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Sermon preached on Amos 9:13-15 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/4/2018 in Novato, CA.
“I Will Plant Them In the Land”
Last week I mentioned that we had finally got to the gospel section of Amos, the good news section. I mentioned that this was typical with the Old Testament prophets, that they’d spent a lot of time declaring God’s judgment on Israel because of their unwillingness to turn from their repeated sins. But then the prophets typically would end on some measure of hope. The good news passages in the Old Testament are typically in the form we see here. They speak of an Israelite remnant being brought back from captivity and being restored in the Promised Land, through the work of the promised Davidic Messiah. Occasionally, those passages also mention Gentiles being involved in some good way too. Well, last week we talked about verses 11-12 that talked about the Davidic Messiah and the Gentiles, and their role in this new, restored kingdom. Today, we’ll look at verses 13-15 which speaks about the gathering up of the scattered remnant of Israel and bringing them back to the Promised Land. It’s unfortunate that it’s on this part of the prophecy that some Christians have had trouble interpreting this. But I hope as we go through the passage we can shed some light on its meaning and application.
I’d like to begin in our first point today to observe the key elements of the text. Then in our last two points I’ll deal with matters of interpretation. The first thing to note and observe is that these two verses are particularly about ethnic Israel, those physically descended from the Jacob. Specifically, in context, this is about the remnant that would survive after the captivity and exile that God would send upon the northern kingdom of Israel. We saw back in verse 9, that God would take and scatter that remnant of Israel all over the nations. In context, that’s the Israel being referenced here. This is especially clear since he already separately mentioned Gentiles and David’s house.
So then, verse 14 says that God will bring back those captive Israelites. Clearly, in context, the reference is to bringing them back to the Promised Land. God would gather these dispersed Israelites from the four corners of the earth and bring them back to the Land of Promise. Verse 15 specifically notes that this is in the land, the Promised Land. They shall be planted there. So, there will be this great gathering up of God’s people back to a homeland. God then speaks there in verse 14 of rebuilding. They will build back the cities that were “wasted”. They will once again live in them. They will also plant vineyards and gardens which will produce for them, so we see them not only back in the land, and rebuilding, but getting back to a normal, productive life in the land. So, this is speaking of a wonderful gathering and a restoration. What was lost would be restored unto Israel.
And yet that’s not all it says. The text describes how very good their situation will be after they return to the land! A couple important things are stated here. First, verse 13 speaks of how great the bounty of the land will be when it produces for them. In short, it describes a situation, where there is so large of a harvest that when they are ready to plant for the next season, they’ll still be finishing up harvesting from the last season. So, the land is described as producing in a remarkable way. That’s actually a promise that was given originally to Israel when they came into the Land in the first place, back in Leviticus 26:5. But in Leviticus 26:5 they were promised this on the condition that they were obedient to the covenant, that they walked in all God’s statutes and performed them. Here, there is no condition mentioned. It is simply stated as what will in fact happen. There will be a remarkable bounty produced in the land.
A second thing mentioned here about how great things will be is in verse 15. It says that Israel will never be pulled up again from the Promised Land. Again, that was also held out to Israel as a possibility before. In Deuteronomy 28:63-64, the fact that they could be exiled from the land was a threatened curse against them. Deuteronomy says that curse would come upon them if they weren’t careful to do all the words of the law. Deuteronomy 30 goes on to presume that this would happen. That not only was it a possibility under that covenant, it was inevitable that they end up exiled. But you see here the opposite is promised. When God brings them back to the Promised Land they will never be removed from it again!
And so, we find here not only the promise of a gathering back to the land, but we see a description of how grand and glorious things will be for Israel once they are brought back. There are actually a number of other prophetic passages in the Old Testament that talk about this very thing. When you take them together, you get a wonderful, fuller picture, about what all this will entail. I can’t quote them all, but let me highlight a few key ones to give us more details about this promise restoration, a promised spoken of by so many prophets. Starting even with Moses, Deuteronomy 30 speaks of this restoration, that when Israel returns to the land that God will prosper them more than their fathers, once he brings them back to the land. God also says there that he’ll solve their problem of sin then by circumcising their hearts. We also see this restoration promised in Isaiah 9 which speaks of the Davidic Messiah establishing a grand kingdom which will be full of justice and peace, a kingdom that will have no end. In Micah 4, it also speaks of the restoration, and also describes how in some way Gentiles will be included in it. In Micah 5, we hear of how this restoration will take place by the Davidic Messiah who will be a shepherd for the people. In Jeremiah 31, this restoration is talked about in the context of how God will establish a new covenant, one the people won’t be able to break. This restoration will include God writing the law on the people’s hearts, so they will all know it. It says it will also include God forgiving the people’s sins. Ezekiel 36 speaks of this restoration that it will involve washing away the peoples’ sins through the sprinkling of water on them; and how God will regenerate them by the Spirit, giving them new hearts.
I could go on. There are many other prophetic passages we could mention. When you hear me read some of those, I hope you hear elements of Christ and the gospel in them. You should, because that’s what they ultimately speak about. They do find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ and the new covenant. It’s like what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, that all God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ. He brings their fulfillment. That being said, when you hear elements about Israel being brought back to the Promised Land, some Christians have wondered about those prophecies. When and how do these promises get fulfilled that speak of Israel being brought back to the Promised Land, to a place that will be even better than it was before? Clearly that didn’t happen, in terms of an earthly fulfillment, when Israel was first allowed to resettle the Promised Land by the Persians, after their Babylonian captivity. After they returned, the land was never as prosperous as it was before, nor did they ever have an earthly king from David’s line on the throne; in fact for the most part they existed as an occupied nation by some Gentile authority. Furthermore, they didn’t even keep the land indefinitely. Remember how Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, for example. So, clearly, that initial return from the Babylonian captivity wasn’t the fulfillment of all these prophecies like in these verses.
Instead, these prophecies began to be fulfilled in Christ’s first coming, and they will be finished in their fulfillment in Christ’s second coming. We should expect that this is the case because verse 11 says this restoration would happen through the Davidic Messiah – that’s Jesus of course. Jesus came announcing the coming of the kingdom. At his first coming he inaugurated the kingdom. He will bring it to consummate glory at his second coming. There are ways that already these restoration prophecies are being fulfilled, especially in spiritual ways. There are ways that they will have their ultimately fulfilment, even in physical ways, when Christ returns and ushers in the age to come.
Of course, it’s here that some people object. I have in mind the dispensationalists. They want to say that this passage refers to not something that’s already begun but something only for the future. They think this speaks of a future millennial reign of Jesus Christ on earth with ethnic Israelites in the earthly Promised Land out in the middle east and with a rebuilt Israel and Jerusalem. Now, on the one hand, when you look at this passage and the other ones I quoted, you can appreciate why a dispensationalist would want to think that. They are trying to be “literal” with the text, and it does speak of Israel coming back to the Promised Land. On the other hand, as it speaks about the restoration of the Promised Land, I’ve noted how it uses grand and glorious ways to describe it. It will be something better than what they had before under the old covenant. To be fair, it uses language that sounds like things under the old covenant, yet it speaks in grander ways than were ever the case under the old covenant.
What I’m trying to say is that these prophetic passages about restoration make use of old covenant language to talk about something far better in the new covenant. This is sometimes referred to as prophetic idiom. What that means is that the prophets would take the concepts that the people would be familiar with to try to describe something far better in the new covenant. So, they can talk about the people being brought to the Promised Land and never losing it again, but that will be fulfilled by something far greater. It will be fulfilled when Jesus comes back and makes new heavens and a new earth and brings a new Jerusalem down out of heaven. Then he will establish his people, you, me, and every Christian, in that New Jerusalem after Christ returns. That is where we will be forever, and we will never be plucked out of there, for eternity.
Again, dispensationalists think we are being fast and loose with the text when we interpret it this way. Yet, it’s what we see in passages like Hebrews 11, where even the Old Testament saints knew that the first Promised Land only looked forward to a better heavenly land to come. And to respond to the claim that we aren’t being literal, well, for a prophetic oracle to use old covenant language in grandiose ways to describe better new covenant realities is not beyond the use of literal language. Think of how we do the same thing today. When grand leaps in technology happen, we tend to describe the new better thing in terminology of the older technology. It helps us to connect and understand and relate to the new, better thing. For example, with cars, we speak of the power of its engine in terms of horsepower. My car engine supposedly has 148 horsepower, but last I checked, I couldn’t find a single horse inside. Or take computers. When Windows came out, they called the desktop the desktop. But it’s not a physical desktop, yet it is something akin to it. The same with the computer program called “Notepad”. It’s not a physical notepad, but it is the next generation equivalent of it. The Facebook website is named after the printed college directories that were named facebooks. Or take the save icon on computers; it usually uses a floppy disk icon to represent the save action, which is ironic because floppy disks themselves have been obsolete. Hopefully you see my point. Even today, we use older language to refer to brand new, better things. The prophets did this in their oracles, using old covenant ideas to teach about what would come in the new covenant.
So then, this is what we see confirmed in the New Testament. We see the New Testament quote these old testament prophets and see how they interpret them as beginning to be fulfilled with the arrival of Jesus Christ. We also see how they look forward to a greater fulfillment when Christ comes again and ushers in the age to come. We call this in fancy terms, semi-realized eschatology. Semi-realized eschatology. Eschatology is the study of the last things. It refers to the end times. The end has been semi-realized; it is already but not yet here. These prophecies look to the end of all things when God will usher in a new, glorious kingdom in the Messiah, a kingdom which will have no end, in a glorious land and inheritance that will last for eternity. This passage and others like it have been semi-realized already. In part, they are fulfilled. In part, they look to the future age to come.
So, think about how we see fulfillment already. We looked at verses 11-12 last week, and we saw how James in Acts 15 said it was already being fulfilled during his day. Jesus had come, and that was David’s tabernacle being rebuilt. Scattered Israelites were being gathered up while at the same time Gentiles were being included together in Christ’s kingdom, as seen in the church. Verses 11-12 had an already fulfillment. In terms of verses 13-15, we can think of the Great Commission. Already, the Messiah has sent us on a mission to gather up his scattered people from all over the nations. This includes by converting Gentiles, but it also includes by preaching the gospel to the lost sheep of Israel as well. As we bring the gospel to ethnic Israelites and they turn and believe in Jesus, we are participating already in the gathering that’s described here. In terms of planting them in the land, realize there is even an “already” component to that too. In terms of the land, remember that time and again the Old Testament referred to the land as God’s inheritance to his people. That’s what’s the substance of the land; it’s an inheritance from God. Well, 1 Peter 1:4 says that the inheritance we have now is better than the old covenant’s inheritance. It’s something imperishable and currently kept safe in heaven for us. It’s ours now, already, even though it’s safeguard in heaven currently.
And then think of the fruitfulness described in these verses from Amos and the already fulfillment we have today. There is much fruit and bounty we as Christians’ already experience in the new covenant in this present age. The parable of the sower spoke of the fruitfulness true believers have, thirty-fold, sixty-fold, and hundred-fold. Galatians 5:22 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit believers have here and now. And the fruitfulness in Amos is one example of the overall greater blessedness that’s prophesied in other passages about the restoration. Well, we see for example that stated in Ephesians 1:3 that already Christians have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
So, we can see so much of this promised gathering and planting and prosperity has already begun in the new covenant with Christ’s first coming. But we can also see that it’s grandest fulfillment won’t happen until Christ comes again. That’s the final climax of our hope. Hebrews 9:28 speaks of how Christians are those who are waiting for Christ to come and bring us our salvation. Even though we already call ourselves saved, there’s something Christians still wait for in terms of salvation. Galatians 1:4 talks about that in terms that Jesus will be rescuing us from the present evil age. Similarly, 1 Timothy 6:19 says that the Christian right now is laying up treasure for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. This obviously shows that these prophecies like here in Amos ultimately look beyond any sort of earthly fulfillment in this age. They will find their real fulfillment in the age to come. Like how Jesus promises his disciples in Mark 10:30 that Christians in this life will even receive various physical blessings, yet in this age he says those blessings will come with persecutions. Jesus then points them to the age to come. That’s when these prophecies about restoration come to their full realization. For example, we see the completion of his gathering in Matthew 24:30 when he comes again in the clouds, at the trumpet sound, and then gathers his elect from the four corners of the earth. He will then usher us into the new creation.
So, these restoration prophecies look forward to the new heavens and the new earth with that new Jerusalem come down out of heaven. If these are fulfilled in any other way, they fall short of their fulfillment. But when we realize that that’s when they are ultimately fulfilled, we see how literal these fulfillments really are! When the age to come is ushered in, that’s when the words of Revelation 11:15 will be sounded, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” That’s the fulfillment of the messianic and kingdom prophecies attached to these restoration passages. Revelation 21-22, then give us such a wonderful picture of that age to come. 21:4, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” In terms of the bounty of harvest predicted in this passage of Amos, remember what Revelation 22:4 says, that there will be in the age to come, the river of life, with the tree of life, which will bear twelve fruits, which will yield its fruit every month, and its leaves will be for our healing. And even the Gentiles who’ve been included are found there in Revelation. Revelation 21:24, speaking of New Jerusalem, it says, “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.”
I hope you see my point. This passage of restoration in Amos has begun to be fulfilled with Jesus’ first coming. He came bringing a restored-yet-better Davidic kingdom and calls people to become a part of it by being baptized into his name and becoming a disciple in his church. We then get to take part in the continued gathering of his lost sheep into his kingdom, here and now. And one day he will return to bring all these promises to their full potential when he makes all things new and sets up his kingdom in a glorious, new earthly paradise for time into eternity.
This is the Christian hope. Amos delivered hope to those who would be the remnant of Israel. And this hope now comes even to Gentiles who’ve been included into this hope through Jesus Christ. We’ve been grafted into this hope. May we rejoice in this hope and live in light of it. You know, in this book so full of judgment, it ends with hope. And I especially see that hope in the very last word in the book. The very last word is translated with two words in English. Your God. That’s the promise throughout the Bible. God has desired to have a people special unto himself. That he would be there God and they would be his people. That’s all ever what Israel under the old covenant was to be. But due to man’s struggle with sin, we needed a savior to ultimately realize that. And that’s what the age to come will be all about. Revelation 21:3, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” The last word given in Amos in a book full of such bad news is this good news that God still has a plan for his people, that he would be their God. And that’s what our relationship is with God in Christ. He’s our God.
I love how this passage says we get there. It’s God’s work that’s highlighted here. It doesn’t highlight man’s work. Verse 14, God says, “I will restore”. Verse 15, God says, “I will plant them” in “the land that I have given them.” It’s God’s initiative and work that makes possible our salvation. These last few words were good news back then and still good news today! Let us live in light of this gospel hope of God’s salvation still today. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.