Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
John 18:28-40; Revelation 13:1-10; Job 38:1-21; Amos 3-4
Amos 4 is disturbing, especially after the general statement in Amos 3:6 that God causes disasters. The original hearers were also shocked and offended, which is why Amos has carefully crafted his prophecy. Chapter 3 begins with a series of common sense questions that lead his audience to accept his conclusion. Do two people go for a walk without arranging to meet? Of course not. Does a trumpet sound the alarm without people getting afraid? Of course not. Does a disaster strike without God being the cause? Of course not. And at the same time, God reveals his plans ahead of time through prophets, like Amos.
Amos is written two years before the earthquake strikes (1:1). This is not a random event sent by God, but a punishment sent because the people failed to respond to his earlier goodness and provision (2:9-11). They rejected his ways and no longer know how to do right (3:10). Injustices flourish in their society, where the poor are oppressed and the needy crushed (4:1). Some have second homes for summer or winter, while the poor are taxed on their bare essentials (3:11; 5:11). Little has changed.
Sarcastically, Amos tells them to go through their religious rituals as normal (4:1-5). They boast and brag about their worship, rather than humbly offering them for God’s glory. They continue to sin rather than ask for forgiveness or act with justice. As a result, God sends increasingly intense disasters, trying to get their attention. He causes crops to fail, sends plagues, and gets armies to kill their young men. Yet they do not return to him.
The list of judgements sounds abhorrent to us. How could a loving God inflict such things on his own people, or on anyone? We understand the way punishment can be severe, but wrath intended to bring people back to God seems excessive and cruel. We picture parents hitting their children to get them to love them and see only abuse. The chapter ends with a reminder of God’s sovereignty. He is the God of the Universe, omnipotent and omniscient. He reveals his thoughts to mortals, but we do not understand. God elaborates on this in Job 38. We were not there when God created the world, and there is much we do not understand. This includes how God is justified in judging people.
Yet in Israel’s case, God had revealed earlier that he would send disasters if they failed to live according to the Covenant which they willingly entered (Deuteronomy 29:10-28). When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he reminded them that failed crops, plagues and military defeats would be used if they sinned to call them back to repentance and to God (1 Kings 8:33-40). He is most concerned about their hearts since he alone knows every human heart.
As disturbing as the judgments of Amos sound, God is the sovereign ruler and has every right to punish according to his righteous standards. Israel knew what would happen if they failed to live up to their side of the Covenant. We do not see his explicit judgments now since we live under a different Covenant. However, Revelation reminds us that judgment is coming and will be both horrific and just. Meanwhile, we are to patiently endure and remain faithful to living as God’s people (Revelation 13:10).