“Therefore, the Lord God says: An enemy will surround the land; he will destroy your strongholds and plunder your citadels. The Lord says: As the shepherd snatches two legs or a piece of an ear from the lion’s mouth, so the Israelites who live in Samaria will be rescued with only the corner of a bed or the cushion of a couch.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We long for security. So much of what we do is prefaced on the idea that it is going to make tomorrow better than today. Or at least, it is going to make tomorrow more likely to come than not. We save money, we invest, we diet, we build big houses, we fill our pantries, we recycle, and so on and so forth. Israel longed for security too, and they thought they had it. Unfortunately, they had “found” it in the wrong things and God had to help them see that. Let’s take a look at this and explore what lessons there might be for us in it.
I think I have probably told this story before, but one of the exercises I do with all engaged couples I counsel before doing their wedding is one aimed at getting them to consider what meaning money holds for them. In nearly 15 years of doing premarital counseling, there have been exactly two people who did not look to money primarily as a source of security.
Almost without exception everyone views money as something which can give our lives a sense of security. Whatever challenges or tragedies may come our way, if we have enough money, we don’t have to be afraid of them. We can use money as a shield from trouble. We can obtain the resources we need to overcome any obstacles in our path. It can take care of us when we are old or infirm. Money is security.
Or maybe you have something else that makes you feel more secure. Whatever it happens to be, your first instinct when you feel threatened is to turn to this thing. Whether it is a person, a habit, or a thing, it is your refuge when things feel overwhelming. Before you go feeling all guilty for this thing’s not being God, though, searching for security in something is natural.
The people of Israel certainly had a list of things they turned to for security when life felt overwhelming. Over time, these things gradually became institutions for them. They became fortresses. When threatened by some crisis, these things seemed to give them refuge.
As we will see throughout Amos’ prophetic record, for the people of Israel, the two primary sources of security to which they turned were their wealth and their religion. If one couldn’t save them, the other would. They had big bank accounts to help them weather all of life’s storms, but just in case that failed them, at least their god was for them. And I say, “their god” with a little “g” on purpose. Whoever it was they worshiped, it was not the same God who had brought them out of Egypt, gave them the Law through Moses, and who their brothers and sisters to the south still sought with at least moderate devotion.
There was just one problem: Neither of these things could actually provide what it was they went to them to seek. Money would fail them eventually. You can buy your way out of a lot in the world we live in, but not everything. There are some things you need that money won’t ever be able to provide. And money won’t always be there either. It is easily lost. You can have lots of money in the bank and it can be gone in the blink of an eye. And religion has absolutely no power unless it is actively connecting us in a deeper relationship with God. Absent that, it is little more than endless rituals of opaque, fruitless sacrifices and offerings.
And yet the allure of these things remains. So, Israel turned to them. So, we turn to them. In Israel’s case, God had been patient with their turning to things other than Him long enough. He had watched them set themselves up to fail and fail grandly and couldn’t bear to watch it anymore. He had to do something in hopes of convincing them that they needed to make Him their source of security. He longed to be the one to whom they ran when things got tough…and when things were good…and when things were just average. He wanted to be their everything just like He wants to be for you.
This brings up an uncomfortable question, though: How is it that God could convince them to give up these false sources of security in favor of turning to the one that is real? He sent prophets to deliver them the message verbally, but that hadn’t worked. They kept ignoring the prophets. As we will see a little later in Amos’ record, they sometimes even went beyond ignoring them to actively opposing them. In other words, the prophets weren’t accomplishing the first job God had given them. This wasn’t their fault, though. Their audience was bad.
Because Israel wouldn’t listen to reason and passion from God, He had to turn up the volume on them. This meant actively neutering the effectiveness of their sources of strength. He had to allow them to experience crises those things couldn’t handle. He had to put them in positions where they were going to experience pain…enough pain to get their attention. And our first reaction to hearing this is perhaps shock and horror that God would do something so terrible. But the truth is that this is different from how good parents work to get their kids’ attention when they are making hard choices and refusing to listen to reasoned instruction calling them to make better ones only in terms of the scale on which God was operating. In working to save Israel from an even bigger disaster of their own making, He had to expose them to a smaller disaster of His making in hopes that they would listen and turn back.
Even though your relationship with God is different from the kind of relationship He had with Israel, He is still just as passionate about your walking the path of righteousness and life defined by His character. If you are leaning on things or people or habits that are not pointing you to Him, He is going to be just as concerned with convincing you of the ultimate worthlessness of those as He was for Israel. He’ll start trying to get your attention gently, but if you refuse to listen, He will eventually start turning up the volume a bit. That won’t be fun. But the pain will actually be a sign of His great love, not a negation of it.
If you are going through a season that is hard, it could be an indication that you are on the right track and the enemy is working to throw you off of it. It could also be, though, that you aren’t on the right track, and God is trying to call you back to it. Before you react, take some time to take stock of where you are and the kinds of choices you are making in life. Consider the kinds of things you look toward to make things better when you need a reprieve from life. Have some honest conversations with close friends who know you well. Give them permission to speak into your life with conviction and clarity. If after all of that you discover there is sin between you and God, repent of it, and get back on the path of life once again. God won’t stop pursuing you with His love until you do. He’s just that committed to your experiencing the abundant life in Christ. Take His offer. You’ll be glad you did.