“Look, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom, and I will obliterate it from the face of the earth. However, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob – this is the Lord’s declaration – for I am about to give the command, and I will shake the house of Israel among all the nations, as one shakes a sieve, but not a pebble will fall to the ground.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
A few weeks ago, and several times since (including yesterday), we talked about the fact that while God certainly delights in justice, He does not delight in judgment. He would much rather bless than punish. We get another glimpse of this truth here in a way that points us toward a few important ideas. Let’s talk about those.
One of the more encouraging parables Jesus told was a story about a farmer whose enemy came in the middle of the night after he had planted his fields and sowed a bunch of weeds among his good grain seeds. It’s a story that’s a little hard for us to imagine today because we spray our crops for weeds and don’t even have to think about them. But in Jesus’ day, when all the farming work was done by hand, this would have been a pretty awful thing to have done to you. It would pose the potential of ruining your entire crop.
When the farmer’s servants come and ask him what he wants them to do, and if they should go carefully root out the weeds, he stops them in their tracks. He tells them to simply let the weeds grow up with the wheat for the time being. Eventually, it will become clear what is wheat and what is weed. When that happens, and once the wheat’s root system is firmly established, then they will be able to fairly easily separate out one from the other.
There are several things to learn from this parable, including its pointer to God’s decision to allow sin to grow and even flourish among His people for the time being and until the time for the great harvest arrives. The thing that I really want us to see from Jesus’ parable for this morning is this idea that there is indeed a time coming when the righteous will be divided out from the wicked.
Now, that sounds a little (or even a lot) harsh to modern ears, so let me unpack it just a bit. The categories of “righteous” and “wicked” are not meant to be pejorative, but descriptive. The righteous are not those who by some effort of their own have made themselves right with God, but rather those who by their humble faith in Christ have been covered by His righteousness. The wicked, on the other hand, is a category that includes every single one of us apart from Christ. Because God is the only source of good, if we are disconnected from Him, there is no good naturally in us. Well, what do you call a total absence of good? How about evil? Better yet, how about wickedness. Thus, apart from Christ, we are wicked. And on the day when God’s judgment finally comes, the righteous will be separated from the wicked.
God’s judgment, when it comes, will be thorough and complete. He won’t fail to bring appropriate judgment for a single sin. Nothing will be overlooked. When He finally delivers us the destruction to which we have committed ourselves, it will be total. Yet because God is just, the righteous will not bear the punishment of the wicked. He will divide one from the other. His judgment is surgical, not merely a carpet-bombing campaign.
This is what Amos conveys here with the imagery of the sieve. A sieve is an instrument for sorting. Whether the sieve is letting through the righteous so the wicked are culled together for judgment, or letting through the wicked to preserve the righteous from judgment, the two are being separated. When that day comes, only the righteous (those covered in Christ) will escape.
There’s one more thing here. This is actually something the prophet Elijah had to learn a couple of generations before this, and which Amos underscores here. No matter how alone we happen to feel in our attempts to pursue and serve the Lord, we are never truly alone. There is always a remnant. He always has people who are faithful to Him. Even if we were the only ones, though, He would still save us if we were covered in Christ. Remember: we serve the God who was willing to forestall the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in spite of their wickedness if He was able to find just ten righteous people in the whole of those massive cities. Our God is just, but His love never leaves Him. We are all the better for it.