On March 18, 1925, an outbreak of tornados in the Midwest killed nearly 750 people and injured more than 2,000 across three states with literally no warning. Today, thanks to God’s kind common grace and the advance of modern meteorology, such a surprise catastrophe is almost unthinkable. In the year 2022, residents in effected areas can be warned to take immediate shelter in just minutes.
Warnings can be life saving. However, our human stubbornness and pride often recoil when we are warned, especially coming from God’s word in relation to our sin. There may be no more dangerous epitaph and warning for human beings than in Romans 1:24-25, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”
But what a gift of God’s grace to be alerted to what is coming, whether it's a tornado, a flood, or God’s final judgement. Just as a loving parent warns their child not to touch the stove because they could be severely injured, so does our heavenly father warn His children of the consequences of sinful rebellion and disobedience. The minor prophet Amos is a wonderful case in point.
The message of Amos is primarily a message of judgement. God’s covenant people, particularly in the northern kingdom of Israel, lived in a time of great prosperity and ease, which manifested itself in an empty and godless religion. Those who worshiped Yahweh at that time were more concerned with merely “going through the motions”, than true devotion and obedience to God. Sadly, this is a reality for many in our own day as well. One can clearly discern through the entire prophecy how God had been extremely patient in the face of corruption, greed, injustice, idolatry, and immorality. However, His justice demands satisfaction, and Israel’s consequences for her sins would be soon to come. But like most prophetic warnings, Amos also offers the hope of new life and salvation for all who will turn to the Lord.
For almost two centuries the kingdom of God’s people had been divided into two nations - Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Israel was ruled by Jeroboam II (786-746 B.C.) and was enjoying, what it thought was, its golden years. Great wealth in the hands of a select few had cultivated a culture of oppression of the poor, greed for material possessions, all kinds of moral debauchery, and a violation of God’s covenant with His people in the pollution of Sabbath worship. The first King Jeroboam had erected altars with golden calves to represent God, to make it unnecessary for his people to travel to the rival nation in the south, where the temple was located and where God had commanded His people to worship. Many other sins and covenant violations followed, in both the northern and southern kingdoms. It was to this spiritually anemic culture that Amos was called. Gordon Keddie writes, “Empty ritual is the natural currency of man-made self-justifying religion and that is why God gives no place to it and calls for worship that is in spirit and in truth.”
Amos begins with the prophetic announcement, and a series of poetic oracles, that reminds its audience of God’s sovereign reign and holiness. We are told that “the LORD roars from Zion” (1:2). As the author of Hebrews says, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb.10:31). Amos had been sent by God to declare specific judgements upon particular nations. And each divine indictment builds with suspense and intensity, until finally culminating with Israel’s own judgment as having broken covenant.
From an earthly standpoint, Amos’ ministry was a colossal failure. Israel would not repent and the ten Northern tribes would be swept away into captivity in 722 BC (not dissimilar to Noah’s experience, whom we are reminded in Hebrews 11:7 heeded God’s warning, yet whose audience rejected and ignored his preaching of righteousness). Israel’s lack of turning to the Lord is a glaring contrast to the foreign citizens of Nineveh who responded to Jonah’s pronouncement of judgment with repentance that lead to life and deliverance. “Let everyone turn away from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” Jonah 3:8b-9
Who knew if God would “in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2)? Jonah knew (and should have testified to that fact). Amos knew. He concludes his prophecy with gospel hope. “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old….I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel.” Amos 9:11,14 And ultimately Jesus knew. In perhaps the most famous verse in all the Bible, our Lord tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 To avoid perishing eternally, one needs to repent and receive Jesus Christ as Lord.
If a bridge is out ahead when I’m driving on the road, being told in advance is a blessing not a curse. And so, rather than being contrary to God’s love, His judgments and warnings are actually manifestations of His concern and mercy! May we as His covenant people come to see all His warnings about judgment and danger as great gifts of grace.