Amos: Judgement on Israel and Its Neighbours / Paul on God’s Faithfulness: 15th July 2021

Amos 1:1-2:16

Today, we start the book of Amos. He was a shepherd and forester before being called to be a prophet.

Amos (meaning ‘burden-bearer’) prophesied at the time that Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam II was king of the Northern kingdom (Israel) around 760 BC (Amos 1:1). He was a contemporary of Jonah. Even though Amos was born in Judah, in the South, he prophesied to the North (Israel).

The pastures of the shepherds were drying up (Amos 1:2) as were loyalty and obedience to the one true God as people prospered materially. As people’s standards of living went up during a time of peace, greed and avarice increased and people’s morals and spirituality decayed.  No wonder Amos felt compelled to speak out.

Through Amos, God pronounced judgement on Israel’s neighbours setting out the terrible things that would happen to them because of their despicable behaviour: their cruelty, slave-trading, brutality and disrespect of the dead. This included the Arameans, the Philistines, the Phoenicians in Tyre, the Edomites, the Ammonites, the Moabites and the people of Judah. The sins of Judah included rejecting the laws of God, not keeping his decrees and being led astray by false gods. For a shepherd, Amos was very well informed about world affairs through the Spirit of God.

Amos prophesied that fire would come upon Judah that would consume the fortresses of Jerusalem (Amos 2:5) and we have previously discussed how this would eventually come about. The Babylonian army would burn Jerusalem to the ground and take its inhabitants into exile (2 Kings 25:9).

Amos convicted Israel of its sins. The people were greedy; they trampled on the poor, the needy and the righteous; they denied justice to the oppressed; they were sexually immoral and they desecrated holy places with their disrespectful behaviour.

God had brought his people out of Egypt, fed them for forty years in the desert and destroyed the native people who had been living in the promised land (the Amorites who included a race of giants). The Israelites had been tremendously blessed and protected by their God. However, the Israelites had betrayed God. They had corrupted those who had taken holy vows (the Nazirites) and commanded God’s representatives (the prophets) not to speak.

God vowed to crush Israel as a heavy cart loaded with grain would crush everything in its path. Neither the swift or the strong or the brave would escape the oncoming wrath. Even the bravest warriors would flee (Amos 2:16).

My country, the (not so) United Kingdom has been struggling. The recent European football tournament revealed we still have a nasty racist element in the population, our politicians have voted to cut aid to the poorest countries in the world and some keep trying to sneak in extremist pro-abortion laws allowing terminations up to birth. Religion is marginalised and barely tolerated as long as no-one says or does anything in the name of the Lord. Spirits of disbelief and disobedience are rife, even amongst the Christian community. Was the pandemic sent to crush us until enough people cried out to the Lord? We all need to summon our inner Amos and speak out.    

Romans 2:17-3:8

Paul preached against hypocrisy. If we pronounce that people should not commit adultery, we need to be careful not to look at others with lustful eyes. If we preach against stealing, we should not cheat on our taxes or break copyright. Some Jews said they abhorred idols, but then stole the statues from pagan temples and sold them. How do we earn our living? Do we run a corner shop selling cigarettes, alcohol, lottery cards and pornoography while professing to hate the sins associated with these items. The sexual sins of ‘celibate’ priests caused massive damage to the church and resulted in God’s name being blasphemed amongst the general population (Rom.2:24). Satan will always attack and tempt priests more than any other occupation. He hates them with a vengeance. However, we all have sufficient grace to resist all temptations.

Religion cannot just be theoretical or it is worthless. If Christianity has rules and obligations we must stick with them. We can’t just be Christians outwardly, the Holy Spirit living inside us from our baptism needs to be allowed to influence our daily lives and continually make us holier. We need to be Christians in the depth of our hearts not just on the surface.

The Jews were entrusted with the very words of God (Rom.3:2). Jesus was a Jew and our salvation has come from his sacrifice on the cross. We have the New Testament in addition to the Jewish law to guide us. The word of God is our living source of inspiration.

God is faithful even when we are unfaithful. When we sin, God looks even more righteous in comparison to our sinful ways. However, we should strive to be like him through the power of the Holy Spirit. The fact that we receive salvation as a gift from God does not give us licence to sin.  We want to become more and more Christ-like each day through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are ambassadors for God.

Proverbs 17:5-14

We should never mock the poor or gloat over disaster. Christians rejoice with those who are rejoicing and weep with those in pain and suffering. They are all our brothers and sisters.

We should try to make our children proud. The immature may be embarrassed of those who live for Christ but they will show respect in the end.

We should rush to forgive and forget as ‘he who covers over an offence promotes love’ (Prov.17:9). ‘Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam’ (Prov.17:14). It is too easy to start quarrels on social media but nobody likes to be ignored. Changing the subject may be the best way to keep our friends but we should welcome just criticism. It is precious information.

Rebellion has been rife in the country through the pandemic – many people have refused vaccines and hate wearing masks. Merciless officials will have to be sent against them to legislate for compulsory vaccines for healthcare workers and vaccination passports for holidays (Prov.17:11).

God will punish the treacherous: those who repay good with evil. He will hand them over to Satan. Evil will never leave their house until they repent and renounce their ways.

Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amos_(prophet)#/media/File:Amos-prophet.jpg

The Queen of Sheba visits Solomon / The Council at Jerusalem: June 22nd 2021

1 Kings 9:10-11:13

It had taken twenty years for Solomon to build both the temple of the Lord and his royal palace. His ally, Hiram king of Tyre, had supplied him with materials all this time and so, in return, Solomon gave him twenty towns. However, Hiram was not impressed with the quality of them. He called them the ‘Land of Cabul’ (1 Kings 9:13) which means ‘good for nothing’. Meanwhile, Solomon had rebuilt and built-up selected cities throughout his territory.

Solomon created a huge slave labour force from the remnants of the indigenous Canaanite tribes that the Israelites had not managed to exterminate. Solomon kept to the prescribed schedule for offerings to the Lord. He also built ships, manned by Hiram’s sailors, that travelled to Ophir to bring back gold.

The queen of Sheba heard about Solomon’s fame and came to test him with hard questions. Nothing was too hard for him to explain to her. She was overwhelmed at the opulence of Solomon’s court.  She gave the king gold, precious stones and a huge quantity of spices. She praised God for having placed Solomon on the throne (1 Kings 10:9).

There are a couple of interesting legends about the visit from the queen of Sheba. The first is that Solomon allegedly seduced her (1 Kings 10:13) and she later bore him a son, Menilek, who would eventually take the ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem and take it to Ethiopia ( https://www.britannica.com/place/Aksum-Ethiopia#ref42419). The second legend is that Solomon had tried to incorporate wood from the ‘tree of life’ that had come from Eden into the temple, but it had been too supple. He had used it instead to make a bridge, which the queen of Sheba refused to cross because she prophesied that the wood would bring an end to the Jews. Solomon buried the wood but from this location, the healing spring of Bethesda started and eventually a large plank of wood floated to the top of the healing pool it supplied (John 5:1-2). This wood was used to make Jesus’ cross.

The weight of all the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents (1 Kings 10:14). I wonder whether this number is significant (Revelation 13:17-18). The number 666 may be associated with Solomon’s gradual fall from grace, his accumulation of horses and wealth, his abuse of power, lust for women, and his turning away from true worship of God.

The king made himself a massive throne inlaid with ivory and overlaid with fine gold (1 Kings 10:20). All of his household articles were made from gold. The whole world came to hear the wisdom that God had put into his heart and he was greater in riches than all the other kings of the world.

Solomon accumulated a vast number of chariots and horses, breaking the commandments (Deut. 17:16-17) which forbade the king from accumulating gold, horses (particularly horses from Egypt) and wives.

Solomon was also unfaithful to his wife, Pharaoh’s daughter, not only (allegedly) with the queen of Sheba but also with women from all the nations that God had banned the Israelites from intermarrying. He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines and his foreign wives lead him astray (1 Kings 11:2-3). It is very easy to be lead astray by those we love and know best.

According to Deuteronomy, the king was meant to write down God’s law on a scroll and read it all the days of his life. Instead, Solomon started to follow heathen gods (1 Kings 11:5-6) doing evil in the eyes of the Lord. This was incredible behaviour when God himself (Jesus) had personally appeared to Solomon twice. He probably became convinced of his own brilliance and was consumed with lust for attractive women – as his father, King David, had illicitly lusted after Bathsheba.

God was justifiably furious and told Solomon that the kingdom would be torn away from him (1 Kings 11:11). For the sake of Solomon’s righteous father, David, this would not happen in Solomon’s lifetime and would leave just a single tribe for the sake of David and Jerusalem.

Hopefully, Solomon was sufficiently mortified by this judgement or did he just revel in his own brilliance, gold, fame, horses and women for the rest of his life? Judging by the book of Ecclesiastes he became clinically depressed (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Considering he was the wisest man in the world, Solomon appeared to have made a very foolish decision. He may have been led astray by his studies of the occult. Solomon was so wise and knowledgeable he studied multiple subjects including the occult. Several spell books that are alleged to have been written by him are still available today with incantations for summoning demons and getting them to do our bidding. Why did the wisest man in the world start to follow other gods and goddesses? There is a veritable list of these gods (with a small g) in 1 Kings 11:5-7. Solomon, as king, could have forced his wives just to worship the one true God but, in his wisdom, he went with their traditions. Michael Heiser in his book ‘The Unseen Realm’ offers an insight into what might have been going on. He postulates that these gods and goddesses were actually real and had been created by God to form a heavenly council before the foundation of the earth. Like the demons, they rebelled against God and ruled the earth badly, so God had to judge them and confine them. Verses that suggest the existence of this heavenly council include Psalm 82:1, Job 38:4-7, and Psalm 89:5-7. Solomon made the mistake of investigating this mythology, possibly thinking it could benefit him. However, we should not let these matters concern us. Our God is above all other ‘small g’ gods as the creator of the universes and everything within it (Exodus 15:11, Deut.3:24, 1 Kings 8:23, Psalm 97:9).   

Let us try not to make the same mistakes as Solomon. We should never let our hearts turn away from God and we should worship the Holy Trinity alone.  

Acts 15:1-21

The apostles had to counter false teaching at ‘The Council at Jerusalem’. Converts from Judah had been preaching that Gentiles had to become circumcised before they could be saved. That would have put a lot of Gentiles off from becoming Christians.

Peter stood up in the church in Jerusalem and pointed out that God had accepted Gentiles just as they were. God had given them the Holy Spirit, just as He had been given to the apostles (Acts 15:8). God knew the heart of these Gentiles and did not care if they were physically circumcised. He had purified their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9).

As the Jews had not been able to fully comply with the law, why should the Gentiles now be saddled with the same impossible task. We are all saved through grace – a free, unearned gift from God (Acts 15:11).

The assembly became silent as they listed to Barnabas and Paul testify about the signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles through them.

James (the Lessor) took on the leadership role in the council and made a judgment. Two of the twelve apostles were named James. This one (James the ‘Lessor’) was the Son of Alphaeus and a cousin of Jesus. The other James (‘James the ‘Great’’ – with great meaning older or taller) was the brother of John and had been previously executed by Herod in AD 44 (Acts 12:1-2). James the Great is buried in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. James the Lessor is buried along with his fellow apostle, Saint Philip, in the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli in Rome.

James wisely proclaimed that they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles to turn to God (Acts 15:19). Not only had God demonstrated that uncircumcised Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit, but also the prophets had predicted that Gentiles would bear Jesus’ name (Acts 15:15). James judged that the Gentiles should only be banned in writing from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood (Acts 15:20). Like Solomon and David before him, millions of Gentile Christians do choose to live in sexual immorality front but God is always willing to forgive and forget if we contritely repent and renounce our sinful activities.

Psalm 77:1-9

I have cried out to God several times over the last few years. God allowed me to endure a couple of major trials to refine me and strengthen me. However, he rescued me each time and much good came out of my tribulations. I am a much better person today thanks to temporary suffering, when my spirit grew faint.

When we cry out and groan to God in distress, he will send people to help us. They may well be active Christians – living in the Spirit – but God also uses worldly people to rescue us. He bends secular people to his will, without them realising it, to deliver salvation on His behalf.

God will not reject us forever or forget to be merciful. He will show us again his unfailing love when the time is right for both Him and us.

Praise and honour to the Lord.

Image: Jacopo Tintoretto, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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