Amos lamented over Israel and called the people to repentance. They would no longer win their battles. If the Israelites in a city marched out to war, only ten per cent would survive. The people should seek the Lord and live rather than travel to their idol-worshipping shrines (Amos 5:4). Their main shrine, Bethel, would be reduced to nothing.
Amos convicted the Israelites of their lack of justice and righteousness. They despised those who told the truth and reproved them in court. They oppressed the poor and took their grain and so would not be allowed to enjoy their mansions and lush vineyards.
The prudent man was being forced to keep silent during these evil times as there was no justice in the courts. The righteous were oppressed and bribery was common.
The Israelites should ‘seek good, not evil’ (Amos 5:14) and ‘hate evil, love good’ (Amos 5:15). They should maintain justice in the courts. People are blessed when they live in a society with a relatively just legal system. In our country, justice often prevails and there are also ways to appeal. Justice at lower levels such as magistrates court can easily become warped by secret fraternal societies, letting their members off lightly. However, these people will face justice in the end as members of such societies are automatically excommunicated from the Christian church and so will bitterly repent of their actions for eternity as they remain separated from God.
There would be wailing throughout the land as the Lord passed through their midst. People longing for the day of the Lord would not enjoy it when it arrived. They would be judged in pitch-black darkness not light.
God despised their religious feasts and refused to accept their offerings. He would not listen to their music, God demanded justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24). Because of their idol worship, which included child sacrifice, God would send them into exile ‘beyond Damascus’ (Amos 5:27). The Israelites would soon be conquered by the Assyrians (722 BC) and deported in accordance with this prophecy.
We need to be careful not to feel satisfied with our worship – particularly the lukewarm washed-out worship offered by many churches. God wants us to worship him from our hearts, not as a reluctant religious gathering devoid of love and power.
We have a conflict in our theology today. Paul quotes Genesis that ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’ (Rom.4:1-15). Some pastors explain this using a credit and debit card analogy. They say that believers were all made righteous with God through the death of Jesus on the cross. Abraham lived before Jesus but he was made righteous through his faith by borrowing against the death of Jesus, gaining eternal life on credit. Jesus would eventually pay off Abraham’s credit-card bill by his blood. As we live after the death of Jesus, we can draw on Jesus’ death using a holy debit card. The righteousness is in the bank and we can draw on it,
This is the big debate about whether we can get to heaven based solely on faith or whether we need to both have faith and also live a good life demonstrating love and charity. James wrote clearly that faith alone is not enough to save us, it has to be backed up by deeds (James 2:14). Faith without deeds is useless. Many people don’t understand that time is perceived differently by God. He sees the past, present and future all at the same time. Abraham was considered righteous by offering his son Isaac on the altar. His faith and deeds worked together and his faith was made complete by what he did (James 2:21-22). We have to make our faith complete by what we do. So when Abraham first spoke to God, he was indeed credited with righteousness but only up to the point where he almost sacrificed his son (James 2:23-24). James clearly states that ‘a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24). Faith is a channel through which justification comes. Faith is also an unearned gift from God.
The necessity for both faith and deeds has always been the belief of the Mother Church for 1,500 years until the Reformation at which time the Protestant Reformers cut seven books out of the Bible (the Apocrypha). This conveniently removed some of the key texts about doctrines they did not agree with such as praying for the dead and purgatory (2 Maccabees 12:41-46).
By eliminating the Apocrypha, a further reference to the necessity for both faith and deeds was removed: “Was not Abraham tested and found faithful, was that not considered as justifying him?” (1 Maccabees 2:52) (NJB 1985).
If anyone tells us it is not in the Bible to pray for the dead, that there is no purgatory and that we can gain salvation without good deeds, we can simply point out that their Bible is not big enough. They are missing seven books.
It is the sin of presumption to assume we are saved and will go to heaven. The church does not know who will go to heaven, that is down to the judgement of Jesus and his righteous justice. When we die we have to trust in his mercy. The faith and deeds debate shouldn’t really be an issue as ‘born again’ Christians brimming full of faith tend to do good deeds anyway. However, if we are lukewarm Christians plodding along in a self-centred life, with minimum thought or love for God, we need to fire ourselves up and do some of the acts of charity that Jesus instructed us to do. The ones that will stop us being sent off into the eternal fire (Matt.25:41). We have to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, show hospitality, clothe the naked, visit the sick and visit those in prison (Matt.25:34-36).
To be perfect, we have to sell everything we own, give the money to the poor and follow Jesus (Matt.19:21).
Jesus clearly said we need deeds to inherit eternal life, such as following the commandments (Matt.19:17) and so we should aim for both faith and deeds (Matt.25:46).
We can never be sure we have done enough charitable deeds in this life to warrant eternal life and so we have hope in the merciful judgement of Jesus, whom we love. Through our faith in him, we hope he will forgive the shortcomings of our deeds. ‘In his name the nations will put their hope’ (Matt.12:21).
‘And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us’ (Rom.5:5).
I often call out to God, guard my life and those of my relatives because ‘I am devoted to you’ (Ps.86:2). He will save his servants who trust in him and lift up their souls to him. He will bring us peace and joy.
When we die, we can call out to Jesus: ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord’ (Ps.86:3).
Jesus is forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to him (Ps.86:5).
‘Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord’ (Ps.86:8). An interesting phrase as it implies there are other gods with a small ‘g’. Michael Heiser (2015) lists many of the Bible references that imply there may have been a ‘heavenly council’ of created beings that helped God rule the world. This is a tempting theory as it explains much of the mythology from around the world. However, these ‘gods’ don’t seem to be around anymore – having theoretically been judged and confined – and so we shouldn’t let this concern us too much. They may all have been just imaginary. Whatever powers small ‘g’ gods may have had ‘no deeds can compare’ to those of the one true God.
Our Father is great and does marvellous things. He alone is the big ‘G’ God (Ps.86:10).
Image: Lorenzo Monaco, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons