Digging in Deeper: Amos 7:1-6

“The Lord God showed me this: He was forming a swarm of locusts at the time the spring crop first began to sprout – after the cutting of the king’s hay. When the locusts finished eating the vegetation of the land, I said, ‘Lord God, please forgive! How will Jacob survive since he is so small?’ The Lord relented concerning this. ‘It will not happen,’ he said. The Lord God showed me this: The Lord God was calling for a judgment by fire. It consumed the great deep and devoured the land. Then I said, ‘Lord God, please stop! How will Jacob survive since he is so small?’ The Lord relented concerning this. ‘This will not happen either,’ said the Lord God.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)

What is the point of prayer? And just what can prayer accomplish? And what does our prayers’ being answered say about God? All of these are questions raised in this deceptively challenging passage. This morning, let’s think together about what it means that God “relented” in punishing Israel here and what that means for us.

There are two basic kinds of prophecy: foretelling and forthtelling. The former is what we most commonly think of when we think of prophecy. It involves telling people what is going to happen in the future. That could be a near future or a distant one, but either way, it is about events that have not yet happened.

The latter type of prophecy is more commonly found in the Scriptures, and is about telling people what is happening in the present. A great deal of the prophetic writings we find in the Old Testament are the various prophets telling the people they are off track and warning them of the dangers of staying that particular course instead of repenting and returning to righteousness (of which there are plenty of calls).

When it comes to forthtelling, the prophets were often inspired by God to simply observe the world around them and share those observations with the people. These didn’t require any kind of special information, just a keen eye for where the culture was and a dedication to the ways of the Lord. Foretelling, on the other hand, did require that God gave them a special knowledge of His future plans, or at least one possible future if the people continued on their sinful path. This knowledge often came by way of visions. How exactly this worked, we don’t know for sure. The few times we are given a bit more information on the process, they were usually awake, and God took them into a kind of trance before giving them a vision.

In this passage, Amos has received a vision of judgment God has planned for the people because of their sinfulness. In fact, He receives two different visions of judgment. To put it rather mildly, these visions are pretty disturbing. One involves a swarm of locusts absolutely devastating the nation’s food supply. The other involves a fire that burns through the nation’s land, destroying everything as it goes.

In response to both of these visions, Amos cries out in prayer. “Lord, you can’t do that! Israel won’t survive.” He pleads with God to forgive their sin and relent from the judgment He has planned. And in both cases, the Lord responds with compassion and grace. He relents and spares Irael rather than judging them right then.

Now, it is tempting to simply take this kind of thing in stride and read right on. After all, this kind of forgiving is just what God does. But let’s not do that, because I think there’s something worth noticing here. First, in both instances, Amos’s intercessory prayer for the people of Israel is prompted by God’s showing Him a vision. This doesn’t necessarily mean all our prayer needs to be prompted by visions of future judgment. But we don’t need for God to give us such visions because He’s already given them in the Scriptures. We can study the Scriptures and see the plans God has for His creation. There will be judgment for all those who ultimately reject Him and His ways. We know this is coming. If you want to pray a prayer like Amos did for your culture, go ahead and do it, because God has already decreed judgment for those who are not found in Christ.

Another thing to notice here is Amos’s broken heart for the people of Israel. This is significant on a couple of different fronts. First, his prayer is prompted by his brokenhearted compassion for the people. He was so concerned with them and their fate, that he actively, passionately interceded before God on their behalf. Do you have anyone in your life about whom you are so compassionately concerned that you would intercede with God on their behalf? This is real love lived out. It is an intentional decision on Amos’s part to see them moved in the direction of God. He can see the end of their actions and rather than relishing in seeing them get their just desserts, He cares about them enough to pray for God to spare them. As Gospel-minded followers of Jesus, we need to have a person or a people about whom we are similarly concerned.

That’s not the only point worth noticing here. Amos originally came from the southern kingdom of Judah. God had called him to go to the northern kingdom of Israel to do his prophetic work. Israel and Judah were not friends. Israel was a breakaway kingdom and the bitterness between the two nations generally ran pretty thick. This was a man sent by God to proclaim His words to a geopolitical foe. Israel had inflicted numerous and intentional harms on Judah in the past. Amos had every reason to hate them. And yet, when he learned of the judgment God was planning to bring on them, rather than celebrating their misfortune, his heart was filled with compassion, and he pleaded before God on their behalf. In other words, he was intentionally loving his enemies like Jesus would later command us to do. We should certainly be praying for people we have determined are “our people.” But we should also be praying for those we would more naturally countenance to be our enemies. By God’s grace and our answered prayer, it may be that they cease to be our enemies and instead become our brothers and sisters in Christ.

In both of these cases, as we have already noted, God answered Amos’s prayers. And again, that’s something we don’t think much about because God is in the business of answering prayers, but let the wonder of this wash over you for a second. The God who is perfect in righteousness and infinite in holiness, who created the world and everything in it, who knows the end from the beginning, was willing to listen to the cries of one of his creatures on behalf of a group of creatures who were living in active, open rebellion against Him, and responded to those cries by showing the wayward people grace. What kind of a God is this? He is not distant and uncaring, that’s for sure. In spite of His grandeur – or better yet, because of it – He is willing to meet us on our level and to engage with us personally. He delights in seeing us reflect His character (something Amos was most definitely doing in pleading compassionately on behalf of Israel), and responds by leaning into us. And His plans are so good and great that He factors all of this into the equation so that what He wants to happen is ultimately what comes about.

God doesn’t want to judge. He does and does it perfectly because He is just and such judgment ultimately brings Him glory, but He always prefers mercy and compassion to judgment. He can dole these out Himself, but He tends to do His most glorious work through us. This is not because we are particularly special, but because our weakness makes His accomplishing it anyway redound even more glory to Himself. When you feel moved to pray, don’t miss out on the opportunity. It just may be that God is moving in your heart like He did Amos’s here. He may be using you to accomplish a great work of mercy and compassion and grace in the life of another person or even of a whole people. Lean into His heart of love and let it flow through you to the people around you. That’s when some of His best work will get done. And you’ll get to be a part of it. Everyone wins.

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