Sermon preached on Amos 6:8-14 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/10/2017 in Novato, CA.
“I Abhor the Pride of Jacob”
Our passage for today again confronts us with the character of God. It begins with God again in this book taking an oath. Verse 8, “Amos 6:8 The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself.” Earlier in chapter 4, verse 2, he had sworn in a similar way, that time by his “holiness”. Whether he swears by himself or his holiness, it’s basically the same thing. God in his holy and righteous character makes again a solemn oath here. God must and will stand up against Israel. The holy God must stand up against unrighteousness. His character demands that he humble the proud. After so many warnings to the people, God announces again in Amos that he must act against Israel. He must act in judgment. How sobering this is to hear God swearing by his great name to bring this judgment upon them. And that’s what this passage is. It’s another judgment oracle. God will bring a thorough judgment upon Israel in their foolish sin and their presumptuous pride.
Let’s begin then in our first point by observing the judgment language here. In short, God promises a thorough and complete judgment upon Israel. It’s this complete judgment that is highlighted here. We see this first threatened judgment in verse 8. There, God promises to deliver over the city and all that is in it. The language of delivering over, envisions one person handing a prisoner over to someone else. Surely in this situation, it’s God handing the Israelites over to some foreign nation who will destroy them in battle. But notice that God says he is delivering them “all”. All that is in the city is being handed over. This is a thorough judgment.
Again, we see the thoroughness in verse 9. If ten remain in one house, they shall die. Probably the idea here is that if the aftermath of the destruction that comes on the city, there are gathered together 10 survivors in a single house, then they too will die. Whatever survivors that manage to survive at first, will not ultimately survive. This is a sobering thought when we think elsewhere of the remnant language that God speaks of. That God would preserve a remnant of Israel that he would later raise up and restore in the future. But here, presumably speaking of the capital city of Samaria per the city reference in verse 8, there will be a complete destruction of the people.
We see more judgment language in verse 11. There he speaks of the houses. Houses big and small will be destroyed. They’ll be destroyed into bits and pieces. Again, notice the thorough nature of the destruction. It will crush and demolish these homes that the Israelites had cherished in their material success.
Finally, we see this in verse 14. God says that he would raise up a nation against them. We know from history that is Assyria. It says that this nation will afflict them from Hamath to the Valley of the Arabah. That again carries the same theme. Hamath would have been the north most border of Israel. The Valley of the Arabah would have been the southern border. In other words, the whole nation, north to south, would be afflicted by this enemy nation. Israel will experience a total defeat. These border references match up with what we find in 2 Kings 14, that describes all the recent military expansion that Israel had experienced. But they will lose all that and more when God finally does what he says here that he will do. When he hands them over to this enemy nation, they will experience a through judgment and destruction.
Notice that attitude and realization that will come onto Israel after this judgment. It shows us how bad the judgment will be upon the people. It’s there in verse 10. It speaks of a relative coming through to burn the dead bodies. They’ll have a conversation with someone else in the house and again the fact that no survivors are found is mentioned. But the really interesting part is this statement here about the one person telling the other not to mention the LORD’s name. The idea, by the way, is that the person trying to silence the other thinks that the person is going to give his answer with some solemn oath in the LORD’s name, but before he can finish his sentence he’s cut off, being told to hold his tongue.
Why might the person be told to not mention the LORD’s name? It must not be the actual, literal mentioning of the name, since the silencer himself speaks God’s name there. But he must not want the LORD to be invoked in any way. If the person had swore in the name of the LORD, that would have been a form of worship, an act of invoking God’s name. The question is, “Why?” Why would he not want God’s name invoked? There are a few possibilities, but it seems the most likely is that they won’t want anything to do with God after such a destruction. They’ll see that God has brought them this thorough judgment. They’ll finally recognize God has become their enemy, which they were previously in denial about that fact. Remember how before we’ve seen how much they have loved to go to worship services of God, despite the fact that their worship has been a farce since they weren’t living with the Lord. But up to that point, they’ve not realized that. They’ve thought they could do all their sin and still go to worship God like nothing is wrong in the relationship. They have presumptuously thought they were friends with God the whole time. (How many people today will be surprised to find on the day of judgment that they have not be God’s friend but actually his enemy?) And so after this widespread and thorough judgment finally comes on Isarel, then they will realize the truth. They’ll realize that God has actually become their enemy. They’ll realize the danger of that: in going to God when he is actually your enemy. Then they will tell the people not to call on God; not to invoke his name in any form of worship. Maybe it’s fear motivated; fear that God might bring more judgment. Or maybe it’s motivated by anger and bitterness; they don’t want anything to do with God after God has brought them such destruction. But whatever it is, they’ve finally come to realize that God is not on their side, and so they spread the word to not call upon the name of the LORD.
This is a sad state for Israel to experience such judgment and to see them come to this state of mind in the aftermath. That being said, they should not have been surprised that this was the outcome. God makes this point rather pragmatically in verse 12. And so, I wanted us now to turn to our second point for today. I want us to see the foolishness of their sin. Their sin has been foolish, and so they shouldn’t have been surprised when this kind of destruction finally came upon them from the LORD.
So, look at verse 12. It begins with rhetorical questions. The whole verse sounds very proverbial. Do horses run on rocks? Of course not. Do you plow with oxen on such rocks? Again, of course not. That would be foolish to try to have a horse run on rocks or an oxen plow on them. Surely it would be a disaster to try such things. Well, having come to that clear and obvious conclusion, God replies, “Yet you have turned justice into gall, And the fruit of righteousness into wormwood.” The implication is that it is similarly foolish to commit such sin. If you think it is foolish to try to have a horse run on rocks, why would you turn justice into gall? Don’t you realize how foolish that is? If you think it is foolish to try to have oxen plow a field of rocks, why would your turn righteousness into wormwood? Don’t you realize how foolish that is? Think of what would happen if you do that? The righteous and just God will see and respond. He’ll bring down the fire of his wrath and bring a thorough judgment upon them. That’s the irony of where they get to in verse 10 after the thorough judgment comes upon them. It’s like they seemed surprised that God would do something to them like that. But verse 12 says they shouldn’t have been surprised. It would be foolish to expect any other outcome.
By the way, when it says that they turned justice and righteousness into gall and wormwood, you could also translate “gall” as “poison” and “wormwood” as “bitterness”. Remember, what we’ve seen Israel been doing with justice and righteousness. It had become dangerous in Israel to seek such things. Chapter 5, verse 13, spoke of how the prudent kept their mouths shut at that time, because the times were evil. The people in power had been bribing judges to pervert justice. They afflicted the poor and needy in their cause. So, if you were someone who sought justice, sought righteousness, it could be poison and bitterness for you to seek that. You might end up losing even more if you tried to speak up for your rights or for justice. Such a dark time. But the point God is making here in verse 12, is that such a perversion of justice and righteousness could only spell disaster. Therefore, it would be utterly foolish to do it. Wisdom would say that God’s way is the best way. Yet, Israel ignored this wisdom. They choose the foolishness of sin. And as we said in the first point, it would have disastrous consequences for them.
Sadly, there is application here that we have seen far too often. How many people today go through life living in open defiance to God’s commandments. They think they know better than God. But then their sin catches up with them. And everything starts crashing down all around them. Then they finally realize how foolish they had been. If only they had listened to God’s Word. Don’t misunderstand me. Obviously, none of us can keep God’s laws perfectly in this life. And obviously, even if you could, it doesn’t guarantee that your life will not have great challenges it. Sometimes people who live relatively righteous lives still have very hard challenges to face and things don’t always go their way. Yet, I’m convinced that God’s way is still the best way. Wisdom would tell you, that if you want things to go well, obey the commands of God. Instead, if you lie, if you steal and cheat, if you commit adultery, gossip and slander, and such things like this, those sins will catch up to you. God’s way is the best way. Verse 12 reminds of us the wisdom of this. It’s foolish to think otherwise. You might as well try to run a horse on the rocks, or use a hair dryer in the bathtub. See the foolishness of sin so that you won’t be surprised when the natural consequences come upon you for it.
On to our third point. Let’s see what was the ultimate heart of their folly here. You see, in point two we talked about how Israel was foolish to pervert justice like this. But why did they do it, if it was so foolish? Sadly, it began with the pride of their heart. Pride can blind you to wisdom. In our pride we can ignore conventional wisdom because we think we are exceptional. Such danger may be true for others, but not for me! Pride can give birth to folly. We see this pride at the heart of Israel’s sin here.
That’s how God begins this judgment oracle in verse 8. God says he abhors the pride of Israel. In that verse, the word pride doesn’t probably mean the quality of pride itself. It’s probably a reference to either the city of Samaria or the palaces and fortresses within Samaria. Samaria with its palaces and fortresses had become Israel’s boast. They prided themselves in such an impenetrable refuge, or at least that’s what they thought it had become. So, the pride of Israel is likely a poetic reference to that because of the parallel lines mentioned in verse 8 which equate it with the palaces and the city. But of course, for them to put such trust and hope in the city and their buildings, shows that pride in their heart. They didn’t boast in the LORD. They boasted in their achievements and their accomplishments. Their capital of Samaria was the chief representation of their achievements.
We see their boasting and pride further in verse 13. Amos speaks against those “Who rejoice over Lo Debar, who say, ‘Have we not taken Karnaim for ourselves By our own strength?’” There seems a bit of sarcasm in how Amos speaks of this. 2 Kings 14 records that at that time Israel had just had many successful military campaigns. Not just these two cities. But Amos chooses to mention these two, and it seems satirical. The town of Lo Debar literally means in the Hebrew “it is no thing.” So, he points at them boasting over conquering something basically named, “no big thing.” And then the town of Karnaim, is a reference to “horns” in the Hebrew, with horns being a typical symbol for strength at that time. And he says that they boast taking this symbol of strength by their own strength. Amos is specifically criticizing their pride there. It’s telling that in 2 Kings 14 when it describes Israel’s military successes at that time, which would have included these two towns, it gives God the credit. 2 Kings 14 says that God had pitied the suffering of Israel and had brought them military success in order to recover these towns they had previously lost. So what did Israel do in response to that? They took the credit. They didn’t write God a thank you letter. No, they boasted in their successes as if it had been by their own might and power. God detested and abhorred such pride. The pride was bad in itself, but especially bad when it is very directly trying to take glory away from God.
Again, the application that comes from this is something we should all know too well. Too often, people today, take credit for blessings that God gave them. It’s understandable why we struggle with this, because many things come in life through out involvement. If you’ve had monetary success through your job, you might credit all your hard work. And maybe you have put in a lot of hard work. And yet, how is that you had the strength and health to do such hard work? All it takes is one medical crisis or a big car accident to remind that your ability to do such hard work is not guaranteed. We should be humble enough to recognize that strength and health comes from God. Not to mention, that those who are successful in business surely have to recognize that they get a lot of what we might call “lucky breaks” to get to the top. Yet, we know there is no such thing as luck. Such things are also gifts from God. The temptation is for us humans to pridefully take the credit instead of rightly glorifying and thanking God in all such things.
Such pride is presumptuous. It presumes your success is of your own making. It presumes your accomplishments are the best and are indestructible. It presumes you can trust in your self and your success. It presumes you really don’t need God. It presumes you can do whatever you want, sin however you want, and you won’t be stopped, won’t be held accountable. God stands against such presumptuous pride. Yet, here God reveals his holy character to them. He announces the foolishness of all their sin. He challenges their pride. And he declares the thorough judgment that would befall them.
What is one in Israel to do in that situation? And what should the remnant of Israel do who somehow manage to survive after all that destruction? I would say the wrong response is found in verse 10 who don’t want to speak the name of the LORD. Let me clarify why this question is important. We can ask these questions of Israel, but ultimately we have to ask them of ourselves. There is a day of judgment yet still coming, a final day of judgment. As thorough and widespread as this one was for Israel, the final day of judgment will be worse. There will be a complete and permanent separation between the redeemed of God and everyone else who are his enemies. What does mankind need to do in light of this coming judgment? We humans need to humble ourselves and repent of our sins. We are all sinners that need the grace of God held out in Jesus Christ. And so instead of silencing the name of Jesus in light of his condemnation for sin, we need to invoke the name of the Lord. We need to invoke the name of the Lord before that terrible day of judgment. For there will come a time when you can no longer call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. But until that time, what does the Scripture say? Romans 10:13, “Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” And so instead of pride, we need the humility that calls upon the Lord. We need the humility to say that we have sinned and deserved judgment but cry out for mercy. And this is real wisdom. Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” See the wisdom in the gospel. It’s foolish to keep on going in your pride and self-reliance. There’s no wisdom to go to hell for eternity when you could have salvation as a free gift from God. It is foolish to keep stubbornly rejecting Christ.
And so, for those who have received this salvation, let us then also see the wisdom in obedience. Let us see the wisdom of God’s way of righteousness and justice. God’s way is really the best way to live. Let us look to live that out by the grace of God, even while we await that day for the final comfort of Christ to come at his return. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.