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

Jonah Flees before Preaching to the Ninevites / God’s Righteous Judgement: 14th July 2021

Jonah 1:1-4:11

Today, we have the entire entertaining book of Jonah. This feels like light relief after 2 Kings even if God was threatening to unleash his full wrath on a mighty Gentile city.

God told Jonah (meaning ‘dove’) to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, and preach to its people on account of their wickedness (Jonah 1:2). Nineveh was notorious for its cruelty, idol worship and prostitution.

MacArthur (2021, 1161) notes that a ‘unverifiable Jewish tradition says Jonah was the son of the woman of Zarephath whom Elijah had raised from the dead’ (1 Kings 17:22-24).  

The wickedness of the city had ‘come up before’ God. This reminds me of the angel saying to Cornelius: ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God’ (Acts 10:4). This implies there is a threshold quantity of good deeds or wickedness that alerts God to a person or place and prompts him to intervene directly.

Jonah promptly ran away, which is seriously underestimating the reach of God. There is nowhere in the heavens or on earth where we can escape from God’s presence. We might alternatively try to escape from God by using mind-bending drugs or alcohol but He will always keep calling us to Him. Perhaps Jonah thought that God was confined to the temple in Jerusalem. He was wrong.

Jonah embarked on a ship to Tarshish and so God sent a violent storm. Each of the sailors cried out ‘to his own god’ in vain to save the ship from breaking up. While the storm raged, Jonah was fast asleep. Jesus slept through a storm at sea due to his faith in God (Mark 4:38). Jonah shows that the wicked can mimic the actions of Jesus. We need discernment to see if an action is good or evil.

The sailors cast lots to find out who was responsible for the calamity and pinpointed Jonah. The Old Testament has several stories that show that ‘casting lots’ can give a correct answer such as Lev.16:8 and Num.26:55. When humans cast lots on the instruction of God, he intervenes to show his divine will and purpose.

The sailors had previously been told that Jonah was ‘running away from God’ but they became terrified when Jonah told them that his God had made the sea and the land. Jonah admitted his guilt and told them to throw him overboard. Jonah had put other lives at risk by trying to hide from God as can we if we try to hide by means of drugs, crime or alcohol. There is no such thing as a private sin. All sins affect other people.

The sailors were reluctant to do this but rowing was ineffective and the sea grew even wilder. They threw Jonah overboard and the sea became calm. This converted the sailors who feared the Lord, offered a sacrifice and made vows to him. Through their frightening ordeal, they had discovered the one living God with power over creation.

God will rescue us from anything if He has an unfulfilled purpose for our life. Jonah was swallowed by a ‘great fish’ and had to live in the fish for three days and three nights – the same period of time that Jesus’s body was in the grave, prior to his glorious resurrection. It was interesting to see that a man survived being briefly swallowed by a whale a few weeks ago but the Bible does not use the Hebrew word for whale, it definitely states fish. Scientists have identified teeth of a giant extinct shark (Otodus megalodon) which appears to be extinct now. It was an enormous relative of the great white. Maybe God created this enormous shark for the sole purpose of swallowing Jonah whole. https://www.news.com.au/technology/science/animals/man-reveals-what-it-was-like-to-survive-being-swallowed-by-a-humpback-whale/news-story/778d2566919e1ef279bcc03a1f21462d

While inside the fish for three days, Jonah prayed in distress and God answered! Being hurled into the sea, swirled by the currents, surrounded by the deep and engulfed by the water had made Jonah remember and turn to his creator. God had saved Jonah from drowning when his life ‘was ebbing away’ (Jonah 2:7). Jonah acknowledged that ‘salvation comes from the Lord’ (Jonah 2:9).

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs’ (Jonah 2:8).

At the Lord’s command, the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land. Being a prophet isn’t a glamorous affair. Maybe he washed himself in the sea before staggering into the city, but there is a legend that the acid in the fish’s stomach had dramatically bleached his clothes, skin and hair.

As the Ninevites worshipped both the fish goddess, Nanshe, and Dagon, who was depicted as half man half fish, being vomited onto the shore by a giant fish was quite an entrance. God does have a great sense of humour.

Now that Jonah was obedient, God told him again to go to the vast city of Nineveh. On the very first day he entered the city, the Ninevites listened to his proclamation of doom and responded. They declared a fast and all put on sackcloth. They must have been aware of their own depravity and sin and it took just one person (vomited from a giant fish) to push them into repentance. Even the king humbled himself and issued a proclamation to fast, wear sackcloth and pray.

Unlike the Ninevites, the Pharisees in Jesus’ time did not repent even when faced with the Son of God (Matt.12:41). Jesus denounced the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida for not repenting in sackcloth and ashes after witnessing his signs and wonders (Matt.11:21).

God heard the prayers of the Ninevites. He saw that they had turned from their evil ways and relented from destroying them.

God can change his mind on occasions.

Jonah dared to be angry at God’s compassion. He didn’t consider that his journey had been worthwhile even though his arrival had catalysed the Ninevites to change heart. He had wanted the pagan Ninevites to suffer God’s wrath in punishment for their grievous sins. He had been rescued by God but didn’t want tens of thousands of Gentiles to experience the same mercy.

God made a vine grow over Jonah’s head which pleased him as it shaded his head. God then withered it with the help of a worm and scorched Jonah with an east wind, which infuriated him.

Throughout the book of Jonah, God shows himself to be the master of all creation using a storm on the sea, a giant fish, a vine, wind and a worm to get his points across. The Ninevites had been softened up to repent by recently enduring two plagues and a solar eclipse (MacArthur, 2021, 1161).   

God pointed out that he had a right to be concerned about the one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh who ‘cannot tell their right hand from the left’ (Jonah 4:10-11). Does this refer to actual children or were all the adults in Nineveh like children in God’s eyes? Jonah had been concerned about a vine, which he hadn’t even planted. God cares for all of us and sent Jesus both to the Jews and the Gentiles to gather us like lost sheep, so we won’t be destroyed.

We need to urgently respond to the Word of God as the sinners of Nineveh did. Gods’ kindness and forbearance should lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Jesus died for us when we were still sinners. The angels in heaven rejoice when a sinner repents. Imagine their celebrations when the entire city of Nineveh was saved (Luke 15:10).

When Jesus returns, the Jews will fulfil their Jonah-esque mission. They will finally preach to everyone to repent. God commissioned the Jews and called on them to spread the Gospel. He has miraculously saved them on numerous occasions despite them trying to evade and disobey him. Salvation will come from them in the end.

Romans 2:1-16

We must not be hypocrites and the easiest way to avoid hypocrisy is to avoid judging others. Let us share the Word of God and we all can judge ourselves against it.

When we pass judgement on others, we often find we will be guilty of doing the same things.   

Many of us have carried on with sinful secular lives with little regard to God, showing our contempt for his kindness, tolerance and patience. Eventually, the Holy Spirit will try to crash into our lives and convict us of our sins. We will then realise how blessed we have been to get away with our dreadful behaviour that warrants death. When we realise God’s kindness and forbearance at sparing our sinful lives, it leads us to repentance.

We need to repent of our stubbornness and unrepentance, which will have stored up wrath against us.

To gain eternal life, we need to ‘persist in doing good, seeking glory, honour and immortality’ (Romans 2:7). If we are self-seeking, reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. The Mother Church teaches that to stand a change of being granted eternal life, we must persist in resisting grave sin right to the end of our lives. It is a sin of presumption to judge ourselves and conclude we are saved.  Other denominations teach that once we have said the ‘sinner’s prayer’, we are saved forever. Our good deeds are the evidence of our salvation and not the basis for it. However, Paul confirms that we must persist in doing good. We can’t rest on our laurels. There will be trouble and distress for every person who does evil and that includes ‘born-again’ ‘saved’ Christians for ‘God does not show favouritism’ (Rom.2:11).

We all have God’s law written on our own hearts, which is why people in the furthest reaches of the world, who have never heard of Jesus, can be saved as long as they follow a good life. The Mother Church teaches that the unreached who would have desired baptism if anyone had told them about it can be saved if they live virtuous lives. Jesus achieved victory on the cross and we can only get to the father through him. I watched a gentleman give a testimony on Sid Roth’s ‘Only Supernatural’ program. He had received a vision of the queue to get into heaven. Jesus asked each person at the gates ‘Did you learn to love?’ That was the requirement to get through him to reach the father.

‘God will judge men’s secret thoughts through Jesus Christ’ (Rom.2.16).

Psalm 86:1-7

God will restore us when we turn to Jesus and believe in him. The Holy Spirit will come into us when we are baptized and revive us.

Jesus’ precious blood did not just cover our sins, it washed them away so that God forgave our iniquities.

When we are baptized, God removes our transgressions from us ‘as far as the east is from the west’ (Ps.103:12).

After I went to my first confession, I could no longer remember my post-baptism sins. God delighted in showing me mercy and compassion.  I had a vision that my sins were chained down in deep water below opaque ice.

God had hurled all my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).   

Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Jonah#/media/File:Pieter_Lastman_-Jonah_and_the_Whale-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

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