally in heaven. He wants to have a relationship with you and so sent His Son to die for you and all people. When you accept Jesus as the Savior of your soul who takes away your sins and believe He is the Son of God, you become a child of God. Paul stated it this way in Galatians 3:26,
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

When we become children of God, we fellowship with Christ. Romans 8:16-17 says this,

“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if we indeed suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” [NASB]

If we live as the Israelites did, we would remain sinful. Our worship of God, if we worshiped Him, would be in vain. Our lives would be fraught with guilt and shame. Our deaths would be permanent. It would be eternal separation from God,
the One who loves you

the One who paid the price for your sin so you could be in a loving relationship with Him

the One who keeps calling to you

Pray
Seek Him
Turn from Your Sin
He will hear You from Heaven
He will forgive Your Sin
He will welcome You to an Eternal Relationship with Him

Let justice flow down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.