“Listen to this message that I am singing for you, a lament, house of Israel: She has fallen; Virgin Israel will never rise again. She lies abandoned on her land with no one to raise her up. For the Lord God says: The city that marches out a thousand strong will have only a hundred left, and the one that marches out a hundred strong will have only ten left in the house of Israel.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever had to do something you didn’t want to do? Probably so. That’s eventually part of life for all of us. Perhaps there is someone wealthy enough to have avoided that for a long time, but it doesn’t last forever. Besides, we don’t want what is good for us on our own, so having to do what we don’t want to do is part of growing up. Given that, what kind of attitude did you bring to doing it? It wasn’t likely a very good one. There was a heaviness to your doing it. You did it grumpily, angrily even. What we find here in Amos is God having to do something He didn’t want to do. Let’s talk about why that matters.
Yesterday, we talked through God’s description of His attempts to get Israel to wake up to the sinful path they were traveling. He tried a lot of different things, each one a bit cranked up from the one before it. And yet, for all of His efforts, they just wouldn’t listen to Him. They wouldn’t stop walking deeper and deeper down the path of idolatry and injustice. It’s amazing how hard it can be for God to get through to someone whose life is apparently going so well. Even when things go wrong, if we have a bunch of money in the bank, or some other form of security, we can just brush it off, ignore it, and keep on with the way we are already doing things.
At long last – and this is a point God reaches several times over the course of Amos’s prophetic record – God finally has no other choice but to deliver them over to the consequences of their sinfulness. He has delayed it as long as He can and the time for judgment is finally going to arrive. Israel will be brought to an end.
One of the common caricatures of the prophets often held by people who haven’t actually spent much time studying them, is that they are nothing but a bunch of angry old men gleefully telling people how the angry old God they serve is going to delight in smiting them for all their so-called sinfulness.
There are several things wrong with this view. In fact, there’s really nothing right about it. The prophets were generally not old. They were rarely angry. They often didn’t like the kinds of things God was telling them to say to the people. They encountered a great deal of pushback, some of which was violent. Now, God was angry with the people because of their persistent, unrepentant sinfulness, but His emotional range throughout the prophets is much, much broader than mere anger.
The one part of this gross mischaracterization that I want to give just a second’s worth of attention here, though, is the idea that God delighted in announcing and bringing judgment on the people. Nothing could be further from the truth. The God revealed in the pages of the Scriptures is just. There should be no question about that. He is perfect in holiness and righteousness as well. Because of that, He will deal with sin thoroughly. And yet, because He is also love and perfect in compassion and mercy, bringing judgment on sinners is nearly always His last resort. He drags His feet on it for far longer than we would have if we were in His shoes.
And when the time for judgment finally can’t be avoided or drawn out any longer, there is no glee on His part. It absolutely breaks His heart. The physical pain of those who will receive the judgment (which, by the way, is often passive on His part rather than active like we talked about the other day, because sin brings its own natural consequences that are bad enough He really doesn’t have to do much more than let them play out in order for justice to be served) is dwarfed by the emotional pain He experiences for having to put them through it.
In short: God doesn’t want to judge. He will when the time for it finally comes. And His anger and hatred at sin for causing judgment to have to be delivered in the first place are intense. And, yes, He gets angry at sinners for persisting in their sin in spite of His efforts to call them from it. But that anger is first and foremost rooted in His love for them. His is the anger shared by all loving parents who are ferociously brokenhearted at the foolish choices being made by their children and the fact that they are being put in the position of having to hold them to account for those.
Bringing punishment for sin isn’t fun for God. He was so committed to having to do it for as few people as possible that He sent His only Son to die in our place, taking the penalty for our sin on Himself, so that we don’t have to pay it. For those who finally reject His offer of salvation, they will be made to pay the penalty for their sin on their own because God is just. But anyone who is willing to receive Christ’s offer of salvation has their sins washed away and can enjoy the eternal life that is His reward for His faithfulness. And God doesn’t have to punish them anymore. Which makes Him really happy. So…make God happy. He will be glad you did.