Morning Musing: Amos 9:1-4

“I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said, ‘Strike the capitals of the pillars so that the thresholds shake; knock them down on the heads of all the people. Then I will kill the rest of them with the sword. None of those who flee will get away; none of the fugitives will escape. If they dig down to Sheol, from there my hand will take them; if they climb to up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide on the top of Carmel, from there I will track them down and seize them; if they conceal themselves from my sight on the sea floor, from there I will command the sea serpent to bite them. And if they are driven by their enemies into captivity, from there I will command the sword to kill them. I will keep my eye on them for harm and not for good.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)

I was in middle school when one of the most sensationalized murder trials in American history took place. The defendant was Hall of Fame running back, O.J. Simpson. He was charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole, and Ron Goldman. A great deal of that case has entered our cultural memory as a nation from the nationally televised police chase as Simpson foolishly tried to evade capture in his white Ford Bronco to the bloody gloves found at the crime scene with his DNA on them. I remember when, after weeks of the trial, the jury’s verdict of “not guilty” was rendered in just four hours in spite of a mountain of evidence – including his DNA (which was still a fairly new form of criminal evidence and not yet well understood) found on the bloody gloves at the crime scene – suggesting powerfully that he was in fact guilty. By most accounts, Simpson had escaped justice. Sometimes that happens in our unjust world. There is a day coming, though, when no one will escape justice. Let’s talk about it.

Let’s just acknowledge out of the gate here that this passage is terrifying. The thought of someone with all the power God has being absolutely committed to your destruction and death should leave you shaking almost uncontrollably in your boots. It should be a powerful motivator to do whatever it takes to avoid getting yourself put on that particular list. A passage like this one snipped out of context could easily be used to portray the God of the Bible as a vicious and bloodthirsty monster along the lines that Richard Dawkins so blasphemously describes him in the introduction to his best seller, The God Delusion.

And yet, no passage comes without a context. Including this one. Especially this one.

This back for a minute over the previous eight chapters of Amos that we have covered over the last couple of months. Think about the message God was delivering to the people of Israel through His prophet. Think about what they had done and what they were still actively doing in spite of all the warnings of judgment He had set before them. This was a people who were wholly committed to a path of injustice. The society was stratified between the haves and the have-nots. Those with power were using their power to trample on those without. This wasn’t necessarily all done for overtly nefarious purposes. Rather, it was often motivated by simple greed and a total lack of concern for the welfare of those they considered beneath them. They looked at the poor and vulnerable of the society as little more than resources to be exploited for their own benefit.

And while you might expect that their religiousness would help steer them away from this kind of thing, it was actually steering them directly into it. They were worshiping gods who were little more than reflections of themselves (as all the ancient pagan gods and goddesses were). Well, this worshiping gods who were just like them but with superpowers created a kind of echo chamber where the worst of their natural, sinful impulses were justified and even encouraged. Like the people living before the flood, they were on a short path to reaching the point at which “every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time.” And God wasn’t willing to put up with it any longer.

He had given them multiple opportunities to repent. Justice for their many sins had been delayed and delayed again and delayed yet again in God’s characteristic push for mercy. He didn’t want to judge. Even in the context of Amos’s own collection of prophecy there was a delay of judgment. From the time when Jeroboam I founded the nation on a core of idolatry to when Amos was doing his prophetic work was almost 150 years. From Amos’s prophecy of judgment until the nation was finally conquered by the Assyrians and destroyed was another 40-50 years. God waited another whole generation before finally following through on His promise to bring justice and judgment to the deeply sinful people. And, I suspect that if in that final generation the people had genuinely repented and sought to do right again, He would have given them even more time. At the very least, He wouldn’t have allowed the Assyrians to destroy them so completely. After all, this is the God who gave the Assyrians themselves more time when the people of Nineveh repented in response to Jonah’s prophecy of judgment.

As I have said again and again over the years, God doesn’t want to judge. He wants to love and bless. But He is just, and so judge He will when it becomes clear that no other avenue exists for moving forward. He will delay justice to the point that it almost seems like we will escape it. Yet what God makes clear here is that we won’t escape. When the time for justice finally arrives, God will come, and He will be thorough. There will be no hiding from His wrath against sin. The only refuge we will have in that day will be Jesus. Unless we are covered by Him, God’s righteous justice will find us and hold us fully accountable for our sins. Not a single one will be missed. And if we have taken the path of trying to represent ourselves in His heavenly court, our case will fail, and we will receive the end we have chosen – permanent and eternal separation from Him.

While O.J. Simpson was indeed acquitted of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, he was later found guilty of a wrongful death civil lawsuit and ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars’ worth of fines to the families. He was later involved in an armed robbery for which he was initially sentenced to life in prison. He was released on parole for good behavior a couple of years ago. He has lived out his life since his unjust acquittal in utter infamy. Even this, though, falls short of God’s judgment which, unless he has covered himself in Christ, he will face just like all of us will who are not similarly covered.

None of this is particularly good news to greet you on this beautiful Tuesday morning (at least where I’m writing from), but it is true news. It is true news that points us to the absolute necessity of embracing the good news. If you have not had God’s just judgment of your sins satisfied in Christ, don’t wait another minute to seek His grace through your faith. Submit your life to Him as your Lord and let Him be the Savior you need. Nothing will ever be the same, and you can read passages like this one with confidence that you won’t be a part of the judgment being described.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.