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Sermon preached on Amos 8:1-10 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/7/2018 in Novato, CA.
“The End Has Come Upon My people Israel”
Our passage begins todays in the first three verses with another vision, and I’d like to use this vision as the analogy to introduce the sermon today. Because this vision sets the theme for what the rest of this passage is about. And so, Amos has this vision; it is his fourth of five visions that he receives in this book. This fourth vision is stylistically like the third vision, in that involves Amos seeing something which God then has Amos to say what he sees. Then God turns a wordplay on what Amos says, in order to make an application for Israel. In this case, Amos sees a basket of summer fruit. The Hebrew word for summer fruit sounds very similar to the word for “end”. In fact, in Northern Israel, it might have been pronounced virtually the same. And so, God’s application is that the end has come upon Israel, using the wordplay with summer fruit. It’s the wordplay that’s the application here. If I were to make a similar the wordplay into English, I could put it like this: Amos, what do you see? Amos says, “A basked of summer fruit.” God replies, “Judgment has come to fruition upon my people Israel” (fruit, fruition: that’s the closest I can do in English). But I digress. The point of this vision is that the end is at hand for Israel. Additionally, notice two other elements about this vision. God goes on to explain that he won’t show them any more mercy. That’s what he means when he says he won’t pass by them anymore. He also goes on to describe the great sorrow that will come on that day of judgment. That’s verse 3: wailing and death. And so, this vision introduces today’s passage and sermon. It’s a message about the end finally coming upon Israel, an end that will involve much destruction and lamenting, an end that God will not turn from. That’s what we’ll consider today.
So, let’s begin in our first point by looking at why Israel’s under such a final judgment. We’ve been seeing it throughout the book of Amos. Two main issues for them: a perversion of worship and affliction of the poor and needy. Those two issues are again mentioned here, though with some additional nuance and details. In fact, here these two sins are related together. It begins in verse 4 by addressing Israel as those who afflict the poor and needy, swallowing them up, to their downfall. But then verse 5 takes a turn to connect this to a way in which they pervert the worship of God. You know, when we’ve been talking about Israel perverting worship in the book of Amos, a lot of it has been issues of them worshipping in the wrong way. We’ve talked about them worshipping in the wrong place with the wrong priests; and their use of idols in their worship. But that’s not the perversion of worship mentioned here.
Rather, we start in verse 5 by seeing that they were careful to set aside holy days as holy days. The most regular holy days, or holidays, that Israel had were the weekly sabbaths and the monthly new moon festivals. These were times to take a break from work, so you could instead worship God. Obviously, that means when you go to worship God at such times, you should want to be there. Your heart and mind should be fixed on the glory of God and you should be happy to be there. But look at the problem described in verse 5. These people would be very faithful to outwardly keep the Sabbath and the New Moon holidays. But inwardly, their heart was somewhere else. Inwardly, they couldn’t wait to get back to work of selling and commerce. Back in chapter 4, verse 5, it said that the people just loved to give their offerings, but here we see that whatever amount they loved their acts of worship, it wasn’t their first love. They close their shops and go to worship God, but their real love was making money. The whole time they were worshipping their minds were fixated with getting back to work so they could open back up and make more money. And not only that, they wanted to open back up their shops, so they could make more money by cheating the poor and needy. By rigging the measuring systems, they’d give them less than what they were purchasing and charge them more than what they owed. They even mix in the chaff off the ground into the wheat and sell that too to them. They loved money so much, they’d gladly afflict the poor and needy to get more, even to the point of buying people as slaves. That’s what they were dreaming about while they were supposedly worshipping God.
I think it would be helpful to note that Nehemiah 13:18 records an important piece of Israelite history. It speaks of how at some point in Israelite history, the Israelites didn’t stop work on the Sabbaths to worship God. They just kept up their commerce and didn’t bother to take time off for worship. I point out that history to say that this is different than what is condemned here. But that was obviously an option for them. If they so loved their commerce, they could have sinned by not closing down for the sabbaths and new moon celebrations. Yet, they did close down. They did go to worship. What’s my point? They acted holy. They went through the religious motions. But really their heart was elsewhere. This is perversion of worship in the form of religious hypocrisy. Their worship of God was but a show because in reality they were worshippers of the idol of money.
Let me pause and give some application. Obviously, this can be a struggle today for people in the church. There can be people today like these in this passage. They go to church and call themselves a follower of God, when really they are not, and they just can’t wait to get home from church and on with their lives. But think of the reverse that is also far too common too. Someone who really is a true follower of God who openly and blatantly doesn’t go to church sometimes, but instead chooses the things of the world such as work, sports, or anything else deemed more important that day? Sadly that is too common in the Christ’s church today. God calls his people to set aside one day in seven for worship and rest. In the new covenant, that day is Sunday, the Lord’s Day. How often today true believers betray their faith by not going to church, in favor of something else that is sadly more important to them that day. A similarity here is when we make church about something we do for an hour or two on Sunday, while thinking the whole time during church how you can’t wait until its done so you can get on with your real plans for the day. Yet, the fourth commandment is for a whole day each week as holy unto God. Hopefully this passage reminds us of how we can come to church and have our hearts and minds elsewhere. Let us bring our distracted hearts before God and ask him to grow us in greater love for him and his worship.
Okay, so we’ve seen in this first point Israel’s sin for which they are under judgment. Let’s turn now to see how God describes his judgment here. Verses 8-10 especially depict this. Verse 8 speaks in general terms of the land trembling, which makes you think of earthquakes. It also speaks of the land swelling, like how the Nile River would seasonally swell and flood the land, until it subsided. This could refer to literal judgments of earthquakes and flood, but probably is speaking more metaphorically. It likely describes the terror and turmoil that would flood into Israel when God’s judgment comes.
Verse 9 then speaks of a strange darkness coming upon Israel during the day. It’s common for people to think of a solar eclipse when they read this, though God can certainly remove the light anyways he so chooses. This was like the plague of darkness that came upon Egypt in the book of Exodus. We also see similar prophecies in other places of the Old Testament, speaking of how this would happen to Israel. This was a repeated judgment that the prophets threatened Israel with at this time. Well, the point of this judgment of darkness here is to setup the idea of verse 10. To replace the light with darkness is to transform a good thing into its opposite. That’s what verse 10 decrees. Their religious feasts would be turned into mourning. These times that were supposed to be joyous celebrations would be changed into a time of weeping and sorrow and bitterness. Note the lex talionis idea there, by the way. The time of religious worship that they were essentially faking, that would be turned into a time of great sorrow. Similarly, verse 10 says that their songs will become lamentations. All this would happen on that terrible day described in the vision of the summer fruit. When the end comes, there will be dead bodies everywhere. It will cause this massive and widespread sorrow. As verse 10 says, the sadness will be so profound that it will be like when someone loses an only son. It will be a bitter day.
Surely, on that day, their financial prosperity will be coming to an end. We know from history that God would send the Assyrians upon them. They would leave body upon body. There would be massive death and destruction. What an interesting picture that the vision of the summer fruit brought about this mourning. On the one hand, it speaks of the wailing of that terrible day. This is the word for what people do to honor the dead; they would wail for the dead. On the other hand, it says that there would be so many dead bodies everywhere that they’d dispose of them in silence. The silence versus the wailing: what a sobering contrast that both speak to how horrible this day of the Lord would be for them, when this specific “end” would come upon the people. That’s what the prophet Amos was announcing. Amos announced that the end had come for Israel. The application again today is to reminds us that there will be a day when the end will come. When the final day of judgment comes it will be terrible. When that final day comes, we don’t want to experience God’s wrath.
So, today we’ve seen in our first point the sin of Israel that has brought this day of judgment upon them. In the second point, we’ve seen God’s judgment described against Israel, especially in terms of wailing and mourning. Now in our third point, I want to deal with an especially sobering aspect in all of this. It’s what’s spelled out in verse 7. I’ll read it again. “The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works.” Basically, God swears there never to forget their sins. This is similar to what he said when explaining the vision in verse 2, that he won’t pass by them anymore. So, God basically says that as the end comes upon Israel, realize that he won’t forgive them; he won’t show them anymore mercy; he won’t forget any of their sins.
These are sobering words and I think we should think through them further to understand what is and isn’t being said. For starters, it would be helpful to remind us that next chapter will describe that there will be a remnant for Israel. When the dust clears, God will raise up the Messiah to gather and rebuild fallen Israel. He will gather a remnant of survivors from among Israel, along with some Gentiles, and make a new blessed kingdom. So, the fact this passage talks about how certain the judgment is, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a remnant. Rather, we see that God will in fact ultimately save a remnant. He will forgive that remnant and show them mercy. To those who are part of this remnant, he will ultimately remove their sin and forget it. That’s the silver lining in all this strong judgment language.
Yet, that doesn’t change the fact of the certainty of the judgment for the people described here among Israel. If you were not part of the remnant, but were part of the sinners who experience this horrible judgment, it would be the “end” for you. The fact that there would be a saved remnant would not offer much consolation to the people themselves who find their end in this terrible and horrible judgment.
And so that’s the lesson to take away from here. In the big picture, when the end finally comes for all human history, the time for more grace and mercy will come to an end. There will no more opportunity for grace or mercy at that time. If you haven’t found grace by then, God will declare that he will never forget your sin and iniquity as you receive a judgment that’s described as the weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And yet the good news is that we live in this gospel era where that time is not yet. We live in this time where there is yet time to have your sins blotted out and forgotten by God. That’s why Jesus came into this world and went to the cross. While he hung there on the cross, he paid for the penalty of sin, for all who would put their trust in him. That’s why it turned dark during the time while Jesus hung on the cross. That three hours of darkness was supposed to signal to us what was going on at the cross. Jesus experienced the judgment for sin, that he could offer forgiveness and grace to those who would turn to him in faith. So that’s the era we live in right now. I hope you see the urgency here to the gospel call. Don’t wait until its too late to be saved. When the Lord returns or when you die, you will no longer have this opportunity for yours sins to be forgiven. And so, I urge us all to have your sins removed and forgotten by turning to Jesus now, in this gospel era. Receive this now, before it is too late! Don’t put it off any longer. Trust in Christ and have your sins forgiven.
Well, there is another way we can bring application from this passage today. We don’t have to go to the final end of human history to find application. This passage is essentially about a section of the visible church being put to an end. The northern kingdom of God’s people was being put to an end, even though human history, and the church’s history would live on. Well, we see in the book of Revelation that such an idea was not unique to the old covenant. This same sort of thing could happen under the new covenant. In the book of Revelation, the letters to the seven churches are full of such warnings. People and even whole congregations who claimed to follow Christ but really weren’t, were being threatened with being cut off. For example, to the church at Ephesus, in Revelation 2:5, Jesus threatened to remove their lampstand as a church, if they continue to forget their first love. To the church in Pergamum, in Revelation 2:15, Jesus threatens to come to them and war against them, if they won’t turn from the false teaching they had started to entertain. To the church in Thyatira, in Revelation 2:21, he threatens judgment upon them which he says would warn all the other congregations. I could go on. But the point is clear. What happens here with Israel in Amos could happen to particular congregations and even individuals today within the church. Parts of the visible church could be removed in judgment by God at any time. This warning is clear in Revelation. Those who are in the church but not actually of the church, may find themselves pruned away here and now, even before the return of Jesus Christ. Yet, in those letters, the solution is also clear in light of that threat. There is a clear call to repent. Repent, while there is yet time for mercy and grace. Repent and return to Jesus before the end comes.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, let me sum this all up for today. Amos is a book speaking to a church in turmoil, full of false believers who afflict others in the church. The application to them is in substance the same today. To those in the church but not of it, they should mourn now over their sin rather than wait until judgment and mourn then. Better to mourn now than then! For, there will come a time when they will no longer have an opportunity for grace. On the other hand, to those afflicted in the church from its own: God won’t forget how they’ve been afflicted. He will ultimately vindicate his afflicted people.
Well, for both groups within the visible church, the need is the same. All need the grace of God in Jesus Christ who bore the day of judgment ahead of that final day. Be in Christ or face that darkness and gloom on your own. Let us, Trinity Presbyterian Church, be found in him. Let us be found in Christ, so that even though we lament over sin and our sorrows and our troubles in this life, we will rejoice in eternity with our Beloved Savior. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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