Sermon preached on Amos 3:1-8 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/8/2017 in Novato, CA.
“A Lion Has Roared!”
If a baby starts crying, you’re likely going to see a parent responding. If the street light turns green, you can expect the waiting cars to start driving. Life is full of such cause and effect relationships; natural associations that bring one thing because of another. Well, this passage in Amos is full of that. Amos uses this idea of cause and effect, and natural associations, to teach Israel. He uses it to teach Israel something about their relationship with God and how their sin has affected it. This is what we’ll get to look at today.
Let’s begin then by first looking at verses 1-2 and seeing the special relationship Israel had enjoyed with the LORD God. We see this in several ways. First, we see it in verse 1 when he calls them children of Israel. He speaks to that whole family that had descended from the patriarch Israel. Remember, Israel is the other name for Jacob. These people were children of Jacob. He addresses them in that way; offspring of Jacob. Why is that important? Well, it reminds us that God had entered into a covenant with Jacob. God had entered into a special covenant with the patriarchs, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And that covenant was not just for the patriarchs, but for their offspring as well. God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is their covenant. They are God’s covenant people in light of the patriarchs. That’s the root the Israelites special relationship with God.
We see then in verse 1 another aspect of their special relationship with God. God reminds them of the exodus from Egypt. God had brought their whole family up, which by the way, would include their estranged brothers Judah, but I digress. This is similar to what we saw last chapter, where God not only reminded them of the exodus, but also of their wilderness wandering, and their conquest of the Promised Land. This part of their heritage with God is also very important because it reminds us as well of another covenant. It was at that time of the exodus that God established the Mosaic covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. And so, we see in multiple ways the depth of their relationship with God. They were covenanted together in both the original covenant made with the patriarchs, and then with them directly in the Mosaic covenant. They were God’s covenant people.
Verse 2 further drives this home. God tells them, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” This is such a wonderful thing to hear from the LORD God who made the heavens and the earth. It is clear that here the word “know” does not refer to simple knowledge in terms of information. This word “to know” is used in various ways in Hebrew. It can simply refer to information that is known. But it can be used in a much more rich way; for example, it is a word sometimes used to describe how a man knows his wife in physical intimacy. In this case, it seems the word is being used relationally. It’s knowing in the sense of having a special relationship with someone. It’s like if I said that I know President Trump, you wouldn’t think I was referring to knowing of his existence or some facts about him. You would think I was claiming to know him personally; that I had some sort of relationship with him. (I don’t know President Trump, by the way, that was just an example.)
And so, God had known Israel, and only Israel. Again, this is clearly not about having information about them and their existence. God has knowledge of all the nations in the world. That’s clear from last chapter where he spoke various oracles of judgment against other nations. That’s clear even from this verse when he mentions “all the families of the earth.” And so, when he talks about knowing Israel alone compared to all these other peoples, he is saying that God has a unique relationship Israel. There is a way that he relates to them in a way that he hasn’t with the rest of the world. The fact that God has been in covenant with them shows that special relationship. Also, the fact that God repeatedly in Scripture calls Israel his chosen people, also shows this unique relationship. In fact, that’s even how some translations have chosen to translate the word “know” here: “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth.”
There’s one more aspect here about the special relationship God had with Israel. It’s the last part of verse 2. God tells them, “Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” The assumption here is that Israel has committed iniquity. And so, notice the word “therefore”. The fact that God would punish them for their sins is a certain because of their special relationship. I could see why that might have been a shock for some of the Israelites back then. Some Israelites back then seemed to assume their special relationship with God would somehow exempt them from any punishment from God. But that was wrong thinking. To clarify, verse 2 doesn’t mean that the other nations won’t be punished by God for their sins since they didn’t have that special relationship. Clearly the last two chapters tell us otherwise. But if a pagan nation could rightly presume the judgment of God for their sin, there wouldn’t have to be any presuming with Israel. Israel had a covenant with God. The Mosaic covenant clearly said that if you break the covenant by committing iniquity then you can expect covenant curses to come upon them. Their special relationship should have made it abundantly clear to them. God would visit their sins upon them, especially because of their covenant relationship. This is one of those natural associations; one of those cause and effects we talked about. The nature of their special relationship with God ensured that he would punish them for their many sins. The punishment naturally follows from their covenantal relationship coupled with their breaking of the covenant.
Let’s turn now to our second point. We turn now to verses 3-6 to see seven questions that God asks Israel. These are a chain of rhetorical questions asked to teach a point. They’ll explain Israel’s current situation with God. They’ll also explain why Amos is telling Israel these things. To clarify, these seven rhetorical questions are not stating Amos main point explicitly. Rather, they establish this idea of natural associations with the cause and effect idea. The questions use real world examples that illustrate the cause and effect. We then have to think of how they might apply to Israel’s current situation. They almost function like parables in that regard. Verses 7 and 8 will then apply them, which we’ll look at in our last point. But for now, let’s walk through each of them.
The first question is in verse 3. “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Here the assumed answer is “no.” People won’t go together who are in conflict. Agreement results in unity. Conflict and division results in separation. Clearly, the application is that God and Israel are not in agreement at this point. They are in conflict. In the past, they have walked together. But how can they be walking together right now, when Israel is committing all this iniquity?
The rest of the seven questions can be divided up into three sets of two questions. And they each follow a similar pattern. The first in each set of questions involves a threat or a warning. The second question in the set involves the outcome when that threat is realized. So, the first set of questions is in verse 4. They are about lions. The first asks if a lion would roar in the forest, when he has no prey. I believe the answer here is “no” as well. The idea seems to be that if the lion is roaring, it’s roaring because there is prey. This would be the roar of the final pounce, when it roars to spark fear into its prey before it attacks the prey. The second lion question asks if a young lion would cry out of his den, if he hasn’t caught anything. Again, the answer is a “no”. It describes how a lion growls from its den after catching the prey and as it eats the prey in its den. So, with the lion questions, we see a question dealing with the threat of the lion eating a prey, and then with the lion having gotten his prey. The application to Israel is that God is like that roaring lion, and he’s roaring because there is prey. Israel is that prey because they have sinned and broken the covenant. Israel must take care unless they become the captured prey.
The next set of questions is in verse 5 dealing with a bird in a snare. The first bird question asks if a bird would fall into a snare if there isn’t a trap. Again, the assumed answer is a “no.” No, a bird won’t get caught in a trap that does exist. But if a trap does exist, then it will get trapped. The second bird question asks if a snare would spring if it hasn’t caught a bird. Again, the assumed answer is a “no.” Such bird traps are going to be triggered by the bird. That’s what would make the trap go off and catch the bird. Again, these two questions begin first with the threat and then the execution; the first speaks of a threat of a bird being trapped; the second of a bird actually getting trapped. The application for Israel seems to be along the lines that Israel is the bird ready to be caught by the trap. And the reason why there is a trap to catch Israel is because of their sinful breaking of God’s covenant.
The last set of questions is in verse 6. It deals with the threat and reality of war in a city. That’s seen in the first question with the reference to a trumpet. If a trumpet is blown in the city, won’t the people be afraid? The assumed answer here is finally “yes”. Yes, the people would be afraid if they here the trumpet call. It signals that a battle is at hand. It’s like a city hearing air raid sirens today. You should be afraid and run for cover. But realize that the trumpet call is a sign of warning. It communicates the threat that a battle is at hand which could destroy the city. But the trumpet itself doesn’t guarantee the destruction. It only threatens the possibility. But then the second question is a bit of a twist or turn from the previous pattern. It asks, “If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?” The assumed answer is “yes” again here too. The difference in the pattern is that this goes from the earthly examples to the supernatural reality. If the trumpet sounds and an army comes and destroys a city, the cause is ultimately the Lord. With the examples given, we’d expect to think of the cause being the earthly army that destroys the city. But Amos gets us to see that the ultimate cause is the LORD. And this sets up the application for Israel. Israel themselves are going to be facing an army come upon them. They should be warned now. But when the final destruction by that army comes upon them, they should realize it is the LORD’s doing. Again, some of the Israelites might not have wanted to accept that point. They might have wanted to assume that the Lord would never bring any calamity upon them – they were God’s people, weren’t they? And yet the reason why God would bring such calamity upon them is because of their sinful breaking of the covenant. The one naturally goes with the other.
Cause and effect and natural associations. A lion’s roar has something to do with his prey. A bird and a trap have a connection. The trumpet and destruction of a city are related. But the fact that there are these pairs of threats and executions should make Israel ask where they are at, at this point. Have they passed the point of no return and judgment is now falling upon them? Or are they at the point of warning where they can yet seek a different outcome?
That leads us to our final point where we get answers to these questions. Let’s look now at verses 7-8. It starts in verse 7 by telling us how God reveals his secrets to the prophets. What an amazing grace-filled truth. This almost sounds like an eighth question, but here it’s put in the affirmative. But it’s the same kind of idea. It has the natural association idea here again. If God is going to do something, he will reveal it to the prophets. To clarify, I don’t think we should take that in some absolute way. Scripture must interpret Scripture and passages like Deuteronomy 29:29 remind us that some secrets of God are left as secrets. Yet this is speaking to how God’s covenantal workings with Israel were being explained by God to the prophets. So then look at verse 8. “A lion has roared! Who will not fear?” This brings imagery from both the lion roaring imagery and the trumpet blowing imagery which caused fear in the city. He applies these to Israel here. This answers the question we asked a moment ago. Israel is at the point of the lion roaring before pouncing on the prey. Israel is at the point of the trumpet blowing. They are at the point of a very serious warning call. Realize, lions don’t make that roar until they are finally about to strike. Armies don’t blow the trumpet until right when the battle is about to begin. This is not a good moment to hear that lion roar or that trumpet blow. But it should result in a healthy fear.
There is a time for fear. Yes, sometimes people can have irrational fear. Paranoias are when people have either undue fear or inordinate fear. But in the event of the imminent judgment of God, he says to fear! Fear when you hear that lion roar. Fear when you hear that trumpet sound. Fear if you are under the judgment of God. This is more of that cause and effect. If God is roaring at you, you should fear!
How did God give them the lion roar and this trumpet warning to Israel? It’s through the prophets. That’s the other half of verse 8. “The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” Here is more cause and effect. If God has spoken, if he has revealed to the prophets his secrets, then surely the effect is prophesying. How could one not deliver the Word of the LORD when he gives it to you to deliver?
This explains why Amos is doing what he’s doing. Tie it all together. God’s special relationship with Israel meant he’d have to punish them when they sinned. Cause and effect. Their sin causes God to warn the people of this through the prophets. Amos then brings the lion roar to Israel here. That’s even how Amos started out, remember back in Amos 1:2, “The LORD roars from Zion!” This passage then helps Amos explain his role to Israel. Probably to many Israelites he had to give this justification for his words. They might have questioned why he was speaking such words of judgment. They might have wanted to silence him. But Amos says that if God speaks to you like this, how can you not prophesy such words? Again, cause and effect. And so, for Israel, the prophet must prophesy when God speaks to him. But God has roared, Israel must tremble. They must repent and turn from their evil ways. They must seek agreement with their covenant God and return to his good ways of the covenant.
Saints of God, God revealed his secrets to Amos and other Old Testament prophets. How much more has he revealed his secrets to Christ and then ultimately to us. Jesus Christ came as the prophet of prophets. And in Christ, we too become prophets. John 15:15, Jesus told his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Contrast that with verse 7 where God tells all his doings to the prophets, yet they were only called servants there. But Jesus says that as the prophet of prophets he has received everything from the father. And Jesus then shares that with us as his friends. He lets us into God’s plans not as mere servants but as friends.
Realize then, that when Jesus came to the world, he essentially came as the ultimate lion’s roar. He sounded the trumpet of God’s judgment against sin. He came even to warn his wayward people. He gave a message that there is a final judgment at hand, and that people need to turn to him in faith to be saved. That was his first coming. His first coming was a warning. But it also included a solution. Repent and believe in Jesus and be saved. This is important because Jesus will come again. That coming will involve the execution of the threat. Then the lion will catch and consume the prey. Then the bird will be snared and fall. Then the calamity will come upon the city. Yet we are not there yet. Today, while it is still called today, is a day for salvation. Heed the lion’s roar of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. Repent of your sins and believe in him. Yes, we give that call today to outsiders. Yet, Amos needed to give that call here even to the insiders, to the Israelites under the old covenant. And so, I bring that call to all of us today. If you are outwardly in the visible church but have been living in your iniquities, you know what the outcome will be. But if you repent and turn to Jesus in true faith, then the outcome will be salvation and life. Heed the lion’s roar and trust in King Jesus today.
I conclude then with a final exhortation. For us who have heeded that call of Jesus, we now have become prophets ourselves. As we read in John 15:15, Jesus has revealed to us what he had received from the father. And so, in the spirit of verse 8, we now have received the words of the LORD. How can we not share it with others? The Lord GOD has spoken to us! Who will not prophesy? Jesus, the prophet par excellence has commissioned us with the secrets of heaven to go to the world and make disciples in his name. This is the natural effect upon us in having become Christians. Let us seize this high calling and prophesy to the world of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is prophesying under the new covenant. We have already received what the Lord has spoken. Surely we must bring it then to the world around us. Let us pray then even now that we would be faithful by his grace to this great task.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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