“Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, Israelites, against the entire clan that I brought from the land of Egypt: I have known only you out of all the clans of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
If you are a parent, you probably have some rules for your kids. Those rules may be very formalized and strict, or they may be more relaxed and informal. Whatever form they happen to take, though, you have rules. When those rules are violated, there will be some kind of consequences, again, whether formal or informal. Still, though, the bonds of the family hold even when the rules are broken. But what happens if someone in the family starts to assume on those family bonds while living however they please? Let’s consider that for just a minute this morning as we move forward with the prophet Amos.
Israel was God’s family. He had adopted them as His children. This wasn’t because there was anything particularly special about them, but simply because He chose them. He chose them because He intended to use them to advance His plans for all the world. He could have chosen someone else, but He chose them. And because of this, He had a special relationship with them that He didn’t have with anyone else just yet. That was coming, but first He had some work to do. It was work that would seem to us to take forever, but when you have all the time in the world, you tend to look at things a bit differently.
This special relationship God had with Israel was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they benefitted mightily from His commitment to be for them in a way He wasn’t for other nations in the world. It wasn’t that He didn’t care about other nations, but because He was committed to accomplishing His purposes through them, they were going to be the beneficiaries of His help and protection in a way other nations were not. Eventually that blessing was going to be extended to the rest of the world in Jesus, but again, the time for that hadn’t yet come.
On the other hand, because they had access to His presence and protection, they were expected to abide by His commands in a way other nations were not. Now, again, this doesn’t mean He still didn’t hold other nations to account for their sinfulness. Paul makes clear in Romans 1 why this was. There are some moral laws that are universal, and everyone is expected to live up to them because we are all created in the image of God. Failing to do so will bring judgment in one form or another. But for Israel, because they were given a special access to God by being adopted into His family, the burden on them to live up to the standards of His household were greater than they were for the rest of the world.
While these ideas applied on a global scale like this can be a bit hard to wrap our hearts and minds around, they should nonetheless be something we can eventually understand. After all, there are benefits to being a part of your family for the people who are a part of it that are not extended to people who are not part of your family. Now, maybe you’re sitting there thinking that your family is a broken mess with no real benefits, but nonetheless, every family has certain values and expectations and, yes, even perks, that are available to insiders, but not outsiders. That’s simply how families work.
If we are not careful, though, it is really easy to begin assuming on these values simply because we are a part of the family. We believe we are entitled to them because of our genetic heritage. And, depending on the nature of these values and benefits, this sense of entitlement can lead to great pride and arrogance as we look down on others who do not have access to such things as we do. It can lead to our concluding that because these values are connected to our genetic heritage, they are going to be there for us no matter what we do.
This is a theme we understand as a people. Consider how many of our stories have been about a wealthy young man or woman who made awful choices and hurt others without remorse because of their belief that their access to wealth and the power it naturally brings could keep them from experiencing any meaningful consequences for their choices. This kind of thing is ugly when it is played out in real life. In most of these cases, one of two things happens. Either the person realizes the error his or her ways, repents, and adopts a humbler posture toward the benefits extended by their genetic heritage. Or the person finally drifts so far from the relational boundaries of the family that they lose access to the benefits and are left on their own to deal with the consequences that have at last come to bear.
In those moments, everyone cheers the fact that justice is being served…except the one facing the justice. Usually that person is left complaining bitterly about the “unfairness” of having been left out in the cold without the protective shield of the family benefits on which they had long been assuming.
What the prophet Amos was trying to convey to the people of Israel was that they had been assuming on the benefits of being a part of God’s family for far too long and they were finally going to have to face a critical moment of decision. Either they were going to genuinely repent and turn back from their wantonly violating the boundaries of God’s covenant with them, or they were going to face the full and unmitigated consequences of their choices. God had been patient with them long enough, and He was at last going to bring the punishment for which they had been due for a very long time. And He was going to do this precisely because they were His family.
All families have boundaries. Good families try to extend those boundaries as far as they can for the benefit of their members, but eventually, if we push far enough, we will leave the boundaries behind at which point we are on our own. We can no longer count on the benefits of living within them. There are always warning signs when we drift too near this point. Whether or not we choose to heed those or ignore them is up to us. If we ignore them, though, what happens next is on us and not anyone else. Playing the blame game at that point is worthless.
This leads us to the question we need to consider this morning together: If you are someone who has signed up for being a part of God’s family in Christ, how well are you living within the boundaries of that relationship? The world does its best to convince us that boundaries are restrictive and should always be rejected in favor of “freedom,” but the reality is that just the opposite is true. Boundaries bring freedom because they tell us where we can safely live and enjoy life. If you are living close to the edge of the boundaries, you are treading on dangerous ground. Come back to the spacious safety of the middle of the pasture. That’s where the sweetest grass and most satisfying streams will always be found. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are living inside the boundaries when you’re really not either. Submit fully to God’s family and enjoy the life that is truly life. You will only ever be glad that you did.