Morning Musing: Amos 8:8-10

“Because of this, won’t the land quake and all who dwell in it mourn? All of it will rise like the Nile; it will surge and then subside like the Nile in Egypt. And in that day – this is the declaration of the Lord God – I will make the sun go down at noon; I will darken the land in the daytime. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will cause everyone to wear sackcloth and every head to be shaved. I will make that grief like mourning for an only son and its outcome like a bitter day.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Have you ever learned something new about something you thought you understood just fine, and it gave you a totally different perspective on it? That happens every now and then. When it does, you can’t see the old thing in the same way any longer. That happened for me with this passage a few weeks ago. These verses are obviously a prophecy of judgment. It is a judgment coming because of the people’s sin. As I was reading through the devotion on Amos that inspired this journey, though, the author introduced an idea that let me see them in an entirely new light. Let me share that with you.

If you just read these verses without thinking very much about them, they can come off sounding like a fairly garden-variety judgment as far as the broader context of the Hebrew prophets go. In the verse before, which we talked about yesterday, God promised the people He would never forget about their evil deeds. Here, then, He assures them once again that judgment is coming. They had been given the chance to repent. They rejected that chance. Judgment was now all that remained.

If we’re not careful, reading this passage could lead us to conclude the God of the Old Testament is the angry, vengeful, judgmental bully He is so often mischaracterized as being thanks to passages just like this one. Of course, I reject the very notion that there is a “God of the Old Testament” who is somehow distinct from the “God of the New Testament” on its face as utterly ridiculous and stemming from an overall lack of meaningful engagement with the Scriptures as a whole, but passages like this one nonetheless give out-of-context evidence to folks who would make that kind of an argument.

Just look at it. He is promising to bring earthquakes and darkness and incredible, profound mourning. I’ve done a funeral before for a family whose only son died of a mysterious cancer when he was about 13-years-old and in the span of about three months. I’ve done a service for a couple whose little girl was stillborn. I’ve participated in the service of a little girl who died of a fluke bacterial infection after being sick for only a few weeks. I’ve seen this kind of deep, soul-wrenching mourning. Many couples and families don’t survive that kind of thing intact. The very thought that God would inflict that kind of grief and despair on a people is a terrifying thought indeed.

And yet…

Look at this just a bit more closely with me. Think for just a minute about a time in the Scriptures when the author of a particular story talked about an earthquake striking the land. I’m not talking about a prophetic, apocalyptic earthquake, but a real, shake-the-ground-in-the-moment earthquake. While you’re at it, think about a time when an earthquake like this happened in conjunction with the sky going dark in the middle of the day. And, since we’re adding things to this picture, see if you can call to mind a story when those two things happened at the same time that a father’s only son died. Is anything ringing that particular trio of bells for you? There’s only one story that fits the bill here. The crucifixion of Jesus.

Check out what the apostle Matthew wrote when describing that awful day: “From noon until three in the afternoon, darkness came over the whole land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ When some of those standing there heard this, they said, ‘He’s calling for Elijah.’ Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and offered him a drink. But the rest said, ‘Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.’ But Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from the top to bottom, the earth quaked, and the rocks were split.”

Can you see it now?

The judgment Amos was describing here happened. And it happened almost exactly as Amos described it. But it didn’t happen to Israel as a whole. It happened to Jesus. Let me put that another way to see if I can make sure you are grasping how incredible this is. God promised judgment, punishment for sin, on Israel. It was deserved judgment too. They were utterly impenitent in their sinfulness. And at least the nation of Israel was conquered and destroyed by the Assyrians which we should understand as an act of judgment even as it was also simply the machinations of history playing themselves out naturally.

But this truly apocalyptic-sounding judgment here wasn’t something that fell on Israel. It fell on Jesus. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we have all turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished him for the iniquity of us all.”

This is the God we serve. We deserved punishment. But He loved us too much to put it on us. It would have destroyed us just as Amos fretted it would back in chapter 7. He didn’t want us destroyed. He wanted to be in a relationship with us. So, instead of inflicting our due punishment on us, He instead inflicted it on His Son. He put Him up to die in our place so that we might live. Or, as the apostle John so famously put it: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Judgment has already come for sins. It was placed on Christ. Because of that, if you are willing to trust in Him, you can have the life He lives instead of the death you deserve. That’s the good news, and it is good indeed. The Hebrew prophets may be hard to understand at times, but when we look at them through the right lens, it becomes easier to see how the first Jesus followers were able to make a strong case for the Gospel using nothing but the Hebrew scriptures and the resurrection. The good news was being proclaimed long before it came. We just didn’t have eyes to see and ears to hear. Today we do. Let’s receive it and live.

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