One of the fastest ways to build friendship with someone is to complain together about the same people.
I’m sure that’s what was happening when the prophet Amos’ proclaimed the Lord’s judgment on Israel’s six neighboring nations (Amos 1:1-2:3). Nations like Edom and Moab were Israel’s competitors and enemies. And everybody likes to hear about judgment on their enemies. As Amos let the fire and brimstone rip, I can just imagine the people in the crowd nodding their heads and shouting back, “Amen! Preach it, preacher.”
But then Amos suddenly pivoted and started talking about Israel’s sin—which didn’t go over quite as well. This was God’s charge against Israel:
“They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 2:6b ESV). In other words, they exploited the poor.
“[They] trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth” (v. 2:7). This means they used their riches to twist the justice system.
“And [they] turn aside the way of the afflicted” (v. 2:7). The Israelites were simply apathetic toward those who suffered. They lived lives of ease, comfort, and luxury in the face of suffering.
Amos also called out their complicity with the new sexual order of the day. Israel was undergoing their own version of a sexual revolution, and God’s people were just going along with it. Even preachers quit preaching against it.
And, God says, maybe the worst part of it all is this: “Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them. … Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite” (vv. 9-10).
God saved the Israelites by grace, and they responded by ignoring and even exploiting others. They didn’t want to know what he had to say about how to live. The Israelites trusted God to save their lives, but they didn’t trust him to guide their lives.
Most infuriating to God, Amos said, is that they did all this while remaining fervent in their religious devotion. They came to church and sang God’s praises, but what occupied the rest of their week demonstrated that their hearts were a million miles away.
As you might expect, when Amos got done with this part of his sermon, the “Amens” had died down significantly.
When the Spotlight Turns
The bridge between Amos’ day and our day is not a hard one to make.
I can talk all day long about moral corruption in Hollywood, the secularist agenda being crammed down our throat by the media, activist judges who are misusing their positions in our country to curtail religious freedoms, the corruption and hypocrisy of groups like Planned Parenthood, and the evils of Islamic terrorism and the wickedness of religious persecution in places like Russia, China, or North Korea.
And you would respond, “Amen!” just like Amos’ audience did.
But what happens when the spotlight turns on us? How many of Israel’s sins do we also see replicated in the church?
I know Christians who live in sexual sin throughout the week and then come to church on the weekend because they want God to be a part of their lives.
There are plenty of Christians in churches across America who work in businesses that use “legal” but ethically shady means in order to exploit those with less economic power.
And, of course, just as in Amos’ day, we have Christians who live in luxury while people around them perish.
We love talking about the sins of others, don’t we? But wouldn’t Amos probably say many of the same things about us that he was saying about Israel?
Judgment Begins with the House of God
And what if we persist in the same sins that Israel did?
“Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him” (Amos 5:18-19a).
Again, I see the church in ancient Israel here. The Israelites talked about how much they yearned for God to come back and deliver them from their enemies. They wanted God to come back and bring the “good ol’ days” with him. But Amos said, “You really don’t want that.” He refers to “the Day of the Lord” five times, and it is always a day of judgment that begins with the house of God.
A lot of Christians today are like that: “Oh, Jesus, when will you rapture us? When will you come back and rule on earth?”
Be careful what you wish for.
For those walking in sin, Jesus’ coming will be like darkness, not light, like they are running away from a lion of a bad financial situation or bad politics and into the bear of Jesus’ judgment.
But therein lies the good news: The New Testament Apostles said that the “Day of the Lord” began on the day Jesus was crucified. There, the judgment we feared and deserved was poured out on him. And because of the cross, if we are willing to examine the sin in our lives, genuinely seek God, and repent, we can find safety.