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

Elisha’s miracles: The Widow’s oil and Boy Back to Life / Paul Arrives in Jerusalem: July 1st 2021

2 Kings 3:1-4:37

Joram, son of Ahab, became king of Israel. He wasn’t as bad as his notorious mother and father but still ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord’ (2 Kings 3:2). He got rid of his father’s sacred stone. The Israelites continued to worship other idols in the tradition of Jeroboam.

Mesha, the king of Moab, rebelled against having to send a massive tribute of lambs and wool to Israel. Joram allied with King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and the king of Edom to fight against the Moabites. They unwisely marched their troops through the Desert of Edom and ran out of water after seven days. Elisha the prophet was with them. He would not have ignored the king of Israel, but, out of respect for Jehoshaphat, he told them to bring him a harpist. While the harpist played, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha who prophesied that they should make ditches in the valley. Then, these ditches would be miraculously filled with water; Moab would be handed to them and they would ruin the country (2 Kings 3:19). It seems unusual that Elisha first asked for a harpist. However, David used to play the harp to drive away an evil spirit from King Saul (1 Samuel 16:23). Perhaps Elisha needed to drive away negative influences, as he was in the presence of the evil king of Israel, before God would speak to him.

The next morning, the ditches were miraculously filled with water (flowing from the direction of Edom). The sun shining on the water making it look like blood which encouraged the Moabites to attack, thinking the forces allied against them had attacked each other. The king of Moab, after the battle had gone against him, sacrificed his firstborn son on the city wall. The Israelites went back home after they had invaded the land, slaughtered the Moabites, destroyed the towns and ruined the fields.

God carried out a multiplication miracle through Elijah that allowed a widow to keep her sons with her. The widow only had a little oil in her house. She was instructed to ask her neighbours for empty jars. She was to take the jars into her house and shut the door behind her and her sons. She then poured the oil into the extra jars until they were all full at which time the oil stopped flowing. She was able to sell some oil to pay her debts and live off the rest of it. I like to think this miraculously produced oil would be the finest that people had ever tasted – like the magnificent wine that Jesus produced at Cana.

This type of multiplication miracle still happens today. Many have prayed successfully that a dish of prepared food will stretch to feed a host of unexpected guests. My pastor recalls when she was a missionary in Africa and had to keep her bread flour in tins – for fear of the weevils. When she came to make bread one day, all the tins were empty. There would be nothing for lunch. After praying, she checked a tin that she had already looked in earlier to find that it was miraculously full. God provides to those with faith.

A well-to-do woman often gave Elisha a meal whenever he passed and ended up making him a small guest room too. Elisha wanted to do something to repay her kindness. God loves the hospitable. Elisha prophesied that she would have a son in a year. She was childless and her husband was old. Her son was born as predicted but unfortunately died suddenly after he had grown into a boy. The woman rode off on a donkey looking for Elisha as she knew God would listen to him. She wouldn’t tell Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, what was wrong. She took hold of Elisha’s feet. She reminded him that she shouldn’t have been misled about having a son if he was going to die.

Gehazi ran on ahead of Elisha to lay Elisha’s staff on the boy’s face but there was no response. It took Elisha to pray to the Lord and to lie on the woman’s son twice in order for the Lord to bring him back to life. It is effective to remind God of his promises when we pray.

Acts 21:1-26

Disciples repeatedly warned Paul (through the Spirit) not to go to Jerusalem. However, he was not to be dissuaded. Paul was happy to be made captive and even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 21:13).

Paul was able to travel with little expense as the disciples were so hospitable wherever he went, letting him stay in their homes.

Paul was received warmly in Jerusalem. He reported to the church elders how the Gentiles had responded to his ministry. The elders had a plan to placate thousands of Jewish converts to Christianity who had become convinced that Paul was leading Jews away from the Jewish law. They asked Paul to join four men in their purification rites after the completion of a vow to demonstrate that he still had respect for Jewish customs and lived according to the law. Paul dutifully joined in and went to the temple to give the customary notice. Paul was prepared to comply with any reasonable regulations if it meant he could continue his ministry.

Psalm 78:56-72

God brought David from the actual sheep pens to be the shepherd of his people (Psalm 78:70-71).

David was a man after God’s own heart and shepherded his people with skill and integrity (Ps.78:72).

The kings after David did not have his integrity. They rebelled and were disloyal and faithless. The whole country lost its integrity as God divided Israel from Judah.   

We should pray to God not only for wisdom but also for integrity – to be honest and have strong moral principles.

Jesus demonstrated integrity in everything he did (Mark 12:14). We can learn his ways by studying his word and living out his principles in our daily lives.

Image: Circle of Jan Pynas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jeroboam and the Golden Calves / Paul & Timothy in Macedonia: June 24th 2021

1 Kings 12:25-14:20

Jeroboam, who was ruling the Northern kingdom of Israel, wanted to stop his subjects travelling south to Jerusalem. He didn’t want them to worship at the official temple and so he made two golden calves for people to worship. He did this after seeking advice. This shows that not all advice is good advice. We need to test any advice we receive against the Word of God. The Israelites had previously sinned by worshipping a golden calf in the time of Aaron (Exodus 32:4). This had infuriated God.  

Jeroboam set up one of the calves in Bethel, which was a famous religious site since Jacob’s time, and the other in Dan, as far north as anyone could get from Jerusalem. Jeroboam told his people to worship the calves rather than travel to Jerusalem in King Rehoboam’s territory: ‘Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt’ (1 Kings 12:28).

Jeroboam set up a new priesthood from all sorts of people and made new high places for worship (even though these had been banned by God). He even allowed people who were not Levites to be priests. He instigated a new festival that was similar to the official Feast of Tabernacles but that was one month earlier. Jeroboam had set up a new religion and we can safely predict this would infuriate God.

A man of God came from Judah to Bethel just as Jeroboam was about to make an offering at his unofficial altar. The man prophesied that a son called Josiah would be born to the house of David. He would sacrifice the priests of the high places. He also prophesied that the altar in Bethel would be split apart and the ashes poured out, which duly happened. God performed another miracle through the intercession of the man of God. Jeroboam’s hand became shrivelled when he stretched it towards the man of God in fury. The man prayed for healing and the king’s hand was restored.

The man of God had been told not to eat anything in Bethel or return the same way he had come. He fully intended to comply with this but a lying prophet tricked him into eating a meal. As he had broken God’s command, the man of God was then killed by a lion. The lying prophet repented for his actions (1 Kings 13:30) and prophesied that the man of God’s prophetic words would come true.

Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, despite the altar being split apart and his hand being miraculously shrivelled and healed. He appointed all sorts of people to be priests of the high places. He was destined to be destroyed for his actions (1 Kings 13:34).

Jeroboam’s son became ill and he sent his wife in disguise to ask Ahijah the prophet what would happen to him. Ahijah was blind but he had been told by the Lord to expect her. He told her to tell Jeroboam what a disappointment he had been to God. God had made him a leader over Israel but he had ‘done more evil than all who lived before you’ (1 Kings 14:9). He had provoked God to anger by his outrageous behaviour. God was going to bring disaster on his house. His son would die and he would be the only one of Jeroboam’s house who would be buried because he was the only one who had any good in him (1 Kings 14:13).

God would now strike Israel, uprooting them and scattering them. Jeroboam had led Israel into open and flagrant sin, but they had allowed themselves to be led and joined in. Jeroboam ruled for twenty-two years and was succeeded by his son, Nadab. However, the clock was ticking down to complete disaster not only for Jeroboam’s descendants but for the whole of Israel.

Countries have a simple choice to make. If the majority of people in a country worship the one true God, the country becomes prosperous and influential. If the majority in a country worship other gods, the country declines and the people suffer. As Western democracies turn away from God, they will decline as world powers. We will see a new balance of power as massive numbers of people turn to Christ in countries such as China and India, which will bring their countries up due to God’s favour and provision.       

Acts 16:1-15

Paul met a disciple named Timothy whom he could mentor. Timothy’s mother was a Jewish Christian but his father was Greek. Paul had him circumcised, despite the apostles just having agreed at the Council of Jerusalem that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised. However, your religion traditionally comes from your mother and so Timothy should have been a Jew and circumcised already. He would have more credibility with the Jews in the area they were trying to convert, if he showed himself to be a convert from Judaism. Paul was happy to make both him and Timothy Jews, to win the Jews for Christ (1 Cor.9:20).

As they travelled, they delivered the decisions reached by Council in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit guided their itinerary. He stopped them going into Asia. Paul had a vison of a man from Macedonia asking for help and so he got ready at once to leave for Macedonia. It may have helped Paul’s mission in that he was unmarried. He might not have been so mobile and flexible if he had to take a wife and children everywhere with him. In contrast, we know from the Bible that Peter had a ‘mother-in-law’ and so must have been married at some point. Paul wrote that he had the same right to take a believing wife as Cephas (Peter) (1 Cor.9:5). Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, III) (c. 202), wrote that St. Peter was married, had children and witnessed his wife’s martyrdom in Rome. Taking your family with you on missionary work has many benefits but also has risks. Paul did have ‘family’ travelling with him. Timothy became like a son to him and he was always surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ.

Luke also travelled with Paul. Luke being the eponymous writer of the Gospel and also the book of Acts. He was a Gentile doctor, who wrote the most words of any one individual in the New Testament. The apostles travelled to Philippi, the leading city of that district of Macedonia. The gospel had arrived in Europe! They went outside the city on the Sabbath to the river, where they expected to find a place of prayer. Even though they had intended to pray, their evangelism never stopped. They spoke to the women who had gathered there and converted Lydia and her household. Lydia was a dealer in expense purple cloth and so would have been wealthy and influential. She persuaded the apostles to stay at her house. When we become believers, we find that we want to be even more hospitable particularly to fellow believers who are in need.

Psalm 78:1-8

Jesus spoke in parables to tell us eternal truths from of old (Psalm 78:2). This was to fulfil this psalm spoken through the prophet (Matt.13:34-35).

It is important to take children to church and Sunday School so that they hear the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. We continue to be amazed today at his power and the wonders he performs (Ps.78:4).

If Israel had kept God’s deeds and commandments from the time of exodus, they would never have been exiled. However, without their rebellion and disobedience, God might not have sent our Saviour, Jesus, to win salvation for all the world.

We should pray that our own children are loyal, faithful and their hearts trust entirely in God.

Image: By Unknown author – http://arhiva.svetigora.com/node/921, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3752678

Israel Rebels against Rehoboam / A Letter to Gentile Believers: June 23rd 2021

1 Kings 11:14-12:24

As Solomon had been unfaithful to the Lord, God now raised up adversaries against him: Hadad the Edomite, from the royal line of Edom and Rezon, who led a band of rebels in Aram.

The Edomites were descended from Jacob’s brother, Esau, and so should have been allies of Israel but the commander of David’s army, Joab, had killed all the Edomite men apart from a few, including Hadad, who had fled to Egypt. Eventually, despite being very well treated by Pharoah, Hadad wanted to return home.

One of Solomon’s officials, Jeroboam, also rebelled against the king. Solomon had put him in a responsible position but he didn’t stay loyal to the king (1 Kings 11:28). Ahijah the prophet prophesied that after Solomon was dead, ten of the twelve tribes of Israel would be handed to Jeroboam and he would rule Israel. Solomon tried to assassinate him but Jeroboam fled to Egypt.

Solomon reigned for forty years and was buried in the city of David his father (Zion). He was succeeded by Rehoboam, his son.

Rehoboam lacked the diplomacy of Solomon. His rival Jeroboam had returned from Egypt and teamed up with the assembly of Israel, the northern part of the combined nation. They asked Rehoboam to lighten the harsh labour and heavy yoke that Solomon had imposed on them. King Rehoboam consulted his elders and then rejected their wise advice to placate Israel. He followed the advice of fellow foolish young men and told Israel he would make their burdens even heavier. The Israelites went home furious and now felt disenfranchised from the nation. They rejected David’s line of succession (1 Kings 12:16) and continued in rebellion against the house of David (1 Kings 12:19) which could explain why so many Jews were hostile to Jesus and the Good News spread by the disciples.

Israel made Jeroboam king over them. Rehoboam was now just king of Judah and Benjamin. He assembled one hundred and eighty thousand fighting men to regain Israel for his kingdom. However, God through the prophet Shemaiah told them all not to fight the Israelites for this was all his doing. Rehoboam and his troops listened to this advice and went home ‘as the Lord had ordered’ (1 Kings 12:24).  

Rehoboam had lost a massive part of his empire due to his arrogance and not trusting the advice of his elders. He followed the advice of similarly foolish young men. Commercial companies in this country used to rely on senior, experienced staff for major decisions. However, many now employ young staff who can make bad decisions out of pride and arrogance while ignoring the advice of older workers, who are obliged to watch the company they loyally built-up flounder. It is marvellous when companies value the experience and wisdom of older staff and do not cast them out without even attempting to download their priceless wisdom.

When people come to us with a valid concern we should listen and respond with grace. Rehoboam may have kept his whole country together if had been diplomatic but God was against him due to the disloyalty of his father.

Acts 15:22-41

The Jerusalem Council sent Barnabas and Saul along with two other leaders, Judas (Barsabbas) and Silas, to Antioch. They took with them an encouraging letter, to clarify the small set of rules that Gentiles must follow to become Christians. Judas and Silas went to confirm these stipulations by word of mouth. This shows that the early church did follow a strict hierarchy with written rules (an early Catechism). It would have caused chaos and been counterproductive if the early church had split into multiple denominations, as we have now, all teaching different versions of Christianity. The Council wrote with the authority of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28) as the Pope does today, thanks to the apostolic succession from Saint Peter.

The gathered church in Antioch were glad for the letter’s encouraging message. Judas and Silas were prophets and ‘did much to encourage and strengthen the brothers’ (Acts 15:32). It is very important for congregations to have this accessible link back to the headquarters of the church. Bishops visit the different churches in their dioceses to show lay believers they have access to senior leaders. Their visits do much to encourage and strengthen their flock who witness that they are part of a much larger church, that is concerned for their welfare and spiritual wellbeing.

Paul and Barnabas decided to revisit all the towns in which they had previously preached. However, Barnabas – who was ever forgiving and full of encouragement – wanted to take his cousin John Mark. Paul disagreed because John Mark had deserted them in Cyprus. They had such a sharp disagreement that they spilt up. Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus and Paul went with Silas throughout Syria and Cilicia. I am sure that Barnabas and Paul would have quickly forgiven each other and become reconciled in the future. The Holy Spirit used a human disagreement to form two missionary teams rather than one. Good comes out of every stressful disagreement, when people are dedicated to God.

Psalm 77:10-20

I try to spend some time every day remembering God’s miracles of long ago, his works and his mighty deeds (Psalm 77:11-12).

All God’s ways are holy. None of the gods that the Canaanites worshipped is as great as our God (Psal, 77:13).

He is a miracle working God. He displayed his power among his people and redeemed them, leading them like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron and parting the mighty waters of the Red Sea.

God loves it when we reflect on Israel’s exodus and exalt him for it, how He lead his people to the promised land.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and leads us today as his flock through the direction of the Holy Spirit within us.

Image: Lucas van Leyden, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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